Psystar Hoax Maybe Not a Hoax Afterall?

By Mike on 3:15 pm

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Maybe the Psystar Mac clones weren't a hoax after all. According to major tech website CNET, they have one ready for review. So, apparently, they are a real company after all. I'd be really interested to see their review of the system. In case you don't know, Psystar claimed to be selling Mac clones running OSX 10.5 Leopard on off the shelf PC hardware. The systems were selling as low as $400. According to CNET, the legitimacy issue created its payment handler to cut ties with the company, which raised questions as to whether or not this was a hoax. The systems run a hacked version of OS X created by the OSx86 project. However, OSx86 is not involved and does not endorse these systems.

Apple has yet to comment on this. According to the End User License Agreement, it is illegal to run OS X on anything but Apple hardware. This raises all sorts of legal questions upon what will happen to Psystar and even people who buy the systems. Personally, I don't think this is worth it. Not only is the legality questionable, the OS cannot be updated through conventional means. Each time a major update is released, you would have to download the latest cracked DVD ISO from OSx86 and reinstall the OS. If you really want a Mac, its best to buy Apple's own hardware such. Used and refurbished systems can be bought for the same price point provided you don't care about having the latest hardware.

I'll post a link to CNET's full review when it becomes available. As a side note, Psystar also sells the Open Computer with Vista Home Premium, Vista Ultimate, XP Pro, or Ubuntu 8.04. However, they don't preinstall Ubuntu. OS X either comes preinstalled or they'll let you do it yourself. Microsoft operating systems are preinstalled. Specs for the base model are as followed.

Gigabyte Motherboard (I don't know the exact model), Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 Allendale 2.2ghz, 250gb 7200rpm SATA HDD, Intel GMA950 Integrated grahics, 2gb DDR2. This is $399 with no OS, no keyboard and mouse, and no monitor.
The system can be upgraded to include a Core 2 Duo E6750 Conroe 2.66ghz, 400gb HDD, Geforce 8600GT, firewire ports, 4gb DDR2, and built in Wifi.

Update: CNET gave the system a review in which it garnered 6 out of 10. That's pretty respectable for their site since they rarely give out anything above a 7 or 8. Apparently the system sounds like a jet engine when on. There's also the possiblilty Apple could brick these systems through an update like they tried to to with the hacked iPhone. CNET described them as being a system frozen in time, since the inability to update the software seems rather limiting. The system is a good value though and performs better than Apple's more expensive Mac Mini. It can also be upgraded. 

Endgadget also did some additional benchmarks through more technical tests and they compared it to genuine Macs on the market. The system seems comparable performance wise to a vanilla MacBook. 

iPhone Coming to Canada

By Mike on 11:46 am

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When the iPhone came out last summer, it rapidly became one of 2007's must have gadgets. Americans got the phone before anybody else. This led to people buying them up off eBay and hacking them to work on other GSM networks. Many Canadians figured out that it could be hacked to work with Rogers. Today, Rogers announced that the iPhone will be coming to Canada sometime this year and that they will be providing the service. Rogers is the only major cell phone provider in Canada that uses GSM technology. Bell and Telus use CDMA technology. There are rumors of a 3G compatible iPhone. CDMA is part of the 3G standard so it is possible Bell and/or Telus may offer the iPhone sometime in the future. 

Rogers has not set a release date, only saying it will be available before the year is out. Also unavailable is how much phone plans would cost. Last year, reports came out that a data plan similar to the $60/month iPhone plan offered by AT&T in the US would cost $295/month in Canada. I seriously doubt it will cost that much but it's almost guaranteed to be more expensive per month than the US.

iMac Upgraded, High End Graphics Now Available

By Mike on 9:42 am

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Apple has updated the iMac. Once again we have two sizes, 20'' and 24''. There are four models in these sizes. A speed bump pushes the processor speeds to 2.4ghz, 2.66ghz, 2.8ghz and 3.06ghz. 2gb memory is now stock in higher end models and is expandable to 4gb. Also of note is that the high end 24'' comes with either a Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256mb or a Geforce 8800GS 512mb. 

