Friday, September 25, 2009

I hate iTunes. Here's why.

I recently upgraded the home PC from an AMD Athlon 1.8GHz box with 512MB of RAM, to an Intel Dual Core E6300 with 2 CPU cores running at 2.8GHz, with 4GB of RAM. I had 64-bit Ubuntu Linux on it in 20 minutes......after upgrading Windows XP to 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium took 3 days of disaster and upset...but it was finally done. Licensing was the core of the problem...and XP having trouble seeing the new 500GB drive and insisting on destroying it on sight....repeatedly.

The main reason for a "linuxluver" like me even having Windows at all is Apple's iTunes....so we can use our various iPods, which we mostly like very much. I have an iPod Touch and I have dearly loved my wee laptop-in-a-pocket from the day I got it....except for iTunes. It's far too restrictive. It's clearly all about what the vendors want....not what the customers want. Anything going on it that you can access from the iPod has to go in via iTunes. You can't just copy a file onto the iPod and use it....or copy it back off again.

iTunes and the business approach behind it (closed, proprietary, deaf.....) is THE reason why I bought an Android-based phone instead of "upgrading" to an iPhone from my iPod Touch.

Anyway, with the new PC, I upgraded to iTunes 9. I had copied the iTunes libraries for each of us from the old system to the new. In terms of responsiveness, iTunes 9 seems better than the previous versions, though they may be because this system is so much faster than the old one was. iTunes 8.2 on the old PC would ignore me for minutes on end while it downloaded a couple of podcasts....or whatever.

On the new iTunes, we were all syncing just fine.....until today.

Today, my daughter had her iPod plugged in. I swapped to my Windows user and I plugged in mine to charge up the battery. I tried to start iTunes, but it refused to go, saying it was being used by another user and I would have to stop it.

Ok, so I got my daughter to come over and switch to her Windows session, stop iTunes and logout of Windows. I then switched back to my session and started iTunes. iTunes behaved as though it had never seen my iPod Touch ever before. When i tried to sync, iTunes warned me it would wipe all the music off my iPod and replace it with music from my library.

I was mainly concerned about the $100+ worth of purchased music, but the songs I had purchased were clearly listed in the iTunes library AND on my iPod list of songs....so I thought, even if it wiped them off my iPod, they would still be in the library and be synced back onto the iPod from the library.

Wrong. iTunes wiped out my purchased songs EVERYWHERE....including in my library. It has to be a bug, but that makes no difference to me.....the result is the same.

OK...so I logged in to the iTunes store and checked my purchase history. The songs are all there with dates and prices of purchase. The store had previously let me re-download my apps when I first began syncing with the new system and it had wiped them all out. So I tried to download the songs again as I had done with the apps.

When I tried to download "One day" by Op Shop, iTunes told me I have already bought it.....do I want to buy it again? Or cancel. Fingers crossed.....I just want to download it again.....they wiped it out and I've already paid for it. But when I downloaded it again, I found they had charged me the $1.79 for the song I had already bought.

This highlights VERY clearly why paying to download music just isn't safe to do. I've lost over $100.....and no way to get it back. Have a look at Apple's "support" page sometime.....No joy there, I can tell you. Lots of FAQs that stay well away from what to do about lost purchases.

Lesson learned. I won't be buying any more music from the iTunes store. I'll be adding mp3 files to my Itunes library from external sources. If they mess it up again, I can just add it again and it won't cost me anything but time.

By comparison, "iMusic" on Android is a joy to use. I'm getting my music there....including the $100 worth of music bought over the last few months that Apple iTunes just destroyed.

On my Android phone I can just copy anything I want to or from whenever and wherever. I even have an FTP server and client on there. Maybe I'll let you download a song from my Android phone over the Internet. Because I can.

iTunes sucks. Death to iTunes and the closed, proprietary mindset that requires us to use this 'defectivebydesign' software.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Android on my PC

Had some fun this evening installing the Android SDK v1.6. Had to install Eclipse 3.5 first and set that up. All went according to the instructions. No problems at all. I wasn't sure what would happen as I'm running it on 64-bit Ubuntu 9.04 linux. It's kind of cool running an Android "phone" on the desktop. I even wrote the wee "Hello World" app they use as a demo to get you started.

