Monday, 22 September 2008

Logitech Quickcam Vision Pro

I've always been a bit frustrated that my cheap USB webcam I had for my PC doesn't work with the Mac and since Apple has stopped making the separate iSight cameras there wasn't much in the way of alternatives for us Mac Mini owners. That is to say alternatives that actually work with software like iChat, PhotoBooth etc. as there are a couple which do work with Skype.

Along come Logitech with the Quickcam Vision Pro. It's basically one of their PC models (the Quickcam Pro 9000?) but with a lot of the software driven features performed in the hardware (which does give you less to play with) but it does work. I picked one up from who had it at less than RRP but even so £60 is still a lot more than I paid for my old PC webcam; however, on the upside it does have a decent enough lens, autofocus (hardware driven), light adjustment (ditto) which works pretty well in lower light situations and a decent microphone.

It says it has a 2MP sensor but I'm not sure what software will actually use that as I think both Skype and iChat max out somewhat lower than that.

I've just tried it out with Skype and PhotoBooth and it worked well with both although it is exhibiting an occasional problem with the light sensor (the picture goes very dark), resetting it fixes it but obviously that's not ideal. Unfortunately Delicious Library doesn't seem to like it as a barcode scanner (it does provide a picture but won't focus on the barcode - I'm going to try that agin with better lighting conditions to see if that makes any difference).

I'll need to give it a bit more of a "road test" to see how it performs over time (as I'm still in the honeymoon period).

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Another Mac Convert

I spent yesterday helping my Mother-in-Law replace her aged PC with a brand spanking new iMac. We went down to the Apple store at Bluewater and the service was excellent. The new machine was, as expected, a doddle to set up and works flawlessly. Of course having played with it and see the display I now want one! At first I thought the limited number of USB ports (only 3 - which isn't much if you don't go for the wireless keyboard and mouse) and the stingy mouse cable were drawbacks but then I found the other two ports under the keyboard after they were pointed out to me (doh!).

Now if only I could get Back to My Mac working with my BT HomeHub so that I can support the machine remotely. Her BT Voyager router was no problem but I just can't get the Hub to play nicely at this end. Better go off and practice more Google Fu...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Is it just me or is everything broken?

So it looks like the Post Office may have managed to lose a second parcel this month. Once upon a time you used to be able to rely on them to actually deliver stuff within a predictable period and not have to pay through the nose for the privilege!

We drove up to Toys-R-Us to take back some roller skates we bought my daughter for her birthday. Of course they just broke when she put them on (there's product quality for you). So off we go on a hour round trip (I'm trying not to think of the cost of the petrol or the carbon footprint) to swap them for some that might actually get used. Customer services started well, no fight to get them changed and the computer system said they had another 12 pairs in stock. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes of waiting they then told us that they didn't actually have any! But the computer said you had 12 pairs in stock we reminded the chap. Ah, well ... that includes stuff that's been shipped to us by head office but hasn't arrived yet. Sound like a pretty bizarre logistics system they've got but we had to settle for a refund. Of course they didn't have any skates in the right size for my daughter at all, so she ended up buying yet another soft toy (don't get me started on that subject - suffice to say that we shall shortly have to buy them their own house!). Then we get overcharged at the till and back to customer services...grrrr.

Is it just me or are we become more tolerant of shoddy manufacture, poor service and people who just have no basic pride in their work?

Fluid - Site Specific Browsers

I hadn't spotted this until it was a MacBreak Weekly pick from Don McAllister of ScreenCastsOnline. Fluid is an OS X application that allows you to create a site specific browser for any website and then treat it like it's a native OS X app.

I've only tried it for a couple of sites so far and, whilst the preferences sometimes need tweaking to get a site working correctly, it seems to pass the "Ronseal test". You can have it as a dock icon, desktop icon or in the menu bar and all seem to work fine.

I'm currently using it for MobileMe (I'm using my 60 day trial at the moment but more of that in another post) and it find it really useful. I don't often have sites crash Firefox but after the last update it has hung up on a couple of occasions.

With more and more stuff moving to the cloud I think Fluid will end up being very useful. Of course when Google make their new browser Chrome available for Mac I think it will be in for some competition though...

