As tasks get longer / more complicated, I find myself leaving things unattended a lot. Software installs are a good example of something that are often left alone. In this regard, most installers are decent about getting the meaty info up front, and then just churning away on their own.

One of the things I've been after lately, thanks to blowing my download quota last month and being shaped to 64kbps for eight days, is scheduling downloads to run in the 1am-7am "off-peak" time. But this is not an easy thing to do ...

Take iTunes. It checks for podcasts, and starts downloading them. But it has no scheduling ability, it just goes for it. You can pause, but then how do you resume? My solution was Quicksilver, and the handy "run at" command. So I queued up all the downloads, quit iTunes and then had Quicksilver re-launch it at 1am and the downloads all kicked off. In Windows, the Task Scheduler will do the same thing for you. I could've done something similar by pausing them and having an applescript resume them at 1am, but again it would've had to have been started by a third party program. I want scheduling in iTunes, but at least since iTunes doesn't ask any questions, this is very easy to kick off and leave unattended.

Now take something from Blizzard. They've released the teaser cinematic for their latest World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. I wanted to download the HD trailer, and they offer a customised bittorrent client called the Blizzard Downloader specifically for the purpose. Brilliant. I started it up, selected the save location, then once it had allocated the space and created the partial download, I closed it. Now just because I always like to test these things, I had Quicksilver open the downloader again after a delay, just as I would if I was scheduling it for post-1am. It opens up ... and asks for the save location again. Fails the unattended check. What's worse - when I chose the same location, it didn't resume, it overwrote.

Sticking with the gaming side of things - the Warhammer Online client also requires authentication before you can patch. Perhaps this is because at the moment it's a beta, and you need to accept the beta test agreement every time you log in, but it's still incredibly frustrating, especially since beta games patch frequently, and are often relatively large patches too.

Sure, there are other issues at play here. If Australian ISPs weren't so damn stingy, we wouldn't be so focussed on off-peak time. But for now, it's what we have to work with, so it would be nice if software was obliging!

The Perils of Spending Money

I've always been a firm believer that when you're buying something that you intend to use a lot and/or keep for a significant period of time, buy the best that you can afford, rather than taking the cheap option. I think that ultimately, you get more out of the item itself, and you also can often save on replacements/repairs since cheap options don't have such a good lifespan.

To put this in context ... in the past 12 months I've bought a new bike (Kona Dew Deluxe) and a new camera (Nikon D80). In both cases there were cheaper options available, even staying in the same broad requirements (a cheaper hybrid bike, or a cheaper DSLR), but I decided to pay for the best gear I could afford.

One of the problems with this attitude though, is that with some purchases it's not the initial hardware that hurts. It's the "Razor and Blades" scenario, but this time it's a much larger scale.

Take, for example, the camera. When we got it, we paid a reasonable $1300 for the D80 with a 18-135mm lens included in a kit. But having a "real" camera, and starting to get more interested in photography, I'm now shopping around for accessories. First thing I hunted for was a 50mm f/1.8 lens. This was supplied by my partner as a birthday present, but the price tag was around $200 ... a significant percentage of the initial purchase price of the camera. If I'd been after the higher-spec f/1.4 version of the lens, that would've been closer to $500!

A short while back I started to look at tripods, remote shutter releases and a good quality bag to carry all this stuff in. While you can get tripods very, very cheap in various places, I've looked at some and there is no way I would trust 1.5kg+ of camera and lens on them ... In fact, I have a crappy tripod that I got from Zazz for about $25, and it's so poor that the head doesn't even sit level. On a flat, level floor, you need to adjust the legs to different heights so that the head of the tripod and the camera are level. No thanks. So now I've just spent $470 for a remote control ($50), bag $(120), tripod and head ($300). If you're interested in what gear I'm using, check out the Camera Gear page.

This is just the camera hardware! Then we go back to the computer, where after several weeks of research and agonising, I caved in and bought a 23 inch Apple Cinema Display. That one really hurt the bank balance, but once I dropped it on my desk and took out the crappy 19 inch Viewsonic monitor that it replaced, it felt like the right decision. But now I'm looking for software to take me out of iPhoto ... And I haven't even started on the bike gear!

So beware! Always buy the best you can afford, I stick to that. But make sure you know what buying the best entails, now and in the future!

The Rise and Rise of (red bull) Product Placement

So I read on my local paper's website that the 30 second TV spot is in trouble, and product placement is on the rise. I think the first half of the argument is a little premature, but there's no doubt that product placement is becoming more and more prominent in film and television, at least that coming out of the big US machines. I've certainly started to notice it more and more in stuff that I've been watching, although it's likely that that's at least partially because my sensitivity to such things has been raised.

But surely it's getting ridiculous when movie trailers start picking up the (sponsor's) message and running with it. Have a look at the trailer for the latest Jim Carrey film, "Yes Man". Seems to be all going fine until you get to about 1 minute in ... even then it's just dropped casually. Then about 10 seconds later, in case you missed the first one, RED BULL RED BULL RED BULL RED BULL. I mean, I get it, the movie industry wants more money, and they can get that from advertisers in the form of product placement. How else do you explain Apple usage in "Hollywood America" being exponentially larger than the regular USA? But sometimes it's just ridiculous.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm thirsty ...