Author Archives: guest

Nathan's iPhone review

Nathan's gone and bought an iPhone. Reposted with permission from his Melbourne Reviewer blog, here's his review of it.

Okay, so here's my review of the 3g Iphone. Probably showing a tad of bias but stay with me anyway, also I go on a bit, so sorry about that. Also it's not technically Melbourne, but plenty of Melbournians lined up just like me on Friday morning!

I was always an “Apple Hater” and I resisted getting an ipod for a long time, (I had Creative MP3 Players for ages). I couldn't understand using a Mac and thought all those people were nuts.

Now (it's even a shock to me) I figure there is space in the world for both. I've used the Macs that belong to friends. I doubt I'd ever get used to one, but hey if that's what they want to spend their money on then good for them. Anyway last year I got my first Ipod 80gb Video which was great, then switched to an 8gb Nano earlier this year. But Once I saw a first Gen Iphone and played with it, I knew I had to have one.

Was it worth standing for almost three hours in the cold? Well probably not really, considering the very next day I saw them on a shelf of one particular Apple related shop (albeit they are the dealer of a different carrier to my preferred one).

And of course it depends who you are and what you plan on doing with it. For me this is (almost) the perfect device.

The iphone has a lot of strengths, but also a number of weaknesses and annoyances as well.

Strengths. The interface. It is simply a joy to use. The touch screen defines touch screens. I've had two previous Touchscreen PDA's (imate JAMin and Imate JAM), and they are nothing compared to this, and no stylus is required. I was worried about the onscreen keyboard… I needn't have been. It does take a bit of getting used to but after about three days I have no issues with it. Sure, I'm not going to be writing essays or ultra long emails, but it's more than useable, and just as good (if not better) than the touch screen keyboards on other pda's that require a stylus.

Mobile Safari. Internet Browsing is great on the iphone due to two things: The screen size, which lets you see just a little bit more of a real website, and the ability to easily change orientation of the screen from portrait to landscape thanks to the built in accelerometer. You are easily able to view full web pages (not just the mobile versions), pan around them if necessary, and zoom in and out thanks to the two fingers “pinch” gesture.

Safari lets you view PDF's, Excel and Word Documents (up to and including Office 2007). So if someone emails you a PDF, or even a link to one, it is actually readable. All the same rules apply, zoom in, out, scroll up and down, left and right.

Annoyance: Safari doesn't appear to remember logins for forums, websites etc.
Also, famously, it doesn't (yet) support Flash. This was a sore point in the first gen iphone and it's pretty silly that they haven't included it this time round. There are rumours of an iphone version of flash coming out shortly (hopefully).

Safari has full bookmarking capabilities, and complete history capabilities as well, which are easy to use and understand.

There is a feature with like a “lineup” of recently viewed websites with thumbnails of that site, choose the one you want and it loads it up again for you.

Also, bookmarks can be set as icons on the home screen, for instance I use Tram Tracker, and the Mobile Age.

Your Homescreen can have up to 9 separate pages of icons, so you can easily set up your most visited mobile sites for ready access when you are out and about. It's a simple matter of scrolling left and right on the homescreen to access the other available screens. If you want to move icons around or between the home screens, you hold down an icon and then they “jiggle”, letting you move them all around, however you want.

Email. You are able to easily setup an Exchange account (assuming your exchange server/IT area supports the device. I'm perfectly happy not having access to work emails however). Also Gmail works beautifully via IMAP. You can of course use standard POP accounts and the new MobileMe service from Apple (though at $119 a year, you'd need to think seriously before wanting that I think). YahooMail is another option.

When reading emails all the same scrolling rules apply. Weblinks, PDF's and Excel/Word documents all open up as viewable (but not editable). I predict some sort of iphone version of Office if Microsoft can swallow it's pride, or maybe openoffice? Haven't read anything about this but it makes sense.

When composing emails, if you start to enter in a name of someone who has an email registered in your contacts, it's like outlook and automatically suggests a name without having to type in the entire address.

It has a perfectly good Calculator, which in portrait mode is just a standard calculator, and in landscape mode is a fully fledged scientific calculator for those that want one.

The camera is great for happy snaps. Some people complain that a lot of other phones have better cameras, more megapixels etc (the iphone is only 2.0 megapixels). I'm of the view that if you want to take real photos, buy a real camera. This is for happy snaps, and taking photos of people for your contacts (which works well), and if Aliens happen to land, you can take a shot of that too, though people will probably think it's 'shopped.

