Friday, September 25, 2009

iPhone Broken? Get in line.

Normally, if my GSM phone goes on the fritz, I reach into a desk drawer and dust off an old one.  A minute later, I've moved the SIM card, reacquainted myself with the antique's eccentricities and I'm good to go.  If the broken phone is under warranty, I take it back to the neighbourhood Telco outlet and fight with them about repairs or replacement.  This process worked well for many years.  However, the iPhone breaks this process on several fronts.  Instead of being minutes without a working phone, it will now take 8 days or maybe more.  Thanks, Apple!

Of course, I knew that no mortal hands could touch the SIM card in an iPhone, and I weighed the downside before buying.  What I didn't really count on was the change in the service experience.  With every other phone I've owned, when it breaks, I talk to the phone company.  Why not?  That's where I bought the thing.  And they seem to be rivaling Starbucks in their efforts to secure every possible retail space.  So the nearest outlet is always nearby. 

With iPhone, it's not just the SIM card that you lose, it's the telco support too.  I never thought I'd be suggesting that telco support is preferable to anything - except maybe root canals.  But at least the telco had skin in the game.  With Apple, I'm just an expense.

So here I am, in an upscale shopping district that I usually avoid like the plague.  As usual, the Apple Store is filled to the brim with the worst kinds of computer users: complete newbies, fan boys and zellots.  The woman ahead of me books a Genius appointment for something completely trivial.  Surely they triage these things.  Nope.  It's a purely first come first serve system.

"But my phone doesn't work." I say.
"Right. How about next Wednesday?" the overly happy Apple Store Concierge suggests.
"But my phone doesn't work right now!"
"One pm, or should we make it 1:20?"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mr. Turing, I Give Up.

If a captcha is supposed to prove that I'm a human, I am apparently becoming less so with each new captcha I encounter.  It used to be that you could easily decern the letters in a captcha, and feel proud at your ability to do something computers can't do.  Those days seem to be numbered.  Here's a captcha that Google served me up today:

Is that "REAUTTERA" or "REOUTTERA"? Apparently, it's neither, which means I needed to  get very imaginative before finding the right answer. Actually I never did find the right answer. I failed two Google captchas in a row today. The first one was so twisted that I was basically taking a shotgun approach and trying any combination that seemed remotely similar.

I also tried the audio hint. That was even more distorted. I put headphones on and played the hint 10 times over, and I could not make out a single sylable. It was just like some sorta David Lynch sound track - creepy and probably meaningless.

We've known for years that computers were getting smarter.  Now, it seems their primary interest is in making me look dumb.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

GarageBand Wish List

I've been playing with GarageBand lately.  From a Windows user's perspective, GarageBand is basically like CakeWalk, only with the advanced features trimmed out, the icons made really big, and the package shipped free with the OS.  Of course, that's pretty much the template for a lot of mac software, and who can argue with success.

So without wanting to turn GarageBand back into Cakewalk again, here's a few things I think Apple could afford to add back into GarageBand without greatly alienating those who are attracted to big, shiny software:
  1.  Rehearsal Marks.  Maybe there's a better name for them, but basically a few points on the timeline that you'd like to shuttle back to frequently.  A keyboard shortcut for this would be required.
  2.  Loop by Numbers.  I'm glad there's a looping feature, but since I'm working with a printed score, I'd really prefer to just adjust the loop by inputting the start and end bar numbers.
  3. Fix the interface for editing DSLMusic.  I can never remember that I've got to click what appears to be a rather large and purely decorative icon in order to select the soundfont.  It is completely unintuitive and feels like an afterthought.
  4. Most importantly, the ability to input MIDI files.  I don't know what the thinking was behind leaving midi out of the product, but it left me on the cusp of sending GarageBand into the trash can.  For me, without MIDI, the disk space is more valuable than the software.  Fortunately, I discovered Dent du MIDI, which completely saved the day.  This little utility converts midi files into the "loop" files that can be dragged directly into a GarageBand composition.  Nicely done, sir!  It does so extremely quickly and easily, which makes me think it shouldn't be hard to include it as a feature out of the box. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Itunes Equally Cludgy On Mac

