o2-logo-3g-iphone.jpgFollowing the end of O2’s exclusivity deal with Apple for UK distribution of the iPhone, the company has begun to offer an unlocking service to customers. 

 

  • Customers tied into pay monthly contracts with O2 can unlock at any time free of charge. However, they are still obliged to continue paying the monthly tariff until their contract expires.
  • Customers with pay-as-you-go accounts are able to get their iPhones unlocked after owning the phone for 12 months and upon payment of a GBP £15 unlocking fee. 

 

The unlocking procedure is said to take up to a fortnight. Confirmation that unlock has been successful is sent to the customers phone by SMS message. 


JitouchDemo.pngA while ago I wrote about ‘Multiclutch‘, an add-on that allowed users to customise and add to the built in multitouch gestures on Apple notebooks. But there were a few limitations. Firstly, it only worked within Cocoa apps. This ruled out commonly used software like iTunes and Photoshop. Secondly, Multiclutch relied on ‘input managers’ to work its magic. Apple took a disliking to input managers when developing Snow Leopard and locked them out of 64 bit apps (which kills off support for input managers within nearly all applications shipping with 10.6).

Stepping into the gap is a application called Jitouch. Taking a slightly different approach, Jitouch adds a number of new gestures but doesn’t allow customisation of existing ones. Its icon sits in the menu bar rather than the dock, allowing for the program to be activated/deactivated and for access to its preference pane. It currently supports seven new gestures of varying complexity.

I have been running the app on my MacBook Pro for the last week or so. Several of the gestures have become second nature (particularly those used to control tabs within the browser). The others I am finding less useful mainly because I find them particularly tricky to pull off. All are demonstrated on the Jitouch page. More gestures are promised in the future. Indeed the Jitouch web site already details a new gesture used to navigate multiple spaces that will be available as part of the next point release.

Lefties take note. Make sure you opt for left handed gestures using the apps preference pane. Not doing so can cause unexpected results!

Please feel free to post your comments and thoughts on Jitouch. I am particularly interested to hear whether others also struggle pulling off some of the gestures.


wiki.pngI have been tinkering with a new Mac Mini Server recently installed at our studio. While I consider myself tech savvy, I don’t pretend to be an expert on such subjects as DNS configurations, advanced firewalls, VPN and NAT. So while trying to setup the server as a gateway between the web and our office, it was not entirely unexpected that I would leave myself stranded at the bottom of a very deep hole, dug using my own ignorance. There was no way out so I had little alternative but to roll back to the last Time Machine backup taken before my ill advised networking adventure. 

Apple proudly sings the virtues of using Time Machine as a backup solution for Mac OS X Server 10.6. However, while I had no problem restoring the system, I was left with some unexpected issues once the server was rebooted. Most services worked as advertised but upon launching the company wiki and blogs within Safari, I was presented with a ‘503 error’ page. 

After nearly 4 hours of scouring support forums, knowledge bases and mailing lists I finally got the bottom of the issue. Time Machine automatically skips over caches and log files when creating a backup. Usually this is no problem but it seems that the ‘teams’ service that powers the wiki and blogs feature in Mac OS X Server requires the presence of its log file to operate correctly. This discovery finally led me to a knowledge base article on Apple.com that gives step by step instructions on recreating the necessary files and restoring the correct permissions to the wiki directory. 

By following the instructions below I was able to restore wiki functionality…

To restore the Web service (server):

  1. Open Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities).
  2. Execute these commands, each on its own line, followed by Return. Note: When using these commands you will be prompted for an administrator’s password.

    sudo mkdir /var/log
    sudo mkdir /var/log/apache2

  3. To restore the Wiki service (server), run the following commands in addition to those above:

    sudo mkdir /Library/Logs/wikid

    sudo chown _teamsserver:_teamsserver /Library/Logs/wikid

After running these commands restart your server.


trac-logo.pngOver the past few years RSS readers have become increasingly popular with people trying to tame the constant barrage of information and news brought to us by the Internet. They allow us to aggregate the latest headlines for many sources and to filter that information, showing only the subjects that interest us. As people master the RSS reader, the need to visit the homepage of each web site becomes less necessary. This poses problems for content creators who rely upon online advertising as their source of income. Who wants to be bombarded with flashing banner ads when all of the useful information can stripped out of the page and be cleanly displayed within an RSS reader?

