7.3.10

Chew on this

First off I want to give mad props to Google for making Blogger work in lynx. You guys rock my console.

With that out of the way, I thought I'd give a little update as to what I've been doing lately. Most of my 'free time' has been spent helping to bring a hackerspace online in Norfolk, VA. 757 Labs is a project formed from a local technology social group called HRGeeks. I've been hanging out with these guys for a while, and even used to know a few of them when I was in high school. It's been a lot of fun, and as I seem to have become the network admin it's been a great learning experence. My home network just didn't offer the level of complexity that the lab network does. Maintaining a number of vlans, making sure that visiters have working internet connection while keeping the main network secure with both hardline and wireless access for everything. I've learned that there were things I didn't even know that I didn't know. Of course that's part of why I'm here, so it's all good.

My own personal projects have mostly been on hold for the time being, partly because this has been much more fun, and partly because once the space is active I'll be able to use it for my projects. Win/Win!

I can't belive I just typed that. I feel so lame. Oh well, it stands.

Now why did I happen to come to know that Blogger works in lynx? Well I'm at the lab now, upstairs at the server racks, about to shut down the audio stream I've been running, and got the urge to type this. As for that audio stream, Matt Lestock (former Hak5 host, and all around spiffy fellow) has restarted his old internet radio show. What, you didn't know? Well carry yourself over to www.jeffandchew.com, and check it out. I'll wait...

Got the skinny? Good. Listen weekly, you'll be glad you did. Just don't listen with small children, or people that can't take a joke. You've been warned.

That's about all I have for now. I'm going to try to get back into posting more, now that I'll have more to post about. Until then, keep doing what you do, as no one else can do it better than you.

18.12.09

New Hobbies Are The Best Hobbies

I've been idle lately. Not just 'technologically' but physically. Three years ago, when I changed departments at my employer, I went from climbing ladders and crawling under buildings to sitting at a desk all day. I also went from 175lbs to 220lbs. It took just a few months to get to the new weight, but it took over a year to get back (o'kay so I'm 180 now; close enough). I changed my eating habits to match my new less active job, and made a point to get out now and then. That had been going pretty well until a few months ago, at which point I just kind of stopped. No real reason, just did. I also noticed that I wasn't doing much of anything else. It had all kind of run together. Sure my various hobbies and such were still fun, but they were also old hat. I needed something new. I also needed to get moving or risk regaining the weight. If you've never been there, you can't really know, but it's a lot harder to keep the weight off once you've gained and lost it than it is to just not gain it.

I've been playing around with various GPS related applications on my phone lately. Mostly the 'check in' at a location variety. I have Brightkite, and Loopt; picked up Gowalla recently. They're all fun in their own little way, but I really enjoy the Geohash app. It's based off an XKCD comic, and though I usually don't go to the locations that it generates, I like looking at the info everyday. I've yet to meet anyone else at a generated location, but I hold out hope that it'll happen.

Ever sense I got an iPhone 3G (I have a 3GS now) I've played with the idea of getting a dedicated GPS device too. The iPhone serves me well for getting from point A to point B, but it's not all that accurate. A few years ago I read about a thing called Geocaching. The idea being that using just a set of coordinates and a few clues you would set out looking for a can, box, or other container that someone else hid with the hope that others would find it. Some times there might be odds and ends to trade, or clues to the location of yet another hidden treasure. Maybe an object that wants to travel to a far away place, and if you can help it get closer by moving it to another hidden place then it's just accepted that you will.

Last night, on a whim, I decided that I was going to stop thinking about it, and actually give it a try. I signed into geocaching.com from work, set up an account, and searched for a few caches nearby. After work I set out looking, and using Google Maps and my phone's built in compass I made an attempt to find two different places that seemed as though they would be pretty easy. I failed. A lot. All the while I was cursing the highly inaccurate GPS in my phone. Sure it was great for plotting a route to follow in my car, but when trying to find something that may be smaller than my hand and hidden from view, it just didn't seem to be good enough. Most hand held GPS devices I've looked at have a clear sky accuracy from 10 to 30 feet. My iPhone didn't seem to want to do better than about 40 to 60 feet. So combining the probable inaccuracy of the device that tagged the location and the error in location from my phone and I realized it was possible I could be almost 100 feet away from my target at any time and think I was right on top of it.

