Apple Wireless Keyboard

Recently, thanks to the useful Matt Patterson (Matt, have I paid you yet?) I acquired an Apple Wireless Keyboard.

We’d just moved to a new office, thus a new desk, and for the first time in ages I found myself uncomfortable when typing. For years now I’ve worked directly on the laptop screen and keyboard, resisting the urge to hang external keyboards and screens off it. It’s a laptop, it moves around, and I’ve always preferred to have the same environment everywhere, rather than having one screen/keyboard at work, and something different at home.

Also, I’ve always hated external keyboards. After typing on nothing but laptops for five years, I’ve become used to tiny amounts of key travel and no clickiness. I’ve lost the ability to press a real keyboard key all the way down, so my typing goes completely broken as soon as I try one.

The back pain dictated a change in this policy. So now the laptop sits on a pile of books, to elevate it to a sensible height, and the keyboard sits under it. Getting the Apple keyboard solved both my problems. It’s a disconnected Macbook keyboard – exactly the same layout as my real keyboard, so I don’t get upsetting layout changes, and the keys are laptop keys, so are easy to push and don’t travel very far. It’s the same width as my normal keyboard. Also, no wires. This is great in the same way that a wireless mouse is great.

The biggest surprise has been the new F-key positions. The volume controls have moved from F3/4/5 to F10/11/12, leaving space for Exposé keys, and naturally the backlight keys are missing. I thought this would annoy me, but actually the volume keys are now in much better places, and I get annoyed at the real laptop keyboard. I can find the volume keys without looking down now, by moving to the top-right of the keyboard, in the same way that I’ve always been able to get at the screen brightness keys by moving to the top-left. I don’t use the media control keys, though. I have Synergy for that.

Recently it’s going a little soggy, and I suspect battery failure. And the ‘down’ key needs pressing straight down to work, whereas I turn out to have been pressing the bottom edge of the key on the Macbook Pro. But these are trivial. I like it.

It’s the iPhone 3G

I guess I may as well write down my few thoughts on this iPhone thing.

On O2’s offer to existing customers

To thank you for being an iPhone fan, we’re offering you an early upgrade to the brand new version when it launches on 11th July 2008. You won’t have to wait until the end of your existing contract, all you’ll need to do is agree to a new 18-month minimum term contract

Is that an additional 18 months on top of my contract now, or merely a reset of the run to 18 months from now? Because if it’s the latter, I want mine now.

An aside. When trying to tell O2 where I live, I get the exciting error [House Number must be numeric]. Um. No. Because mine isn’t. Idiots.

Interestingly, the page about the iPhone upgrade makes mention of O2’s «new iPhone Pay & Go SIM cards». Hmmm, interesting. Though if I can get me an iPhone 3G cheaply I’ll probably end up just jailbreaking it instead. Or if the iPhone 3G isn’t jailbreakable, and you can’t buy old ones any more, I wonder if it’ll have disgusting amounts of resale value…

On 3G

Let’s (almost) gloss over the actual ‘3G’ feature here. The standard Steve approach was used – ‘3G simply isn’t necessary, EDGE is fine!’. Until the iPhone has 3G, at which point it’s ‘Look how much better 3G is!’. I have the iPhone 1, and I find EDGE just fine. My total web page download time is already faster than it was on the 3G phone I used to have, because my web browser doesn’t take 20 seconds to load. 3G will be nice. But meh.

On Pricing

Gruber has a bit on the new pricing structure, and this is the interesting bit for me. What I read here is that ‘subverting the old phone industry business model’ didn’t work. So they’ll do the same thing everyone else does instead and just sell subsidised phones through carriers. So much for changing the world. But this implies that they’ll do the other thing everyone else does, and sell unlocked versions of their phones for more money. If they’re no longer getting a cut of the carrier revenues, why would they care any more?

Oh, and Gizmodo relays the interesting point that, sans monthy revenue to book against the iPhone, Apple may start charging for feature upgrades on SOX grounds. Except that the Apple TV gets free upgrades. The ongoing revenue thing is just an accounting ‘profit from this thing is amortized over 18 months’ device, no?

Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro

This really doesn’t deserve a blog entry. I try to keep them ‘serious’. But what the hell.

I see many complaints by Macbook Pro owners about the Macbook Air, and how it’s not right for them. But when I was choosing a laptop, I was choosing between a Macbook Pro and something that was smaller, lighter, and not as powerful, but that was still a full-featured computer – the Macbook. And I chose the Pro.

The choice between the Pro and the Air is the same choice, except that it’s slightly harder, becuase the Air is even lighter. But I’d still choose the Pro. It’s not aimed at people who have already chosen the big heavy laptop over the lighter one.

Using the iSight for Adium / iChat

I have a lovely shiny office MacBook Pro sitting in front of me, and in the
middle of the top of the screen is this little annoying black square. It’s an
iSight camera, and it can always see me.

It’s annoying for two reasons. Firstly, it can always see me. There’s a little
light to tell you that it’s on, but it’s perfectly capable of blipping on
briefly without you noticing. But mostly it’s annoying because I hate
the thought of such a high-tech piece of technology just going to waste up there.

I really have no real use for this thing at all – I don’t obsessively
catalogue my book collection
, I don’t hold
frequent multi-person videoconference
, and I already have a
camera. I’ve also seen enough PhotoBooth
to last me my ENTIRE LIFE.
But merely having no good reason isn’t a good enough reason to stop me, so I
came up with a use for it.

DuckCall is an application that runs in
the background, and takes a picture of you every 30 seconds using the iSight.
Then it’ll set this picture to be your iChat or Adium ‘status picture’ thing –
the little picture of your head that other people see in their contact lists.
Setting away messages is so web1.0 – when I’m not at my computer, you know it,
because you can’t see me. It’ll also try to be smart – it won’t do
anything if neither app is running, for instance.

