Musings of an anonymous geek

September 24, 2007

My New iPod

Filed under: Apple,Me stuff — m0j0 @ 7:06 am

My wife and I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure why. I think it started because, for the first couple of years we dated, we were a few hundred miles apart, so we couldn’t. Now it’s just tradition. Anyway, to make up for it, we go all out on our anniversaries. We had several anniversaries before we were married, but this is our second wedding anniversary, and my wife got me at 160GB black iPod Classic ๐Ÿ˜€

This is the exact model I wanted. I did not want the iPod Touch. I think the iPod Touch is an insult to my intelligence to tell you the truth. I don’t know why Apple thinks I’m stupid enough to not realize that the iPod Touch is going to magically grow a phone over the next year or two. I don’t know why they think I should spend more money to get 1/10 the storage capacity of the iPod Classic.

The real kicker is that the iPod Touch, which has 1/10 the storage capacity of the iPod Classic, has a direct line to the iTunes Music Store, but the iPod Classic – the social icon around which people build their identities these days, and which has 160GB capacity, doesn’t. Seems like Apple could just put a wi-fi radio in the iPod classic, give it a direct connection to the music store as well, and watch the kids stand around on the playground listening to each other’s tunes and downloading a copy of their own for $.99. Hell, Apple could probably eat 75% of the cost of the data connection, further subsidize it through deals with the ISP, perhaps a small fee built into the initial cost of the iPod, or a $.05 surcharge on songs downloaded directly to the iPod or something, charge the customer *once*, for the iPod instead of a monthly data transmission fee or whatever, and still make money.

For $50 more than the 16GB Touch, you can get the iPhone. It only has 8GB capacity, but replaces two gadgets you may carry around all the time. Your phone, and your point-n-shoot digital camera. I’m not a fan of Apple’s stance toward users who would like to run software not made by Apple on the hardware they allegedly own, but if we’re just talking value and comparing the devices in their line, I have to believe the iPhone is a slightly better value than the iPod Touch.

Anyway, this was really meant to be a glowing review of my iPod Classic. It works wonderfully. I’ve already loaded a few months worth of home brewing podcasts, all the music that I care about (for now – more coming), a bunch of photos of my wife and daughter and stuff, and I’m all set to go. My wife must truly love me. At some point I hope to figure out why. ๐Ÿ™‚


March 19, 2007

Code Editor Goodness: Komodo Editor

Filed under: Apple,Linux,Python,Scripting,Sysadmin,Technology — m0j0 @ 7:55 am

Geez…. for a sysadmin I sure seem to write a lot of code. In the past year I’ve written an assignment type for Moodle in PHP, cobbled together an API in Perl to manage various LDAP resources, and I’ve just completed a prototype for an XML-RPC server that will be an interface to our data warehouse (which I designed, and wrote ETL scripts for in Perl, awk, and shell). Whew!

With all of this going on, a good editor is necessary. I’m a sysadmin *first*, and that is where my training is, so naturally I use vi. I understand that “real” programmers use Emacs, but it really doesn’t fit my brain, and if you use vi for any length of time, I believe it becomes dang near impossible to convert without a frontal lobotomy. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Though I like vi a lot for day-to-day administration, I’m not always a fan of how it handles programming, and it seems to take a lot of work to get it to work the way you want it to. My biggest pet peeve about vi is when you enter insert mode and then paste in some code that was already indented. Vi likes to indent it again. Usually I can get around this by setting all of the *indent settings to “no”. For example “:set noautoindent”. However, I set everything I could find yesterday and it was still doing some goofy things with my pasted in code.

Once I got my code in there, and manually removed all of the stupid indentations, I realized another thing: I hate vi’s python syntax highlighting, and it doesn’t handle python indentation in a particularly “smart” way. For this reason, I generally use JEdit for programming, but there’s no Vi key bindings for JEdit, so I went looking for a new editor to see what I could find. What the heck, it was Sunday. What else did I have to do?

