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November 22, 2003

Is there a 12-step program for technophiles?

We've just returned from Mac Expo, which is now over. So this will be the 'completely useless' sort of review. You would probably have enjoyed it. We took Tibs, and also our children, who we sat playing Finding Nemo at the kiddie end of the large bank of G5 games.

It turned out expensive. We purchased several iPod toys; an iTrip, interestingly marketed without any mention of the fact that it's illegal to use in the UK; a SendStation Pocket Dock, designed to reduce the irritation level of having two different iPod form factors; cables to attach the iPod to the household stereo, and a thin firewire cable to keep in the car.

But then we visited the aptly named www.ihavetohave.it, who are currently selling two very hot properties. They're the UK importer for the Slim Squeezebox, a Wifi device that manages your networked mp3s and streaming mp3. The idea is that you put it in, eg, your bedroom or your stereo stack, and have access to the 58GB of mp3s on your network. You could use an old PC or a laptop for this purpose, of course, but this is quieter, and cheaper, and designed for this purpose. It's released next month, and selling like the proverbial.

We were even more impressed by the iPod car installation kits, which take the whole iPod in car thing a stage further, allowing you to adjust volume and skip tracks using your in-car music controls. We'd erroneously assumed that references to CD-changers on the website meant that these would only work with, well, a CD-changer. We were wrong, and we'll probably be buying one of these.

Our other major hardware purchase, which sadly is being delivered, is the Harmony Remote SST-659. This uses a web interface to manage the plethora of remotes in your living room and tame them, so you end up with one-click macros for 'watch a DVD' (ie, turn on your TV, mute the sound, change the video input, turn on the DVD, play the disc, turn on the amplifier, set amp to DVD 6-channel, and, if you have X10 controls, dim your room lights). Cleverly, it then remembers the state of your system, so if you then click the one-click for 'play a video', it leaves your TV on, turns off the DVD and turns on the video, and so on. As our current setup is monumentally confusing to both our guests and our children, we're hoping this will improve matters. We've been thinking about this for some time, but the previous 'most likely' remote (the Phillips Pronto) required dedication and enthusiasm to program. This is both cheaper and has a web interface.

I also looked at low-end colour laser printers; we're hoping to replace our creaky HP Laserjet 4 Plus with a colour printer. The Minolta representative was infectiously enthusiastic about the Minolta 2350; it's tiny for a colour laser, with a minimal set of consumables (4 toners, toner waste, drum), gorgeous photo output, and a string of awards. Neither HP nor Epson were at all enthusiastic about their laser printers -- I guess they'd sent the poster proof inkjet salesmen? And OKI didn't have a stall, though I did see the OKI 5300N on one stand; it's a much faster printer than the others due to its one-pass LED printing. If I'd been prepared to spring for the Minolta on the spot, it would have come with a free iPod... our third...

Otherwise, I picked up a batch of Mac magazines with CDs & DVDs (Mac Format, Your iLife, iCreate, Computer Digital Arts, and so on) for nearly nothing on special show offers, and finally bought a copy of Toast.

Back at home, on eBay, I've been looking at clamshell iBooks, with a view to possibly getting Marianne one for Christmas. They're known for sturdiness, and the very last clamshell had a 10Gb hard drive, a DVD, Firewire, and enough RAM to run Panther. Advice welcome.

Posted by Alison Scott at November 22, 2003 09:07 PM


Juliette has a last-generation clamshell iBook (firewire, video out) and has been running 10.2 pretty happily for however long now. We're certainly looking forward to going to Panther, but it does just work even with Jaguar. The machine has been to Texas and back, and J has had no problems with it apart from the first battery dying. New battery life seems pretty good.

Not that this is advice, as such.

Posted by: Damien Warman at November 23, 2003 03:39 AM

you might like to just check that you can source replacement batteries. They seem to be getting harder to find - the company that sold me mine earlier this year no longer stocks them for example - and unless you are very lucky on ebay you will almost certainly want one...

