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Dom Mooney's Website

March 2011

Bad, Sad Mac


Non-geeks leave now...

IT-wise, it's been a lousy week. I'd upgraded to OS X 10.6.7 when it came out, but decided to leave it a few days before I did a clone back up to mke sure that everything was stable. What I hadn't done, which I should have, was to clone the 10.6.6 build immediately before the update. Stupid, I know.

Anyway, I decided to install XCode 4, Apple's development tools for the Mac and iOS devices, because it allows you to enable the iPad as a development device which allows access to the expanded multitouch gesture set. First mistake - I didn't realise that XCode was so big - 4.5 Gb compressed big, expanding threefold when installed - nor that, unlike other apps from the Mac App Store, it needed further installation when it was downloaded. Duly downloaded, it started to install and then hung up. No CPU activity (so not decompressing anything), no HDD activity, and the task manager reporting that it was "not responding". Never a good sign.

Anyway, long and short is that after a couple of ours I restarted the computer, and was immediately faced with a folder icon adorned with a question mark. For those of you that don't speak Mac OS, that means the computer cannot find a valid operating system folder.

I am prepared for this kind of thing; the clone back up allows me to externally boot the computer up, and Time Machine (the built in operating system back up routine) covers the gaps in between. I realised that the clone backup was the previous OS version and more than two weeks old (bad Dom!) so decided to restore from Time Machine, going back to two hours before it all went pear shaped so I'd be reinstalling OS 10.6.7 not 10.6.6. A scramble to find the Snow Leopard install disk followed so I could do this.

However, every Time Machine recovery I tried (four if I remember correctly, at around 6 hours a piece) failed to produce a computer that would boot. The clone worked, but even restoring back a day before failed.

In the end, thanks to a great suggestion by Neil Ford, I reinstalled the cloned back up, updated to 10.6.7, and then restored the user folder using Time Machine. This had one further problem - the 45Gb space I had left wasn't adequate to do a Time Machine restore, so I was deleting individual folders, for example Music and Video, to make sure there was enough space. It was painful, and reminds me why I really need to back up regularly. I've not lost any data, but it was a pain.

The restore did trigger a complication; I had to resync all the photos on the iPad (at 10 Gb for the last 12 months not a quick thing to do as it includes optimisation of the local copy).

Once everything was back to normal, I decided to install the iOS 4.3.1 update that had just been released. The iPad worked fine, but the iPhone update got messy, as iTunes froze during install and lost the USB connection. This bricked the iPhone, requiring a full installation and restore from backup. As I manually manage my music, it was a pain as I had to add everything back in. On the more positive side, I now have 3Gb of space on the iPhone compared the 800Mb I had before.

I'm hoping that everything will be simple and happy from now on, like it usually is.

Tactile Sword and Sworcery

Audience Calibration Procedure from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery on Vimeo.

First of all, I'd like to confirm to the many of you that have asked that I haven't bought a new iPad 2. Yes, it'd be really nice - and I recommend it wholeheartedly - but I think I'll wait at least another generation before I replace mine which is still giving me lots of pleasure and utility. I don't have the urge to spend that kind of money when Jill is on maternity leave.

Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@dommooney) or Facebook will know that I recently discovered Sworcery, which is giving lots of enjoyment. If you have an iPad (and soon iPhone / iPod Touch) it's worth having a look at. It's an old style cryptic and fun adventure with a great soundtrack, and integration to Twitter.

I did indulge myself by changing the case for a Scosche FoldIO case, mainly because I was sick of the dirt trap that the Apple case was around the screen. The FoldIO doesn't have that trap and has the feeling the iPad is floating in the case. The only downside I that I now find myself stroking the iPad as the lovely aluminium finish is exposed. So long as I don't start mumbling 'My Precious' then I guess I'll be alright!

Murder Most Foul!


