In my first post I covered how to get your Logitech Harmony remote to work via a standard Mac IR port and map the buttons accordingly. In this post I show how to take those steps and use them to seamlessly let you control 2 programs from the couch.
If you’re setting up something similar you might be interested in the follow steps as it took me weeks of reading and joining the dots across many forum and blog posts.

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Retiring my XBOX1 and XBMC setup was inevitable. It had long since shown its 733mhz CPU was able to output HD but just didn’t have the muscle to actually decode anything over SD resolution.
So when Apple announced the new Unibody Mac Mini just days before my birthday I saw it as a perfect own-gift.
The Core2Duo CPU was more than adequate to decode all codecs and resolutions and its new super thin and sexy casing was just the sugar on top. As far as I can tell its the best HTPC chassis out there – if only it had BluRay (stay tuned).
The Mini could finally give me a media centre, Freeview PVR and a rock solid *nix based NAS with the ability to run various background servers (UPnP, AirVideo, iTunes etc).

Unfortunately controlling all this from the couch was always going to require some work. OS-X’s default HTPC app, Frontrow, is extremely basic to say the least.
Thankfully there are two great applications that do almost everything, the XBMC fork, Plex and Elgatos EyeTV. Both have support for the standard Apple remote, but with only 6 buttons a lot of things were inaccessible or required weird combos to get to.

As I already owned the fantastic Logitech Harmony 725 remote I was pretty keen to get it working on my new HTPC but unfortunately Apples infrared remote implementation is very limited and only supports Apple remote controls few commands via 6 buttons.

The following steps are from my fair share of reading blogs, wikis and forums on this subject and what I’ve finally managed to figure out to get this working as I want.

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Some of you may have seen the post on my experiences switching from Orcon to Vodafone.

Vodamoan - Over It.A brief summary – A couple of months ago I switched from Orcon to Vodafone to save money. It should have been a simple process, yet Vodafone managed to screw up almost every part. First was a week with no ADSL, then it went from working, then slow, then not at all. A quick blog post later and find myself ‘escalated’ and receiving daily telephone updates. I did feel there was finally a person genuinely making sure things were being actioned. These calls were always pleasant and generally ending with a big apology from the other end.
Of course I still had to wait over 4 weeks to finally have my line setup as I originally signed up for – or so I thought.

Last week, my mother started claiming that she tried to call me at home but could get through – I just accused her of being crazy and proved her wrong by calling the line via my mobile while I skyped her – no problem.

Now fast forward¬† to last week, I get a call from my flatmate –
“Is there any reason the home phone would be disconnected?” he asked.
Nope. Bill was good. Conveniently I was at my parents at the time so I tried the line. Weird tones.
We did indeed have no incoming line as my mother thought but also no outgoing either. Super.
By the time I got back our ADSL connection started constantly going up and down. Sometimes it would stay up for hours but more often it would just reconnected every 15mins or so.

A quick call to Vodafone Monday morning and thanks to it being a fault in the landline along with the ADSL, I wasn’t forced to jump through the usual morons check list.
Fault Lodged.
Chorus would be in touch within 24hrs – and Indeed they were.
By 4pm Chorus had been in touch, the man asked a few questions and then said he’d call me right back, which he did.
“It seems theres no problem with your line. The problem is caused by something wrong at Vodafones end. Although calls from their network will go through, people calling from Telecoms network can’t connect properly. Your line has some porting issues.”

I have now leant that from the day Vodafone started supplying my phone services chances are no one with a Telecom based service, and I suspect any provider using their wholesale network, have never been able to call my land line.

It makes it all the more annoying that when Chorus were proactive and called me back, Vodafone couldn’t muster up a similar level of customer service. The Chorus person worked on it on the Monday – yet by Friday I still hadn’t heard anything back from Vodafone.
This was last night – as usual they stuck me on hold for 5 minutes and came back claiming they would need to re-lodge the fault again.
“Why?” I ask “It hasn’t been fixed the first time.”
For some reason my last fault, although and being actioned, went nowhere.

This whole process makes me wonder once again if there is some big issues with the processes inside Vodafone. I understand they are a big corporation and you will always get anomalies and get weird customer setups but I’ve found that almost every step of this switch looks to have been done incorrectly or done in a half arsed or short-cut way.

I find it quite impressive that a telecommunications company don’t use it’s own services and actively call someone back. It’s quite infuriating to have the Chorus guy call me back and then pass it to Vodafone to fix but then never have them call me. Why is there not a process to instigate a callback to tell the client what’s going on? It doesn’t have to be the specific person techie but at least someone from customer support.

