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Favourite iPhone Apps

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I’m a big fan of the iPhone. Although its feature set is quite meagre compared to other phones (only a 2 megapixel camera??) its strength comes from the Apple AppStore, which has hundreds of thousands of applications available for download, most of which are either free or only cost a few dollars.

Here are my favourite apps. I will update this post as I find other applications worthy of a download.

  • Google Mobile App (free): Has links to Google apps (such as Gmail, Calendar, etc) but the best feature is voice-enabled Google searches.  Never type in a Google search ever again!
  • Twitterriffic (free): A free, clean Twitter client.
  • Facebook (free): The official Facebook client.
  • MobileRSS (free): A free RSS reader. I trialled a few different RSS readers that integrate with Google Reader, but this one had the most visually pleasing interface.
  • Toodledo (paid): A task tracking app.  I use it every day to keep my To Do list.  It syncs with toodledo.com as well, so nothing’s lost.
  • Pocket Universe (paid): Awesome use of the iPhone 3GS for astronomy. Point it at the sky at night to find out what those stars are called.
  • Toilet Map (free): Funded by the Govt Dept of Health and Ageing, this app shows you where the nearest public toilets are to your location.  Cheaper and possibly more accurate than Toilet Mate.
  • Photogene (paid): Nice photo editing tool, when you absolutely need to edit your photos on the iPhone. More feature-rich than the Photoshop app, and well worth the $2.49.
  • RunKeeper (free): Essential for runners and cyclists.  It’ll show you your speed and pace at regular intervals on your run and also plot a map of the course you took.  It also has a great web interface – all for free.
  • Shazam (free): Hold it up to any music source and it’ll tell you what the song is and provide links to iTunes and YouTube videos.  Awesome. Update: The original Shazam has been replaced with Shazam Encore, which is now a paid application.
  • Snaptell (free): Shazam for DVDs, CDs and books. Take a picture of a DVD, CD or book cover and it’ll tell you what it is and how much it is on Amazon, ebay, Wikipedia reviews, etc.  It’s US-based, but still useful.
  • iiQuota (free): Allows you to keep track of your download usage and phone call caps (works best with Optus)
  • OzWeather (paid): Nicer interface and more accurate than the standard one, and includes a 7-day outlook, current conditions and the radar (to spot your original location)
  • Metro Perth (paid): Up-to-date bus/train/ferry info.  The interface is a bit clunky, but it’s not bad.
  • Lightsaber Unleashed (free): Because lightsaber sounds are cool.
  • Screen cleaner (free): Doggy licking the screen. My youngest loves this app.

So what are your favourite apps? Post a comment to this post if you have any suggestions.

Written by Richard

1 December, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Posted in tech

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Quick and Easy Mango Tree Shade Cover

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It is important to protect new mango trees with shade cloth for the first few years to give it the best chance of getting used to the harsh Perth climate. So to protect my newly planted tree, I built a simple cover out of stakes and shade cloth. It took about half an hour to construct:

Parts list:

  • 19x19mm 180cm hardwood stakes: $14 from Bunnings (for a bundle of 6, but you only need 4)
  • 19mm poly reticulation tubing: $8 for a pre-cut 20m roll from Bunnings (although you only need about 3m though)
  • 3 metres of 50% 1.83m wide shade cloth: $15 from Bunnings (for some reason 70% shade cloth was cheaper, but they had no stock)
  • Plastic cable ties: I already had some available, but they can be purchased at Bunnings too.
  • A sharp Stanley knife

What I did:

  1. Hammer the stakes into the ground around the tree, about a metre apart in a square shape.
  2. Shave the corners off the ends of the stakes with the Stanley knife. This makes it much easier to fit the tubing over the stakes. Watch your fingers!
  3. Cut two semi-circular pieces of tubing. The actual length will depend on how far apart your stakes are. I cut mine to about 120cm.
  4. Push the tubing onto the stakes, crossed over at the top.
  5. Using two cable ties, secure the crossed section of tubing at the top (see pic on the right).

