This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

January 2006 Archives

January 30, 2006

Newbie Mac tip: After over two years of use mostly as a desktop system, plugged in to house current, my Powerbook now only gets about an hour and ten minutes of use on a single battery charge before popping up the 5-minute warning. Our newer iBook gets a whopping 4 to 5 hours on a single charge, and I can't help but be a little jealous. Apple claims that iBooks get better battery life than Aluminum Powerbooks, which I believe. They also claim a Powerbook should get 4 hours on a single charge, which seems unrealistic, though the supernatural behavior of the iBook is something to aspire to. I should be getting a couple of hours on a charge, at least. I believe it's time to replace the battery.

Quite a bit of battery advice is based on rumor and mysticism, but the general consensus seems to be that rechargable batteries last the longest when each charge is mostly depleted before the battery is charged again. I typically use my Powerbook plugged in most of the time, which, I now know, is very likely to wear out the battery faster. Sometimes rechargable batteries can be "re-conditioned", with a complete discharge (push past the 5-minute warning until the Powerbook falls asleep and won't wake up again) followed by a full charge. Sure enough, doing so added about 20 minutes to my battery meter's "time" display.

To discharge a Powerbook/iBook battery in the computer, make sure it is not connected to power, then disable the energy saving features. If the battery meter is in your menu bar, click on it, then select "Better Performance". Otherwise, open System Preferences from the Apple menu, select Energy Saver, and choose "Better Performance" from the Optimization drop-down. This will prevent your laptop from conserving energy by shutting off the display while you're not at the keyboard. Leave your computer on until it falls asleep, and cannot be woken with a keypress. You can confirm the battery is depleted by pressing the button on the battery beneath the computer. Connect the power and leave the computer asleep until it's fully charged. (Don't forget to change back your Energy Saver settings, so when you're using it on battery power it will use the "Better Battery Life" setting.)

I noticed during the discharge that I did indeed get the 5-minute warning as soon as the battery meter ran down, but the computer stayed on for a good 30 minutes past the warning before it konked out. Without a reliable warning, I can't really use that extra time, but it indicates that either it's intentionally cautious about when it gives the warning, or my battery has gotten worse at reporting the actual charge remaining.

The best advice seems to be to take the battery out if I'm going to leave the Powerbook plugged in for extended periods of time. The Powerbook will run fine without a battery if plugged in, and the battery will last longer. Along these lines, it appears it is best to keep a partial charge in an unused battery: not a low charge, and not a full charge.

A typical (Aluminum) Powerbook battery has a capacity rating of 4800 milliamp-hours (mAH). That is, if the computer draws an average of 1200 milliamps of current as it runs, it ought to be able to do so for 4 hours. Mac OS X can report what it believes the capacity of the battery is using the ioreg command. The following command runs ioreg, and pulls out just the battery information from the million other things it reports:

ioreg -l | grep IOBattery

On our iBook, the "Capacity" it reports is about 4650, supposedly the number of milliamp-hours the battery can support. When I first started looking into the problem with my Powerbook's battery, ioreg reported a "Capacity" of 1950. After I did a single re-conditioning pass, it read 2450. This shows the operating system is keeping track of this value to ensure the battery meter stays accurate. This also shows that re-conditioning actually did something. But it's still not close to 4800, and I'm not sure it ever will be again with this battery.

I'm curoius to know what ioreg says for other Powerbook users with batteries new and old. This review of a third-party (non-Apple) Powerbook battery mentions ioreg reports 4685 mAH for the battery on a full charge, and also says they never see more than two and a half hours in typical use. Googling for IOBatteryInfo shows other anecdotal reports along the same lines, with nicer numbers for new batteries than for old.

Powerbooks support battery swapping: put it to sleep, take the depleted battery out, put a charged battery in, wake it up and keep working. If I ever expect to be away from an outlet for more than 2:30, and I really need my Powerbook for longer, I could get a standalone battery charger, charge my old battery and well as my new one, then carry them both. I've only had one situation where this would have been handy, and that was because I forgot to bring my power brick to the library one day. But it's nice to know it's an option. MacSales.com sells Apple batteries, third-party batteries, and standalone chargers.

An extra hour might be worth the cost of a new battery in my case ($100-$150). Still, the power management on the newer iBook seems impressive, and I would hope the latest "hi-res" Powerbooks and the forthcoming MacBook Pros can live up to the challenge.

Troubleshooting the PowerBook Battery has some good info.

January 27, 2006

Yojimbo, a new Mac OS X app from Bare Bones Software. Another notetaker, but it's impressive in how it manages to have just the basic features you would want, and not much more. It feels like software done right: They took a close look at what people actually did with notetakers—or poor substitutes, like my folder of software serial numbers—then optimized for those use cases. It's fast, it's clean, it's simple, and it could eat into OmniOutliner and DevonThink for common tasks—though I'm convinced I would use OmniOutliner heavily in addition to Yojimbo, if it came to that.

