Upgrading a Haswell Macbook Air (mid-2013) to Windows 8

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I recently bought a new Macbook Air for work – a mid-2013 Haswell one. I got all the optional upgrades which means it’s an i7, 8Gb of RAM and 512Gb SSD. The main reason I upgraded from my mid-2011 Macbook Air was that I wanted more RAM – with 4Gb it was struggling to run Azure VMs in Windows. Also the 256Gb SSD was stretched, I was constantly having to fight to free up disk space in both Windows and OSX. Finally, I wanted USB 3.0, so that I could use an external HDD at full speed should I need more disk space. And the new PCI-based SSD sounded tasty.

macbook air

My Windows 8 Pro license is an upgrade only license, so in order to get Windows 8 on it I first had to install Windows 7 using Boot Camp. Which went fine.

Once Windows 7 was installed I ran the Windows 8 upgrade installation. It would go through the whole process but then after a few reboots and at the end of the setup process it would hang at the “Personalise” screen, where you choose a colour scheme and a name for your computer. It wasn’t actually hung, it was just that the keyboard and mouse didn’t work so I couldn’t click next. Neither the built in keyboard nor a USB keyboard would work.

So then I tried downloading and making a Windows 8 ISO and installing from that via Boot Camp (instead of installing Win 7 first), which worked fine, but then when I Activated Windows it wouldn’t let me because I have an upgrade only Windows 8 license. Poo.

So my third attempt, and this time I installed Windows 7 first, and the Boot Camp drivers in Windows 7. Then when I ran the Windows 8 upgrade install I elected to choose to Keep Windows settings, personal files and applications – the idea being that it would keep the Boot Camp drivers installed.

choose

Well, third time lucky anyway cos that worked.

Update: it looks like this is a known issue – see this solution.

So, how does the new Macbook perform compared to my older mid-2011 Macbook Air?

Here’s 2011′s Windows Experience Index:

wei

And here’s 2013′s. Not really much faster!
win 7 experience

Finally, here’s 2013′s again under Windows 8:win 8 experience

The only thing worth noting is the decent hard disk rating.

Another advantage of the Haswell chipset is longer battery life – up to 12 hours according to Apple, and the reviews seem to confirm that. BUT I bought the i7 version which is a bit more of a power hog, as confirmed by AnandTech – so I only get about 6 hours of battery life, a slight improvement on the 4 hours I was getting on the 2011 i7 version.

So overall, the 2013 Air is not much of an upgrade on the 2011 version really. Which is a bit of a disappointment.

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iTunes sucks balls

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Every time I use iTunes, I hate it. And now I have yet another reason to hate it:

itunes upgrade required

Oh fuck off, I don’t believe you. I’m running 10.2.2 and you’re telling me that I need to upgrade to the latest version just to stream a video? Bullshit. You’re making me upgrade because you think you can make me upgrade. Well fuck you, I’m not going to, so I won’t bother watching the iTunes Festival performances either.

Organise your digital life – Part 1 Photos

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I got my first digital camera in 1998. It was a low-end Kodak model but it was still quite expensive, around US$200, and it took photos at a whopping 493×373 resolution. I think it held about 20 photos in it’s internal memory. It didn’t even have a flash!

Back then I didn’t have much of a strategy for organising my digital photos – and the photos were so crap I didn’t use it all that often anyway:

My student workspace in 1998, taken on my 1998 era Kodak digital camera. Spray-painted keyboard and spray-painted big-ass server case, oh yeah. Looks like the 14″ monitor is running Winamp.

My next digital camera was in 2003 – a Pentax Optio S, the original “Altoids tin” camera. This camera served me well and I still have it lying around somewhere. Alas the flimsy battery compartment lid broke off but other than that it still works.

Pentax Optio S

Anyway, about 2004 I realised I needed a strategy for organising all of my photos, and the strategy I chose and which have stuck to is this.

Under My Pictures I have a Camera folder. In the Camera folder is a folder for each year:

Each year is divided up into sub-folders named after the locations where I have taken photos.

