Human Interest

Sporting News overlooked Vanek at the half

I’ll admit to being a bit ticked that Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres was not on this list of the Top+25+most+significant+players+of+the+NHL’s+first+half for the 2008-2009 season.

He was third in the league for goals scored. He was tied for first in power play goals. He went to the All-Star Game. The Sabres — should the season end today — would be a playoff team. That is a mark they missed last year, when Vanek was not playing as well as he is this year.

Of course, looking over stats for this, I discovered that Derek Roy had had six game winning goals — which tied him for sixth in the league. Not too shabby.

Faster iPhone on its way, slower AT&T network in the way

ABC News is but one news outlet saying that a Faster+iPhone+on+Its+Way, after AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson “spilled” this news last week. (Nevermind that, as others have said, Apple’s own CEO has said much the same thing already.)

What really annoys me is that every time I’ve looked into AT&T’s 3G coverage, the glaring lack of it has become apparent. Sure, you have to delve down into a lower level than their national coverage map, but you can look for yourself.

In New York State, only the New York City metro area had coverage when I’ve looked. (See The iPhone objections and At+least+2G+is+better+than+nothing,+and+you+can+blame+AT&T.) Forget upstate and its several MSAs in the top 100 in the nation by population.

So why, exactly, would a 3G iPhone be of broad interest in the U.S. if AT&T is the exclusive carrier? What good is a 3G iPhone if I can’t use 3G where I am? Is there something AT&T isn’t showing us? Right now, it seems like they are the bigger part of the problem, yet every story I see seems to focus on how this is Apple’s fault. I’m not trying to be a fanboy, but let’s at least get some balanced media coverage on this.

[Via MacInTouch.]

Inside CNET Labs: Windows virtual machine performance on the Mac

Inside CNET Labs: Windows virtual machine performance on the Mac examines how well Apple Boot Camp (i.e. “running Windows”), VMWare Fusion 1.0, Parallels Desktop 3.0, and CrossOver Office compare against running Microsoft Windows. Oh, and they also throw in a performance comparison of the same software running on Mac OS X, if it can.

Performance comparisons are important, even if this one is perhaps a little frivolous — and explained in a somewhat silly fashion. I feel like I’d be more likely to trust a different source, such as Ars Technica or XLR8YourMac.com or BareFeats.com after reading this article, despite its utility.

This is partly because I wonder what they really tested. One question I have for CNET’s “Crave: The gadget blog” people: how did they get an eight-core 2.66 GHz Mac Pro? Last I checked, Apple only sells the eight-core model in a 3.0 GHz version. The 2.0, 2.66, and lower-end 3.0 GHz systems all have a maximum of four cores (all using dual-core Xeon CPUs).

[Via Daring Fireball.]

Update: Curtis, ever-vigilant (but without a URL known to me, so he gets no link), points out via IM that CNET apparently tricked+out+their+Mac+Pro+with+quad+core+CPUs+back+in+November+2006. We call them jerks. What do you say?

The one where my brother gets an iPhone

I got a chance to use Aaron’s new iPhone yesterday, when Elijah and I met up with him for the afternoon.

Friday evening after work, Aaron stood in line briefly at the new Cingular/AT&T store just west of Eastview Mall. After a customer earlier in line came out empty-handed, he learned that the store had sold its last 8 GB model. Aaron — sensing that it was not to be — left at that point for wings at Duff’s, celebrating his friend Matt’s birthday in Buffalo.

After the celebration, he and Missy stopped at the Apple Store Walden Galleria, sauntering in around 9:30 p.m. The Apple Store was the only one open in the mall, and of course would not close until midnight that night for the launch (which is one of the strangest parts of the iPhone debut, to me). About twenty people were lingering, most clustered around the display models. He told me he was trying one of those out when he saw a gentleman who had just purchased one — Aaron had just wanted to try one, and had no idea they’d still have any for sale.

