Articles about hardware

Recreating Jane

So the Ender movie is coming out. That's... well, it's coming out.

This had me thinking about the book series and one thing from there struck me as being more science than fiction nowadays (don't worry, no spoilers):

In the later books of the series Ender has a digital assistant called Jane. Jane takes the shape of small in-ear dongle - a "jewel", which Ender communicates with using voice commands.

Could we create - or at least approximate - Jane using existing consumer technologies today?

Plantronics Savi Go on Mac OS X

Being a remote freelancer, I regularly take part in Skype and phone calls. Up until now, I’ve been using the internal microphone of my MacBook Pro, but let’s be honest, that sucks. So I went hunting for a headset to use.

I ended up buying the Plantronics Savi Go WG100. So far, it seems like a pretty good headset, but getting it to work with my Mac running Snow Leopard proved to be harder than I’d have liked.

Primarily because I thought I knew what I was doing.

Hardware sucks

Once upon a time I would never dream of buying an assembled computer. I’d spend lots of time finding the right components and the cheapest places to buy them. I’d piece the big puzzle together sitting in my dorm room surrounded by cardboard boxes and bubble-wrap.

Most of the time the resulting machine would even work.

Fast forward some ten years to today. My brother recently asked me what processor was in my MacBook Pro and I honestly didn’t know. i-something, perhaps? I can barely remember how much RAM I have. Thing is, I don’t really care any longer.

What the heck is an iPhone application?

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, assuming you follow at least a few blogs, listen to podcasts, or otherwise read the press, Apples iPhone has been released.

Ever since Steve Jobs non-announcement of 3rd party iPhone applications really being web sites, there has been a rush of developers trying to move into this apparently new market. Never before have so many developers been in such a hurry to cater to a tiny percentage of the market running a closed, proprietary technology.

Ah well, let’s for a second forget the folly that is creating web applications targeting a single device, however sleek and sexy it might be, and investigate exactly what these so-called iPhone applications are.

Disclaimer

First of all, let me start by saying that I am located in Europe, which in Apple-lingo means “Yeah, we’ll get to you eventually”. I’d definitely like an iPhone, so feel free to write this blog entry off as me being miffed that I can’t buy one. You’re probably right.

This also means that my entire iPhone experience to date has been through iPhoney, which is likely to be far from the real thing.

Anyways, back to our regularly scheduled program: Me ranting about what qualifies a web site as an iPhone application.

What makes an iPhone application?

  • Ability to work at both 320 pixels and 480 pixels width?
  • Should it have the iPhone look’n’feel?
  • A version served only to the iPhone?
  • Using iPhone-specific features (like the ability to perform phone calls)?
  • All of the above?

I can use google.com just fine in an iPhone, that hardly makes it an iPhone application. When websites that are basically simulations of how a website might look and feel on a real iPhone can be qualified as a top 25 iPhone application something is seriously amiss with our definition.

I assume a bunch of people are releasing so-called iPhone applications for the simple and easy advertising that it is at this point, but if all it takes is to make sure your website can scale down to a width of 480 pixels, the whole point of claiming to have built an iPhone application becomes void.

Or perhaps I am simply missing something not having access to a real iPhone. Perhaps all the websites I visit have a secret way of detecting an iPhone and serve perfect, iPhone optimized goodness to the lucky few. Or perhaps people are grasping for straws, attempting to draw attention to their application:

  1. Serve a custom stylesheet to iPhones
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

At least, people smarter than me – and in particular, people smarter than me who own iPhones – have already tried to define some of this stuff.

And when the iPhone is eventually released here, I’m hoping development best practices will have been settled on. And hopefully people will have come to an agreement what the heck an iPhone application actually is.

iTunes podcasts should work across computers

Imagine this: I’m at work when someone tells me: “Hey, you need to check out this podcast”. “Sure”, I say, “I’d love to”. So I fire up my iTunes, add the podcast to my subscriptions, and forget all about it. Then when I get back home to my podcast-syncing machine, the podcast is downloaded and put on my iPod without me having to do a thing.

Sounds like a great experience and very Apple-ish, right? Too bad it doesn’t work that way.

An iPod isn’t allowed to be connected with two different iTunes libraries, which I can understand. Apple needs to deal with DRM issues and I can live with that. But why doesn’t iTunes store my podcast subscription settings on their server?

iTunes already logs me in automatically, the technology needed to store this really doesn’t appear to be that big a deal, and the podcast content isn’t DRM protected or even stored on their network. The infrastructure is there!

But I still have to send myself an email (or add a task to my ToDo list or whatever) and remember to subscribe to the podcast when I get home, or erase all my existing iPod contents to connect it to a new library. I expect more from Apple.

Optimus 103 keyboard less than optimal?

Art. Lebedev Studio should now have been taking pre-orders for their Optimus-103 keyboard, which is based on what used to be the probably coolest keyboard ever; the Optimus concept keyboard.

