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Macs, Movies, Games, Books, etc. The Rants of a Mad Man.

I’ll be a guest on TWiT’s TNT tonight

September 17th, 2012 by Raj

For those following my pseudo media “career” you’ll be jumping for joy to know that I’ll be appearing on the TWiT network’s “Tech News Today” (TNT) show for their Monday episode. The recording will be streamed live here in Australia early tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Sept 18th at 3am AEST.

Feel free to watch the show, if you’re awake, here: http://live.twit.tv
Or download the episode tomorrow here: http://twit.tv/show/tech-news-today

Also you can read about TWiT and my recent visit to their studio in Petaluma, California over on MacTalk at the moment here: http://www.mactalk.com.au/content/visiting-twit-studios-2575/

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Seeking closure

September 4th, 2012 by Raj

There’s nothing particularly interesting about this photo. In fact you could argue, successfully I might add, that it’s a pretty boring one taken in poor conditions of a street corner that could be in pretty much any Westernised 1st world country on the planet. But it’s not just any street corner, it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense for me to be writing about a random street corner really, although, given the right frame of mind I’m sure I could make something up.

No, this street corner is one that nearly four years ago I went to get into a cab at around midnight and turned around to have a fist put into the same time/space position that my head occupied. This of course is against the laws of physics and rather than meld together the fist burst through my glasses, shattered them causing a laceration through my left eyelid and across the lens of my, fracturing the same eye’s orbital socket and breaking my nose until the fist was no longer in threat of disrupting the time continuum and need fear the wrath of Dr. Who and other time-lords. There was some further punching and kicking and a lot of blood but you get where I’m going with it and the likelihood is that you’ve heard versions of this story from myself before so lets not repeat ourselves shall we.

Now, four years gone, I find myself returning to the scene of the crime like some badly written macabre Hollywood thief whilst visiting Seattle once more. I knew when I booked this trip that I’d be venturing to the intersection of 1st Ave & Yesler Way, I couldn’t not go! Whether that be born out of sheer curiosity or perhaps cathartic self-healing I honestly didn’t know I just felt compelled.

On Saturday morning, the third day of my four day visit, I decided it was time. It was a beautiful day, warm, cloud-free and I had no appointments at the convention until later that day so there was time to kill. It turned out that the intersection was remarkably close to the hotel I was staying, a pure coincidence as I had to hunt through old paperwork from the hospital and ambulance service to figure out which intersection it actually was that morning! Three city blocks down, two to the left and there I would be.

Walking down the hill, Starbucks in hand – yes vomit now but when in Rome, I didn’t feel anything, I was numb to the whole exercise to the point I was beginning to think it frivolous. Last November I’d won the three year legal battle against my travel insurer TID and their medical cohorts Mondial Assistance to finally pay the lovely $US25k + legal fees I’d incurred from my week’s stay and coma care and that had truly allowed me to breath for the first time since it had all happened. Now, a city block away, I questioned what else I was possibly hoping to achieve.

Rounding the apex of a dog legged 1st Ave the small park came into distinctive view. It was my reference point. That night it had all happened it was the only thing my bloodied vision had been able to focus and hold on to. The look of hundreds of Halloween revellers passing through gardened archways to stare and scream at what unfurled directly opposite, over the road.

The park’s intersectional neighbours drew a complete blank, they may very well have been there four years ago they may not have, but today they were Starbucks, a small cafe and finally a toy store called “Magic Mouse Toys”, which sat on the corner I was attacked, decorated by two street bins, one of which for recycling that I remembered grasping at when I fell to the ground and was now crossing the road to inspect more closely.

I knew I’d stood in this exact position years before, I knew it to be where the horror of the past four years had been birthed but even at this point it felt numbly distant. Then, as if God himself had been sharing a joke with Freud the siren started. My head rose and stared Northwards down Yesler Way towards the drowning tones of an emergency vehicle. The noise from the siren continued to grow in volume until I spotted the distinctive boxed shape belonging to an American ambulance snaking its way through Saturday morning traffic towards me. I stopped breathing. The trees in the park wobbled in my vision as tears streamed down my face and distorted the light they reflected into my eyes. I could hear the people yelling and screaming from four years ago like I’d been sucked back in time like on some CSI/NCIS/Law & Order type TV show. The ambulance’s engine grew louder as its sirens pierced my thoughts and then… it drove straight by. It floored it through the green light of the intersection and continued on its way but it had done it’s job, for me anyway.