The addition of the 8800GS brings an enthusiast GPU to the iMac line. I couldn't find any quick benchmarks online for this card but it does seem to be slower than the 8800GT spec wise. However, it should be more than good enough for some moderate to heavy gaming. Yes, I do know that gaming has never been a strong suit for Macintosh. However, there are some big name games coming out for the platform so Mac users are not left high and dry. Also keep in mind that you can run Windows XP through Boot Camp and play all your favourite Windows games on your iMac. 

Another thing worth noting is that these new systems don't seem to use the Merom core anymore in their CPUs. There is a possibility that the 2.66ghz model could be a Wolfdale though it's more likely the older Conroe E6700. Since Conroe uses a different socket than Merom, we can assume these are Socket 775 motherboards. The 2.4ghz is probably an E6600. The 3.06ghz model is interesting because there are no stock, off the shelf Intel Core 2 processors that run at that speed. Of course I could be wrong about all of that and they could indeed by custom clocked Merom or Wolfdale CPUs. This thing is badly wanting to be ripped apart to see what its guts are.

The iMac with the 8800GS and 3.06ghz processor is a whopping $2199, which is expensive for what it is. The two 20'' models cost $1199 and $1499 respectively while the lower end 24'' is $1799. If you want to consider buying one of these, I'd stick with the two 20'' models since these high end ones are overpriced. If you want a gaming system, you could probably get a similar PC system with a vastly superior GPU for the same cost. For a decent office or multimedia system, the 20'' models are perfect. 

Why MS Discontinuing XP Is Foolish

By Mike on 1:12 pm

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Windows Vista has perhaps been the most controversial OS to come out in years. Sure, it has its legions of fanboys as any tech product does. However the truth is that a lot of people just hate it. Many have compared it to the ill fated Windows ME due to the fact that it was incompatible, slow, bugged and expensive much like ME. Windows ME was of course replaced by Windows XP one year later. It seems Microsoft is going the same route with Windows 7, pushing up its release date to possibly 2009. Is Vista really a bad OS? I think it depends on which side of the fence your on. After messing with it for a bit, I found that there wasn't really much to like and that it didn't really improve on XP. It's been a tough sell for Microsoft. However, MS has tried to blow off criticism in another one of their flagrant attempts to portray their own customers as being dim witted. Late last year, 40000 Dell customers demanded that the computer giant keep offering XP on their systems. Microsoft claimed that 40,000 people was insignificant. Additionally, Steve Bullmer sarcastically announced recently that Vista's controversial UAC was purposely designed to annoy people. He has also claimed that people don't want XP.

So why is XP still so popular? Well, people like it because it is a mature OS, is compatible with most hardware and software on the market including legacy programs, and requires far fewer system resources than Vista does. Businesses don't want to switch due to incompatibility and high licensing costs. Replacing legacy workstations is very expensive. Even if people like Dell sell Vista capable business systems for just $400, try multiplying that by thousands. The new UMPC trend means there are a lot of low power systems out there that can't run Vista at all. A third factor is that a lot of consumers have become fed up with Windows and Microsoft. Today, consumers have more choice than ever. Apple has seen huge gains in its market share, partially due to the iPod trend. Mac OS X is also cheaper than competing operating systems and arguably has better features such as Expose and Spaces, which mop the floor with Vista's Aeroglass. Linux too has seen growth in the business sector as a low cost alternative. Distributions such as Ubuntu contain all necessary software that your average workstation would need. Most servers and supercomputers today run Linux. Using Linux is an ultra low cost alternative to Windows Server. While I can't imagine either surpassing Windows in the near future, they will keep gnawing away at Microsoft's market share. The high resistance to Vista will only encourage people to seek alternatives.

Microsoft plans to discontinue sales of XP to retailers and OEMs this June. To me, this is foolish. Despite it being an older and seemingly outdated product, there is still sufficiently high demand for it. It is stupid to discontinue it. Take Sony for example. When the Playstation 3 came out, they could have discontinued the Playstation 2. However, there was still significant demand for the older console so it became marketed as a low cost alternative to modern systems, in particular competition with the Nintendo Wii. The million dollar question is why can't Microsoft do the same with XP, offer it as a low cost alternative for legacy systems. Given the recent UMPC craze, this would seem to make sense. In fact, Microsoft plans to keep selling XP to OEMs for that specific use. However, I think it's foolish to keep the public and other OEMs away from something they clearly want, and to stop selling a product that's still making money. I have a theory why though. It's well known Microsoft spent a lot on R&D for Vista. It seems likely they spent too much so they're trying to push an OS nobody really wants to try and recover costs. The poor response to Vista is also an embarassment for Microsoft so they want to force it on the market. Perhaps MS needs a shakeup in the board room after the Vista debacle. In the mean time, I hope they will reverse their decision. If not, Linux could very well end up eating them alive in business and the low power market.