I tried one more that was closer to home later last night after an HR Geeks (Hampton Roads, not Human Resources) meeting that sprung up because some people couldn't make it to the scheduled meeting last week. It was quite dark by that time, and after a few minutes I realized that it was a lost cause. This morning I was woke up far earlier than I had planed to get up and was forced to leave the house. After taking care of what I needed to I decided to give it another go. I picked a different cache, as it was on my way back home. This time after just a few minutes I found a hidden glass jar with a few tiny sea shells, an equally small toy car, and a rolled up piece of paper in a plastic bag. I unrolled the paper, left the date and my name, packed it all back up and hid it away again. There was another less than a quarter mile away, so I went for it. I also downloaded the iPhone application that Groundspeak (the group that operates geocaching.com) offers which gives access to the cache database, and an easy way to update entries. Sure it cost $10, but some times the free route isn't the best route.

So pulling up to the second attempt of the day I can already tell where it's hidden. Mostly because it was hidden in the same way the first one was, but on some level it was like I could just feel it. This time it took longer to sign the log and put it back than it took to actually find it. Feeling good about myself I decided I want to try to find the last one I looked for last night. On the way I'd be passing two others. First one is on the road I live on. Spent a few minutes looking, and started to think that perhaps it wasn't there anymore, despite only being put into place a short time ago. It's a pretty high traffic area, and on the edge of private property. Just as I was about to walk away I see it, in plain sight. How I missed it until then I have no idea. Then off to the next one. At this point I was feeling pumped. Silly I guess, but on some level I felt like those shady characters in spy movies in their long black coats deftly snatching little hidden objects off the back of park benches in plain view of everyone.

A few minutes down the road and I find myself along a line of shrubs. Trying not to collect too much of the bush inside of my coat, I start poking around the ground just under the leaves. As I do I start thinking back to my days as a cable tech, looking for pedestals which had been grown over. Falling into this mindset I spot it. My gaze hadn't moved and yet something that was totally invisible to me just moments ago was there as plain as the nose on my face. That's when I realized that yesterday I had been looking at things all wrong. My inability to find the caches I was looking for yesterday wasn't because my GPS devices wasn't accurate enough, it was because I wasn't looking. I was trusting my equipment to show me where to look. The point of the GPS is to get me there, it was still my job to actually search. Resealing the large film canister and feeling in the zone I roll out to what I'd decided would be my last attempt of the day. Off the side of the road, in view of the interstate, I start poking around Wondering if anyone zipping by at 60+MPH even notices me, and if I'm about to wake up a sleeping snake I creep farther into the trees. No geocache, but did find the remains of a beer cache. Looked like it had been abandoned some time ago. A slightly broken foam cooler, and mostly empty beer cans covered by black plastic and pine needles. Again, just as I was ready to leave, out of the corner of my eye I catch something that doesn't look right. A magnetic key box tucked away from view. Another signature log and a small rubber lizard that might have been trying to be the Loch Ness Monster. Left my mark, and having very much enjoyed the morning, headed home.

I don't see myself regularly checking off five a day, even on my days off. I do see myself venturing off course every now and then, to spend a few minutes searching out a little slip of paper to scribble my name on. I may never meet any of the people whose names mine is sharing space with, but still I feel that in a way they all were there with me when I found the cache. We all saw the same thing, in the same place, just not all at the same time. I really think I'm going to enjoy this.

