Monday, January 31, 2005

Airport Express - WiFi for the Jet Set

After resisting for a while it had to happen.... I've now got another lovely Apple logo'd white box to add to the collection.

A shiny new Airport Express (AE) has pride of place, um, well, hidden out of the way down behind the TV and Stereo where no-one can see it.

Like all good technology it's totally invisible in day-to-day operation as well as use. Turn on the PC, crank up the stereo and hit Play in iTunes... and you don't even need to reach for the headphones (and no nasty thin sound from desktop speakers).

Setup and installation.... well, it probably took longer to get it out of the box and admire the design than it did to actually get it connected to the network here. I love my Billion 7500G DSL / Wireless router - it's robust, reliable and really easy to manage, but the setup just isn't quite as slick as for the AE.

In the current setup the AE is part of a network and dutifully picks up it's IP address and fits into the security profile better than some clients I've seen. I also tested getting it set up as a stand-alone secured network and compared to some budget and premium solutions I've had to configure the AE beats them all.

Couple the AE with a Keyspan Express Remote and you have the perfect set up - no matter which computer is providing the music (The Windows tower with a very eclectic collection or the PowerBook with the higher BPM collection) a simple remote can be used to remain in control. The Infrared receiver plugs into the AEs USB socket and from there can be used to control iTunes on any computer (PC or Mac) that's connected to the AE. You can also connect the receiver directly to the computer and control any application (DVD player, other music player etc) but sadly no-one has worked out how to get the AE to send that info back to the connected computer just yet.

While the AE and Keyspan remote solution is not as user friendly as, say, a Roku SoundBridge it has the added advantages that the AE brings to the equation - a fully functional, very portable wireless base station ideal for getting a couple of computers sharing a DSL connection in a hurry.

It wouldn't surprise me if later versions of the AE (hopefully with firmware updates for this one) support Video streaming (although as the TV doesn't have a USB or Cat5 input I'm not sure how we'd connect ! I'm surprised the unit didn't include Firewire as that is becoming more common on, especially, Sony AV equipment) and allow other applications to stream audio to it (although SlipStream from Rogue Amoeba promises to bring that to light sooner) and maybe Bluetooth to facilitate other remote control options...

RSS in a web page

RSS (Really Simply Syndication) is a great way to share info, but unless you're into parsing XML can be a pain to display on another web page. If you're got the ability to install scripts and hack around it's no big deal, but there are some places where you're just a user and can't do that - Blogger for instance !

RSS Digest solves the problem very neatly... tell it the URL of the RSS feed you want to poll, how long you want to cache it for (very important if you want to be considerate about load on the supplying server) and then you get some formatting options (display style, list items, which fields in the RSS feed to use, how many items etc)... then the site presents you with a JavaScript fragment you can include in just about any page (without needing any clever server-side scripting, even if you have access to it) and your feed is delivered - cached and beautiful !

I use RSS Digest here to display the and AudioScrobbler feeds on the right hand side, and have also used it to great effect on a couple of client sites.

It's everything a good solution should be - simple, slick and reliable.

I'd like to be able to create a single account and manage all my feeds from the one place (like I can do with but it's not really a big issue.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

It's just

Despite a very silly name (and URL), offers a great service - centralised bookmarking that you can get at from any machine, and by using keywords share others explorations of the web to find interesting sites.

By adding a simple link to your browser toolbar (IE, Safari and the various Mozilla flavours) you can instantly add any site / page you're visiting to you personal collection.

For OSX users who want to integrate this into their menubar, check for a number of integrated clients.

It's a great extension to the consensual sharing of information that the blogsphere provides, and ideal for people who hop from machine to machine to find things.

I'd love to see a bookmark importer that takes my Safari, IE and Firefox bookmarks, de-duplicates them and adds them to the repository, and maybe options to group them by high level folders (like normal bookmark managers in the various browsers) - maybe I should have a go at making the former myself, rather than just talking about it !

Saturday, January 29, 2005

VirtualPC .... almost playing nice with Airport

I got so excited today. Almost managed to get VirtualPC working with an Airport connection (rather than Ethernet) today, but... not quite :(
Hopefully this will help ... maybe someone get get it working...

First up, add a second IP address to the Airport adapter (multihoming is only supported in OSX 10.3 and beyond apparently)... in Terminal type
sudo ifconfig en1 netmask alias

(you'll need to change "en1" to match your adapter and "" to match the IP address you want to use)
Then set VirtualPC to use Virtual Switch / Aiport and re-start the OS (if needed)
Set the ethernet adapter in the Guest OS to use the IP address / netmask as above and relevant gateway and DNS servers for your setup
.. I was able to ping the outside world from within the Guest OS, but even with the OSX Firewall turned off (not a good idea) still no luck in getting a web connection :(

I've submitted support requests with both Apple and Microsoft, but somehow I'm not expecting a solution any time soon !

