nmg: (Default)

Soon after the [livejournal.com profile] garklet was born, a little over three years ago, [livejournal.com profile] ias sent me out with a shopping list, as follows:

  • Lansinoh
  • Cotton wool

I decided to get these from the big John Lewis in town, on the ostensible grounds that it was marginally closer to the car park than Boots. This also meant that I could browse the AV department. One thing lead to another, and I ended up leaving with the following items:

  • Lansinoh
  • Cotton wool
  • A Humax 9200-T PVR

Apart from making a shopping basket that clearly shouts "new dad" (nipple cream + superfluous technology), the PVR has been a godsend, not least because we've been able to pause live TV when putting the [livejournal.com profile] garklet to bed. The [livejournal.com profile] garklet clearly now assumes that a) you can pause live TV, b) you can rewind live TV, and c) you can watch Chuggington at any time. When he's older, he'll probably disbelieve me when I tell about the days when there were only three channels. Maybe I should hang on to my nan's old channel-preset-less black and white portable?

Unfortunately, it's been starting to look a little tired. We'd missed the over-the-air updates to the PVR's software, so we don't have any nifty features like series link. It's also a royal pain to get data off the PVR; you can plug in a USB cable, but it perversely refuses to mount as a mass storage device, and the necessary client software is Windows-only, and both sluggish and error-prone. Most seriously, it has started to crash every couple of days, so there's no guarantee that recordings will actually happen.

I'd been eyeing up its successor, the 9300-T, on the grounds that a) it had an HDMI output (no more fuzzy SCART on the 1080p flatscreen) and b) it had a larger disc. [livejournal.com profile] ias expressed a few reservations, so I'd also looked at other devices (the Topfield PVR, for example).

[livejournal.com profile] julesfm pointed out that there was a third route, namely a tuner in a desktop computer. After playing with his EyeTV for a bit, I took the plunge with an EyeTV Diversity on a Mac Mini Server (lovely machine - 2.56GHz dual core with 2x500Gb discs and 4Gb RAM). This also has given us a DVD playing solution - something we've been missing since a Certain Toddler lost the remote for our DVD player.

So far, our experience has been pretty good (pattern-matching recording schedules are ace), but there have been a couple of hiccoughs which are probably worth documenting:

  • EyeTV Remote. While EyeTV 3 has a reasonable ten foot interface, it seems a bit overkill to rely on a wireless keyboard and mouse to change channels on the TV. EyeTV comes with a fairly ugly but serviceable remote. What they don't make clear is that this doesn't speak to the Mac Mini, but to the IR receiver on the EyeTV tuner itself. Which is plugged into a USB port on the back of the Mac Mini. While I could stick it on a USB cable and have it draped over the front of the Mac Mini (Jules recommended cable ties), this offended my aesthetic sense.
  • Apple Remote on Snow Leopard. In theory, you can also control EyeTV 3 using the standard Apple Remote (and who doesn't have three or four of these kicking about?) Unfortunately, Apple managed to break the Apple Remote for third party applications under Snow Leopard. There are a couple of workarounds, most notably those produced by IOSpirit: RemoteBuddy and Candelair. I've been using the former, having first tried the latter. Both worked well, but I was persuaded by the extra functionality of RemoteBuddy (namely the iPhone AJAX interface).
  • No MHEG-5 support. This is a bit of a pain. MHEG-5 probably means nothing to most of you, but you've probably all come across the 'red button' services on Freeview; MHEG-5 is the data format that drives these services. Unfortunately, Elgato (the manufacturers of EyeTV) regard this as a legacy format, and have shown little interest in supporting it.
  • No audio over HDMI. Again, this is a bit of a pain. The Mac Mini has both Mini-DVI and Apple Mini Display Port sockets, and you can get dongles for both to convert them to HDMI. Unfortunately, these only convert the picture, and not the sound. We've currently got the Mac Mini hooked up to the hifi on the grounds that I didn't want to run yet another cable to the TV (the Mini has digital optical out, so I could have plugged that directly into the TV had I the right cable, but still - two cables). The Apple Store in town were pretty useless, but I did find that Kanex are selling MDP to HDMI adapters with audio. They're out of stock on the digital optical adapter, but I've ordered the USB audio adapter and should hopefully find out how well it works before Christmas.

All in all, it seems pretty solid, but the hammering it'll get over Christmas will be the real test.

nmg: (happy mac)

These days, I use a Mac for all of my day-to-day computing, but I've never really got to grips with Mail.app, preferring to use Thunderbird instead. I also use GMail in a limited capacity for non-work mail, and I've been starting to look at the OS X Address Book (which ties in nicely with a whole bunch of things). Unfortunately, Thunderbird, Address Book and GMail all use different standards for importing and exporting contact information:

Address Book
Exports: vCard, Address Book Archive (package containing an sqlite database)
Imports: vCard, LDIF, Address Book Archive
Thunderbird
Exports: LDIF, TSV (of some kind), CSV (of some kind)
Imports: Eudora, LDIF, TSV (of some kind), CSV (of some kind)
GMail
Exports: Google CSV, Outlook CSV, vCard
Imports: CSV (of some kind)

With the MoreFunctionsForAddressBook add-on, Thunderbird can also read and write vCard files, so Thunderbird and Address Book can interoperate (more or less). Getting GMail to work is less easy, alas.

