Archive for June, 2006

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

Friday, June 30th, 2006

So, just over a month into my iMac Core Duo experience, the first (and hopefully the last) hardware issue rears its head.

In the last couple of days I’ve noticed a strange chirping sound in my office occasionally. At first I thought it was birds in the tree outside my window, but then it happened at night. Eventually I narrowed it down to a sound coming out of my Mac.

It’s exactly the same as this sound. Odd that it’s in a completely different type of Mac, but it is definitely that sound. So it sounds like it might be an issue with one of the zillions of fans inside the iMac. It’s only intermittent and varies in volume quite a bit – I’d say I notice it about 1 in every 5 minutes. (It’s just started again as I’m typing this. Ooh, and now it’s gone again already.)

It’s annoying, but I’m not sure if it’s “call AppleCare only for them to tell me to reinstall OS X and then eventually have to send it away for two weeks” annoying. So I’ll probably try and live with it for now. It may be coincidence, but it seems like it might have started since I updated to 10.4.7 on Wednesday. So maybe a future OS update will fix it. (Hey, I can dream can’t I?!)

The ironies here – or perhaps the hidden lessons – are:

  1. If I hadn’t bothered to track down the source I’d have probably just assumed it was some nice birdie outside and would have quite enjoyed the chirping, as opposed to finding it annoying.
  2. For all I know my old rusty Linux box could have had the same chirping problem, but the rest of the PC was so loud I’d never have noticed!

Have you had any similar noise problems with your Mac or PC? How did you solve it (apart from wearing headphones and turning the music up loud!)?

Falling at the Last Hurdle

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

I’ve had the Mac for a month or so now, and on the whole I’m very happy with it. It’s certainly much easier to use than my Linux box was, and it’s much quicker to get work done on it. (Except for OpenOffice, which actually seems worse than the Linux version. Hope that improves soon!)

One thing I’ve noticed with Apple’s software though, is that on the whole it’s wonderful and does everything you need, but it often “falls at the last hurdle” by missing some killer feature, or doing it very badly. I suspect a lot of this is to “encourage” you to subscribe to .mac (which frankly after spending $3K on a new computer I’m loath to do) or buy some other add-on. Sometimes it’s downright annoying, and often means you have to fork out for some 3rd party shareware app to get the job done properly.

Exhibit A: iPhoto. Wonderful app. I love the ease of browsing and in-place editing, and can process and manage my photos so much faster than I could with just The GIMP and a file system. However, the “Export to Web Page” feature falls into the “why did they even bother?” category. It’s terrible. It produces a plain HTML page with a table of thumbnails in it. That’s it. No selectable colours or templates. It doesn’t even have CSS classes on the table elements, so you can’t even style it yourself.

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Fink, cdrecord, DVD burning and Automator

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

My old Linux box was set up to do nightly backups to CD-RW using cdrecord, which worked great. I wanted to set up a similar backup system on the Mac (using DVD-RWs of course). So I needed to find a way to get the Mac to burn DVD-RWs automatically from within my backup shell script (run as a nightly cron job).

Reading around, if you want to burn discs from the command line then cdrecord is the way to go on the Mac (just as it is with Linux). The only snag for me was that cdrecord is only available in Fink, and I was resisting installing Fink as the Intel version is very much in “beta”. (Since then Fink has released a new version which at least doesn’t require compiling from source on Intel, but many packages are still broken on Intel.)

Anyway, I decided to take the plunge as I really needed to get my backups working. So I downloaded the fink tarball and it compiled and ran without any serious problems. However getting cdrecord to compile and install was a different matter. After much warning notices, beepy noises and messages moaning about GNU make, I ended up getting the obscure error message:

install: READMEs: Inappropriate file type or format

Grrr! This is the sort of thing I was hoping to move away from on the Mac. Couldn’t find a solution on the web or any mailing lists either.