Since it turned out that they did have stock of the higher-capacity iPhones, he bought one. He was already in my access logs by 8:24 a.m. the next morning:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/1A543a Safari/419.3

I got to see it on Saturday, when we decided to see if the Apple Store Eastview had any remaining PowerSupport Crystal Films — we both now swear by these for adding some protection to our video iPods.

At the mall, he let me run the iPhone through its paces while he graciously watched his nephew. Having loaded a few Web sites, clicked around through the interface, and typed a little bit with the on-screen keyboard … well, I can say that it’s awesome. Solely as a handheld computer — throwing out all of the things it currently lacks, like some sync features and an SDK and so on — it’s a fantastic device.

Once I got to see it in person, hold it in my own hands, I felt like it was just right. It’s a natural extension of many trends — the iPod’s media-savvy, smartphones’ calling capabilities, and Web-connectedness.

Three things were immediately surprising. The screen is incredible, bright and crisp oh so hi-res. The phone calls were wonderfully clear — compared to the choppy and processed audio of every Verizon Wireless phone I’ve used, this was a winner (and on par with the GSM Treo 650 I had briefly two years ago). The Safari browser is much better than I expected, being both clear and readable in both portrait and landscape at multiple zoom levels … blissfully, much better than the display I got from the initial version of the iPhoney simulator.

The iPhone is not perfect, but it does seem futuristic and it does all fit together very well.

Now, if I can just store my 1500 existing Palm notepad notes on it, and create new ones that will sync to my desktop, I think I could live with it. I’m still not sure I can afford it, but that’s a story for another day.

Thanks to Aaron for letting me play!

Noted unsuitability so far

The Daring Fireball iPhone first impressions are in, and overall, the device sounds good.

However, for me, three glaring points pop out. They are all about data sync:

  • The iPhone calendar shares the same limitation of my current Treo sync setup: it basically ignores multiple calendars/categories, and syncs to a single calendar in iCal.
  • The Notes application doesn’t sync its data anywhere, at least not yet.
  • To-do’s are not present at all on the iPhone, and do not sync to the desktop.

The first item is not a deal-breaker. Given the amount of micro-notetaking I do on my Treo, the second one is. I’d have to find some Web-based way to write down funny quotes and other things I want to remember. Hm.

I’ve never been great about consulting an electronic to-do list of any kind — most recently trying to keep up with Life Balance, but failing — so the third point is probably not going to hurt.

The iPhone objections

I don’t know if I will get one. I certainly won’t get one until my Verizon Wireless contract has expired … and even then, there are factors to weigh.

But in the meantime, I’ve been staring squinty-eyed at articles about iPhone objections. You know, the ones about how it won’t work in the enterprise because it’s not secure, doesn’t have a firewall, and lacks critical Exchange support. Right now, I don’t know how we can make any evaluation about its security, other than to guess more of its OS has been written by experienced, senior programmers (sworn to secrecy) than the rest of Mac OS X probably is … and that may be a blessing. Given what’s riding on the rollout, hopefully some serious security audits have been done on the code, too.

How does some yahoo columnist trolling for hits know that the phone has no firewall? Do we have proof yet? Why isn’t the lack of open ports good enough in the first place? Do any phones, smart or otherwise, have a firewall?

We have Mary Jo Foley saying that Apple+is+rumored+to+be+licensing+Exchange+ActiveSync. On the face of it, enabling Exchange ActiveSync would not suck at all. However, that would certainly muddy the waters for the local iTunes sync to your data, especially if you’re using Sync Services with Entourage (which itself can be connected to Exchange) at the same time.

Also, I fail to see how local iTunes synchronization with Outlook on Windows, for the people that want data from that Exchange client, is not good enough — even though it tends to be for non-BES BlackBerry users.

My request to Microsoft for “Entourage Mobile” would go “pop,” the need fulfilled.

What about remote wipe? I almost forgot! Who is to say that it won’t be available as some option in iTunes later, sort-of like de-authorizing a computer you’ve lost or sold?

