In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: Apple Page 2 of 4


Look, I broke my Mac:


Okay, okay … I didn’t really break it. Instead, it was time for an upgrade.

I bought it with a 320GB hard drive, which you can see to the right, just above the pliers. In the guts of the computer, at the top centre, you can see the brand-new 1TB hard drive I just installed. The LCD is still attached because removing the third connection was a little more trouble than it was worth. I had full access to the drive after removing the other two connections and swinging it away as you can see. I really wanted to blow out the fans with some canned air, but I wasn’t going to risk getting the LCD so dusty that I couldn’t clean it.

Dust was a major concern because there’s a piece of glass that covers the LCD, so any dust on the LCD or the inner surface of the glass would be difficult to remove once I reassembled the system. I dosed them both with compressed air and it seems to have worked out just fine. I was nervous when first booting the system because the canned air I bought managed to spray a quantity of propellant on the glass. Yes, I was holding the can upright. It would either evaporate entirely or leave some trace behind. Happily I can see no trace of residue.

I didn’t just tear into the computer, blindly. Goodness, I wouldn’t do that with a device so plainly not designed for user-servicing. I might be a little too eager to open things that I shouldn’t open, but not to this extent! I did it because I had the good fortune to discover an article called Upgrade your iMac 20″ or iMac 24″ aluminum 2007, 2008 & 2009 to 1.5 or 2TB Hard Drive — DIY Guide that described the procedure with lots of photos. It didn’t seem that hard so I decided to give it a try, planning to back out before I got myself into trouble. I know those sound a lot like famous last words, but it turned out that it was less complicated than I expected and it took between 20 and 30 minutes to complete.

The only required prep was to assemble the tools, including some small Torx drivers and a couple of suction cups, and to clone the old drive to the new one. I wasn’t about to reinstall everything so a block-level drive clone was the way to go. I cloned the drive before I did the swap so that after the operation, I could turn it on and everything would work as it should.

Everything is working so I feel that I can call the operation a success!

My iPod and me

Yesterday, Apple announced their upcoming iPhone operating system version 4.0. It’s chock-full of new features. The big one is multitasking, which many people have been clamouring for.

As I read through the descriptions of how the multitasking will function, it occurred to me that the company would not support the older hardware models forever. Would my first-generation device be able to handle the extra work required to run all these new features?

It was a prescient thought, because after all the new goodies were detailed, they revealed that the new firmware would not support the first generation iPod Touch and iPhone. My trusty iPod already has the last update it will ever receive. The firmware will support the second generation models, but not all the new features will be available to them, and in particular, multitasking. I’m not entirely surprised because the third generation devices doubled the memory and significantly increased the processing power and graphics capabilities. Apple could have allowed second generation devices to use the new features, but the performance would be unacceptable.

It makes me a bit sad that my iPod has reached the end of the upgrade line, but I’m not upset. Many are, however. To read the comments on the stories reporting this news, you’d think Steve Jobs broke into the home of every owner of first and second generation iPod Touch and iPhone devices, and destroyed them. “Apple screws the customer again,” was the common reply. And my rejoinder? “What a bunch of fucking whiners!”

I bought my iPod Touch in November 2007. At that time there was no app store. The applications that came on the device were all you had. At that time, there was no Maps, Stocks, Notes, Weather, and not even an e‑mail client. The iPhone had them, but the iPod Touch did not. The calendar was no great shakes as it would display the appointments you created on your computer, but you could not add any directly on the iPod itself. They released a software update to add these missing applications in early 2008. Firmware version 2 came out in June 2008, including the new app store, which opened the sluice gates.

My point is that I bought it knowing full well what I was getting. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have bought it. All of the functionality added after I purchased it was pure gravy. All of those whiners still have the same iPod or iPhone they purchased and it works exactly the same, or better. Just because the new features need hardware that their devices don’t have, they feel ripped off. Talk about ridiculous!

Next month I’ll have had my iPod for 2½ years and I like it just fine, thanks. Up to this point, the only new features unavailable to me were those that required the hardware added to newer models, such as Bluetooth, a speaker, hardware volume controls, and voice control. From here on, I’ll be getting nothing new. But you know what? That’s okay.

