Business Week sidebar on iPod Batteries

That “Big Magazine” I mentioned recently will be publishing a small snippet from the phone interview I gave. Pick up the next Business Week, and check out the “Gearworld” section, for an article/sidebar written by Elizabeth Woyke and Peter Burrows. I don’t come off sounding like either a raving lunatic, nor a drooling fanboy, so it’s not too bad. It’s a much shorter article than I was thinking it was, based on the information Elizabeth was asking (and suggesting that she had already interviewed several others).

One thing I hadn’t given much thought to was the sheer number of iPods that must be in (or nearly in) the same condition mine is in – they cite a Piper Jaffray analyst who claims 2.2 million iPods will need replacement batteries this year. That would only increase, with the exponential increase of iPod sales.Good time to be in the third-party battery business…

By the way, apparently CostCo carries replacement iPod batteries in the states – no sign of them in the Canadian CostCo stores (or online), but I’ve got a query in to their feedback centre to see wtf.

Ah, hell… Here’s the mini-article. If they send the lawyerbots, I’ll take it down. If you like BW, buy a copy of the mag.

Does Your iPod Lack Stamina? The clock is ticking for millions of owners of older iPods. The problem: Apple Computer’s (AAPL ) iPods run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Newer models are more efficient, but batteries for older models start degrading after 100 to 200 charges and need replacing after a year or two, says Gene Munster, a Piper Jaffray analyst. That means up to 2.2 million iPods sold from fall ’03 to fall ’04 may soon need new juice. Some owners are covered by a standard one-year warranty, while others have filed claims tied to a class-action suit. But many — like software developer D’Arcy Norman, who says his iPod fell from six hours of power on a full charge to just one after 16 months of daily use — have to pay to keep the tunes cranking. For $59, Apple offers an extended warranty or a replacement. Norman says he’ll probably buy a third-party battery kit selling online for as little as $30. Meanwhile, Apple had its hands full last week handling complaints about broken or scratched screens on its newest iPod, the nano. Apple said a “vendor quality” problem caused screens to break in fewer than 0.1% of units sold. Customers with a defective screen can contact Apple for a free replacement. By Elizabeth Woyke and Peter Burrows


Note to self: take a hint…

I got home today to find this postcard in my mailbox, sent by a local church for a series of chill-out workshops coming up this fall…

Breathe - moving from burnout to balance...

So, along those lines, I’ll try to finish up what I can tonight after The Boy goes to bed, then I’m going to be mostly off the grid for the weekend. Breathe… :-)

Building evacuated by HazMat team

From the “well, that’s one way to take an afternoon and evening off” department…

There was apparently some kind of chemical (or biological? nobody seems to know anything) spill in the Bio Sciences building shortly before noon today. Since the Learning Commons is on the 5th floor of BioSci, that means we all got to make the journey down the concrete stairways to get the hell out of the building.

We have fire drills all the time, and it seems like some construction drone is always cutting something that shouldn’t be cut, or sparking something that shouldn’t be sparked, so we all assumed it was No Big Deal™. I left my Powerbook and iPod on my desk (taking only enough time to cleverly hide my iPod under a sheet of paper as it sat charging on my desk).

Turns out to be a Very Big Deal™. A few of us hiked to the nearby stip mall to have lunch at Harvey’s, and on the way back were passed by the Regional Decontamination Unit (a doublewide Atco trailer) as it rushed towards our building.

As we get closer, we see police cars blocking traffic, fire engines everywhere, and the hazmat team donning their cool blue suits (the ones with the funky helmets). There’s a kiddie pool set up outside the main entrance to decontaminate them as they come out, and the whole building is behind a string of police tape. News crews shooting tape. Photographers photographing. Gawkers gawking. Warderns warding. No mushroom clouds, though.

But, nobody has a goddamned clue what’s going on, including Campus Security, the City Police, and the building fire wardens. Some say it’s a chemical spill. Some say biological. Some say the building is sealed for at least 24 hours. Some say 2. There was a spill at the Health Sciences building last night, and that closed the building for 5 hours. I guess I’ll know more when I show up for work tomorrow.

Could be worse. Some folks are saying there was one person injured. I just had to eat at Harvey’s… I do feel very lost without my Powerbook (and especially my iPod) – perhaps that’s telling me to take some time off…

Update: Woah. Turns out it wasn’t a spill, but a suspicious envelope. Just got this email from Campus Security:

At 11:30 a.m. today the Bio Sciences building was evacuated as a precaution due to a concern involving an envelope sent to an office in that building. Since that time another envelope has been discovered in the same office and we are now in the process of investigating whether or not these packages pose any harm. Please be on alert that if you receive an envelope or package with no return address or a return address of anyone you do not recognize or in particular has a return address of North York, Ontario DO NOT OPEN the envelope. Call Campus Security immediately at 220-5333, identify yourself, your building and room number. All occupants should leave the room, shut the door and wait in the immediate area for Security to arrive.