Yojimbo is $39. C'mon, people: $29 is the price point at which I will buy any Mac OS X application on a whim. If Textmate were $29 US instead of almost $50, I'd have purchased three copies by now. Thankfully, for $39 you're allowed to install Yojimbo on multiple Macs (for use by a single user), a smart pricing scheme designed for a major use case: one person with multiple Macs. With its .Mac integration, Yojimbo has a multi-site, all-Mac workflow built right in.

I'm still hoping to figure out how to integrate any of these tools into a multi-site, multi-platform workflow. Right now I'm using a little web app I wrote myself to maintain notes from two locations on three platforms. It drives me nuts that I can't use even the simplest Mac OS X productivity app beyond 10% efficiency because I don't use the same computer for work as I do for home. Seems like I need a Mac Mini and VNC to do what I want. Yojimbo currently lacks scriptability, though I assume it'll get some right quick.

P.S. Shouldn't Yojimbo's features be built into the Finder? Shouldn't I be able to browse, edit and search folders of simple RTF files (and web archives and URLs—and source code, and outlines... and e-mail... and Usenet posts...) this way?

Microsoft to spend $120 million a year to fight its image as "a huge American company." That's the equivalent of the salaries of 1,200 software engineers!

January 26, 2006

On presentation slide design.

NBC Ending 'West Wing' and 'Will & Grace'. It sounds like West Wing will be filming the final episodes to complete this season, even without John Spencer.

Finally, Yahoo uses SSL for all logins. Yahoo has defaulted to an insecure connection for submitting logins and passwords since the beginning of time, and they've finally caught on to the notion that if serious users are ever going to use their Yahoo accounts for anything, they will need a secure connection. Oy.

January 25, 2006

How to Be a Curmudgeon on the Internet, by David Pogue.

RexV.org, an Ajax-powered regular expression evaluator. (Thanks Matt.)

Someone sent me a forwarded "scam warning" e-mail recently that I was almost tempted to pass along. Scam warnings are traditionally "e-mail viruses" whose purpose is to trick people into forwarding it everywhere, and e-mail forwards in general are lame and a little bit evil by their very nature. But the warning seemed plausible enough that I thought I'd look it up and link to it instead.

About.com has a description of this telephone-based credit card security code scam, and agrees the moral is good advice even if it's not something that's actually happening.

I tend to think that banks wanting me to switch to paperless banking is its own kind of scam, but the threat of mail theft, and subsequent scam potential, is almost a good enough reason to do it...

January 24, 2006

The Man Who Said No to Wal-Mart.

What the MacBook Pro doesn't have. I'm hoping some of these will be remedied with a rev later in the year.

An introduction to the Mac OS X Spotlight command line tools mdls and mdfind. Spotlight on the command line. Must remember this.

January 23, 2006

Tuning Mac OS X Performance. I didn't even know I could have an animated desktop image.

Path Finder 4 is out.

As much as I want an improved Finder, I tried Path Finder 3 for its entire demo period and it didn't stick. I'll probably give PF 4 a similar try. Ultimately, I just need to take a careful look at my habits and workflow, and figure out the best tools and habits to adopt to get me where I'm going. It's troubling that I have to think about it at all, let alone set aside time to concentrate on the problem.

How To Set Up Database Replication In MySQL.

January 19, 2006

Hindsights, by Guy Kawasaki. A blog post based on a high school commencement speech based on his book of the same name.

Microsoft Quietly Ditches WMP for Mac. IE for Mac we can do without, but there's a lot of Windows Media Player-only content out there. It looks like the (third-party) Quicktime components for playing WMP files are free for the download, so that's good. Hopefully that means this isn't such a big deal in the end. (Sounds like some are cheering the move, preferring the third-party plugin to a separate app.)

January 18, 2006

Boing Boing: HOWTO disable the crippleware in The Complete New Yorker. BB does an excellent job summarizing the problems, some serious and some not so serious but all deserving of public awareness, with both the DRM mechanism and the "license agreement" that comes with the Complete New Yorker. "Since when does reading a magazine require a waiver of privacy?"

I did not receive TCNYer for xmas or my birthday, so I suppose I should order my own copy. :)

Feel like you're missing out on Web 2.0? Catch up with this list of 10 web sites you ought to see.

January 17, 2006

The Shadowland/Lightroom Development Story.

Rogue Amoeba, makers of Audio Hijack Pro, is hiring. "Telecommuting is an option, so all interested candidates should apply."

January 16, 2006

TextMate's story, yay.

I'm pleased with TextMate 1.5, more so than earlier versions. It's clean, fast, reasonably powerful, and a little bit sexy—i.e. Mac native. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it can replace more mature editing environments for some tasks (Objective C and Applescript in Xcode, Java in Eclipse, LaTeX and even Python in Emacs), and when some of those are pretty good for general editing tasks, it doesn't seem worth paying money for another editor.

Not that I get to write code any more... *sniff*...

Safari Guide is a free application for Mac OS X Tiger that allows developers to evaluate arbitrary XPath, XQuery, XSLT, and JavaScript expressions against the current frontmost Safari webpage.

I enjoyed ArsTechnica's sarcastic recap of Apple's Macworld announcements.

