Software & IT

To the Dark Side

I have finally done it.  Please forgive me, Mom.

That’s right.  I bought a Mac: the new quad I7 15.4″ MacBook Pro.

And what’s more: I’m switching to Pro Tools 9 from Sonar.

I’ve had a long love-affair with my Dell Mini 9 Hackintosh.  The little sucker went with me everywhere.  I used it as my travel computer.  I used it in my keyboard rig.  Small to the point of silly, and relatively inexpensive, it was the perfect travel machine.

Well, it got stolen in Mexico.

A confluence of needs had me wanting a new MacBook Pro anyway, and what better time than after the sudden loss of the Hackintosh.  So I have finally taken the plunge for real.

More to come…

Sony: Security Fail Redux

By now, everyone knows that Sony’s Playstation Network got hacked earlier this year.  It’s a big mistake that shouldn’t have been made, but we all make mistakes.  The key to Sony’s viability as a player in the online world is that it be able to learn from its mistake.

Today, Sony is reporting a new intrusion:

In a warning to users issued on Thursday, So-net said an intruder tried 10,000 times to access the provider’s “So-net” point service […] from the same IP address.

There is absolutely no reason why any online service should allow an intruder to attempt 10 unsuccessful login attempts from the same address, much less 10,000.  This represents a complete failure to grasp the fundamentals of security, and any reasonable observer would have to conclude that Sony is completely security-blind and totally naive.  You can expect many, many more stories like this to emerge unless the company adopts a complete reinvention of its online presence.

Hackintosh vs iPad

A lot of people come into the coffee shop with iPads and are intrigued by my Hackintosh…. As a portable, I’ll take my Hackintosh over an iPad for most everything I do, with some caveats.

First off, it cost about $500 as configured (includes the cost of a Snow Leopard install disc) – 2 GB RAM, 64GB SSD (soon to be 2x for 128 GB total), camera, Wifi, bluetooth.  That’s considerably cheaper than a comparable iPad (actually there is no comparable iPad, but if there were it would likely cost close to $1K).  It can run almost any Mac, Windows, or Linux app (I *love* the Ubuntu 10.10 netbook edition) – “almost” because it won’t run apps that exceed its screen size without connecting to an external monitor.  With 3 USB ports and an SD slot, it can connect to a KVM so I can use it as a desktop Mac – it’s about as powerful as a Mac mini.  And it runs Snow Leopard *very* well – I never have lockups, everything works – I even use it onstage for my software synths, which usually are the litmus test for stability.

The keyboard is cramped and requires a slight relearning curve but I am confident I can out-type compared to the on-screen iPad keyboard – if you have an iPad keyboard case, however, you’ll win.  The battery life is less but still impressive – ~5 hrs of heavy use, 6+ hrs of light use, 48+ hrs of sleep, depending on monitor brightness.  It’s about as thick and heavy as an iPad if you have an iPad keyboard case.  It’s also tough.  Mine has been dropped on concrete many times thanks to clumsy drummers and shows almost no signs of wear.

I have the Mini 9, while Vanessa has the 10v.  The 10v has a slightly larger screen and keyboard (the keyboard is a lot less cramped) and can accept a standard 2.5″ hard drive so you can up it to 500 GB or more, or use a big SSD (if you can afford it).  The 10v, by all accounts, is as good as a Mini 9 as a Hackintosh.

Of course there is a level of tweakery required to get the thing running, but it’s actually fairly easy to do, as there are really good guides and helper apps available now.  In short, you copy a file onto one small USB drive, you copy Snow Leopard install onto another, larger drive, and then boot up from the USBs.  Two or three clicks and you’re installed to 10.6.  A couple of tweaks and you’re ready for 10.6.7.  The only thing that doesn’t work at that point is the internal mic, which requires a hack to enable (USB headset mics work fine).  The hack took me about 15 minutes to complete.

Next step: install Snow Leopard on my desktop.

Samsung Epic 4G AMOLED vs. HTC EVO 4G LCD Screen First Impressions

I had a chance today to do a hands-on comparison between the two major 4G contenders from Sprint: the HTC EVO and the brand-new Samsung Epic.  Let me cut to the chase: I found the Epic’s AMOLED display to be unusable.

The Epic’s brilliant, colorful AMOLED leaps out at you with brilliant, oversaturated colors that make your existing phone look black-and-white, while the EVO’s LCD display humbly displays a neutral, normalized color palette.

On first impression, the Epic grabs your attention. “WOW, look at THAT!”  Images and videos just POP to life in a way you’ve never seen before.

But, on second impression, the AMOLED display comes up short.

The first thing you’ll notice is that whites are blue, not flat white.  Oversaturated colors pop at first, but eventually you start to see them as actually oversaturated.  These are minor problems, but problems nonetheless.

The major problem – the dealbreaker – is text.  The AMOLED display is incapable of rendering smooth font edges.  Instead of a nicely-blurred edge, individual pixels appear, resulting in difficult-to-read text.  The smaller the font, the more obvious the problem, as the eyes focus on tiny font details that turn into individual pixels.