29.11.09

I like flowers, especially in HD

So I finally got around to getting the PS3 title Flower. I know, I know, I'm late to the party. It was on sale for $4.99 this weekend, so I figured even if I didn't like it not all that much lost, right?

Well I played around with it for about 20 minutes, and now I keep thinking about it, wanting to play more. It's kinda sad, but also cool how something so simple can be so engaging. Direction and speed, that's all you get to control. There is no winning, no losing, no time limits. Just wake up the flowers along your way, and move on. Sure, if you get all of them you get rewarded, but if you don't it doesn't matter.

I tweeted about it, and a friend asked for a "Quick review/synopsis?". I responded in less than 140 characters, and figured I'd come here later and really write about it. Thinking on it now I think my original tweet should do all the talking, so here it is.

Sad city flower, dreams of the country. You live the beautiful dream. Get bonuses for finishing the level 100%. Happy flower. YAY

That's it, and that's the awesome of the game. There's nothing else to say. So if you have a PS3 and you haven't played it yet, go do it. For a few more days it's still $4.99, but even at full price I think it would be worth it.

21.11.09

DJ Hero - First Impression

To put my impressions in proper context a little back story is in order, so stick with me for a moment.

Rhythm games have been around for a while, and for the most part I have not been a fan of them. Up until Guitar Hero in 2005 the games in the US seemed to consist of button mashers which didn't really fit the gamepad for the console it was being played on. With the notable exception of Dance Dance Revolution playing rhythm games was pretty dull for me, and left me wondering what all the fuss was about.

When I had first heard about Guitar Hero the idea was intriguing. A game that gave me a controller that was meant to bring me into the game. Something that I knew how to use, and could relate to. It sounded great, then I got my hands on it. The controllers were way too small and felt cheap. the fret buttons were 'unnatural' to use, and totally ruined the suspension of belief that the game needed to make it engaging.

A few years later Rock Band comes out, and not only did they make the same promise of engaging me with familiar controllers which were designed to be used in a way that made sense for the game, but they also offered me a chance to do more than tap a strum bar. If I wanted to rock with sticks, or send the cat running in terror with my voice, Rock Band was welcoming me with open arms.

I was very skeptical. Guitar Hero was three iterations in when the first Rock Band was released, and no notable improvements had been made in the awful controllers that came with the game. They still felt cheap, still were clumsy to use, and still ruined the fret experience. Rock Band had done better. Much better, though I didn't realize it at the time because I totally ignored the game.

Don't misunderstand, the Guitar Hero software was never bad, but with the sort of title it was the software was way less than half the experience for me. The Rock Band software was also decent, but so were the controllers. Sure the guitars still felt a little cheap, and the drum kits had a nasty habit of not being able to withstand the abuse of an over zealous bandmate. It was still a step in the right direction.

Rock Band 2 comes along, and the controllers last as well as they play. O'kay the kick pedel is still a little touchy if you've got a heavy foot, but then you're not supposed to stomp on the kick pedel anyway. Guitar Hero's controllers have gotten better; I don't think they're up to par with the Rock Band 2 controllers, but that might just be my own bias as I own that game.

This all brings me to DJ Hero. I heard about this game and my heart lept a little. Now I'm no house DJ, but I'm not stranger to cross faders and tone arms. The idea that I could 'play along' with some of my favorite DJs was appealing. I was a little worried as it was in the Hero series, but I figured the other titles in the series had seen controller improvements enough to assume that the turntable controller would be at least decent.

Tonight I found myself in my local Best Buy (probably the worst Best Buy I have ever been in, ever, BTW) and they had the game running on a PS3. I was watching a kid play it, and having a rough time of it. Was obvious he really didn't get the concept. I don't blame him, DJ'ing isn't really showcased like it was when I was a kid. Rap videos were a camera on the voice talent, a camera on the DJ, and one on the crowd. You really got to see what they were doing, and it made sense. In todays videos you usually don't even see a record... assuming the song has real scratching in it at all.

