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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.

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Written by Richard

1 December, 2009 at 10:47 pm

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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

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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

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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

Fixing GHWT Cymbal Sensitivity Problems

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When Guitar Hero World Tour came out in the States, many people reported that their drumpads were either too sensitive (triggering more than one hit), or not sensitive enough (not detecting hits). Activision’s response was that the problems were limited to only one batch of drumkits, so I thought I would be safe (being in Australia). But I guess my faith in tech companies was misplaced. Silly me.

My kit had problems with the cymbals. They were the “not sensitive enough” category – in particular, the yellow cymbal, which, unfortunately, is the most used pad in the game. For a number of months I just lived with it, tweaking it unsuccessfully with the midi USB cable (which Activision will send out for free if you report the problem on their website). But inspired by Jason’s success, I thought I’d put in a bit of effort and find a more permanent solution.

Unlike Jason’s problem, my solder points were solid. I tried the tape-and-springy-cardboard fix suggested on PowerTunesPlus, since I wasn’t keen on permanently gluing the sensor down at first. For me, neither the tape nor cardboard made a difference.

I then took the plunge and tried the hot glue gun fix, also suggested by PowerTunesPlus. This worked great. I still had to tweak the sensitivity a little using the tuning software, but at least now it is around 99% accurate.

Here’s what the cymbal looks like with the back cover removed, and a close-up of my dodgy hot-glue gunning skills. My yellow cymbal needed two blobs of glue, whereas the orange cymbal only required one.

Now I can no longer blame the hardware for bad drumming.

If you decide to fix your cymbals, a word of warning: Don’t overtighten the screws! The screws screw directly into the rubber, so if you’re not careful you might end up seeing the pointy end of the screw poking out of the top of the cymbal …

Written by Richard

16 April, 2009 at 10:44 pm

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Internet Scams via Instant Messaging

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It has been a while since I received a scam email (I love Gmail), but yesterday I received this one from the email address of an old work colleague I hadn’t seen in years:

From:        Mike (surname removed) <(email removed)@hotmail.com>

To:    

Date:        6 April 2009 12:40

Subject:    Hello

mailed-by:    hotmail.com

Hello,

How are you doing? I am so sorry I didn’t inform you about my traveling to UK to visit my ill cousin. I am presently in London with my ill cousin, whom is a student here. she was diagnosed with a critical uterine fibroid. xray and scan states that her condition is deteriorating because the fibroid has done a lot of damages to her abdominal area, and an emergency hysterectomy surgery must be carried-out to save her life. I am deeply sorry for not writing or calling you before leaving,I took first flight to london, the news of her illness arrived to me as an emergency and that she needs family support to keep her going. I had little time to prepare or even to inform people about my trip, I hope you understand my plight and pardon me.

I will like you to plz assist me with a soft loan, of £1500 urgently to sort-out my Cousin’s bills, the hospital manangement is demanding for a deposit of £1500 before they will implement the surgery, i am travelling with little money because I never expected things to be the way it is right now. What scares me the most is that she is going through a lot of pain at the moment and the doctors have adviced that, it is necessary that the tumour is operated soon to avoid anything from going wrong. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me with, since i don’t know your financial status at the moment. I’ll pay back as soon as i return.

I’ll be pleased to hear from you soon regarding my request and also my phone is currently off please i will call you when am back,i couldn’t roam the phone to uk,There was no time for that,reach me back through this email ASAP……..

Best Regards

Michael

Even though it was signed Michael, it was obviously a scam email because of the poor grammar. Plus if he really wanted money, he would have contacted me directly. I just ignored the email.

However, today I was contacted via instant messenger from Mike’s instant messenger account! “Mike” said that he was still in the UK and whether I could help him out with the email he sent yesterday. Unfortunately I didn’t save the actual chat log, but it went something like this:

Mike: hello

Me: Hi Mike, still in the UK with your sick cousin? 😛

Mike: yes

Mike: still in uk

Mike: can you help me with the email i sent you yesterday

Me: Are you still at ERG? (this is where we worked before, but he doesn’t work there any more)

Mike: ok

Mike: can you help

Me: I don’t believe you are Mike. Where did we meet?

Mike: erg

Me: What else can you tell me?

(silence)

Me: If you are really Mike, give me a call

Mike: from uk

Me: yes. This conversation is over.

Cheeky scammers. After that I deleted him from my contacts and contacted the real Mike via Facebook to let him know his account was compromised. All the more reason to:

Update: A few days after receiving the scam email and IM, I lodged a scam report to the ACCC via their ScamWatch website.  They contacted me via phone a few days after that, saying that there is nothing they can do as it is from an international scammer and out of their jurisdiction.  Comforting, eh?

Written by Richard

7 April, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Posted in tech

Automatic Garage Doors and Infrared Tripwires

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I like things that make life easier. One of the first things we installed when we first moved into our house was an automatic garage door. Getting out of the car to open the garage door in the rain is for chumps!

Knowing when to close the garage door is tricky.  We had been guesstimating by using a chalk mark on the wall, but that’s fairly inaccurate – the car bumper has been scratched by a closing garage door on more than one occasion (mostly by me). The solution would to install something that can tell when the car is fully in the garage. And the first solution I thought of (me being an engineer) was an infrared tripwire.

An infrared tripwire works by shining a beam of light at a sensor across an open space. When a solid object disrupts the light beam, such as a car or a person, it triggers an alarm of some sort – usually a buzzer or light. Shops often use infrared tripwires to detect patrons entering or exiting the store.

There are a few ready-made tripwires available on the market, ranging from $100-$150, but I found this kit at Jaycar (the Kemo B216N “Infrared Light Barrier 5m”) that apparently does the same thing for only $15 (plus around $30 for housing and connectors) – just need to solder it together. No sweat. The guys at Jaycar in Maddington also threw in a 12v power supply in for free. Thanks guys – free stuff good 🙂

Dusting off my soldering iron, I assembled the kit over a few nights. It took about 2 hours in total to solder in and test all the components. It didn’t work straight away so I gave it to my dad, the electronics engineer, to diagnose. He found that the instructions had capacitors C8 and C9 switched around, a fact that is obvious once I looked more closely at the photo. It took about another hour or so to prepare the cabling and housing.

kemob216npicture1

When I finally tested the tripwire, it worked great – at night time. During the day it didn’t work at all, as its sensor couldn’t tell the difference between the its tiny infrared LED and the sun. It was particularly bad in the afternoon, when the sun shines directly into the garage. Curse you big flaming ball of infrared energy!

I needed another solution. After a lot of blasphemous remarks about sun-related deities (and words rhyming with “trucking”), I settled on a kit that was cheap, quick and easy to install, accurate to the millimetre and works in all light conditions:

A feature comparison between the Kemo kit and the tennis-ball-hanging-from-the-ceiling kit:

 

Infrared Tripwire

Ball-o-Matic

 Cost

$45

$0 (recyclable components)

 Construction time

3 hours

3 minutes

 Installation time

1 hour

15 minutes

 Accuracy

3cm

1mm

 Configurable?

No

Yes

 Works during the day?

No

Yes

 

Sometimes the simple solutions are the best ones.

Written by Richard

26 March, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Posted in tech