Over the past few months, I've been moving over from Windows to Mac.  Aside from the hardware that turns out to be wholly unsupported on Mac, the one thing I've been holding back on is my iPhone.  Since it has pretty much replaced my use of desktop computers for just about everything, I've been avoiding the move.  But I've been looking forward to it, because I've always found that iTunes on windows to be a bit wonky.  When you plug in your ipod, you are never quite sure if it's going to be properly recognized by iTunes.  You wait a few minutes and nothing seem to be happening, so you try unplugging it and plugging it in, and maybe something flashes on the screen for a second, or maybe not.  You never quite get the real-time feedback you'd expect, and operations that can take minutes leave you guessing as to whether the machines have really connected with each other properly. 

I expected that Apple was making it deliberately wonky, so that I would eventually switch to a Mac.  I was wrong.  I'm happy and saddened to report that the Mac version of iTunes works equally poorly.  I plugged my iphone in about three minutes before beginning this post.  Now it's about 8 minutes later, and I'm still looking at the colour wheel "wait" icon whenever I hover on the iTunes window.  I don't wait... here comes something...okay, gotta go, before it disappears just as mysteriously...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thanks for the Misinformation, Canon.

Canon makes Mac drivers for my Lido80 scanner. Yeah! Unfortunately, they don't make them for snow leopard. In fact, they don't make them for leopard. Boo!

That's very disappointing. But what's really annoying is that there is no mention of this when selecting the driver, and there's no compatibility check when installing the driver. The only subcategories shown in the driver download website are OS 9 and OSX. On the page that shows the drivers, there's no mention of the fact that they don't work with the previous two versions of the OS. And then when you install the drivers and software, they just blithely install without any check for compatibility with your OS.

It's only when you dig deep into Canon's support files that you discover that, although they apparently have Mac drivers, in reality, they don't. What could be a worse customer experience. Not only am I not worth supporting. In Canon's worldview, they have no problem with completely misleading me into installing worthless software onto my computer.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Duh! It's About the Document

The thing about computers is that, at the end of the day, they are really all about the documents. Clearly, I'm a bit obsessed with operating systems and software. But really, none of it would matter if it wasn't for the workbooks, the essays, the musical scores, the web pages and videos that computers enable us to view, edit, etc. Hopefully, I'm stating the obvious, here.

So, why is it then, that on a Mac, when you use Command + Tab to toggle to an application, it doesn't automatically restore minimized document windows? Instead, it toggles to the application in the application's previous state. So, if I've minimized the applications so that I can see something on my desktop, and then I want to flip back to Firefox, after toggling, I also need to separately restore the document window. This strikes me as odd, and it's definitely an issue that I never had with Windows.

In Windows, when you toggle to a previously minimized application, it automatically restores the application to the screen space that it was occupying before being minimized. Since life is all about the documents, this makes infinitely more sense to me. What are the odds that my desire is to switch to the application's top menu and not the document that I was formerly viewing/editing?

Similarly, Windows 7 has a portion of the taskbar reserved for quickly miminizing/restoring all windows. You just roll over to the bottom right corner and your desktop appears instantly. Clicking in the space minimizes all your apps so you can work in the desktop. Clicking there again restores all the documents.

If there's an equivalent Mac short cut or Dock function, I haven't found it yet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Speed Test

I just received a new mini mac, and before I put the old one up for sale, I thought I'd do a bit of speed testing. It would have been interesting to have done a trial with the old mini before upgrading it to Snow Leopard, but unfortunately, the idea didn't occur to me until after I'd upgraded.

