New Toys

It’s 4 years and 8 months since I bought an iMac and moved to Apple. The 24″ model has done me proud over that time but I’ve been wanting to upgrade for a few months now. The latest upgrades saw me finally pushing the button. So what did I order?

The works basically. A 27″ iMac will be winging it’s way to me shortly with an SSD, i7 CPU, fast graphics card and instead of a mouse (Logitech wins over Apple every time) I’ve went for a trackpad as with Lion coming soon I can see gesture support being heavily used throughout the OS and third party app’s over the coming year. I really can’t wait to see just how fast this thing is. The SSD will make a massive difference but that quad core CPU should chew through tasks. The only thing I didn’t upgrade was the RAM. Comes with 4GB, but Apple want £120 for another 4 – I can buy 16GB of Crucial RAM for the same price.

There’s only one snag. Ordered almost two weeks ago but the delivery date is still over 4 weeks away – June 24th. I hate waiting especially as Apple have grabbed the cash already. Grrrr. Still, nice toys on the way so can’t complain. Interestingly when I check on the status today the Apple page say’s come back tomorrow for more functionality – linked to rumours of Apple store updates on May 22nd?

Only downside to new toys is getting rid of the old iMac. Will probably sell on eBay but I never really like the eBay experience for a variety of reasons. It’s still worth a few hundred pounds though so needs must.

Another new toy soon – a car. No idea what I’m buying or when apart from ‘soon’. Need to consult with my friendly car geeks as I’m useless when it comes to cars. Looking forward to it though – the Focus is coming up for 10 years old. Showing it’s age and I’m getting bored with it.

2010 - Favourite New Things

It’s been quite a year for new tech and as usual I’ve spent more than my fair share on new software and hardware. Thought it was worthwhile listing my favourites and updating on purchases now that I’ve used them for a few months. So without further ado, my top tech of the year.

1. Apple iPad
Before it was even announced I doubted how useful the iPad would be. I didn’t expect it to succeed especially with so much hype. Yet I stood in the queue at the Glasgow Apple store near the end of May and picked up a 64GB 3G iPad. By far it’s been my best purchase of 2010. It’s introduced a new genre, tablet computing, which despite years of talking from Microsoft and hardware from a variety of manufacturers had so far failed to take off. It’s become the goto device around the house (partly due to my laptop failing) and is a great device for consuming all sorts of content. I’m not totally sold on it as a content creator and with hindsight, 32GB would have been plenty for me but apart from that it has very few negatives.

Apple have had this market to themselves for 6-9 months, competition is limited to the Galaxy Tab at the moment but next year will see many, many devices from Microsoft, Google and RIM and the many OEM’s that will use Windows or Android. Scarily, they’ll be competing with the iPad 2 – apart from camera’s what will the new device bring?

Also have to mention InstaPaper, Flipboard and Reeder. Fantastic app’s for the iPad and are my goto app’s alongside Safari, Mail and Twitter.

2. Mac Mini with Plex 9
Picked up a Mac Mini at the start of the year and I love it. It sits quietly under the TV and acts not only as my media library but my media playback machine as well thanks to Plex 9. Plex, based on XBMC, came out with anew version in the middle of 2010 and it’s a great update that really improves the media library management of Plex. I just love flicking on Plex, picking a movie or TV series and just watching – no worrying about codecs, file management or broadband speeds. Brilliant.

The Mini also takes care of grabbing the content as well, from newsgroups, streams etc. My own Tivo box in other words and it requires hardly any management – it just works. An expensive solution compared to an Apple TV or Boxee Box but a lot more flexible. It’s not even the latest Mac Mini which I think is an even better buy – if only it came with a Blu-ray player.

3. Canon 550D
My first foray into the world of DSLR’s. I had no real preference between Nikon or Canon and for my budget at the time this was the best camera that could be bought, hence I’m now a Canon guy. Really please with my first eight months of usage. Downsides? I’ve quickly realised that:

a) Photography can be an expensive hobby.
b) There’s always a better lens than the one you’ve got.
c) It’s not easy.

Pro’s outweigh the cons though and I’ve a big list of goals for the coming year and a slightly shorter lists of potential lens purchases that I’m finding impossible to whittle down. Help.

4. iPhone 4
Silly to describe this as a phone now as it’s so powerful. It’s also further down the list for me as it’s lost that new tech feeling from a couple of years back. The shape is familiar, the software is familiar but it feels wrong to be so blasé about technology so powerful. The screen is amazing, the camera now truly good enough to replace pocket camera’s for many and the addition of the front facing camera plus the processor jump made this a great upgrade.