Reading the information on the display it shows that two player local and networked based modes are available. Local two player requires either another deck or a guitar controller, though I'm not sure how that's supposed to work exactly with a guitar. I would like to see a two DJ battle game played, though. As that does have the potential to be cool. Though that just might be the DJ in me talking, and no one else but fans of the scene may care.

So the boy I was watching finished up, and no one else was in line to try, so I thought I'd give it a spin so to speak. The graphics were what I'd come to expect from modern rhythm games, with lots of flash and style. The on screen interface also was fairly familiar. It took no time at all to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, and when. The demo has a three track round with songs that are popular, and good choices for mixing. On the other had, the controller sucked ass. I'm sorry, but there is really no other way to put it.

Look, I'm wiling to forgive the single turntable interface. This is a game that is supposed to be accessible, and managing two records and a mixer is a skill that takes a long time to even get good at, let alone master. I'm willing to forgive the buttons on the platter, as you need something to make it a rhythm game, and it would make the controller overly complicated for casual gamers to add an effects board. I can not, and will not, forgive the piss poor build quality of the controller. The platter feels cheap, and unbalanced. The buttons are too small and packed too close together. The platter itself is too small and makes scratching awkward. Then there's the overall size of the deck and it's attached 'mixer' console which places the platter and the crossfader so close together that you have to be 10 years old to use it comfortably.

DJ Hero is an awesome concept, and the game itself looks to be well designed, and fun. It's a shame the errors of the past were not learned from. Per the DJ Hero website there is apparently a premium addition of the game available which includes a different and supposedly 'better' controller. Why should I have to pay more just to get a usable controller, and until I get my hands on one I am left to assume it's the same POS deck with metal crossfader and effect knobs. Until a 3rd party controller comes out that gets it right, I'm afraid what could otherwise be an awesome addition to the list of 'party games' will be nothing more than an overpriced wannabe.

6.8.09

Apple sent my phone to jail, and why I broke it out

I've had a cell phone for about 8 years now, and have had four different carriers (well three if you don't count when AT&T bought up Cingular which had bought up AT&T Wireless years before) and seven phones. I started with Sprint back before they merged with NexTel and brought the worst of both companies together. I was quite happy with Sprint from a technical stand point, and never had to deal with their customer support. I left them to go with T-Mobile so that I was on the same network as my then girlfriend. The move was purely financial. It was just more cost effective to have unlimited calling with the person I called the most than to have a plan that provided enough minutes. When she left T-Mobile for Cingular over a really poorly handled customer service issue, I followed for the same reason I left Sprint for T-Mobile. I'd never had and real issue with T-Mobile's network, and never really had to deal with their customer service either. I'm a pretty good customer like that. If you don't give me a reason to call you, I don't call. Cingular became AT&T Mobility and I went long for the ride.

Through that trip I was a pretty picky handset owner. I never took the 'free phone', because you get what you pay for in mobile handsets. I've owned two really good Samsung handsets when I was with Sprint, basic, but good. With T-Mobile I had a Nokia 3650 which was a serious dose of awesome, and the first generation of the Motorola RAZR. To this day I still miss my 3650. When I went to Cingular I went with a Sony Ericsson W810i, which is a solid music player and has a decent FM radio. It would run a nice assortment of Java applications for using Google Maps, and a pretty good Gmail client, as well as a number of different messaging clients. It also sported a very nice 2MP camera with a very good depth of field. I still use that camera today.

I tell you all this so that you really understand where I was coming from as a handset owner. I knew what I wanted, and liked what I had. So when the iPhone first came out, it was temping, but not temping enough to pry me away from my W810i. The camera was bad to put it nicely, it was a 2G phone in a 3G world, and it couldn't run ANYTHING that Apple hadn't put on it to start with. My phone kicked it's ass in every way except it was also a 2G phone. The App store comes out, and the iPhone 3G. It was temping. Very temping. So much so that I drake the Kool-Aid and became part of the iPhone cult. I was happy with it, mostly. I still pined for the FM radio, but streaming audio took care of that, I didn't like the camera, but I still carried my W810i around to snap pictures with, so it was o'kay. Or so I thought.