Google Maps and the A-GPS. This is simply AWESOME, works beautifully. However, it CHEWS through the data, as all data is pulled down from Google's server. If you aren't connected via some free wifi, be careful. Although it can be used for tracking you as you drive/walk etc, this would very easily eat through various available 3G data plans. Be warned, or risk appearing on Today Tonight with a second mortgage, depending on who your carrier is. It's probably best used sparingly for finding simple directions and local businesses etc in whatever area you are in. The A-GPS works great and you

have your position very, very quickly, far better than any other GPS I've used before. I'm hoping for an iphone version of Tom tom or similar, which is rumoured to be in the works.

The Appstore. This is the highlight so far of the iphone 3G. The Appstore was released on the same day and looks very promising. This isn't just a phone, or a PDA… this is a portable touchscreen computer.

There are a number of free apps, some of them good, some of them bad. Some of them are just geekily awesome for those that are into such things.

Some free ones I've downloaded: Phonesaber (also available for N95). Search your feelings, Obiwan! Shazam: Hold your iphone up to a song playing on the radio… it will tell you what the song is, and point you to a link where you can buy it on itunes. Requires data connection, but it actually works.There are Facebook, Twitter and Myspace clients that access cutdown versions of those sites. I've only tried facebook but it seems to work well and you don't get alot of the superfluous stuff that clutters facebook up.

There are heaps of others, and lots and lots of games. I've only tried one or two of the free games (imaze, ball bearing rolling around inside a maze). The reviews I read of the pay games are good though and apparently put other mobile gaming platforms to shame, as far as graphics and sound goes anyway. I'm still to be convinced on controlling games as the game genres seem limited to racing type games where you use the accelerometer to steer.It's obviously early days for the appstore, but I would say we've only scratched the surface of what the device can do.

Ipod… well, not much to say here. You've got all your standard ipod functionality, coverflow is great and very pretty. The headphones have a microphone built in for handsfree phone calls, and the microphone is also a button. one click pauses music, two clicks moves onto the next track. When the phone rings your music fades out and you can then click to answer.
Watching video's is great. Again, the iphone doesn't support divx (come on apple… even xbox360 supports it now). You can however use something like the free “videora” converter to get divx files playable on your iphone. And they are great to watch on the wide screen.

Phone functionality. Well, it is the iPHONE, though reading what I've said so far you'd almost forget you could make calls on it.

It works well, with 3G the calls are of great quality. There is speakerphone functionality as well. you can browse to contacts, make notes, even browse the web while in a call. Finding contacts is easy, contacts have a myriad of fields and options, you can assign separate ringtones to separate contacts. When syncing with itunes on the same PC as Outlook you are able to import all your contacts from there. You can also, for instance, sync all your contacts at work, and then sync your music separately at home.

You can also set up a list of favourite contacts for fast dialling, this is as close as the phone gets to speed dialling.

For those who use it, there is currently no voice dialling. doesn't bother me, but it might bother some.

You can't change SMS/Alert tones. There are some to choose from, but the choice is limited. Hopefully jailbreaking (as I right this, it's due out any moment from what I'm reading) will workaround this.

Ringtones. The Apple way is to buy ringtones from itunes. You can't by default use any of your own music/sounds. But there is a very simple process to create your own ringtones which I won't go into here, but a quick google search should find it online.

No clipboard… no task switching. If you click on a link in email, it opens safari. You then have to go out of safari, and back into email to get back to your message. This has been a sore point among many, but from what I've read it's a fundamental of the operating system that it doesn't do task switching (well, properly anyway).

You can however listen to music and do other things at the same time, so there is at least some multitasking.

The physical unit. Fingerprint city. I got the white one, which doesn't show prints or greasy stains as easily as the black one. But I went straight out and bought myself a skin because I know I'm going to drop it at some point and i want it protected. Also I got a screen protector with the skin. Reading online, lots of people say that you shouldn't need one since the screen is glass, but I'd prefer to have one anyway, it is still easily cleanable. You understand why they give you the cleaning cloth only a few minutes after you first pick the thing up.

You can load copies of photos through itunes from your PC taken with other cameras onto the iphone for backup purposes or to show off pics of babies, cats, tin dogs to your friends when out and about.

It shows up as a camera in Windows Explorer so you can easily import photos to your PC, but like other ipods it does NOT show as mass storage device. Also, syncing (loading of music) is fairly slow.

I won't discuss the merits of all the various plan offerings, as that's a veritable minefield of information. I will just say that you should DEFINITELY do you research on all of the available offerings, and then make up your mind based on what you think your usage will involve. Good luck!

