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     Figuring out video out
    Filed under: — David @ 6:11 pm

    If you go to the Emeryville Apple Store and pick up a Belkin iPod AV cable, and find the seal on the box has been broken, it might be the one I just returned.

    I thought I might have a chance to share some videos with family and/or friends over the holidays, so I picked up the cable at the Santa Monica Third Street store. I picked the Belkin cable over the Apple one mainly because Apple’s box didn’t say how long their cable was and the salesperson I asked wasn’t able to find out.

    When I got home and tried it out, I got sound but no picture. I tried various inputs on the TV, VCR, and receiver, always with the same result. I also decided it was the skinniest AV cable I had ever seen, to the point where just handling it made me nervous.

    As I was in the Bay Area for the weekend, I went to the Emeryville store to exchange the Belkin cable for the Apple one. Although I told the cashier I was exchanging it because it didn’t seem to work, during the process he handed it to a passing store person, telling him to put it back “on the floor”, which I guess really means shelf. Or whatever you call the rod thing that small packages hang from. Anyway I was surprised that he was putting a supposedly faulty product back out for sale like that.

    Fortunately, in this case, that shouldn’t cause any problems. It was a regular case of user error. I was assuming that the iPod would automatically detect that the AV cable was connected and start outputting a video signal. What I was forgetting was that you have to go to the iPod’s Video Settings screen (not the main settings screen!) and enable video output. Once I did that (and turned off widescreen, which was apparently on by default), it worked fine. The compression jaggies were less noticeable than on the computer screen, too. It wasn’t much worse than the aliasing you normally see on a TV screen.

    Since the Customer is Always Right, I think Apple should do something like one of the following:

    • Make the iPod able to tell the difference between a headphone plug and an AV cable plug, and automatically enable video out.
    • Combine the Video Settings menu into the main Settings, or provide a shortcut from Settings to Video Settings.
    • Include a small instruction sheet with the AV cable reminding the user to manually enable video output.

    Now, of course, it’s my fault for not consulting the manual sooner, but what interests me in this story is the usability angle. As a general rule, I shouldn’t have to consult the manual to use a consumer product like an iPod, so the question that interests me is: What could Apple have done here to make the manual unnecessary?

    If I had gotten the video cable together with the iPod and tried to use it back then, I would have been more likely to consult the manual on the issue, but now I’m more in the mindset of “I know how this thing works by now”. Apple doesn’t seem to have taken this scenario into account, and if I hadn’t thought to search the Apple discussion boards, where I found the posts that talked about the Video Settings screen, who knows how long I might have gone on under the assumtion that I had some faulty hardware.

    Filed under: — David @ 1:54 pm

    I just checked out RoboBlitz, the first game to use version 3 of the Unreal Engine. The game is pretty cool; you get a glimpse of the cool graphics effects coming in UT2007, and the game play is pretty forgiving though occasionally frustrating. (Hint: get the pulse gun before taking on the big NOED thing in places like the third level of the Security area. I only had the fireworks gun, which didn’t seem to have any effect on it.)

    It also runs great on my Mac Pro with the ATI X1900 card - under Boot Camp of course, since there’s no Mac version yet. I had to grab the latest drivers from the ATI site, which I was a bit nervous about since I don’t know exactly how robust Boot Camp is in that regard. But it worked just fine.

    But of course what I really wanted to do was check out the guts in the included editor. There’s even a wiki for the editor, but for some reason I didn’t initially notice the first line that says how to actually launch the editor, and wasted some time figuring it out myself.

    There are, of course, differences from the editor included with UT2004. It will take me a while to explore all of them… but of course I’m a modder first and a mapper second. So I found GameInfo in the actor list, hit the View Source command, and got me a big fat General Protection Fault. I’ve tried a few other classes, all with the same result.

    More as the situation develops…

    Edit: I later found out that the EMP gun does work on the Noeds. It didn’t originally occur to me to try it, since it doesn’t damage regular enemies, it just stuns them.

     Couple of iTunes things
    Filed under: — David @ 11:42 pm

    This morning I did a “Check for Purchases” in iTunes, anticipating the release of a new episode of Avatar - the Last Airbender. But I got more than I bargained for - something like 18 items showed up in the downloads list. Through some mistake or glitch, the episodes from season 2 of Danny Phantom got filed under Avatar instead, including having the wrong artwork image.

    Ideally, this would serendipitously lead to the discovery of another cool show that I might not otherwise have seen, and I’d go back and buy the first season too. But in this case… I’d say it’s average. It doesn’t have the depth of Avatar, but precious few shows do. There’s nothing particularly annoying about it, and it makes me laugh now and then. Plus it has Rob Paulsen, and being an old Animaniacs fan I have a soft spot for him.

    The other iTunes thing is that I think I finally figured out how to get my iPod to play more than one podcast episode at a time. The key seems to be the “skip when shuffling” checkbox in the Options tab of the Get Info window, which is checked by default on podcasts. Uncheck that, then put the episodes in a playlist - preferably a smart playlist so you can easily restrict it to recent, unheard episodes. That will be a little less time I’ll have to spend taking my eyes off the road as I listen to podcasts in my car.

     Class action
    Filed under: — David @ 7:41 pm

    I just got a notice in the mail that I may qualify for a class action lawsuit against Apple over problems with the 17″ Studio Display. I have two of them, purchased about four years ago, but since they’ve always worked fine I don’t qualify for the settlement - up to $400 depending on when you got your repairs.

    There are two interesting things about this. The first is that I don’t remember reading about this, and class action lawsuits usually get mentioned on the Mac news sites. Maybe it was a while ago and it took a long time to reach the settlement. The second interesting thing is that I’ve moved three times since I got these monitors, and yet the Claims Administrator still managed to track me down.

    Oh well, no bonus cash for me. But I do get two fine monitors. They’re on their third computer now with not so much as a dead pixel.

    Knock on wood.

    Filed under: — David @ 10:23 pm

    I’ve decided to make it a goal to remove the use of ACCELA in Volley. It’s weird in a way to say I don’t want one of my open source projects to be used in my other open source project, but I think overall it’s better this way for a couple of reasons.

    First, there are some things that ACCELA is being used for which needs to be replaced with something cross-platform-friendly - specifically, string handling and XML parsing. Both of these can be replaced with libxml, which is not only a good cross-platform XML library, but it’s also built in to Mac OS X. (It’s kind of an outdated version, but I haven’t had any problems so far.) Since the client is being rewritten in Cocoa, most of the remaining Carbon-based code is related to handling files and folders, and that can be redone with Cocoa calls too. The plugin loading code won’t change though, because Cocoa’s NSBundle doesn’t have an equivalent for CFBundleGetFunctionPointerForName.

    Second, I think it helps if I avoid dependencies. Ideally you should be able to download the source code of an open source project and just build it. Requiring additional steps, like grabbing another library, complicates the process, making it easier to mess up and making it harder to attract more developers to the project. Having an “it just works” quality is a very attractive feature, I think.

    This is a bit ironic since I’ve just added a dependency on boost, but that’s a popular library so I think that’s more acceptable.

    This is also why I didn’t use ACCELA in XVG, although I could have - the Core Graphics wrappers would have been useful. But I think it actually wouldn’t have made a big difference, and limitations in Objective-C++ might have gotten in the way (especially in regards to having a C++ class as a data member of an Objective-C object). Plus in a way it’s nice to stick with the raw C functions, so I can remember how they work.

    This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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