Update: Story and photo by the Gauntlet

Hazmat team outside BioSci

so… fried…

Last night, it totally hit me just how fried I am. I’ve been fighting off burnout for awhile now, but I think I may have finally succumbed to it. I realized this when, at almost midnight, my family was upstairs fast asleep, and and I continued to work on my PowerBook to try to catch up on the backlog of bugs to fix – not feeling like I was making any progress anyway. I’m having to keep working this late so I don’t have to essentially abandon my family, which I refuse to do.

My work is backlogging because of some insanely tight deadlines, on 2 projects that are chronically understaffed. The One Project has been in actual development for over a year now, and while we’re close to being done, the Final Stretch is looming, with all that is entailed with that. The Other Project relies so completely on The One Project that I have had to walk a carefully balanced line between the two. Can’t finish The Other, without The One working well. Can’t work on The One without billing time to The Other, since we’ve used up our budget for The One long long ago… On top of that, I inherited The Other Project after budget cuts led to layoffs here in the spring, and there is no way I would have set the project up the way it is – but it’s waaaaay too late to change anything. The only thing left to do is grit teeth and push through it.

So now, The Other Project is coming due. Like, tomorrow due. And I’m still putting in revisions to content, and tweaking code in The One Project to support what is needed. And working with external contractors on some key supporting files that are basically out of my hands, but I can’t deliver without them working perfectly. And still receiving revisions to content and structure for The Other Project. And bugs/todos piling up for The One Project. Repeat ad nauseam.

Basically, to finish The One Project properly, the three of us programmers need to be able to direct 100% our our energy toward it for about a month. And, to finish The Other Project properly, I need to have the time and energy of about 5 people in order to finish massaging what can only be described as a freaking huge mass of content and resources.

My caffeine intake is waaaay up. My sleep is waaaay down. My cranky rating is off the chart. I feel (rightly or wrongly – doesn’t matter at this point) like I’m placed as a single point of failure for The Other Project, and have had to neglect The One Project more than I’d hoped and promised. It had gotten to the point where I seriously considered leaving, for the first time since I started here in 2001.

Anyway, there endeth the rant. Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel (there is an end of the tunnel, isn’t there?). In case anyone from either Projects stumbles across this – this is why I’ve been so pissy/grumpy/silent lately. Trying to keep my head down and pulling out all stops to get this stuff done, but there’s not a sane way to do that.

On the plus side, it’s Evan’s third birthday this weekend. I’ll be forced to take most of the weekend off for that, and we’re heading to West Edmonton Mall on Sunday and Monday (staying at the hotel in the mall). Should be at least a welcome break from the unceasing pressures…

Update: No, I’m not planning on quitting the Learning Commons – it’s just one of the things that go through a person’s head when faced with seamingly endless pressures. I’m staying here – we’ve got lots of ideas that will be fun to be a part of implementing, so I have no reason to go elsewhere.

Battlestar Galactica Podcasts

Dear Ronald D. Moore…

I am a total Battlestar Galactica junkie. Fell in love with the previews of the miniseries, and have been watching every episode since. Absolutely great stuff – some of the best scifi on tv. I love that it avoids the formulas as much as possible, and doesn’t treat the audience like lobotomized droolbots that need constant spoonfeeding. It seems like, by and large, each episode is better than the last – and that’s hard to do for 1 season, let alone 2.

The podcast by Ronald D. Moore is also a stroke of genius – giving us the “director’s commentary” (ok, the executive producer / developer’s commentary) in almost realtime. Brilliant.

However, I would really like it if either Ronald or someone from (whoever does the post production on the podcasts) would please turn down the volume on the commercial-break BEEEEEEP. If I’m listening on my iPod while commuting, I have already turned up the volume pretty high because the level of Ronald’s voice recording is rather low, and I need to hear over traffic noise etc… So, Ron (hey, if I let you into my iPod, I get to call you Ron) is talking about the episode, and how wonderful the actors are, yadda yadda. Then, after a second-long pause in speech, there’s the three-second-sonic-lobotomy. BEEEEEEEEEEP. No real warning. Just a HUGE spike in volume, turning my brain to mush for three seconds. I can dive for the pause button, the neurons controlling my finger don’t respond when I’ve been hit by the commercial-tone-stun-ray. By the time I’ve struggled my way to the volume controls, the lobotomy is over, and I start to recover just as the commentary kicks in again. Too late, again.

