Initial Thoughts on Retina Macbook

My wife’s new gold Retina Macbook was delivered today and here’s my initial thoughts from playing with it a bit.

  • It’s beautiful, but that’s expected at this point.
  • My 13″ Macbook Air looks pretty huge next to the Retina Macbook.
  • It only comes with the “wall wart” part of the typical Apple charger.  There’s no long cable included.
  • The USB-C connector is pretty small, smaller than I expected.  It’s very close in size and shape to lightning, which will probably cause some confusion.  It’s a nice looking connector for something that came out of the USB group.
  • The cable used for charging is the same connector on both ends, which is kinda neat.
  • As reviewers have pointed out, the keyboard is definitely weird.  That will take some getting used to.  I’m not a fan of the change to the arrow keys, which serves no purpose I can see but is interfering with my muscle memory.
  • The fake “click” of the trackpad generated by the internal motor is very convincing.  Regular people will not realize anything has changed.
  • It came with gold apple logo stickers in the box instead of white.  Are those new?

 

QuNeo vs Akai MPD32

QuNeo was the first Kickstarter project I ever funded and I just got mine in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve only had a few hours to spend with it, but that’s been enough to get a feel for what it’s capable of and what it will do for my setup.

I play live laptop/keyboards/synths/drum machine in a rock-tronic band called Thrillouette in San Francisco.  The setup is primarily Ableton Live on a laptop with some midi controllers plugged into it for live control.  The controllers include a Softstep from Keith McMillen, the people who make the QuNeo, as well as an Akai MPD32.  The QuNeo is expected to replace the MPD32 so I’m going to do a quick comparison of the two.

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On Kindle and Reading

Now that Maddox is 6 months old he’s much more sensitive to sound while he’s sleeping. As a result there’s been a lot more quiet time around our house. To fill that quiet time we’ve been spending more time reading. Whenever I read more it reminds me how much more satisfying time spent reading can be compared to watching the tube or playing games.

To help Vida read more easily while encumbered with an attached child, I bought her a Kindle 2 from Amazon. I’ve seen several complaints that the Kindle should have a bigger screen, a touch screen, no keyboard, less text on the device itself, blah blah… But the fact is the Kindle makes you want to read more and it makes it easier to find stuff to read as well. When you consider its core function, it’s a major win all around. A color touchscreen the size and weight of a magazine would indeed be awesome, but the Kindle we have now is pretty great, too.

iPhone: Apple vs Everybody Else

Last night before bed I wasted some time by looking through what was available in the iPhone installer application and I was surprised to see quite a lot of new and useful stuff in there. I previously wrote about installing ssh and a terminal application on my iPhone, and the Installer makes things even easier and it also lets you manage applications right on the iPhone. Sweet!

iphone_customized.jpg

Eeeeeenyway, I took that picture of my iPhone interface to show some of the neat customization you can do now. An application called Summerboard is the next step beyond the iPhone launcher (called Springboard, get it?) and it enables stuff like being able to scroll your set of application icons if they don’t all fit and lots more.

Here’s some stuff I’ve done…

  • Changed my ‘Theme’ to look sorta like the upcoming OS X, Leopard. It mostly just affected the background for the icons at the bottom of the screen.
  • Changed it to hold 5 icons instead of 4 at the bottom, and put Google Maps on there, which I use more than the iPod (but less than the others there).
  • I used a utility called XLaunch to remove the Stocks application from showing up at all. It’s easier for me to just load Google Finance in Safari.

You can also see some of the other applications I have installed at the moment. Navizon is an intriguing application that can provide GPS-like information for devices that don’t have a GPS chip based on WiFi and Cellular network information. I’ve heard very bad reviews and one good review so I have to give it a try myself. There’s also a native AIM client called MobileChat and a voice note recorder called VNotes.

A lot of this stuff is superfluous and doesn’t add that much more to the basic iPhone but the amount of developer activity happening without ANY support from Apple is pretty amazing to me. Apple is not going to be able to stop this and reeeeaaaallly needs to develop an official developer platform. I still assume it’s only a matter of time but a recent blog post by Wil Shipley has me a bit worried that the Apple I think I know has left me for another lover, or something. Honestly, Apple doesn’t even need to officially support iPhone development… they just need to stop wiping it every time they release a new firmware update.

Right now whenever a new firmware update for the iPhone is released installing it into an iPhone with 3rd party software causes iTunes to think your iPhone is somehow damaged and it forces a factory wipe and reset. It’s not as big of a deal as it sounds as most of the important stuff syncs over from the computer again BUT it is a pain in the butt and it’ll likely make me put off upgrading this next time around… and this is only the beginning. If this goes on for very many more times I might just decide I don’t need Apple’s update anymore. All the 3rd-party HACKERS (they can’t really be called developers until Apple embraces them) might end up providing me more value than Apple itself. Imagine that!