  6. Place the shade cloth over the top and secure the bottom with cable ties. I folded the corners in to make it look a bit neater, but you could probably cut this off and secure with more cable ties.

  7. Water and wait for 1-2 years for mangoes :)

I’m sure you could save by buying a lot less poly tubing than I did, or using recycled materials. Good luck!

Written by Richard

19 November, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Posted in garden

Upgrading Mac Mini Memory

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One of the easiest and often cheapest ways of increasing the performance of any computer is to increase its RAM. My Mac Mini was struggling with its paltry 1GB of RAM, so I decided to buy 2 sticks of 2GB Corsair DDR3 RAM to boost it up.

Apple products are notoriously difficult to open, thanks to one-piece designs and no visible screws. The Mac Mini is no different. However thanks to this great YouTube vid opening my Mini was really easy. All I needed was a jeweller’s Philips screwdriver and an Apple ‘screwdriver’ (see above).

Before I started, I xbenched my Mac Mini to measure the performance difference. XBench runs a series of aimed as benchmarking the different parts of the hardware and gives an overall score compared to a 2004 model 2.0GHz G5 iMac.

My results before swapping the RAM:

And after:

Wow, a whole two-percent performance increase! I expected a little bit more than that. It certainly felt faster and snappier after I swapped the RAM. Was I just imagining it?

Looking more closely at the detailed results shows the real picture.

Point-for-point, the memory test gains are negated by the losses in the thread test. However, although thread performance decreased by 10%, the memory performance increased by 17%. This explains the snappiness – the Mac Mini uses shared memory for its graphics card, so the faster RAM would make a difference there. And simply having more RAM allows me to run more apps simultaneously without noticeable slowdown.

Though In the end, adding more RAM to a Mac Mini is like strapping a big exhaust to a Corolla – it accelerates more quickly, but in the end it’s still just a Corolla. Time to save up for that Ferrari …

Written by Richard

14 August, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Posted in tech

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Ambition

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A conversation between me and Miss 4 when washing the car:

“You are a good car washer Daddy.”

“Thanks honey. Maybe you can help me when you are older.”

She sighs. “No …”

“Why not?”

“Because ballerinas don’t wash cars.”

Can’t complain really – at least it is a real job. When I was her age, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster.

Written by Richard

2 July, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Posted in kids

BitDefender and the Vista SP2 Update

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I hate reimaging my PC. It can take the best part of an unproductive day to reinstall Vista and all of the apps I use. So today when BitDefender rendered my PC unbootable, I was not happy at all.

While upgrading to Vista SP2, BitDefender decided that one of the files in the update was a Trojan and promptly quarantined the file. This caused Vista to chuck a wobbly (that’s the technical term), hanging during the install and refusing to boot any further. It wouldn’t even boot into safe mode – never a good sign. I was able to get it into repair mode, but it couldn’t detect any restore points. Crap.

After going through all 5 Kübler-Ross stages of grief, and trying out lots of different things, I managed to push my PC through the update without having to reimage my hard drive. If you were unlucky enough to have the same problem, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Remove the drive from your computer.
  2. Connect drive to another machine using a USB enclosure or similar device. This is so that you can view the contents of the drive.
  3. Browse to the ProgramData\BitDefender\Desktop\Quarantine folder. You should see a bunch of .bdq and .xml files.

  1. Look through the .xml files until you find one that contains the following text in the Find the XML file that contains the following in the <file name> tag: 5458b6349bdec901622f00003401280f.x86_microsoft-windows-s..ive-blackbox-driver_31bf3856ad364e35_6.0.6002.18005_none_0b5dfb3fa4f88147_spsys.sys_95b9c9e3. Make a copy of the string and note the file’s name.