Echochrome Demo Review

By Mike on 9:39 pm

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Can gaming be a legitimate art form. Many like to think so including myself. We've seen titles such as Okami for example which created a world in the form of a living painting. Sony's Japan Studio has been cranking out some innovative and off beat games such as LocoRoco and Patapon. These two games defied conventional gaming wisdom by going back to 2D but creating colourful, artistic worlds. Echochrome is another puzzle game that has tried to follow this path. I'm having trouble writing this mini review since the game itself is simple yet surprisingly difficult to describe.

Echochrome could probably be best summed up as a living MC Escher drawing, resembling other similar impossible objects such as the devils tuning fork. Sony describes it as a spatial awareness puzzler. The graphics of the game are very simplistic and rather bland. A plain white background with simple black lines rendering 3D geometric shapes. More colour or some backgrounds would have been nice. The game is available for both the Playstation 3 and PSP though both are graphically identical. Gameplay is equally simple. You rotate the environment to change perspective. Changing perspective changes how your stick figure moves. He moves along the walkways and you can either stop him or make him walk faster, but other than that you don't have any solid control over him. Hiding holes and "bridging" (hiding) gaps can open new paths. You can also change the perspective of holes to make paths above them seem below, which is how your character will fall through them. Your goal is to maneuver the character to "echo" figures in order to finish the level. There's a video on the Playstation Blog that will show gameplay since it really is difficult to describe. The demos for both systems feature a tutorial and three levels, but the experience is surprisingly short lived. Each version has 56 exclusive levels. The full version will feature a level creator and users will be able to upload their custom levels to PSN on PS3. PSP custom levels can be shared over wifi. As for audio the only music in the demo is a repetitive solo violin/cello tune in a reserved, classical style. A robotic female voice with an English accent provides instructions. The game's concept is interesting and certainly different but audio and graphics wise, there's not much to say.

So, did I like Echochrome? No I didn't. Why? I just don't see the point of this game. I would hesitate to even call it a game. The demo was incredibly short lived, I beat it in about 10 minutes but I didn't find it particularly stimulating or challenging. There's no real rewards in terms of score for successfully completing levels. There are no time limits and there is no punishment for mistakes. Your character can't die but rather is simply reset to where they were before they fell into the abyss. The goal just seems to be getting to the end and nothing more. If it weren't for the custom level creator, the game would have absolutely no replayability. The general concept of Echochrome as a living MC Escher drawing is interesting but the game itself is, quite frankly, boring. It looks like something you'd see at a university art gallery, not as a commercially produced video game. I'm not so uncultured as to expect this game to have guns and blood. However, when comparing it to recent colourful, engaging puzzle games such as LocoRoco, Patapon, or even the venerable Tetris, Echochrome comes off as being pointless. I really don't want to call this a bad game, and I'll know people will get upset with me by saying this, but it is just a bad game. I'm really being generous with the four out of ten I gave it. Mind you, the game is well put together for what it is. If you like it, more power to you, but I can't see it as being even a minor diversion. I honestly don't understand the level of hype this game has received when there are far better puzzlers out there for both systems. I suppose it exemplifies modern and post-modern art but a video game this is not.
Echochrome will be available on PSN for download only in May though I don't know how much the game will cost. Personally, I wouldn't recommend anybody buy this. However, I do find it more suitable on the PSP than on the PS3. At least on the PSP, you can sit in the quad and have all your artsy fartsy friends play with you. As I said earlier, the PS3 and PSP versions are virtually identical, even graphics wise. The PS3 version does include a rather pointless rumble feature but lacks Sixaxis support, which would have added a bit to the game.