To combat this trend, content creators are deploying new tactics in the form of “embedded RSS advertising”. These adverts are displayed within the RSS feed (usually at the bottom of each post). While there are numerous ways to block ads in the browser window, there hasn’t been an easy way to tackle RSS advertising.

Enter Glimmerblocker, an open source project that takes a new approach to adblocking. Instead of being application specific, it intercepts online ads systemwide using an http proxy to capture all network traffic entering your Mac. This affords Glimmerblocker a few advantages over more traditional ad blocking techniques. Firstly, any ad blocking carried out in this way affects every app of the system whether they be a browser, an email client or an RSS reader. Secondly, because Glimmerblocker doesn’t rely on hacks like input managers or application enhancers, programs can be safely updated without running the risk of breaking the ad blocking tool and/or the application in question.

Glimmerblockers default settings already block many of the most insidious ad networks like Doubleclick and Mediaplex. By adding a few more domain names to Glimmerblockers blacklist you can banish the majority of embedded RSS adverts. Of course, different users have different interests and therefore subscribe to a wide variety of feeds. My own personal experience has taught me that by adding the following domains to the blacklist, 95% of embedded ads are successfully blocked…

*.feedads.googleadservices.com
*.pheedo.com

Adding new domains to the blacklist is relatively easy (although I hope in the future that the developers behind Glimmerblocker will simplify the UI a little).

– Once installed access the Glimmerblocker settings from the preference pane in Mac OS X System Preferences.
– Select the ‘Filters’ tab and using the top left pane add a new filter group.
– Then, using the bottom pane, add each of the domains list above.
– Finally, turn on Glimmerblocker by selecting the ‘Setup’ tab and then checking the ‘Activate Glimmerblocker’ checkbox.

This should go a long way towards removing adverts from your RSS reader.


Picture 2.pngAfter several months of use, my largest gripe with the new range of MacBooks and MacBook Pros is the new buttonless trackpad. The first month was plagued by a bug that prevented trackpad clicks being registered reliably. While this was extremely frustrating it always felt like a software issue that could be resolved in time. To the relief of many, Apple fixed this with a software patch at the beginning of November.

However, hardware problems are much more difficult to overcome and it has been a hardware issue that has ruined my experience with my new MacBook Pro until now. It seems that some users (including me) are bothered by the click action of the new trackpad. When pressed it emits a loud, hollow sounding click that becomes extremely irritating in quiet environments. It feels cheap and nasty when compared to the trackpad button on my MacBook Air and even my old first generation white MacBook.

Looking for a solution I came across a few blog posts suggesting the rather drastic solution of stuffing the space between the battery and the underside of the trackpad with Kleenex. This seemed a little half-baked and maybe even dangerous (given Apples recent track record with batteries its probably not advisable to place sheets of combustible material on top of the battery).

However, after flipping over the MacBook Pro and popping out of the battery, the user can access the underside of the trackpad where they will find one tri-blade screw. Although these types of screws typically require a special tool, this particular one is easy to turn with the edge of a small flat blade screwdriver. Turning the screw clockwise reduces the travel required to execute a trackpad click and dampens the sound emitted. Turning the screw counterclockwise increases the travel and force required and increases the noise made when the trackpad is depressed.

From experience I would advise turning the screw clockwise an eighth of a turn, testing the trackpad button and repeating until the desired trackpad button action is achieved. Turning the screw too far results in an inability to click the trackpad at all. If this happens, back off a little by turning the screw counterclockwise an eighth of a turn.

