I think my cablemodem is wearing out again. this one is about 1.25 years old. youtube and netflix streaming performance has deteriorated rapidly over the last month, and is now unusable.

here's the current speed test:


long story short, replacing just the screen wasn't sufficient. the home key was still activating spuriously. I went back to the apple store and they finally gave me a new phone. I had only 22 days left on the warranty!

iPhone update

I got another appointment at a genius bar. after telling the long story, and heading him off at the pass when he started to tell me to reset it to factory defaults and not restore, he replaced the screen. I think the phantom home key presses are gone, but it might have happened during a phone call once, last night. we'll see.

iPhone glitch

I dropped my iPhone on a sidewalk in December, shattering the screen. Apple sold me a new one for $200. After I restored my backup to the new phone, within a couple weeks the iPhone started pressing the home button by itself. That is, it would jump out of whatever app I was in, then jump back and forth between the first page of the home screen and the search page. Sometimes it even woke up by itself. (sidenote: do iPhones dream of electric sheep? Probably not, that would be too google-ish!)

When one of these fits happened, the home button would activate about 5 times and then relax for an hour or two.

The phantom home button presses happened off and on for about two weeks, then faded to a much lower frequency, low enough that I would
forget and be surprised at each new occurrence.

Next, the camera turned flaky; saving pictures would take an inordinate amount of time. Then the camera app took to crashing!

Finally it happened. I tried to take a narcissus photo after getting my hair cut, there was a POP! the iPhone screen went black.

After pressing the wake button and trying to do a hard reset several times, all I could get was the apple logo in the middle of the screen. Never before had a silver apple been so agonizing!

Luckily, the closest apple store had a genius bar opening. They were able to reset the iPhone to factory defaults, and advised me to NOT restore the phone from the back-up. This was the third set of hardware using this back-up image. The theory held config cruft was causing software glitches, resulting in the behavior I'd seen.

The iPhone also stores a log of hardware errors; the reset had cleared that log, too, though.

I was suspicious. I figured if i was going to get them to replace the hardware, though, I'd have to jump through their hoops first.

Fast-forward through hours of recreating all the old settings, and days of routine use, and the phantom home button presses returned.


My experience with the iPad was surprising. Some of the things I expected to not care about turned out to be impressive, and some features I was excited about wound up as letdowns.

Enough generalities, let me get down to details.

First, I was prepared for heft after reading many comments castigating the mass of the iPad. I found the iPad to be just right! For its size, I think its weight speaks of solidity and perhaps even quality. I spent most of the hour holding it in my left hand and never once thought it was too heavy.

When it came to responsiveness, the iPad was just as fast as everyone says.

One of the huge things I was interested in trying was typing, so I immediately logged in to my gmail account in safari and started typing an email. No, I couldn't touch-type on it, especially since it's a qwerty layout and I can only touch-type dvorak, but, with one hand or two I could very easily utilize the first two fingers of each hand as well as my thumbs. I can type FAST on my iPhone, but I can type probably twice as fast on the iPad; still not as fast as when I'm touch-typing on a standard keyboard, of course.

An interesting observation I made was that typing in landscape mode felt natural, confident, and kind of fun, but typing in portrait mode felt weird and even a bit nervous. Thinking about it later, it may be related to an observation I've seen in other reviews: in landscape mode, I could see the keys my fingers were hitting and the resulting letter popping onto the screen at the same time. in portrait mode, I had to look at my fingers alone. I don't know for sure if that was the issue, but the difference between the two modes was striking and unmistakeable.

Yes, the photo app is cool, and I'd love showing photos off to people in it, but in the end it's basically iphoto without the editing, with a few neat gestures instead. Pinching open an album is cool, but not particularly a killer feature. I do like the whole idea of faces, places, and events, and I'm slowly trying to make use of them. From now on, every single time I import photos from my camera or iphone, I'm going to try to put that info in every single photo. and when I feel like it, I've been going back to older photos and adding them. I've wanted that kind of info in my photos for as long as I've had a digital camera, but never had a good platform for making use of it.

Numbers, the spreadsheet program from iWork, was not what I'd hoped. It feels cumbersome, even painful, to enter formulas. There's a definite paradigm shear between using a spreadsheet with a mouse and using touch, and I'm the first to admit it will take some time to make the leap.

I suspect Numbers' best use-case is to create a spreadsheet on the desktop, then look at it on, or present it from, the iPad, and being able to tweak a cell or two. coupled with the fact that iwork will pretty much export only to PDF, well, my beloved spreadsheets may not find their way into the roach motel known as Numbers after all. By roach motel, I don't mean Numbers is infested with bugs; rather, that data can come in, but not go back out; cardinal sin!

The thing I was most excited about on the iPad was iBooks. wouldn't it be great to do away with all the shelves and boxes full of books in my office? to move my whole library as easily as moving my iPad and my macbook pro?

For that reality to come to pass, the iPad has to be just as easy and nice as reading a book.

Well, it's almost as nice. except for the fact that all text is right-justified, and there is no hyphenation. On top of that, absolutely gorgeous fonts are employed, but they might as well be monospaced. there is no kerning or ligature use at all. Think about it; each individual character looks absolutely gorgeous, but then they are laid out on the screen with no improvement over some crappy-ass computer word processor program from 1995. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, pick up a real book sometime. look at the spacing between words. you will see no annoying large gaps, no places where there are, say, about 5 words spaced all the way across the line with miles of white space in between. you will see the characters within the words spaced just right. so much so, that some letters will be touching! look at a lowercase "f" followed by a lowercase "L", for example. You'll see they actually overlap; this is called a ligature. you won't see this on the iPad. unless, of course, I'm just a clueless newb, and there is some option somewhere labelled "make the text look like ass" which is on by default. But I highly doubt it, that's not how Apple rolls. Which is why it's so shocking they didn't get all this right!