From 10.5.3, Address Book included GMail syncing (if you have an iPod, or if you're willing to hack the registry), but this doesn't seem to sync properly. The Google Contacts add-on for Thunderbird seems buggy (on 2.0.0.21) and crashes when syncing.

After some fiddling, it turns out that the only way to reliably sync Thunderbird or Address Book to GMail is to use A to G to generate a CSV file that Google likes from the OS X Address Book.

What I fail to understand from this excursion is why vCard isn't supported as an import format by all these mailers by default; it's been around for quite some time, and it isn't rocket science. I don't see why we're still relying on arbitrary CSV files to get these systems talking to each other.

nmg: (dead mac)

Since moving to a Mac a bit over a year ago, I've had only a few reasons to look back (the business with the HP LJ1022 printer being one of them). I'm now rather close to the end of my tether, and the reason is fonts.

As an academic and a computer scientist, I end up writing quite a lot of papers and presentations with maths in them. Like any sensible person, I use LaTeX for typesetting the maths; it's a lot easier to type $\sum_{i=0}^{i=n-1} i^2$ than to wrestle with the equation editor in Word. I've also been using LaTeX for rendering mathematical expressions in lecture slides; there are two tools - LaTeXit and LaTeX Equation Editor - which make putting maths in Powerpoint or KeyNote a drag-and-drop operation.

However, I've spent quite a lot of time over the last week trying to debug a problem with the font rendering of TeX-generated PDF files on OS X. If I wrote a LaTeX file containing the following:

\documentclass{article}
\begin{document}
\section{This is a test}
\[e = mc^2 \rightarrow \chi \pi \ldots r^2 \]
\end{document}

then I'd expect it to render something like this:

Preview renders it like that, but not reliably - perhaps one time in eight. The rest of the time, it randomly substitutes a sans serif font for the various Computer Modern fonts. Sometimes it looks like this (missing the italic font):

Sometimes it looks like this (missing the bold and italic fonts):

And sometimes it looks like this (missing the bold and symbol fonts):

It isn't predictable which rendering I get. The problem also isn't limited to CM, but appears whenever you have a subset of a Type1 font embedded in PDF (on my machine, at least); TeX isn't the problem. The problem didn't exist on 10.4. The best guess from the Mac communities is that it's a cache corruption problem with the OS X PDF-rendering component on 10.5 (which would explain why I see the same problem in LaTeXit, LEE and Papers, but not in Acrobat).

I really don't see how Apple could have let a release out of the door with a bug like this - this is surely a critical bug for anyone in publishing.

Edited to add links:

nmg: (sad mac)

Let me get this straight. I can't print from MacOS 10.4 to a commonplace HP non-postscript printer (in this case a LaserJet 1022) that's connected to and shared from a Windows XP box without downloading, compiling and installing a bunch of open source software from a third party.

I was under the impression that Apple computers were renowned for their ease of use.

nmg: (happy mac)

So I exaggerate - we're not quite at the level of certain other bibliophiles, but we do have upwards of 3-4000 books in Gark Villa. Unfortunately, I also have a poor memory so I'm forever buying duplicate copies of books that I already own, or lending out books and forgetting who to. One of my projects for paternity leave and Christmas was to investigate software for cataloguing our collection, and perhaps make a start on the task. However, the [livejournal.com profile] garklet took up more of my time than I'd envisaged (that is, all of it) and I didn't get very far.

[livejournal.com profile] perdita_fysh mentioned the software that she'd been using to keep track of her books: Delicious Library. Given that I have a shiny new MacBook Pro, I thought I'd take a look. Five minutes later, I found myself $40 lighter.

Delicious Library is a very slick piece of software that automates much of the tedium of building a library catalogue. It uses the iSight camera to read barcodes, and automatically retrieves the bibliographic information from Amazon. In addition to books, it can also catalogue CDs, DVDs and computer games. It has minimal circulation functionality for tracking loans, but this is nicely integrated into iCal and the address book.

It isn't perfect, and there are a number of areas for improvement, some of which may be dealt with in the next version: integration with online library catalogues is essential for high quality metadata, since the Amazon data is uniformly dreadful (LOC or COPAC would be my choices here, and services like CDDB would suffice for music); it needs to improve the way it handles metadata (representing editors as well as authors would be a good start); it needs smart collections along the lines of iTunes' smart playlists.

There are other systems with similar (or greater) functionality, such as Bookpedia from Bruji or the open source Books, but Delicious Library is better finished and more robust.

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Nick Gibbins

August 2010

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