I retreated to the very same stone steps my assailants had launched their cowardly attack from and composed myself. The vision of yesterday’s world washed away and the odd looks I’d attracted from today’s bystanders were quickly dismissed as they went on with their lives, classifying somewhere between crazy and delusional but not of their concern or danger. I pulled out the notebook I’d been using for notes at convention interviews and began to sketch out the intersection in order to remember it better perhaps? Who knows? It served a purpose if only to allow me to rationalise me sitting on a cold stairway to a padlocked door.

No one else could’ve understood what this place meant to me, nor should they have. It was just so surreal for me to be in such a placid and infinitesimally insignificant place to all the people passing by yet mean so much to me. That said a lot of you reading this know exactly what this place means to me and I’m forever thankful to all of you. You know who you are, you all helped tremendously and I’m blessed with such amazing family and friends. Thank you.

The big question is did it actually *do* anything by going back there and the honest truth is I have no idea. I’m not a shrink, I still don’t really know why I wanted to visit it in the first place, but I did and I have and it’s done. I hear a lot of people talking about closure, generally when it comes to relationships mind you, and I think that’s what this was for me, perhaps my whole US trip was to a point? Regardless, the chapter has been undeniably closed.

What is a Retina display

June 18th, 2012 by Raj

This article was originally written for MacTalk.
It appeared as an editorial on their home page June 18th, 2012.

“Retina display” it’s Apple’s latest buzzword that’s slowly mulling its way across their entire product line. Most recently recently bursting from its former iOS bounds and landing amid Apple’s newest MacBook Pro lineup announced just days ago at WWDC 2012. But what is exactly is a Retina display? How does it affect you as a consumer or perhaps you as a developer? Do I want one? Well in the words of Dr Deane Hutton “I’m glad you asked”…

To understand what a Retina display is we’re going to jump back to some of the basics that make up your computer’s (or phone’s, or tablet’s) display. Every screen is made up of pixels, tiny dots of light that are told what colour they should be by your computer. Thousands of these pixels line your display and together in their combination of colours create the visual imagery that you see and interact with on your screen. Where things get interesting is when we look at the density of the pixels or rather how many of them are crammed into the physical size of your screen referred to by the term “pixels per inch” (PPI).

PPI is calculated through a relatively simple little formula of which the crux is the number of pixels diagonally across your screen divided by its physical diagonal size. For example Apple’s smaller iMac which has a viewable diagonal screen size of 21.5 inches at a display resolution of 1900×1200 equates to a PPI of 102.46. Had the same display resolution been on physically smaller screen, say 15 inches diagonal the PPI would be much higher at 149.81.

Having a higher PPI means the pixels are bunched up much finer and can lead to a more crisp image to the viewer. Technology in display manufacturing has been slowly leading up to the point where now we can create displays with such a high PPI that according to Apple they are of such a high density that from a normal viewing point we can no longer see the lines between the pixels and it is this high density that Apple loosely refers to as a “Retina display”. To quote Steve Jobs at the unveiling of the iPhone 4, Apple’s first product with a Retina display:
“…there’s a magic number around 300dpi, if you hold something about 10-12 inches away from your eye, it’s the limit of the human retina to distinguish pixels.”

The original iPhone and it’s successors up until the iPhone 4 all had a resolution of 320×480 with a PPI of 163. With the launch of the iPhone 4 the resolution doubled to become 640×960, 326 PPI. The increase by exactly double is no accident either and you may have already noticed that the new MacBook Pro’s resolution is exactly double its predecessor’s too. 2880×1800 to it’s former non-retina self of 1440×900. So why is this? Well, it keep everything in proportion. For the user if you’re looking at a web page or running an app that was built using the lesser resolution the system can double everything quite easily and not ruin the ratio of the material. The downside is that as the technology begins to expand across new product lines you’ll see an almost never-ending game of catch up as developers must include larger versions of all the imagery included in their software so that it looks as it should, until that happens the software does its best to blow things up to their newly doubled size often leaving them blurry and uneasy on the eye.

