November 29, 2004
The market for a small appliance server that could handle multimedia feels a lot like the MP3 player market pre-iPod these days.
Merrill Lynch analysts have finally caught on to what some of us have been saying for literally years: "A 200GB Apple server at a reasonable price and possibly with PVR technology could be Apple's next category killer," the firm said.
Their server is clean and white, gleaming like an iBook, although the back is still PC-ugly. Reviews have been mixed, noting especially a quite noisy fan: one reviewer notes "This is not a trivial problem. You likely would not want to place the Net-Box in a room where you were going to work all the time, and certainly not near sleeping areas."
As in 2001, there are enough competitors out there (Windows Media Center PCs, Axentra, the Linksys NSLU2), at all different price points, to validate the market. If somebody just combined an elegant, near-silent piece of hardware with an optimized server OS and streaming software, they would be poised for an iPod-like market dominator.
One of the reviewers quoted above says "there's probably not a lot of home and SOHO users, the target market, buying into Axentra's idea of server-based computing, even though there is something to be said for it. The concept is just a little too sophisticated." Talk about not getting it.
These computer things are supposed to do sophisticated things. How many people do you know that own domains? How many with family or small business e-mail addresses? How many with hobby, charity, or business-card web pages? How 'bout digital cameras, or DV camcorders? How many people own Tivos? How many have home networks and broadband? All these people are doing the sort of "sophisticated" things the Axentra, or an iServe, should make simple.
On the other hand, the Windows Media Center PCs are still, first and foremost, PCs. They don't make much of an effort to become an appliance, or to integrate with all the other PCs or Macs you probably have in your house already. Being PCs, they have to provide all the features people expect in PCs: floppy drives, optical drives, card slots and hard drive bays. All of these drive up prices and complexity.
The Linksys has the advantage of being pretty inexpensive, but it seems a little underpowered for media streaming, and all of the interesting stuff is being done outside of Linksys.
The Axentra is very much what I have in mind. If Apple doesn't launch a similar product by the time my clunky old K6-450 Linux box gives up the ghost, this looks like a great alternative.
November 24, 2004
World's cheapest G5 upgrade
My G5 fans have been running a little loudly, and almost all the time, lately. I hadn't noticed an effect on the machine's speed, but in checking the load average, it was always above 1.00. At first, I thought maybe this was an effect of the dual processor setup, but I checked the dually at work, and the load average was about .50.
I installed a fresh copy of Panther on an external FireWire drive, booted up, and my fans spun down. Load average was suddenly in the .25 range. I rebooted off the internal drive, and the fans came back. Looking at 'top', I discovered the Finder was hovering within a few percent of 100 percent. Hmmmm. In poking around, I noticed my 'Finder Preferences' file (com.apple.finder.plist) was about 2 MEGABYTES. I deleted it, fired back up, and my machine was instantly 5 times faster, with the load average down in the .20 range.
Right now, running NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, Entourage, SpamSieve, iPulse, QuickSilver, and iTunes, I'm showing "0.20 0.12 0.13" in 'w' or 'uptime'.
It's been about 36 hours since I fixed it, and the office is even noticeably cooler.
November 16, 2004
iPod disk drama
So my iPod has been stuttering a bit lately. In at least two instances, it has started on a song, and then stopped. I could advance to the next song, but it didn't want to fast forward in the current song.
My internal troubleshooter said, "smells like a drive problem," and I kept listening.
Today, I went to plug the iPod into the PowerBook to update my music, and didn't like the result:
The progress bar made it to around 90 percent, before giving up and displaying:
The good news is that the iPod continues to work as well as it had been, but I can't upload new music or use the hard drive until the drive checks out, which it doesn't look like it will.
My iPod is a 1st-gen, built 3 years ago, and it's taken way more than its share of hard knocks.
Fortunately, others before me have wanted extra capacity or needed to swap drives, and there are some resources around the web:
Over at Macworld, Chris Breen shares his experience upgrading a 1st-gen iPod to 15 gigs. Key takeaway: The 1st-gen models require a single-platter drive, as in the lower-capacity model in each generation, so there should be 5-gig, 10-gig, 15-gig, and 20-gig drives that will work, so long as they're 5 mm thick (the 2-platter models are 8 mm). There's nothing special about the drives; the iPod firmware updater apparently installs the proper firmware on whatever drive you attach (iPodMods.com disagrees, claiming that 1st-gen iPods are stuck at 5 gigs).
Surprisingly few online retailers offer the raw drives: ComputerHQ.com carries the 20-gig 5 mm model only for about $150, and a comparison shopping site called AimLower.com lists a few vendors, with prices as low as $125. PDASMart.com offers 5-gig and 10-gig drives only, with 10-gig drives going for $140.
