April 13, 2007

Bye Bye Fuggles (sniff)

I have warned people about this before. But if you use any email address @fuggles.demon.co.uk or have any links to http://www.fuggles.demon.co.uk then can you amend them please? I have closed my demon account and they will all stop working in a couple of weeks.

Posted by Alison Scott at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Apple Tart

Three days ago, I said, right here, I Live My Life on Shuffle. And today, Apple introduced an iPod Shuffle; designed to randomly pull 120 or 240 songs out of your iTunes library each morning, and shuffle them. It's the size of a lipstick and weighs less, and it's very much the cheapest iPod ever, starting at £69.

Of course, I already have two iPods, which is surely enough. And my Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones, no longer in-ear, are much, much bigger than the iPod shuffle The key audience for this one, apart from those who have been previously disenfranchised from iPod by price, is all the people who want a tiny flash iPod when exercising. My exercise is dance mat, which already comes with a dodgy soundtrack; yoga, where I don't want music; forest and hill walks, where music would detract from the experience; and cycling, where music would be a really bad idea. But hey, if you're a treadmill fan, you'll want one. And of course, I said I didn't want an iPod mini, and I love my iPod mini now.

A little over 3 years ago, we bought an MP3 CD player for our car; we had to put it on an antishock platform, but we could use CDs with 70 or 80 songs each. The cheaper iPod shuffle is about the same price as we paid for that setup. It has just about the same functionality, but will be massively easier to use (no need to burn your playlists to CD), and weighs 22g.

The Mac mini is utterly desirable. For £339, you can give your PC the best upgrade ever; keep its keyboard, mouse, monitor and printer, and throw the rest away. The only thing that's depressing about the Mac mini is that we bought a Shuttle small form factor PC a few months ago, and the MacMini completely and utterly blows it away. It's about 20% of the size of our Shuttle, or less; and it's way cheaper (though to be fair, our PC has loads of extras, and, besides, we needed a PC).

I have great hopes for Pages; longstanding readers will know that I sulk endlessly about both having to layout our fanzine in Word because we can't afford three copies of a proper DTP programme, and not having a decent Mac programme for things like Christmas Cards. Pages appears to be aimed squarely at both fanzines and families; but we'll see; the real test will be whether we can develop a template for Plokta in it. It's part of a mini-productivity package called iWork; no spreadsheet for some reason but it includes Keynote as well. And iLife has had lots of upgrades too; GarageBand now does multitrack recording and extremely cool realtime music notation; iPhoto allows you to print a cute pocketbook of photos to carry around with you or send to Grandma, and iDVD has some new cute themes. Not too pricey, five apps, and of course free with your Mac mini or other new Mac.

And apparently all this stuff will be in shops in the next couple of weeks. Now, where did I put that credit card?

Posted by Alison at 11:45 PM | Comments (5)

November 22, 2004

48 Hours Later

It took me 2 whole days to get round to visiting the Apple Store. Despite malformed Novacon plans to camp out, we decided against it in the end (though I wouldn't have been the only person with an airbed), and we had to go to Mac Expo on Saturday. It was very cold, and I can always buy Mac goodies if I really want them.

Digression: like last year, I demonstrated my complete fiscal incontinence, picking up a cute-as-a-button dye-sub printer and a perfect geek handbag, and a lovely mini iPod sleeve. We resisted, with some difficulty, a tiny Mac Freeview box and the exquisite Solio portable iPod/phone/PDA solar charger (not much point buying that one in the UK in November, is there?).

The Hi-Ti printers are great; cheaper to buy than the portable HP photo printer that got a best-in-show, as cheap or cheaper to run; and, you know, dye sub is a much better technology than inkjet, not least because the prints are waterproof. Mine is destined primarily for instant printing of stereocards taken with our Loreo 3D Lens in a Cap; pictures straight from the camera would upset 3d purists for all sorts of reasons, but they don't call me Instant Gratification Girl for nothing. This is a toy for us, but as we bought our printer, a jobbing wedding photographer picked up the 8x6 one -- he can take it to weddings and sell people permanent, photoshop quality prints to take away at a cost-to-him of 70p each. So cool.