I scored. Komodo Editor is a free-of-charge code editor that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, is as customizable as you’re likely to ever need it to be, and….. wait for it…. it has a Vi mode!

Since my current project is working with Python, it’s also super, super nice to have the indentation guides, and since I’m a Python newbie, it’s also fantastic to have some of the gentle reminders that I’ve indented wrong, or forgotten the colon after my def. I’ve also made use of the basic-but-useful file comparison interface, which does a diff on files of your choosing. It also does some things that I liked about JEdit, like handling file changes on disk in an intelligent (and flexible, should your definition of ‘intelligent’ differ from Komodo’s) way.

The simple code folding is as one would expect in most graphical editors, and it’s a tad nicer than JEdit, though I wish that there was a keyboard shortcut to collapse/expand the current block of code. I also wish I could define language-specific syntax highlighting based on a regex or something like that. For example, I’d like to color the word “self” in Python differently from what Komodo Editor calls “identifiers”. I also wish that I could find a way to split the window vertically in Komodo. I’ll miss that feature of JEdit. It might warrant me keeping JEdit around for some things.

For the record, I also tried SubEthaEdit, Smultron, a couple of Vim plugins, XCode, and I downloaded and tried (and failed) to get SPE running, too. Komodo fit my brain best. I recommend it if you want some of the graphical goodness of an IDE but don’t want to lose your Vi key bindings. Enjoy!

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March 13, 2007

Now that Spanning Sync costs way too much money…

Filed under: Apple,Productivity,Technology — m0j0 @ 10:56 am

I’ll be giving gSync a try. Anyone tried it yet? I’ll post my feedback, but in the meantime, I invite you to share your thoughts.

March 10, 2007

Can Ubuntu Cut the Gordian Knot?

Filed under: Apple,Big Ideas,Linux,Technology — m0j0 @ 4:10 pm

When Windows was released, it united a vast but rather fragmented society around a single philosophy. On the one side, you had end users. They had to get work done, and they needed applications to do that. On the other side, you had application developers, who needed a platform conducive to making useful applications to sell to the end users. This is, of course, gross oversimplification of historical events. The point is that geeks and end users alike wound up rallying around Windows.

These days, it would seem that Apple is looking to do the same thing. They’ve lured in end users by enabling them to work with media in new, fun and interesting ways while still allowing them to get work done. Meanwhile, they’ve also attracted the technical crowd because under the covers OS X is really UNIX. In short, Apple has done what Linux has needed to do for a decade now but couldn’t get organized enough to do: they made what amounts to a distribution of BSD that’s so easy to use that the end user never knows what’s under the hood unless they’re curious enough to go and learn about it.

The ability to organize around the idea that a system should be easy to use *first*, and gratifying to geeks *second* has been the gordian knot of the Linux community. While Apple has pasted a bunch of slick “ooh aah” features onto the desktop, and provided a platform for developers to extend the environment (note I said “extend” and not “fork”), Linux is busy, for the most part, doing things with a mind toward “the community” instead of “the customer”.

The Linux community is making sure that the end user has at least 10 different mp3 players, 5 different desktop environments, 6 different photo management applications, and 20 different scripting languages built in and ready to go. They’re fighting over licensing, attribution, inclusion, exclusion, who’ll take over this project, who’s forking that project, what should this project be called today, what package format will be used, which package manager will be used and does it work with this format, and what’s the best way to support 32-bit programs on 64-bit hardware while still allowing the end user the freedom to build software from source in an environment that looks something like sanity?

I certainly understand that all of those arguments are in some way important. There needs to be this community of concerned technologists who provide so many important things to the technological landscape as it were. The community is a proving ground for ideas, a training ground to develop skill sets, a forum for the discussion on the directions different technologies might go in, and a united force against inane legislation.

However, as important as these arguments are, you have to admit two things:

  1. They don’t make getting things done any faster, and
  2. Apple has already proven that these things can get done quickly if you get organized.