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Vaio saga (part II)

Despite moving to the PowerBook as my primary machine while trying to find a Wintel laptop that excites me I've continued to try and get some sense out of Sony here in Aus as to why they don't even offer Bluetooth as an option across their model range... basically their response is that while Bluetooth is standard/optional outside Aus for this region it's not being considered and won't be considered - but thanks for my time and click here if I'd like to purchase one of the hamstrung machines.

I'm actually very disappointed with Sony - support for the Vaio range is terrible here (and I don't mean in the retail channel, but from a vendor level), and with their abandoning the Clie market outside Japan (it has become impossible to get spare parts or even decent support here) has shown they're not a vendor that I've got any faith in any more. Shame really when I look around at the amount of Sony badged gear I have and until recently would have upgraded with replacement Sony product... I now see the Memory Stick compatibility as an expensive liability rather than a benefit.

The new second generation Centrino line-up from Sony looks interesting (as do some of the current models), but as it's going to be crippled here I'm not going to waste time looking at it. If I don't get another PowerBook this year I'll probably get a TabletPC from Toshiba... although time will tell if that format will actually become cost effective so I don't think I'll rush down that path either !

If Bluetooth support was lacking across the board here in Aus I'd be happy to accept that perhaps it was just that there is no call for it here but as every other laptop on the market (certainly those in the Sony Vaio price bracket) offer it (usually as a default, but if not as a very low cost optional extra) it does make you wonder.

Enterprise Manager for OSX !

One of the problems with switching to a Mac and still trying to develop against SQL Server is that you end up spending so much time back in VirtualPC. Turns out that there's a great multi-database admin tool native to OSX MacSQL from Runtime Labs let's you do just about anything you need against a SQL Server database (or Oracle or MySQL etc) either on the same machine or anywhere you have a network connection to.

It's still got a little way to go to be perfect but with responsive developers who seem committed to producing a great cross-database management tool it's one to watch.

Currently I do still have to delve back into VirtualPC quite a bit for various reasons (and it's not a painful process - it's responsive and familiar !) but for quick queries or updates to table structures MacSQL is an important part of anyones toolkit.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

iLove my iPod

Finally got myself a Christmas present ! a 40GB iPod.
It's great. I wish I'd got one ages ago.
Form factor is fine, charges up quickly and I can't believe just how quickly 10GB of music got rushed from my PowerBook to the iPod. Gotta finish ripping my CDs now !
I've ordered a RoadTrip from StreetWise so it can keep me company in the car as well !

The dog likes it as well, because with music I'll spend a little more time on the beach in the evening ;)

I'd love to see a couple of extra features - auto-fade of cross-fade for tracks, and BPM matching (assuming iTunes will ever be able to work out BPMs for me automatically !). The iTunes integration is great - not having to worry about it. I've got a bunch of playlists set up for moods and different family members so we can quickly find someone's favourite song of the moment (I suspect it will be a godsend in the car for at least the smallest member of the family !)

Using the iPod as removable storage is also very cool. Most people I know have Firewire so I don't need to drag both cables around (it helps that most people I work with are either into building/moding/extending their own machines so firewire is just cool, or artistic types so they've got a Mac)... it's funny how a 128KB thumbdrive becomes inadequate, then the 512KB one just doesn't cut it any more... I wonder how long until the 'spare' 20GB I've got on my iPod at the moment isn't up to scratch !

Now of course, if it was equipped with WiFi so I could feed an AirPort express from it while it's still clipped to my belt... that would be far too cool (or I could just get a Bose docking station and a remote control)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Toasters and ice cube trays

Just finished working on a great little site for Catherine Savard Advertising for a supplier for Hospitality supplies. Hospitality Warehouse is just getting some fine tuning and content loaded and it'll be released to the world.

It was a great project - nice having everything designed (including the Content Management System !) up-front and able to pick it up and play. The site is deceptively simple - there's a lot going on behind the scenes but some good planning and a realistic timeline made this one great fun to work on.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

All play and no work...

.... makes J a poor boy.

So luckily, I've been busy over the last little while.

Had an interesting stint working with an advertising agency in Sydney as a surrogate Technical Director on some interesting little projects they're doing for clients - ranging from touch screen Kiosk development through to an EDM solution. It was fun, but the commute was a killer !

Also finished up the applications sites for season 2 of My Restaurant Rules and the Australian Queer Eye as well as the coding behind a youth marketing site Get Candy and a promotion for BiC called Write To Party - all for the folks at Cobalt Media.

Somehow managed to fit in work for Zzarg Advertising for some dynamic CSS work for the new AMD reseller site and, of course, the new Big Brother applications site for the 2005 season for Endemol Southern Star.