MaCinJay’s Musings

another case of inverse vandalism

Five points clear: Arsenal 2 – Blackburn Rovers 0

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Up to now the current English Premier League season has been a real nail-biter. But after both Manchester Utd and Chelsea dropped points over the weekend Arsenal had a chance to go five points clear by beating Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates Stadium on Monday evening. (United’s home defeat against local rivals City was certainly an unexpected boost; they had not lost to City at Old Trafford since 1974!)

Arsenal had the perfect start, going 1-0 up from a corner kick after Phillippe Senderos cut loose from his marker (the hapless Benni McCarthy, who looks a shadow of the player from last season) and scored with a rocket of a header. For a while after that it looked like Arsenal might go on to repeat the demolition of Rovers from last season, when they won 6-2. But while some of Arsenal’s passing movements were a joy to behold the final ball often let them down and too much possession was conceded, allowing Rovers to get a toehold in the game. Even so the deficit would have been a lot higher if it wasn’t for Brad Friedel, who made a series of crucial saves. Alexander Hleb – easily the best player on the night – also hit Friedel’s right post with a low shot in the second half. He had the last laugh though after setting up Adebayor in the dying seconds of the match for yet another goal in his incredible scoring streak that now stretches to nine games.

While the season is far from over the five-point cushion will provide a nice psychological boost for Arsenal before the FA Cup tie against Utd, who will surely be harbouring a few self-doubts now after the defeat against City.

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Mailplane brings Gmail to the Mac desktop

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As far as email clients go Gmail has a number of strong points. First, it provides an incredible amount of free online storage capacity (almost six-and-a-half gigabytes), a big plus for people with smaller hard drives who prefer to keep their old email. Second, you can access your mail on any computer with a web browser. Third, it comes with Google’s excellent search engine built in and, last (but certainly not least these days), it has very effective spam-filtering.

It also has a few weak points of course:

  • It’s web-based, which is a show-stopper if you need to access your emails offline. There’s no desktop integration – for example you can’t create attachments by dragging files into a new message from the Finder.
  • Many are put off by the idea of having all their email archived on remote servers although, arguably, this is just as vulnerable residing on their own computers.
  • Users have to put up with advertisements, though to be fair these are very discreet.
  • The minimalist user interface may not be your cup of tea.

Which brings me to Mailplane, an application designed to address some of these weaknesses by integrating Gmail with the Mac desktop. This application sandboxes Gmail to approximate a traditional desktop email client (the email itself remains in cyberspace), which I think is a nice touch.

gmail.jpg

The toolbar is certainly useful; it saves fiddling about with some of the less-than-intuitive elements of Gmail’s user interface. Most of the toolbar buttons serve as alternatives for those already found in Gmail – “Discard” for “Delete” for instance. However some of these activate features not available in Gmail itself. For example you can easily access photos, audio and movie files by clicking on the iMedia button, then drag and drop them onto the Mailplane window to attach them to new messages. Other nice touches are the Mailplane shortcut in the OS X menu bar and Growl support.

The question is though, is Mailplane worth the $25 dollar price tag? It is after all possible to configure Gmail accounts in Mail, Apple’s free email solution, and enjoy the advantages of a desktop client for nothing. It will really depend on your own preferences. If you want to leave your email on Google’s capacious server farms and like Gmail’s features, but enjoy having it integrated with your desktop, then Mailplane is well worth considering

Written by macinjay

February 12, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Apple Mac

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Updates to iPhone, iPod touch

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On the eve of the Macworld Expo I speculated that Steve Jobs might announce a 3G iPhone during his keynote but it was not to be. However today Apple announced that it would be releasing a 16 GB version of the iPhone, as well as a 32 GB iPod touch. Both will cost $499. I’m sure that this will please consumers with large media libraries or those that prefer lossless playback.

Existing owners of these devices will be looking forward to the SDK, which is due for release this month. It’s going to be really interesting what third-party developers will come up with, especially considering the incredible variety of iPhone applications that have been developed without Apple’s support.

Written by macinjay

February 5, 2008 at 7:57 pm

iPod touch update

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Following Steve Jobs’s keynote at last week’s Macworld Expo I made the observation that international iPod touch owners (or at least those without iTunes Stores in their countries) had been left high and dry because they were unable to buy the upgrade that he announced. In fact though there is a workaround, albeit a convoluted one.

A while back I tried to open an iTunes account but was stymied because I didn’t have a US credit card or address. After that I read somewhere that you could also make purchases from the iTunes Stores using iTunes vouchers but never bothered to look into it further. My interest was rekindled after Jobs’s keynote – I wanted that upgrade.

I learned that iTunes vouchers were available for purchase on eBay and bought a $25 voucher with a $4 markup using PayPal. All that remained was to find a suitable address in the US so that I could redeem the voucher under “Quick Links” in the iTunes Store.

Once all that had been done I was able to buy the upgrade. Even better, I’ve bought a few songs and downloaded the pilot to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for free!