The naming format of each subfolder is “## – Place name”. E.g. in 2010 the first place I took photos was at my friend Kelvin’s wedding in New Plymouth so that is the first folder listed.

It’s really quite straightforward (and I think worthwhile) to organise your photos into folders based on year and location.

Finally, at the photos level is where I get a bit more pedantic (and it’s probably not necessary).

I usually rename my folders “Event – ##” or if the photo contains people then “Event – ## – Person Name”. I use a tool for renaming the photos in this way (an old version of ACDSee that came bundled with my Pentax camera in 2003) but I still need to manually add my friend’s names to the filename.

And that’s it. I know that most people aren’t going to bother to rename each photo the way I do (fair enough), but I think it’s not much effort to organise your photos into folders by year and location. And for god’s sake, delete your crap photos. I am notoriously economical with photos, i.e. I might take 10 or 20 shots of a landmark but I’ll only keep 1 or 2 of them.

Change your country with iTunes iStore and iPhone App Store

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A few months ago I moved from NZ to London. For a while I kept using my NZ account on iTunes and on my iPhone to buy apps, but eventually I needed to start using the UK app store.

The only info I could find on google was how to change your country in iTunes. That’s easy enough, using the country selector at the bottom of the screen. So now I can browse the UK iTunes store, and everything appears in £. But when I’d try and sign in to buy something, I’d get an error message “Your account is only valid for purchases in the NZ iStore” and I’d get redirected to the NZ iStore. I couldn’t find much help online, and was about to sign up for a whole new UK-based iTunes account with another email address, until I found this help page:

Changing your iTunes Store country:

Sign in to the account for the iTunes Store region you’d like to use. If already signed in to an account, from Settings, choose Store and then View Account.

Tap “Change Country of Region” and follow the on screen process of changing your region. Agree to the terms and conditions for the region if necessary, and then change your billing information.

Once that was done, I could see and use the UK iTunes on my Mac. But when I would surf the App Store on my iPhone I was still seeing the NZ app store. The fix is to just download any free app. Once it starts downloading it, it realises you’ve signed up to use a new country’s App Store and redirects you there. Or, on the iPhone go into Settings -> iTunes & App Stores -> Apple ID, and then Sign Out. When you Sign in again you’ll be redirected to the new country’s App Store.

A final tip: if you decide you don’t want to change your country and you need to buy US iTunes vouchers from overseas, TunesBud can hook you up.

First hands on with an Amazon Kindle 3

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For Christmas 2010, and on a whim, I bought myself the 3G model of the Kindle 3. It finally arrived this morning, so it’s a late Christmas present.

I guess I’m a bit late getting one of these since they’ve been out for a while. The thing is, I normally try not to buy books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always reading something, but usually it’s books that friends have lent me (hi Trent). I don’t like accumulating books because I’m always moving house (or country) and books are another thing to lag around. Right now I have a shelf of books at my parent’s house that has been sitting there for more than 5 years.

Lately I’ve been buying programming books though and those are usually very large and heavy. I left my copy of Code Complete 2 in NZ and I would have like to have brought it with me.

I’ve also been reading books on my iPhone through iBooks. So far only free classics, like Sherlock Holmes etc. Programming books in PDF format are too small for the iPhone.

I’d also been reading PDF ebooks on my netbook, by rotating the PDFs counter-clockwise in Acrobat reader, and then physically turning my netbook on its side. Very lo-tech. I’ve only been doing this at home though!

So iBooks on the iPhone and PDFs on the netbook were beginning to convince me that ebooks are the way forward. So I took the plunge with the Kindle.

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Above: my 3 generations of ebook reader – netbook, Kindle 3 and iPhone.

File Formats

Kindle supports Amazon’s DRM native Kindle file format, .AZW. Yuck, I didn’t realise it was DRM until now. The good thing about reading .AZW ebooks (i.e. those you buy Amazon.com) is that you can choose the font size, line spacing etc. This means that .AZW files don’t really have page numbers, because depending on your zoom level and your line spacing settings a book could have more or less pages. Instead, each paragraph has a position number, and the little progress bar tells you how far through the book you are. Academics and students are up in arms over the lack of page numbers, because it means they can’t easily use ebooks in citations for academic writing.