Other than that, I am so totally addicted to the podcasts that I keep listening – learning to brace myself when I think a commercial might be coming up. Gritting my teeth really tight seems to make it hurt less. I think the other people on the bus think I’m fighting the urge to obey voices in my head or something, though… I suddenly tense up, pupils dilate, breath stops short… What? Kill them all? No. The noise will stop. Aaaaaah. There it goes…

iPod battery article in a Big Magazine

I won’t say the name of the mag, in case it doesn’t get published – no need to add pressure to the writer – but I was just interviewed out of the blue by a writer for a Big Magazine (you know the one). She is researching an article on the iPod battery life issue, and found my blog entry on it. In the interest of not being used out of context, what I basically said was:

  • Love my iPod
  • It never got the full 8-10 hours of battery life (started out around 6, fell to 4 rather quickly, then down to about 1 this summer)
  • Got my 3G 20GB iPod in April 2004
  • I still haven’t picked up a replacement battery yet, but am planning to use the newly announced Canadian iPod Levy Refund to pay for most of a new battery (seems fair)
  • I’ll go for the third party battery (it’s cheaper, and higher capacity than Apple’s iPod battery), and install it myself. (even though I’m a touch nervous about that – there’s no way I’m shipping it away for someone else to maul)
  • I’ll totally buy another iPod in the future. Battery issues aside, there’s just nothing else that comes close to an iPod. The integration with iTunes rocks (smart playlists, etc…) and the scroll wheel has no equal.

I think that’s it. I didn’t take notes or anything, but wanted to record the basics of the conversation, in case I’m made out as some kind of drooling/ranting iPod hater or anything :-)

Trying NetNewsWire again…

So, after switching to Safari RSS for a couple of months, and really liking the simple (i.e., nonexistent) interface and unified display, I finally got fed up with the quirks in the Safari implementation. Sometimes it would take 15 minutes for a large feed set to display, pegging the CPU at 100% for the whole time (this was most obvious when viewing my Flickr feeds, which could have 500 images, each of which are downloaded apparently simultaneously).

Also, the filter/sorting options are just plain incomplete. Without a “show only new items” option, it’s a real pain in the ass to view new items. Either you have to set it to show a whole bunch of items, and sort the newest items to the top, to ensure viewing all new items, or you narrow the display and have to iterate over various subgroupings or filterings with the “New” sort option selected. Please, fix this… Add a “New items only” option, that would do what it said (and, items wouldn’t disappear from the display as they are “read” – they would simply be marked as read, and disappear the next time the display is refreshed).

So, after running the handy dandy Safari feeds to OPML export script, I’m back in NetNewsWire. It’s a really great app, but I already miss the Safari unified display (warts and all) – the “Combined View” layout in NNW just isn’t the same. I’ll give it a week or two to see if I can get my head back into NNW-think.

Meanwhile, this is what greeted me in NNW after running the import-from-OPML process, and updating all feeds:

NetNewsWire unread items

Update: I went screaming back to Safari RSS less than 24 hours after trying to switch to NNW. Performance wasn’t any better when using the Combined view in NNW – it may have actually been worse. I’m back to Safari RSS now, and am just learning to be more patient as things load :-)

JSwiff and Flash File Generation

We had a great hacking session today, with Josh piped in over iChat and VNC from California, and King and I hunkered around his collection of Cinema Displays. We managed to replace our krufty jGenerator-powered flash file wrapper class with one based on JSwiff, in under a day.

JSwiff takes care of the nastiness of dealing with the .swf file format, and provides an extremely helpful XML intermediary – you can convert any .swf file to this xml format, modify the xml, then render back as .swf. Very handy for what we need to do.

Basically, all we do is a fancy search-and-replace for some custom tags (for things like the image – encoded in Base64 – and the tombstone fields for display on screen) in this intermediate xml file, then pass it into JSwiff and ask it to transform that xml into a swf that we can use in our finished presentation. It’s fast, and so far very reliable. As an added bonus, it appears to handle accented characters and such, which totally borked in jGenerator. Mavericks will look better now, once I regenerate all transformed assets.

And JSwiff doesn’t look like it will be affected by the scary deadlocks that made jGenerator basically useless for us. Yay, JSwiff! :-)

Even better, if this works out (it’s still being tested), then Pachyderm 2 is fully usable again, and on track for the October release!

RIAA: Greed, defined

Ars Technica has a great reaction to the RIAA’s reaction to Steve Jobs’ comment about the RIAA being greedy.

Now, the RIAA is claiming that it would be totally fair, and that the consumers would support or even demand, that the record labels get to charge more for songs sold via iTunes, and to get a cut of iPod sales. Even though they have to spend roughly $0 to market music via the iTMS, and spend exactly $0 to sell music through it. And they spent exactly $0 to design, manufacture, market and distribute the iPod. But, they need a cut of the pie.

Did they get a cut of every 8 track player sold? Every record player? Cassette player? CD player? If the answer to any of these is “no”, then why on earth would they get a cut of the iPod?

Instead of lining up to thank the one company on the planet that gave the Big Labels a chance to maintain some relevancy in the new online music market, they insist that they need a cut of everything even remotely music-related, from end to end of the food chain.

Somebody needs to hit the RIAA with a big ol’ clue stick. The Music Industry isn’t just greedy – that would be understandable and we could all deal with that. On top of greed, they appear to be criminally stupid.

Greed, defined.

As of the last few years, there should be an addendum to that dictionary entry: “See: RIAA”