The iPod I have now is easily twice the iPod I purchased. To complain that I can’t get even more would show a level of selfish entitlement that I don’t understand, much less feel. Until it dies or I feel compelled to replace it with something else, we’ll continue along nicely, just as we have for years now, thanks.

Time for e‑books? Not yet.

Wired has a number of articles on the new Apple iPad. Most tech sites do. In “The iPad Arrives: The Wait is Over (And Wasn’t Bad),” the author, John C Abell, writes:

Time Magazine, one of the first periodicals on the iPad, is asking $5.00 — the same at the newsstand price — and not offering a subscription yet. It’s hard to imagine that is a sustainable model, since even booksellers realize that e‑books should be cheaper than their print analogs.

This is messed up and illustrates a major reason why e‑books (e‑mags?) are still a non-starter for me. I simply can’t stomach paying the same price as for the paper version. They don’t have to buy the paper, print the magazine, ship it to the retailer, and absorb the cost of the copies that are not sold. Apple takes 30% of the sale price and for this percentage, they maintain the entire distribution infrastructure. The publisher need only hand over the files, and Apple sends them their revenue. Since the price of creating the content is the same, their cost would drop if everything involving production of the physical portion of the magazine is more than 30% of the total cost.

Is the cost of the physical portion of a magazine more than 30% of the total? I don’t know. You can bet the cost of a hardcover book is at least 30% the total cost of a hardcover book. It must be if a hard cover costs $30 or $40 when a book released, and then they sell the same novel as a mass-market paperback a year later for $10. And don’t believe for a second that they’re not making a profit on that paperback as well. Then again, the profit margin on hardcover books may be far larger than I suspected.

Regardless, publishers make more profit on hardcover books. They’ve enjoyed this two-tier pricing for decades. The only difference is the physical component. What will they do when there is no physical component? I can imagine that they’ll be very reluctant to forgo a year of higher profits on every book. Will they simply charge more for the first year of release? That won’t go over well with the reading public.

What I do know is that there are positive and negative aspects to e‑books as compared to paper books. Among the positives is that they take up no space. A reader with one e‑book loaded is the same size and weight as a reader with 100 e‑books loaded. You can search for text in e‑books. You can make notes in e‑books without permanently marking up the pages. I can probably simplify the advantages by just listing convenience.

The biggest down-side is that you have to buy some sort of reader. These cost hundreds of dollars so you’re already behind, money-wise. You can’t lend an e‑book to a friend, unless you lend them your reader as well. You can’t recoup some of the purchase price by selling the e‑book after you’re done with it. Today, e‑books are new and there are many different formats. The market will certainly settle down, and in doing so, the number of popular e‑book formats will decrease. The e‑books you buy now may be in a format that eventually falls out of favour. This is just one way in which e‑books lack the ‘permanence’ that paper books have. Damage to paper books is less costly in that if you drop one in the lake, you’ve wrecked one book. If you drop your reader in the lake, you’re going to have to buy a new one even if all your e‑books files are safely backed up. If your files are not backed up, you’ve just dropped your entire library in the lake.

How the advantages and disadvantages stack up depends on your habits, choice of books, and preferences. For me, the disadvantages are winning by a small margin. I’m just not comfortable making the switch to e‑books because I have little faith that I can use the purchases I make today in a decade, for example. Perhaps I need to stop viewing the book/e‑book decision as all or nothing. The other issue I have is that I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not getting as much when the content is exactly the same and there’s no physical component.

I also wonder about libraries. Files can be copied so the concept of ‘returning’ an e‑book makes no sense. Will publishers figure out a way to make e‑book files with a life-span? It doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable problem until you take into account the multitude of e‑book file formats. Some standardization is required before libraries can begin to embrace e‑books.

