Category Archives: New World

TechNote: Asus P5QL slow startup

Small note to anyone with a Asus P5QL based computer (and possibly other Asus boards as well). If your machine is running unusually slowly during BIOS boot, plug your keyboard and mouse to a different USB port. The wankers at ASUS have mapped part of the USB ports to IRQs that overlap the SATA controller, causing IRQ conflicts, which in turn wrecks your machine. In case of the P5QL Pro board, the two ports you must not use are the ones next to the ethernet port. Freakishly bad engineering, I must say.

iPad really wants to live in the cloud

Looking at everything I know about the iPad, there’s a piece missing from the puzzle: will iPad require a computer host to work to the full extent? Is it Apple’s vision that a host will be required in the future?

I’m fairly sure Apple is working hard already the break iPad free from the USB syncing. After all, as long a you need a computer in addition to an iPad, it’s just an accessory to a computer, and not a computing device in it’s own right. iPhone is an amazing device, but downright crippled unless you plug the USB onto your computer (of which you can only use one at a time as the lord and master of the phone) pretty often.

About a year ago, I saw a video (from the CEO of Finnish Microsoft, no less) that depicted Microsoft’s vision of where they want to be with data synchronization. The video depicted a building site where a happy construction manager managed the project on a tablet device. The dude then went on to have the tablet accidentally crushed by a bulldozer, but, no worry! He just borrowed another tablet, signed in with his Live account and lo and behold, his desktop appeared as it was, with all data intact.

I think that’s where Apple would like to be with iPad.

No going home to synchronize the device with your computer after purchase.

The way it should work is, you walk into the Apple Store, pick up your iPad, sign in with your Apple ID, and start listening to your music collection. Or editing your iWork documents and checking your email. It’s that simple.

If there’s a reason Apple bought Lala, or invest a billion bucks in a data warehouse in N.C., I think that’s the reason.

And I hope it is, since that’s the only way they can make iPad the mom and pap computer people are touting all over the web. I have a couple relatives I wouldn’t mind switch over to use the iPad, but if they need to maintain a computer in addition to the pad, that’s a lost cause. Cupertino, I hope you agree.

Notes on iPad

So, iPad.

I’m definitely getting one immediately, and I can see the family ending up with two pretty quick after first device, if it works like I expect. One for me, one for home. Some observations, some of which I can’t remember reading elsewhere. For other analysis on the device, I recommend reading Daring Fireball.

Kids

My daughter (1.5 years old) knows how to use the iPhone, as the pointing metaphor used in touch interfaces is the natural thing for her to do. I know she’ll be able to use iPad immediately, and will absolutely love it.

Having said that, the biggest deterrent for content she likes will be the lack of Flash support on the device. Ideally this will mean there’ll be a gold rush for kid content on the device, but I’m not sure devs will realize this. Time will show.

Flash

Aside from not having access to Poisson Rouge, the only Flash-based products that I can think of right now that I’ll be missing are Habbo, and the video service from the Finnish National Broadcasting company YLE. Youtube now supports HTML5 video and seems to have an awesome native app, so they’re covered.

Vast majority of Flash in the web is just poorly written ads, and I’m more than happy that the device doesn’t run that crap. In fact, I have both an ad blocker as well as Click2Flash installed, and I’ve noticed there’s no more than one or two Flash objects that I bump to daily, which I actively want to see.

So, I personally can’t see lack of Flash as such a huge blocker. Time to be glad I’m not addicted to Farmville, I guess.

Charging

The charger outputs 10 watts. The battery has 10 hour lifespan at 25 watt-hour capacity. The interesting bit here is that charging the battery from empty to 100% will take 2.5 hours, or one quarter of the time you can use the device for in one charge.

This is a very, very long charge time compared to laptops. For the sake of reference, the 15″ MacBook Pro has a 7 houts of life on 73-watt-hour batter, chargeable with a 85 watt charger, for about an hour’s charge time.

What this will end up meaning is that if you’re an active user of iPad and forget to put the device to charge in the evening, you’re screwed the next day if you don’t get an extended charging break.

Oh, and, you can forget about charging the device using the USB port on the computer. AFAIK Apple adheres to the 500 miliwatt spec on USB, meaning the charge time over regular USB would be 50 hours, so that’s not an option.

Interestingly Apple doesn’t disclose the wattage of the iPhone battery.

iPad Camera Connection Kit

Apple didn’t particularly highlight the fact that they’ll be selling an USB adapter and a memory card reader that allows you to download images from your camera to the device. This capability might not sound that huge, but if performance of the adapter is good, this is a killer feature for many people in itself.

Again, for a sake of reference, the Jobo GIGA Vu image tank with 40GB capacity is selling on Amazon for $460. If you get the features of this device by bundling the iPad with an adapter that costs a few bucks, the Jobo guys are screwed.

