now all softcore in the name of shopping

I don’t remember how I ended up there (really, I don’t) but I happened upon the women’s clothing section the other day, and noticed that they have a new feature on their site. For certain items of clothing, if you hover your mouse over the image, a closer version will appear. This is great for really examining the details of the item you’re considering buying. It’s also great if you’re a thirteen year-old boy. And no, I couldn’t find any male clothing worth “examining.”

It takes off

We watched the Mythbusters tackle the “Airplane on a Conveyor Belt” issue last night. They did not really build a huge conveyor belt (they essentially used a long canvas tarp to pull the runway out from under the plane), and so the result (the airplane took off) won’t really satisfy everyone. But, it remains the right answer.

Here’s some background: the kottke post that started it all, the explanation for the scientifically minded (the comments are fun), and kottke’s liveblogging of the Mythbusters episode.

Here’s how I try to explain it. An airplane flying through the air is virtually no different than one “flying” on the ground. The one on the ground is not (yet) going as fast as the one in the air, and there’s a miniscule amount of friction acting on the bearings in the plane’s wheels, but really, they are moving under the same laws of physics. Airplane pushes on the air, and moves forward. What the ground, or the conveyor belt are doing to the wheels is largely irrelevant. No matter how fast the conveyor belt goes, all it is acting on are the wheels of the airplane, not the plane itself. It can make those wheels spin crazy fast, but the plane will still take off.

So there.

Oh, and I like the sentiment of kottke’s t-shirt, but I’d like a picture of a plane on it, frankly. And a conveyor belt.

Nanny needed for one half hour per day

So we’re thinking about what to do for our babysitter-enabled evening this weekend, and we realize that what we really want most is to have someone get our kids ready for bed. The bedtime routine of prodding, cajoling, and (usually) threatening the kids into their pajamas is a brutal gauntlet at the end of a long and tiring day. Can we hire a nanny to just get the kids ready for bed, then we’ll come in and sing or read to them? That would be awesome.

My wife turns 21 today

Okay, not 21, exactly, but that’s the best answer when a woman asks you to guess her age. It is her birthday today, and we have big plans. Okay, not exactly big plans, because we’re parents of two kids under five, and she’s a second-year college professor, but we do have a babysitter for Saturday night! Woo hoo! And I’m baking the Best Chocolate Cake today. Really. That’s what it’s called, and it must be, ’cause it’s so good even I eat it (and I don’t like chocolate). I love you, Sweetie.

Apple Displays and the iSight

Anyone else wondering when Apple will put an iSight camera in their freestanding LCD displays? Or if they ever will? I believe that every time someone at Apple takes a look at the issue, they flash back to the ADC monitors with their all-in-one Apple-only cable, and all the problems and bad press they got with those, and they shudder and move on to contemplate the Newton II as a more feasible project. But I sure would like an Apple display with a camera built in.

The Home Computing Master Plan: Macworld 2008 Edition

Here is the original master plan. It is notable mostly for predicting yesterday’s Apple TV announcement, and for my woeful bitching about the computer that I still have now (that was more than two years ago!) I now present to you, the new edition of the Home Computing Master Plan, as informed by the recently concluded Macworld 2008 Stevenote.

Caveat: Some of these items may not be made by Apple, but that should not diminish their worth in your eyes.

The Home Computing Master Plan has several components that fill basic needs in our digital life. Those needs include the protection and distribution of our precious data, the availability of personal processing, and the desire for access anywhere.

  1. Precious Data: We have a lot of data that only exists in digital form. Pictures, movies, music, documents, etc. Much of that (the photos especially) is priceless and irreplaceable. This past year, we spent upwards of $2,000 recovering that data from two failed hard drives, and I don’t care to do that again. Our data should be secure and backed-up.
  2. Personal Processing: The original plan called for “Powerhouse Processing,” a tower-grade computer somewhere in the house that could really crunch. At the time, I was coming off of a job where I had that kind of power, and I thought it was a required item in the Plan. Well, it isn’t. We just need competent computers. But we each need our own, that much is clear.
  3. Access Anywhere: To best enjoy our digital life, we need to be able to get to it from where we are: the TV room, the kitchen, the car, the store, school, vacation, wherever.

The plan: Precious Data

Right now, all of our precious data is stored on an Infrant ReadyNAS device. Our data takes up a little less than 500 GB. That’s all our stuff. The NAS is in RAID mode, and currently has two 500 GB drives. That means, if one of the drives fails, I can run out and buy another, slip it in, and all will be well. We’re starting to butt up against the limits of the two drives, however, and it may be time to buy a third drive (there are four slots).