Posted by: Austin at November 23, 2003 09:34 AM

Well, I'm perfectly happy to have it be a mains-only toy if necessary (the number of times we actually want M to have access to a computer away from the mains is very small). I'm not bidding on iBooks that say the battery has no charge at all.

But I'm reasonably certain I can get a new third-party battery, if necessary from America, eg here.

Posted by: Alison Scott at November 23, 2003 10:08 AM

The clamshell iBook battery packs were quite simple -- basically, they're 8 Lithium Ion cells, and they're fairly easy to rebuild.

One of the battery packs for the clamshells, model M7426, had real problems. The others are M7621G/A and M6392.

Finally, many cases of battery "failure" can be fixed by resetting the power management unit, instructions here.

Posted by: Erik V. Olson at November 23, 2003 01:13 PM

Good job it wasn't an anti-consumer month, eh, Alison.
How many latte's was it?

Posted by: Sue Mason at November 24, 2003 12:37 PM

Re colour lasers, I can certainly vouch for the Minolta 2350 printer. Minolta very kindly leant me one for about a month earlier this year for review purposes. The quality was excellent. I've added it to my list of nice things to buy. Unfortunately other things like taxes, food, the mortgage etc. take priority.

Posted by: David Stewart at November 24, 2003 01:04 PM

"Neither HP nor Epson were at all enthusiastic about their laser printers -- I guess they'd sent the poster proof inkjet salesmen?"

Even before I got to this I was going to post a comment asking why on earth you would want a laser printer these days over an inkject.

A lot of people haven't caught on to the developments in inkjet printers in the last couple of years. You can get a machine capable of extraordinary photo quality these days for $99, and unbelievably extraordinary for $149-199. The only reason to spend any more is if you want extra flash memory card ports and other gildings of the lily.

Unless you're doing very high-volume printing -- on the order of over a thousand pages a day, most days, it's nuts to spend a vast amount more on a laser printer whose only advantage over modern inkjet technology is that in high volume the toner becomes cheaper than the ink cartridges.

Are you doing printing of thousands of pages a week? Or is there some reason you want a laser printer than I'm not thinking of?

Posted by: Gary Farber at December 1, 2003 05:24 AM

Huh. My inkjet's quite new, and I've run the cover for Plokta off on it, but it would take forever to do the entire fanzine. I have been doing all my domestic printing on it for a little while (my HPLJ4+ needs a clean & some new rollers), and it's coping reasonably well. But this printer is relatively expensive for an inkjet, it's never been used to print a full fanzine, its networking ability is woeful, and I've still spent far more on ink than I did on the printer.

I'd also be worried about the durability -- I'm not convinced that my printer's designed to print 2500 copies in a wodge, and I think that's true for most inkjets. Browsing the web suggests that a typical lifetime duty cycle for an inkjet is 30,000 sheets; no more than 10 fanzines and probably quite a bit less (our experience is that both duplexing and running loads of copies off all at once are really, really hard on printers).

I admit to some prejudice too; people have been saying for years that 'nobody needs a laser printer any more', and it's just never been true for us. But you're right that I should check carefully before spending my cash.

Posted by: Alison Scott at December 1, 2003 08:12 AM

Okay, if you're doing 2500 copies at a time, with some frequency, as I said, a laserprinter may still be the better choice for you.

As a point of fine detail, I'm unclear whether networking need be make or break. A) Is it an issue to just leave it plugged into a networked computer that's left on, or turned on whenever you want to use it? B) One can always splurge ~$79 for a router with a printerserver. C)The more expensive inkjets do have networking built in.

Durability is a real issue. The downside of all but really expensive inkjets is that they tend to be flimsy and built with lifespans of about 18 months in mind. And, yes, absolutely, the reason they are so cheap is that the makers make all their money on ink and paper. The printer is a giveaway trojan horse to hook you on ink cartridges and photopaper that is necessary for the ink to work properly.

Posted by: Gary Farber at December 1, 2003 09:50 PM

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