Anway, after the delights of Mac Expo, the new Apple Store was very nice too. The problem for me is that Apple products fall into three main categories; things I have, things I'd like (but can't afford right now) and things I don't really want. So unlike Mac Expo, chock full of tasty and unexpected delights, the Apple Store is a gleaming cathedral for a religion I'm already well bought into. Hey, it's cheaper than Scientology. It wasn't crowded now that there are no more goody bags or tshirts; just a very pleasant, well appointed computer store with loads of Mac stuff. Lots of signs saying 'take this home today'. I played with a U2 iPod, which isn't anything like as vile as it looks on the web, and with a Photo iPod; the photos look small and naff even having been carefully chosen for impact by Apple (photos are too small even on my TH-55 to be anything other than a curiosity). The iMac G5 looked splendid, though, as did the simply enormous cinema displays.

There's a theatre upstairs, where I caught a jolly entertaining talk by someone I discovered part way through was Andy Inhatko. At one point he asked for a volunteer -- nobody volunteered so he pounced on some poor woman. She was unkeen so he offered her a book. Still unkeen, and I was the first person to say 'I'll do it...er, does that mean I get a book?' So now I have The Garageband Book, and also learnt a great tip on how to get photos taken of you standing next to a famous person. Er, Andy, if you're reading this, can you post the photo from your mobile?

Posted by Alison at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2004


Rudy Rucker pondered geeks in the sidebar of BoingBoing. He wrote:

Working with computers isn't quite like biting the head off a live chicken, but it's close. The thing is, computers are somewhat repellent. Computer cases are a dull, ugly shade of beige. Computers are the tools of telemarketers, dot-commers, oppressive governments, and digital snoops. Many of us have office jobs where using a computer is part of the daily grind. The damned things never work like you expect them to for more than a few weeks at a time. You have to constantly upgrade their software and hardware. They flicker and they make an ugly noise. A lot of us lost money on computer stocks in the Dot Com Bubble. And so on.

Who but a chicken-head-biting geek could stand to spend much time with such machines?. What could less life-affirming, mind-manifesting, or philosophical than computers? Ah, but if you look, the secrets of life float just beneath the pulsing screen.

Meanwhile, my friend Judith appeals for a geek, chicken-biting or otherwise, because her computer is suddenly booting into safe mode after she installed anti-spy measures because unidentified calls had turned up on her phone bill.

Not long ago, we spent a couple of evenings over at another friend's house, tinkering with her computer. Classic sort of problem, she'd tidied up her hard drive to release some extra space, she'd deleted some bits and bobs, her email had stopped working, there was no easy way to sort it out.

Last week Steven rang to say that our PC had stopped working. When I came home, I fiddled with it for a bit, and it started working again. No form of alpha-geekery here: I checked the connections, turned it on and it booted -- though Steven had tried that already and it hadn't. It made an ugly sound so I vacuumed as much dust as I could find out of the innards. It's been fine ever since.

My text for the day is "The damned things never work like you expect them to for more than a few weeks at a time." This is true for the computers of each of my friends above. It's true of my PC, and of Firebrick, our unloved PC laptop. It is true of my work machine, which delivers two separate errors each time it boots -- I reported them to the sysadmins, who said oh, click through on OK, does it work, just ignore them then.

It is not true of our Macs.

I realised that I'd sort of lost the knack of tinkering with recalcitrant computers. I don't spend anything like as much time as I used to tinkering with my own computers, and that discourages me from volunteering to help other people.

It's not, I think, that Macs don't go wrong, or don't have idiosyncracies. For example, the cross-platform networking remains a little tetchy. My beloved anglepoise iMac is inclined to crash messily when I have my 14000-song iTunes collection, Photoshop, and 50 Safari tabs all open at the same time. But at worst, an occasional reboot restores harmony and equilibrium.

I have become the worst sort of evangelical cultist. Whenever people tell me about their PC problems, I'm inclined to tell them how much better off they'd be with a Mac. I know that it's 'cheaper' to salvage parts, recycle and rebuild old PCs (and when we update our PC that is probably what we will do). But. But.

If you just want to be able to come in, turn your computer on, and productively get on with whatever you want to do, then get a Mac. It will take you about a month to learn the ways in which Macs are different from PCs -- less if you aren't simulatenously using a PC at work. Broadly speaking, there are no viruses and no malware on Macs (not just because of the smaller user base, but also because it's inherently harder to exploit). And they're beautiful and fun to use; not beige boxes.

Macs are contra-indicated for:
-- those who like to have the latest graphics-intensive games (Mac games release later, and some not at all);
-- those who need Microsoft Access, which is not available for Mac; and
-- those who really like spending their spare time taking the side off their computers and fiddling with stuff.