Anyway that's probably about it. Am I happy with the device? Mostly, with one or two little niggles as mentioned. I wanted something where I could use the web (easily) when out and about. I had a Nokia 6120 and it's just not that great at it.

Several of my previous phones have had music players, but none of them were very good. It's great having my music and some videos and my phone in the one unit.

Some people don't want or need all this functionality, and if that's the case, then the iphone isn't for you. Is it overhyped? Of course. But you've got to give it to Apple, I don't think I've seen any ads for iphone on TV but they all lined up on Friday morning anyway. And I've just read that one million units sold since Friday world wide. I guess I'm not the only insane one 🙂

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The tale of Dac’s broken computer

It’s 2am Sunday morning, and somewhere in Canberra Dac is feverishly engaged in conflict with computer generated bad guys, aided by a friend, in the never-ending fun land of City of Heroes.

My on-line friend has just berated me because my logical choice of a pathway between one end of a huge zone (Independence Port) and the other end, involved some twisty turny antics — The VIP pass to Pocket-D club, a trip to Talos Island to sell enhancements that have dropped during the previous mission, at the appropriate stores, to maximise profit, then a trip on the tram from Talos to Brickstown, and zap across to the Independence Port tunnel way at the south end of IP. I was 30 seconds slower than him (he just went straight there), and he said that it was a was of time being complicated when I could have gone straight there too.

That puts me in a bit of a bad mood, because I hate being called ‘wrong’ when I wasn’t wrong at all — I maximised my influence (money in CoH) gain, and he just offloaded at a discount rate at the nearest shop (Magic origin, south of IP).

We get inside the instanced mission, and we’re fighting Circle of Thorns mages and other beasties. I’m hot and bothered, it’s 26C in the computer room, and 56C inside my computer case, where the fans haven’t been cleaned since last summer.

BANG go the headphones, the screen goes black, the computer whirrs down to silence.

But the room lights are still on, so it wasn’t a power failure. “Oh, perhaps it overheated and the motherboard protection circuit kicked in, like it did last week”. The power light on the case is still on (highly unusual).

I press the power button for four seconds, and nothing happens.

So I yank the power cord out of the power supply (it has no on/off switch), and then put it in again.

Press the power button on the front of the case — nothing. Oh oh.

Then the smell of the magic escaping smoke assaults my nostrils. Something BAD has happened. Continue reading

Files that don’t exist

From Joe:

From winamp v… (latest almost). removes files that dont exist. Yeah? Prove it!

WinAmp dialogue

(It may actually relate to removing index files for media that’s been previously deleted.)

A Windows user’s adventures in Linux

Linux penguinFollowing the comments posted in various forums which espouse the various benefits of Linux and having a need to test a setup of “MySQL” database engine, I though, well, lets give this ‘Nix thing a go.

So these observations which follow are of my first encounter with Linux (which occurred about a month ago – early Dec). They are offered for general interest and likely amusement of the ‘Nix aware among you. These comments are longish – but contain just some of the many items I observed.

Remember, this from a person who has never seen or run Linux before spending all my time with various flavours of DOS & Windows.

Firstly, I had armed myself with a couple of different books – a copy of “Fedora Core 4 Unleashed” and a “Linux Pocket book”, both containing recent Fedora core distributions. (online download of ISO vs. Dialup? Hardly. Plus there were instructions in those books)

Then, after checking minimum hardware requirements in the books, I threw together a basic “no frills” PC running what appeared to be more than adequate – P3 600, 3/4 gig Ram, 40 gig HDD, Basic LAN card, old DVD reader, old TNT video, no floppy, no sound, no extras. It booted – good.

Loaded the DVD from the Unleashed book into the drive and hit the reset button. The Linux installer fired up & gave Text or Graphical installer options. I’m a Windows Bloke – so, naturally, I chose Graphical. Spent some time accepting defaults for the disk partitioning and making various choices about what to install. I have no idea what some of ’em related to… but what the heck. Finally get to the “OK, now install it all” & waited….

.. till the installer crashed PRIOR to the disk partitioning step.

U-huh.

Rebooted, started again. This time selected TEXT mode installer.

After quite some time, a couple of dialogs, nominate root password and a *single* reboot (well, now, there is a plus) I was looking at a login screen. OK, so what now?