I like the RAID system, but I worry a bit about the lack of a real backup. I’d like to have another copy of the data somewhere, not just a redundant version on the NAS. Leopard’s Time Machine is easy to use, and turns out to be pretty flexible. I like the idea of being able to revisit my files from a few days ago. That’s pretty cool. And it can use the Infrant NAS as a Time Machine disk. I just don’t know if it can do it over a network.

Also, to use Time Machine, you need a computer running Leopard. So that pretty much requires a desktop computer somewhere to “manage” our precious data.

So, the plan is to get a Mac mini with the minimum 120 GB drive, and attach an external drive, like Newer’s miniStack series, probably in the 1 TB size (just for fun). That’ll live in the kitchen, and hold all our data, run iTunes, etc. It’ll have a wireless keyboard stuck in a drawer, and a third party LCD in the smallish size (13 inches?) on an arm so I can hide it away.

The NAS will act as a Time Machine disk for the mini, and for the external drive (and for all our other Macs). This is, of course, assuming Time Machine will work over a network now, or soon. That way, all our data will exist in two places, and the backup will be a RAID device. Excellent!

The plan: Personal Processing

With the mini in the kitchen handling serverish duties (and kitchen-related web browsing, maybe bill paying) we’ll each need our own machines to keep our personal stuff. These machines will also be backed up to the NAS via Time Machine (the networking caveat still being exigent).

The wife will be sticking with her Windows laptops for a while. More power to her. I’ve got my old 12″ iBook G4, which is desperately in need of a refresh. The new MacBook Air is not for me. I have my eyes on a 15″ MacBook Pro, a large external monitor, and an external keyboard and mouse. I’d love a dock, but am unsure about the one dock available for the Mac, the ones from BookEndz. I guess you take what there is. I’ll also get a second battery and a battery charging station. Nothing like having to tether your laptop.

The boys don’t need computers yet, thank goodness.

The plan: Access Anywhere

To enjoy all of this, it is important to be able to get to my stuff wherever I am. With a laptop, I can take important stuff with me, and with Leopard’s screen/computer sharing, I can get to the mini when I need to. It may require a (shudder) .Mac subscription to be transparent.

We like listening to our music on iTunes, and our current setup is just about perfect in that regard. iTunes runs on our desktop machine (the mini in the new plan), and pipes the music to an Airport Express (should that be a venerable Airport Express?), which sends it out the audio jack to a hobby built FM transmitter. We tune the music in on our radios all over the house. Yay! But to change tracks, we need to go to the computer, or use one of several imperfect “remote” itunes controllers via my laptop. So, the plan calls for an iPod touch with Remote Buddy installed. Music listening nirvana. We have a little iPod (thanks, sis!) for the car, and that’ll do for now. Next car we buy had better have better iPod options though.

We’d also like to enjoy our pictures and movies more. Right now, the only way to do that is to set the 12″ iBook down on the coffee table, snuggle up three feet from the screen, and wait for stuff to stream from downstairs. We’ll solve this problem with a few items. First, a new base station, operating at the much faster 802.11n protocol. Then, I think I might spring for an Apple TV, probably the small one (we’d only be renting movies via its interface, any purchases would be done on the desktop machine and streamed to the TV via the new base station). I’ve officially given up on the TiVo as a home media streamer. Support on the Mac is woeful, and the Apple TV is cheap enough (and I have an HDMI slot open on my receiver) to get it, as it promises to work with the Apple ecosystem I already have. Yay, pictures and slideshows and movies (and rentals and ripped DVDs) on our TV. About time, I say.

Finally, to really get the most out of our digital life, I need to make more picture books. I’ve made a few, but they are a little expensive, so the incentive is not there. I could also make some DVDs, but I am perennially waiting for the next version of iDVD to make the process easier. I wait still.

Getting there

This list is a little less pie-in-the-sky than the previous iteration, but much still hinges on one unanswered question: will Time Machine back up to a networked drive? No answer as of this writing.