New Macs start at £549 (for a machine that has a small hard drive (40Gb) and no DVD burner, but is otherwise entirely adequate for all sorts of general use), and there's a healthy second-hand market. Consumer-level Macs (eMac and iMac) come with all the software that most people need for their computer except Microsoft Office. If you are a student or teacher (eg you have a child in school or you attend an evening class), you can buy and use the cheap (£100 for use on 1-3 computers) edition of Office, but otherwise this could be a sticking point.

If you have other expensive, specialist software, you would need to budget for the Mac version, and make sure that it or an equivalent exists for Mac before buying. For example, I bought the Mac versions of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

It's all just much better. Honest. You can't understand it until you've truly seen the light. Or something like that.

Posted by Alison at 09:21 AM | Comments (2)

August 07, 2004

Any colour you like, as long as it's not silver, pink or blue

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention in the middle of all the networking that I had a tiny little accident in Micro Anvika while buying my base station. "Ooh, is that an iPod mini?" I said incautiously, assuming they wouldn't have any to sell. "Lovely, isn't it?" "You want one, don't you?" said the salesman. "We have green or gold to take away now." Ooh.

So I'm now the proud owner of a green iPod mini; and when I plugged in the firewire cable, the icon that appeared on the desktop was green to match. I had wavered slightly on seeing the store model of pink; as reported around the place, it's not a grim hello-kitty pink at all, but a really cool strong purplish pink. There's a long waiting list for pink. But my desire for instant gratification kicked in, and the green's good too.

My old iPod looks just exactly like a radiogram now.

But here's the thing. I know Micro Anvika are a big reseller, and it was that busy after-work-but-before-closing time. Nevertheless, they were basically shifting iPods out of that shop just about as fast as they could get them off the shelves. Third-gen iPods, now discounted. Fourth-gen iPods all new and shiny, with a click wheel and loads of space for only pennies more than the mini. iPod Minis in less popular colours to impulse buyers like me, and in more popular colours to names being checked off a list. They must have shifted a couple of dozen just while I was in the store. Is this happening everywhere?

Posted by Alison at 10:39 PM | Comments (1)

August 06, 2004

If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix it

OK. So I bought an Airport Express, so I could stream music to the living room. Airport Express will extend an airport network, but I quickly discovered it won't extend my aging wireless network. So I bought an Airport Extreme. Beautiful stuff, should be able to link to the Airport Express, just what I needed.

Except that I cannot, absolutely cannot, get NTL to talk to it. It thinks it's connected to the cable modem and to NTL, it pings and so on. It just won't give me any internet.

I suspect a problem with the MAC address myself; I can't seem to force it to NTL's MAC registration phase. And the Airport Extreme won't spoof the MAC address I've been using. Help welcome. NTL officially doesn't support routers of any kind, so I'm not terribly sure that they'll help if I ring, but nevertheless I'll probably try in the morning if I get no luck here.

Update: I rang NTL, and although it took me about 40 minutes to get through to the set top box support line (0845 650 0125), when I got through they were absolutely helpful. I wanted to mention that because NTL's customer service does not have a particularly good reputation, but over the years we've used broadband we've found them mostly very helpful.

If you've browsed to this page because this is your problem, then the sequence of events goes as follows:

Turn off your Mac.
Turn off your Airport Extreme
Turn off your set top box.
Wait one minute.
Turn on the set top box (wait for the two green lights).
Turn on your Airport Extreme
Turn on your Mac.
Browse to the actual IP address of the MAC provisioning page (told to me as
Register (you'll need your customer number (the one that starts with three zeroes) and your password which is the one you use when talking to them, not the one that was on my introductory letter).
Turn everything off again.
Reboot, again in the order set top box/router/Mac.
Browse to any web page; all should be well.

Posted by Alison at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2004

Inching towards the New Content Distribution Model

So, the iTunes Music Store has launched in the UK, allegedly with 700,000 songs. There are a lot of things missing -- the very first thing I searched for was the Richard Thompson iTunes exclusives, and they're not there. The next dozen bands I looked at had no tracks. They're seriously weak on small-label music, and most music I buy is small-label or even self-produced.

It's not terribly surprising that they don't have much stuff I want. After all, I own much of the stuff I want, and many of the things I don't own are seriously rare. Even if they have 700k tracks, which I don't believe, that's only 50 times the size of my collection -- and I have no interest in at least 95% of popular music. I suspect that for the music I collect, eMusic is a better source than iTunes. Of the albums I chose for my eMu list Ten Best English Roots Music, iTunes has none. I could not have put an adequate list of modern English folk music together from iTunes; they don't sell any.

