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nullstream weblog

Published: 2010-09-30T16:26:53-08:00


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The old Nullstream is dead, long live the new Nullstream.

This site has kinda stalled out. We have moved it over to a Facebook Page, you can find it here:

The New Nullstream

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iTunes 10 breaks add as spoken track


It appears that iTunes 10 has broken one of my favorite Mac features: "Add to iTunes as a spoken track". This kills an important part of my productivity work flow.

I have verified this on two Macs running 10.6 and iTunes 10. When you try to convert some text the gear in the menu bar just spins infinitely now.

AT&T Data Plans and Tethering


Some thoughts:

Previously AT&T charged 30.00 a month for an 'unlimited' data plan. In reality all of these plans have/had 'soft' limits of around 5g if you read the fine print, but I'm not sure it was widely enforced.

AT&T offered tethering plans for most of it's smart phones, excluding iPhone for some reason, for around another 30.00 a month. People complained that it wasn't fair to charge you more money just to access the data you already purchased from another device. The example of your home internet was used. You pay for the pipe to your house, and you can hang as many devices on it as you want. AT&T's response was that tethering to a computer would actually increase the amount of average data you consumed on your plan and they needed to cover those costs.

AT&T promised that tethering was coming to the iPhone almost exactly 1 year ago. It still has not.

This week AT&T has changed their data plans for iPhones and iPads. They will no longer offer an unlimited plan. Instead you can have 200Mb for 15.00 (dataplus) or 2G for 25.00 (datapro). They claim that 98% of their customers use less than 2G and so they would actually SAVE 5.00 a month. (For the record I used 2.1G last month).

If you are a datapro customer and you go over your 2G you get charged 10.00 for each additional 1G.

Now if you are a light, dataplus, user a word of warning, if you use 201Mb, you get charged another 15.00 for only another 200Mb. So you are immediately paying more than if you had the 2G plan. So lets say you are watching a lot of youtube videos one day and you wifi goes down without you noticing and thus you are now pulling from 3G. Do you think ATT will send you a warning text message before you hit 200Mb? Lets hope, but who knows. What if you keep this up all month? Well I guess you'd end up paying 150.00 for 2G.

Let's pause for a moment here. AT&T is voluntarily giving up 5.00 per month revenue from their moderate data users, what a great company. And people say corporations are only motivated by greed. If they were an evil company we might think that this change might in some way benefit them, but clearly not.

This week AT&T announced that hurray, we can finally have tethering on the iPhone. Oh and great news it is only 20.00 per month, not 30.00! But wait, to use it you have to give up your unlimited plan. AND you don't get any more data. So you are paying 20.00 more to use the same 2G of capped data that you already bought, but this time AT&T can't use the argument that you are putting more load on the network. This time it truly is that you are paying 20.00 for the privilege of using same amount of data, but on your laptop. Or to be more specific you are paying 20.00 a month to flip a bit in the iPhone OS to enable tethering with no impact to AT&T's network what-so-ever.

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, as long as I had the flexibility to tether my phone to either my laptop or my iPad. But nope. AT&T and Apple both say that is not allowed. If you want roaming data on an iPad you need to buy the 3G model. Ok, but maybe AT&T would give you a way to share a data plan and limits between those two devices since the cap would protect them? Nope, have to pay up for two plans.

Ok, in case you can't tell I have a real problem with this move to capped data. I can understand that business models based on 'unlimited' plans are risky because they are based on average usage etc. But as soon as you put a cap on the data I think all those arguments are invalid. If I buy a 2G block of data, then that data is mine. I should be able to use it where, when and how I choose.



(image) On March 31, 1998, Netscape Communications released the source code to their web browser client, hoping that they could leverage the community of open source developers to fight off Microsoft in the browser wars.

This video is an excellent documentary of that time.

In the end, Netscape disappeared after an intense battle with Microsoft, and a series of bad decisions (such as a Java based browser, the Collabra acquisition). After a few years, that source code became the basis for the Firefox browser.