The antenna issue that seemed to be such a big problem has, with hindsight, been nothing more than a tech soap opera. There’s an itch though when I look at the current crop of Android phones. Something fresh, new, different and of equal footing. 2011 will be very interesting to see what incremental upgrades Apple add while the rest of the industry tries to leapfrog.

5. Withings Scale
I love this. A set of scales that cost £100 but they are so geeky it makes me smile. The Withings scales came out at the end of 2009 but it took a few months until I made the purchase. They are wifi enabled, automatically uploading your weight and fat measurements to a cloud based tracking system. The software can auto tweet your weight (howfatisian) but that’s not the appeal for me.

It’s the start of a more connected range of tech. Devices that will be wifi enabled and offer so much more to the end user. There’s a price premium at the moment but that will change over time. I see my weight fluctuate daily, I can’t hide my weight anymore so it’s an incentive to manage it better (and variances are pounced upon by Shakeel) but it’s made tracking easy while connecting to other sites like RunKeeper so that training and weight variations can be seen together…with no manual updating involved. Fantastic. Also, they look great as well.

The One That Got Away
The new Macbook Air’s look amazing. They’ve come out at the wrong time for me so I’ve held off on purchasing but that is the future of Apple laptops. Flash based, thin and light and no dvd drives. Only thing missing – backlit keyboard. If it had that it would be a perfect laptop for me. Maybe 2012 for that purchase as next year it’s time to replace the iMac.

Looking at those five purchases, three weren’t even considered at the start of the year. I wonder what 2011 will bring?

Camera Thoughts

Over the last 9 years I’ve owned three different digital camera’s. A Fuji FinePix 6800, a Sony DSC-P200 and my current camera, the Panasonic DMC-TZ5. Each has seen an increase in quality and features and I still love my current camera. Compact but takes a great picture on a hill walk. But I’ve got an itch. That itch is the Canon EOS 550D.

I’ve said for quite a while I had no interest in getting a DSLR. Bulky, expensive and while I liked taking photo’s it wasn’t enough to make me invest. So whats changed? The hill walking has got me out and about a lot more than I used to. I’ve loved taking the photo’s as we visit different places around Scotland. I also think back to mine and Shak’s little tour around London just over a year ago. Again, I really enjoyed the photo taking and also getting the most out of the images via Lightroom. Final reason – video. Current camera takes video and at 720p but the quality isn’t the best so I’ve been thinking about getting a dedicated video camera. The video quality of the 550D looks to be excellent.

So, thats it then. Decision made. Mmmm, not quite. I’m still swithering. The cost is one reason. Once the camera is bought there’s the little matter of lenses. There’s a bewildering range from Canon, never mind the third party offerings. I’ve spent the last few days trying to pick my first lens or two and I’m no closer to settling on anything. Then there’s all the other little things – memory cards, bag and tripod plus all the other little things that I’ll get sucked into buying. I’m even struggling with how best to carry the new gear, if I get it, on my walks. Probably another 1-2 kg’s of weight and need to work out where best to carry it to make it accessible but keep it safe.

Despite my grumblings, no doubt I’ll post in a few weeks time about how impressed I am with the new camera. Once my mind is 90% there then that’s usually enough. One thing that Shakeel did mention was the number of stories around photographers being stopped by police and asked for details under section 44 of the terrorism act. I had seen a video by a Paul Lewis, a Guardian journalist, from last year of how the police challenged him using Section 44. I’d also heard of I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist which was setup to chronicle and fight the growing fear that photographers were being tagged as terrorists. As I dug a little bit more I was shocked by the growing number of photographers who were being challenged by police.

For example student Simona Bonomo was arrested, held in a cell and fined for photographing buildings in London. While you might think this a London only problem Robert Norbury from Leeds was challenged for filming buskers. One of the worst examples I found was Bob Patefield who refused to give his name and was arrested as police said picture he took at Christmas in Accrington town centre were suspicious and amounted to anti-social behaviour. Wow.

Media reporting on this topic has been sending out mixed messages. Back in Dec 09, The Independent reported that the Association of Chief Police officers had sent out a statement saying:

“Everyone… has a right to take photographs and film in public places. Taking photographs… is not normally cause for suspicion and there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.”

Sounds good. Then on Jan 12, the BBC reported that the European Court of Human Rights rules that it was illegal for the police to use anti terror laws to stop and search people without suspicion. Sounds great except that the UK government is likely to appeal the decision. There’s a great article in The Times today that covers all the points so far and gives out some tips on what to do if you are stopped. Hopefully if (when) I do get the new camera’s it’s advice I’ll never need. We live in scary times.