PDF

Another format it supports is PDF files. This was important to me as mentioned earlier, because I have PDFs of a number of programming books that I wanted to try to read on the Kindle.

When viewing PDFs on the Kindle, the page numbers of the PDF are respected. But the downside of that is you can’t set your own font size and line spacing. The Kindle 3 is pretty small, about the size of a DVD cover. In fact I can fit the Kindle inside a DVD cover, which could make for an interesting and cheap carry case. And with all that bezel and the keyboard, the screen itself is even smaller. So when you view a PDF on that small screen in portrait mode the font size is really tiny. If you zoom in to make it more readable then you’ll have to constantly horizontal scroll which isn’t practical. A workaround is to put the Kindle into landscape mode, then the text is more readable and you only have to vertically scroll once to read a page.

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Above: A bit too small to read comfortably…

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Above: But in landscape mode it’s OK.

I only got the thing today so haven’t put any long hours in reading PDFs on it but I’ll update this post in a few weeks once I have.

Packaging

Kudos to Amazon for their “Certified Frustration Free” packaging. Pull one tab and the recyclable box opens, and there it is. No more “wrap rage”:

Worth it?

Now that I think about it, if ever there was a genre of books that quickly goes out of date, it’s programming books. So perhaps I shouldn’t have bought the Kindle for reading programming books on and instead just bought the books I want to read and then just leave them behind whenever I move house!

But I think it’ll still be worth it for buying and storing non-programming books with. Now I can build up my (ebook) library without worrying about accumulating luggage.

Update

Well it’s been a couple of weeks now, and as far as studying programming books cover to cover it works fine. But in terms of replacing the stack of programming reference books on my desk, it’s a no go. It takes too long to find anything.

IE9 Beta renders blurry text

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I’m just giving Internet Explorer 9 Beta a try, and my first impression is that the text in web pages looks blurry. See:

That’s the same web page viewed in 3 different browsers. Which one looks the worst to you?

Top – IE9

Middle – Chrome

Bottom – Firefox.

I also tried to create this post using wordpress.com’s post editor in IE9, but it didn’t work – I couldn’t change the cursor position using my mouse, and the image upload dialog box wouldn’t appear. Which is ironic since Microsoft is touting WordPress’s IE9 enhancements.

Update: Scott Hanselman has explained the IE9 blurry text issue.

A world with free mobile calls

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I haven’t posted here for a while because I just went on a month long holiday in India, which was quite an experience.

One interesting thing about India was that cellphones are everywhere and the calls are cheap. Like, real cheap. The standard rate is about 1 rupee (USD $0.02) per minute. But if you’re calling someone on the same mobile network as you, then calls are half a rupee (USD $0.01) per minute. This is cheap even for Indians – you can’t buy anything for 1 rupee in India. So it’s practically free to make a quick one minute call.

Interestingly, to send a text message is about the same price – 1 rupee. Suffice to say no one ever texts in India, since it’s quicker and easier to make a call.

So, what do you expect would happen in a world with practically free communication? Spam of course. People who’d been in India a while ignored their text messages, because the only people who ever send texts are companies spamming. Likewise, it was all too common to get calls from unknown numbers which would be a recorded advertisement.

Apparently you can request your number be added to a “do not call” list and it actually works.

Nokia N900

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Only a couple of hours after posting my 2nd ever blog post here, my rant about the iPhone, some guy from WOMWorld Nokia in the UK contacted me, and asked if I’d like to try out their Nokia N900 for 2 weeks. Umm, OK!