Naturally, it’s not perfect. For the Adium stuff to work, you need to be using
a recentish beta – the ones with the
single buddy icon shared between services. And it has a nice little
todo list, like all my projects.

The biggest thing wrong with it, though, is the Frankenstein nature of the thing. I write my crazy application prototypes in PyObjC because it’s very easy to get something working. But there are no Cocoa bindings for reading from the iSight (why??) so I shell out to an external tool and save a file from the iSight to disk. Then I use AppleScript to load the file from disk and set the icon of either of the IM apps that happen to be running (or both, I guess, if you’re weird). Using Python as the wrapper makes the app about 3 megabytes larger than it really should be. If someone wants to re-implement it in Objective C, that would be good.. 🙂

Weirdy, I’m not sure if I like the philosophy of the app. I keep getting scared that it’ll take photos of me at bad times. Given my stated reluctance to publicise my life it’s odd that I even considered writing this thing. I comfort myself with the thought that no matter how stupid I look in this photo, it’ll be gone in 30 seconds, and most people will never see it…

Get it here and tell me what you think..

bluetooth is teh shiny

Today’s shiny toy is BluePhoneElite, which sits on the lappy and talks to the phone via bluetooth. It does the usual proximity stuff – lock the screen when the phone goes out of range, pause iTunes and display bezels when there’s an incoming call (which is great when the phone is set to silent mode and I don’t notice it ringing..), and random other stuff (yay applescript). It’ll talk to your address book locally, and let you add unknown numbers to in from your incoming call list. I can use it to send SMSes using my nice big keyboard instead of fumbling around on a tiny phone keyboard. All this stuff is boring – Romeo will do the proximity stuff nicely, for instance, and is free, no less, and the SMS-writing stuff is handled perfectly well by the Apple Address Book. For me, the killer feature of BPE is that I can read past SMSes on the phone using it. This isn’t new technology – by far my favourite program in my ancient Psion was an app that would sync my SMS inbox/outbox with the phone, so I could read and write them on a device with a real keyboard. But that was 6 years ago! I’ve been looking for this app for ages.

Of course, there’s a downside. Given the amount of time I spend within bluetooth range of this machine, being bluetooth paired to it at all times is killing the battery life of the phone – it’s gone from easily >1 week to about 2 days. That’s quite a drop. I still haven’t decided if it’s worth it to me. Hopefully I’ll decide before the software trial period runs out and I have to pay for it..

Humax PVR 8000T

Again, in the ‘new shiny things‘ category, I have got myself a Humax PVR 8000T – it’s a Freeview box with an 80gig PVR built-into it, and was recommended by a friend of mine who knows about these things. I think I quite like it. Going from 5-channel terrestrial to lots-of-channels plus time-shifting plus an EPG plus scheduled programme recording is great. Not that I watch a lot of telly, but the little I do watch is now more interesting and more convenient.

Of course, after amazingly little time, the annoying things start to grate. Not that any of these are onerous – in every respect my experience is better now than it was, but still.. for instance, I can’t look at the EPG when the telly is paused. Tiny, because I can push play, look at the EPG, drop out of the EPG and rewind back to where I was. Much more annoying is the fact that I can’t convert time-shifted TV into a recorded programme – although you can either press ‘record’ to start recording into a named slot on the box, or you can rewind the current programme to any point since you last changed the channel, you can’t rewind the TV to a point in the past and start recording to a named slot from that point – you can only record from ‘now’. That’s annoying.

On the bright side, if I ever need to upgrade the harddisk in it, it’s trivially easy. And another thing that I consider to be a good thing, although others might disagree, there’s nowhere on the box for a top-up (danger – ugly) slot, so I can’t talk myself into paying a monthly subscription for things (something I insist I don’t let myself do – I don’t watch enough telly to make it worth it, and neither do I want to).

Conclusion – it’s a good box. I’d refer a TiVo, of course, but then I also want a pony. And a Jacuzzi.

— Later —

Argh, more annoyances. It’s only got one tuner, so you can’t watch something and record something else. Fair enough. But you also can’t record something and watch a recorded programme, which must be within the capability of the technology. Grr.

Random side note – half of these links are just the top Google hit or a straight wikipedia lookup for the words in the link text. I want a shortcut key to do that for me, or maye a markup method that’ll link to the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ page for it.

More on the NSLU2

Well, having played with a real linux distro on the NSLU2 for a while, I’ve reverted it to the stock firmware. It’s now nothing smarter than a disk-sharing box. Sure, it was cute being able to do these interesting things with it, but after a while you realise that you never actually ssh into it, and mt-daapd, which was the real reason I wanted the ability to install software on it, eats all the CPU, takes about an hour to start up with all the music on the drive, and almost 10 minutes to connect to, so I never use it. Let’s just revert to something I trust.

Aaah, technology.

New shiny thing

I was feeling a lack of toys, so I’ve acquired an NSLU2. This is a cute little (_really_ little) box that will plug into your external (USB2) harddisks and samba share them across an ethernet. Very nifty. For the most part, setting this stuff up was trivially easy, the only thing that annoyed me was that the box wants to format the drive ext3, so I have to do the juggling dance with a spare external drive and pour data from one to the other repeatedly, and now I’m sitting here watching 220 gigs of data move over the (100 meg) ethernet link, which is dull and slow.

Of course, out-of-the-box toys are never fun enough, and indeed, this thing runs linux and has now been hacked / upgraded / whatever, so I can ssh into it and cron rsyncs of the data to another computer, and it runs mt-daapd so the mp3 collection on it is automatically shared across the network, etc, etc. The important thing to do now is to not mess with it so much that I break it. That would be bad.