4th Year

September 30th 2006. Just over three years ago. It cost more than other similar hardware but it looked oh so desirable. It was all new to me but yet quickly became familiar. It was the day I took delivery of an Apple iMac. Three years have actually flown by and a lot has happened in that time. Unusually for me though one thing that hasn’t changed is the hardware I use. I’m still using the 24″ iMac which is running really well with Snow Leopard. Three months after getting the desktop I picked up a Macbook Pro which I still use today. What’s interesting is that prior to switching I would buy a new PC every couple of years. Maybe that was to do with PC gaming that I used to do more off, maybe it was the slowdown over time that I noticed with Windows. All I know is that for an initially high outlay compared to a same spec PC I’ve gotten far more use out of both my Mac’s.

Another key point is that the three years have been relatively hassle free. My iMac failed to boot once but I restored from a backup disk and it’s been fine ever since losing only a couple of day’s worth of files which wasn’t much. Touch wood. During that time I’ve upgraded the O/S twice to Leopard and recently Snow Leopard. The upgrades have left me with a faster O/S each time which was impressive and surprising.

One change that I’ve worked on over the last three years is making sure the software I use on the Mac is either open source or I pay for it. It’s taken a while as I couldn’t afford to buy everything at the one time nor find good alternatives to some expensive software but I’m there now. Torrenting makes it easy to get any app you need to be honest but I felt more and more uncomfortable about stealing software especially as the Mac development community is smaller, tighter and does make some great software. Definitely the right thing to do.

So that leads me into year 4. No need to upgrade, everything working fine. Except my head. More specifically my gadget head. One thing I’ve toyed with buying for a couple of years was an Apple TV or a Mac Mini for the TV. I’ve an ever growing library of digital media and I want to rip my DVD collection. Out of the two products I’d prefer a Mac Mini – more flexibility when it comes to player choices with Plex being the favourite at the moment. But I don’t want a third computer!

So the plan I have formulating…

  • Sell iMac and replace with Mac Mini for under TV.
  • Sell Macbook Pro and replace with new Macbook Pro with larger local disk.
  • Pick up a good monitor (not Apple as prices are eye watering!) for use on desk.
  • Pick up a Drobo as I’m running out of disk space as my local media grows.

That would leave me a great setup that should do me for a few years except it will cost money that I don’t really need to spend but when has that stopped me before. Mmmmm. Also, new Mini’s and iMac’s are rumoured this month both at a cheaper price. Interesting.

I might not know what hardware I’ll end up using but I do know I’ll be sticking with Apple over the coming years. Hopefully year 4 will be as trouble free as the last three.

iPhone Clusterfuck

I’ve had the iPhone almost four weeks now and thought it was time for an update. Well, that’s bollocks really. Yes I’ll detail how it’s been so far but this week has seen a few screw up’s for my iPhone that have left a pretty bad taste. Seen as a whole the iPhone 3G is turning into a clusterfuck for Apple.

The first three weeks of use were very good. The range of app’s in the store is good unlike their stability. However most of the app’s have now had point releases which has improved stability. There’s still an occasional crash but not nearly as many as was seen in the first week. The Apple app’s have all behaved pretty well but with the occasional slowdown and glitch. Texting for example usually works well but every 1 in 5 texts would see the keyboard input lag terribly behind my typing. Restarting the texting app would sort that problem but it was very annoying. Since the 2.0.1 update I’ve not seen the slow keyboard lag again so not sure if it’s coincidence or if it’s actually fixed. As with most Apple updates they don’t detail exactly what’s been fixed, just vaguely write that it addresses numerous bugs.

Bad AppleSpeaking of updates, iTunes and the Appstore app should keep your iPhones app’s up to date making management of the software on the phone a trivial task. However I’ve had mixed results with these features over the month. A couple of on iPhone updates via the Appstore have went less than smoothly resulting in the phone crashing. iTunes also seems to get it’s knickers in a twist as to how many updates are available. iTunes tells me I have one update available but on checking properly in iTunes it then say’s there are six updates available (there is actually only two updates I need – the rest I already have) and it also lists the app’s multiple times. Looking in the iTunes folder under Mobile Applications I can see that multiple versions of the app’s are stored but they don’t tie up with the number of updates that iTunes wants to download. Very weird. Downloading just one of the application updates removes all the duplicates for that application so it looks like a graphical glitch only.