What Works:
-Interesting concept of a living MC Escher drawing
-Custom level creator for full version

What Doesn't Work:
-It's boring. Game has no point to it.
-Bland, uncolourful graphics. PS3 and PSP versions identical.
-Only one repetitivly dry audio track.
-Motion sensing would have made the PS3 version slightly more interesting.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Update: This game was made available May 1st for $9.99 on the Playstation Store. The cost is the same for both versions. Is it worth a lousy $10? Probably not.

Review: Grado SR60 Headphones

By Mike on 5:26 pm

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The iPod generation likes i's music loud and low quality. Most people today are quite content with the earbuds that come with the trendy MP3 player. However, these buds are quite frankly garbage. Their sound quality is terrible. They often are too bass or treble heavy, and produce an overall muffled sound. You really do get what you pay for and these $5 earbuds are no good. You'd be surprised how much you're missing with those cheap buds. Your best bet is to pick up a proper pair of over-the-ear headphones since they provide better sound and have noise cancelling qualities. Some earbuds do as well but these molded varieties tend to be vary expensive.

Headphones vary in price. How much do you think a decent pair is worth? Bose sells an on-ear variety for $240. Sennheiser sells a pair of pro grade ones for a whopping $650. Is that what high quality headphones are worth? Perhaps but you really don't need to spend that much to get a good quality set of phones for home listening. That's where Grado comes in. The New York based company caters to audiophiles and is well known for their turntable cartages and head phones. The Grado SR60s are their base level headphone just above the iPod oriented iGrados, which are an on-the-go option. The SR60 set is intended for home listening. They're on-the-ear headphones, as opposed to the ear cup style. They've won numerous awards over the years for their high fidelity. So, how much do you think they cost? Just $69.

The SR60s come in a nice shirt box style package, with foam to keep them in place. They have roughly 6ft of cord with a 2.5mm jack and a standard 1/4'' jack addapter for using with your amplifier. Both are gold plated, not that that really makes much of a difference. Also in the box is a warranty printed on faux-parchment paper and the now standard warning telling people not to blow their ears off by turning it up to 11. For audio quality, you don't need it loud to hear the detail, which is the point of these. Some reviewers have professed near studio quality, which is indeed true. In fact the one big drawback with this is that you realize how bad low quality audio files and bad equipment can sound. I tried them out on a few pieces of audio equipment. My main receiver is a Pioneer SX-525 which dated from the 1970s. Also tested was my PC with a SoundBlaster X-FI XtremeMusic sound card. Audio was clear in all ranges and bass is actually not too bad. Cheaper headphones will have too little bass and too much trebble these are spot on. They make my old amp seem higher end. If you have good hearing, you will even be able to pick out stuff you couldn't hear clearly before on high quality recordings. It's hard to describe how good the sound quality is but it will certainly match much more expensive Sennheiser and Bose equipment. I was certainly surprised by them. Another bonus is that they're quite comfortable and can be worn for hours without discomfort. Grado's included ear padding is ample. Ear cups are available for these headphones if you prefer that style. The SR60s have an open air design with air vents on the other side. These play an important role in audio quality by allowing the driver to move more air, but the vents also leak noise. People around you will be able to hear what you are listening too, especially if you have them turned up loud. They also don't provide as much passive noise cancelling as the closed ear cup style. Therefore, these headphones are best suited for at home listening rather than on the bus or in the library.

Overall, I would definitely say they're the best headphones I've had so far. They have an audio quality that rivals more expensive makes. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to find in Canada. I could only find two sellers in the entire nation. The only retailer in the Toronto area wanted a whopping $150 for them on his website though I did bargain him down to a "cheap" $130. Needless to say, he didn't get my business. Despite the quality, that's way too much for these given that lists them for $69. Due to a deal with Grado, major US retailers including Amazon won't ship these to Canada. I have no idea why. Alternatively, there is a place in Alberta that sells them for $99. However, your best bet is to try eBay if you want to pay the US price. I bought mine brand new for $80 including shipping. It is very unfortunate that there are only two retailers in Canada that sell these headphones. Hopefully Grado will change their policy.

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and DS3 Hands On

By Mike on 3:27 pm

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If anybody is interested, Best Buy has a great deal this week where if you buy Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, you get a Dual Shock 3 for $20. Not bad considering a DS3 at regular price is $54. I decided to take advantage of this. This really isn't a full review but rather a hands on look at GT5 Prologue, which I'll just call GT5P for the rest of the article.

