Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Week of the iPad 2 ...

It's been an unusual week for me, I've got a week leave from work. It's not a holiday as such, I'm not doing anything special. It's not even convenient timing, there's lots to do at work and a week out of the schedule is problematic. But it is the end of the holiday year and I had 10 days to go and can only carry over 5, so here I am.

The upside to this is that it is the week after the iPad 2 launch in the UK. I couldn't take the time to queue on Friday, although I went after work to join the back of about 300 people outside the Covent Garden Apple Store to be told straight away that there were no 3G models left after only 20 minutes of selling. I figured with my week off and nothing in particular to do that I would try queuing for the first time.

I've never queued at an Apple store before, mostly I've been either too lucky or too lazy. Pre-ordered my first gen iPod Touch, iPhone 3G and iPad 1, waited a few weeks till stock improved for iPhone 3GS and 4.

Online ordering was something I wanted to avoid. Firstly it's currently a 3-4 week wait, but mostly because Apple's delivery arrangements in the UK are terrible. They will only deliver to the card holder's address and only during working hours. This isn't really the most suitable arrangement for Apple's target audience, myself included. You can't redirect delivery until a first attempt has been made and then you have to contact Apple who tell the delivery company, if you are lucky they'll do it the first time you ask. The one time that tried this was my iPod Touch pre-order, it took 3 weeks from original delivery date to get it, I could have walked to an Apple store and back in my lunch break. I would have cancelled the order but once it's at the delivery depot you have to accept it and then ship it back to them, that just sounded like prolonging the hell.

So this time for the iPad 2 I decided to queue. Not having done this before and the store staff saying you had to arrive early to get one I did just that. I might have overshot the mark a little though, arriving at 3:45am Monday where I waited till gone 5:30am till anyone else joined the queue. At 8am there were still only 11 of us when store staff came out and said that there would be no iPad 2's today.

Tuesday I gave myself an extra hour or so and arrived at 5am, to wait with about the same amount of people till 7:30am when a member of staff told us that there were no iPad 2's and that we shouldn't queue anymore as they were shifting to online reservations only. This is where at 9pm they post available inventory for reservation for in-store pickup.

At 9pm I was sat in front of the iPad 2 reservation pages for Regent Street, Covent Garden, White City and Brent Cross (all easily reachable for me) as well as Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Brighton. Regent Street showed some inventory, but no 32Gb 3G models which was what I was planning to get. So I selected a black 64Gb 3G instead, and also a 16Gb black 3G that a friend wanted. I signed in and proceeded to the screen to select a reservation slot, by which time the 16Gb models had sold out and so that one dropped off the reservation. I quickly clicked next, which resulted in an error because the 10am time which was the default first selected slot was taken. I changed to 10:15am and clicked next ... Success! :)

The time was now 9:03pm and Regent Street had no more 3G models at all for reservation. 15 worried minutes later I got a confirmation email.

This morning I arrived at the store well before my reservation time. Glad that I did, because as I waited in line I heard the staff discussing that they had no more 32Gb Wi-Fi left but still had reservations for them to fulfil. Happily mine was waiting for me, I also got an orange smart cover and the digital AV cable.

All in all, a desperate, but interesting experience. Not sure if I'll do it again though, guess we will see when the iPhone 5 comes out ...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

So it's been a while ...

I'm sitting here at the iMac, something that is happening less and less thanks to iPhone, iPad and AppleTV, and I thought I should post an update. Skipping the testing/source code rant from late last year, when last we spoke the iMac was in trouble. After much restarting and disk recovery attempting, the internal HD was declared dead. Now, thanks to the folks at M.R. Systems, I now have a wonderful new 500GB internal drive, and a much cleaner iMac (running about 5 degrees C lower than before).

Most importantly, on returning the iMac home, I told it to restore from Time Machine and 3 hours later I was back to exactly where I had left things. It is a wonderful technology and if you have a Mac you really should be using it. Although while my machine was quickly dying I also appreciated my SuperDuper! bootable cloned drive too.

I said I am sitting at the iMac. What I am actually doing is watching the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-133 preparing, in the next couple of hours, to dock with the International Space Station. There are many wonderful things to think about in this scenario.

I could be thinking how amazing it is that a craft with 6 people in it was launched to space 3 days ago and is about to dock with a freaking space station! A space station that also has 2 Soyuz, 1 Progress, 1 HTV and 1 ATV space craft docked to it. That all these were launched from 4 different places by 4 different space agencies.

Of course I probably should be thinking how amazing it is that all of the above is happening ~180 miles above my head and the video is being beamed through multiple satellites, many ground stations, back up to satellites, down to somewhere, encoded and streamed to and from there to me. It's pretty cool :)

Strangely though, I keeping finding myself in awe of the iMac itself. In respect to the recent problems, which given it's non-stop performance for the 3 years prior I totally forgive, it is amazing that I don't really think of it as old or ailing.