Like all speed tests, I suppose this has all sorts of caveats that could and perhaps should be attached to it. But whatever. I use Excel quite a bit and I don't just make pretty tables. I do some heavy problem solving in Excel. The kind where the lights go dim as it crunches its way through millions of trials. Excel in Mac-land is a bit of a non-starter for me, because it doesn't have Solver or many other important toolsets that I use. But Excel is one of the few programs that I have on both windows and mac machines, so I thought it was worth an experiment. The speed test is simply this: fill 1,000,000 cells with a random value. Here's the results:

Mac 1.66Mhz Intel Core Duo, 1 Gig ram
Excel 2008 - 34 seconds
Open Office 3.1 - 104 seconds

Windows 7, 2.0Mhz Intel 2 Core Duo, 3 Gig ram
Excel 2008 - 3 seconds
Open office 3.1 - 38 seconds

Mac 2.00Mhz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 Gig ram
Excel 2008: 18.5 seconds
Open Office 3.1 - 38 seconds

Clearly, if you've got some serious number crunching to do in Excel, you're better off with the Windows version than the Mac version. Unless of course, you could use the time to stretch and get another coffee. It's interesting to notice that the Open Office test had similar results for both the windows and mac 2.00Mhz machines.

Spotlight Still Blows, but less so

A few months ago, I mentioned that by comparison to Windows 7, Spotlight blows. I complained that Spotlight didn't index the meta tags in files. The example I gave concerned a favourite local band, The Kramdens. I wanted to be able to type "The Kramdens" into Spotlight and see a complete list of their songs within my library in Spotlight's search results. Well, under Snow Leopard, I'm half way there.

Now, in Spotlight, I do see a list of the Kramden's songs - but only the ones I've played since upgrading. Well, since I like the Kramden's, that's not a big stretch. But, according to iTunes, it will take me over 16 days of continuous of continuous playback to play through the whole library. That seems like a rather slow way to build an index.

And isn't the whole point of search to help you find things that you may have forgotten about? What's the point of only indexing things I've already decided to play. It's the things I haven't thought about playing that search is supposed to help me with.

In Windows search, you have the power to control exactly what gets indexed, when it gets indexed and where it puts the index. By default, Window's Search indexes all the important meta tags in all my files without prompting. And it does so with no perceptible performance cost. So why doesn't Spotlight?

Snow Leopard - Nothing But Regrets

The actual process of completing the upgrade went smoothly. Other than that, I have nothing good to say about Snow Leopard, so far. Today, I went to open Sibelius for the first time since upgrading, and it crashed on opening. Repeatedly. The good people at Avid are inundated with complaints from panicked users. Apparently, Apple "fixed" something at the last moment that broke this $500 piece of professional software. There are going to be many professional composers freaking out over the next week or so.

The suggested workaround is to not open the mixer window. That's a bit like telling a writer, "For now, just don't use punctuation." But it gets worse...

After reading the posting from tech folks at Avid, asking for log files, I thought I'd offer my own up. However, Mail also crashed on me. Repeatedly. Whenever I tried to add an attachment, the program would crash when any folder under the User folder was double-clicked.

Okay, sure, there's some glitches, but what about the upside? Sorry, I'm not detecting any. Perhaps the computer is faster according to some sort of scientific instrument. But from out here in the real world, I can detect no difference. Except of course, that I can't things done now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Apple Store, Please Stop Using UPS

UPS is probably a great service for b2b deliveries. But UPS blows when it comes to servicing consumer deliveries. I'm disappointed that doesn't use Puraltor or Canada Post for all it's home deliveries. Here's why:

I receive many parcels by post. But I'm not home during the day. That's usually okay. I get home, find the notice and head off to the local post office or the local Puralator pick up. I don't have any complaints about making these jaunts to pick up parcels. It's part of the process. However, often uses UPS, and, UPS doesn't have a pick up location in my city. So now, I'm left to choose one of several bad options:
1) take a day off work for each delivery, so I can be there to sign for them.
2) waive signing, so they can leave my new compy on the porch, unattended.
3) drive approximately 65km through cross-town traffic for each delivery.

The moral of the story is this: DON'T BUY HARDWARE FROM APPLE.COM if you're not going to be home to meet the delivery guy.