I've tried to read an ebook on a laptop before, an ebook which had all the fancy typography a book had, and it was not fun. the keyboard kept getting in the way of the screen. The best way I could find was to lay the laptop on its side, so it looked like an open book standing up. then it was hard to change pages. This is why I was so optimistic about iBooks on the iPad. Perfect form factor. It's too bad the text looks so terrible.

The kindle app is available for iPad, too, but the demo unit I was playing with didn't have it installed. From looking at pictures on the web, kindle uses the same standard text display engine.

There is a free reader, for iPhone, called "Stanza", which has hyphenation, and even a bit of ligature and kerning use. I'm interested to know how they did it; it makes me wonder if they did their own custom font rendering. Stanza's rendering is not perfect; sometimes annoyingly large whitespaces show up, but it's much better than iBooks'.

I suspect to get the kind of text display I'm wanting, apple would either have to turn all the book pages into photographs (hard to scale) or create a brand new typography rendering engine. It would rock if they could leverage TeX! Sidebar, for those of you who don't know: TeX is a free computer typesetting system invented thirty years ago by Donald Knuth, one of the giants of computer science, because he was dissatisfied with the way his math books looked from the publisher. I don't know if the license is compatible, but it would be a joy if Apple was able to use TeX, or created their own rendering engine that worked well.

Instead, though, Apple is using their standard computer screen text renderer for books. yuck. I suppose it will be fine for reading stuff from Project Gutenberg, but I don't see myself converting my current and future library over, like I was hoping.

While I was disappointed in iBooks, other apps written for ipad were just stunning. all those extra pixels make a huge difference. I found many instances where data was displayed wonderfully and was easy to interact with.

In the end, I think I'll want to buy an ipad because of all those other apps besides iBooks. iPad delivers on the promise of the iPhone; having the internet and dozens of custom apps important to you (out of many tens of thousands available) readily available, in an even more convenient and useable way than on the iPhone.
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fink & other stuff in snow leopard

oh, I almost forgot something fairly important... my mercurial I installed in my home directory still works, and X11 apps I installed via fink (like gnucash and gnumeric) still work in Snow Leopard without having to recompile them. I suspect as long as the binaries you have were compiled with an x86 target at all, it will probably still run without recompiling, just in 32-bit mode.

The Snow Leopard!

I updated my macbook to Snow Leopard tonight. I went to run my little C-type sizeof program, and found out that I hadn't recompiled it since I was running on a PPC. rosetta doesn't install by default in Snow Leopard. so I went to re-compile it only to find out gcc had gone missing.

all I had to do was install the new XCode on the Snow Leopard DVD, and then download the iphone SDK 3.0 for Snow Leopard from (all 404MB of it!).

Do I like the new OS X? sure. I didn't see a lot of difference at first, really. Maybe it seems a little faster, maybe it's placebo. hard to tell. After a few hours I thought to try the new Finder; that is noticeably faster than the one in Leopard. Oh, one bad thing about Snow Leopard: it messed up my customized date and time display in the menu bar clock; I had gone into some plist file years ago to customize it, now I'll have to look that up again.

also, the location feature is neat; you don't have to tell it what time zone you're in any more. also, safari has access to your location too. I've told it to detect my location for this post.

here is the output of sizeof on some standard C types in Mac OS X 10.6.0 (Snow Leopard); woot, 64-bit pointers!

                bool:  1 byte ;   8 bits
                char:  1 byte ;   8 bits
       unsigned char:  1 byte ;   8 bits
               short:  2 bytes;  16 bits
      unsigned short:  2 bytes;  16 bits
                 int:  4 bytes;  32 bits
        unsigned int:  4 bytes;  32 bits
                long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
       unsigned long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
           long long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
  unsigned long long:  8 bytes;  64 bits
                int*:  8 bytes;  64 bits
               float:  4 bytes;  32 bits
              double:  8 bytes;  64 bits
         long double: 16 bytes; 128 bits
           byte enum:  4 bytes;  32 bits
          short enum:  4 bytes;  32 bits
            int enum:  4 bytes;  32 bits

new Debian release!

A new version of Debian stable has been released! My firewall machine, entropy, is currently running the "old" Debian stable (etch). Sometime soon I'll update to the new stable release, Debian 5.0 Lenny.

Just for reference, here is how I will update:

edit /etc/apt/sources.list, change all occurrences of etch to lenny, then run these commands as root:

aptitude update
aptitude install apt dpkg aptitude
aptitude full-upgrade

when it is done, then I'll have to reboot to start using the new kernel. It will be interesting to see how long the upgrade takes.

Entropy is an HP Vectra business workstation with a 90MHz pentium (i586!), 128MB of RAM, and a 4GB hard drive. The RAM and hard drive sizes would have been incredible when the computer was new; I slowly increased them over time as they got cheap. Entropy would have shipped with 8 or 16MB of RAM, and possibly a 1GB hard drive. I acquired the machine in 1999 for $100. I wanted a second machine so I could try out connecting two machines together via ethernet. I used it as a development workstation for a brief period! I believe it would have been new around 1994. I hope to retired it sometime this spring. My goal is to get a brand new, energy efficient machine so I can run one machine constantly instead of the 3 or 4 I run now.