Apple TV. What is it good for?

The short answer?  Entertainment.  Making your TV look like it’s tuned
to MTV… from 20 years ago (i.e. before MTV stopped playing music
videos, which most of you probably don’t even remember, LOL.)  Pushing
music all over the damned place.  Keeping your movie collection from
bascially taking over an entire wall (or more). 

I’m watching the Daft Punk video for “One More Time”… and space
ninjas have just massacred the poor idiots listening to the sweet
music.  The Apple TV really is quite entertaining.  Is it worth the
$200?  Mmmmm.  Yeah, maybe, if you’re a member of the technogeek clan. 
If not, it has a pretty high convenience-factor, but its utility may
not be immediately obvious.  Your friends will, however, be extremely
jealous (even if they don’t know what the hell that cool looking apple
box on your TV stand actually does.)

The way I figure (and the biggest reason I got one) is to eliminate the
boxes (literally two crates, a bookshelf, and a footlocker) full of
movies.  In theory, I could convert all my movies to a format that
iTunes (or the Apple TV, or whatever) could read, and that would make
my collection significantly more portable (not to mention accessible.) 
What movie to watch?  Flip through ’em and pick away.  All very cool,
in theory.

The problem is, there’s just not a lot of documentation on how
the Apple TV actually works.  Most people seem to just get one based on
hype and speculation (I did.)  Fortunately it does do most of what you
imagine it does.  Unfortunately it doesn’t do them in the unimaginably
cool ways you imagine it would do these things.  Even the Apple people
at the store were like “yeah, it does this and that, but we’re not
really sure how.”  That doesn’t answer any questions, so rather than
rely on “little ninjas from Apple magically carry your music and videos
back and forth between your hard drive and your TV”, I’m gonna –
briefly – go over it.  Maybe it’ll help people “get it” a little
better, and maybe then you’ll run right out and get one.  ‘Cuz they’re
cool.

So you get an Apple TV.  You pull it out of the sweet packaging and
think to yourself “now what?”  Plug it into your TV.  Oh, but wait,
your TV has to have component inputs.  Awesome, that wasn’t
anywhere on the box.  Assuming you have a TV that’s modern enough to
have component inputs and/or HDMI, plug that sucker in.  Next, it’ll
connect to your network (wirelessly or wired, that’s up to you and your
network.  The ATV handles everything equally well, in typical Apple
fashion, with annoying ease.)  So you connect to your network, and
then… what?  Here’s where you have a couple of options, as long as
you have *another* freakin’ mac.  Awesome.

Luckily I do.  The ATV connects to iTunes to sync up media (kind of
like a modest-sized iPod attached to your TV) or you can stream stuff
to it.  If you sync up, then the other Mac doesn’t have to stay on.  If
you stream, you gotta keep it running.  That isn’t too big a deal,
either way, I suppose… I mean, I keep my machines running pretty
constantly… but most people will opt for the sync option (which is
also the default method for the ATV.)  The problem is, the hard-drive
is freakin’ tiny.  40GB or 80GB, either one is small by today’s
standards, and you’re really not gonna be storing a ton of anything on
there.  Here’s one place where the ATV does things kinda right.

It doesn’t have to store music directly on the ATV.  Technically you
can stream everything from your comp, but the default behaviour, as I
mentioned, is to sync up.  Instead, you can stream music to it and only
sync up movies.  That’s A Good Thing, because if you try to store both
on you ATV, you’re gonna run out of space pretty darned quick.  Even
so, you’re gonna run out of space pretty quick.  Which brings me to
what sucks about the ATV.

The Apple TV doesn’t connect to NAS (NAS = Network Attached Storage,
for the non-geeky).  How is this bad?  Network Attached Storage is
extra cool in that you plug a big enormous hard drive into your
network, and voila, instant space available to every computer on the
network (hence the name NAS).  NAS is the pinnacle of convenience and
awesomeness, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.  ATV can’t use
it.