The iMac I am sitting at is a first gen aluminium iMac, bought late 2007. At the time, having put up with a slow iBook G4 for a couple of years, I knew I was willing to spend up on it. I wanted it to be my computer for a good few years. I did build to order with it and got a Core 2 Duo Extreme 2.8 GHz CPU, 4Gb of Apple installed RAM. That was about all you could do to the iMac at the time, but it was totally worth it.

The photo above is from the day the iMac arrived home, with the slow iBook next to it. You will notice the complete lack of anything else. In the 3+ years since that photo, the iMac has become the brains of a much wider mess of technology. Highlighted to me when I took it away to be repaired and left a hole on the desk with wires hanging there looking for a home. I think of the iMac as like the V'Ger probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A single piece of tech which has drawn other tech into its orbit, making it more than it was. Right now, hanging off the iMac is;

  • HP Printer/Scanner/Copier
  • 1 TB WD TimeMachine drive
  • 500 GB Seagate cloned drive
  • 20" Apple Cinema Display
  • iPhone in Dock
  • iPad in Dock
  • Wired Keyboard
  • Magic Mouse
  • Magic Trackpad
  • Wacom Bamboo tablet
  • Via network;
    • Apple Airport Extreme
    • Apple Airport Express
    • AppleTV
Beyond the nest of cables and technology that the iMac supports I am also in awe of its capability. I don't treat it well, I have 4 Spaces set up and treat each almost as if it were a separate computer. One contains controls and management for the 2 web servers and MySQL DB's that are running, another is for web development with Eclipse, Sequel Pro, JEdit and CyberDuck always open along with a collection of browsers including IE running under Wine. There's another space for Apple dev with XCode and Kindle open. Then finally there's my main space which, while I am writing this, has Twitter, Chrome, iPhoto, Spotify, iTunes all running. There's also a Chrome window full screen on the second monitor with the Nasa TV stream running as well as a copy of Video Monkey current converting a copy of a Space Station tour video available on Wikipedia, from OggVorbis to H.264 ready to stream from here to the AppleTV.

True, iStat Menus is telling me I've been at 100% CPU for a while now, that I'm using a lot of network bandwidth and the overal temp is up a couple of degrees from before all this started. But I'm still using this computer without really thinking about it. Pretty awesome don't you think.

Unfortunately the next couple of years must bring the iMac to the end of it useful life as my main machine. OS X Lion reportedly removes support for Core Duo chips putting mine as the lowest allowed spec. When the iMac was last updated (October 2010) it was reasonably 10 times more powerful overall. Of course you pay for that, maxing out the current iMac in the way that I did back in 2007 puts it almost twice the amount I paid. Guess I've got a couple of years of hard saving to do, but as before it will totally be worth it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Remembering a dark day ...

It must have been late June 2000, I had been in my first post university job for only a couple of weeks. The 2 main developers at the company were PhD students and desperately want to get back to their research but the current project had been eating more and more of their time until it was all they did.

In the late June 2000 timeframe we are talking about they finally declared the system good enough to launch, so it did. They immediately left the company to complete their research and I remained to maintain the system. Me, a newbie to "professional" development, new to Java and new to the rather large and complex code base they left behind.

For a couple of days things were fine. I tinkered with a few bugs and prepared the next release. That next fatal release when all of a sudden everything went wrong. Old bugs, from before I even started at the company, resurfaced. Nothing made sense and there was no one around that could help.

By about 3am I had managed to patch enough that the system was at least up if not fully functional. Over the next few days I patched bug after bug. Then one of the original developers came back, having put a decent amount of worked into his PhD. He looked over what had happened, the list of bugs that had seemingly returned from the dead and immediately realised what had happen.

You see there was no source control in place. So, to keep life simple, they had split the development into 2. While they both had a complete source to compile against, they would each only change one side of it.

This had worked through most of the development, until the day they left. When they put their source into a single folder for me, for the first time since starting. One developer put his source code in first, then the other put his in. Both his up to date correct half that he had been working on and his old incorrect copy of the other developer's half. Thus all of the bugs fixed in the previous weeks by developer 1 returned.


I recount this story because it has been in my mind of late. I have been putting a lot of effort into planning regression tests for a change I am implementing which first brought this story to mind. Also I was chatting to a developer the other day who was bemoaning bugs returning from the grave. Coincidentally I was also reminiscing with someone about horrendous problems we had on a project that did use source control, the variant of which turned out to be a costly mistake.

From my story and those of others in this area I take away 2 lessons that I try never to forget. Firstly, you must have source control, and an associated plan of how you will use it. Secondly, you cannot assume that simply having and using source control is the answer. While it may prevent the total disaster I presented above, I have seen many projects have source management issues even with source control in place. Be sure to review, on a regular basis, how you are using source control and whether it actually offers you the safety net you might assume it does.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sad times in the Scorched Tortoise shell ...

For the past week I have been trying to resuscitate the iMac. A little over a week ago I came home to find the beach ball of doom and then a failure to reboot. Still some options to try before I am forced to concede that it is going to have to be an expensive out of warranty hardware fix.