GT5P is Polyphony's sequel to the hit Gran Turismo line of racing simulators for Playstation. Last year, they released Gran Turismo HD Concept, which was essentially just GTR4 with some slightly spiffed up graphics and 720p support. The free download featured one track, a time trial, drift mode, and ten cars. GT5P is also a demo of sorts. It's not the final game but rather simply a taste to tie gamers over until the full version of GT5 is released sometime in 2009. GT5P includes five tracks and 60 cars. To buy the game, you can either purchase a disc version or download it from the Playstation Store. I recommend the BD version since I prefer having a hard copy of games, plus the download is rather big at 1.9gb. There's one problem with the game right off the bat. It requires you to install the game to the HDD, which takes 5gb of space. This seems to be a growing trend for PS3 games making it tempting to upgrade your stock drive.

The game itself shows some good improvements over the previous outing. Graphics obviously have been updated and are the most realistic looking yet. There's not really much I can say here other than it looks how it should for a modern racing title. Like Uncharted, the game uses HDR lighting but it doesn't over use it. When you come out of tunnels into the bright sun, you'll be blinded temporally. A nice touch. The cars are nice and shiny. Once again, they failed to render dirt or damage though Polyphony has noted this might be included in an update this fall. One last word on graphics is that the frame rates are a silky smooth 60fps at all resolutions. GT5P supports resolutions of 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.
The menu has also received an overhaul. GT4's was rather clumsy but Polyphony has taken the XMB approach, called the My Page, with a simple layout. I would even say GT5P's My Page is better than Sony's XMB since it even includes a realtime clock and calendar! Two new features to the menu involve the News and GT-TV channels. News is just what it says, it features news about the game. GT-TV is a video-on-demand service that will provide online streaming videos. The videos will include stuff related to Gran Turismo of course but will also feature real-world car videos such as new model tests, auto show reports, car documentaries, and special events. Not much is up on GT-TV now. If you buy the Blu-ray version, you get Beyond the Apex, a HD documentary on the making of the Gran Turismo series.

Gameplay, It's not much different from past GT games. However, the physics do seem to have improved over GT4. It had stiff physics and I thought it just didn't feel like a real car would, even at those speeds. GT5P feels more realistic. You can race in either arcade mode or event mode. Arcade mode has races, time trials, or drift trials. The one thing that disappointed me about this mode was the fact you couldn't drive any car you wanted, like in GT4. You can only drive cars that you've purchased from dealers. It would have been nice if they gave you a few of the lower end cars to test out in Arcade Mode. To start the game, I purchased the Mazda Atenza Sport. It's the European version of the Mazda 6. I have a soft spot for this car since the first car I ever owned was a 1989 Mazda 626, which is now known as the Mazda 6. The beginner C class races seem a bit easier than they were in GT4. A new feature is a visible race line, which is a big help for beginners like myself since it shows you the best route on the track to follow. One improvement over GT4 is the AI. Computer controlled drivers seem a bit more realistic then they did in the previous game. They will react to you and they even make mistakes such as going off the track. In some missions though, such as time trials with multiple cars on the track, they will still insist on following the race line to a T, which can be bad if you're trying to do the same thing since faster cars will come up behind you and make no attempt to go around, instead they just rear end you. Overall though, the whole experience is just a lot nicer than GT4 and I'm definitely looking forward to the final product. Polyphony is infamous for delays though, just take the PSP version of GT4 for example. Kazunori Yamauchi, the game's creator, has mentioned that GT5 might not be released until after 2009. Looks like we'll have to keep playing GT5P for the time being though online modes and two player split screen will keep it fun.

The second part of this article deals with the DualShock 3, another recently released product. This probably has to have been one of the most anticipated PS3 items this year, more so than any game. DualShock 3 adds rumble support. Sony did not include it in the original SixAxis due to a pending patent lawsuit, as I mentioned in a previous article. The DS3 is a little heavier than the old Sixaxis and it lacks the semi-transparent case. Other than that, the DS3 is identical to its predecessor. It retains motion sensing from the Sixaxis. Most PS3 games released since October 2007 support rumble. Some, such as Motorstorm, have been patched to add the feature. It's also compatible with most PS2 games. Sony claims it might not work with some though I tried it with Okami and GT4 without issues. The new controller costs $54 CAD though I did mention that Best Buy has it on sale this week for $20 if you purchase GT5P with it. It seems to be a hot item since when I bought mine on Friday, there was only one left on the shelf. The DS3 will definitely add a missing component to PS3. I'm still getting used to the rumble feature since I skipped out on the last console generation and I never bought the Rumblepack for my N64.