Eventually I started finding stuff I wanted (for example, I own nothing by the Clash), but ran into other oddities -- eg you can buy The Clash, London Calling or Combat Rock for £8 each, or the Clash/London Calling/Combat Rock box set for £25. Mmm; complete with virtual box and sleevenotes.

There's no wishlist function -- obviously, I want to tag the things we want, go to Fopp & see if I can pick them up for no more than £8, and return to iTMS if I can't. I can make a playlist of 'iTMS wishlist' but it has to be a playlist of tracks; what I want is an album-wise playlist like the eMusic 'Stash' list, of albums I might get round to buying sometime.

The arrow links from iTunes to the store are seriously excellent, though -- even if mostly they come up to links like "Kate Rusby did not match any results; did you mean Nate Pussy?" At least eMusic has thought through this and provides links to 'music like' bands they don't have.

Meanwhile, we've given our vinyl away as part of the Great Tat Clearout and want to pick it what's available on MP3. Some of it's on iTMS, sure, but I'm unsure if I really want DRM-ridden music for this purpose.

So, no, I haven't bought anything yet, but I'm sure I will.

Posted by Alison at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2004

This App Will Change Your Life

Steve Davies pointed out Spike, which allows you to share clipboards across all your Windows and Mac OS X machines. Copy something on one machine; Spike sees it on the network using Rendezvous, and you can paste it from any other machine with Spike on it. As the website says; "no matter what business you're in, sharing text, images, and files over a network is part of your workflow". And when writing fanzines, too.

Posted by Alison at 03:49 PM | Comments (2)

May 07, 2004

They were S.O.T.A in 1996

We picked up the ancient PowerBooks at <plokta.con>, sparking much interest from the other parents of medium sized children. Our friend had helpfully sorted us out some appropriate kid-friendly software, and showed us some fabulous Stupid Kid Tricks (type a story into SimpleText, get the computer to read it out loud, that sort of thing). Anyway, I've set them up today, delighting the children, who (as I suspected) really like the idea of computers of their own.

They run System 7 (though if we can find some extra ram from somewhere then we can put 8.6 on), they're incredibly sturdy, and noticeably smaller and lighter than our PC laptop, Firebrick (though to be fair, every laptop on the planet is smaller and lighter than Firebrick). I'm reasonably confident we will get them onto the network, and Internet is plausible, though I'm not sure there's a good browser out there for system 7, and most of the websites the kids like are flash-heavy. I will have to wait for nightfall, though; the children have been inseparable from the machines all afternoon.

Oddly, we find that much of our existing children's software, bought when Marianne was a small child, will run on these machines; dual-format PC/Mac CDs were the order of the day then. Marianne fell on old favourite Orly's Draw-A-Story and we haven't seen her since.

Update: Got a great Macs-just-work when we plugged in the network cards, made minimal network settings, and typed in a web address in Netscape. But this site crashes Netscape 4.0.5, which is the browser they've got, and the CBeebies site is terribly slow.

Posted by Alison at 09:32 PM | Comments (3)

January 23, 2004


In the last week, GarageBand has become the Kittywompus equivalent of the Victorian piano. Each evening after dinner, the family gathers round the iMac to make very bad music.

I've always known that it would be quite handy to have some sequencing software. But it's all been either expensive, or hard to use, or both. Plus there's a problem that different programs do specific things well, but it's hard to find something that will cover all aspects of producing music for fun, and it's hard to tell what you need.

GarageBand is trivial by comparison. The interface is very easy to use; you drag loops into it and add MIDI tracks and recorded real instrument tracks to build up a song. When you're done, you can export it to iTunes (as an AIFF), where it appears in the library under your name.

The first night we had GarageBand, I recorded myself singing Cakes and Ale, which is a splendid three-part catch (round); I just recorded myself singing it once and offset it to produce the harmony. The following day, I moved onto a version of Summer Is Icumen In, with several layers of vocals and half a dozen recorders. Austin heard this; having just seen A Mighty Wind he thought that my recording felt authentically dreadful. I cearly have some work to do.

But still; GarageBand will allow enthusiastic amateurs to produce songs reminiscent of parodies of bad sixties folk music in only a few hours. Which is, well, quite something.