The browser app on the phone's desktop can browse the Internet. How cool is that?

The emulator looks like this on my screen:


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gerry Brownlee loses the plot

When Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Energy and Resources) refused to answer a question from Green Party MP, Metiria Turei in Parliament today, he demonstrated that he doesn't really understand his job or why he is there.

His excuse was something like: she didn't accept his answers, so why should he give her any answers? Mr. Brownlee reveals how very personally he sees all of this....and what a petty man he must really be.

This isn't about Gerry and Metiria. It's about explaining his government's policies, decisions and actions to the people of New Zealand. Gerry Brownlee shouldn't give a flying rubber toss what Meteria Turei thinks about his answers. Instead he should be telling the people who pay his salary (we taxpayers and voters) why he is doing what he is doing.....even if he has to do it 10 times a day in response to questions.

This isn't first time Gerry Brownlee has demonstrated he doesn't really understand what his job as an MP is. Examples are many, but this one stuck out in my memory: In December last year he thought it more important to score points on Labour's Michael Cullen than table proposed legislation so that it could be available for consideration and debate. There is a recurrent theme of Mr. Brownlee losing sight of his real job and instead focusing on personal point scoring....as though this was the top priority and best use of his time.

It isn't.....but I doubt Mr. Brownlee will ever really understand that. In any case, he is a poor choice as a Minister and indicative of a lack depth in National's caucus.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A good weekend for MMP

The weekend was a good one for the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) voting system New Zealand has used to elect its Parliament since 1996.

The NZ Herald's senior political columnist, John Armstrong, wrote a strong column in favour of MMP. Armstrong lays his cards firmly on the table:
"...if voters give MMP the boot, they will have chucked away the only means by which they can curb the power of the Executive, if only in a blunt and roundabout fashion. How stupid is that? Yet, opinion polls consistently show FPP will give MMP a serious run for its money."
I doubt the sanity of anyone who seriously claims First Past the Post is better than MMP. MMP gives any voter at least one vote that results in representation in Parliament. FPP leaves roughly half of all voters having elected no one at all. If you didn't vote for the winner in the one electorate you live in, you sure as hell didn't elect anyone from any other place either.

MMP lets you hold an entire party to acccount with your party vote. FPP - at *best* - lets you decide of the future of a single MP with your vote.....assuming the one person you voted for won the day.

Armstrong wasn't alone, though. Also in the NZ Herald, Paul Holmes is staunchly in favour of MMP and canvasses why we adopted it in the first place back in 1993. Holmes concludes his examination with a summary of the good that MMP has done, at the same time batting away many of the key criticisms of MMP opponents:

"MMP requires consultation. It requires many sides to be considered in any policy change. In doing so, it provides the checks and balances FPP did not guarantee. Under FPP, a government could run rampant. If MMP has slowed down some decision-making, that is no bad thing. Things slowing down because of greater and wider representation might have played a part on the restoration of respect for Parliament after the turbulence, anger and frustration of the 1980s and 1990s.
Parliament is a nice show to watch now. It is less poisonous. You can sense greater co-operation for the good of the nation. Let's not waste our time. Let's move on."
Over at the Sunday Star-Times, Finlay Macdonald was hopeful we would see a "smart and sane" debate. His optimism is tempered by recalling the tactics of the people who opposed MMP in the first referendum, some of whom are behind the push for the one to come:
"...Several MMP elections on, we hear about minor party tails wagging majority dogs, anonymous party hierarchies controlling list hacks, and the intrinsic inequities of a two-vote split. Such problems have remedies well short of abandoning the whole system, but just watch the die-hard First Past the Posters exaggerate them into a reason to return to the mythical golden age of political certainty. Those who pine for the good old days of winner-takes-all (and then privatises it) like to deride an earlier select committee review of MMP as largely self-interested in the words of Shirtcliffe, unwilling to "upset what in political terms could be described as a nice little earner". No mention of MMP's many virtues, not least that our parliament actually looks like the community it serves."
There really is no case to return to FPP. Each of the writers above make it clear they think voters dumping MMP would be "turkeys voting for Christmas" (Armstrong), "...well on the way to becoming an idiocracy in our own right" (Macdonald), while Holmes takes the time to explain, in simple terms, why we adopted MMP in the first place and why there is no need to revisit that decision.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More proof of climate change accelerating