Apple has hit a nice sweet spot in terms of what it delivers to the end user. It doesn’t come ready to do… um… well, nothing – like Windows. On the other hand, it also doesn’t come with 5 ways to perform a single task. Just this small amount of streamlining greatly reduces the amount of work involved in delivering the product, because energy that might otherwise be expended in testing all of the different ways you can set up your printer can now be redirected to solving a problem that doesn’t have a particularly great solution, or (gasp!) writing documentation!!!

What I’m hoping for Ubuntu is that they evolve into a project that can do two things, both of which I think the project is capable of:

  1. Accomplish on the Linux platform what Apple has accomplished on the BSD platform.
  2. Take the word “Linux” out of the larger desktop platform discussion.

Item 1 would involve making some difficult decisions about the applications that will not be included in the distribution, and employing some amount of diplomacy to try to unite developers to get them to work together on solving problems instead of forking every time someone gets their feelings hurt.

Item 2 is *going* to be done by some distribution at some point in time. It won’t be Red Hat, and it won’t be Novell. They’re not interested in you and me. They’re interest is in the “enterprise”. They’re smart to go that route. It’s a large market, and it’s a market that isn’t likely to care if there are no mp3 libraries or commercial NVIDIA drivers installed by default. But this doesn’t help us home users.

It’s also not going to be Debian, because their interest is in “keeping it real”, where “real” equals “open”, not “easy to use for non-geeks” or “bleeding edge”. It won’t be Mandriva because, as much as I love Mandriva, they don’t seem to know where to put their energies from one day to the next. Someone needs to get the discussion about the desktop to include the name of their distribution instead of this nebulous “Linux” thing.

Linux is a kernel. The distribution is what makes Linux useful to normal people. We sure as heck don’t talk about “win32” on the desktop, now do we? We talk about Windows. Likewise, we should be talking about “Ubuntu vs. Windows” or “Ubuntu vs OS X” and not “Linux vs Whatever”. People aren’t going to understand comparisons between a kernel and an operating environment. They’re not going to understand a comparison between Windows and an entire movement. There needs to be something identifiable to put up there, and right now, at least in the desktop space, that’s Ubuntu.

So, flame away. Here are a couple of replies up front:

  1. I’m not saying it has to be Ubuntu, I’m just saying that right now, it *is* Ubuntu. Read the article.
  2. Debian religion aside, you have to admit that you’re not likely to hand a Debian netinstall CD to your mom and wish her the best of luck now are you?
  3. Yes, MEPIS, KDE, Slackware, Gentoo, OpenSUSE, Fedora, {K,Edu,X}ubuntu are also very nice. That’s not the point of the article, though, so please move along.
  4. Yes, choice is good, but anyone who has ever worked in food service is no doubt familiar with people who sit there staring at the menu saying “there’s soooo many choooiiices” and not knowing which way to go. People on the by and large are indecisive. Having one tool to perform a task instead of five, just by itself, will do wonders for the perception of usability on a platform, as evidenced by Windows and OS X.

I’ll reply to the rest as they come in ๐Ÿ™‚

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June 21, 2006

OK, so I just got my new macbook pro on Monday, an…

Filed under: Apple — m0j0 @ 10:33 pm

OK, so I just got my new macbook pro on Monday, and it’s pretty darn cool so far. I’m having a little bit of trouble getting real work done because I’m a long way from linux-land and am still accumulating applications that I use to do my job. Let’s face it, I’m also a little bit distracted by all of the shiny, gooey, sappy goodness that is the mac OS X interface.ย 

What I’m testing out right now is a Dashboard widget that let’s me easily type up and edit this blog, and publish it without ever opening a browser (well, I hopeย that’s what it does – hence the test). Dashboard is neat – you hit F12, and it puts your desktop in the background and bring a whole bunch of little mini tools and applications to the foreground, like a dictionary lookup tool, a calculator, a weather forecast, etc. There are thousands of these widgets available, many of which do next to nothing, but I grabbed widgets for doing wordpress and blogger posts, a measurement units converter (handy for brewing), and an application that helps me to find wireless networks ๐Ÿ˜‰ย ย 