UPDATE (Saturday 17)
I just received the following txt from Vodafone – apparently there’s nothing wrong.
Yet my ADSL connection just reset, only minutes after I received the txt.
Of course this is Vodafone we’re talking about¬† – I’ll have to call them.

UPDATE 2 (Monday 19)
Heres a few screen caps of my modems ADSL connection speeds for random points over the weekend and this morning….. No fault was found…… crap.

UPDATE 3 (Monday 19)
So I just called the help line to find out where we were at and am told that ‘Only July 16 a technician looked into it and there is no fault.” Strange that I only was sent the txt on the 17th. Why didn’t they txt straight away? Did they even check?
The next logical step for Vodafones phone person was to just start the hoop jumping game fresh – “Can I ask you to disconnect any phones in the house….”
I’m over it. I finished that call and then call straight back.
“Put me through to Escalations.”

UPDATE 4 (Monday 19)
Conveniently the out of country call centre just couldn’t handle my request to be connected with escalations and instead put me through to the person who looked at my fault – against the guidelines.
The funny thing was it was exactly the person I needed to talk to, and a after a civil and actually productive conversation he saw that although things looked fine – there was a much bigger problem. 140 disconnects in a 24 hour period is apparently not normal…. no shit. He did everything he could and has organised another Chorus tech (again) to come look at the line today (Tuesday)

It’s so incredibly frustrating that the internet has been broken for 2 weeks, the landline for 2+ months and that I’ve had to lodge 3+ faults until I finally talk to someone who can actually fix it.

With Seagate announced their new ‘Hybrid’ 500gb 2.5inch Drives they claimed it could offer SSD speeds but with only a small premium on top of a normal magnetic hard drive. The drives use inline 4GB flash memory and use what Seagate calls Adaptive Memory. The firmware automatically relocates frequently accessed data and stores it on the flash memory while keeping most stuff on the the drive.
Their marketing pitches substantial improvements to most general usage situations.

I was certainly intrigued. I have wanted a solid state drive for some time but its so hard to justify the cost of a decent model and the bite in storage space does make them a far off dream.
What I find interesting with this technology is that Seagate may have now found a middle ground that could become the bridging technology we all use before SSDs reach a price per gb we can accept.

Suffice to say I splashed out and ordered a couple of XT’s for the 2 MacBook Pros in our office and although I’ve only had one of them installed for mere minutes I thought people might be interested in a benchmark.

I ran AJA’s free drive speed test program on my original 320GB Seagate 7200.3 and then 500gb XT immediately after the first boot. To be clear – I have about 250gb of data on both drives which works out to be 78% of the 320gb 7200.3 and only 50% of the 500gb XT. This alone should make some speed differences.

Seagate XT Hybrid HDD vs 7200.3 HDD

I will update this with a few more impressions once I’ve given it a good going through.

The drives are available in NZ now, I got mine via Aquilatech for $232 inc GST.

Youtube is hard to avoid. Since its inception (and subsequent absorption Google) it’s very much become the default online video site. Even with competitors that offer a much better experience it seems to be nigh impossible to to get any sort of traction against Youtubes dominance.

I’ve edited and published more than my fair share of video to both Youtube and it’s next biggest rival – Vimeo. There have been some good features added to Youtube, something like automatic closed captioning is one, but in my mind most of the new features Google add seem to be more focused at monetizing Youtube and keeping it out of legal troubles and rarely improve it for us – the users. Of course anyone who has used Vimeo knows it offers a more complete experience and more tailored to the end user be them uploader or viewer.

But even with posting a clip on Vimeo its pretty much impossible not to have to stick the same one on youtube to guarantee complete exposure.

And to that end (and the motivation for this post) why does Youtube still not offer the ability to replace a clip without deleting the old one and reposting it fresh. If you do ‘reupload’ its considered a whole new clip – which of course resets views, deletes comments and forces a new link to be made – and making for a huge pain in the ass if you spot an issue in the clip after posting it.

There are of course other issues, such as Youtubes constant desire to re-compress even perfectly encoded MP4 files and the time limit of 10 mins for any single clip but that can wait until I get annoyed by them (again) in the future.

I suppose in some ways it confirms what I think most monopolies general rule – “If it’s broke, and the users still come, then why fix anything. We win either way.”

Foolishly in an attempt to save some money, I decided to switch from my perfectly good iSP (Orcon) to the slightly cheaper one, Vodafone. Big Mistake. Below is a quick run through the month and a half long process of switching to Vodafone – so far.

