Tech updates

A few weeks ago I did a triumvirate of tech-related posts (about TV tuners, Magic Mice and backup disks.) Here’s a quick follow-up post, updating on progress on each.

TV tuners

I left the original post broadly happy with the Elgato EyeTV tuner I’d acquired, but wondering: “Will I watch video on the iPod with this new arrangement? … We shall have to await a tie-breaker and some longer-term data.” Well, the medium term data is in, and I’d have to declare the TV tuner experiment a resounding success.

I really am using it – a lot. A surprising amount in fact. As of today I have some five programmes lined up to record, all of which will auto-export to iTunes for playing on the move on my iPod. The type of programmes I’m watching this way tend to be the ones that I’d struggle to get around to watching at home through lack of time or burning inclination – yesterday it was Top Gear, currently it’s FlashForward, tomorrow it’s Horizon, and other programmes have included Russell Howard’s Good News and The Closer – all shows I think I would have missed if not for the option of watching on the go.

I have noticed a very odd feeling whenever I finish watching a programme and pull myself out of the TV world and find myself back on the train. It’s actually a little disorientating: watching TV even on a small screen can be completely engrossing, and while we’re used to that depth of involvement on a TV screen in the living room it’s quite something when it can pull off the same sensation on a small screen on a crowded train as well.

I have to say, the EyeTV software is really excellent: it’s got a TV guide that is the best and easiest I’ve used on a computer; setting recordings is as simple as clicking on a little button next to each programme title. And it can be set to automatically convert and export the file to iTunes in the correct format for an iPod or iPhone so it’s ready and waiting for you next time you sync. Honestly, all DVRs should be this easy to use: even down to the global preference settings that allow you to start a recording a set time earlier than the scheduled time, and finish a few minutes later (providing it doesn’t clash with any other preset recording.) It’s so obviously how it should work, you wonder why it’s not on every DVR.

The one downside that could have affected my use of the system was the length of time it takes to convert a recording to iPod/iPhone format (H.264). Even on a pretty new iMac it takes almost as long to convert to the smallest iPod size as it did to record in the first place. While you can get around this by having it automatically carry out the process (say, overnight), it was very quickly annoying me to the point where investing in Elgato’s turbo.264 accelerator product was required: it’s a pricey little USB dongle, but the speed boost it gives on the conversion is awesome. (It’ll work for any H.264 conversion, so it’s also useful for camcorders, iDVD, Handbrake and more.)

Magic Mouse

Good news, everybody! I’m not crippled yet. I have no discernible increase in RSI symptoms, and it feels perfectly comfortable. And the sheer delight and joy of brushing a finger over the multi-touch top of the mouse to scroll windows on the screen simply doesn’t get old.

Battery life isn’t great, however, and I keep opting to turn off the Magic Mouse and going back to the old Mighty Mouse. Which I have to say still feels reassuringly familiar and comfortable in my hand … until the cursor starts skipping all over the screen, and the nipple wheel refuses to scroll, and I remember why the Magic Mouse was such a good idea in the first place!

Backup disks

After a month of use, I had quite a major glitch with the new backup disc a couple of weeks ago.

Since I don’t need constant backups, I’d taken to dismounting and powering off the backup disk during the week, and having it on during weekends when I’m using the iMac more heavily. But come Friday evening, as the backup disk came on, it started to panic: Time Machine no longer seemed to know what the status of the backups was. To try and find its bearings, it started to go through every single file on the backup disk to compare it with the main hard disk … And this went on for hours. Finally, it appeared to have crashed and nothing would stop the process. I was forced to take drastic action and ended up powering off the backup disk in mid operation.

Now this is something you never, ever do because the damage to key tables on the backup disk is almost designed to lose all data. It started to behave very oddly thereafter, with Time Machine now returning errors, and even the smallest read or write operation taking an age (17 minutes to copy over 17Mb of information? Not good.) It seemed that some process was still going on, taking all the backup disk’s time and attention and leaving it no time to actually operate. Restarting everything didn’t seem to help, and running Disk First Aid was a non starter because after running for 8 hours it was still barely started. Something was seriously wrong.

In the end, with some fiddling around, I restored the disk to basic conditions: reformatted (so all backups to date now gone), a new driver firmware patch installed, switched from Firewire to USB 2 connections, and it was looking promising. In fact I didn’t even mind having lost the accumulated month’s worth of backups because I only needed the backup if anything happened to the main hard disk, and so far – touch wood! – nothing had. The reformat even gave me the opportunity to partition the disk properly (into a 720Mb – 250Mb configuration) that I had overlooked in my plug-and-play raptures first time around.

That was now two weeks ago. Now I’m keeping the backup drive attached and running all the time, not just at weekends, and hoping that the major glitch was a one-off not to be repeated, and I can return to my contended state of backed-up bliss once more.

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