Monthly Archives: October, 2007

Autumn colours

Grantchester Road


Around the CamVine/Ndiyo office yesterday.

The Best Way to upgrade Mac OS X

John Gruber has exactly the right prescription:

  1. Do a complete backup clone to an external FireWire drive.
  2. Test that the backup is indeed bootable and up to date.
  3. Unplug the backup drive.
  4. Boot from the installer DVD and perform a default upgrade.

This is how I’ve done the last few upgrades, but when my copy of Leopard arrives next week I think I may do a clean install. I haven’t done one for many years, and there’s probably lots of accumulated sediment… I could do with a spring clean.

I’m only really doing this because I’d like to stop running my machine with its disk 98% full! I regularly use OmniDiskSweeper to find and remove major space-hogs – video podcasts that I watched long ago and forgot to delete, for example. And I long ago moved most of my photos and videos to external drives. But now I suspect it’s the thousands of smaller files – logs from utilities I tried under 10.3 and such – that make a significant contribution… We’ll see… 100GB ain’t what it used to be…

The Persistent Image


Here’s a story about miracles. Lots of them. Technological ones.

BBC4 last week aired the first episode of a series called The Genius of Photography. It was excellent and I would have missed it completely, but just as it was beginning, John, knowing that I have an EyeTV setup, sent me a text asking if I could record it.

I was working on my laptop downstairs when my phone chirped the message’s incoming arrival. I glanced at the time and saw that the show was just beginning so, with a couple of keystrokes, made a VNC connection to the Mac Mini on the top floor – all wireless, of course – and saw that the opening credits were just beginning. I clicked record on EyeTV, then went back to work.

It occurred to me that it might be fun to watch it on my new iPod Touch, so later that night I clicked on EyeTV’s convenient ‘export for iPod’ button before going to bed.


This afternoon, I slipped into my most comfortable pair of headphones and curled up on the sofa in front of the fire to watch the first episode, which was titled ‘Fixing the Shadows’, about the earliest days of photography.


It was most engaging, beautifully produced, and the gorgeous iPod screen was a joy to watch.


And as if this wasn’t compelling enough, it began to dawn on me just what I was doing…

Here I was, looking at a horse going around a track in Palo Alto. Except I wasn’t really, I was looking at some of Eadweard Muybridge’s famous 1878 photos of such a horse (taken, incidentally, to satisfy the curiosity of the horse’s owner – a chap named Stanford. His racecourse is used for something else now!)

Muybridge Stanford racehorse

Mind you, I was really being shown these photos by somebody pointing a TV camera at them somewhere. Of course, I wasn’t seeing what came out of the TV camera. Oh no. That had been recorded, and edited, and stored, and encoded, and transmitted, and received, and stored, and decoded, and re-encoded, and transmitted and stored again, and synced to my iPod, and decoded again, with the net result that I could see it glowing on a little LCD screen I had just taken out of my shirt pocket.


Of course, that’s an abbreviated summary of what happened, and it’s just the start. Think about how many further processes the images went through so that you could see them on your screen now!

I boggled at all of this for a moment.

Then I tapped the screen and went back to learning just how hard it had been for Daguerre, Fox Talbot et al to capture any kind of images which would persist rather than fading after a few seconds. And how they had changed the world when they eventually did so.


Ancient history? No.

That was about one and a half lifetimes ago.

Google mail gets a lot more interesting…

IMAP support, coming to a GMail account near you soon. It might take a few days.

Transatlantic timeshift

A reminder, in case it happens to be relevant to you, that summer daylight-savings time ends in the UK this coming weekend… and in the US the following weekend.

So next week the time difference between us will be one hour less than usual.

More info here.

A giant leap for mankind?

My friend Alan Jones sent a message telling me that the ITU meeting on the redefinition of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which was held in Geneva last month, agreed on a process to phase out leap seconds by 2013.

If you don’t know what leap seconds are, don’t worry. They happen every 18 months or so and you’re unlikely to notice them unless you’re listening to the BBC time ‘pips’ at midnight, when you’ll hear an extra one.

One of the results, if it goes ahead, will be that time-sensitive software will be much easier to write.
Another is that, unless they agree on occasional fixes (leap hours have been proposed in the past), the time shown by sundials and sextants will start to drift, very very slowly, from ‘official’ time…

The Magic Touch

A very generous friend today gave me an iPod Touch. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful bit of technology I’ve ever owned.

iPod Touch

It’s not the most powerful, or full-featured, or exciting, necessarily. But as an example of design it is amazing. In particular, it doesn’t have many of the features of an iPhone, with which I’ve also played. But it’s also significantly thinner, which is hard to convey in photographs: lying on my kitchen table it was about the same thickness as the coaster on which my wine glass sat. You can just about see how they fit a screen, backlight and touch sensor in that space. So where’s the battery?