Automator to the rescue! I’d never used it before, but I noticed it had a “Burn a Disc” action. So I knocked together a simple workflow that picks up my backup tarball file and burns it to a disc (it can even verify the disc contents afterwards), then I added the following line to my cron job shell script:

automator /Users/matt/backup_scripts/dvdrw/burn_disc.workflow/

Problem solved. :) Maybe I’ll try cdrecord again once it’s a bit more stable in fink…

Lovin’ It

Friday, June 9th, 2006

I’ve had my new Mac for just over 2 weeks now. Things I really like about it compared to my old Debian box:

  • Drag & drop actually works, and works consistently. You can drag almost anything from anywhere to anywhere. Drag a file to a buddy in iChat to send it. Drag an album cover from Safari to iTunes to add it to the mp3. You can even select some text and drag it to the desktop if you want!
  • The whole thing feels really consistent. Spell-check from practically anywhere (Mail, Safari, iChat) in the same way. Command + comma is always the keyboard shortcut for Preferences, in any app. The app menus are always laid out in the same way.
  • Mail is so fast compared to Thunderbird on Debian. When you drag a mail to a folder, it actually goes to that folder immediately (not 10 seconds later after it’s finished re-downloading from the IMAP server). Searching my entire 400MB mailbox for any word or phrase takes seconds rather than minutes. The UI is really snappy and responsive -probably partly due to having a computer that’s 4 times faster! (There is one bug I’ve found in Mail where IMAP attachments take ages to download. Hope to see this one fixed soon, Apple!)
  • iTunes is lovely. Really easy to organise your music, and it’s nice and responsive too. (If only it had gapless playback!!)
  • It’s true that stuff generally “just works” without requiring loads of configuration and tweaking first. This is what I was hoping for. I’ve had to customise a few settings, but on the whole Mac OS just does what you expect it to, out of the box. The downside to this is that you can’t always tweak things as much as you like. I laughed when I found there are only 2 options for desktop colour schemes – “Blue” and “Graphite” (grey). This reminds me of the old “Both Types of Music! Country and Western” gag…
  • Weird though it was at first, I’ve grown to love the use of the Command key rather than Control for stuff like cut and paste. (e.g. Command+x, Command+v.) It’s much easier on the hand and wrist, and quicker to use too.
  • And I just love the way you install apps by dragging them to the Applications folder. So simple! Debian (and particularly Ubuntu) are a lot nicer in this regard these days, but still there’s something very satisfying about physically dragging an icon into your applications folder to install it (and of course dragging it out again and into the trash to uninstall).

That’s a brief list for now. I’m sure I’ll find lots more to love (and not love) about my new Mac in the next few weeks. If you own a Mac, please let me know what you love or hate about it! :)

Front Row – Great In Theory

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

One of the first things I tried to do on my new iMac was, of course, play a DVD with Front Row and that nifty little Apple Remote. It’s a wonderful idea, being able to use the Mac as a media centre, and indeed was one of the main reasons I bought the iMac.

So I clicked the remote’s Menu button and the desktop was whisked away into the background while the Front Row interface whirled into view. It’s quite a cool effect.

You get options for Music, Photos, DVD and Videos. I selected the DVD option and it asked me to put in a DVD. I fed it a Lord of the Rings DVD and eventually the DVD menu appeared. This is where the trouble started. The arrow buttons on the remote couldn’t control the menu, although the up and down buttons did change the volume. It was as if Front Row didn’t recognise that it was in the DVD menu.

I tried it a few times, but no joy. So I backed out of Front Row and fired up the regular Apple DVD player software instead. That worked fine. I tried installing the couple of hundred MB of requested software updates (including a Front Row update), but the menu problem in Front Row remained. After hunting around on Google I managed to track down the Front Row 1.2.2 update. Downloaded – installed – problem fixed. :) Not sure why this wasn’t in the main software updates list though.

Other issues I’ve had with Front Row include:

  • trying to use it while ripping a CD in iTunes (forget it unless you like watching the display freeze for minutes on end!), and
  • an intermittent problem where it just won’t start, no matter how much I try to coax it into life with the Apple Remote. I think this might happen if you put a DVD in first so that the regular DVD player starts up, which then prevents Front Row from starting. Generally a reboot sorts it out.

Overall though, Front Row is a great addition to the Mac in my opinion, and the Apple Remote makes watching DVDs in bed that much easier! You can even send the Mac to sleep by holding down the play button on the remote, which is a nice touch. They just need to iron out a few bugs (and maybe make the music playback options a bit more flexible), and it’ll be perfect. Hell, it’s already better than having to muck about with hard drive and video card settings just to play DVDs on my Linux box!