One thing we’ll certainly see in the near future is that electronic books and magazines will begin to diverge from their paper brethren. Information printed on paper is fixed, but there’s no reason e‑books can’t be dynamic. There’s no reason an electronic book or magazine can’t include video. There’s no reason an electronic newspaper can’t learn your habits over time and sort the stories by your interest in the topics. The possibilities are endless. I expect this will be largely positive, but negative aspects are already appearing.

Back to the Wired article, the author continues describing his experience with the electronic Time Magazine:

The second page of Time is an ad. An ad which will not swipe away for several seconds. Hmmm … in a paper magazine — I paper magazine I paid five bucks for — I could tear the damn thing out if I wanted.

This kind of crap will not please readers.

The traditional print media, whether book, magazine, or newspaper publishers, are bemoaning their current financial straits. They were slow to embrace the changes around them and suffered as a result. Now that they finally seeing the writing on the wall, they’re taking their first steps into the world of electronic publishing. The publishing, distribution, and financial models of the past don’t exist there, and the structure to replace them will be built by trial and error in the coming years. This forced ad-view is just one such trial.

I’m bitterly disappointed to read of the tactics with which Time is experimenting. They certainly have the right to require that their readers pay the same price for the electronic magazine as for the paper version. They can also require that the reader view the ads for whatever period they require, which may be determined by how much the advertiser pays. But they can not require that I purchase their product, and they’d be wise to remember this.

iMac warranty expiration

Is it really possible that I’ve been a Mac user for more than two years? It’s more than possible!

I looked through my receipts to find that I purchased my iMac in December 2007. My AppleCare warranty expires in December. This is good and bad.

It’s bad because part of my screen is darker than the rest when I first turn the system on. If the fluorescent tubes are arranged vertically, it’s the one in the middle. It’s fine now because within a minute or two or turning the system on, the brightness evens out. I would like it to fail before December so the replacement is free.

It’s good because once the warranty expires, I’m going to open this thing up and replace the piddly 320 GB drive with a 1.5 TB or perhaps a 2 TB unit. With the iMac being an ‘all in one,’ it’s not as simple as it would be with a PC, but I’m armed with knowledge and pictures! I’d like to do it now, but I’m not going to risk voiding the warranty.

When December rolls around, I’ll have an early Christmas present for myself.

Unintended connections

If you’ve never seen James Burke’s fantastic ten episode 1978 series called Connections, watch it! Watch it soon, watch it now!

One point he stresses in the series is that no inventor has any idea of the consequences of his invention. Do you think the first person to conceptualize the automobile thought it would completely change the structure of our cities and dump enough CO2 into our atmosphere to change the climate? I imagine they’d think you were suffering from brain fever if you suggested it.

Once you have this pointed out, you can see all kinds of devices and products being used in ways that the designer had not envisioned.

Just this week I saw a very clever example of this.

Airlock is a remarkably ingenious piece of software for the Mac. All modern Macs come equipped with Bluetooth. Similarly, second generation and newer iPhones and iPod Touch models have Bluetooth. After installing Airlock, you have it identify your iPhone so it will recognize it from all others. Then, assuming you keep your iPhone somewhere on your person, your Mac will lock itself when you leave your desk, and unlock itself when you return. You don’t have to type your password or press any keys. It just happens.

It sounds too simple, but it works exactly as advertised. Don downloaded it and showed me. Once the application recognizes your iPhone, it simply locks the computer when your iPhone moves out of range (or beyond a configurable distance) and unlocks the computer when your iPhone comes back.

Bluetooth was designed as wireless means to allow electronic devices to exchange information over short distances. The cordless headset you use with your mobile phone probably uses Bluetooth. Your cordless mouse and keyboard probably use Bluetooth as well.

But to use Bluetooth to lock a computer when the user’s phone moves out of range is a very clever use of existing tools … and certainly not something the Bluetooth designers thought of at the time!

I’d already have Airlock if I could use it. But alas, I cannot. I don’t have a Mac at work, and my iPod Touch is a first-generation model without Bluetooth. Denied! Too bad … as the price is certainly reasonable. They’re asking just $7.77 and also have a demo that will work for three hours at a time allowing you to run it through its paces.

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