The Apple TV has a retardedly small hard drive.  Because you can stream
stuff, that’s not too terrible a problem, but who wants to eat that
kind of bandwidth all the time?  If you’re on a wired network it’s also
not a big deal (especially if you’re one of the priveleged few to
actually be on a sweet gigabit network.)  Even so, the streaming thing
requires another computer with iTunes on it to be on, it’s a big fat
hassle, blah blah blah.  The solution?  Easy: get a bigger hard drive!

I’m eyeballing a nice chubby 250GB hard drive, myself.  It’s like 80
bucks, but that much space will likely fill my needs.  For now. 
Installation isn’t bad – the instructions can be found here
Be aware of a couple of things, though: the ATV uses PATA or ATA-6, not
SATA.  If you don’t know what those things are, you should probably
reconsider going through this.  Also, I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty
sure that the method to store media on your ATV (i.e. via syncing)
requires that you store a copy in your iTunes as well.  That means that
you will, for all intents and purposes, have two copies of any movie
you’ve converted – one on your computer’s hard drive (or external
drive), and one on your ATV.  In case you haven’t added two and two
yet, let me explain: if you get a 250GB hard drive for your ATV and
plan on filling it up, be prepared to use up 250GB of space on your
computer.  As far as I can tell, you cannot just store media on the ATV.

I could be wrong about this, though.  The iPod is capable of just
storing media – it’s just when you attempt to do a sync that it
freakin’ erases everything and causes much stress.  So maybe the ATV is
capable.  Either way, better safe than sorry, right?  Hell yeah.

That should answer at least a few questions about the Apple TV.  At
least, those were some of the questions I had when I was eyeballing
it.  I’m not even going into how to convert your movie collection –
that’s a whole other disaster.  Suffice to say, look into Handbrake or
iSquint.  And be prepared for hours and hours of converting (it’s not a
fast process, although it is relatively painless.)  Fine, fine, here’s a really good article on how to convert your movies.  More or less, LOL. 

At the end of the day, I’m glad I got one, but it’s definitely not for
everyone.  And it’s definitely a toy.  A cool, Apple-designed,
whiz-bang toy.  Mmmmm. 

OSX-style Expose for Windows Vista

switcher-2704-tile.jpg

No, no, stop laughing, it’s true.  Some guy, apparently a guy who works for Microsoft, thought it’d be awesome if the Vista interface sucked a little less.  So he went and put together one sweet little app called Switcher.

If you’re one of those brave souls running Vista, and at any point in your life experienced the joy of using OSX, go get that app.  It’s not quite as unrelentingly cool as The True Expose, but it does a pretty bang-up job.  I haven’t played with all the options, so it’s possible that one might be able to configure it to operate closer to The Real Deal, but even on default settings, I’m more than a little impressed.  It really improves the usability and workflow of Vista’s interface, and it just works great.

Wait, wait – aren’t I running a Fedora machine?  Yes I am.  And I still love it.  But a few things made me alter my work area.  I had an interview at Fluent, and while we were chatting the subject of Linux, Fedora, Ubuntu, and how much I know about security came up.  Don’t ask me why, it just did.  Anyway, while it’s true that I can accomplish 99% of my tasks with the GIMP and Inkscape (and God knows I love Inkscape), I forgot to append something to that (and it’s becoming more and more relevant.)  I can use GIMP and Inkscape for creative tasks, when I’m starting from scratch.  If I have to import files (logos, graphics, whatever) then these packages fall very, very, very flat.  This didn’t used to be the case – but try to import a Photoshop CS2 or CS3 file into GIMP… or pretty much any Illustrator file after Ill-10.  Nothin’.  No love.  And the unfortunate fact is that I get quite a lot of files in these formats, now that they’ve become all industry-standard an’ stuff.

Granted, I could transfer the file to my Powerbook, open it, and re-save each file that comes in so GIMP/Inkscape can Do Their Deed, but man that’s just a lot of extra hassle.  I thought about it (a lot) and went ahead and decided to run my beloved Fedora 8 on a little box I keep in the closet as a web server for testing and kicking around, and slap Vista back on the quad-core.  I can always remote into the Fedora box and play around all I want, should I have The Urge.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not hugely happy about all this.  I’ve been loving on my Fedora box for a long time.  But I have to face the facts, and until I can once again wield the Linux environment as an effective tool, I’ll have to use Windows again for production.  It hasn’t been too painful, honestly – Vista has such annoying quirks that it makes me a little crazy – but it’s been a lot smoother than I expected.  This Switcher app I mentioned help ease the transition quite a bit.  I don’t know.  Time will tell if this move was worth it.