After successfully adjusting my own MacBook Pro I can report that the trackpad button is now as quiet as my MacBook Air resulting in a much more pleasant day-to-day user experience.


Picture 2.jpgBeing someone who has a fetish about notebooks, I was excited to see what Steve Jobs had in store for Apples line of portable Macs when he took to the stage on 14th October 2008. Rewinding to March 2003, and I was one of the first to pick up the 17 inch PowerBook. In its day it was a work of art. The pinnacle of laptop design. But its been five years and while the internal components have changed significantly (from a PowerPC to Intel architecture), the casing design and general aesthetic has changed little. It was high time for a refresh.

The day after the announcement I hopped on a train to London and visited the Apple Store on Regent Street where I picked up a new 15 inch MacBook Pro. I have been using it for 5 days now and feel I have learnt enough to share some of my feelings about the new hardware design.

Casing

Apple has placed great emphasis on the construction techniques used to manufacture the new MacBook Pros casing. During the announcement, Jonathan Ive (Apples Vice President of Industrial Design) made a rare appearance on stage to preach the virtues of the new aluminum ‘unibody’ which is produced by carving the casing as a single part from a solid block of aluminum. In doing so, Apple has hit a home run. The new casing is incredibly rigid, with a truly staggering fit and finish. The laptop itself will continue to look pristine many years after the internal components are obsolete. Make no mistake, this marks a new gold standard in laptop case construction and puts every other notebook I have come across (with the exception of the Macbook Air) to shame, including the previous generation MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

Trackpad

I have found the trackpad to be a true Jekyll and Hyde. The new glass surface is a true joy to work on. It provides just the right level of friction to ensure your finger glides to the desired spot accurately. I am sure it will also prevent the age old problem of the users finger polishing areas of the trackpad over time, which in turn should help boost resale value. A few commentators have reported that the glass surface is painted. This is not the case. The trackpad is constructed by laying a thin plane of etched transparent glass onto a metal base (which itself is the same color as the notebooks aluminum shell). This helps ensure that the glass is not cracked by heavy handed users whilst providing the illusion that the trackpad is the same color as the rest of the machine. Either way, your finger is in direct contact with the glass which leads me to wonder… If my finger cannot polish the glass trackpad over time, can the glass trackpad polish away my fingerprint?

The second innovative new feature of the redesigned trackpad is the complete absence of a separate button. For years people have bemoaned the absence of the right button found on PCs. In typical Steve Jobs fashion, Apple has given those complaining the middle finger and removed the one button they did have. Sort of.

Instead of having a separate trackpad and button, the redesigned trackpad is the button itself. The whole surface can be pushed down to register a click. For me at least, this has taken some getting used to. Firstly, the level of pressure needed to successfully click on something is not uniform. The trackpad is hinged at edge closest to the keyboard, so while it is easy to click in the bottom half of the pad, clicking in the top half requires a great deal of force. Secondly, compared with my previous MacBook Pro and my current MacBook Air, the click action requires more pressure and offers a very audible click which I find distracting. I am hoping this will resolve itself after a few months of use when the button mechanism has been broken in.

I have also run into problems because of the way my hand rests on the trackpad. I find the most natural poise for my hand is to rest my thumb on the button and then use my index finger for the majority of the trackpad work. But with no button at all my thumb naturally rests on the bottom third of the trackpad. This prevents me from successfully registering a click by tapping my index finger because the trackpad recognizes this as a two finger click. Very annoying. Nevertheless I have managed to retrain myself to use the trackpad differently over the past 5 days and this has become less of an issue as time has passed.

Display

The most controversial aspect of this refresh is the glossy display, or rather the lack of the previously available matte display. The new screens are adorned with a sheet of glass which stretches to the exterior edges of the black bezel that surrounds the LCD panel. This glass is extremely shiny and bumps up the level of glare even in comparison to recent glossy notebook screens sold by Apple (which had a plastic rather than glass coating on the screens surface itself).

