Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

New Macs

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Apple just released updates for the Mac mini and iBook today.

Mac mini

The new mini comes in three stock configurations. The specs are:

Feature Small model Medium model Large model
Price $500 $600 $700
Processor 1.25GHz G4 1.42GHz G4
Disk 40G 80G
Optical drive Combo SuperDrive
AirPort Extreme Optional Standard
BlueTooth Optional Standard
Modem Standard Optional

All models include:

  • 512M RAM (upgradeable to 1G)
  • Radeon 9200 video with 32M
  • DVI or VGA output
  • One FireWire 400 port
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • 10/100 Ethernet

The changes from the previous Mac mini are extremely minor:

  • The bundled memory is larger (up from 256M)
  • BlueTooth and AirPort Extreme are now standard on the 1.42GHz model
  • Modem is now optional on the 1.42GHz model
  • You can now get a SuperDrive without ordering it from Apple's web site

iBook

The new iBook comes in two stock configurations. The specs are:

Feature 12" model 14" model
Price $1000 $1300
Processor 1.33GHz G4 1.42GHz G4
Disk 40G 60G
Optical drive Combo SuperDrive

All models include:

  • 512M memory (expandable to 1.5GB)
  • ATI Mobility Radeon 9550 (32M)
  • AirPort Extreme (WiFi)
  • BlueTooth
  • One FireWire-400 port
  • Two USB 2.0 ports
  • Modem

Compared with the previous generation iBook:

  • The processors are faster (up from 1.25 and 1.33GHz)
  • The default hard drive for the 12" is larger
  • The built-in memory is larger (up from 256M)
  • Improved video (up from Mobility Radeon 9200)
  • BlueTooth is now standard

My comments

The new models look good. The mini is a great deal now - the memory upgrade and bundled wireless (on the two higher-end models) means that the unit is now completely useful without any upgrades.

Unfortunately, it appears that none of today's upgrades include a video card that supports CoreImage, which is a shame. This is the one feature I'd been hoping Apple would release, especially in the iBook.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Register: Microsoft's Earth deletes Apple HQ

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This is amusing. Both Microsoft and Google now have on-line satellite photos integrated with their map services. But apparently, Microsoft's photos are hopelessly out of date.

As noted by The Register's article, the Apple corporate campus doesn't exist on Microsoft's system - it shows an empty field and a warehouse. And it still shows the World Trade Center in Manhattan (corner of Church St. and Vesey St., if you want to take a look)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Reverse copy protection?

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I encountered something weird tonight. I bought a copy of Styx's newest album, Big Bang Theory.

The disc will not play on my good quality CD changer. It does play on my old boom box, and my computers. I was able to rip the disc to my Mac and burn a disc from the files, which does play fine on everything.

Has anyone else encountered this? Should I exchange the disc where I bought it or do you think that would be an act of futility?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Orson Scott Card: Brain Training

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Orson Scott Card discusses the fact that the human brain, like all other organs in the body, needs to be exercised for it to perform at its best. This means being actively engaged in activities that require thought and concentration.

Card starts out discussing possible beneficial aspects of video games and then expands upon this thesis and discusses other kinds of mental exercise, and how they can benefit people with mental handicaps, including those with Alzheimer's disease and ADHD.

Cringely's take on the Apple-Intel deal

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This article is mostly speculation, so it may not amount to very much, but it is logical.

A fun read, even if it turns out he's wrong.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Science News: Night of the Crusher

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This is a fascinating article about a psychological phenomenon known as sleep paralysis.

In this condition, a person partially wakes up from sleep to find himself paralyzed. (Paralysis while asleep is normal and is believed to prevent injuries while asleep.) Because he is not fully awake, however, his recognition of the paralysis often results in hallucinations of being restrained or abducted by a variety of nightmarish things produced by the subconscious.

After reading this article, it seems to me that a lot of superstitious/religious belief in things like demons, evil spirits, alien abductions, astral projection, etc. may be a manifestation of this condition.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Arizona School Will Not Use Textbooks

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A fascinating concept, and I truly hope it works out.

But I don't think it will. Even if we ignore the extra cost and the inevitable issues with the reliability of the laptops, there is still the simple fact that computers are not always more convenient than paper!

When I was in school, cramming before an exam, I often took textbooks to the bathroom with me, or I'd read them in the car (while my father drove me to school), or I'd read them outdoors. Now try doing this with a laptop. In the bathroom? Better not let any water from the sink (or elsewhere) splash onto the computer. In the car? Vibration isn't good for hard drives. Outdoors? Hope the battery doesn't go dead.

And, of course, without an internet connection, the computer will only be as useful as what is stored on the hard drive. Can we be certain that every student will have regular access to a broadband connection, in order to download texts? Can the school afford to pay for DSL lines to those households that can't afford them? Dial-up will be barely adequate, as anybody who has attempted to do research over a dial-up connection can testify.

All this assumes that the hardware will be completely reliable. But will it be? Hard drives fail. Laptops have all sorts of problems. If the computers are Windows based, we'll have to worry about virusses and spyware. And if the student's network connection is wireless, we'll have to contend with student breaking into each others' computers.

I'm waiting for the 21st century equivalents of "my dog ate my homework". Maybe "the e-mail got lost", or "my hard drive glitched", or "my finger slipped and I deleted the file by mistake".

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Game review: Jewel Quest

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A few weeks ago, some family members showed me a PC game called Jewel Quest. This puzzle game can be played on-line for free here or may be purchased here. I bought my copy on CD at a local store for $20 (this appears to be the list price.)

The concept is very simple. There is a grid full of objects. When you click on two adjacent objects, they exchange places. If there are three or more of the same type of object in a row or column, the objects are removed, the objects above fall to fill in the gap, and new objects drop in at the top to fill in the gap.

So far, this is the same as Bejeweled, another very addictive game.

Jewel Quest, however, adds a twist. Whenever pieces are removed, the background underneath them turns gold. When all of the squares have become gold, the level is complete. You score a bonus for time remaining and a new level begins. And the levels are not simple rectangular grids. They come in a wide variety of shapes, making some levels extremely difficult to complete within the time limit.

As the levels progress, additional twists are added. Like "buried treasure" - objects that you have to match multiple times before they are removed. And objects that will penalize you if they are removed directly (but give you a large bonus if you can remove them indirectly). There are 180 different puzzles, so you won't be able to finish the game quickly.

Like many other puzzle games, Jewel Quest may be played full-screen or in a window. So you can choose to either pay attention to what the rest of the computer is doing or choose to get completely absorbed in the game.

The system requirements are very small by today's standards (Windows 98, 32M RAM, Direct X 7), so it should run on anything that is even remotely modern. It installed and ran without any problems on my gaming PC (Athlon 64/3200+, Windows XP, 512M RAM).

The only downside to this game is that nobody has (yet?) ported it to the Macintosh platform. I prefer to play games like this on my Mac so they can share a desktop with the other things I work on. But I recognize the fact that it takes a while for people to port games to the Mac, which is why I have a gaming PC in the first place.

iPod Shuffle RAID

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What do you do if you come into posession of several iPod shuffles? That's right, make a RAID array from them!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

And in the "You gotta be kidding" department:

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A Moscow woman is suing the US and Russian governments to try and stop them from firing a probe into a comet because it will disrupt her mystical forces.