  1. Rename the associated .bdq file to the big long string above. In my case, the original .bdq file was BDQF_1243172517_0.bdq.
    • If there are more than one .xml files that contain the same name, then rename the .bdq file that has a size of 699KB.
  2. <Open up a new Windows Explorer window and browse to \Windows\winsxs\Temp\PendingRenames\ on your connected drive.
  3. Change the owner of the PendingRenames directory to yourself:
    • Right-click on PendingRenames directory -> Properties -> Security tab -> advanced button -> Owner tab -> Edit button.
  4. Copy the renamed file in step 5 to \Windows\winsxs\Temp\PendingRenames\.
  5. Power down your drive and put it back into your original computer.
  6. Start up your computer. The install should now go through properly.
And optional steps:

  1. Uninstall BitDefender; and
  2. Buy a Mac.

That’s it! For the record, I was using BitDefender Antivirus 2009.

If you have a RAID system, then this might not work for you. Blah1234 on this BitDefender thread was able to do the same thing using a Vista Install DVD to browse through the files and copy them across. This is possibly a better way than pulling your drive out even if you don’t have a RAID, but not as much fun J

Written by Richard

28 May, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Posted in tech

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Psst! Wanna buy a cheap thumbdrive?

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If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.    

On a recent trip overseas, a friend bought a 500GB USB thumb drive for only AU$20! That’s only 4c per gigabyte – bargain!

Could that “500G” just be the model number? Nope, definitely 500 gigs, it says so on the back:

Even Vista says it has half a terabyte!

When he tried copying files across to it, it started to report I/O errors after around 200 megabytes (surprise surprise). A deep format revealed that it was in fact really only a 256MB thumb drive.

Given that:

  1. There is no 500GB thumb drive on Sony’s official site;
  2. 32GB is the highest capacity thumb drive available in Australia;
  3. The ridiculously low dollar-to-gigabyte ratio; and
  4. It doesn’t actually work;

this is very obviously a fake. What’s interesting is that they’ve hacked the firmware to report a higher capacity than the drive actually is. Fake or not, that’s pretty clever.

Now if my friend had a web-enabled phone, he could have done a quick search on the net and found that these were most likely fakes.  In fact, he could have bought a  3G iPhone for only AU$100 from another vendor down the street … :)

Written by Richard

7 May, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Posted in tech

Refunds, Replacements and Legal Obligations

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We recently had a new addition to our family: a shiny new Samsung 2233SW LCD monitor. Father and baby are doing well (Mother couldn’t care less).

Despite the joy of having 21-and-a-half inches of shininess, there was a minor problem. The monitor rattled whenever it moved; an uncomfortable metal-against-glass type rattle. I put up with it for about a week, but after that I felt compelled to try to get it fixed, just in case it decided to die on me after the warranty period expired.

My first call was to Samsung Support. Since it was reported within 14 days of purchase, Samsung Support Guy said it is considered “dead on arrival” and I needed to return it to the Store to get it replaced.

Second call: the Store. Monitors are covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, said Store Guy. Call Samsung and they will provide a replacement. Sigh.

Third call: Samsung Support. Store Guy is right, said Samsung Support Guy, but only after 14 days. Under Fair Trading law, the Store is obligated to provide a replacement within 14 days of purchase. Double Sigh.

Fourth call was to the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection (1300 30 40 54). Here’s the official word from Friendly DFT Lady:

There is no “14 day” rule under the Fair Trading laws. However, by paying money you effectively entered into a contract with the seller to provide a product that is free from defects and acceptable for use. If the product is not defect-free, then the seller is obligated to rectify the problem, be it a replacement, repair or refund.

Is the seller still obligated to rectify the rattling, even if it doesn’t affect the performance of the monitor? Friendly DFT Lady says Yes:

Since you would not expect a monitor to rattle, then the seller is still obligated to resolve the issue.

So the final call: the Store again. After discussing Friendly DFT Lady’s advice, Store Guy agrees to provide a replacement. Huzzah!

Written by Richard

30 April, 2009 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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