Well – all this blogging and I’m still only down to
48% battery. For the past 90 minutes I’ve been streaming music from iTunes to my AirTunes express connected to my home entertainment system, downloading large applications that I need (like Parallels Desktop for OS X), installing them, running the PhotoBooth application (which uses the built in video camera), installing software off of a CD for my digital camera, importing pictures from the camera, and basically trying to do everything I can to make sure my battery runs out, which is something you should do once every month or so to calibrate the battery (read your manual – it says so right there). Also, the thing is on “Better Performance” – not “Battery Life” or whatever the power-sipping setting is. I want this thing to die! After 90 minutes of resource abuse, it’s probably safe to say I’ll be pleased with the battery life, especially since I’m coming from a behemouth 17″ laptop that had about 75 minutes of battery life just sitting idle!ย 

October 25, 2005

Nicecast is…. Nice!

Filed under: Apple — m0j0 @ 9:16 am

I listen to a lot of streaming music — especially when I’m on a project where I’m writing code. I go into the office, put on my headphones, plunge into the code, and at the end of the day, I take off the headphones, look at my progress, and I’m usually surprised at how much I got done. I guess it helps drown out distracting background noise, so it helps me concentrate.

Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed is that the “catalog” of songs on a lot of the streams is pretty small. I end up hearing the same stuff just about every day. As a result, I spend time looking for new stations every day to avoid this. Then I thought, “maybe it’s time for me to set up a streaming server at the house so I can just stream my own library of music to the office”.

The first decision I made was that I didn’t want to spend any time doing this. I wanted something that worked the first time, without compiling dependencies, without wondering if I’m running the latest version of library “x” or whatever. Then I remembered that I also have a lot of music that I purchased through iTunes that I wanted to play, and those are in m4p format (which is a DRM-encrusted, security-smothered version of m4a). I wouldn’t be able to serve them up, as-is, from a Linux box without first going through what looked like a pretty painful process of scraping off all the gook and making the m4p files usable. I’ll do this some day — it is not that day.

Instead, I found Nicecast. I downloaded it, installed it on my Mac, launched it, configured it, and had a working stream in under 3 minutes. I really mean it. It’s so Mind-Numbingly Easy(tm) I can’t believe it. Turns out it’s a great way to get familiar with what I actually *want* out of a music stream, too.

For one thing, I want to be able to treat the streaming server like a radio and listen to any one of various “channels”. If I’m having trouble with my code, I want to hear metal. If it’s early morning or tea time, I might want to hear jazz. I don’t know of a way to pull that off without using Nicecast and the OS X security model in ways for which they were not intended.

I’d also ultimately like a remote control for my library — like a web front end to iTunes that’ll let me stream my iTunes music as if I’m sitting at my Mac. Pause, skip, play a different list… all the major features would be awesome. I don’t need everything. Just the basic browse and play functionality. Apple could probably pull this off. I wonder if someone else can do it in a more open way, though.

July 7, 2005

Will Apple Get it Right?

Filed under: Apple — m0j0 @ 10:01 pm

I have had a Mac in my house, on loan from work, for a couple of years now. It’s a dual G4, and I recently updated it to OS X Tiger. Generally, I use Linux at work as well as at home, but I’ve slowly grown to love the Mac. It doesn’t aspire to run on every conceivable hardware platform, it doesn’t make a particularly good server, and I’m not about to throw an extra interface into it and make it my router/firewall.

What Apple claims it does well is all understatement. What Apple says it does well, in reality, it does with absolute mastery. In addition, guys like me who have an environment to administer can have a usable shell, easy configuration of NFS mounts, and all the niceties you need to integrate it into a UNIX-y environment. My worry, though, is with the future of the Mac.