If Netscape Navigator was Ben Kenobi to Internet Explorer's Darth Vader, then Firefox, Chrome and the mobile WebKit browsers are the rag-tag bunch that blew up the Death Star.

Another iPhone Developer Calls it Quits


Dan Grigsby, iPhone developer, avocate and founder of the popular iPhone news site and podcast 'Mobile Orchard' has decided to call it quits. He is abandoning iPhone as a platform and discontinuing the web site and blog. Apple's increasingly dictatorial control over the platform, and more specifically the recent decision to reject apps not written in Objective-C, C++ or C have finally pushed him over the edge. He is just the latest in a series of vocal iPhone developers to jump ship. The rational for his decision has been posted as his last entry to Mobile Orchard. You can read it here.

Here are some quotes which I think really get to the heart of the issue:

"Ask permission environments crush creativity and innovation..."

"Without exception, whenever I’ve taken built an app to capitalize on one of my ideas it’s run afoul of Apple’s policies... ...Apple could decide that this violates the Ts&Cs and kick me out of the program, thereby taking away my ability to support my family."

"I’m fine with Apple curating the App Store. If they want to treat the App Store as an extension of their brand, fine. If that’s their goal, they should decimate — literally — the store, stripping out the crappy-yet-inoffensive dross. But provide unrestricted, frictionless, off-store distribution a la Android.

"I’m a principled person. Apple’s offended my principles. Consequently, I’ve decided to abandon iPhone development. I won’t work in this ask-permission environment any longer."

I think Dan is taking a brave stand. As an Iphone developer I continue to be concerned by Apple's increasingly Orwellian policies. I am still optimistic that eventually good will prevail, but I must admit that so far I don't see Apple steering away from the course they are on.

Apple Tablet This Week?


Ok, the count down is on. Time to make your predictions. Let's see who can get the closest to the actual thing. This time around I'm trying to restrict my predictions to what I think it will have rather than what I want it to have. Here is my overly detailed prediction: [Updated to compare with actual] Name There are many possible names floating around, I prefer the 'iPad'. [YES: Ipad it is] Hardware Predictions P.A. Semi dual core, 1Ghz, power efficient chips - ARM based. [Close: 1Ghz A4 (PA Semi). no one knows if it is dual core however] 8", 16:9 OLED screen. 1024 x 576 [Close: 9.7" but not widescreen: 1024/768] Multi-touch support with patented gestures from Fingerworks acquisition. [NO: new gestures not seen] Touch screen does not support pressure sensor. [YES: standard touch] Optional pressure sensitive stylus for artists. [NO: nothing announced, maybe 3rd party?] Dedicated 3d graphics chip [NO: Integrated with A4 chip] .41" thick [Close: .5"] 17.5 ounces [NO: 24oz] Wi-fi 802.11n [YES] NO Cellular modem BUT supports tethering with AT&T iPhone (support announced same day). [NO: Cell options ARE available. AT&T still doesn't offer tethering] NO GPS [YES: Correct no GPS] NO Compass [NO: There is a compass in the stock] Accelerometer [YES:] Proximity sensor [NO: Nothing mentioned] Ambient light sensor [YES] Vibration [NO: Nothing mentioned] NO Camera [YES: sans camera] Microphone built in. [YES] Video Playback 9 hours [Close: claim 10 hours] Audio playback 24 hours [?: No one knows] Internet use 8 hours on WIFI [Close: claim 10 hours] Book reading (WIFI off) 12 hours. [?: No one knows] NO home button. Home menu reached with multi-finger gesture. (only volume and power buttons) [NO: There is a home button, as well as mute] Stereo speakers [NO: Mono speaker] Bluetooth. [YES] Headphone jack. [YES] New dock connector with HD video output. [?: Maybe - only VGA out announced by programming guide mentions 720p, perhaps with a future dongle?] Apple Remote support. [NO: Not mentioned, but maybe though one of the docks?] 32GB and 64GB Models initially. [Close: Also announced the budget model with 16G] Cost: $799 (32GB model) [NO: pretty far off actually, 499 for 16G and 599 for 32G] Operating System iPhone OS Variant. [YES] New UI Framework. [Close: So far there are new elements, but it is a superset of iPhone] Supports background apps [NO: :( ] Coverflow style task switcher [NO] Coverflow style tab switcher for browser [NO] Tablet extensions. [YES] Handwriting recognition (no stylus required) [NO] Predictive full screen keyboard (translusive) for touch typing [Close: Not translusive that I've seen] Closed app model. Apps must be installed from Apple's app store. [YES: No surprise here] Cannot run iPhone apps at all, must be new apps. [NO: Very surprised by this. I would have figured Apple to want to re-charge you for all those apps] Built in Applications iPaint '10. New painting app. (Apple purchases Art Rage or similar and drops Windows support) [NO: Shame really] iPhoto tablet edition. [YES: pretty much the same as on Mac] iRead - e reading app optimized for reading digital content with rich embedded multi-media. [YES] iWork touch edition. [YES] Handwriting app [NO] Full screen keyboard. [YES] Half screen keyboard. [YES] Safari - tablet edition. (NO Flash support) [YES: Again shame on the lack of flash] Network printer support - print documents from the device. [NO] PDF view and document preview [YES] Quicktime [YES] Apple shared desktop client [NO] Email / photo / etc, same as iPhone [YES: But clean updated versions] So how did I do? I'll give myself 1/2 point for things that were close. That gives me a computed accuracy of: 50% Better not quit my day job [...]