However, somewhere along the process from concept to production the keyboard has:

  1. Lost a bunch of keys (fair enough, we probably didn’t need them and losing them shaves 10% off the price).
  2. Lost the ability to display color icons (which unfortunately means it lost quite a bit of its appeal, as well).
  3. Had a pre-order pricetag set to $1200(!), with promises of sub-$1000 in late 2007 ($1200?! we knew it would be expensive, but seriously, that’s way too much for mostly everyone).
  4. Had the studio owner post a sour post claiming it would have no displays and a $10K pricetag (ranting has its place, but I am not sure a post like that is a good idea for any company).
  5. Had it’s pre-order date pushed from mid December 2006 to February 2007 and regained support for color icons (makes me wonder if this means the $1200 pricetag is still real or what?).

So apparently we have to wait until February until we know anything. Until then, you can enjoy the Optimus’ 3 key baby brother instead.

PS: Kudos to the Art. Lebedev Studio team for blogging about this process, even though hearing peoples reactions can be frustrating at times.

Arrival of the MacBook Pro

I received the MacBook Pro some time ago. My impression so far: It’s a friggin’ sweet machine! It is just the perfect size for a laptop and doesn’t weigh as much as I feared. And boy, is it fast. The difference in running a test suite on the MBP compared to my old iBook is staggering.

The built-in camera is a nice gadget and makes me wish I had more people I could video chat with. I love how the camera turned on automatically to take a picture for my user account, very nice touch. Photo Booth also makes for tons of fun :)

The remote and Front Row is a cool combo, but I have yet to find a single, actual use for it. I can’t buy movies or TV series from iTunes, and generally serving media from a machine that I am supposed to lug around doesn’t make that much sense. I should probably start doing more presentations.

As for the rumoured heat problems, so far I haven’t had any real issues. I am not even sure it gets all that much hotter than the iBook, but certainly, both of them do get fairly warm after longer periods of use – especially when running on the power adapter.

Packaging

One thing that needs to be mentioned is Apples packaging. They somehow manage to get cardboard boxes to shout out, “I bring you quality”. The sheer look and feel of the box is impressive and you can’t help but unbox it in awe. There’s no rattling or any loose parts, the position of everything has been thought through. It’s simply a nice experience.

There’s even a weblog dedicated to the experience of unboxing items – not just Apple products.

The destiny of my Windows PC

Parallels is going to be a life saver, and my Windows PC should start worrying. I can’t remember the last time I sat down at it and did something I can’t do on the MBP. Actually, I am not sure when I last sat down at it at all.

It is being used as our media center currently, since it’s the only machine actually connected to the TV and amplifier. I have a feeling the machine might end up in the attic acting as a file server some time soon, though.

Apple helps me out by limiting options

Looks like Apples recent upgrade of the MacBook Pro line helped answer the questions I had in regards to buying a MBP :

  • The 7200 RPM drive is no longer an option.
  • MacBook Pro now ships with a minimum of 2GB RAM (which kinda sucks, since there was a fair amount of cash to save here).

Now, the purchase is pretty much a no-brainer, and a 2.33GHz 15" MBP should be heading my way the coming weeks.

Huge thanks to all those who took the time advising me about what options to get.

My iTunes is messed up

Podcast syncing in my iTunes Jukebox (or whatever the name Apple wants us to use for it) is broken.

I’ve it set to “Sync all unplayed episodes of all podcasts”. iTunes reports that I currently have 11 unplayed podcasts in my iTunes library. However, the iPod holds only 5 podcasts after updating.

At least it’s better now. After the first update today my iPod held only one podcast.

There’s plenty of free space on the iPod, and I can’t tell if there’s some switch somewhere that I need to flick. Piece of buggy software.

What other, easy to use podcasting clients are available? I’m also missing the ability to add non-podcast files to my podcast queue, say in the case of presentations where I don’t have a feed, but only the direct download.

Seeking Mac shopping advice

I am pondering buying a MacBook Pro. It will be for the business and as such used primarily for running a couple of databases, a webserver, TextMate, a bunch of Ruby processes, and the occasional Photoshop (although that might end up being run under Windows).

I think I’d like to be able to run Parallels so I figure 2GB is the amount of RAM I’d need? Is the recommended option still buying the machine with 512MB RAM and order 2GB non-Apple RAM elsewhere and install it yourself?

If it is, what kind of RAM do I actually need to buy (I suck at buying RAM, took me two tries to order the proper RAM for my machine at work), and is it easy enough to install it on my own without voiding warranties and whatnot?

As for the harddrive I am considering the 7200 RPM option. Does this actually give any performance benefits, or will it just suck the life out of the battery? I am not too worried about disk space. I’ll get an external disk eventually, or simply use the server at home or some disk in the sky for storage.

I am aiming for the 15" 2.16 GHz configuration. It seems to me that it gives the best compromise of power and portability. The 17", while impressive, doesn’t give that much extra benefit and appears slightly too large to lug around.

Any extras I desperately need? Anything I need to be aware of?