The Great Psystar Hoax

By Mike on 6:34 pm

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One of the most bizarre tech stories to come out in awhile swept across the internet this week. It involved a company named Psystar, who was supposedly making Mac clones and selling them for just $399 base cost. This is far cheaper than any Mac Apple sells. The company had supposedly used the OSX86 project's code to run Mac OS X Leopard on off the shelf PC hardware. This violates the EULA for OS X (since it's only allowed to run on Apple hardware) and possibly the controversial Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The plot has thickened since then since information has come out showing that Psystar is most likely a hoax. For one, the address the company gives is home to a totally different company that sells packing supplies. I think a lot of tech heads were suckered in by this hoax, myself included. Mostly because it is plausible. OSX86 is a real project for running Mac OS X on off the shelf PC hardware, and yes, it does work. Though Psystar had claimed to have worked with them, OSX86 denies being contacted by them. Apple themselves seems to have been suckered in by this hoax, sending their lawyers after this guy. They've made no official announcements regarding this as of me writing this.

Why were so many people suckered into this? Well for starters, it is plausible as I said. It also had a lot of Mac fans licking their chops for the possibility of an ultra low cost alternative to Apple's pricy hardware. Low end systems like the Mac Mini typically are priced higher than their PC counterparts with similar specifications. There are a number of people out there with "Hackintosh" computers, PCs running OSX86. The idea of a cheap Mac clone is mighty tempting. Apple did test the waters of the cloning market back in the mid 1990s. Motorola was one of the more notable Mac cloners, being part of the Apple-IBM-Motorola (AIM) alliance that developed the PowerPC processor. Motorola sold its line of Mac clones under the StarMax brand. They were cheaper than regular Macs. We bought one of these and it's still occasionally used at the office of our family business. Apple didn't keep this going for too long though. The StarMax line ended in 1997. Mac clones themselves are still in high demand.

There have been repeated calls for Apple to open up it's OS to run on PC hardware in the post Intel transition era. Most notable is Michael Dell, who wanted to sell a line of Dell systems with OS X as an option. Apple has stated that they will not allow OS X to run on anything other than Mac hardware. Back in the 1980s, cloning arguably killed IBM's home PC business. Though Apple does create and release a large amount of software, the company is still primarily in the hardware business, and they want to keep it that way. Chances are they wouldn't sell very many computers if their profitable OS was ported to a cheaper system. It makes logical sense to them but I'm not sure if it does to others, or even myself. If Apple is really serious about taking down the big boys in Redmond, maybe they need to rethink their strategy. In recent years, Apple has become the Gucci of the PC world. Their products are solid but many see them as overpriced and underpowered for what they sell for compared to Windows PCs. There is obviously a demand for a low cost Mac. The Mac Mini is currently the cheapest option but at $599, it's expensive and doesn't even come with a DVD burner, which is standard on most systems these days. The Mini is a small form factor PC though, which is partly why it costs more. Perhaps Apple should think about making a sub-$500 upgradable tower based system. Given that this seems to be the route that a lot of manufactuers are going these days, it would only make sense for Apple to do so if they want to stay competitive.

Firefox 3 Beta 5 for Mac OS X Review

By Mike on 9:34 am

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There's a lot of buzz over Mozilla's latest web browser, Firefox 3. Chances are that you've used Firefox in the past. I first started using it around 2003 as an alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer and I now use it exclusively on all my systems. Firefox is an open source browser that came out of the ashes of the old Netscape browser. If you had the internet before 1998, you probably used Netscape too. A lot of people adopted Firefox, mostly out of spite for Microsoft's IE6, which was infamous for it's swiss cheese security. Aside from being more secure, Firefox also introduced some features like tabbed browsing, which is now common. It currently has just under 18% market share for internet browsers, which is a considerable feat for an open source product.