I still have to question Apple’s wisdom here though. While it may be convenient for the company to leverage off the iTunes Store to sell these type of upgrades, it doesn’t make much sense from a distribution standpoint. In countries like South Africa distribution rights for music content are jealousy protected, which is presumably why there is no iTunes Store here yet. But Apple is free to sell its software anywhere in the world, so why restrict sales unnecessarily and leave people to resort to complicated workarounds?

Surely Apple should have come up with a more appropriate platform.

Written by macinjay

January 24, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Mac OS X: Calculator replacement

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One of the most useful tools in OS X is the Calculator. To be honest though it is a bit limited. For instance, it doesn’t have a percentage function.

Enter R.L.M. Software, which has created several emulations of HP’s well-loved financial and scientific calculators for the Mac. I downloaded the simulator of my own HP calculator, the 10BII. This has all the functions of the real thing, plus a lot of other useful features like voice feedback, register and paper tape views. Not bad for $11.

Written by macinjay

January 23, 2008 at 10:06 pm

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Macworld Expo Keynote

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I concluded my last post by predicting that Steve Jobs would have a few surprises in store for us. For the first time since I’ve been following the Macworld Expo though I can honestly say that I wasn’t actually surprised by anything revealed in his keynote!

There was no new iPhone announced. Jobs compensated by talking about the new features and enhancements included in its latest firmware update. Not exactly earth-shattering though by Apple’s standards, especially considering that these had been leaked to the rumour sites weeks ago. The update will also be available to iPod touch owners but they will have to pay $20 for what their iPhone-owning counterparts get for nothing – go figure. Also the upgrade is only available via the iTunes Store, which leaves a lot of Apple’s international clients, including me, out in the cold.

The rumour sites were also spot on about Apple’s new ultra-portable, even getting the name right – the MacBook Air! Thin enough to make your average supermodel green with envy, it’s a small engineering marvel that Jobs was able to fit into a manila envelope. Very nice, only it doesn’t have an optical drive and sports slower processors than the less-expensive MacBooks. By leaving out the optical drive Apple seems to be prematurely consigning another technology to the scrapheap, like they did with the floppy drive and dial-up modems. From a connectivity standpoint the Air is limited to USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It isn’t all about aesthetics; the Air shares the iPhone’s Multi-touch technology for zooming images and rapid scrolling using its generous touchpad and there is a flash-based version that should improve boot-up times. But I have to wonder if the Air is going to find a market considering all the design compromises that had to be made so that Apple could market it as the “world’s thinnest laptop”. Time will tell but I’m certainly not regretting buying my MacBook Pro now.

Jobs also announced a wireless storage and networking solution to work hand-in-hand with Leopard’s back-up utility Time Machine called, aptly, Time Capsule. I may actually consider buying one of these for back-ups and to provide a wireless connection to my printer, as plugging and unplugging cables into my MacBook Pro everytime I need to move it has become a chore. Still, not really a headline-grabber.

As predicted, Jobs revealed that movie rentals were coming to iTunes. He also detailed related changes to the Apple TV, which will allow users to view, rent or buy media directly from the device instead of having to synch it with their computers first. The upgrade will also enable high-definition content. No doubt this will address criticisms of the original product. (The improvements will be available to existing Apple TV owners as a firmware update.)

That was the meat of it; of course there was the usual padding about how many billion songs had been downloaded from iTunes and all the rest. But this is not what keeps Mac fans glued to their computer screens for updates from the Expo blogs. Sadly I fear this year’s Expo will leave many of them disappointed.

Written by macinjay

January 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

Steve Jobs, The Magician

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I believe it was Arthur C. Clarke who said that any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Enter Steve Jobs, stage left, at today’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco. For Mac fanatics this is the most eagerly-awaited date in the calendar; during his keynote Jobs will reveal the latest products conjured from Apple’s workshops.

Last year it was the iPhone, which will certainly be a hard act to follow. However I know that many purists were disappointed by the dearth of new Mac products then. In their eyes the iPhone is little more than a gadget; they hunger for upgrades and new additions to Apple’s range of Mac computers. Rumour is that Jobs will unveil a flash-based ultra-portable laptop but there is no way to be sure given Apple’s legendary secrecy. On the other hand the iPhone may once again steal the thunder if Jobs unveils a 3G version.

One product that won’t be featured is the Mac Pro; a new eight-core configuration was introduced last week, presumably to clear the way for the more consumer-oriented products that traditionally debut at Macworld. Similarly Apple’s iPod range also received a recent refresh so new models or upgrades are unlikely. However if the rumours are to be believed Jobs will announce that Apple’s customers will be able to rent movies from its iTunes Store some time in the future.

Further speculation is really futile though; to my knowledge these are the only rumours with any real sound basis to them. One thing is for certain – Jobs will be pulling more than one surprise out of his hat. Roll on the keynote!

Written by macinjay

January 15, 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in General