Updates on the Internet and its social and public policy implications, useful websites, political/cultural musings and more from a UK-based academic, internet consultant and journalist

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29 June 2009

I replaced my five year old PowerPC-based iBook G4 with a practically identical MacBook last week and I know at least one other reader is contemplating the same thing so here are some impressions and a few problems/requests for help.

Good:

  • As you might expect, I got more storage – 500Gb instead of 80 – which means I can now have all my music and all my pictures and all my movies on one machine instead of having them distributed on different ones.
  • My battery life has gone back up from c. 1hr to supposedly nearly five (as yet untested).
  • Having a built in webcam is pretty entertaining.
  • Making the transition was very easy even though it involved a change of processor architecture as well as a change of machine. Only a few applications broke and almost all the application settings remained intact. I was working on the new machine within a half day of connecting it to the old one.
  • Thanks to a “back to school” offer the new macbook came with a (nearly) free iPod Touch which was significantly better than the first generation one I had in that it includes a volume control and can accept a microphone.

Bad:

  • The down arrow already seems to be coming loose though the machine has not been subjected to any physical stress I can think of.
  • Even with nearly double the RAM (2Gb) and I would have thought several times the raw processing power, the new machine feels very little faster. Moore’s law suggests I should see a 4x speed increase – where is it? One can’t blame The Great Moore’s Law Compensator – the tendency for software to get more and more bloated as processors improve – because I am running the same software I was last week. Are there a lot of non-native applications still on my machine running in emulation? Will I see a dramatic boost if I “top up” to 4Gb of RAM?
  • It’s not noticeably lighter either though I believe it is supposed to be slightly lighter and it is just different enough in shape that I had to buy a new case for it.

Help, please?

  • Adobe AIR seems not to work despite uninstalling and reinstalling it twice so BBC iPlayer and Tweetdeck don’t work either. Any ideas?
  • I installed Windows 7 RC via Bootcamp but none of the games I have installed to date via Steam run – in the case of TF2 I get the “splash screen” and the icon briefly appears in the dock but then it disappears without even an error message. Should I try installing parallels, fusion or one of the other multiple-OS enabling apps and try that? Any other ideas?
  • Any ideas about how I can get my Macbook to recognise the existence of an external monitor when it is running Windows 7? If I do get it to play games I would prefer to play them on my 19″ monitor.
30 December 2008

Non-UK readers can stop here… Tech-savvy UK readers I could use some advice.

Sky’s heavy-handed efforts to get us to switch to Sky Talk have caused us to re-examine our TV/broadband/phone mix completely. The long & short of it is:

We’re contemplating dumping Sky for Freesat plus a broadband supplier and a telecoms supplier. Though we’re in London we are only in an analogue area for Virgin so that’s a non-starter. Overall we don’t call much but we call a lot to France and Canada. I don’t know how much broadband we use but I think it is substantially more than 2-3Gb a month. The current shortlist is:

Price-wise TalkTalk is a no-brainer – half the price of the other options (£200 a year for 20Gb a month broadband plus almost unlimited calls except for national daytime) – but its customer service has a lousy reputation. Does anyone here use them? Are they any better than they were? How can they afford to be so much cheaper than anyone else? Do they make it up on volume?

Are there any other ISPs you could recommend that offer good service and un-capped or high-cap broadband for a low price (with or without an inexpensive telephony option)?

If we go freesat should we go ahead and get the Humax PVR or are there other good freesat PVRs on the near horizon?

23 November 2008

Evernote doesn’t work nearly as well offline as I had hoped – am sticking with it for the moment out of sheer cussedness but it’s less convenient than my old solution. The iPod Touch update that adds podcast downloading wirelessly which I was also looking forward to doesn’t let you automatically add new podcasts you are subscribed to – it only lets you subscribe to new ones or add podcasts manually (and then only if you already have at least one file downloaded for that podcast). The Touch doesn’t have a built in password protection option for files – how dumb is that? (I’m trying out SplashID Lite as a data store for starters). And the new S2 Skypephone which I am thinking of getting as a cheaper alternative to the Nokia 6220 is all very well but as far as I can tell there’s still no way to sync it with one’s address book using my Mac’s iSync (and my memory of the PC syncing software available with the original Skypephone is that it was dire).