Firefox 3.0 is currently in beta stage. The current version is 3.0 Beta 5. As it stands, the beta is pretty much finished and ready to be released as is. Firefox is cross platfrom and there have already been reviews of 3.0 for Windows and Linux, but not to many for OS X. First note is that Firefox 3.0 will only run on OS X 10.4 Tiger or higher. For this review, I'm running OS X 10.5 Leopard. One of the first things you notices is that the interface has been completely redesigned and is now more modern looking on all versions. The OS X version sports a full Aqua interface similar to the one used on Safari. It simply looks a whole lot nicer. When entering web addresses, it will now make fill in addresses of sites you visited in the past, as well as from your book marks. The latter being new. The search tool and RSS interfaces have remained the same. One problem I noticed with the Beta interface was that the forward/back buttons weren't on the tool bar by default. Being frequently used, they should have been. The book marks menu has essentially stayed the same though the way it organizes them is a little different. It used hierarchical folders similar to Safari, but I found the design here to be rather clumsy.

Performance has also improved. Firefox 2 was infamous for memory leaks. That's when a program uses memory inefficiently and starts consuming more RAM than it should. This has been tightened up. Firefox is currently using 76mb with three tabs open to Blogger, Wikipedia, and Macworld. This still seems like a lot but it's better than it was, and it will not start consuming more the longer the program runs. These performance improvements also resulted in lower rendering times for web pages, so pages will seem to load faster. Despite performance improvements, I've had the browser crash on me a couple of times. I'm running an older Mac with a PowerPC processor but I'm not sure if it runs better on Intel ones. The Windows version is more stable.

Overall, Firefox 3.0 Beta 5 offers a few nice improvements and the performance increase is nice. There still are some lingering problems though. We have to remember that this is a Beta version so hopefully these will be fixed when the final version is released in June.

Have the Simpsons Overstayed Their Welcome?

By Mike on 3:36 pm

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I thought I'd start talking about TV and Movies since so much of this blog is dedicated to how we watch them. Lets talk about the Simpsons, which will be entering it's 20th season this fall. I grew up with the Simpsons and there isn't an episode I haven't seen. A general criticism of the state of the show these days is that it's in decline and has been for some time. The question is, should season 20 be its last?
Back when the show first started, it was one of the first cartoons truly targeted at an adult audience. It dealt with real issues in a humorous manner, yet was still fairly down to earth. In recent seasons, the show has gone from down to Earth to down right surreal and I don't think this has benefited it.

The Simpsons first premiered on the Tracy Ullman Show in 1987 as a series of cartoon shorts used to fill time. The shorts themselves were crude but became hugely popular. The Simpsons first became a show in it's own right in 1989 with an hour long Christmas special, which served as the pilot. The first episode, "Bart the Genius" aired on FOX on January 14th, 1990. It was a groundbreaking show for the network, being FOX's first truly hit show. I can't remember exactly when I first started watching it though I must have been in the third or fourth grade, around 1993/1994. The first two seasons were solid but still crude. Most critics agree the Simpsons really took off in Season 3, when big name guest stars such as Michael Jackson and Aerosmith appeared. The show also welcomed memorable reoccurring guests such as John Lovitz and the late Phil Hartman. The show remained solid right up until season 9 which contained a few memorable episodes. I would peg the death of Phil Hartman's in 1998 as the beginning of the show's decline. I remember back in 2000 talking with my high school friends about whether the show was starting to suck. Even then we thought it had been stale for a while even then.

