Hooray! Apple implemented my iPod Shuffle idea!

11 March 2009

You read it here first! A iPod Shuffle that tells you what track you’re listening too:

Making the iPod shuffle perfect

The Voiceover feature in the new 4GB Shuffle iPod is pretty much exactly what I suggested in a blog entry last March:

Ideally, it’d be good to be able to press some button combination to hear [the track name] when you want to know what you’re listening to.

Of course, I think it’s a pretty obvious idea for anyone who uses a Shuffle on public transport, or while walking or running, and is aware of text-to-speech capabilities. But I did submit the idea to directly to Apple too, so who knows, perhaps it helped persuade them to implement it.

(If so, Apple guys, a free one would be nice!)


How to make bankers behave

21 October 2008

With the threat of a total collapse of the banking system receding, attention should be turning to stopping events like the credit crunch triggering a similar crisis.

In the UK, there’s been much (empty) talk of stopping bonuses but it seems to me there’s another approach: change the rules so that bonuses not only have to be paid entirely in shares, but that the shares cannot be cashed in for at least 20 years.


Beware, Time Machine users!

8 July 2008

My MacBook hard drive recently started making strange clunking noises and I knew at once it was a goner. I felt a brief surge of panic at first, as I’d just got back from holiday and imported a load of photos, but I had done a Time Machine backup to an external drive just a couple of days ago. It should all be saved.

Once I’d got a new hard drive sorted out, I thought, it was going to be a doddle getting back to where I was two days ago. How wrong I was!

 

First point: don’t try to save space by opting not to back up system files (as I did). 

If you’ve backed up everything, you can choose to restore everything by booting from the Leopard DVD and choosing this option from the Utilities menu. If not, you find you can’t even get at your Time Machine backup without choosing to back up your virgin OS X installation to that disk.

I haven’t dared do that, because if you choose to start backing up a clean installation with Time Machine, what happens to your pre-hard disk failure backup? It’s not going to get deleted but presumably it becomes not the latest backup, but the last backup but one, which I assume complicates the restoration process yet further.

 

Second point: you can restore user accounts via the Migration Assistant in Utilities after you’ve got done a clean install and upgraded the system to the latest version, but this option doesn’t let you restore other data such as Applications.

If this option is made clear by Apple, I didn’t find it in any of the support documents I read. Instead, I stumbled across it during the first reboot and system setup after a clean install of OS X. At this stage, it does offer you the option of restoring non-user account files such as Applications – except it doesn’t work! When I chose it, everything froze. 

So, to cut a long story short, I set up a temp account, upgraded to 10.5.4 and then clicked on the Migration Assistant in Utilities with the external drive with the Time Machine backup mounted. This gives you the option of restoring entire user accounts but nothing else.

 

Third point: did Time Machine really backup your account properly last time you did it? Check if you’ve done a lot of precious stuff.

So after numerous failed attempts and much swearing, I’d done a clean install, upgraded it and then restored the user accounts from an external drive using Migration Assistant. I thought I was finally back to where I was when the hard disk failed about a week ago.

I logged back in to my restored account and opened up iPhoto. We’d got back from holiday a few days before the drive conked out, and as I had had a new camera to play with, I’d taken loads of photos that I had spent quite some time sorting out in iPhoto. Fortunately, I’d done one Time Machine backup since returning from the holiday. It would all have been backed up.

It wasn’t.

Time Machine had restored me not to the latest version but one more than two weeks old. When I opened up the Backup folder, I saw why: the latest backup had failed and produced an XXXXXX.inprogress file. 

The .inprogress file can be opened by right-clicking and choosing Show Package Contents – and the latest iPhoto libary with all the holiday photos was there. But simply it copying over didn’t work – iPhoto produced a “you don’t have permission” error when I tried to open it, which no amount of playing with permissions would fix.

Eventually I discovered the way round this. You have to copy files from the .inprogress folders to your account using Automator rather than dragging and dropping. Don’t ask me why it works but it does.

 

Time waster

So how many hours did it take me to figure this out? I hate to think. I was hopping mad with Apple at the time, but the question I had to ask myself was this – without Time Machine, would my last backup have been two days before my hard drive failed?

Honest answer: no, probably more like two months at best.  

So Time Machine did save my bacon. But restoring my system wasn’t simple, it wasn’t quick and it certainly wasn’t fun. Apple, I hope you can make it a lot better!


Expelled exposed

15 April 2008

OK, you must have read about it by now. So here’s my contribution to getting the right Expelled to the top of the search rankings.

Nuff said.


Aah-ta!

15 April 2008

While my son was having a bath the other day, we belatedly realised that a sound he has been making for a while – “aah-ta” – was his way of saying water. Duh!

Ever since, I’ve been pondering the mysteries of communication. Was this sound devoid of meaning, of information, before someone else started to understand it? Or is it enough for one person to intend something for some kind of signal to have meaning?

As far as I can tell, information is one of those concepts that, like money, becomes harder and harder to pin down the more you think about it. Wikipedia’s entry is certainly a confused mess.

This did make me think of Wittgenstein’s idea of a private language, but by this he meant something that could never be understood, not a poor attempt to communicate nor a poor ability to grasp a child’s meaning.


Qualified to lead?

28 March 2008

After the GW Bush debacle, many of us in the reality-based community support the idea of a science debate for the USS presidential candidates (Science Debate 2008). But it seems to me this idea doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Would you be happy getting brain surgery from a lawyer? Do you want chief executives determining minimum wage levels? Would you trust a professional soldier to determine whether defence budgets should be cut in favour of education? Should religious nutters like Tony Blair be allowed to determine scienctific or economic policies?  

It seems utterly bizarre to me that democratic countries choose to elect as leaders people who completely lack any knowlegde or understanding of key subjects, from the importance of randomised controlled trials to the Cuban missile crisis. Civil servants from China to Britain have to undergo tough exams, yet their leaders can be pig-ignorant. Why do we tolerate this? It’s crazy.

It seems to me every democratic country should, with the help of its citizens, develop a curriculum for politicians, covering everything from science to medicine to economics to history. There could, for instance, be a basic test politicians have to pass simply to stand for election, and a more advanced examination for politicians to undergo before they can take office.

Of course, getting agreement on a curriculum will be a challenging task in itself. But that debate could be very interesting in itself, in exposing the often-ludicrous beliefs on which many people base their everyday decisions. Ideally, of course, we should aim to eliminate all beliefs in favour of educated guesses.


Making the iPod shuffle perfect

28 March 2008

I like the iPod Shuffle. I especially like the fact that you can use it without ever having to look at it. When you spend a big part of your day dodging fellow commuters on busy trains and streets, you know how annoying it is when people bump into you because they’re staring at a mobile or iPod screen. As a music player, I really do prefer it to its bigger brethren, including the iPhone. 

That said, there are times when I would like to know what I’m listening to. And it seems to me there’s a simple way Apple or another software developer could make it happen: use Leopard’s built-in Text to Speech software to generate a short, small MP3 or AAC sound file naming the song title, artist and album for each track on the Shuffle. 

Ideally, it’d be good to be able to press some button combination to hear  this sound file when you want to know what you’re listening to. But it would be even simply to add the name, track and album speech file to the beginning or end of each track when songs are transferred to an iPod Shuffle. It wouldn’t be that difficult to do. Would it?


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