Apple has always thought it knew better than it's customers what they wanted, and needed. For that most part they've made a decent business out of it. Sure they've made some mistakes, but you don't make it as far as they have without doing something right. For all the things my new phone could do, I still felt like I was missing something, but what? Well I couldn't change the ringer to anything but Apple approved ringers, but even when they fixed that I had to pay for them. I have NEVER paid for a ringer, and I certainly wasn't going to start. That was addressed, people figured out how to make iTunes upload audio as a ringer, then Garage Band picked up the ability. I still had to deal with not being able to change ANY of the other sounds my phone made. I didn't like the SMS tone, or the Mail tone. I wanted to use other sounds, but I couldn't. I wanted my phone to do other things I knew it was able to do, but Apple said no.

I wasn't the only one, though. Since the first iPhone there was a small, but growing community of people that felt the same way. This group of people who were just as much fans of the phone as I was, but much smarter, figured out how to set the handset free. Apple made no attempt to tell us what we can run on the computers they sold, yet they felt they could control what we ran on their little computers with cellular radios in them. I'm sure at least some of the restrictions they impose came from the carriers that offer their phone. That is a different topic for a different day. Some of it, though, makes no sense at all. Still, I had my iPhone 3G for nearly a year and never did more than think about jailbreaking it. Sure their were a lot of benefits, but it seemed so many people were having issues with it that it just wasn't worth it.

About two weeks ago I bought an iPhone 3Gs, and sold my 3G to a co-worker who promptly took it home, jailbroke it, and unlocked it. He is now the happy user of an iPhone 3G on T-Mobile. Sure he can only use it in EDGE mode, but he says it likes it MUCH more than the Blackberry Storm that he's been using, and I made back some of the cost of upgrading. Recently their had been more and more "Apple Rejects _insert useful application here_" stories. Some seem to be carrier pressure (so in the US that means AT&T), and some seem to be for no obvious reason at all. Since Apple won't talk about why it rejects applications, even with the people who wrote it, we can only assume they have their heads shoved squarely up their collective asses. As I said in a recent tweet which as become popular among Twitter sex spam bots, the more App Store rejection stories come out the more I think Apple has ex MPAA Ratings Board execs on staff.

The rejection of Google's own Google Voice application, and the removal of previously approved ones was the last straw. I love my phone, I've bought two versions of it. I like Apple, I currently have one desktop, one laptop, and an Apple TV (which I run boxee on). I don't think they are the end all, be all, and I know they make mistakes. Now, as with my Apple TV which I have made 10x more useful with boxee, I have made my iPhone more useful, and more fun by jailbreaking it. I just downloaded redsn0w followed the instructions, and within a few minutes I had my iPhone up and running just like it was before, but better. There are many apps available to make the phone do things that AT&T really doesn't want me doing, but for the most part I didn't care about those. I wanted to make my lock screen background show up as my background from the app launcher, so I installed Winterboard. This also allowed me to change my lockscreen charging battery icon to the Aperture Science logo, and my WiFi signal strength icon into a pineapple, or a Triforce as my mood dictates. I also use SBSettings to enable and disable all sorts of options without having to leave an application, or even unlock my screen. MobileTerminal gives me a limited but useful local terminal which I can use for remote administration as well as running nmap without having to break out my laptop. I can leave WiFi running when the phone goes to sleep, which is useful with with boxee app as I don't have to wait for it to reconnect, and my Star Trek themed sounds make me smile, because I am a geek. Sure I have things on my phone that AT&T probably wishes I didn't, like Qik (though I've yet to use it) and GV the already approved then removed Google Voice app. I also installed a package that lets me fake out specific applications so that they think they're connecting over WiFi when they are actually connecting over 3G. I mostly use this with YouTube, and some audio streaming apps that step down the quality over 3G. I've used it with Skype once, to test it. I might use it again, I might not. I roll 400+ minutes a month on my 450 minute a month plan, so I'm not hurting for minutes, but there are times when Skype would be preferred. Like if I need to reach my son, who lives in front of his computer.