I went away with work for two days this week - you'll be glad that's peripheral to the entry here - and was surprised when our evening meal had a murder mystery as entertainment and team building. Naturally, I soon ended up like a pig in muck. The session was much more like roleplaying than I've seen before in such events, with eight or so actors in character the whole evening.

Mainly between myself and one of the other team members we cracked the mystery, to the point the team running it thought that they'd left a script around for a bit. All I can say is never trust the quiet ones, they could be the triple murderer!

I also wholeheartedly recommend Murder One if you want to put this kind of event on; very professional, great character acting and interaction and good plot and props.

The New Old School

Dragon Age

I've just had a great afternoon at TomCon, Tom Zunder's monthly gaming meet, playing a roleplaying game called 'Dragon Age'. The game has a dark fantasy setting which was taken from Bioware's computer roleplaying game of the same name, which itself was inspired by the grandaddy of all RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

I first played D&D back around 1983 when I went to secondary school, using the blue book basic set (these details are important to gaming nerds) and spent a fair bit of time exploring settings such as 'The Keep on the Borderlands'. In truth, although I loved fantasy, and played more than my fair share of D&D and later Advanced D&D, as a system it never really inspired me. I soon moved on when I discovered games like the Lovecraftian 'Call of Cthulhu', the science-fiction of 'Traveller' and the dark fantasy of Chaosium's 'Stormbringer' RPG. However, memories of D&D are cherished, and occasionally lead to me having a look at the classic dungeon setting and getting a pining urge.

Dragon Age does a great job of scratching that urge. It has a very simple core mechanic (roll 3 six sided dice, or 3d6 to gamers to hit a target number, rolling doubles gets you benefits called stunts) and a smooth and slickly designed system. It's a world apart from the kludge of the D&D engine, but at the same time it's very much the same world. The system, rules, whatever you may want to call them, is mostly unobtrusive and fades away. You don't need to remember lots of special rules. It's quite elegant.

Anyway, Graham ran an excellent fun game based around an expanded version of the introductory adventure in the book, and we all rolled with the old school vibe. It was like a return to being 12 again. We roleplayed more than we did then, but we also grabbed hold hard of the kick the door down, kill the monster, steal the treasure and rescue the damsel vibe of early D&D.

I played a warrior with a distrust of elves (2 of the group were playing elves and the scenario involves them too) and split my time between stirring up trouble and participating in a Lord of the Rings Movie inspired body count contest with Jag, who had the other warrior, a barbarian fighter. It was great fun, and a wonderful stress release from real life. I think it's the first game I've managed since October 2010, at Furnace. I think the telling thing is that I'd love to do it all again! Dragon Age is certainly worth a look!

When the Balloon went Down...

Balloon Landing at Kirk Deighton

I had a fun morning this week as I took Nathan to Nursery. We spotted a hot air balloon in the distance as we set off from home in the car on Friday, resplendent in markings boasting about its sexuality. It was a bit of a game keeping it in sight for Nathan as we did the long route around town to get to the Nursery. As we got closer, the balloon got bigger and we realised that it was coming down into the cricket field across the road from our destination.

You can imagine Nathan's excitement as he rushed in to tell all his friends, something that contagiously spread as they all headed out into the garden to see the balloon. I slipped off at that point, grabbing a few pictures on the way out. Needless to say, it was a highlight of the day for Nathan!

Time Warp

That’s just like me this morning!
(Image (cc) by hobvias sudoneighm. Click through to Flickr for full attribution.)

It was a broken night last night, with Aidan being restless, and then me being dragged in to Nathan’s room as he was ‘cold and lonely’. Jill came in just after 7:00, sounding really cross my alarm had gone off. I was embarrassed, thinking that I’d put it on by accident on auto-pilot before bed. Nathan and I got up and had our usual Saturday regime of watching CBeebies, playing games and breakfast on the sofa. Cursed the bank for SMSing me with my account details which should have come on Friday morning.