So today, what's going on with the show? Well, creator Matt Groening and the new writing staff have been able to adapt the show to its changing demographic, which has switched from adults and older teens to a younger set. From about season 12 onward, the show has become increasingly surreal, with nonsensical, poorly written plots. Writers strike aside, I would rate Season 19 as probably one of the worst season to date. Season 19's saving grace was Ralph as a presidential candidate and the "murder" of Martin Prince. Season 18 takes the top dishonour as I didn't contain a single episode I really enjoyed. IGN ranked season 19's "That 90s Show" as one of the worst episodes ever (as Comic Book Guy might say) due to it throwing away all established canon, and doing a bad job of it to boot. This past Sunday's episode brought back Lurleen Lumpkin, a one-off character from the third season. While her original episode was good, we really didn't need to see this character again. Unless you religiously watch reruns or have all the DVDs, most current viewers would not be familiar with her. This particular episode stank of desperation; that they're running out of ideas. The movie itself took the wacky course too and though I found it funny at times, it wasn't worthy of the big screen. TV maybe, direct-to-DVD certainly, but not worth the price of theater tickets. The plot was just way to bizarre and far flung from the series' roots. Of course my tastes aren't the same as everybody's so what I think wouldn't matter if I was the only person saying this. Unfortunately, a lot of critics, both amature and pro, agree. Even the best TV shows produce one or two bad episodes a season. However, when you get to the point where you only have one or two good episodes, it might be time to reconsider keeping it on the air.

The problem seems to be that the original creators and writers have lost control of the series. Add to that that the show has already done every conceivable plot and is starting to get repetitive. As Butters learned, chances are the Simpsons already did it. I really think if Groening wants in the record books, go to season 20 and make it the last. No other prime time comedy is going to break that record. There's nothing worse than a show that's been on too long, especially if it was once one of the greatest shows in history. All in the Family suffered pretty much the same fate and it wasn't on for nearly as long. FOX has plenty of hit shows now, it no longer needs the Simpsons to anchor the network. Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and Maggie have overstayed their welcome. It's time to let them die peacefully. Obviously the show is still profitable for FOX but it really is a joke compared to what it once was. The show itself has mocked its critics but they're going to find this harder to do as it drags on. Sometimes it's best to leave on a high note and move onto other things, rather than let it die a slow, painful death.

PS3 Firmware 2.3 Dated with DTS-HD

By Mike on 11:14 am

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Yes, another PS3 article. Sony has dated Firmware 2.3 and has leaked a few details on it. Most important is the inclusion of DTS-HD and DTS-HD Master Audio support for Blu-ray. The PS3 was one of the few BD players on the market that did not support DTS-HD. For those who don't know, DTS is a direct competitor to Dolby Digital 5.1. Many claim it to have better audio quality than DD. Both are lossy codecs which means they loose audio data due to compression. DTS-HD Master Audio however is lossless which means that it is identical to the studio master recording.

On DVD, DTS ran at 448kb/s typical with a 24-bit, 48khz sample resolution. DTS-HD is 24-bit at 96khz. DTS-HD supports up to 6mb/s audio. Higher bit rates mean better quality. DTS-HD has better audio quality than a CD does. DTS-HD Master Audio is also 24-bit at 96khz but has a bit rate of 24.5 mb/s. Audiophiles will love the latter. The big downside is that DTS-HD Master Audio requires a compatible AV receiver. If not, the quality is reduced to 1.5mb/s which is lossy but still better than CD and current DVD quality. Both support 7.1 channels. The PS3 also still can't bitstreme DTS. If you're confused by these terms, check Wikipedia.

Also new is a revamp of the Playstation Store. The lovely Grace Chen can explain it better than I can.

New Details on Sony's BD to PSP Ripping Concept

By Mike on 5:18 pm

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Yes, this is a few days old but new details have emerged about the rumored BD to PSP ripping utility that Sony was supposedly going to launch. Essentially, this would allow you to rip BD movies to a low def format for your portable media player. The good news is that it's coming, the bad news is that Sony, unsurprisingly, bungled it.

In an interview with IGN, senior marketing manager for the PSP, John Koller, detailed the concept. Basically, there's no ripping at all. The BD movie disc will contain a low def file that can be transfered to the PSP. The movie itself is not being transcoded to a lower definition but rather the low def copy is a separate file. This is some good news but for those hoping to be able to rip existing movies to their PSP like you can with audio CDs, forget it. Only new discs will have this feature. Koller did not however that it will not be just a feature for Blu-ray but will be featured on some DVDs as well. Likely in two disc special editions. Sony Pictures initiated the project and some other studios have come on board with the concept. There's no word on what DRM will be included in these copies but I think we can safely say it will be there and likely will be intrusive. For those hoping for a fuss free way of watching your DVD collection on the road, you're going to have to stick with doing it "illegally". This just proves that the studios are still out of touch with what consumers want.

You can read the complete interview here. The stuff mentioned above is on page 3.