Login as root. Graphical desktop. U-huh. (Gnome desktop by default, although I believe KDE was also available – I certainly didn’t know enough to feel the need to alter their default choice). Start button (OK, or whatever Fedora calls it) is at top left, not at bottom. I can deal with that. Menu’s …. Goodo. Found a menu item to create user accounts. Umm. Made a user account – yeah, I know you shouldn’t use root accounts for general work. Bloody hell, I wanna share with my Win network, but it would NOT let me create a Login that matched what is already in use on the Win network – I currently use, my logins have a space in ’em… like “Dave Jenkins” Nix didn’t like that. Subsequently my fears that this might cause problems were proved founded!

Anyway created new user account, validated it on my Win box, logged in to Fedora with that.. righto, so now what? From a shell (what, coloured background by default… ummm different) established that MySQL had loaded, and from MySQL docos got the server process running. Great. Now to share it on the network.

Network sharing? Samba, right? Well, frig me, if it didn’t take at least 4 – 5 hours arsing around before I could even get the thing to see my Windows network, let along get it to be able to transfer files back & fwd. At one point, late the first day, I could see Windows shares from Nix, but not the other way. I turned both PCs off and started again the next day – only to fine that, without any further setting changes, Windows could now see ‘Nix shared folder. U-Huh. I cannot explain it – maybe, at that time, like me, the PC had had enough. Combinations of needing new logins created on a Windows box, along with some funny settings (I’ll prolly never find again) which match Windows/sambo logins with local IDs… Certainly it was not easy. I knew that I need to set certain IP settings to what values, but ya think I could easily find where? Of what the new terminology was?

Then to Printers….

Several attempts with different (why would you have several seperate ways to hook up a printer?? At least one I know was referred to as “CUPS”) setup tools, I finally found I had to BLINDLY enter the mappings to the location of the PC/Printer name, ‘cos Nix would not show the printer even existed until AFTER the password access to the printer had been validated. Security, bah… Anyway, I finally got Writer (OpenOffice) to send a formatted line of text to my Windows Printer.. although I did not understand, nor bother, about the cryptic error in the dialog I received AFTER the print had been generated.

And speaking of Security….

Bloody hell. I know many, if not most will want and need a *secure* PC to protect from nasties. In this particular case, I did not. Quite the reverse. This was to be used to test on a local controlled private network. It would never see Internet or unknown source disks and so would not be at risk from foreign nasties. Ya think I could find someway to turn off the high level of security? Fat chance! Every time I tried to do anything I was prompted for the Root Password. Got to the stage where I gave up and was logging in a root to avoid this problem. I couldn’t find a way to get the thing to auto-log in. And I never managed to unbar the ports that MySQL used so I could get to it from a Windows box.

And what’s with everything being configured by TEXT files? Every item in the books say launch this or that config file… (which, when finally found and opened, all, remarkably, look like “ini” files). Now didn’t Windows move on from config by ini files about a decade ago? And unlike the old system & Win inis, it seems to me that there are bazillions of those config files… and not all in the same place either.

And a bunch of other things. A simple “Dir” in the shell doesn’t work. I know its different, but why does EVERYTHING have to be different at the command prompt, but appear like Windows in the GUI? Windows CLEARLY displays my different drive volumes – yeah I s’pose you’d get use to the “mount point” system… but I like my drive letters. Why doesn’t a DVD/CD get auto recognised when you are logged in at the command line? Manual mounting? How quaint…

Open Office “Write” initially looked like Word. Could get to work straight up in there. Ditto for whatever the Excel replacement was (Calc?). GIMP? I’d expect to need a bunch of time to get used to their idea of an interface. Gnome desktop – I could find NO WAY to alter what items appeared in their Applications menu. Further, installing more apps from the disk using the GUI installer changed NOTHING in that menu. I’m not saying it can’t be changed… it’s prolly in a config file somewhere!

Summary: You want to “get to work” straight away? Then stick with what you know. If you want to learn something VERY different – then by all means, try Linux (or Unix or FreeBSD or…). But do not believe what you may have heard that “it is easy” or “you will be up and running quickly”. Expect to take a long time before you’ll be productive. I think some of these “it’s easy” comments may come from people who are familiar with Nix but who have forgotten the various difficulties they first experienced. Remember your first System.ini edit? Or your first venture into ANSI prompt commands?

After this little adventure, I then hear that this, that or the other flavour of Nix would have been better because…. <insert reasons> Well, I am not so sure.

After all that, yeah, I’d have a similar bunch of comments if I was an old UNIX user trying Windows for the first time. I’m not trying to say that Nix doesn’t have advantages or that Windows is better. All I’m trying to say is that there is a *considerable* learning curve to the change.