Browsing the Appstore via iTunes or on the iPhone is pretty easy but they don’t make it easy to see what’s new. There are almost 1500 app’s now available for the iPhone yet the only way I can see what’s new is to visit iTunes, goto the store and view All iPhone Applications sorted in date order. Unfortunately updated app’s are included in this sort which can make tracking down new app’s tricky. Surely it’s not hard to add a category called New Applications that only lists, you know, new apps? I can make use of third party RSS feeds for new app’s but I shouldn’t have to. Also, there needs to be trial versions of software. If it’s free then it’s fine. I delete it if I don’t like it. But for paid app’s I’d like to try before I buy. Twitterrific and Exposure offer free versions supported by adverts so you can see how good (Exposure) or buggy (Twitterrific) is before parting with cash. There’s a few games also taking this route – cut down free versions to hook you in but the reality is you can see what your getting before you part with some cash.

However as a whole the phone has worked really well. The keyboard input for me is a lot quicker than normal phones, e-mail and Safari browsing is superb and I’ve used the internet on the iPhone lot’s over the last few weeks – so much more than on the old k800i. The media playback can’t be faulted. Calling it a phone is selling it short really. It does so much more than my other phone’s and it’s a lot more convenient to check mail and send out a quick e-mail on the iPhone than it is to launch the laptop or desktop for a quick task. I still think battery life is pretty poor though. It needs to be charged every day if you use it at all. Talking to N95 owner’s that’s what they are used to as well but it feels over the top for me. Oh, how could I forget the backup. It takes waaaaaay to long. Those aside, best phone I’ve owned and I can’t see anything on the market to compete with it. However I then had two separate issues this week that have left me unimpressed.

On Monday I tried to update one of the app’s I had paid for and had been updated. On trying to do this via iTunes or the iPhone’s Appstore I would get an error. On iTunes I would get the following nonsense message:

MZCommerceSoftware.OwnsNoneSoftwareApplicationForUpdate_message
You cannot update this software since you have not owned the major version of this software

Strange. On the iPhone I would get the following different messages. I love that in the first screenshot I’m told to click OK – I’d love to if the button existed.

iPhone App Update ErrorsiPhone App Update Errors

So for this one app it looks like iTunes/iPhone thought I didn’t own it. The app itself didn’t run either but other app’s seemed to run fine. I put it down to a problem with the application itself and left it at that. On Tuesday 2.0.1 came out so I upgraded hoping it would address a number of issues including fixing the app update issue. How wrong I was.

The update took around 30-40 mins and on restarting all looked well. Swapping between screens showed there was a bit of zip like the forums had suggested. I tried a few text input’s and couldn’t see any lag. I then tried updating the app again – same problem. Now there were a few app’s in iTunes available for update – all reported the same ownership problem. Worse, no third party app on the iPhone worked. Not one. They all launched and then crashed back to the home screen with no error message. Nothing to go on, nothing to check. I looked around the forums and could see other folk with the same issue. I also started digging into the updating problem which seemed to be related to de-authorsing and re-authorising your computer in iTunes. I tried this a few times and it made no difference. I rebooted the Mac and the iPhone – still buggered.

I then checked my purchase history in iTunes. All gone. Nothing. I checked I was logging in properly and that my receipts e-mailed to me were using the same account. They all were. I could now understand why nothing was updating. I wanted to get a free update on a purchased app but iTunes/Appstore on checking my account thinks I haven’t bought it. My receipts and credit card tells me otherwise. I logged the issue with Apple who said they would get back within 48 hours. They eventually did to tell me that this was a serious issue that they want to help me with and it’s been passed on to someone else for assistance. We’ll e-mail you once this has been investigated. Nice. No indication of when to expect that e-mail but take comfort, “Apple wants your iTunes experience to be as enjoyable as possible”.

On searching the forums the app’s not launching and the app’s not updating seemed to be two different issues. Some success was had by people doing a restore. I tried this but it made no difference. In fact the restore was a major pain. It took three attempts before the restore fully worked and took the best part of the morning to get back to the point of having app’s and music/video’s back on the iphone. Not slick at all.

The next way of addressing the launching issue was to remove all your app’s then reinstall. Except I can’t reinstall as I need to buy them to install them (well, the paid ones anyway). I tried the buying just in case it was another crappy dialogue box with the wrong button – I’ve now paid twice for an app so expect a refund. However removing and re-installing a free app got it to work. So the solution to getting an app to launch (if your having this problem) is to remove all app’s in iTunes and also removing them all on the iPhone one at a time, syncing the iPhone, then downloading the app again. Ouch ouch ouch. This is like Windows. This is like a typical support line which wants you to use the disks that came with your computer to wipe, format and start again. Checking the forums this morning and there’s an alleged solution from an Apple rep – http://discussions.apple.com/message.jspa?messageID=7816054#7816054. That’s not a nice solution to work through and I can only hope that the bug(s) that are causing this are being worked on for 2.0.2. I guess it will be hit and miss as to which applications lose saved data. Sigh.