I’ll be honest: I hadn’t heard of this phone before. I keep an eye on the tech blogs but I really only pay attention to iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile 7 news. But a quick glance at the Nokia UK website told me that the N900 is their top of the line smartphone.
N900

The Good

Like every other phone on the planet (bar one), it has an SMS length counter. Yay! It feels like a phone, with its removable battery. It has a physical QWERTY keyboard. You can run multiple apps at the same time. Its web browser is great, with accurate rendering of the sites I looked at and Flash support. Removable upgradeable microSD cards.
My brother had a play with it – he doesn’t have a smartphone, and he thought it was much easier to use than my iPhone.

The Bad

I didn’t like the build quality, it felt too plasticy. I didn’t like the resistive touchscreen, to me it felt like I had to thump it harder than I’d like to. And it wasn’t precise either, sometimes I’d click the wrong link while browsing web pages. It comes with a stylus but I kept forgetting to use that, and who wants to use a stylus anyway. The OS occasionally felt slow and not as snappy as the iPhone 3GS. It was stuck in landscape mode – no portrait mode here folks, except when making a call.
I couldn’t figure out the software suite for Windows at all. I wasn’t sure which package to download from the Nokia website, so I tried "Nokia PC suite", and that was crap. I couldn’t figure out how to load music onto the phone at all so I couldn’t try out its media abilities. The maps application was nowhere near as slick as Maps on the iPhone.

vs. the iPhone

A note about the keyboard: I always moan about the iPhone’s on screen keyboard so I thought I would love the N900s physical keyboard, but it seems like I must have gotten used to the iPhone’s keyboard because I can type twice as fast on the iPhone than on the N900.

So on paper, the N900 wins hands down – removable battery, physical keyboard, upgradeable storage, multitasking and Flash support. The iPhone is slimmer though which makes it better looking.
If you don’t already have an iPhone then the N900 is a real contender.

However, the iPhone, for all it’s weaknesses, offers a slicker overall experience, and looks way cooler even if every man and his dog has one these days. A phone has to look bling after all. And the iPhone wins because it is so much more snappy and responsive. I was happy to send the N900 back and go back to my iPhone.

Why the iPhone 3GS ain’t all that

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People who know me tell me “Matt, you’re the only iPhone owner I know who hates the iPhone”.  Here’s why.

It’s a crap phone

As a phone, it’s a piece of crap. My main moan is about it’s uselessness in text messaging. You see dear reader, here in NZ calls are ridiculously expensive so text messaging is very important. I hardly ever call anyone since the plan I’m on for $40 per month only gives me 20 minutes of calls and 100 text messages per month. Now since I also only get 100 txts, I’m reluctant to write a long txt since that would eat into my 100 per month quota – but guess what – the iPhone 3GS doesn’t tell you how many characters your text message is! This basic functionality, which EVERY cellphone has, the iPhone does not.

There is a workaround – I had to download a separate 3rd party app called “SMS Counter”.

Update (May 2011): An SMS length counter was included in the iOS 4.0 update, released June 2010. It only took me 11 months to find it! (Settings -> Messages -> Character count)

The other problem that no one mentions is that the touch screen sucks for typing on. I can txt faster and easier on my Nokia with predictive texting. And the Nokia is much easier to txt while walking – “I’m on my way, see you in 10″. With the iPhone’s touch screen keyboard I always have to stop walking to txt.

It’s a crap mp3 player

It bugs me how Apple market the iPod Touch as “the best music player ever” when it doesn’t even have functionality that my 5 year old iPod does, and which I use every day – Shuffle Albums. All I do is press play on my iPod and it’ll pick a random album, play every track on that album in order, then when its finished it’ll pick another album at random and play every track on that album in order, etc. This is the only way I ever listen to my music. One button – boom, a random album, played in order. Guess what, the much newer, cooler iPod Touch (and the iPhone 3GS) doesn’t have this. Dammit, don’t make me think about what album I wanna listen to! Suck.

The rest is pretty good

OK, so the rest of the iPhone 3GS is pretty good. It’s nice and fast, and the web browser is OK (although it doesn’t have Flash support, which is a big deal).

So it’s still probably the best smartphone available, which is why I have it – I really just wanted to have wikipedia in my pocket. But as a phone, which is it’s core function after all, it sucks.

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