Almost every aspect of this seems to be very nicely thought out, and I’m very impressed. Who would have thought, a decade ago, that Unix machines could look like this?


Wraparound is an interesting free utility for those with multiple displays, or very large displays. I sometimes have a 4-screen setup at work and it can take some time to move the mouse from the far left to the far right. With Wraparound, you just keep going left and, well, you guessed it.

Mmm… Now I’m dreaming of a desk which surrounds me completely, with 360 degrees of screens, and I could sit in a hole in the middle, a bit like a model railway enthusiast…. Then I’d really want this! Of course, I’d also really want a wireless mouse…

Oh, for a beaker full of the warm south…

Here’s a handy site for UK wine drinkers: Quaffers’ Offers. It lets you search in a variety of ways for particular wines and tells you which of the UK supermarkets have them on special offer at the moment. Planning a party, for example, and want a few bottles of Oyster Bay?

I don’t generally buy any one wine in large enough quantities to adjust my shopping location in this way, and this site doesn’t of course cover places like our really excellent local wine merchant. But for large purchases it’s very handy.

Thanks to Peter Haworth for the link…

Reach for the Skype

I’m a great fan of Apple’s iChat – its client for Jabber and AOL instant messaging. It’s simple and elegant, and there are some killer features (and some rather silly ones) coming up in the version which ships next weekend with the new Apple OS. Perhaps the most important is the ‘screen sharing’ facility, which lets you do a VNC-type connection to see and interact with the remote user’s screen, or to allow them to do the same with yours. If you’ve never done this kind of thing before, you won’t believe how useful it can be, especially if you’re the family sysadmin…

Despite all of that, though, I find myself using Skype more and more, for both IM and audio/video chat. This is partly just ‘network effect’ – one of my previous companies switched to using Skype very extensively for internal communications, and that tipped the balance of the number of my friends typically online in one or other system in Skype’s favour. The addition of video meant that Skype has most of iChat’s features. But the main reason, and the real key to Skype’s success in my opinion, is the system’s ability to cope with firewalls in many situations where iChat/AIM fails.

If you’re doing audio chat with either system, though, you really need a headset of some sort to get reasonable quality.

Altec Lansing headset

At home I’ve been using a cheap Altec Lansing headset which I picked up at a CompUSA somewhere. This works admirably, but the shape and the number of cables make it a bit of a nuisance to carry around, and when I’m away from home – even in the office – I’ve tended in the past simply to plug in a set of iPod headphones, which at least get rid of the echo issues.

Here’s a hint for Apple laptop users, by the way: It’s quite possible to have good conversations using just the built-in microphone and speakers. But the microphone is very close to the left-hand speaker and the person at the far end is thus likely to suffer from a bad echo unless you go into the Sound section of your System Preferences and shift the balance over to the right. This makes a world of difference. iChat, of course, knows it’s running on a Mac and does this automatically.

The other issue is that all built-in mics are going to be subject to fan noise, disk noise and typing noise, and if any of those things are happening while you’re on the call, you want your audio to be, well, out of the box.

ipevoSo yesterday while visiting our local Apple retailer I succumbed to temptation and bought a basic IPEVO handset. It’s a very nice design, and my brief tests suggest that the sound quality is very good. It doesn’t, of course, gives you the hands-free advantages of a headset, but it saves you having to fix things to your head just to answer a call.

ipevo wrapped upIt comes with a long cable, which can be wrapped around it for easy transport.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going to IPEVO’s web site where they have all sorts of attractive other models too. And thence to SkypeStyle, a UK online store with more Skype-compatible accessories than you can imagine… Lead me not into temptation!

Ancient and Modern

St Columba’s and John Lewis

St Columba’s church cast a splendid shadow on the side of the new John Lewis building in Cambridge this morning.

One of the reasons I think I’m so lucky to live here is that our walk into the town centre this morning incorporated feeding ducks, watching kayakers, drinking lattés, grocery and shoe shopping, and took in both the view above and the one below.


Apple to open Cambridge store

Oh dear. This isn’t going to do my bank balance any good at all…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser