That smell? Oh, that's iTunes 7

Obviously, the first thing I did on returning from a few days in Spain was turn on my computer and download the new version of iTunes from Apple. It has lots of exciting new features and my colleague at the Telegraph, David Derbyshire, is very impressed. Sadly for me and many others, iTunes 7 doesn't work. For a start, it mislaid around 6,000 of my songs - half my library. They were still on my harddrive but iTunes couldn't find them anymore.

Getting them back is relatively simple if you don't mind losing all your ratings and playcounts but the only way to fix the problem without losing the information is to point iTunes to each track one at a time. That's not a very practical solution when you have 6,000 tracks to find.

I use playcounts and ratings to generate smart playlists so this is a major irritation for me.

Second iTunes distorts some tracks during playback. Some people have found that changing the Quicktime audio settings fixes the problem but that doesn't work for me. Still, I should think myself lucky that the problem only affects me intermittently - some users can't get rid of it at all.

Does Apple actually test their software anymore? Have they turned into Microsoft? My advice is not to bother upgrading iTunes until Apple fixes these problems.


So I'm writing this on my brand new MacBook. The official reason for getting a new laptop is that the old one has a very flaky wireless connection. I'd get all the way to the end of a blog post, hit publish and then the screen would go blank. Not very practical since the only thing I used it for was writing blogs or browsing the web. Still, if I'm honest, my obsession with shiny new gadgets was a big factor. After all, a bargain basement £400 laptop would have done what I needed it to do. Still, I've been Mac-curious for while now.

I last used a Mac in the late 90s when I started at the Telegraph. I didn't get on with them at all. They crashed a lot - which was annoying considering the oft-repeated 'Macs don't crash' myth - and then when you restarted they told you off for not shutting-down properly. And I could never understand why they only had one mouse button.

It was the iPod and iTunes that started to win me over. I got a taste for gadgets and software that are well-designed rather than purely functional. The new MacBooks were the clincher; Bootcamp gives me the option to install Windows to the Mac and then load up the operating system of my choice.

So far, I'm very impressed with my new toy. The display is incredible - bright and very sharp. The spacing of the keyboard makes typing a joy. You see, it's all about the design.

As for software, I'm still learning but I like what I've seen of OS X. This laptop only has 512MB RAM (I wanted to upgrade but the chips were out of stock, so I'll have to wait) but everything's running smoothly without any hint of slowdown.

My only gripe so far is with the web browser, Safari, which isn't compatible with the WordPress dashboard - I can't see the toolbar so, among other things, I can't add links. That's the fault of WordPress really, not Apple, but either way I'll be getting Firefox this afternoon.

Oh, there is one other problem with the Mac: it's hard to get any work done when you're obsessed with keeping your shiny white laptop free of even the tiniest speck of dust. But I imagine that will pass...

PC surgery

I'm not much good at DIY; I can assemble flat pack furniture (with much profanity and damage to thumbs) but that's about my limit. I'm getting pretty good at poking around inside a PC though. My desktop PC failed mysteriously in the middle of last week. I shut it down on Wednesday night and it wouldn't start on Thursday morning. It's two months out of warranty so no chance of help from the manufacturer.

When I pressed the power button absolutely nothing happened. The PC didn't even attempt to start up, which suggested that the power supply unit [PSU] had failed. Now, I've done some minor PC fixing - installed RAM chips, hard drives, DVD drives etc. - but I figured this was beyond me.

So yesterday I called one of those rapid response PC repair people. He came over, pressed the power button a few times and told me he figured the PSU had gone. Err, yes, I figured that too but could he fix it? No. He had a PSU with him but it wasn't powerful enough for my machine. A brief debate over whether I should pay his £60 callout fee followed (I didn't) and he left.

Faced with the prospect of several more days without my PC I decided to have a go myself. I bought a PSU this afternoon, lugged it back home and got to work. And you know what? Fitting a new one is not that tricky.

First, I found the cable which powers the motherboard, plugged it into the new PSU and tested the power. Success! The PC tried to start up. Obviously the old power supply was at fault. So from there I started systematically tracing each cable from the power supply to the component it powered and, one by one, I replaced them with cables to the new power unit.

With that done I tested it again. It still worked. So I unscrewed the old PSU, screwed the new one into place and here we are: one working PC.

Of course, bragging about my technical prowess on my blog all but guarantees that some technical hitch will strike the next time I power up but I'll risk it.

So now the only part of a PC I've never tampered with is the motherboard, which is the really techy bit. I'm tempted to try that soon though. Once this PC comes to the end of its life - which is at least a year away - maybe I'll build the next one myself.

Projects, plans and schemes

The process of moving my Bloglines bookmarks over to continues slowly - I have 250 or so left to move over. In the meantime I've adopted another project that is eating into my blogging time. For the last few years I've kept the music collection on my PC down under 40gb so that it fits on my iPod. A couple of weeks ago though, I broke through the 40gb barrier and no amount of pruning would get me back under.

So I've decided to embrace it and put the rest of my music on there too - the iPod will be reduced to carrying edited highlights. I bought a 250gb external harddrive yesterday - the lego-like LaCie Brick - and I'm going through the hundreds of discs that have so far been excluded from the digital world.

I've rediscovered so many tracks that I had forgotten I own. iTunes now contains almost 1,500 songs that weren't there yesterday and my rough estimate is that I have another 3,000 or so to go.

Of course, there are other demands on my time. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on the XBox 360, for example, is something of a life-eater. It's fantastic, too. Then there's the 26 Books plan - book six should have been finished at the end of March, as it is, I think I'm a day or two away from finishing it. I need to make up the time with a short book, or at least something that's a quick read.

Oh, and there's work, too.

Still, it's good to be busy...