And then there are objections about it being expensive — like duh, smartphones aren’t expensive? With their high initial cost, the regular cost of cell phone voice plans that generally start at $40/month, and the data plans that hover around that much, they are pricey items. Hey, I projected that my lousy, half-broken Treo 650 would cost me a minimum of$1700 over the two-year lifetime of my contract — making it the most expensive PDA I’d ever owned. It would have been, too, if I hadn’t cancelled the data plan and consolidated two contracts into a family plan. I doubt I’ve made enough phone calls to justify it, although I write down a lot of funny quotes in the note pad.

Finally, we have the performance objections. EDGE is too slow, they say. AT&T doesn’t have good coverage. This are both true, from what I can tell right now, particularly in the specific areas I might use a phone.

But then again, I cancelled my Treo’s data plan because the equivalent Verizon network was too slow, the browser too annoying (even for the lightweight Google Mobile), and when I was roaming I couldn’t get data anyway — so I’ve already demonstrated my lack of tolerance for that. The addition of Wi-Fi ameliorates many of my concerns. I do agree with Glenn Fleishmann, who would like to see the iPhone data plan bundle connections to AT&T’s Wi-Fi network; I might never actually use that or be within range of one of their hotspots, but it would certainly sweeten the deal.

Half the places I want to use my Treo, I already get bad or non-existent voice service. I miss a high percentage of my inbound calls. This may be due to my phone, which the service department claims is defective, or it may be due to other factors. The point is that my experience with the almighty of Verizon is substandard now, so if I move to something that’s even close to equivalent it’s not going to break me.

Frankly, I don’t need a cell phone. But if I’m going to have one, it seems like the iPhone isn’t a bad choice. At least the software doesn’t look like it’ll drive me mad, like my StarTAC did. The software looks like it’s the most accessible of any phone I’ve seen.

The sheer awesomeness of bad version checking

The small corner of the ‘net I inhabit is already abuzz with things that have broken with the Mac OS X 10.4.10 update. Software seems to be breaking not because of significant changes in this update, but because of poor version checking routines.

Awesome — isn’t it?

Anyway, here are some reports I’ve heard:

  • MacEnterprise+list: CA eTrust 8.1 installer thinks it’s installing on Solaris 10
  • MacEnterprise+list: Tivoli Storage Manager installer 5.1 installer just thinks v10.4.10 is older than 10.4.3, which is rather pedestrian
  • MacFixit and MacEnterprise+list: Apple Remote Desktop 3 (of all applications … ahem!) can’t display version numbers correctly, or use the new version in Smart Lists.

Too bad you can’t always use Python distutils.version to compare Mac OS X version numbers. (For Mac OS X installers, you sometimes must use JavaScript.) It seems as if the version objects from distutils.version would make things soooo much easier.

Yeah, I know … I guess I’m becoming a Python fanboy. Apologies.

Updating a base Mac OS X system image using shadow files

When deploying system software with disk images, it is helpful to have various checkpoint images that you can revert to while you’re building up a fully-fledged template computer. This is something they teach you in school (really, I was taught it in a systems administration class) and it’s more or less encoded in the solution accelerator documentation for Microsoft’s Business Desktop Deployment 2007 for Windows.

However, if you’re updating images, keeping the base and intermediate images can strain your storage capacity. Mac OS X lacks the compelling live editing features of Microsoft’s new WIM image format — which if it had appeared first on the Mac, I’d be trumpeting loudly, so I feel compelled to at least give a nod to Microsoft here.

Since I’m always struggling with storage capacity and I prefer having an up-to-date base image, I thought about this problem a bit in the context of Mac OS X imaging and have come upon what seems to be a unique solution: the use of shadow files.