For now the introduction of Retina displays into the Mac product family means more work for developers to double the size of their image assets. For the end-user, once their apps are updated they’ll enjoy a much more pleasant aesthetic experience and be able to truly reap the rewards of their wonderful display. The same goes for web developers, in a world where Retina displays become the norm the web will migrate to non-vector imagery doubled in size to accommodate these higher PPI displays. This may be a while away as Apple are technically the only people out there pushing the displays into the market at present but there are already Retina displayed imagery on a lot of websites as the iPhone & iPad take advantage of them already, accounting for the lion share of mobile traffic.

To break it down as a developer (web or app) you’ll be creating rasterized assets at double the size (and again at half if you want to do the job properly), for the end-user you’ll be complaining on Twitter and Facebook that your favourite app looks funny until you get an update. Unfortunate but true.

Lastly let’s all understand that “Retina display” is nothing more than an Apple trademarked name of higher pixel density displayed. It is NOT an industry standard nor patent of technology held by Apple, it’s a marketing term. Other computer manufacturers such as Dell or HP may not have a competing displays at this point but if they did they don’t have to create it to the same standard as Apple nor would they call it “Retina display”.

References:

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B&o Play Beolit 12 review

April 27th, 2012 by Raj

For those of you interested in my forever sporadic journalistic endeavours then you’ll be gleeful to hear my review of Bang & Olufsen’s new B&o Play product the “Beolit 12″ is available for your eyes to consume over on MacTalk. An excerpt of said article is here found below to tempt you to read more…

Its relatively small & lightweight but stocky in stature and had I not already mentioned it was a speaker you might be asking yourself “What is it?”, the design not giving a lot away to its function yet screaming Bang & Olufsen from its minimalistic pore ridden facade. At first I have to admit I found the whole thing a little ghastly but in the month it’s sat pride of place in my lounge room the more I’ve fallen in love with its simplicity and come to appreciate the thought put in to the design.

If you’d like to read more may I suggest you go here.
For the photographic kind there are lots of lovely images of the Beolit 12 here.

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OS X Lion arrived; here’s how to fix it

July 21st, 2011 by Raj

Love it or hate it OS X Lion (10.7) arrived today and it doesn’t take long for you to notice (and loathe) many of the more subtle changes Apple have made in their infinite user interface (UI) wisdom. Fortunately a lot of the changes, which I personally find not to my taste, are quite easily fixed.

The issues & fixes:


“Natural scrolling” and how to disable it
Mimicking Apple’s iOS devices Lion implements a “natural” scroll direction, you would have noticed it as soon as you tried to read or do pretty much anything on your now Lion based machine. What it means is that when you scroll your mouse down the page moves up, which goes against any conventional mouse usage since its inception. In the words of Leo Laporte: “So. You spend 27 years teaching people how to scroll. Then you turn it upside down just for fun. I think Steve is laughing at us.”

How to fix it:
Jump in to System Preferences and select “Mouse”
On the first tab (“Point & Click”) the first option is “Scroll direction: natural”. Simply un-tick this.


Large font/icons in the Finder sidebar & Mail folder list
This one jumps out at you pretty quickly, everything, everywhere just looks BIGGER!

How to fix it:
Jump in to the “General” System Preference and look for the item “Sidebar icon size” seen below


Finder status bar missing
Are your Finder windows looking particularly thin? Missing some information about how many files/folders you have in the place you’re looking or perhaps a total file size for that folder? Well that’s because Apple have turned off the status bar leaving your Finder windows borderless on the bottom.

How to fix it:
Really simple this one. You can press Command + / on your keyboard or jump up to “View” > “Show Status Bar”


Startup disk missing from Finder sidebar
First of all the “Devices” section has been moved to the bottom of the sidebar, sorry no way to fix that one, but more concerning is that your startup disk has been removed from the list meaning the Finder is really only giving you quick links to your home folder. Sure there’s an icon on the desktop for your hard drive but that’s pretty lame if I have to go there to access it every time!