Don't discount Google's cloud storage just yet


Today Google announced that cloud file storage was coming to Google Docs. After quickly reading the details, my first response (and pretty much everyone else's) was MEH. Only 1G for free with no local syncing? I'll stick with Dropbox, thank you very much. Seriously after all these many years of G-Drive rumors that was all they could come up with? But after some further though I think we may be missing the real potential here. I say 'potential' because this is only speculation, and may not be Google's intent, but hear me out.

Comparing this to DropBox is not fair. That is not where the real potential lies. In fact we don't need another DropBox. What we need is, well, cloud storage. Not a copy of all our locally generated content copied to the cloud, but rather one place to store all of our cloud generated content. Think about it, there is a general trend away from desktop and towards netbooks and web services. As we move more and more of our generated content to Web apps we have lost control of our files. They are sprayed all over different services and servers. I figure Google is in a position to fix that. Who better than Google to provide a nice open file storage API for any web service to use? Combine that with OpenID (via your existing Google account), and you have all your 'cloud' generated files centrally located, backed up, and securely under your control again. Brilliant. Of course they'll all be indexed by Google to provide targeted advertising, but we're already used to to that aren't we?

Am I right here? Is this were Google is going with this? Only time will tell.

Streaming video to the iphone and ipod touch



When I switched away from Windows Mobile I left behind a lot of functionality, some built in and some via 3rd party apps. Over time Apple has managed to add some of these things to the platform, like cut and paste (duh!) and Bluetooth Stereo support. Gradually 3rd party apps have also appeared to fill in many of the cracks left by my switch. I found another one last night - Air Video

I used to use TCPMP or BetaPlayer to stream Xvid files from my media server to my PocketPC over WIFI. I gave this up when I switched to the Apple platform. The iPhone won't play anything but mp4 and I'm not about to convert all my vids. Also the iPhone doesn't have any native support for accessing a network share. Now that problem is solved with Air Video. Air Video allows you to stream video in almost any format to the iPhone. Since the iPhone only displays mp4 the video must be converted (transcoded). Luckily Air Video will do that for you - either by queuing up the conversion or by transcoding on the fly.

To use it you need to install a server program on your Mac or PC and point it to the folders you would like to share. The server software uses Bonjour so you don't need to configure any network settings. After it is up and running the iPhone Air Video app will find the local machine automagically. They also claim some support for streaming across the internet, but I haven't tried that. You can also share iTunes playlists.

There are two versions of the app, one pay  (2.99) and one free. The free version limits the number of items you can see in a folder, but otherwise behaves the same.

