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February 13, 2009

Apple One-Year Warranty = FAIL

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 9:06 pm

Last Friday night, the worst thing that can happen to any home business owner happened to me – my computer, a 2008 (model is listed as “Mid-2007”) Mac Mini froze, displaying a message that the computer needed to be restarted. I restarted the computer… the computer, however, was not so keen on the whole starting portion of the restarting process.

I took it in to my local Apple Store, located in the Biltmore Fashion Park in Scottsdale, Arizona. Purchased in April, 2008, the Mini had 2 months left on its one year warranty. I was told it would take three to five days for the unit to be repaired, and that it was covered under the warranty. I wasn’t happy about the three to five days wait, since I depended on my Mac for my livelihood, but I had no choice.

I received a call the day after taking it in, and was told that the necessary part to repair it had been ordered via Overnight the same day I took the unit in. All well and good, perhaps I would be working again sooner than expected. I borrowed a Windows XP laptop from a friend and made a very unhappy transition back to using XP – what I thought would be temporarily – to meet an urgent customer deadline.

The next day, I was told that the Mac Mini would not be repaired under the warranty because there was “liquid damage.” The representative at the Apple Store sent me the following image:



The liquid in the image is in the black border toward the right of the image, near the fan intakes along the outside edge on the bottom of the machine.

I’m calling foul on this. The machine was never, EVER exposed to any liquid spill. Even had it been, the intake fans on a Mac Mini can’t possibly be powerful enough to suck liquid up into the machine.

The end result? Biltmore Apple Store wanted $550 to repair a $600 machine that was still under warranty. FAIL.

I still love Macs. NOT so happy with the shenannigans that happened either with the design of the Mini, the Geniuses at Biltmore Apple Store, or somewhere between the two.


January 20, 2009

Apple Peripherals: What’s wrong with this picture? (And what’s right.)

Filed under: Commercial, Random Musing, Technology — castlewriter @ 9:51 am

I own three Apple peripherals, but we’ll keep things simple by talking about only two of them with only a minor note on the third, since some of their deficits (and strengths) are shared.

Apple Keyboard:


We’ll start with the obvious weakness here: The keys. The white plastic doesn’t hold up to the natural oils of human skin. Discoloration happens quite easily and requires constant vigilance to minimize. In addition to this rather obvious deficit, the keyboard takes some getting accustomed to due to its exceptionally thin profile.

How can it be fixed? One minor modification: Change the keys’ material to black plastic.

Other modifications that would increase the appeal of Apple’s keyboards:

-Incorporate the backlighting present on the high-end MacBook keyboards.
-For the wired model, integrate a glass MacBook/MB Pro trackpad.
-For the wireless model, to compensate for the additional power requirement of the illumination system, develop a MacBook Pro style rechargeable battery.

The Apple keyboard line does have some outstanding strengths, however, and anyone who owns one knows them well already. For those who aren’t already enjoying an Apple keyboard, here they are:

-Large, comfortably spaced keys, even on the incredibly compact and thin wireless model. I’m typing this, in fact, on a wireless Apple Keyboard, and my large hands are well accomodated.
–Excellent depth of travel and tactile feedback on the keys.
-The wired model incorporates two USB 2.0 ports. The one on the right, in fact, is ideal for connecting your mouse.
-The wireless model has excellent power consumption and power management features, including what I suppose I’d describe as a “sleep” mode where, if the keys are untouched, the board goes into a low power mode. Additionally, there is a ‘Power’ button on the right side to shut the keyboard down completely in the event the user expects not to use the board for a significant length of time.

Apple Mighty Mouse:


Again, we’ll begin with the obvious weakness, and it’s the same one. That glossy white plastic looks fantastic fresh out of the box, but it doesn’t stay that way without constant inspection and maintenance. Not ordinarily a big gripe, except that when you buy a computer because it just works (and it does, really well) one of the things that should not be included is the need to spend between 10-20% of your computer hours polishing the thing. Another significant weakness, oft-mentioned yet still unaddressed by Apple, is the unseemly behavior of the far-too-delicate scroll ball, which likewise begins to demand constant attention after between two and four months of full time use. And finally, although not as offensive as the “puck” mouse that shipped with the iMac, Apple’s Mighty Mouse still displays an astonishing lack of consideration for ergonomics.