Two parting comments:
1) After chewing up the better part of two full days (about 1 month ago), that particular Nix PC has sat idle – I’m back to my comfortable and familiar Windows world.
2) The MySQL test install which prompted al this? I dropped down a Windows version, installed it to a XP “server” box, and was up and running remotely from my Windows desktop creating tables and queries *within an hour*.

So, you Nix people, go on, have your chuckle. Now is where you tell me all that I did wrong….

Dave

How AT&T lost a customer

From guest blogger Phil, in Australia

Yesterday I had to phone AT&T up in order to try to purchase a product they sell.

The product in question was called Web Meeting and it met our requirements nicely and a couple of calls by someone else hadn’t yielded any of the promised callbacks.

So I called the Australian number for AT&T and spoke to the receptionist I explained that I wanted to purchase Web Meeting and needed to speak to someone who could help me purchas it, she then put me through to the Helpdesk in the Philippines.

I called back and again spoke to the receptionist and asked for someone in Sales. “they are all in a sales meeting today” but I’ll try connecting for you. She then disconnected me.

I called back, explained again and she tried putting me through to the same person but disconnects me again.

At this point I’m pretty annoyed but ring back up and am successfully transfered to a sales executive who takes some details and promises to call back, but doesn’t give me his number so i can call him direct. Three hours later he still hasn’t called back. Call AT&T and told he’s in a meeting.

I’m now so annoyed I look up their address detailed on the AT&T website and lo and behold they are in the building opposite the one I’m in, and two floors down. So i decide to walk over there and try to resolve this.

I walk over get to reception and meet my first nemesis, the receptionist. She’s brusque and annoyed that I don’t have an appointment but when I give my name she is immediately apologetic about the disconnections and calls the sales executive again but he is still in a meeting, so I ask to speak to someone else.

Cue a nice young lady from Kilkenny in Ireland who recently returned from the Grand Canyon in the US where she was on holiday. Suffice to say in 5 minutes I’ve explained what I need and why I’m there.

She promises to call me or email me later in the day with the details i need but says that our company may not meet the mininum requirements for the product. She explains that in order to qualify to BECOME an AT&T customer we would need to have an existing contract with them worth at least $100,000AUD.

Flabbergasted I leave with her promise to contact me and concentrate on other things.

Fast Forward to the next morning.

I receive an email from her telling me that the US alone controls Web Meeting and all administration and sign up is handled there, she emailed the product manager and will get back to me when they reply to her email.

So I think well its still afternoon in the US so i’ll ring them and find out what i need to do to sign up. Cue Benny Hill-esque telephone calling sequence where i try every number for AT&T in the US only to discover they’ve all gone home at 4pm EDT!

Eventually I get answered (call centre in Georgia) and speak to someone who can sign me up there and then, i explain i’m calling from australia and need to buy Web Meeting and can we do it now.

I spend the next 30 minutes providing all the details their system needs, addresses, billing addresses, telephone numbers and contact details. And then she asks me for a US telephone number for billing purposes, I explain we don’t have a US office and can I pay by credit card.

In order for us to be billed, and thus signed up, we need a US phone number. When I say we don’t have one she says she can’t continue without it, and there is nothing we can do to get around it.

What kind of company advertises a global product but has the requirement that you must have a US phone number in order to be billed?!

<POSTSCRIPT>

We went and bought a year’s subscription to www.beamyourscreen.com and so far it’s working just as we want, no fuss and no sign up hassles.

Dave’s quick guide to converting LP to CD

A number of comments

  • First comment – allow LOTS of time to convert.
  • I won’t speak of legal issues… (It should be noted that this is not legal in Australia without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. This is something that damn FTA should be made to fix… but probably won’t. — Daniel)
  • The end result will never be as good as a properly mastered commercial CD, but that said, the end results are still very acceptable.
  • If the LP is of Val Doonican or the Bay City Rollers, then… just don’t bother. 🙂

Now a few more specifics
Continue reading

Lookout is so frelling useful

I can’t believe it hasn’t been part of Outlook since the beginning.

I’ve had it for like a month. I stopped noticing how hard it was to search through Outlook’s folders a few years back because I stopped *trying* to search through Outlook’s folders. It was too pointless an exercise. I just found other ways to do things. I treated Outlook’s search feature as damage and routed around it.

Now, I want to know the IP address of the XYZ Server, I search my mail for “XYZ Server.” I want to know when we’re supposed to be at the restaurant, I search on the name of the restaurant.

In hindsight, I can’t believe how much Outlook sucks at some things.

Jekke

(oh, yeah. Lookout is available for free at http://sandbox.msn.com)