I don't begrudge the machine having a failure such as this, it's only been powered down for about 3 weeks in total over the 3 years I've had it (1 week for a flat move and 2 weeks for our wedding). In that time it's been working hard.

At least I don't have any worries about data loss. My multiple backup strategy is putting my mind to rest about that.

In the meantime I'm not feeling out of touch, or really without computer in any way. I've got the iPhone and iPad which cover most things and the old iBook G4 is being pressed back into service for the other essentials. It's impressive how many developers are still ensuring their applications are Universal.

I'll let you know how things progress, and hopefully that it turns out to be nothing too drastic.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The new Mac Mini is very nice ...

... just have to keep telling myself that I don't need one and can't afford it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

So how are things with you?

As has become normal for the last few years it's been quite a while since I last blogged. I hope 2010 has been as good for you all as it's been for me so far. Thought I'd post an update on what's been going on for me this year.

The day job that I moved to in September last year is still proving to be a great choice for me. Great people, interesting work (gobs of data flying around all the time) and relaxed, meaning it's the first job that i'm not stressing about when I'm not there.

Launched a couple of project so far this year and working on 2 more that should prove interesting and important to various people in the organisation.

We managed to get the new version of complete for the World Cup and people seem to be having a good time.

The iPad arrived (blogging from it right now) and the new iPhone is coming later this month, so my gadget habit is progressing nicely.

With the relaunch of out of the way I've got a weekend free to perform some much needed maintenance on the iMac, so I've left iDefrag doing it's thing and escaped to Starbucks where i am writing this.

All in all life is pretty good right now, I hope it is for you all. I'm going t try to post a little more here, and make some changes to the blog in the coming months. Don't know what people want to see on here but I'll probably write about the SB relaunch process and what i learned from that and the iPad/iOS situation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New year, new work/fun ...

It's been a pretty good start to 2010 for me. At the day job there was a major update that one of our data suppliers was doing between 31/12/2009 and 1/1/2010. When I say major, I mean a complete change required to every system that touches that data. Several teams had been spending the better part of 6 months preparing. Having only recently joined I wasn't deeply involved, I just helped prep and perform testing, but I was still very glad when everything went as planned.

As for my other main project things have been progressing well. I've implemented over half of the new design and had a wonderful few weeks discovering that JQuery really is one of the most wonderful things ever. Making the use of Javascript in browsers "just work" has made my life much easier and enabled me to implement far more interactive components than I had planned. I tip my hat to them.

Even though things have been going well I'm still a little bit behind schedule on the project, so lots of effort over the next few weeks to catch up. But, as I described in my last post ("In the zone ...") it is much more joyous for me this time around. This is also because I have made it much easier on myself. I spent a little bit of cash to pick up a second monitor (an Apple Cinema Display 23" second hand) and a new office chair/foot rest. The combination of these things makes working at home a lot easier than it used to.

Hopefully this will all have been a good investment and I can finish the new design so the rest of the team can relaunch the site and I can spend a little time on some new personal projects. I hope you are looking forward to the rest of 2010 as much as I am.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In the zone ...

It's been a long time since I was "in the zone" on a personal project. The zone I am referring to is the developer zone not Twilight or Phantom. This is the zone where you start coding and then are amazed that many hours have passed when you next look up.

The project I've been working on for the past few years has had it's ups and downs. The past 12 months have mostly been downs. Something changed recently that reinvigorated my relationship with the project, that change was finally getting a great design.

Three years ago I implemented the first version based off some old design documents the team had commissioned but never implemented. That was tough, without the original designer around to fill in the blanks as needed, but I got through it and the project was still fresh and exciting. The next phase was a redesign triggered by underlying changes in the information model and the closest thing I had to a design was a suggestion that it should be "like the BBC site".

That work dragged. Every step of the way I was having to think about design, implement assets and tweak stuff on the fly with no overall look and feel guidance. After about the 50th time I suggested it the team finally got a professional designer in, though after the horrible made up design had gone live to little joy.

In 6 pages of PDF Paul produced something that both looked elegant and fitted the IA beautifully. So for the past couple of weeks I have spent my spare time "in the zone" implementing the html and css statically and loving every minute of it. By the end of the month I will be done with this phase and will then implement the design on top of the existing backend code. I can't wait.

Without the drag of a bad (or no) design weighting me down the implementation in code will be quick and also allow me to tidy up some of the code issues I have been meaning to get around to for ages.

Most startups realise the benefit to their users of a great design, but the benefits to team morale are not often mentioned. Right now I can safely say they are just about the most important thing that could have happened to this project. Oh, the redesign also give me a chance to move over to jquery finally and that's another pot of fun all to itself.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New week, new fun

Finally this weekend I feel like I have caught up with life. Started a new phase on work projects, deadlines far off. Hit a happy point with a couple of personal projects and I'm ready to move forward with some others.

Now if I can just win at rolling tomorrow night ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009