*sigh.

8 October 2008

Even though I am a media junkie and have been following the financial crisis I have until now found it difficult to find trustworthy sources that would explain to me in simple terms:

1) Why is it all going pear-shaped?
2) To what extent will the US government’s plan fix the problem?
3) What will it cost (because the $700bn figure is not all going to just get spent without any return now or in future to the taxpayer)?
4) Is there a better way to try to solve the problem?
5) Who is to blame and what can we/should we do to them?

The This American Life radio programme helped once before with their excellent Giant Pool of Money episode on sub-prime mortgages. They have rushed out a new episode, Another Frightening Show about the Economy from the same reporting team (Alex Blumberg and some folks from NPR news). I have to say I found it less enlightening – probably because it had to fit a lot more in – but it still helped. If you don’t want to listen to the programme (though I think you should) here’s what I took away:

1) Greedy speculators found ways to gamble on the health of companies without facing government regulation that would have limited the amount of leverage they could use.
2) It’s not clear if the bailout will work, but hey we’ve got to try something!
3) We don’t know how much of the money we’re putting on the table we’re likely to lose.
4) We should be pushing Paulson to use the latitude built into the legislation to push for “stock injection” instead of just buying up bad debt. In other words don’t just give the banks money to bail them out for their crappy decisions, insist on some equity so if the bailout works the government has some assets for all that spending.
5) TAL doesn’t really tell us who to lynch – looks like the decision not to regulate was made in a bipartisan way.

PS the NPR team also has a daily weblog Planet Money and podcast to help you track developments. A good summary of their answers to questions 3 and 4 is here.

If anyone has alternative answers to my questions I would be interested to hear them – send me a comment!

Update: I see that the UK bailout looks like the stock injection option that NPR suggests most economists would favour…

30 December 2007

Please always provide a “child lock” mode. My less than two year old son is already turning on the drier and washing machine or at least changing the settings so that if you aren’t careful when you do turn them on they don’t do what you wanted them to. It won’t be long before he’s opening the fridge… It would cost little or nothing to add some kind of “child lock” option – I don’t know why they aren’t more common.

27 November 2006

The exemplary chaps at MySociety.org, a group of mostly volunteer developers producing e-democracy-related web apps has managed to get the prime minister to support (or at least host) an online petition system (see BBC news coverage). Among the petitions launched so far is one which asks him not to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system. I encourage you to sign it – though note that these petitions are for UK residents only.

I oppose the replacement of Trident both on economic grounds and in the interests of encouraging others to abandon their own nuclear arsenals. Nation states who would use nukes against us would surely be deterred by the US and the international consequences of their use, while terrorists are not deterred by nuclear weapons and couldn’t in any case be targetted by them.

It seems to me that this decision comes at a crucial point in history where by deciding to turn away from nuclear weapons we could help turn the rest of the world in a new direction (and save billions that could be used to tackle important issues like climate change).

If you have some more time after signing that petition, please also sign this petition asking for a free vote and a full debate in parliament or visit The Big Trident Debate which has its own similar petition and discussion spaces.

6 October 2006
Filed under:Call for help at2:07 pm

Something in my configuration changed a while ago and now whenever I try to connect to Windows drives (either my PC at home or the network drive at the LSE) I get an error -50. Appleerrorcodes tells me this means “Error in user parameter list” but that doesn’t actually mean anything to me! I tried re-authenticating but the error message remains the same (and it doesn’t seem likely the keychain entries for two different drives would be wrong).

Moreover I can’t now connect to the shared printers at the LSE or at home. I connect to the Internet fine (thankfully)! I fear I must somehow have messed up SAMBA on my machine at a low level.
I don’t know what to do next. I will book an appointment at the Apple “Genius Bar” and see what they say but any other ideas would be welcome.

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