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Do I need a Netbook?

Why on earth to I follow tech podcasts? They only seem to put expensive ideas into my head! I just watched the latest series of reviews from ChannelFlip Tech on Netbooks and I can already see plenty of reasons for me to get one. But do I really need one?

I already have at least three devices I can surf the net on (my two Mac Minis and my iPod Touch) but each has it's own disadvantages. One of the Minis is attached to the main TV so that's out when it's in use. The other is in the study and, apparently, disappearing in there for hours on end is anti-social? The Touch is nice but whilst the on-screen keyboard is handy for short notes you really wouldn't want to write a long blog post on one. Then there's Skype, media streaming, mobile working ... the list goes on. But, given I don't want a 7 inch display (the 800 wide resolution isn't enough for a number of sites) and I would like a decent battery life or it'll be dead every time I pick it up, I'll need to spend a few quid.

Or is the real answer that I haven't had a shiny new gadget lately and I'm getting withdrawal?

Apple iPod Event

OK, so I didn't cross the pond for the event. Which, on reflection, was probably a good things since there wasn't anything announced that hadn't been leaked earlier. Is the iPod end of Apple becoming more sieve-like or what? Anyway, whilst there were some interesting products to think about for Christmas presents (i.e. the new Nano) and the iTunes 8 update has a rather useful new Genius feature there wasn't any one thing that really floated my boat.

I downloaded the new 2.1 software for my (now first generation) iPod Touch and the iTunes 8 upgrade pretty much as soon as possible. You do have to look hard for some of the UI improvements (particularly on the Touch) but they're there. I'm not sure about the bug fixing for the Touch in this upgrade as recently mine has been pretty reliable. iTunes 8 has a new grid view for album art, which works well for podcasts as it shows you the number of episodes you haven't watched in a circle at the top left of each icon (like the mail notification on the Touch) and it also has Genius. It's this last feature in one guise which I will probably use most as I'm basically lazy and can't be bothered to make my own playlists, in its other guise (purchase recommendations) I can see it getting rather expensive so I may not pay much attention to that one. As to playlists (and this feature also exists in the Touch 2.1 software), Genius creates a new playlist from a specified track using other "connected" tracks from your existing library (or the sub-set on the Touch). I don't know how the algorithum works (and the iTunes implementation supposedly learns from data send up by each user) but it seems pretty decent to me. I've already started listening to stuff I'd forgotten I had.

All in all, not an earth shattering event but some nice polish to some already decent products.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Valentine's Resolve

Next on the book list was Valentine's Resolve by E.E. Knight. As with my previous read, this is another in a series, in this case the Vampire Earth novels.

Set in a distopian future where the "Earth is under new management", the book continues the tale of David Valentine, a resistance fighter who, after the previous novel, has rather lost touch with why he was fighting for the Cause.

As with Bernard Cornwell, E.E. Knight writes in a very accessible style and with a similar level of plot and character complexity. I found this instalment a little more predictable than some of the earlier books but it was a decent way to pass a few hours.

Sword Song

On my holiday I managed to get some quiet time to progress my growing reading pile. First on the agenda was Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell, the forth in his Saxon Stories series.

As with the previous books (The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman and The Lords of the North) this one also follows Uhtred, a Saxon warrior raised by the Vikings and a reluctant ally of Alfred the Great. Five years on from the previous novel, Uhtred is charged with evicting the Vikings from Lundene in order to secure southern Mercia for Alfred.

If you are expecting intricate plots or overly complex characters you will be disappointed. Sword Song is typical Cornwell with a straightforward story told in an easy to read style. But as with his other books it is very accessible with just enough description to allow you imagination free reign and enough depth to keep you reading. In some ways Cornwell's books do become a little predictable but with enough distance between them they still entertain.

Back from Holiday

The reason it has been quiet around here is that we've been away on our summer holidays! As we expected we've come back to some lovely weather but it does help reinforce what a good time we had even though it wasn't much further south (only Picardie).

I've just got to transfer the photos and video across to the mac and start sorting that out now.

It also seems we have another mac convert in the family as my mother-in-law seems to be keen to replace her PC with one. At least it will make supporting it easier!