So has my Apple bubble burst? The iPhone is a great piece of technology but it doesn’t measure up to the reliability of the other Apple products I’ve used. iPhone’s OS 2.0 is buggy and really should have been held back for further improvements and testing. 2.0.1 seems to be more stable than 2.0 but it’s hard to see past the problems people are having and think everything is OK. I’ve not even mentioned the issues with MobileMe which resulted in Apple giving all users an extra month free and now the admission from Jobs that MobileMe shouldn’t have launched at the same time as iPhone 3G tell’s me that Apple is stretching itself. What about the reception issues? I know of 2 iPhone 3G owners that have had 3G reception problems that they don’t experience on other phones. What annoy’s the most is that the phone as a whole is great. I can’t see an equivalent on the market that can do all it can despite it’s hardware shortcomings (camera, keyboard etc). The launch issues however are now rumbling into a second month. For customers new to the Apple platform they’ll see this as standard Apple, the way all their products work. Customers that Apple are unlikely to see again unless they get on top of these issues quickly.

I’d still recommend an iPhone but it’s not for everyone and if your in no rush I would wait until nearer Christmas so that the issues can be ironed out. Of course wait until Christmas and you’ll not want to upgrade as there will be a ton of rumours about next years iPhone. So roll on Christmas – maybe I’ll have my iTunes account fixed by then.

Protect Your Balls

CushtopA quick recommendation for laptop users, specifically male laptop users. Protect your balls! Until recently I hardly ever used a laptop on my lap. After some layout changes at home the lap became more common and boy does it get hot. To help I invested in a Cushtop from Belkin. The Cushtop is padded but firm and not only keeps your balls from overheating but seems to keep the laptop cooler too. There’s a handy hole in the middle that can hold power adaptor’s and external drives and it can be flipped to accommodate larger or smaller laptop’s. Even better – it costs only $12.99 from play.com which I think is an absolute bargain. Highly recommended especially as it’s rumoured we’ve reached summertime when days are long (check) and the weather is warm (nope) and sunny (doh!).

The Wait Is Almost Over?

It’s almost a year since the iPhone launched in the states and around 7 months since the UK launch. It was a great device and I’ve lusted after one since launch. However I was on an existing contract, without jailbreaking you couldn’t add software and dropping back from 3G just didn’t appeal. The wait is almost over though. The biggest shock at next weeks WWDC would be no announcement of a 3G iPhone.

3G and GPS seem a stick on if you pull together all the rumours. What else would I like? 32GB, better battery life and a well stocked App’s store. MMS and video chat would also be nice to have and it will be interesting if all the .me rumours are true and that .Mac is really changing.

To be honest a 3G iPhone and no other extra’s would suit me just fine. Only slight worry – would O2 increase their tariff’s for 3G. Surely not? 3 days from now we’ll have all the answers as well as a release date. I’d love to be able to get one in the next couple of weeks. Roll on Monday.

Crumpler Pretty Boy

Crumpler Pretty BoyI’m still loving the Panasonic TZ5 and as it has a really exposed lens, getting a good camera bag was high on the to-do list. After a bit of research I bought a Crumpler Pretty Boy XXS. The TZ5 fits easily in the main compartment and is well protected. There is space for another battery and also a card holder. What I like is that it isn’t a zip that seals the compartment but a large padded flap that seals with velcro and a clip fastener. The second pocket is also velcro sealed. I’ve used it for the last couple of weeks and it’s certainly stopped the TZ5 from scratches, scuffs and any lens damage. Great bag – crap name! Highly recommended for TZ5 owners.

BBC HD Now Official

BBC HD Channel is now official and will launch…today! After trialling for over 18 months it looks to be hastily launched and not that much different from the test channel it’s been running as. It will show more content though, around 9 hours a day starting from 15:00. Programmes like Jools Holland and Planet Earth look stunning in HD – it will be good to see Kill Bill and Sin City at Christmas in HD too.

With Channel 4 rumoured to be launching their HD channel on Dec 10th and ITV in March 08 it looks like HD is finally getting more content. If only Sky would drop their £10 a month HD charge. A lot of people want the HD box and are willing to pay the one off charge but not the monthly fee. The image quality from the HD channels is excellent on Sky, even to the point that I’ll not watch an SD movie as it’s that inferior but I can understand the cost putting people off. Next year may see a TV upgrade!