How to fix it:
Jump in to Finder’s preferences (either through the menu Finder > Preferences or by pressing Command + ,) and click on the “Sidebar” icon in the toolbar. Here you’ll see a list of items you can turn on & off in your toolbar. Down the bottom you can enable “Hard disks” if it is missing. If you have a “-” in the box next to it that means that it’s only displaying some of your hard disks in the sidebar, keep clicking it until it changes to a tick to get them all.


Library folder in home folder missing
The Library folder holds some very important information on how your applications will run and their settings. It’s also a commonly used folder by people who know what they’re doing to free up hard drive space, clean out old preference files for long deleted apps, fonts and much, much more. Apple have hidden the Library folder that’s in your home folder as (at a guess) a way of stopping people screwing up their application and OS installs. A fair move but for many they’ll want it back!

How to fix it:
This one’s a really simple one but it’s going to involve a little Terminal action. Pop open Terminal (Applications > Utilities) and paste in the following line:
chflags nohidden ~/Library/


Auto correct while typing
Further blurring the lines between desktop and mobile (iOS) experiences Lion introduces the popup predictive text box you’ve become acustom to writing all those text messages. Annoyingly it also enables the “auto correct” feature meaning that even if you type a word that you know is the one you want Lion goes ahead and places what it thinks in. As a programmer you most definitely do NOT want this function on I assure you.

How to fix it:
Another one squirrelled away in System Preferences. Open the “Language & Text” System Preference pane and select the “Text” tab.
Deselect the “Correct spelling automatically” option and I’ve found I needed to restart all the apps I had open or reboot to be sure.

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Lights, helicopter, photo!

June 14th, 2011 by Raj

R/C Helicopter light experiment #2

What to do on a cold Melbourne Saturday night over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend? Fly a helicopter around your lounge room and take long exposure photos of it of course! I’d never used “bulb” mode on my 7D before and after a few test shots to establish some basic settings I was ready to go. The set up consisted of my Canon 7D on a tripod in the corner of the room with a 10-22mm wide angle lens connected to my laptop running EOS Utility in order for me to open & close the shutter (I didn’t have a simple remote to do this), the helicopter at half throttle on the stool in the middle of the photos and its remote sitting in my lap.

I wanted to make the environment visible but not to the point where it would detract from the light trails the helicopter left so I left my 50″ TV (to the right of the photos) on at half brightness to provide a dull light source and add some character. The actual settings for each photo varies slightly and I even experimented using a Neutral Density filter at some stage but generally it was around the following: 14mm, f22, ISO 400, 40 seconds

Check out my favourites below and on flickr.

R/C Helicopter light experiment #3

R/C Helicopter light experiment #1

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Bang & Olufsen enter the 3D TV market

April 20th, 2011 by Raj

I’m a design whore, there’s no denying it, I have to be, there’s no other reason anyone in their right mind would have stuck by Apple through all the years had they not have been (it most certainly wasn’t their PowerPC processing ceiling I assure you), and for me Bang & Olufsen (B&o) are the Apple of the home entertainment world. Many people will call it overpriced (which lets be honest it kinda is) and internally its technical capabilities aren’t as good as what you may be able to find for cheaper but fuck me if it isn’t the sexiest looking hi-fi gear around town.

Today B&o announced their first foray in to the burgeoning 3D TV world. The BeoVision 4-85 is an 85 inch behemoth plasma based (yes they still prefer plasma over LCD colour recreation – and rightly so) that incorporates the BeoLab 10 centre speaker and apparently 3D. Their press release doesn’t go in to great technical detail nor provide pricing (expect over A$70k) information but expect more info post its official release in Moscow tomorrow. In the mean time take a look at the BeoVision 4-85′s currently available cousin the BeoVision 4-103 (that’s 103 inches weighing 500kg folks) to get an idea of what she’ll look like.

To own a piece of B&o equipment is to adopt a child, in that buying one of their lavish devices may well cost you the same as a child does until they leave home at 18, trust me I’ve owned a CD player they make (and you’ll see in almost any Hollywood film with an office or decadent home) the BeoSound 9000 and I took out a loan! Mind you I was crazy and 21 at the time; but you do these things… don’t you?