The one thing I can’t verify is if I can tag photos I’ve downloaded. I’m really, really hoping Apple has given me meta-data editing capabilities in the device or at least enabled development of such apps, as I believe the touchscreen will allow for very efficient data entry. I totally hate the UI for meta-data editing in all photo management interfaces I’ve seen this far, and I have almost 100k images waiting for tagging.

EyeTV iPhone application – a quick review

Elgato released an EyeTV application update (3.2) and an iPhone application about a week ago. I’ve been trying it out a bit, so here’s a mini-review.

The promise of the new app is that you can watch live TV (and your recordings) on your iPhone anywhere. This is pretty cool and is definitely something I’d have used, especially when I was abroad, had this been available earlier.

The way the app works is that it connects back to your home Mac and streams the video from the Mac to your iPhone over the Internet. If you watch live TV, your mac transcodes the stream to h.264 on the fly and sends it to the phone. If you have the Elgato Turbo h.264 HD USB stick, the encoding uses the stick, and is supposedly much faster. I have the stick and haven’t tried how slow it’d be without the stick, so I have no idea what the difference really is.

Now, how does it work in practice? Unfortunately, not very well. The problems and gripes I’ve encountered this far are:

  • The video quality on the phone is sometimes ok, sometimes just terrible. I can’t see myself ever watching anything that looks as bad as this. Most of the video is just pixelated jumble. I converted a nature documentary over and when viewing the clip, it took me several seconds to recognize the blob square blocks on my screen was a whale. Here’s a screenshot from the app showing a frame where you might be able to recognize something (see all the nice tropical fish? This is pretty far from the original HD production.):
  • Occasionally, but often enough to be annoying, the application complains it doesn’t support the video format of the stream from the EyeTV app. Restarting the EyeTV application on the Mac seems to fix this, but this is exactly the workaround that I can’t do when I want to watch something on the phone.
  • The problems that haunt dual-tuner EyeTV setups rise to another level with the iPhone app. The issues seem to stem from EyeTV not checking what each tuner is doing when it needs a channel for recording. Typically this means that if you’re watching something on EyeTV, instead of using the idle tuner for recording a show, it chooses to record the show on the tuner you were using to watch TV on. With the iPhone app, if you’re watching something on the TV and a family member wants to watch TV, EyeTV seems to always hijack the tuner that’s being used for watching (and not the idle tuner) and changes the channel to whatever was selected on the iPhone. And I bet scheduling recordings using the iPhone app breaks the dual-tuner scheduling in new interesting ways, as if the existing breakage isn’t bad enough.
  • If you want to watch a recording, you have to pre-convert it. No, even if you can watch live TV, you cannot transcode recordings on the fly. The rationale for this that was given on the Elgato forums is that the dev team wanted the recordings to support fast forward (which can apparently only be supported if the video is pre-converted?) but I still don’t see this as a sensible requirement. Converting my whole library of ~800 GB of recordings is not feasible due to the amount of time and storage space required so effectively I can’t watch my recordings. To make things worse, you can’t even request a recording to be converted from the app – you have to do this by clicking a checkbox in the EyeTV app on the Mac.
  • No support for video over 3G. Even if the connection is fast enough. I can’t see the sense in this, given I get much better quality video from YouTube over 3G than what the Elgato app gives me over WLAN. Further, my 3G downstream speed is most of the time guaranteed to be faster than my home ADSL’s upstream speed, so this just doesn’t make any sense. 
  • The application doesn’t work as a remote. I’d have assumed this is the very first thing they’d implemented, but, sadly, this is not the case. I’d have shelled the 3.99 just for the remote without the blink of an eye, and instead the dev team seems to have seen fit to develop something that’s taken them at least 10x the effort, and doesn’t really work.
  • DVB subtitling isn’t supported. This isn’t surprising since the only support EyeTV has for DVB subtitling is that you can watch it when viewing TV. Exporting clips that have subtitles? No go. This means I can’t watch about a thirds of the content I’d be interested in using the app, since those programs are in languages where I need the subtitles.
  • None of the views in the app that show you tons of items, such as the list of recordings or the tv guide, have search.

So… My verdict for the 1.0 release is – it just doesn’t work. There’s one thing that does (maybe) work and it’s that you can schedule recordings when you’re not at the Mac. This is very valuable if it does indeed work, but I’m assuming you can’t manage things like recording schedule conflicts or being out of recording space using iPhone, so I’m assuming this will be only 50% usable. I’m sure the first fixed version will be much improved but I’m not holding my breath on some aspects listed above, since those issues have been unaddressed for years.

Edit: added a picture. And, having to add a couple kind words: the app looks very polished and clearly a lot of work has been put into it. Most my problems with the application seem to be in the Elgato core technologies, which need fixing, and not in the iPhone app as such.

You need to see this film

The Finnish national broadcasting company YLE recently broadcasted Rip! A remix manifesto. What an excellent, inspirational film! I think everyone on the planet should see this film before it’s too late. In the spirit of the film, the makers have put the entire film online to be viewed and remixed.