TiVo Series 3

I did it. I bought a top of the line series 3 HD dual-tuner TiVo. It’s the best thing to ever happen to television. As a gadget, it’s pretty great. It also, however, pegs me as somebody willing to spend a pretty big chunk of money on enhancing my television entertainment.

After having a series 2 TiVo previously and having used the Comcast Motorola HD DVR box for over a year, I feel confident saying that as far as digitally recording high definition content (including premium content like HBO), nothing else out there touches the TiVo. The Comcast DVR records fine, shows look great and all that, but it’s just lacking the polish and finish the TiVo interface has. The ridiculous number of steps it takes to search for a program and set up a series recording on the Comcast DVR is mind numbing, and the way it dumps you back to the ‘live TV’ mode at odd times forcing you to dig through the menu system to get back to where you were is infuriating. It almost makes it a chore to watch television, and that’s exactly what watching television should never be.

I don’t think the TiVo interface is the end-all be-all of set-top DVR but it has very clearly had a lot of work put into it and it’s pleasant and almost fun to use. Oh, and wishlists. Yay for wishlists. With a nice set of wishlists and season passes set up, a TiVo almost makes the exorbitant prices Comcast charges for cable worth it. Almost.

Roland Handsonic electronic hand drum

I had been eyeing these things for awhile and finally decided to give myself an early Christmas present and get one. It was designed to be a sort of electronic conga drum and it has some very good conga sounds built-in (as well as several hundred other world and electronic sounds). The interface is split into 10 rubber pad areas and each one makes a different sound. Some of the pads can influence other pads to emulate things like holding one hand down on a drum while you hit it with the other. You get a different more muted sound. That works pretty well and if I was a better drummer I think it might sound pretty realistic.

It has inputs for a couple of external pedals so it can be closer to a full drum kit with the addition of kick and hihat pedals (but way more portable), and it has the nifty ‘D-Beam’ infrared controller for triggering sounds (like a big gong, blammo!) or affecting other sounds like fiddling with the pitch for some cool effects. It also has a somewhat interesting ‘Rhythm Coach’ that I’m hoping may help me actually be able to play some of these ethnic beats.

I played with it some today and it’s pretty fun so far. I’ll be using it live for the first time tomorrow (at the Be Nice Party one year anniversary) so hopefully I don’t embarrass myself too much. I was hoping to have more than a day to get to know it. Wish me luck!

Slim Devices Transporter

I just found this today on the Slim Devices website. It’s a network digital music player called ‘Transporter‘. From the description it looks like it’s a beefed up version of their popular Squeezebox player. The Squeezeboxes cost about $250 to $300 each and this Transporter is $1999! It’s being targeted at audiophiles and it certainly sounds up to the task from the list of features. It won’t make your 128k mp3s sound any better but your library of FLAC files may sound better than ever before.

Mac mini Remote Control

When I hooked up my Mac mini media center and started using it, something became quickly apparent. The included infrared remote control functionality is severely lacking! The intel Mac minis include an IR port and the little Apple remote (which is surprisingly functional for only having six buttons) but you can only use it to run and control Front Row and to operate a few included applications like the DVD player, iTunes, and Keynote. If you want to control any other application, you’re out of luck.

There are some excellent third party remotes available for the Mac and I could have purchased any of those and configured it away but I knew some enterprising programmers would eventually figure out how to make the Apple remote do more than Apple provided. Well, I didn’t have to wait long and there are now at least three options available: iRed Lite, Remote Buddy, and my favorite, Sofa Control. They all do a good job of extending the functionality of the Apple remote, but there are some differences in how they work.

The first one to come out was iRed Lite. which is available free. iRed splits its functions on a per application basis (though you can set up more than one set for a specific application if you want) and you can set up any of the buttons on the remote to send a keyboard command or run an applescript. It also recognizes ‘click and hold’ for several of the buttons so you get more than just 6 functions from the 6 buttons available. You call up iRed itself by clicking and holding the ‘Menu’ button for a couple of seconds. Once it’s up, you can move to the application switcher by hitting ‘Menu’, select an application, and then hit ‘Menu’ again to use the remote with the application. Out of the ‘box’ iRed comes with a lot of useful commands and scripts, and I was able to get it to control VLC very well without too much effort. It’s a beta application and it has some stability issues, and I found the control interface to be a little cumbersome even though it is very powerful. It’s worth checking out to see if it meets your needs before you buy something else.