So, the cost of all this? Too much, I’m sure, and the small LCD monitor will be hard to find, especially one that is VESA arm compatible. Let’s price it out, using my wife’s personal purchase .edu discount for the Apple Store stuff:

  • Mac mini – 2.0 GHz, SuperDrive, 2 GB RAM, 120 GB HD, wireless keyboard+mouse, .Mac: $1113
  • NewerTech miniStack v3 – 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 32 MB data cache: $480
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM, 500 GB SATA internal disk for NAS: $160
  • 15″ LCD Monitor (like one from ViewSonic or Dell): $160 to $190
  • VESA-compliant wall mount swing arm for LCD: $60 to $100
  • 15″ MacBook Pro – 2.6 GHz, 2GB RAM, 200 GB SATA 7200 RPM, Glossy Display, AppleCare: $2943
  • 4GB RAM kit for MacBook Pro from Crucial: $108
  • 24″ LCD Monitor (Apple if they do an iSight, Dell if not): $700 to $800
  • New keyboard (wired): $50
  • BookEndz dock for 15″ MacBook Pro: $300
  • NewerTech 15″ MacBook Pro battery charger: $150
  • Replacement battery for 15″ MacBook Pro: $116 from Apple (the only source currently)
  • iPod touch – 16 GB: $400
  • Remote Buddy license: $40 or so
  • Airport Extreme 802.11n Base Station (assuming TimeMachine fix): $160
  • Apple TV – 40 GB: $229

So, that comes to a grand total of $7339. Less than I thought, frankly. Securing our Precious Data would cost $2043. Upgrading my personal computer would cost $4467. Ouch. And getting all fancy with our digital assets would cost only $829.

We’re taking donations!

24 hours is not enough to watch a digital movie rental

Okay, I touched on this in my Macworld coverage, but it deserves its own post.

We have a TiVo Series 3 that connects to the Internet. I can see us owning an Apple TV at some point in the future. We are members of Netflix. All three of these allow for some form of digital movie rentals. The TiVo uses Amazon’s Unbox service. Apple TV uses iTunes. And Netflix uses… well, you can only watch their movies on a PC, so screw ’em.

The other two have a pretty consistent policy. Order a rental and you have thirty days to start watching it before it is erased. Once you start to watch it, you have 24 hours to finish it, watch it again, etc., before it is erased. And therein lies the problem.

My wife and I love the idea of digital rentals. No movie store, little delay, prices are okay (if a little expensive). But we can only watch movies at night, after the boys are in bed. That means we start about 8:30 pm or so. And we have small boys. Small boys who wear us out. It is not impossible that we might be too tired to finish watching our movie. If we fail to finish our movie, we must finish it before 8:30 the next night, or we are out of luck. Our 24 hour window will be closed.

That doesn’t work for us. I’m surprised that it would work for anyone with a regular job, kids, or a life. Which doesn’t say much about the executives at TiVo or Apple (you hearin’ me, Steve?). 24 hours does not work. It is a number made up in a boardroom.

The solution is simple. Make the watching window 36 hours. No big deal. I’d even accept 30 hours. Hell, I would gratefully take 26 hours. But please make it more then 24. Thank you.

MW 2008: Liveblogging winners

Clearly the winners of the liveblogging competition were the guys at MacRumors. Their AJAX-powered interface gave news updates in a timely manner, and their photo feed was showing relevant photos at the right time.

Second place goes to Ars Technica, for their almost-as-up-to-the-moment feed as MacRumors, combined with a little more commentary (the MacRumors stuff was a little dry). They get dinged on the slow and ill-timed delivery of photos, and their non-AJAXy goodness. The refresh button is so 2006.

Third goes to Macworld magazine, which came through with the most in depth coverage, giving links and perspective. Guess it helps to have an editorial staff at home to rely upon.

Engadget and Gizmodo were both behind with their updates, had some server delivery problems, and were outclassed by the other three.

Questions about Time Capsule

Part of the Macworld 2008 Keynote post-mortem. Time Capsule is Apple’s wireless hub + backup drive all-in-one product. It provides fast wireless networking: 802.11n. It provides a large, “server-grade” hard drive, accessible wirelessly. (By “server-grade” they seem to mean 7200 rpm, SATA.) You can use this hard drive to make Time Machine backups from all your Macs (yes, more than one can backup to the same drive, wirelessly). It also provides a USB port for another device (a hard drive, a printer, or a USB hub) to be shared wirelessly.

Time Capsule is a big advancement from the previous 802.11n base station for one reason, Time Machine (the backup software) would not work wirelessly before. That’s great, for the internal disk in Time Capsule. What I can’t find out, however, is whether an external hard disk attached to Time Capsule’s USB port and shared wirelessly will be compatible with Time Machine.

That would make all the difference to me.