There was a time when I might have felt bad about getting around these restrictions, but that was when I was just being told I couldn't make my phone go bleep when it went bloop, but when I'm not allowed to use my unlimited data plan to send the data I want, or when I can't access the services I want to access the way I want to access them on a device I bought over a service I pay for, I don't feel bad for anyone but Apple and it's various cell partners for thinking they can actually control their customers. Especially now that they've attracted the attention of the FCC in the US. It's coming to an end. Jailbreaking is so easy my dad could do it, and the US government is coming down on cell companies from all directions. Either the companies will back down gracefully, or they'll be regulated to. It's just a shame it has had to come to this at all.

So why did I set my iPhone free? Not to 'stick it to the man', or even to hear the Star Trek communicator chirp when I get a message, but because it is just one of the many computers I own and like the others I will run what I want, when I want, and how I want. Anything else is unacceptable.

27.6.09

Cows MOO while MUCKing about in the MUSHy MUD

In the 90's, while the internet was starting to get pictures, most of us were still using text to describe what things look like, what they did, and what happened to them after the dog got a hold of them. There were a great many ways in which this was done; but among the more non sequitur were the MUSH, MOO, MUCK, MUX, MUD (especially of the Tiny variety) ect. Many people connected, much fun was had, and little of it made sense.

So just what are all these acronyms about, and what do they have to do with cows, pancakes, Pop-Tarts®, pennies, dirty diapers, or Gary Numan? Well the MU, for those that have a MU*, stands for Multi-User... the rest is something of a subject for debate, as most are thought to be backronyms. Generally the user base is allowed to create objects, and rooms, and to one degree or another program responses to events generated by other players, objects, and rooms in one of a few purpose built languages fashioned after or otherwise baring a resemblance to gems like Forth (in the case of TinyMUCK) or Lisp (like MUSHcode for all the MUSH variants). What about the cows et al? Well cows, pancakes, and Pop-Tarts® are easy. They're all awesome. Pennies and dirty diapers are the same thing, of course. As are pancakes for different values of pancakes. If I need to explain what Gary Numan has to do with anything you are officially banned from reading my blog from this moment on, so go away.

All the Numan dissing wannabes gone? Good. So where was I? Oh, yes... user programmable text based social interactions. It was still largely the time of coyotes and tumbleweed on the internet, and most things worth doing were still done with a keyboard. Graphics were for single player games, and the vast majority of the clicking came from our coveted IBM Model M keyboards. Much of this clicking was spent playing combat MUDs and programming. What could be more fun? Combining the two, and tossing in large amounts of insanity, while largely taking out the combat.

There were a lot of different systems up at that time, running different versions, and with different themes, if they had one at all. I was always a fan of the lose role play systems without a defined theme. My favorite was OtherMUSH, with it's awesome Toilet Adventure, heavy TMBG references, and the ever popular and often fatal Bring Your Grandparents to OtherMUSH Day.

Today many have passed on into obscurity or otherwise vanished from the face of the net. While there are a few which remain, most are strict role play based on sci-fi or fantasy books, movies, or TV shows.

A few weeks ago, I set out trying to find OtherMUSH. The website still lives at other.org/ but the MUSH seems to no longer be there. Discouraged, but not willing to just let it go I decided to set out on a mission to bring some of that weirdness back to the net, or at least try to as best I could. To that end I downloaded and installed the current version of TinyMUSH on my 'do it all' server, and began to relearn how MUSHcode worked, and getting back into the frame of mind that once let me describe the most mundane in very obscure ways.