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Apple Australia: Continuing to bite the reseller hands that feed it

April 4th, 2011 by Raj

A recent MacTalk post eagle-eyed a new round of retail job listings for the Victorian postcode 3205 otherwise known as “South Melbourne”. A store here would mark Apple’s first in-roads towards servicing the Melbourne CBD. The news was of course met with a chorused “Huzzah!” by fanboys en masse – the minor sub-plot: a debate waged over whether this meant the demise of any plans for a truly central CBD store.

Should this four digit prophecy prove true spare a thought for Apple reseller Computers Now. Their head office and showroom currently reside upon a corner of Clarendon St, South Melbourne’s main retail strip and what is most likely to be the home of the alluded Apple store. A slight kick in the balls to Comp Now who’d undoubtably see their retail bottom line take a hit with Apple parking their butts a few hundred metres down the road. Salt in the wound when you consider that the two Apple retail stores currently operating in Victoria have also parked themselves squarely on Computers Now’s doorsteps firstly at Chadstone (a store which has since closed) and Doncaster (a whole 100 metres away on the same floor of the shopping centre). Not only have Apple kicked them in the balls but I’d say they’ve fair cut them off too!

None of this would irk me too greatly should I not have, many years ago, ventured in to the realm of becoming an Apple reseller myself and gone through a very tiresome process of choosing a location that needed to be approved by Apple and the powers that be. Dealing with your local Apple Business Development Manager (BDM) my partners and I were given a very lengthy radial berth that we not impede on existing resellers and their business. The technicalities and legalities behind it all could be construed as complex but the general gist was around population density and it’s relation to supporting multiple outlets. At this time you have to remember the iMac had barely seen the light of day and Apple was hardly cash positive so their aim was to cover as much land mass as possible and not cannibalise their rather meagre sales streams. It made sense. It was business wise and between then and now Apple has been forced to recognise that all the good spots have already been taken and it would seem are just muscling the poor bastards out of their way.

Contracts and clauses have no doubt changed in the past eight or nine years, of that I’m sure, and technically Apple aren’t a “reseller” so the rules don’t apply in the first place but I still think it’s a shitty way to say thanks for standing by them while we were selling your crap Quadra 900′s for ten grand a pop once a year and eating tinned soup for dinner.

In closing I should add that I have never worked at Computers Now nor am I affiliated with them in any way. I also have no knowledge of any negotiations Apple may or may not have with the aforementioned resellers should they impose their giant foot on nearby ground. This is purely an opinion piece.

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Tutorial: How to install an SSD in your MacBook Pro

February 24th, 2011 by Raj

Feel like getting a little crazy and pulling apart your MacBook Pro? Well this is the tutorial for you my friend. Last weekend I had the wonderful experience of installing a Solid State Drive (SSD) into my laptop and documenting the process for all you interested folk out there.

For those of you wondering why you’d want to do this…. speeeeeeed baby! My beautiful laptop is completely booted in under 15 seconds from a standing start. Less than 2 from after typing in my password on OS X’s login screen!! You have to see it to believe.

Plus, if you do this in the next 24 hours before Apple announce they’re going to sell you a Mac with this already done in it you’ll prove just how ahead of the curve you are!!

As always head over to MacTalk to get the full run down of how it’s done! Enjoy kids!!

Tutorial Link: http://www.mactalk.com.au/content/tutorial-how-install-ssd-your-macbook-pro-1411/

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Time lapse: The Efront office setup

February 4th, 2011 by Raj

Last March the guys I work for, Efront, moved in to a new office space in the Melbourne CBD. It was the perfect opportunity to try out some time-lapse work, which I’d been interested in but never really had a good subject to try it on.

Setting up my Canon 450D with a 12-24mm wide angle lens in the corner of the room, it was attached to my MacBook Pro running Canon’s EOS utility software that would fire the camera every 6 seconds. The camera also had a mains powered attachment that meant I didn’t have to worry about it running out of juice. At the time I didn’t have a neutral density filter so exposure times where quite short, ideally having a neutral density filter on would give the illusion of movement more by blurring people slightly.

9000 photos later they’re stitched together at 25fps using Quicktime 7 (*So* much better than Quicktime X) and exported out to add some fade in/outs and a soundtrack.

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