This is the second time in 12 months I’ve signed up to a service at Vodafone and the second time the processes the company uses have had major failings and caused me to waste hours of my own time, just trying to get the services I signed up for.

For some background – my partner does a 2nd job hosting a couple of TV shows and relies on the internet in the evenings to do the necessary research. Having no internet is a big issue any time but on top of this we had a couple of friends visiting before permanently moving to Austria – both needed internet access to sort the last bits and pieces before flying out.

—-

The signup actually felt pretty good, a quick online form and the process was started. Within hours later I received an automated email saying that my account number was wrong but not to worry, all I needed to do was reply with the correct information. Done.

Then 3 weeks of nothing. No install date. No call back to say there’s a problem.

I call Vodafone.
Why is my internet not switched to them yet?
“Sorry sir, it would seem someone had set the account number with Orcon as my home phone number.”
Fixed. Over the next week a flurry of automated emails welcomed me to the wonders of Vodafone. My switch date was set. No services would be disrupted.

Then on the day of switching, a Friday and in the late morning, the phone rang a couple of times and stopped. My inner nerd told me it was them probably switch the lines in the cabinet. Great, just as I had been told.

Then the internet went off. No DSL link my modem reported. I gave it an hour or so and then called Vodafone to see how long it would take before we’d be back online.
“Yes we have indeed taken over your phone line, but your internet won’t switch til next week. It will still be on and if you are having any issues call Orcon as they are still your provider.”
Are you sure I asked.
“Absolutely”
I commented I hope like hell Vodafone hadn’t just cut my internet for a week as there had been zero warning that might happen.
“No Sir, please call Orcon for help.”

The call with Orcon took another 40mins as I was forced to run through the dreaded idiot proof checklist before a fault could be lodged.
“I’ve lodged the fault sir, our provisioning team will look into it in the next 24-72 hours.”
Keep in mind this is Friday afternoon – so that meant Monday. No Internet all weekend.

Monday comes and you know what – Orcon called me back (take note here Vodafone).
“Unfortunately sir we don’t have control of that line any more, Vodafone does.”
Just as I thought when I first called Vodafone on Friday but was promised the opposite.

Back on the line to Vodafone I was told there was an unexplained hold on the install. They lifted the hold but said that I was now on the list and the internet would be on ‘soon’.
I had thought this was meant to be a seamless process and to all happen almost instantly –
“I usually does sir”
Another 2 days without the internet.

Wednesday finally came and our DSL was activated and the internet back. Problems solved – now the easy bit for Vodafone – sit back and profit from my passive income that is my monthly bill.

The next day I did receive a random email saying my cap had been blown but as I signed up for 40gb of data I assumed it was just a hiccup in the system. Our internet was working normally and I was well and truly over Vodafones hold music.

Of course, I should have known better – just after 9pm Friday night comes and midway through some tragic MTV reality show – the internet stops. What better way to spend ones Friday night than a 40 minute tech support call.
So it seemed my account had two issues – the plan was set to the EasyPack plan (1GB, Full down, 128k up) but far more importantly – it had been canceled.
“Why?”
“I don’t know, there seems to be two accounts, I’ll stop the current cancellation and get that account working again”
I asked that if I had blown the 1gb cap in their system, will I get a 64k speed limited internet when the account works again?
“No Sir, it should all be running at normal speed, you will need to call back tomorrow (Saturday) though and talk to sales to get you moved back to the unlimited upload speed though.”
After the phone call and a modem restart, the internet was not running at normal speeds and clearly the limit was still in place but by now it was late and I was well over Vodafone.

Saturday morning and another call to Vodafone (also funnily enough just as I get a physical letter confirming apparently I had requested cancelling my account).
“I’m very sorry about this sir, it would seem you have been put on the EasyPack plan, and you clearly signed up for the ‘Ultimate Pack’ – unfortunately I can’t physically change the plan here as provisioning need to make a change.”
“I will upgrade you to the ideal pack (5gb, Unlimited down, 128k up) and add another 5gb so you can use your internet without issues until I can sort it out on Monday morning.”
“I will call you back on Monday once we’ve sorted it out.”

Suffice to say its now Wednesday, I’ve blown my temporary 10gb cap and am yet to hear back from Vodafone.

UPDATE
Well posting experiences on bad service does seem to get things fixed. And Vodafone eventually made everything right although it still took 3 weeks of atrocious service and support. And now, a few months on from my experience our service has worked flawlessly since – it’s a shame the signup and setup process at Vodafone is so terrible.