If you haven't seen this video of James Balog's talk at TED, then this is a must-see. Make sure you watch the whole thing. The best is kept for last, but won't make much sense if you haven't watched what went before. No cutting corners on this one. Watch the whole thing...at least up to the ads in the last minute or so (21:55 all up).

The present New Zealand government doesn't deserve the votes of any thinking people while they refuse to do anything concrete about climate change. Willful stupidity must be swept aside by the wave of evidence they are wrong.



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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Comparing 3G network speeds: Vodafone vs Telecom XT

Here is how it went down at my house. I'm in the Beach Haven North area of what will soon be the North Shore area of a united Auckland. I have NO IDEA where the nearest cell tower is for these two carriers. They are anonymously strewn up and down the nearby streets.

I used the "Xtremelabs Speedtest" app three times in succession, with a two minute break between each test. I did not restart the app or the phone. The battery had plenty of power. The phone is an HTC Magic running the "as-sold" version of Android. I sat in the same place and held the phone the same way for all tests.

The sample is small and proves nothing about either network, except perhaps 3G speeds are pretty good, though variable. Telecom does seem to be consistently "half-speed" on the upward leg. I saw the same thing last night when I was doing speed tests. That may be a function of distance to the nearest tower. I'm assuming it's easier for the phone to "hear" the tower than it is for the tower to "hear" the phone.

The Vodafone tests were done between 20:11 and 20:18 and the Vodafone results were as follows:

  1. Max down: 1229.0Kbps / Avg down: 1152.1Kbps
    Max up: 273.8Kbps / Avg up: 273.6Kbps

  2. Max down: 806.1Kbps / Avg down: 795.4Kbps
    Max up: 294.8Kbps / Avg up: 255.6Kbps

  3. Max down: 885.7Kbps / Avg down: 804.9Kbps
    Max up: 310.3Kbps / Avg up: 309.2Kbps

Telecom XT network tests were between 20:26 and 20:32. Here are the Telecom XT results.

  1. Max down: 1455.5Kbps / Avg down: 1447.2Kbps
    Max up: 139.2Kbps / Avg up: 156.6Kbps

  2. Max down: 1360.1Kbps / Avg down: 1212.3Kbps
    Max up: 150.7Kbps / Avg up: 142.5Kbps

  3. Max down: 885.4Kbps / Avg down: 580.4Kbps
    Max up: 154.9Kbps / Avg up: 113.6Kbps

Do your own tests....if nothing else, it's fun. :-)

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

HTC Magic and Telecom's XT 3G network


I couldn't restrain my curiosity any longer and bought a Telecom XT pre-pay SIM a couple of days ago, just to see if it would work in my Android-running HTC Magic smart phone.

The first attempt worked fine for the phone but there was no data. My bad. I didn't know about APNs at that point. On my old phone, they weren't called that and it came preconfigured, so I had provisionally assumed the SIM might know what it was supposed to use for data. But a valid presumption.

Last night I was reading the XDA-developer wiki instructions for hacking / getting root access to my phone, with a view to trying some of the alternate builds that are out there (Cyanogen, RA-ION, etc..) ...and it talked about setting the APNs so you can use the Internet.

"D'oh!" I heard myself say. To myself. About myself.

Tonight I googled the Telecom XT APNs, set them up on the Telecom XT SIM...and away I went. I'd used 7MB before I really even knew what was going on. Yay! Well.....sorta Yay....cause then I had to top up the SIM of the number would be dead. I'd eaten the starter credit.

I did do a speed test. The peak was 1.2Mbps down (700-ish average) and 130kbps up. Not bad. That's probably what ate my mini data quota. I dialled *333 and threw $20, plus added a cheap txt plan and a cheap ($6 / each 20MB) data plan. Just in case. My Plan B.