Here’s the basic idea:

  1. Create a base operating system install on a partition of your template computer’s disk
  2. Capture a compressed, read-only image of it immediately (go wild, save the extra percent or two, and compress it with the Tiger-only bzip2 scheme … you can afford to do this if you have time and are only deploying with a Tiger startup disk)
  3. Scan the base image for Apple Software Restore’s block-level checksums
  4. Attach that base image to the filesystem — honoring ownership and specifying a shadow file — so that it acts as if it is writable, using hdiutil
  5. Install the latest Mac OS X combo update on it
  6. Create a new read-only compressed image of the mounted volume
  7. Prep the new updated base image for ASR.

Congratulate yourself on this use of shadow files, because you’ve saved at least one intermediate step and the space required for a full read-write disk image — or worse, an extra local partition needed only for restoration and updating the base image.

Unmount that volume and throw away the shadow file at this point if you want, because you’ve now got two system images ready for deployment. One has the base system software, and serves as a checkpoint that you can return to later; it’s the base for all future updates of that major revision of Mac OS X. The other image has the latest version of Mac OS X. If you’re deploying that image with ASR, the result will be a more secure system because it’s closer to being fully patched — and it should take less time to update it with the additional security updates and application installs — whether you use installers or Radmind or another solution — because you’ve got the bulk of the operating system done.

Unfortunately, many updates can only be installed on the startup disk and thus cannot be included in the updated base image. Beyond the combo operating system updates, few of Apple’s other installers will work on a non-startup volume. But you can install them after deploying the updated base image, using your tool of choice. For reasons like this, Geoff doesn’t see updating the base image as valuable, but in some IT environments, it may be very worthwhile.

My next step is to script this process and tie it to a watched folder. Imagine dropping a combo update into a watched folder … and letting a script generate the new, updated image for you.

Sabres clinch the East

Thanks to Aaron for letting me know that the Sabres had clinched+the+top+spot+in+the+Eastern+Conference+with+their+4-1+win+over+Pittsburgh.

This is a tremendous milestone but there is still only one goal goal that matters to this team. Still, it’s frustrating to me that this news is not getting more press. A lot of bigger-market teams that have less interesting stories are still dominating the NHL news, let alone the general sports news. Grumble, grumble.

Anyway, the reports also say that the Sabres+are+getting+healthy+right+before+the+playoffs+begin, so let’s hope that story is true … we know how big a role injuries played during the Cup race last year.

It could be my new Bluetooth mouse

It looks as if Microsoft has been watching my Google searches for a “bluetooth laser mouse” the past few months—and noting that no purchase had followed.

How else can I explain the perfection, from the mere specifications, of the Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 8000? It appears to be so close to my buying criteria that they may very well have crawled inside my head to develop its feature set.

Aluminum, though? Seems like it will be one cold mouse in winter. Still, the expectation that its aluminum shell should be more durable than my older Wireless IntellMouse Explorer for Bluetooth (say that ten times, fast!) is a great bonus.

Actually, all that needs to be more durable are the buttons (so that they don’t lock into the “on” position after toting it around with a laptop for a year, grumble grumble) and the battery compartment. But with a rechargeable battery, that last point is probably moot. Update: Having seen a floor model of this mouse in person at the local CompUSA, I can confirm that the battery compartment is about as flimsy as my previous Microsoft Bluetooth mouse, but you’ll need to open it less because the battery can be charged in the mouse, and there is a power button. (I used to turn off my older mouse by removing a battery.)

Somewhere, I saw that the new mouse has an “off” button. That would be an excellent addition—nay, a necessary one, and potentially a deal stopper that must be weighed against the rechargeability and the quoted battery life. You’d recognize that if you’ve consulted my Epinions review of that first Microsoft Bluetooth mouse. Update: Having seen a floor model of this mouse in person at the local CompUSA, I can confirm that it has a sliding on/off power button on the bottom.

The earliest review on it states that, like previous Microsoft Bluetooth mice, the special software features are only enabled by using the Microsoft Bluetooth adapter—at least on Windows. So, caveat emptor. Even though the device is debuting with a Vista-ready Bluetooth keyboard (see the Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000 bundle), I’d be using the mouse on Mac OS X Tiger today.

Sigh. I resent paying $80-$90 for a mouse, though.

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