“If Only” (I)

Last weekend my iTunes software [running on a Mac] and my iPad both decided that they needed software updates. Both were quick and simple procedures. Then things started to go wrong in a big way.

The iPad unilaterally decided that it was no longer going to play the 20 “Digital Copy” movies that I’d bought through “Triple Play” box sets. I tried to access the source files via iTunes, but was told that they were of the wrong format. Everything played perfectly if invoked directly from the OS/X Finder utility. In iTunes, random albums started to delete their artwork, while other random songs refused to play, again telling me that the files were the wrong format. One album lost all it’s tracks when they mysteriously vanished. (The library is on a RAID 5 NAS box, which passed integrity testing, and which has no errors. I *know* I did not delete those files…) Finally, iTunes keeps telling me that there is a problem with my iPhone. I don’t own one, and never have.

So I called Apple support and asked them how I could re-install iTunes safely. Happy to do it, but I could find no clear instructions on their web site for a Mac OS/X installation. I was cheerfully told that they could help me for the princely sum of £29.95 for a single fix, or £69.95 if I would like to buy a year’s worth of support. Or I could pack up all the gear and book a 20 minute slot at a Genius bar in a store miles away…

At which point I explained that the issue had been caused by *Apple* pushing 2 new software releases (iTunes and iOS 6) on to my kit over the weekend. It *had* all been working fine, until *they* broke it. No dice. So I pointed out that a court of law would probably say that what they were doing – a remote “wipe” followed by charging me to fix the problem – counted as a form of racketeering – a digital equivalent of charging me “insurance”, if you will. At that point I started to get passed up the chain of command. Over 2 hours I was passed through a total of 5 different people [in fairness, that was 2 calls: I spoke to 2 on the initial one, and the second person offered to call me back and didn’t… the second call I stayed on the line, refused a call-back and had to negotiate with 3 managers before I got put through to a tekkie]. In the end I was handed off to a lady with a US accent who spent 20 minutes guiding me through the peculiarities of iTunes config files, and which XML libraries need to be deleted to trick the software into thinking it was a clean installation. Even then, bless her, she made a few errors and I had to correct her statements.

We got there in the end, by which point I’d decided that the “IO” in iOS 6 stands for “If Only”, as in, “if only this worked…”

I am *hugely* disappointed with Apple’s attitude towards a problem which they caused.

(Consumer) loyalty is a hard-won thing, and in this post-Jobs era of iPhone Maps scandals, and iOS 6 woes, they seem only to happy to throw it all away. I can’t help but wonder if this is a blip or a turning point…


Clifftop Stroll

So, a glorious, sunny Sunday in August… not a bad time for a stroll along the coast, to see what’s going on. And, of course, further excuses to play with the new Panasonic lens…

Panasonic DMC-GX1 with Panasonic-Lumix 7-14mm f4.0 UWA Lens

Oh, and difficult though this might be to believe, these 6 images are not tweaked for colour or contrast. There is something about this 7-14mm lens which does remarkable things with clear blue skies… Perhaps it’s part of the lens coating? Whatever, I like it!


No, not an abbreviated version of the lyrics from Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds”, but the acronym apparently given to ‘ultra wide angle’ lenses. The arrival of a Panasonic-Lumix 7-14mm [14-28mm equivalent in “35mm parlance”] made it rather obligatory to go and threaten the local scenery with the pointy end of this new toy.

On the whole it’s nice to work with: light, reasonably robust feel, quick to focus, and not bad at picking out detail when so asked. On the other hand, for £800, it should be all of that and more… that’s “L” Series money for something made of plastic… Too early to tell, other than to acknowledge that it’s actually rather nice to work with…

Space Shuttle

Question: what do you do when your “main” machine is a powerful gaming rig, but all you want to do is check your email? For me, the answer until very recently had been to use an early edition of the Acer Aspire Revo, a minimalist Small Form Factor PC. To give mine a fighting chance, performance-wise, I quickly upgraded to 4Gb of RAM, and put in a larger HDD than the original. A copy of ubuntu Linux (9.04 in this case) and it did a pretty good job of the basics.

Just two drawbacks: first, the primitive GPU was maxed out at 1600×1200, and under even moderate loads the laptop-sourced CPU fan would spin up with  horrendous noise levels.

Enter the Shuttle X35. As the third image below shows, it relies entirely on passive cooling [no fans, no moving parts] and a well ventilated case to provide CPU cooling. Add a solid state disc and the result is a 100% silent machine, with reasonably snappy performance. Drop on a copy of ubuntu Precise Pangolin and you’ve got a tiny machine that is perfect for most things short of gaming. The Intel Atom CPU might not look like much, but it’s more than a match for all basic office chores.

If you’ve got any form of network storage at home (Apple Time Capsule, NAS or RAID box) then getting extra disc storage is a doddle, and it’s perfectly capable of playing your iTunes library while you work. The latest nVidia ION GPU gives a crisp, clear 1920×1200 resolution and the efficient Linux kernel means it’s far more responsive than if it ran Windows 7…

What’s not to like?

For the curious, the above images were taken with a Canon EOS 7D, 24-70mm f2.8L lens and a specialist lighting kit. The results are generally excellent, although the “white” container/diffuser is prone to wrinkling in storage…

Liquid Refreshment

So, after quite a bit of research into different options, I finally took the plunge and asked my local PC Specialist, Rapid PCs, to build me a new “Gaming” system. The brief was simple: it had to be the best machine we could manage [within a not too tightly defined limit of sensibility]. The end result is, quite simply, stunning.

And the specification for the tekkies? CoolerMaster Stacker 832 Case, Xilence 1000W PSU, Asus Blitz Extreme DDR3 Mobo, Intel Q6850 Quad-Core, mildly over-clocked from 3.0 to 3.62GHz, 4Gb of OCZ Platinum Edition DDR3 RAM, Creative X-Fi, (Factory) Water-Cooled BFG 8800GTX nVidia-based GPU [just the one], Adaptec SCSI Card and Freecom 72Gb Tape Deck, 2 x DVD-RW/RAM Drives, Swiftech Water-Cooling system with wide-bore pipes, 2 x SATA Caddy units for removable boot drives and 2 x 500Gb water-cooled HDDs internally mounted for shared data…

The Asus motherboard came with a modified set of performance benchmark tools. We ran a complete set and basically confirmed that as at the time of build, this system is in the top 1% of all machines tested thus far. So on the whole, not bad…

With either Windows [XP] or ubuntu Linux [7.10] this absolutely flies!