My first Mac

It’s been thirty years since the Apple Macintosh was introduced on 24 January 1984. To celebrate the milestone, Apple have posted a Thirty Years of Mac feature on their website highlighting some of the key machines introduced over the period and stories from prominent users. It also invites visitors to enter information about their first Mac – data is collated to determine the most popular machines and how people used their Macs.

Paper Mac and PowerBook G4

This is the only photo I could easily find of my first Mac – an Apple PowerBook G4 (12-inch, 1.33 GHz) from 2004. It’s there with its distinctive glowing Apple logo behind the Paper Mac. It was miles ahead of my old Dell laptop in terms of portability, design, power… and the sheer cool factor back in the days when Apple products were still niche.

We’ve come a long way since 2004 – x86 has replaced PowerPC, multi-core processors, solid-state drives, six major releases of Mac OS X, display technology has advanced from 106 ppi TN to 220 ppi IPS, &c. – but I’ll always feel a sense of nostalgia about my first Mac.

Environmental Mobility Check

When I booked an ICE3 train from Munich to Frankfurt earlier this year, I was impressed by German railway operator DB Bahn‘s website which shows the comparative travel time and environmental impact of travelling by train, car and aeroplane. All you have to do is click on “Environmental Mobility Check”, which I’m sure must be a direct translation from German.

DB Bahn environmental mobility checkDB Bahn Environmental Mobility Check sample (click to see full-size)

I tried a few different origins/destinations for curiosity and, needless to say, travelling by train was always the most environmentally-friendly option. Catching high-speed rail with direct connections was no slower than travelling by car (even with Autobahns) or aeroplane for journeys up to 3–4 hours. Now if only we had a high-speed rail connection between Sydney and Melbourne…

Epic fail

We apologise for this temporary service interruption.

While I was away on rural placement in Coonabarabran, which I’ll be writing about extensively after the third-year Barrier exam, it seems that medicinalchemistry died on me. On closer examination it seems that my hosting service (Yahoo! Small Business) had upgraded my WordPress install to 2.8.4 (after a few years of the automatic update system doing nothing), in the process completely breaking WordPress and the MySQL database.

Epic fail, Yahoo.

I guess it was about time that I refreshed this blog anyway, so I’ve done a clean install and will be progressively restoring key content that I salvaged from my backups. Stay tuned.

TomTom ONE 140

The TomTom ONE 140 IQ Routes edition is the latest entry-level portable car GPS navigation unit from leading manufacturer TomTom. I’ve never owned a GPS navigation unit before but, having seen some of my friends’ GPS navigators in action, recently decided to take the plunge with the TomTom ONE 140 (using some of my K-Rudd stimulus money). Here are some of my thoughts…

TomTom ONE 140
TomTom ONE 140 (’Australia Ubd’ map colours)

Firstly, TomTom’s patented EasyPort mount is fantastic! The suction cup attaches securely to the windscreen with a 30° twist of the knob (and releases with the corresponding anticlockwise twist). The TomTom ONE then clips into the adjustable ring – simple! It’s quite a light and compact unit (especially when detached from the EasyPort mount) and I carry mine around in a Crumpler Thirsty Al (large) pouch.

The user interface on the device itself is user-friendly and intuitive. It’s displayed on an excellent 8.5 cm LCD touchscreen which offers a wide viewing angle and decent visibility in sunlight. Surprisingly, readability is unaffected by polarising sunglasses – I haven’t come across an LCD display with this property before.

Text-to-speech (TTS) is standard on the Australian model and in most other regions (it’s optional in North America, where the TTS model is designated ‘ONE 140•S’. Whilst undoubtedly useful (when roads are clearly signposted), the voice synthesiser struggles with uncommon and non-English names… although curiously, it pronounces ‘Parramatta’ quite well. It should be noted that TTS only works for ‘computer’ voices, of which there are only four English-speaking choices (female UK, male UK, female US, male US). I also recommend disabling ‘read aloud road numbers’, since the UK-oriented TTS will irritatingly spell out State Routes and Metroads, for example ‘S-T-A-T-E route thirty-one’ and ‘M-E-T-R-O-A-D four’ – disabling this feature results in the TTS announcing the actual road name or road sign instead.

I’ve been using it a fair bit over the past few weeks (covering a range of trips mainly in/between the city, inner west, and north west). The Australia map uses Whereis map data from Sensis, which has proven to be reliable so far. It generally does quite a reasonable job of plotting routes, although it does occasionally suggest impractical turns (e.g. unsignalled right turns onto a major arterial). The algorithm also tends to prefer major roads, in spite of the IQ Routes feature which is designed to calculate the fastest routes based on collated user data. Probably the best way to summarise this is that it might not necessarily get you somewhere the best possible way, but it does get you there.

GPS positioning is usually accurate to within 5–20 metres and the unit can acquire an accurate GPS position within 5–10 seconds when QuickGPSfix is up-to-date (signal acquisition can take over 30 seconds otherwise). Like other GPS navigation units, however, navigation can be patchy in certain situations: areas where tall buildings block line-of-sight reception from GPS satellites (e.g. Sydney CBD), on densely arranged and/or vertically stacked carriageways (e.g. Western Distributor Freeway), and where carriageways change direction during the morning/afternoon peak (e.g. Waringah Freeway).

USB connectivity allows the TomTom ONE to be managed using the TomTom HOME software package, including updates (Map Share, QuickGPSfix, etc), downloads, backups, etc. In addition to the Windows version, TomTom HOME is available as a universal binary for Mac OS X.

Overall, I find the TomTom ONE 140 IQ Routes edition to be a well-designed, user friendly, feature-rich entry level GPS navigation unit.