I downloaded the server and app and after a quick setup I was streaming anime in .mkv format to my iPhone. Initially I was not able to see the subtitles, but I found there was a beta version of the server. I installed it and the subtitles appeared.



How many people still have a land line, and why? I've been completely cell phone based since March 2004.

It feels weird to agree with luddites AT&T that forcing them to maintain the land line infrastructure with ever decreasing margins is a bad idea.

Keep up with your reading using free tools


These days there's far too much to read and not enough time to read it. I'll show you a couple ways to keep up with your reading using some free tools that are readily available. Here's a typical scenario: you're reading an article on the web and find a link to something else very interesting, so you open it in a new tab to read later. You keep going on like this and by the end of the day you have 20 tabs open. And this is just one machine, many of us use multiple computers as well as smart phones. How can you keep up with all this reading? The best trick that I found so far is to be able to push this reading into any 'free' time that I have scattered throughout my day. For example, when I'm waiting in lines, or waiting for meals, or people. I can also find time during ads or previews etc. During most of this time I'm not in front of my computer however, so the old 'tab' trick just won't cut it. My other favorite 'free' time however is while driving. I currently have quite a long commute, over 45 minutes each way. If you are creative you can use both of these types of idle time to conquer you reading list. The first free tool is Evernote. I'm a big fan of Evernote, and talk about it often. I use it to organize and simplify many aspects of my life. In this case I'll show you how to capture up all those articles and bits of text that you want to get around to reading someday. As a side effect of using Evernote to queue up text to read, you will also have a permanent copy that you can keep around for reference forever. The first thing you need to do is get yourself an Evernote account if you don't already have one. It's free. For optimal use you should download a client as well (also free). Evernote is available for Mac or PC. It is also available for all major smart phones such as Windows mobile, iPhone, Android, Palm Pre and Blackberry. Next you need to install a web clipper into your favorite browser. This is done automatically for Internet Explorer on Windows and Safari on Mac when you install the native clients. For Firefox and Chrome there are extensions you can download. For other browsers you can use a bookmarklet. With a little work and some googling you can even get the bookmarklet installed on the iPhone's browser. Now when you've got an article open that you like to read later just use the web clipper or bookmarklet to send it to Evernote. The best way that I found is to select the just the text of the article first and then click the bookmarklet. This copies the just the text and also creates a link to the original article. The trick here able to easily find these articles later so you can read them, to do this I mark them with a custom tag called 'ToRead'. Now when ever you have a spare moment you can pull an article out from any machine or device that you a have Evernote installed on, in my case I've always got my iPhone with me. You can even use any computer with internet access by using the web client. In Evernote just sort on the 'ToRead' tag and all your queued articles are right there. When you are done reading an article, just remove the 'ToRead' tag to take it off the list and mark it as 'read'. I usually then tag the article in some other way so that I can retain it for future reference. The next method I use for keeping up on my reading is by converting them from text from text to speech using various tools. This allows me to make good use of my commute time by listening to articles. I have a really good pay tool that I use on Windows produce high-quality MP3s, but there are also many free solutions available. One of these is a website called This website lets you convert text to speech for your own personal listening. The speech can be streamed directly from the website or downloaded as an MP3 file. They also give you an RSS feed you c[...]

Maximum Vi



You're gonna want a 30" monitor for maximum Vi usage.

SSD (yay or nay)?


If you were to build a new PC today, what storage set up would you use? I'm thinking that the primary disk would have to be SSD for the start up and application launch performance. I wonder if a secondary SSD for compiling large projects (like Chrome) would be worth it? Would it be a good trade off for a laptop: faster disk but reduced capacity?

AnandTech has some great SSD write ups here and here.

Looks like the intel X25-M is the best choice, and you can get the 160 GB drive for $500 at amazon. That still seems a little pricey to me.

The case against Apple


The Case Against Apple-in Five Parts

The article is pretty good, but I really got a kick out of the comments. I found this one part way down:

If Microsoft managed the Windows PC world the way Apple manages the iPhone/iPod touch world, Apple’s revenue would be less than half of what it is today. Imagine:

Steve: Hi, we’ve just submitted the Windows version of our iTunes app to the Windows app store.