The third night, I went to the theatre, and arrived home to discover that while I was out, Steven & the kids had produced a weird ambient version of Hickory Dickory Dock, in the style of Wendy Cope in the style of TS Eliot, with vocals from all three of them and supporting weird ethnic percussion sounds as well as some of the Apple Loops. None of them can sing, play an instrument, or read music. But it didn't stop them having a whale of a time with GarageBand.

Even with no previous experience, I quickly discovered some of the program's limitations. For example, it allows you to work in any of a dozen different time signatures (including fives!). But remember those 1000 loops? 6 are 3/4 time (of which only two are actually 3-beat loops). A couple are 2/4 or 2/2. The rest are 4/4. So, if I'd like, say, to sing along to a drum in 6/8 time, I'd better find some other loops, or record my own. Luckily we have a house full of likely percussive items.

Apple reckoned that their target audience wouldn't want to produce their own loops, using Apple's inbuilt loops instead. But of course I'm keen to produce loops from Jonathan's enthusiastic playing of the seed rattle and other instruments we picked up at Strawberry Fair; there's an SDK to do this.

On the whole, GarageBand is just about the most fun ever. If you've ever played an instrument, or wanted to fiddle about with loops, or even like singing in the bath, you'll have a whale of a time.

Posted by Alison at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2004

Everybody's called Dave

In the background, Windows Networking has pretty much remained the bane of my life. After getting it working in Jaguar using SMB Browse, it stopped again in Panther. It's completely random whether Panther sees the Windows machine or not, and when it does show the machine, odds are it won't mount the relevant shares. A range of different error messages ensue. Because I only use the Windows box to play Zuma, there's 93Gb free on its hard drive and I like to keep files there. Whereas the iMac is bursting at the seams.

So eventually I downloaded the trial of Dave, the software that's designed to do this stuff, and it appears to work perfectly and without fuss. The paid version is $119, but unless someone comes up with evidence that I'm wrong and the Panther Windows sharing is flaky as all hell, it's a done deal.

Posted by Alison at 08:09 PM | Comments (9)

January 08, 2004

A Missing Part of the Jigsaw

I've seen people say that with the addition of GarageBand, iLife does '99% of what people do on their computers at home'. Well, it might be 99% of what some people do, but it's not 99% of what I do.

I think we need an iApp for desktop publishing. Most people don't need Quark or Indesign. But lots of people want to make CD covers for their CDs, DVD covers for their DVDs, party invitations and Christmas cards. They want to easily grab photos from iPhoto, playlistings from iTunes, and screenshots from iMovie and iDVD for this. Word is not well-optimised for this sort of thing. What they (and I) need would be an iApp that's a bit like Microsoft Publisher only much better. How do I let Apple know this?

Posted by Alison at 08:38 PM | Comments (0)

January 06, 2004

A Visitation from Apple Santa

Most of Steve Jobs' announcements occurred while I was away from my desk doing yoga. I arrived back bendy and mellow, and found that iPhoto can now handle 25,000 photos, includes picture rating and smart playlists ("I'd like a slideshow of every photo I took between June and September that I gave 4 or more stars to"), and allows you to rotate and rate photos as they're coming in from USB. As I'd got sufficiently irritated with iPhoto that I spent part of my holidays searching for an alternative photo managing program, I'm really pleased with this.

GarageBand sounds good for me, too; though it sounds really, really good for a whole host of people who are just a bit better than me at this sort of stuff -- but still not good enough to warrant spending money on a real studio. If I bought the electric violin I faunch after, I could plug it straight into the iMac!

Update: I thought the iPod mini looked cute but not quite the right product for me. But then the dimensions sunk in. My mobile phone is the Nokia 8310, a small cute phone that is near-ubiquitous in the UK. The iPod mini is the same length, slightly wider, slightly thinner, slightly smaller overall volume, slightly heavier. And my phone is tiny. I mean, the iPod's not huge, but I don't ever lose it in my bag, or forget I'm carrying it. That's the difference. And the difference might not be much, but if you carry a phone, and a PDA, and an iPod, and a (wipes away tear) digital camera, you sure notice if they each weighs 100g or 200g. And while 4Gb is not enough to rid yourself of having to pay attention to what music you've got with you, it's enough to ensure you have music to suit a variety of moods. So I guess, once they're cheaper, and we're back on an even keel, it might suit me better for commuting than my current iPod.