The fixes with the Mighty Mouse are similarly, and similarly easy and low-cost to implement:

-A change to matte black plastic trimmed in aluminum, both to minimize the need for time-consuming cosmetic maintenance and for superior aesthetics when coupled with Apple’s current desktops, laptops and the proposed Apple Keyboard family refresh.
-Replace the mechanical trackball (and really, what legitimate place does a mechanical trackball have on any piece of consumer electronics in 2009, anyway?) with a solid, touch-sensitive sphere or dome in the same location.
-Sculpted shape for greater comfort and control. The rationale behind the current design, aside from form overriding function, appears to be to accommodate ambidextrous use of the mouse. This can simply be addressed by offering the device in right-handed or left-handed models.

One other feature notably lacking but now a standard feature on mice from competitors such as Microsoft and Logitech are “Back” and “Forward” controls. With a new, sculpted shape, these could easily be integrated, allowing for greater functionality and comfort.

How about it, Apple?

January 18, 2009

Why Mac Mini Must Return…

Filed under: Commercial, Technology — castlewriter @ 10:08 pm

There are a number of reasons why the Mac Mini plays a pivotal role at Apple. Price is chief among them, but even the lower price of the Mini (currently in the $500-700 range) compared to the rest of Apple’s computing lineup is actually of secondary importance to Apple, or should be.

It’s not enough for Apple to compel users to switch from Microsoft-centric home and office solutions using the enormously successful iPod portable media player family, unless Apple wants to have itself relegated to focusing on being a portable media player company. That’ll move many millions more units, but at lower price points than the company needs in order to survive, let alone thrive, as the 21st century burns on.

What Apple has, right now, is a relatively low-cost computer which tempts those who pick up an iPod to try “a little more Apple.” For only $600, users can pick up a small but powerful Mac desktop that lets Apple show off where it really shines — its end-to-end hardware and software integration via its absolutely brilliant OS X operating system, lifestyle application suite iLife and professional suite iWork.

The problem is… that small but powerful desktop isn’t exactly powerful anymore. The upstart “netbook” class of ultraportable computers now pack nearly the same performance profile the Mac Mini does, for equal or less cash.

The Mini’s Achilles’ Heel is its aging — and to be frank, not precisely spectacular even at inception — Intel GMA 950 graphics system, coupled with what is now a comparatively scant 1-2Gb of system memory and 80-120Gb hard drive.

Taken together, these now relatively paltry specs mean that the Mini is no longer a compelling or even mildly interesting offering for customers who see the potential in switching to a Mac, or even for those who see the value in establishing a dual-platform computing solution for home or small business.

What can be done? Plenty.

The internal arsenal of the Mini — like all of Apple’s computers with the exception of the Mac Pro — is essentially that of a laptop, specifically the MacBook. So here’s the idea:

A new “Unibody” Mac Mini following the exterior design cues of the MacBook line and incorporating the higher-end model’s internals:
2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
2Gb of memory, standard, upgradeable to 4Gb
Graphics: nVidia GeForce 9400m (256Mb memory)
250Gb 7200rpm hard drive or 128Gb SSD
Mini DisplayPort (VGA and DVI adapters sold separately)

That would be the Mac Mini. Price: $600. But for those who need even more guts in an only moderately larger footprint:

Mac Mini Pro:
2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
4Gb of memory, standard, upgradeable to 8Gb
Graphics: nVidia 9600m GT (512Mb memory)
320Gb 7200rpm hard drive or 128Gb SSD (256Gb SSD may be an option soon)

In addition to the Apple 24“ LED display, two more peripherals would be announced to coincide with the launch of the new Mini and Mini Pro:

Apple Studio Keyboard: The new Studio Keyboard, in wired and wireless incarnations, features illuminated black keys to maximize productivity in the low-light conditions of studios as well as maintain a clean, professional appearance.