This is a real deal breaker for some, especially if you belong to the print design community. As the MD of a graphics design studio I sympathize with the concerns over glare and reflections on the new glossy display. However, I have never found it to be much of a problem for me. In fact I tend to prefer the glossy display as it adds vibrancy to colour and produces deeper blacks. That said, my job role has morphed from a designer to a more conventional manager over the last few years so I tend to spend more time answering email and carrying out tasks within the browser than I do creating and editing artwork in Photoshop or Illustrator.

Putting aside concerns over glare and reflections, the 1440×900 panel is super bright and has a very wide viewing angle. It uses LED backlighting which is more energy efficient than the superseded cold cathode lamp backlighting and is not prone to yellowing or diminishing brightness following prolonged use. I do feel its time Apple stepped up the resolution of their screens a little but I cannot fault the quality of the panel itself.

While the lid assembly is thinner than previous models, it feels rigid and appears to have good torsional strength probably helped by the glass panel. It is worth noting that a black rubber bumper which runs around the entire perimeter of the display has replaced the tiny rubber stops of the older model. This is intended to ensure adequate clearance between the keyboard and screen when the lid is closed. However, sadly this is still not the case. The keys do still touch the display when the lid is closed. On older models this eventually caused permanent marks on the display. Whether this remains a problem with the new model is less clear. It maybe that the harder glass resists such markings more effectively. But as someone who has suffered this problem in the past I don’t intend on finding out. Instead I will be laying a microfiber cloth over the keyboard before closing the lid. As a side note, the hinge mechanism feels improved, with a more fluid feel than previous models.

Heat Dispersion

Older MacBook Pros were notorious for the heat they kicked out. On many occasions I have had to either stop using my older model or move it from my lap to a table because of the discomfort caused by the heat radiating from its underside. So how do the new MacBook Pros stack up?

While they can indeed still get quite warm, the heat is dispersed over a wider area probably as a result of the new aluminium unibody. In addition this machine is much quieter. In normal operation the fans are virtually silent (you have to press your ear against the machines only cooling vent running along the display hinge to hear them). But even when stressing the CPU the machine is significantly quieter than previous models. This seems to be achieved by using fans with more blades, allowing for adequate cooling at a lower RPM. Slower fans equal quieter fans.

Keyboard

Taking cues from the MacBook Air, the new Pro uses a chiclet style black keyboard. This seems to have polarized the mac community with many people complaining that the black keys are more visually jarring than the old silver keyboard which blended into the notebook casing. Personally I like the black keyboard. It brings back fond memories of my 2001 Titanium PowerBook.

While the keyboard may look a lot like the MacBook Air’s, it feels quite different. The travel of the keys themselves feel more in keeping with the old MacBook Pro design and less like the more ‘clicky’ action of Apples consumer line.

The backlighting of the keyboard is bright. Sometimes a little too bright. While the characters on the keys light up nicely, there is a lot of light spilling out from around the edge of each key. Coupled with the glossy screen which reflects the keyboard back at the user, the results can be a little distracting in very dark situations. Thankfully the backlighting can be toned down or turned off altogether.

These are my initial thoughts on the redesigned MacBook Pro hardware. I will endeavor to post about the machines performance once I have had an opportunity to really put it through its paces.


manilla.jpgApple have finally released a fix for the core shutdown issues plaguing MacBook Air owners. The support notes warns third party apps that alter the voltage or characteristics of the CPU are incompatible with the patch and that they should be removed before the update is applied. Although not mentioned by name, this warning is an obvious reference to Coolbook; a third party app that I covered in an earlier post that lowers the voltage fed to the CPU.

I have been running a newly patched MacBook Air for a few hours now. During that time I have had three flash videos running simultaneously along with Activity Monitor. I have yet to see a CPU core shutdown leading me to believe, that after a six month wait, the Apple update resolves this issue once and for all.

The MacBook Air update 1.0 is available through Software Update.