Posted by Alison at 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

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 at 09:07 PM | Comments (9)

October 04, 2003

Shopping Advice

As it's now October (September was another anti-consumer month, and we still managed to put £900 on the credit card), I gave in and bought a cheap scanner that will work with Mac OS X. However, the bundled OCR software is classic only (though there's a Windows version, which I've duly installed to run with my old scanner on the PC).

Ideally, I'm looking for OS X native freeware OCR software. My demands on OCR software aren't great, to say the least; about 50 pages a year, mostly printouts from PCs. Failing that, I'm looking for cheap OS X native OCR software. Failing that, I'm wondering what the requirements are for the upgrade version of Omnipage Pro X (which is £85 for the downloadable version). Advice welcome.

Posted by Alison at 07:58 PM | Comments (3)

August 15, 2003

Microsoft Appears Clueful

They've released a Student & Teacher edition of Office X. Priced at $149, allowing use on up to three computers in your household. No UK announcement yet, though. Eligibility is any full or part time student or teacher, or the parent of a schoolchild. I'm sure you've been thinking of doing an evening class, right?

Posted by Alison at 06:28 PM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2003

"New iTunes for Old"

It's apparently warmer in London than in Tenerife today. The children are splashing about merrily in the garden, the hammock is inviting, I have a rare guilt-free day off; so I'm fiddling with iTunes.

Marianne and Jonathan in the paddling pool

Doing our bit for water conservation

If you haven't downloaded the update to iTunes yet, you might wish to copy iTunes 4.0 to a different folder; 4.01 has disabled the sharing over IP. When you do update, you'll want to do so on your entire network at once, because the sharing over Rendezvous feature, which remains, requires the shared libraries to be running the same version of iTunes.

I'm ripping my way through the large pile of CDs I've bought at various branches of Fopp in the last week. I now have a small manageable pile of ether. Fopp is clearly going to be a major money sink; their business case appears to rest on the theory that people will buy many CDs at a fiver each. Works for me, and the London branch is quite near my coffee shop.

I like Clutter, a little program that sucks the cover art for whatever you're playing from iTunes or Amazon, displays it in a 'What's Playing' window, and puts an appropriate icon in the doc. It also allows you to leave a pile of virtual CD cases lying around your desktop, to remind you of music you might want to play soon. Double-clicking them launches the album in iTunes; and helpfully, you can associate artwork with radio stations and playlists as well. Clutter only finds about the art for about half of my music, though (a defect in Amazon, not Clutter), so I'm supplementing it with Google image searches. The virtual covers can be as large as you like; so if you have a nice big display and a distressing penchant for prog rock, you can relive the days of 12" album art.

The web fails me completely on a cover image for 'Rosemary's Sister' by Huw and Tony Williams. It's not even a very rare album. This is the first cover of proper music I've not managed to find at all, though some of the images are a bit small for the window in iTunes. I may have to resort to scanning the physical cover.

The next task is clearly lyrics.

Posted by Alison at 12:39 PM | Comments (2)

May 04, 2003

In the garden again

And this time Mike has a very long network cable, and we're all sharing his Internet connection. Nobody's allowed in the garden without a notebook; this is a Plokta cabal brainstorming session for the Interaction fan room. The sun is shining, we're halfway down a bottle of Pimms, and life is good. So far our notes say "Croquet. Must have croquet."

Posted by Alison at 04:34 PM | Comments (3)

April 30, 2003

My Favourite Music Genre is Neep-Neep

iTunes 4 is really very fine. Everyone's talking about the new Music Store; it's certainly nifty, but I have two problems with it. Firstly, most of the music I'm interested in isn't available; the smaller record companies have yet to come on board. Second, non-US users are currently disenfranchised, though we do get to press our little virtual noses up to the window and see what we're missing. Which is certainly better than nothing.

I'm sure all that will come, though; because I predict that this service is going to make a mint, and its successors will become the standard way of buying music. Meanwhile, though, iTunes 4 has two other features I like hugely. First, you can stream music from other iTunes libraries on your network. As I seem to have returned from the US with a largish iTunes library on my Powerbook which is completely different from the one on the iMac, and Powerbook speakers are rubbish, this is very useful.

Secondly, you can now attach album artwork (or any other pictures) to songs in your iTunes library. And you can drag these pictures directly from Safari. I did a few, experimentally, and then got to a song that I have in my library but don't own; and it occurred to me that this is a fine way to differentiate the music I own from the music I've borrowed from friends to see if I like. Not adding pictures will remind me that, if I do like it, it's probably about time I bought it.