HP  Slate

Having managed to survive the apocalyptic release of the ‘magical’ iPad, there have been a few other tablet related products coming into the fray I’ve been thinking about. One being the HP Slate and the other the JooJoo. I think both are both good to see launching but both are lesser tablets than Apples first release.

First the JooJoo, which if you’re not familiar, is a 16×9 720P Tablet appliance with basically a netbooks internals – 1.6 Atom, ION Chipset, 1gb Ram, 4gb SSD, running a custom Linux install. It looks good in build the department but from the very get go it did seem to be like vapourware was written all over it. Low and behold though – 90 Pre-orders shipped to their unsuspecting buyers.

Early reviews don’t rate it too favourably, the hardware is all theree but the software is buggy and proving to be a major let down. Also it’s 16×9 screen offer netback grade screen quality despite just screaming widescreen video.
A big problem is the JooJoo is basically only a portable web browser unit – no file support, no media playback, no email – basically theres short cuts for websites on your front page and thats it. It supports flash (badly) and if you do play a flash video – expect your battery life to be halved.
Add to that the fact with a 16×9 aspect ratio websites actually look worse – large white edges on sites in landscape and the sides of sites cut off in portrait. Keep in mind this is a device designed only to view websites, you have to wonder why they didn’t plan the screen shape accordingly.

I will give it to them that this is a first release product and for a brand new company getting to even this point is quite the accomplishment. I do think this will fail to be be an option in 6 months time when theres another 20 netback internal’ed tablets on the market – of which we’re starting too see with the HP Slate.

Shown off in January at CES by non other than Steve Balmer, only a week before Apple announced the iPad, it reeked of ‘quick, announce it before Apple gets ALL the press and makes everyone forget there are other companies thinking similar things’ (which for the record is exactly what happened). Of course the announcement came with no information other than coming soon.
Well, as of yesterday, we have some specs and a price.
My first thought are this – why is it taking so long to get to market – its basically the same as HP’s current Mini line of Netbooks – minus keyboard and the addition of multitouch. I imagine it might be the software, which is said to be developed from the HP Touch-smart desktop machines.

2010 Tablet Screen Resolution comparisonThere are two issues I think the Slate and alll similar tablets will have – screen resolution and OS.

On the right is a little image I made up showing the three tablets I’m talking abouts screen resolutions in respect to the nytimes site – click on the pic for a 1:1 pixel version. With a native resolution of 1024×600 it still has the same issues of every other netback on the market – hiding as much as possible so to fit as much content on the screen – and generally failing. Either viewed vertically or horizontally, sites just won’t have enough room to display their content and in the end will mean users will be scroll every page you view no matter the amount of content.

The resolution also limits other applications being used bad as you’re running a desktop operating system, you’ll be running desktop applications which from my experiences will have been designed to run on higher res screens. A good example would be MS Office – half your screen real-estate will be taken up by the ‘Ribbon’ where as the Pages for the iPad is a complete original interface. Don’t think for a second Microsoft are going to re-engineer Word for a notebooks screen? Office was already one of the main reasons Microsofts previous tablet attempts came off so half assed.
Another example is IE’s horribly large Address, links and tool bars, I’ve jumped on numerous computer newbies IE installs to find HALF of their IE window to have Google, Yahoo, Digg bars – despite the user never using any of them, This is will of course lead to more scrolling and people just wishing they had more pixels.

The Slate will be the Tablet of scrolling – everything you do on it will need more scrolling down or scrolling to the side.

HTC HD2 - Windows Mobile skinning at its  bestThis issue comes from basing a portable product on the foundations of a desktop OS – whereas Apple has upscaled a portable, albeit more simple, OS, the Slate (and all other Win7 based tablets) will be forcing something much bigger on to a smaller screen.

It’s not like HP has much choice, they are one of Microsofts big customers (if not the biggest), and MS just can’t offer a reasonable mobile alternative – Windows mobile 6.5 is on its way out to pasture and Windows Mobile Phone 7 Series is not yet available for mobile devices – let alone other device concepts. A funny/depressing way to look at this whole thing is how Microsoft’s slowness on creating a major mobile platform is that they’re going to be following in the step of history – namely Windows Mobile and OEMs, such as HTC, having to do the actually end UI themselves.
I wonder how long will it take after starting to use a Slate until you’re thrown a dialogue box that will be just asking for a mouse interaction or for a complex keyboard shortcut – welcome back to desktop computing hell.