I feel like OS X achieves everything I’ve been wanting Linux to achieve for the better part of a decade now. Yes, I want all of the power of Linux – no doubt about it. But when I’m not at work, I don’t want to work. I don’t want to have to be a system administrator simply to make my desktop system usable. The Mac, to me, represents a very happy middle ground. When I’m not at work, I don’t have to think about my desktop system. It just works. In the event that some emergency email comes in, however, I can pop open a shell and see what’s going on.

It’s using tools from the Linux world: OpenSSH, the OpenLDAP libraries, GCC, bash, perl, and the list goes on. Heck, it even comes with Apache and PHP! I think the smartest thing Apple ever did was essentially say “ok, these tools work well. We can go ahead and delegate the main development responsibility, for the purpose of these tools, to the community. Now let’s get the interface right.” And they did.

Oh I’m not saying there’s *nothing* I’d change – but overall my Mac needs far less tweaking and pruning than my Linux desktop. The OS X interface also is something of an adjustment. Sometimes too much of one. I, for one, use a two-button mouse with a wheel. I’m just advanced that way ๐Ÿ˜‰ One-button and no wheel just isn’t gonna cut it for me.

So now that everything is going well, Apple decides to move to Intel. I understand the why. It’s a business decision. I can respect that. I just worry about the pain of migrating. I worry about how it will be packaged. I worry about pricing. I wonder about support for the older systems. I wonder about hardware compatibility. I wonder about just how closed the new system will be. I wonder about Apple’s commitment and contributions to the open source community in exchange for freeing up so many engineers to work on other parts of the system.

What’s their plan for all of this? What will a Mac look like in 3 years? If I buy a G5 right now, am I going to be completely unable to find hardware for it a year from now? Software? Is this move going to have a chilling effect on new hardware and software being introduced on the Mac, or will it be just the opposite? Maybe more stuff will be easier to do now that the underlying system hardware is the same — or will it be? Are they going to take the Intel chip and then make everything else a black box?

I want more information. Who has some?

December 19, 2004

Airport Express with AirTunes!

Filed under: Apple — m0j0 @ 10:06 pm

I have a Mac at the house. For any mac folks wondering, it’s A dual G4 with the mirrored drive doors. I finally found a really great online source for Mac hardware, bought an airport wireless card for my Mac, installed it (all of 30 seconds, by the way), and proceeded to go buy the Airport Express with Airtunes. Read on for details…

This little gadget fits in the palm of your hand. The way it works is really simple, too, even if you’re a complete technology zero. It gets power by plugging into a wall socket. It also has jacks on it so that you can connect it to your stereo system either via standard RCA-type cables or via an optical connector, which is what I used.

Once it’s plugged in and connected to your stereo, you run over to the mac, open the “Airport Assistant” tool, tell it to find the new device, and then when it does, you give it a name. At this point, you can open up iTunes, select the name you just gave to the Airtunes unit as the destination for the music, and your Mac is now beaming music to your stereo system via the wireless network. It really is absolutely brilliant. It’s what we in the tech industry call a “solution”. This is not random crap cobbled together with duct tape. This is stuff that “just works”. However, there are two things any geek should know about this solution:

1. It won’t beam Ogg files, to my knowledge. I have a mixed collection of 90% ogg and 10% mp3 files. When you tell iTunes to play an MP3 file, it shows that it’s contacting the airtunes unit to beam the files over for playback. With ogg files, iTunes doesn’t even try. This isn’t totally unexpected, since iTunes doesn’t even play ogg files by default, but people should know this.

2. I initially had my wireless network set up with mac address filtering turned on, which will cause the airtunes unit to fail to ever get on the network. For my setup, the easiest way around this was to turn it off, let it discover the mac of the new device, and then add that to the mac filter list. Then I turned mac filtering back on, and all was well with the world.

Once that was out of the way, everything worked wonderfully! I’ve only played about 2 whole songs over the network, but so far I love it!

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