One of the many cool toys I purchased at the Apple Store at Mall of America was a Belkin Tunecast, which transmits FM from the iPod to nearby radios (within 20 feet or so). We got it to use on our longish trips in the hire car, but it turned out to be useful for broadcasting to home stereos and (especially) those crappy little radios you get in hotel rooms, too. We easily got good value out of it just on our holiday, and the sound quality is rather better than you get with a cassette adaptor.

Sadly, it's illegal to use low-power tranmitters of this kind in the UK. Which is a shame, because as well as all the uses mentioned above, I could theoretically also attach it to the powerbook and stream anything from either of the iTunes libraries to my posh tuner in the living room.

Posted by Alison at 12:58 PM | Comments (5)

March 25, 2003

Get Your Daily Freeware Here

Well, maybe not daily. For some reason, there's no pdf browser plug-in included in Mac OS X. So for a year, or thereabouts, I've been laboriously downloading pdfs and opening them in Preview before trashing them. Of course, someone has stepped into the breach and provided a neat little plug-in. It's not as advanced for IE as for other browsers, but none of you are using IE for Mac any more, are you? (via Mac OS X Hints, which is essential reading in any case.)

Meanwhile, iChat's a bit of a stone soup program. It's not bad, but it could really do with a couple of carrots, in the form of iChat Enhancer, which allows you to increase the size of the text entry box so that you can see an entire sentence at once. Unless U R monosyllabic txtng teen. And it's even tastier with some tomatoes, such as iChatStatus, a program which changes the status in iChat to show what's currently playing in iTunes. Pointless but very cute.

Posted by Alison at 01:42 PM | Comments (1)

March 14, 2003

So, how do you record Real Player streams?

So, what sort of person needs Audio Hijack Pro? Well, it does a few things, but the key one is this. It grabs the audio output of any other Mac OS X program, and then records it to MP3 (or AIFF, for those with large hard drives) in real time. You can also enhance the sound using all manner of post-processing. If you want.

But if you're like me, you've spent the last year looking at all manner of tempting online audio streams and internet radio stations, and thinking 'gosh, I'd really like to have some of that stuff available to listen to on the iPod; but it's just so hard to convert streaming audio to MP3.' There you go. I can't, off the top of my head, think of a more life-enhancing bit of shareware.

Posted by Alison at 12:00 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2003

Get Your Neep Neep Here

Pierre Igot reviews blogging options for Mac users, but rejects Movable Type, despite having web hosting with cgi, because of the difficulty of managing the initial server configuration. Now, I adore the strength, flexibility and ease of use of Movable Type, and love its web interface to bits. I particularly like being able to blog from anywhere; a major failing of box-bound systems like Radio. But I have to admit that my ubergeek configured it for me. It took him about ten minutes -- but it had taken him much longer to set up his own system. It's still a bit cheap of Pierre, though, because paid installation of Movable Type for blogs is no more expensive than Radio.

Now, Pair, who provide my hosting, already have some handy support features, like 'click here and we'll set up statistics for you'. So it wouldn't be out of the question for a host to say 'click here and we'll (automatically) install Movable Type in a standard way on your site', would it?

The link to Pierre came from Ranchero, who also mention that there's a rumour of tabbed browsing in Safari beta 0.62. Now, I recall Dave Hyatt arguing passionately that tabs were a cure for a problem (slow window handling and poor window management) that Safari didn't have, and that Safari would never have tabs. But I can't find that post now. Although I'm likely to stick with Safari with or without tabs, I'd like to have a single tabbed window to keep all the pages I'm editing in Movable Type in, and another window to open all the interesting pages from the aggregator on separate tabs. Of course, being Safari, I'm sure they'll have sorted out all the things that are really irritating about the Chimera/Camino tabs, like not being able to move a tab from one window to another. Update: While they're at it, they could also fix my number one irritation about Safari; it doesn't always fetch new versions of pages on reload, and in particular, it doesn't always fetch the new version of my blog, so I have to open another browser to view my freshly-minted posts. Update 2: A comment on MacSlash linked to the not yet released Safari 0.62; I grabbed it and yes, Virginia, there are tabs in Safari, in the Debug menu.