Anyone interested in more than just the headlines from these announcements should watch the 90-minute video on Apple's web site, before Apple takes it down. There are moments of subtext that don't make it into the bullet points, which are amusing to watch.

January 12, 2006

Lexing wth Perl.

The Z-machine preservation project, a new Z-code interpreter (Z-machine) written in Java 5. Notable for its goals of clean implementation and reference-quality compliance to the standards, and for the ability to use it as a browser applet (for hosting or demonstrating interactive fiction on a web page). It's not the only Java applet Z-machine implementation, but it's new, it's maintained, and it's making good progress.

On the subject of Z-machines in browser windows, Muttonate also deserves a mention. Written in JavaScript, it's more an impressive feat than a usable implementation, as it is too slow to play some games in some browsers. The differences in speed with the different browsers are interesting; the author mentions some stats. (Says ChicagoDave in the announcement thread, "This is about the cleanest code I have ever seen for a z-terp." So perhaps this is also of interest for study.)

The Z-machine inspires many pet projects, despite the widespread availability of quality, free interpreters. Writing your own virtual machine that conforms to a retro standard and can play hundreds of games new and old is a seductive geek project idea, one I've considered for myself on multiple occasions. It seems the IF development community is half composed of people who have never written a game, but hope to find education and fun in developing support tools for authors and players.

The Last iPod Video Guide You’ll Ever Need. A monster list of apps, tips and gotchas for getting video from one place (DVDs, Tivos, home movies, the Internet) to your iPod.

January 10, 2006

Guy Kawasaki: The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. Plus, the ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about. Plus, a rule of thumb for selecting the optimal font size. Plus, a link to PresentationZen.com. All in one blog entry.

Halo Kitty.

This Is No Game, by Jack Handey.

January 9, 2006

Futurama direct-to-video movie in 2007?

GameTunnel's Top 10 Independent Games of the Year, 2005.

PassiveTeX is an XSL-FO renderer built with TeX macros. Use XML for your source format, XSL-FO for your templates, and TeX for your engine. Sweet.

January 6, 2006

Slashdot: GP2X Surpasses Expectations. The Linux-based handheld game/media machine has a vibrant open source development community, with ports of commercial games and emulators already out. New stuff is coming out every day. And it's only $190.

When this was first announced, I was excited about the concept, but very skeptical about the execution. Now I just plain want one.

Lego is releasing a new version of Mindstorms in August. Connection via Bluetooth, 32-bit processor, PC or Mac support with LabVIEW. Botmag has a nice article with pictures and video. Lego press release. (Lego-sponsored?) blog by enthusiast Jeff James, nxtbot.com, has details from CES.

Michael Dupuis: Developing Mac Applications for a Living: My Own Take on Getting to Live "The Life", another indie Mac developer success story.

January 5, 2006

Music changes for TV on DVD. Due to skyrocketing music licensing fees, which must be paid in full again when a TV show is re-released on DVD, studios have had to alter the music in some old shows. WKRP may never make it to DVD because it used so much classic rock music that it would cost too much to re-license.

Adobe Illustrator Tutorials.

HOWTO: Be more productive, by Aaron Swartz.

January 4, 2006

Gus Mueller's lessons on becoming an independent Mac software developer. Gus wrote VoodooPad.

Typographica's Favorite Fonts of 2005.

The New Yorker on P. L. Travers, Walt Disney, and Mary Poppins. I disagree with the article's interpretation of the movie's treatment of the Mrs. Banks character—"Votes for Women" as the tail of the kite was a character change for Mr. Banks, not Mrs. Banks—but the article implies that that interpretation, among many other things, is one that Disney wanted and Travers despised.

January 3, 2006

Linux Magazine's Tips of the Day. Some useful things in this list.

An insider story on the end of Internet Explorer for Mac.

The Blog | Steve Martin: Leap Second Lovers are Traitors Says Bill O’Reilly | The Huffington Post. It's cute that Steve Martin is writing for the Huffington Post online, but why oh why are comments enabled? What's the point of that? Just to call it a "blog," when it isn't?

January 2, 2006

Sony BMG has reached a provisional settlement in the New York lawsuit over their use of destructive and misleading digital rights management software on some music CDs. Michael Geist suggests that the provisions of the settlement would make good consumer protection legislation. Text of the proposed settlement [PDF].

Ten most needed circuits for the DIYer.

castingWords.com is a service that sells transcription services for podcasts, and stores transcriptions in a public searchable database. The service is in its very early stages, currently charging 42 cents per minute. But I can imagine podcasts with a little income (ad or listener supported) might find this service valuable, as a way to attract listeners to the podcast, as a value-add to listeners, and as a contribution to the big pile of data that is the Internet.

What's especially cool about castingWords is that they plan to use Mechanical Turk, the get-paid-per-play work-from-home potentially-the-best-MMOG-ever from Amazon.com, to perform the transcriptions. If you want to get paid to transcribe podcasts, you will soon be able to do so on behalf of castingWords using Mechanical Turk. The Amazon Web Services blog has more information on how this will work.