Apple may seem, and in ways are, offering an upsized iPhone or touch but I think its one of the iPads best features. The iPhoneOS will have only ever been designed to be held in your hand and it only expects a user interface via fingers.

Now – what will the iPhone OS 4.0 release entail? It should be interesting.

Those of you who read my blogs may have seen I’m a big advocate of Apple refurbs as a good way of getting a cheap Mac.
I check the refurb page of the Apple NZ Store most weeks, always looking for a good deal for myself or for others who are trying to get an Apple as cheaply as they can. I would love to see some other Apple products turn up – check the US Refurb page – almost every product is available with a solid discount.

Now for the randomness. Today I spotted this – a refurbished MacPro for only $6199, which is only $400 above list price of $5799. I’m not sure how this price is worked out, you have to wonder sometimes……

Apple Refurb Page
Apple MacPro Refurb pricing weirdness

Apple Store Page
Apple MacPro Refurb pricing weirdness

UPDATE And then the listing magically disappears after only a few hours.

UPDATE2 Spotted this one – the best deal ever? I think not.

iPad

So after following the live blogs and now reading the tech specs I thought I’d add my thoughts on this new gadget. A few things I’ve spotted on the Apple site not mentioned in the keynote –

Screen Res is 1024×768, 132ppi (the iphone is 163ppi). Reasonable but not stellar – I would have preferred a 16:9 1280×720 panel myself but I can imagine the raw LCD costs would have made it that much more expensive. Its good so see a good screen in it though – IPS & LED Backlighting should make this look amazing in person.

VGA connector coming soon. Supports 1024×768 – making Keynote actually usable. I imagine it will work like the current iphone TVout cables – click on a video (or now a keynote presentation) and you’ll see controls on the unit and the presentation/video will come out the cable – with no OSD. No HD output (just progressive scan SD or XGA).

1GHz Apple A4 Chip
. So it would seem Apple has indeed made use of them buying PA Semi a few years back. Its an ARM based processor just like the iPhone. It’s a “system on chip” – so this one chip does it all the work. This is apparently very similar to a Tegra & Snapdragon chips – can you say ZuneHD and Nexus One.

802.11n. Good.

ePub support.
Along with PDF support we already have on the current iPhone OS this should mean we can convert text, website to a format that we can then use. I think Kindle is the only eBook reader that doesn’t support it. Go standards.

A-GPS on 3G model. The biggest Sat Nav ever?

No Phone option, new SIM standard, Data only
. I know you wouldn’t hold this to your face but a secondary speaker phone using its 3G capabilities maybe?

No Flash – Gruber @ daringfireball sums it all up well here. I don’t think we’ll ever see it on either the iPhone or iPad.

No Camera – So that means voice only skype. I think this could have become the killer app and at a low component cost – but hell they need to have something to add to the iPad 2G.

iPadNo built in USB host port, or SD card port.
Apple have announced the iPad Camera Connectivity Kit though and it does give you both of these. I had hoped the iPad would remove the need to have another computer completely making it that much closer to a netbook than an iphone. The good news is though if this puppy get jailbroken (jailbreaked?) the USB port could allow for some very interesting mods and unplanned uses.

Market – When I watched the demo video, of all the people I could think of it was my mum who I think is the most likely to get one sooner than later. My parents have been making noises about a second laptop for a while now – dad was well over having to share his computer.
My mother has never been a savy computer user and has never had to learn how to use any more than the basics of a standard OS. More and more though she wants to do the basics the iPad offers – look at pics, surf the net, email people and generally stalk her children via Facebook. I think the learning curve on the iPad is about as much tech as she can handle.

Pricing seems reasonable I’m sure someone will say “I can buy a netbook for $600” but at what I assume will be $NZ799 for the low end model, its close to the same price of a similarly spec’d netbook but with a better OS (for portable internet use), screen type and case/body.

Will I get one? Maybe. My iPhone 3GS is awesome, and I’m surprised I surf the net on it nearly as much as I do on my laptop. When I replace my laptop in the next year or so – will I get an iPad and a more powerful desktop machine? It’s something I’ve been thinking about well before the hype of this started.

No other announcments. No i5/i7 MacBookPro’s, no 12 Core MacPro’s, no new iLife. All iPad. I imagine there will be some spec bumps in the next week or so though.

One things for sure, I’m sure we’ll all pick one up and go – I want.

On another note – the iPad comes in ladies preferred options.