The documentation provided with TinyMUSH is very useful in setting it up, and o'kay at describing commands, it isn't so good at giving useful examples of how to make the commands work with each other. So I began searching again, hoping to come across a few long forgotten websites which might prove useful. What I found instead was that while largely out of date there were lists which contained links to many MUSH, MUD, MUCK, MOO systems which are still in operation. Most of them are still of the strict role play variety, but a few worlds which subscribe to the 'if you build it weird, they will stay' mentality still remain. Of them, the two I'm having my mind wrapped around are:

TrippyMUSH is... well... trippy. Nuff said. I'll say more, but that was enough. TrippyMUSH is a wholly wonderful place; if you find surreal worlds which take place only in your own head but made by someone else which is actually happening in an asylum which you can never escape from because you were never actually there, wonderful. If not, you soon will; the strange coloured liquid on drip to the IV in your arm will make sure of that. Sound scary? That's only the first five minutes. Just remember, you can't quit, but you can go home... or at least that's what you'll image once you pass out.

telnet to pebkac.trippy.org 7567 to stop the hallucination and accept you are an inmate just like the rest of us.

TinyTIM is NOT just a game... it's a really, really BIG game. You think you're city/town/back water hole in the world is big? It's got nothing on the world of TIM. TIM is god, and all praise TIM. He's not paying attention, but that's o'kay, he loves us anyway. Powered by Pop-Tarts® and smelling of The Old Man of the Nexus (which is something not unlike Old Spice and nursing homes) TinyTIM is the strangest thing you've seen all week. Yes, even stranger than that. You know you want to visit... you'll never want to leave. Even if you do, TIM will be with you always. Even during your special alone time in the shower.

telnet to yay.tim.org 5440 and come see the most complicated machine in all the MUSHdom, The Clock on the Wall. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder how you ever got through your day without TIM.

As for my MUSH. I'm still planing to subject the world to it. But it's not ready yet. Once it's half baked I'll let everyone know.

4.5.09

I didn't want Apple flashing me anyway!

For those that don't know, let me set the stage:

The new uni-body MacBooks do not have DVI-I ports on them as MacBooks of past. Instead they come with a Mini DisplayPort. The up shot of this is two fold; one is a much smaller port allowing for a thinner body and more ports along a side, the other is lower cost with a higher potential resolution. The down side is you now need even more adapters to use external displays on a new MacBook.

When I got my 13" MacBook in October of 2008 I picked up a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter for $30. I thought it was a little costly, but I honestly don't know what's inside the little box so who am I to know? I got it mostly so I can use my 32" Sony Bravia XBR4 as a second display. I used it for that during the Presidential election to have a real time polling map. Of course, because of an issue that Apple didn't seem to want to publicly acknowlage, every five to fifteen minutes the picture would go black for a few seconds.

I was not the only one... a little searching will show a large number of people who were having the same problem. A lot of speculation was afoot about the cause, but it was my feeling that the issue was with the video driver (turns out I wasn't too far off); Apple, in normal Apple fashion, wasn't talking. At home it wasn't too much of an issue. I could deal with the brief blank screen as it always came back very quickly, at least at home. I did, though, have one occasion where it was a problem. In the episode of Hak5 in which I covered using PHP to batch change the IP settings of a Windows computer you can see a very brief moment of black just as Paul switched to my MacBook's display because it chose that moment to blank out. Sure it was a minor problem, but still for something I had to pay extra for to do something I can do with even some of the cheapest of netbooks, even a minor problem is too big.

So just over six months after the adapter came out there is a firmware update to the adapter which fixes this issue. No idea why it was released with this flaw, no idea why Apple didn't just come out and say "Yes, we know it's broke, but we're working on it.", no idea why it took over six months after release to fix, but the update is out, and I've been running it for over an hour now with no problems at all.

Thanks Apple, for finally fixing something that there was no excuse for ever having been broken to start with.