Apple Phantom Mouse: The mouse is redesigned for greater ergonomic comfort, featuring an indentation for the thumb. The scroll ball of the Mighty Mouse is replaced with a small touch sensitive dome which is identical in function but far more durable and reliable. Left-handed and right-handed models are available as well as wired and wireless models.

Are you listening, Apple?

January 16, 2009

Hiatus Interruptus

Filed under: Random Musing — castlewriter @ 8:26 am

Having been gone awhile, I got bored today. So this blog will resume. Can’t say how regularly. For now, enjoy a photograph of a shiny thing!


September 19, 2008

iTunes 8: ALL the love!

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 8:03 pm

You?ve probably seen the screenshots — here?s another one, ?cause I love to show off:


Okay, okay, quit starin? at my albums — and stare at my albums! That?s the new ?Grid? view. Notice that with the buttons top center, I can organize it by Albums, Artists, Genres or Composers. Honestly, I have no idea what Composers is for — maybe soundtracks.Notice too the ?Genius? sidebar on the right. Handy for those of us who like a certain ?sound? but aren?t picky about the artist. I found Celldweller, for example, as a Genius sidebar suggestion derived from the highlighted album ?2 Days or Die? by Atlas Plug (you can see that album highlighted in blue.

Everything Apple did right in iTunes 7.7 — and that was plenty — has been kept in iTunes 8, but one-upped by the new Grid view and Genius functionality. Is it any wonder iTunes dominates the digital media marketplace?

September 11, 2008

iPods and Widescreens and Keyboards — Oh, My!

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 1:44 pm

No need to replay the Big News from Apple?s ?Let?s Rock? event on Tuesday. It?s enough to gloat and act terribly smug about being right on the money with not only the new iPod Nano?s form factor but about the inclusion of the accelerometer for easy portrait-to-landscape display mode switching.

Wow, that sounded really geeky, and not in that hip new way. Hm. Moving on!

Upgraded my display from a bulky old nasty-looking beige Dell CRT to the spiff-tastic beauty you see below:


The Hewlett Packard HP w1707 is (much as the model number suggests) a 17? diagonal LCD monitor boasting a maximum resolution of 1440 x 960 @ 60Hz with an 8ms response rate. What do those numbers mean? Honestly, not much unless you?re an avid gamer or you like your movies action-packed, in which case you want the highest resolution you can get with the lowest response time you can get — and for a budget offering, which the w1707 definitely is at $199 MSRP, these specs are very, very good. Output is through a standard VGA cable (DVI-D on select models).

For the non-geek out there, all those numbers translate into a small monitor with truly excellent brightness and image quality that?s well suited to heavy multimedia use in tight spaces.

One feature that really sets this monitor out from the rest of the ?$200-and-under? pack is the integrated stereo speakers. While they?re not exactly going to compete with a 2.1 system from Bose or Altec Lansing, the integrated speakers do a competent job for the casual listener.

While I have mine mated to my Mac Mini, owners of subcompact PCs like the Dell?s Studio Hybrid and HP?s own Pavilion Slimline series will also find an ideal match with this sleek beastie.

Moving on to the input side of the peripherals world this morning, I also picked up Apple?s Wireless Keyboard.


The first thing you?ll notice about this keyboard is that it?s about 1/3 the size of a Windows hunt?n?pecker — note that I?m not talking about the keys here. The keys of this ?board are comfortably large, even spacious — I?m talking about the deck itself. For some reason unbeknownst to any who aren?t making the things, Windows-centric keyboard manufacturers love to bullseye the keys into the center of something big enough to land a fighter jet on.

Not so with this baby. Never before have I owned a full-sized keyboard I could slip into one of the pockets of my overcoat. (Don?t ask why I know that I can. Trust me, you?re happier leaving that question unanswered.)

Naturally, there is a tradeoff here. As you can see, the wireless version of Apple?s deck omits the heavy numbers-crunching numeric keypad. For those of you who are for some reason both accountants and cool enough to prop your feet up on your desk at work, this keyboard is going to cut into your productivity even while it rockets your nerd-cred skyward.