So I'm pondering whether to move up to the iPod Photo, fix the 1st-gen (which has served my needs quite ably), or both (and hand the old iPod down to my daughter). If I do the drive upgrade, I'll document it here.
November 03, 2004
The party of homophobia
Too tired to do the math, but I'm sure there will be plenty of commentary later today on the nationwide success of "Protection of Marriage" measures and their correlation with Bush's success. In Ohio, for instance, Issue 1 passed 62-38.
Coincidentally (hah!), in Ohio, I show Bush taking 63 or so percent among people who attend church at least weekly, and 83 percent among people who said "moral values" were the primary determinant of their vote (Source: CNN Exit Poll).
Other states with an anti-gay marriage measure included Georgia (to our everlasting shame), Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah.
Florida decided to direct its moralizing at the children, and so passed a parental notification amendment that probably served a similar role in mobilizing thumpers. Again, somebody else will probably run the numbers.
Looks like the social engineering measures probably gave Bush Ohio, gave crazy Sen. Jim Bunning (who was reportedly suggesting his opponent might be "light in the loafers") a win in Kentucky, and might have made the difference in Arkansas (measure passed 75-25 with almost 700k votes, Bush won 54-45 with 530k votes), and kept it close in Michigan (Bush lost by less than 100k votes, measure passed by 650k votes).
Democrats used a similar strategy in California, where the stem-cell measure passed 59-41, with 3.7 million 'yes' votes, and Kerry won 54-45, with 3.6 million votes. Unfortunately, that's the only place where Democrats successfully bucked the conservative tide.
So much for prognostication....
Guess I'll keep my day job.
Things are looking dark in the Electoral College, with the networks putting Bush at 246. But his remaining easy pickups are in Alaska (3 EVs) and potentially New Mexico (up by 15,000), which could only get him to 254. Kerry is holding razor-thin leads in New Hampshire, the entire upper midwest, Hawaii, and Nevada (5,000 or so votes), which would get him to only 263. Several of Kerry's states could flip, but that rarely seems to happen to Democrats, since heavily Democratic precincts tend to be bigger and take longer to count.
That means it's all down to Ohio. Hamilton County (Cincinnati) has reportedly come in slow and Republican, while Cuyahoga (Cleveland) is running late and heavily Democratic. Statewide, Kerry needs to make up 200,000 votes, and the county-by-county rundown provides some basis for optimism, as most of the heavily Republican counties have 100 percent reported, while the late arrivers are mostly Democratic or split. Update: looking worse and worse; there are some big counties with strong Republican majorities with 30-50 percent of their precincts still out, while most of the Democrat counties are closing out their votes.
On the downside, I may have the chance to be embarrassed over my birth state and my adopted home state all because of one election.
Update: Fox News has called Ohio for Bush, although the margin in the state continues to fall.
Worse yet update: Carville has essentially conceded Ohio on CNN.
November 01, 2004
CNN.com has a terrific interactive feature going until midnight tonight -- it's their Presidential Showdown Game, where you get to choose what states you think will break for which candidate.
Best of all, the winner takes home a 30" LCD TV.
One small complaint: DC (which has 3 electoral votes) isn't represented on their map.
Here's my guess, with Election Day officially kicking off in 9 hours:
Bush (26 states):
Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Arizona (10), Arkansas (6), Georgia (15), Idaho (4), Indiana (11), Kansas (6), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (9), Mississippi (6), Missouri (11), Montana (3), Nebraska (5), Nevada (5), North Carolina (15), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (8), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (11), Texas (34), Utah (5), Virginia (13), West Virginia (5), Wyoming (3)
Kerry (24 states & DC):
California (55), Colorado (9), Connecticut (7), DC (3), Delaware (3), Florida (27), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), Iowa (7), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (17), Minnesota (10), New Hampshire (4), New Jersey (15), New Mexico (5), New York (31), Ohio (20), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (11), Wisconsin (10)
My math suggests that breaks down as Bush 218, Kerry 320. It's interesting, because I've been guessing Kerry might break 300 or 305, but when I look at the state polls, and the exceptional turnout early voting locations have seen, I could see things going this well for Kerry. Looking at it state by state, with the latest polls, this looks like a real possibility.
I take great comfort in the fact that Bush was up 3-5 points in all the pre-election polls in 2000, and, of course, lost the popular vote. In my mind (maybe ONLY in my mind), that suggests at least a 3 point swing between the final polls and the actual results.
States I have for Kerry that Bush might take away: Colorado, Florida (but not if all the votes are counted). Recent polling data on Hispanic Americans leads me to believe Kerry will unexpectedly take New Mexico. Most recent polls have Bush up in Ohio, but by 1-2 percent, which won't hold up tomorrow. If Bush were to take both Colorado and Florida, he moves up to 254, and Kerry drops to 284.
States I have for Bush that Kerry could take away: Virginia. A Kerry victory here could put him at 333, Bush 205.