Apple tablet PC is on the slate

Apple Tablet PC‘s aren’t just imaginary vaporware anymore.  Apparently ASUS, the company that is contracted to put together the Apple hardware, has leaked out that there are plans (real ones) to put together a gin yoo wine tablet PC for the Apple platform.  How cool is that?  Very.

Aside from that, everyone should witness this unbelievably euro ad.  Witness the hottness.  Beware, it’s fairly NSFW… but very, very amusing.

If only it came with an axe, instead of a bat…

Oh, good golly.  This bedside table is the pinnacle of interior design.  And home security.  Sort of.  It’s probably also pretty useful on those mornings when you just want her… gone.

Here’s another cool recycled project I just ran into: airplane drink trolleys.  Pretty cool stuff, there… check out the pictures.  I suddenly found a desire to own one… until I saw the price tag; at 979€ (that’s like, $1300USD), I’ll just go ahead and shop at IKEA for excellently styled furniture at a fraction of the price.  Or even Target (that’s Targ-ay for the uninitiated.)

Apple just announced more iPod stuff for the August 2007 Keynote speech.  Good one, Steve.  How much you wanna bet there’s gonna be an iPod that’s just like the iPhone, but without the phone?  Yup, there it is.  iPod ‘touch’.  Oooh, and a few other little surprises.  Neat.  It’s really no wonder Apple owns this market – the rest of the world is just following along in their wake, and consumers can’t help but recognize.

New Jersey teen untethers iPhone from AT&T network

Thank God that someone finally unlocked the iPhone from AT&T.  It’s about damn time. 

While there’s been a lot of speculation as to why Apple would make such a bonehead move as tie themselves to AT&T, I can kind of see how it works for them.  For one, I’m sure that AT&T paid ridiculous dollars to become The Provider of Choice.  Second, I’m sure that Apple was happy to have a carrier that would offer the whole supercool voicemail thing, which is one of the ‘big’ features of the iPhone.  Third, why not?  AT&T’s wrangling of the Cingular network (which is actually the other way around – Cingular grabbed up the ATT mobile division and is using it to rebrand their unbelievably tarnished brand identity and reputation) makes it one of the largest (if not the largest) networks around. 

So you alienate the poor jerks who are fighting the overpriced, bloated, horrible customer service companies and use T-Mobile (like me.)  No big deal, we’re a minority anyway.  Locking the iPhone down to AT&T seems like a low blow though.  Offering it primarily through AT&T, that’s one thing.  Locking it down?  Low.

And everyone knows I’m a huge fan of Apple and all things Apple.  Their product line, their philosophies (most of them, anyway), and their general Way has been something I’ve been preaching for years.  This latest move doesn’t impress me (and I know it hasn’t impressed many others.)  Unfortunately (and Apple knows this) the phone rocks.  It’s really impressive.  I don’t do first runs, I always wait for revisions, and I was sorely tempted to score one an iPhone.  I hate AT&T/Cingular, and I was sorely tempted to get an iPhone.  This lockdown crap had me up in arms, yet I was sorely tempted to nab one of these puppies. 

So yeah, they’re doing their thing, dancing with the devil, whatever.  Their products still rule.  Even though the process of unlocking the sucker requires 2 hours of skilled soldering and software manipulation (i.e. hacking this shit out of it), I’m glad it was accomplished.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before there’s a simpler, more easily accomplished solution or, like was mentioned in the article, the cottage industry of unlocking iPhones will spring up to provide the rest of us with phones.  I think a lot of whether this cottage industry will thrive will depend entirely on how much more expensive the iPhone will get after the unlocking process.  We’ll see.

What’d be great would be to see Apple actually offering to unlock iPhones.  Or heck, why not just sell unlocked iPhones to begin with?