Intro embedded here – view it now and check the rest on the websites linked above.

EU Telecoms Package

It seems that EU is about to vote on directives that might change some Internet access policies quite fundamentally. Most of the changes sound like things that have already been shot down local legislation level, so the lobbying corporations are now trying to pass the legislation through as directives.

Perhaps the scariest part of the proposal is that it gives ISPs open rights to change Internet connections to whitelist content available to users. Yes, not blacklisting inappropriate content, but whitelist a pre-defined set of services you’re allowed to use. If this goes through and becomes the norm, we can kiss the Internet goodbye, especially given that the text in the directives that tries to guarantee citizens’ right to create and distribute content have apparently been removed.

Some people are calling this trying to change the whole of Internet into operating on the classic TV broadcast model, where ISPs will start to offer you content packages similar to TV channel packages, where you have to pre-order websites you want to access. Sounds pretty scary.

There’s more information available here, and I recommend you write and call your MEP, contact information of whom is available here. I’m ashamed to see the Finnish MEPs are in favor of the legislation, so time to contact them.

Atlassian 555

Atlassian software has a great deal available for 5 days – you can get a 5 person license to Jira and Confluence for $5!

I have experience of both products and think Jira is a grea issue tracker, and Confluence is a great enterprise wiki product. Both have their weak points (maybe biggest one being the fact the software is so flexible you can really shoot yourself in the foot by taking the customization too far), but I don’t think there’s better products in their class in the market. Even better, Atlassian folks are very pleasant to deal with and they’re one of the most open companies in their communication to the customers, which I respect a great deal.

Best of all, the money made with the offer goes to charity! So, go get your licenses now!

Travelling to GDC from abroad? Registered for ESTA yet?

It seems some (most?) people traveling to GDC from abroad haven’t actually heard about ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It’s a new system where people travelling to US need to register on the web as incoming visitors prior to travel. There’s some scaremongering on the site that if you don’t do this 72 hours before flying in, it cannot be guaranteed that you’ll be let onto the plane.

So, if you haven’t already done it, go sign up for ESTA right now. Have your passport handy, you’ll need your passport number and issuance dates.

And even though this effectively duplicates one of the paper forms you’ve filled on the plane in the past, you still need to fill it in, even with this system in place. Getting into US is starting to be an interesting challenge! I wonder what’s the next change. :)

iPhoto 09 face recognition

Apple just shipped their new iLife package last week, which came with a new shiny upgrade to iPhoto, their photo management application. I haven’t used the app for a long time, but it now has something no other photo management application does – face recognition. I’ve played around with it for a couple hours and while the feature is very cool, it’s glaringly obvious this is their first iteration at the feature.

Good stuff first: Flagging people in photos is faster with the feature in place. Even the current iteration is useful, and fun. Adding metadata to my shots was never this enjoyable.

The the bad stuff: The interfaces to teach the classifier are slow to use and sorely lack features.

  • Faces preprocesses the images to find people in your library, but with no progress indicator telling how long it’ll continue the processing. And it takes a long time to do it. Classifying people while Faces is working processed crashes iPhoto. And if you add a face manually to a shot before iPhoto has automatically processed the shot, it destroys the manual classification.
  • If a face is pretty small or very large, iPhoto just doesn’t find it. I suspect this is done to speed up the detection, but is annoying, and I can’t configure the tolerance. There’s no button anywhere that says, “Really, there are faces in here, search for them goddammit!”
  • I can ask for a list of photos iPhoto thinks has someone I’ve taught it, but in this mode I can only confirm if that one person is/isn’t the person iPhoto thinks it is and not tell the app who is really in the photo.
  • There is no view for seeing all faces that haven’t yet been classified, you have to browse the whole library and search for photos that might contain people you haven’t taught the app before.
  • When telling iPhoto who is in a photo, you’re forced to use the keyboard, even if there’s only a couple people configured in the whole system.
  • When you start typing for a name and get a list of name suggestions based on people you’ve taught, you can’t use the keyboard to choose from the list, you have to click the suggestion with the mouse, which again slows down the interfaces considerably.
  • The user interface that shows people who’ve been classified seems to have been designed for users who only teach the app maybe five people or so. Listed people can’t be grouped, and they’re forcefully alphabetically ordered.
  • For whatever reason, Apple seems to have ignored using other metadata to help the Faces classifier. For example, in a burst of ten shots one second apart from each other, of the same people in the same location over the burst, Faces seems to ignore the fact that I’ve already taught it the people in the previous shots. Combining the time series data of the shots to the face recognition should help, but it doesn’t appear to be there.
  • Last up, for some reason Faces has trouble recognizing me. I dunno if it’s the eyeglasses, but I’ve gone through sets of shots of myself which are essentially the same, and teaching the app with five shots that are essentially identical doesn’t seem to make it understand I’m the guy in the sixth shot, that’s also essentially the same shot.