It appears to me that the pixels in an AMOLED display are each surrounded by a tiny black border.  This is unnoticeable when displaying photos or videos, but black-on-white text – or white-on-black text – clearly shows the shortcoming.

I was hopeful that the Epic could be my new phone, but it and its Galaxy S brethren are now crossed off my list.  AMOLED fail.

Ubuntu’s Multimedia Challenge

Having used Ubuntu exclusively now for a few weeks, I am a true believer.  It’s just a great operating system, with great looks, speed, and power.  And it does almost everything a modern platform should.

Until you need multimedia power.  Specifically, photos, music, and video.

Ubuntu’s photo managers, like F-Spot, Shotwell, and the like are all hopelessly simple.  They tend to choke on large collections.  The first time I started F-Spot, I pointed it at the folder containing my photos and watched it die a miserable death.  They don’t organize well by metadata: sort by date, or sort by folder.  That’s it.  They either don’t connect to photo sharing websites, or connect only very clumsily.  The editing capability is terribly lacking.

Here, the paradigm is Picasa.  Picasa handles importing, organizing, simple editing, and uploading to a sharing site with absolute aplomb.  It is super fast, handles huge collections with ease, is very easy to use, and is surprisingly powerful.

Picasa is available as a download from Google (it isn’t available through the Ubuntu software manager) and only runs as a WINE app.  It’s stuck on version 3.0 and there is no sign of a future release, even though Google remains staunchly pro-Linux.  Nevertheless, Picasa 3.0 running under WINE is far better than any native Linux alternative.

In order for Ubuntu to succeed in the mainstream, it needs native Picasa, or a sufficiently robust alternative.

Next up is music.  The default player, Rhythmbox, is woefully inadequate.  I was sorely put to the test when I tried to perform the most basic of music management tasks: create a playlist and put it on my iPod.  I created the playlist easily enough, but found there was no way to copy it to the iPod.  FAIL.  Undaunted, I copied the tracks from the playlist to the iPod, then created a new playlist on the iPod and dragged the tracks into it.  This almost worked, except that when I tried to order the tracks to my liking, I found that they remained in the original order on my iPod.

And then when I tried to rename the playlist, Rhythmbox crashed.

Here there is One App to Rule Them All.  iTunes?  Ha!  I scoff at the suggestion.  Nay, not iTunes.

MediaMonkey.  Far and away the best music management app, ever.  By a longshot.

If all you do is buy songs from iTunes and play them in iTunes and on your iPod, then iTunes might be good enough for you.  And it would be better than any of the native Linux alternatives.  Of course, iTunes on Linux ain’t happening.

But if you have a complex mess of MP3s, FLACs, stuff your friend loaned you on a flash drive, songs you ripped from your CDs, and other serious organizational tasks, MediaMonkey’s database-driven design puts everything else to shame.

In order for Ubuntu to succeed as a mainstream OS, it needs music management software on par with MediaMonkey.

I’ve already mentioned how badly I hit my head on video editing.  I don’t expect Ubuntu to ship with a free copy of Vegas.  But the existing video apps are super weak.  Let’s pick one and run it over the NLE goal line, OK?

At least Ubuntu runs VirtualBox well.  I will need it for a few Windows apps that I’m not going to be able to leave behind.

At least, not yet.

Google Voice FAIL

Recent message transcription from Google Voice:

I’d love to be back on my staff. If the i’m on the put. Could be a me telephone and I’m Mesa. Maybe Clinton you’re leaving was on the within these things. But if it works isn’t gonna get there, and we had a second two passes. Bye.

I love it when a good plan comes together.

Ubuntu: Video Editing FAIL

Well this time I really have bumped my head hard on Ubuntu.

Video editing apps are simply a shambles.  The default editor, PiTiVi (which apparently is Ubuntu-speak for “PiTiFul”) is terrible.  Editing is a joke.  It would take all morning to list my complaints, which isn’t worth my time.  Just suffice to say, it sucks.

I installed a half-dozen competing editors and found that the only app that comes close to being usable is Kdenlive, which is still pretty hard to use.

This is all to be expected, and is why I kept my Windows machine for multimedia editing.  But if you are planning a switch to Ubuntu, and expect to get any multimedia work done on it, watch out.  The apps are very, very weak at this time.

Ubuntu: PowerWIN

Update to previous post: I downloaded and installed the Linux ATI video driver for my Lenovo T400.  Immediately my battery life doubled.  I am now seeing battery life roughly comparable to Windows 7 – approximately three hours.  Additionally, the heat generated by the computer is much lower than with the old driver.  Apparently, the video GPU was just cranked up to 100% all the time.

If you use Ubuntu on a notebook, and are suffering poor battery life, a good place to start is with your drivers.  Who would have guessed a video driver would make THAT great a difference?