And one more thing on aggregation: I wanted to aggregate Neil Gaiman's journal, but it doesn't officially have an RSS feed. So Adam Wendt knocked up a bit of PHP to produce one. Which is sort of creepy, but very useful. He's done a feed for Bill Gibson's blog, too.

Posted by Alison at 11:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 21, 2003


I went to read the slashdot thread that Patrick mentioned. I disagree with Patrick's point in any case; the key 'stop waiting for pages to load' feature is 'open new page in background' (a none-too-intuitive Cmd-shift-click in Safari), not tabbed browsing.

Although there was certainly a lot of noise in the thread, something slowly became clear to me. I suspect that I like tabs because I'm not hardwired to use either the Window or Dock menus. It's not Safari, it's me, still scrabbling around at the bottom of the Mac learning curve. And when they say that developing tabs would take energy away from the important stuff, they're probably right. Not to mention that Safari is intended to be a majority browser; which should leave plenty of room for niche products like an improved Chimera. But I'll be over here, teaching myself to choose a window from a menu rather than cycling through dozens.

I did like the "Welcome Safari User" logo on the Apple homepage. It made me think they care.

Update: Patrick e-mailed, to tell me that I can open pages in background, and do other things, and that there's a list of Safari shortcuts buried deep in the package at file:///Applications/Safari.app/Contents/Resources/English.lproj/Shortcuts.html. Turns out they're also in the Help; I'm already sufficiently habituated to Macs that I automatically assume:

Posted by Alison at 10:38 PM | Comments (3)

January 13, 2003

Upgraded from Comments

Austin mentioned this in a comment, but I felt I had to blog it. glenn mcdonald, who writes an excellent -- and expensive for Austin -- weekly music review, The War Against Silence, turns out to be a rabid switcher.

I suppose I'm thinking hard about the whole switching thing at present. In the last 24 hours I have spent more time tinkering with one of my PCs than I've spent in total tinkering with my iMac. I guess the upgrade I didn't have to do (Mac OS 9 to X) might have been as hard as this upgrade, though it seems vaguely unlikely. I've been trolling all round the web in search of drivers for my hardware; none of it rare or obscure. Why weren't these drivers all bundled with the OS?

And for what? Well, it's more stable; but shouldn't an operating system be rock solid in the first place? Compare to my move to OS X, which was revolutionary. And then 10.2, which, as an upgrade, was no harder than installing a screen saver on a Windows box would be, and which allows all sorts of astonishing stuff (like, for example, Safari). And which keeps delighting me. I'm sure I don't need a text editor that automatically uses ligatures for fl. But I'm really pleased I've got one.

Posted by Alison at 04:21 PM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2003

Leap of Faith

Dr Plokta suggested that I would be happier if I upgraded my Windows machines to Win2K. Once the children were safely tucked up in bed, I started off the process, accepted all the options recommended by the setup program, and set it going. As far as I can tell, nothing has happened since then; the progress bar is stuck resolutely at zero.

I asked Dr Plokta about it on iChat, and he did the geek equivalent of sucking in his breath sharply and shaking his head sadly. "You do believe in burning your bridges, don't you?" He then explained just exactly why what I'd done was very, very stupid, and suggested I leave the machine overnight in the forlorn hope it will sort itself out.

How thorough a switcher am I? I am never, ever going to buy another Windows PC. Not until Hell freezes over. Not until Hell freezes over twice.

Update: After an hour or so I cancelled out and my Win98SE installation is just fine. I'm now installing clean onto the shiny new hard drive instead; which is what I should have done in the first place. But my resolve was shaken by Windows telling me that none of my hardware was compatible.

Posted by Alison at 09:17 PM | Comments (2)

January 09, 2003

Back to Basics

This is, after all, a switching blog. Safari is very speedy, and has that nice brushed-metal finish. It doesn't appear to spell-check forms, though, and it's not tabbed. It also quits occasionally for no apparent reason; but then, so does Chimera.

I wasn't exactly sure about iSync and iCal. My phone's not compatible, and if i'm carrying around my Clié, why would I care about contact info on the iPod? I'd like to keep a calendar online, but I can't do that without a .mac account. Though perhaps I should look into using the Apache server right here on the iMac.

Anyway, Dr Plokta encouraged me. "Preparing to synchronise Alison Scott", it said. I looked around nervously but do not appear to have been assimilated.

Oh, yes, and of course I fancy a new laptop, only marginally smaller than a suitcase, for only 892 venti eggnog lattes.

Posted by Alison at 12:55 AM | Comments (6)