In future versions of this deck, there are a couple of revisions I?d like to see: The white keys of this keyboard take stains from the oils in human skin pretty easily. Yes, I wash my hands, and no, that doesn?t entirely prevent staining. Fortunately, a clean sponge moistened with warm water — not soaked, you hooligans! — will shine her right up after a couple weeks worth of the sweateh. So what I?d suggest to Apple is a change in color scheme. We already have aluminum Macs with black bezels. Time for an aluminum deck with black keys. And while you?re at it, Mr. Jobs, include backlighting in those keys. Some of us nocturnal types would find that mucho handy.

That?s a wrap for today — time to really put these keys through a pounding.

Comments and email are appreciated, you can reach me at

September 8, 2008

iPod Nano 4G Adds Some “Solid” To The Rumor Mill

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 6:14 pm

Engadget reported today that yet another case fitting the Nano 4G?s ?tall redux? dimensions has been brewed up and is ready to serve up hot for U.K. ?podders to pre-order as of Right This Hot Minute. The pixelicious:


Seems to fit the photo your crazy Uncle Strictly showed ya just a few days ago. While we may get some surprises tomorrow at Apple?s ?Let?s Rock? event, the form factor for the new Nano isn?t on that list anymore. We?ll see how they implement portrait-to-landscape and vice versa transitions, but cross your fingers with me for the acceleromagical menuless variety.

September 6, 2008

iPod Nano 4G: Slimmer, sleeker, sl… omething else that starts with “sl-.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 4:09 am

Rumors of the iPod Nano?s departure from it?s ?fatty? third-generation dimensions seem to be proving out in a maelstrom of leak photos for cases, screen protectors and, most recently, the new bad boy itself:


Is it the real deal? We won?t know for certain until 09/09, of course, but to my eye that snap looks to carry a good percentage of veritas.

Questions about Photochops and model mocks aside, let?s assume for now that that?s the real deal — it seems to carry the same width as the 3G, which means we shouldn?t see a sacrifice of the 3G?s interface in favor of the taller screen. What we would be getting, if that holds true, is a screen that?s actually larger than the 3G?s when flipped to landscape viewing. Not a bad deal if we can get it. Will there be any portrait-to-landscape related goodies like inclusion of an iPod Touch -ish accelerometer to make that flip a no-button-pushing-necessary maneuver? Well, we can hope, can?t we?

September 3, 2008

Google Chrome: Sweetness for Windows, But No Mac Love… Yet.

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 5:04 pm

Google?s recently released ?fox-killer, Chrome, may be a breath of fresh metal for Windows users, but the search giant?s surfalicious browser offering has yet to make its debut ?for the rest of us.?

Fortunately, it [i]is[/i] coming, and while I?ve had my taste of the lip-smackin? goodness thanks to Parallels, I?m itchin? to see what it can do on a stable-and-secure-without-being-sandboxed environment. Looks like we may have quite awhile to wait, as Chrome isn?t merely being buttoned up in a different jacket to run on Leopard and Linux distros, but is instead being coded from the ground up in non-Redmond flavors.

Stay tuned, as I?ll be keeping a sharp eye on all things new and shiny.

September 2, 2008

Firefox 3 in: The Great Update/Downdate Adventure

Filed under: Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 4:05 am

Well, I?ve put it off long enough, people — here?s the weigh-in on Firefox 3.

It?s annoying.

That?s really the most notable feature of Firefox 3. Other than that one change, it?s really not that different from Firefox 2.x in any meaningful way. What?s the annoyance? It likes to ?update? back to Firefox 2 at random and for no discernible reason whatsoever. I thought this was a Windows-only issue when I first began my trip down the foxhole — but no, the same bizarre behavior appears on OS X Leopard as well, from 10.5.0 through 10.5.4 — it?s not the OS, it?s Mozilla?s golden child. Apparently, Mozilla?s golden child needs a good spanking.

And who better to deliver that spanking than Safari 4?

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