Ubuntu: PowerFAIL

I’ve been living in a completely Ubuntu world for over a week now, and am still loving the experience overall.  However, one thing has definitely given me pause: Ubuntu clearly consumes more power on my Lenovo T400 than Windows 7 ever did.

Typical battery life for me in Windows 7 was a solid three hours.  With Ubuntu, I am getting no more than 90 minutes.  That’s about a 50% reduction in battery life – similar to the results posted a couple of months ago by Phoronix.

I love Ubuntu, even if I can’t improve the battery life, so I’ll try some tweaks to see if I can improve the results.

By comparison, PowerWIN is clearly the Dell Mini9 Hackintosh.  No spinning disk, no fan, 9″ monitor, and MacOS gives it a typical battery life of well over four hours.  I’ve seen it run for over five hours if the monitor is dimmed.

Now I need to close this post.  I have only 10% battery left and my PC is about to die.

Ubuntu: The Time Has Come

I’ve messed around with the Ubuntu operating system off and on for several years.

It’s an important concept: a Linux distro focused on simplicity, usability, and mass appeal.  Unix has been the “next big thing that never happened” since the 1970s.  Linux was supposed to be the killer implementation, and Red Hat and other companies did a good job at creating compelling server-side distros, but no Linux distributions have ever been sufficiently end-user-friendly to displace Windows and Mac on the desktop.  For years it’s been next to impossible to find drivers for the myriad of hardware that’s required on the desktop for things like cameras, scanners, joysticks, etc.. And applications for Linux – while available – often lack the polish of Windows or Mac apps, and typically must be compiled for the user’s target operating system… needless to say, this is not the sort of process for Joe User.  Problem is, the typical Linux user thinks this process is Just Fine Thanks due to a hundred technical reasons that nobody cares about, so for years, change has come very slowly.

Ubuntu and its benefactor Canonical have been working diligently to make a Linux distro that’s truly user-friendly – something that could truly compete in the free market against Windows and Mac.  I installed Ubuntu for the first time about three years ago, and found it to be interesting – even compelling in many ways – but like always, the drivers and lack of software prevented me from living with it.  I used MS Office apps, and the replacement, OpenOffice, was too underpowered for me, and drivers for much of my hardware were unavailable or inadequate.

Things have been changing, and I have now switched to Ubuntu on all of my computers except my Hackintosh and the DAW at Pleasantry Lane.  While the software is still less-than-enough, I have found that over the past few years my dependence on MS Office has waned significantly due to two factors:

  • MS Office has failed to advance in usefulness
  • Cloud apps like Google Docs have become worthy alternatives

For photo management, nothing touches Picasa, which works better on Windows and Mac than on Linux.  But it does run on Linux (are you listening, Google?).  For music management, nothing touches Media Monkey, but I can use Ubuntu’s default player “Rhythmbox” well enough.  Oracle offers a strong, free, VMWare-compatible virtual host called VirtualBoxOSE that has helped ease my Windows separation anxiety: if something comes up that requires Windows, well, I still have Windows.

I used to do primarily Windows based development.  But, increasingly, I’ve come to see the light on using VMs for development since they make it so easy to have clean, isolated development environments that are easy to push back and forth to production VMs, so running a dev environment in a virtual machine isn’t really a problem if I want to do Windows development.  And besides, increasingly, I’ve been itching to do more *nixy development, like Python, Ruby, MySQL, and CouchDB which I can do natively on this machine (though I’ll probably use a VM for them as well).

Other, bundled software is pretty nice.  There is OpenOffice, which has matured significantly.  There’s Gwibber (a social-media client) and Empathy (a chat client).  Remote Desktop (for Linux boxes) and Terminal Server clients are both built-in.  I spend a lot of time in text editors – and really like the Gedit editor a lot, enough to turn my back willingly on EditPad Pro.  There’s the Evolution mail and calendar client which, like Outlook, I doubt I’ll ever need, since Gmail rocks.

Drivers seem stable, solid, and plentiful.  The only device on any of my computers that doesn’t work in Ubuntu 10.04 is the fingerprint reader on my Lenovo notebook.  Other stuff works surprisingly well.  Integrated camera?  Just works.  HP all-in-one network printer/scanner/fax?  Just works.  Things that used to get Linux boxes really confounded (like Sleep mode) work great now.  Heck, even Bluetooth works.

Other things are such a pleasure.  Boot up time into Ubuntu, once the computer has left the startup screen, is literally one second on my Lenovo (which has an SSD).  Networked computers all see each other nicely and play well together.  The UI is slick and powerful.  Fonts render better in Firefox than in any Windows or Mac browser, making web surfing more pleasurable.  The installation process is super-painless – easier than installing Windows 7 or Snow Leopard.  Ubuntu One is nifty.  The Ubuntu Software Center maintains a convenient list of easily-installable, compatible, and free apps that automatically compile and install in seconds.

It’s fast.  It doesn’t crash.  And it’s virtually virus-proof.

Did I mention it’s free?