Bill: Interesting. It looks like it duplicates existing functionality of the Windows OS, which includes Windows Media Player. Rejected.

Steve: What? There are similarities, yes, but iTunes provides a clean, easy to use interface for managing, purchasing, and playing music. Further, it allows Windows users to connect their iPods to their PCs and sync their music library seamlessly.

Bill: Sorry, our policy still stands. Besides, third party applications aren’t allowed direct access to music stored on a user’s PC.

Steve: But then how will we revolutionize the portable media player market and the mobile phone market, boosting our Mac market share and making billions of dollars in the process?

Bill: You won’t.

I wonder what revolutionary apps/gear/services we’ll miss out on because Apple finds them inconvenient.


There are also some good comparisons betweens Microsoft's anti-trust case for 'including' I.E. and Apple's down right 'rejection' of competing browsers like Opera mobile.

I'm enjoying the negative press Apple is getting, because hey I'm sick that way. But in the end I just want them to open things up a bit, and stop being, you know, evil.

Before you spam me, let me state that I do realize that the iPhone is not an open platform and they have the right to do what ever they want with 'their' product. I think the point being made in the market however is that consumers really want it to be open. Now I'm no business major, but I think that sometimes, just sometimes, it is a good idea to give customers what they want.

traceroute + ping = mtr


Matt at Twitter turned me on to using mtr. It's a mix of traceroute and ping, and produces a nice little list of where your packets are going.

The source tarball of mtr compiles fine on Mac OS X with a simple "make". I typically avoid "make install", and rather just copied the executable to /usr/sbin and did a setuid so it will run without typing "sudo" first.

$ wget
$ make
$ sudo cp mtr /usr/sbin
$ sudo chmod +s /usr/sbin/mtr
$ mtr
                            My traceroute  [v0.75]
xxxxxxxx-macbook-pro.local (                  Wed Aug  5 13:19:34 2009
Keys:  Help   Display mode   Restart statistics   Order of fields   quit
                                       Packets               Pings
 Host                                Loss%   Snt   Last   Avg  Best  Wrst StDev
 1.                       0.0%    37    0.8   0.8   0.7   0.9   0.0
 2.                      0.0%    37    2.2   2.3   2.0   4.4   0.5
 3.                    2.7%    37    3.7   3.7   3.3   5.7   0.5
 4.                     11.1%    36    7.3  11.2   6.7  67.7  12.1
 5.      8.3%    36    7.0   9.0   6.8  58.7   9.0
 6.                     5.6%    36    7.3  12.4   7.0 102.7  16.9
 7.   2.8%    36    7.4  15.3   7.0 129.9  23.4
 8.              5.6%    36    7.5  14.8   7.1  89.1  18.2
13.             5.6%    36   14.8  16.4  14.4  33.7   4.4

Yes, that is some packet loss :-)

Suspend Firefox


Firefox 3.5 does a bit better on memory usage with a lot of (50+) tabs. Still, the various Javascripts, Java and Flash animations all use CPU, and Firefox for me typically runs at 20% CPU or so on my Macbook Pro. There are a couple things you can do to reduce the CPU usage, and then the ultimate solution to quickly suspend Firefox.

Initially, you can install the Adblock Plus extension, which will block all ads, with the side effect of using less CPU loading and displaying flashing gifs, etc. Flashblock is another good extension that shows all flash objects as a blank rectangle with a play button in the center. The flash object will only load when the play button is pressed. You'd be surprised how many tiny flash objects are embedded pages, using CPU.

Finally, you can suspend the Firefox process and effectively move its CPU usage to 0%. I typically hit -h to hide all Firefox windows, and then type the following to susupend and resume in

killall -STOP firefox-bin
killall -CONT firefox-bin

It would be nice to integrate these commands when an app is hidden or shown, but for now this hack is good for saving battery life, or keeping your CPU cooler in hot weather!