All went swimmingly until 9:00 when a confused Jill came in and asked me what I was doing here and why hadn’t I gone to work. She was worried that she’d lost a day. But the stupidity was mine, I’d got it in my head that it was Saturday, not the Friday it really was, probably from a dream the night before. Doh!

Suffice it to say a somewhat sheepish and bemused Dom arrived at work about 45 mins later having dropped a confused Nathan at Nursery. Sleep loss is bad, children. Don’t make Daddy dafter than he is already!

No longer in a spin


Apple is a capricious master. The products that it makes have some of the best industrial design in the world and the best build quality, but sometimes it decides to do something that you really disagree with.

For me, this was the change with the iOS 4.2 update for iPad which disabled 6 months plus of muscle memory and turned a simple button slide into a double click, swipe left, tap, swipe and tap operation. Those of you with iPads will know that I'm talking of the changing of the orientation lock switch into a mute switch.

The accelerometer in the iPad is sensitive to the device's orientation and it will rotate the screen to face what it thinks is the way you are using it. Great normally, but try using the iPad in bed or with the device and an angle and the orientation changing can get really annoying. The lock switch does what it says on the tin, allowing you to choose when this happens. It really annoyed me and spoiled some of my pleasure as a user. So I – and many others – let them know through their own feedback forms and online forums.

Fortunately, they seem to have agreed with the concern (or decided that it was an easy PR win to try and cooperate), and iOS 4.3 brings the option to use the switch for either function. A small niggle is removed and the pleasure of using the device is raised. Dom is a happy boy.

Big Smile (it's Toy Story)
Whilst I’m a happy boy about the lock, Nathan is happier about the Toy Story app.

All would be rosy in the world of interface, except for the fact that the new version of iPhoto (or at least the last one) that I upgraded to in the App Store is now providing a similar issue with muscle memory. The 'ESC' key no longer excites up a menu level when browsing photos and events, something that it has always done until the latest version. Perhaps it's time for a new campaign?

All Aboard, it's Sunday

Family at the NRM York
A Day Out!

It was an impulse decision which turned into a nice day out. The sun was shining and Nathan was champing at the bit to go out to play. I realised that we needed to do something to divert his energies when I saw the carnage he wreaked with his sit-on digger in ten minutes in the garden. The one big question was whether we could do anything as Jill had suffered a particularly disturbed night as Aidan was very restless.

NRM York: Streamline through the Bridge Arc
The Streamline Display at the NRM York

Fortunately, Jill was up for it, and we set off in the car to a 'surprise' destination; the National Railway Museum in York. Nathan had been there once before, in the New Year of 2010. We kept our destination secret all the way, asking him to guess during the half-hour travelling. When we arrived at the car park he soon realised where he was, but I really think that he couldn't make his mind up where he wanted to be looking, as there was a train passing and a hot air balloon in the sky.

NRM York: On the Bridge
On the Bridge

More of the museum was open than when we went last time, and we had a great time wandering around (and Nathan a great time charging around calling out "Look Mummy, Look Daddy") and enjoying the industrial heritage. I had a good play with the Hipstamatic App on my iPhone, which is fast becoming one of my favourites as it simulates old films and lenses, producing some really attractive images. You can get prints too, but that's another story.

NRM York: The Car
Funky Hipstamatic Pic

The main disappointment was that the Mallard was at Shilden, something that Nathan realised the moment he arrived ('Where's Spencer?'), but it didn't detract from the day. We were there for perhaps 3 hours, during which Aidan slept. He's quite a big boy now - 10lbs 10oz at the weigh in the following Tuesday. Not bad from a 6lb 15oz start 7 weeks ago.

Getting Big Now

We finished off the visit with tea and cake on the platform. Well, you have to, don't you?!

A great end to a good weekend, which also featured swimming – where Nathan was working on his diving – and an impulse visit to see Tom, Kat and their children Alice and William, as we got a text from them as we were leaving swimming in Harrogate and heading past their house!