The next one I discovered was Remote Buddy. It’s much more ‘Mac-like’ and intuitive to use than iRed, but it requires all of the actions to be applescript rather than keyboard commands. Applescript is more powerful but it’s harder for a novice to use. Remote Buddy is activated by a single push of the ‘Menu’ button. It provides a way for you to access Front Row so you still have that functionality. When you push the ‘Menu’ button it brings up a somewhat Front Row-esque menu on the screen that lets you pick an application, some system functions, and Input Devices which gives you mouse control over the mouse, cursor keys, or other preset keyboard key sequences. Being able to fully move the cursor around using the remote is pretty cool, but ultimately not actually that useful for a setup like mine. Remote Buddy did a good job overall but the need to use applescript to customize the functionality kept me from customizing it to suit my needs.

The one I have decided to go with for my own setup is Sofa Control. It has similar a ‘Mac-like’ feel to Remote Buddy but it improves on things just a little bit. Sofa Control also requires Applescript to control applications so it’s a bit complex for novices to customize. Sofa Control improves on things by adding an additional per-application menu accessible from the remote. This allows it to offer additional functionality like locating and opening a file with VLC or the ability to change iTunes song ratings. This sort of system allows you to set it up to do pretty much whatever you want in a remote friendly way. The customization is not for the faint of heart but the resulting interface is head and shoulders above what iRed provides.

These three remote control applications let you do a lot more with your Mac mini without ever leaving the realm of the remote, and that’s what having a media center computer is all about, right?

Intel Mac mini, Panasonic plasma, Overscan solution

I recently got my Mac mini media center set up and running and it’s pretty nifty but there was one nagging issue I had not yet solved, until now!

I have a Mac mini core duo (early 2006, 1.66 Ghz) hooked up to my Panasonic TH-42PD50U EDTV plasma as a media center. Out of the box, just hooking up all the wires gets you most of the way there but the overscan issue makes it so the picture is larger than the TV screen by enough pixels all the way around to be annoying though still usable. There’s software called DisplayConfigX that lets you set up custom resolutions for situations like this but it’s very complicated and I wasn’t able to make it work myself. Well now the magic of the Internet has allowed me to stumble upon the answer.

To help out any others in need of this same information, here are the settings I ended up using. It’s not a perfect fit for my TV but it’s very close and might be as close as is possible. I may try some other settings later myself but I am more likely to just be lazy and use what other people figured out.

My DisplayConfigX settings:

Horizontal

  • 1224 pixels
  • 136 front porch
  • 80 sync
  • 208 back porch

Vertical

  • 690 pixels
  • 26 front porch
  • 5 sync
  • 29 back porch

Updated Jan 1, 2007 with my most up to date setup!

Mac mini media center

I had long been planning to buy a Mac mini to hook up to my TV and stereo replacing the DVD player and adding media center functionality, and I finally did just that. Last night I connected the mini’s DVI output to my plasma’s HDMI input and the digital audio output to my AV receiver. The short version of the story is that it pretty much just worked but with a few unresolved issues and some minor hiccups along the way.
As you can see in this poor picture of the Mac mini in my stereo cabinet along with the HD cable/DVR box, the mini is quite small. The 5 year old DVD player it is replacing filled the entire bottom shelf area. I hooked it up to the tv, the stereo, power, and an extra keyboard and mouse and, with much excitement, flipped the whole setup on! The Mac automatically configured it’s video output based on some information passed to it by the TV via the digital HDMI/DVI connection and I was greeted with the sight of a white apple logo on a grey background signaling the bootup process for Mac OS X. It continued to boot up into the initial setup. Here’s the language selection screen. It was actually a bit anti-climactic since I’ve seen a screen like this when setting up several previous Macs. It was just like any other, other than being on my TV.


I went through the set up process and noticed the first issue when the familiar Mac desktop came up. The edges of the desktop were chopped off! About half of the menu bar at the top, half of the dock at the bottom, and some from each side was missing. Here you can see an example. I have Safari open to a baby name website looking for a name for the new addition to the network. We ended up choosing ‘Lucy’.

After some research I realized it’s an issue common to pretty much all ‘computer hooked to a TV’ setups and it’s somewhat surprising that it hasn’t actually be resolved by these software developers by now. I guess it’s complicated because every model of TV is a little different. It’s called ‘overscan‘. I’ve tried several things, including the DisplayConfigX software, to potentially fix it but nothing has worked in my case. If you know how to get it working with my Panasonic 42″ plasma let me know!

UPDATE: I figured out the overscan problem and posted the solution.

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