RailsConf, Arc, Apple and other Zenbits

Zenbits are posts which include a variety of interesting subjects that I’d like to talk about briefly, without writing a post for each of them.

Ruby and Rails Videos

Blip.TV is now hosting the videos of RailsConf 2007. The audio and video quality is very good even though no slides are shown (but you can always google them). While on the subject, you can also watch the videos for RubyConf 2007 (including slides), Mountain West Ruby Conference, Ruby Hoedown last August, and the fourth edition of RejectConf. If you are in the mood for video learning, also check out Railscasts, RubyPlus, and Rails Envy.

RailsConf ’08

David has announced that the registration for RailsConf ’08 is now open. The conference will be in Portland, Oregon from May 26th till June 1st. It’s going to sell out very quickly, so book your spot while they last. I’m almost sure I won’t be able to participate since I’m still dealing with the process of getting my Canadian permanent residency (but we are finally getting really close, and then I’ll be able to travel freely).

Qtrax is a disaster

I’ve been following the (mis)adventures of Qtrax closely. It’s a disaster, the perfect example of how not to launch a product even if they had amazing PR skills and where able to get coverage in the MSM worldwide. The premise was good: share the ad revenue with the artist, and allow users to get music for free. Something that SpiralFrog has been doing for a while. The problem is that SpiralFrog’s catalog is rather limited as far as mainstream music goes. Qtrax claimed to have an agreement with the four major recording labels and a catalog of more than 25 million songs. That was what set them apart and what made the announcement attention worthy. The reality was much harsher. They didn’t have any agreement in place (they essentially lied), they didn’t make the download available when they declared it would be, and the site was unreachable or intermittent all the time. Not only this, but their software is nothing more than a skin on top of Songbird. Downloading songs is basically impossible and the software is unusable at this stage. Don’t even bother getting it. It’s a festival of connection timeouts, 404s and “welcome to Oracle Application Server 10g” messages. A real shame.

Arc: too little, too late?

Paul Graham has finally announced the release of Arc. Graham and Morris have made a forum, a tutorial and installation instructions available on their official ArcLanguage.org site. While Paul clearly states that Arc is still incomplete and requires a lot of refinement, at least it’s out and people can start using it (Paul’s Hacker News has already been adopting it for a while). It’s not vaporware anymore, it’s here. However, amongst the enthusiasm that met this release from curious and early adopters, there are also a great number of people disappointed by Arc’s first (pre)alpha. Keep in mind that many people talked about Arc for several years and had great expectations, perhaps even something close to the mythical hundred year language. What they found is that Arc is currently a skin on top of MzScheme (but not the latest version) that adopts a more concise syntax compared to Scheme or Common Lisp. There isn’t anything too revolutionary, it doesn’t support packages or modules, or Unicode. It uses tables for HTML libraries, and so on and so forth. Paul Graham has a strong influence on the community and I’ve no doubt that many people will put time and effort into learning Arc and will in turn improve it. Heck, even I’m going to give it a shot for fun. However right now it’s not really convincing as an alternative to CL or Scheme itself. Don’t construe this as a harsh criticism towards Arc, it is not. We are talking about a language that it’s in its infancy and that as I said, I plan to experiment with myself. I hope to see it grow rapidly and I congratulate Graham and his team for finally making it available. That said, right now I think it’s a weak release and therefore, in my opinion, the disappointment of many is justified. In any case, good luck Paul, we’ll watch this one closely.

Share your DB2 success stories

ChannelDB2 is looking for DB2 success stories. If you appreciated that great piece of software that is DB2, please share your experience here. If your story gets published, you will receive one of the tokens available in the loot bag: DB2 “paraphernalia”, books, Amazon.com certificates, and so on. If you have a company or a startup, it’s also a good way to get your name out there.

Apple’s quote for $1348.09

A while ago (a couple of months, perhaps) my MacBook Pro was accidentally dropped. It was an accident due to there being far too many cables in my room. It upset me of course, but it’s not the end of the world. It could happen to anyone. Thank Science, the screen is intact and the computer works perfectly. I was lucky. There are a couple of things that bug me though. Aside from a tiny dent in a corner of the top case, when closed down on the base the lid has a slightly wider gap on the left side, than it does on the right side. Also, the the latch on the bottom case must be somewhat damaged because when touched even minimally the lid pops open. These things in no way affect my usage of the laptop, and that’s part of the reason why I didn’t even bother trying to fix it for a long time.

Then a few days ago, for unrelated reasons, I began to question my choice of getting a Mac instead of just buying a top of the line Lenovo T series to be run with Ubuntu. I love Ubuntu and it’s becoming increasingly better with each release. With the exception of Textmate, I started to think that Ubuntu (that I currently use a lot) could easily replace Mac OS X for me. Also, the ergonomic qualities of Lenovo’s notebooks is so nice and as an IBM employee I get a decent discount on them. Okay, perhaps I made a mistake when I reached my purchase decision 7 months ago. I’d never owned a Mac before and I really wanted to. Truth be told, I think that Mac OS X is a very polished operating system and I can’t emphasize my appreciation for it enough. It’s eye-candy on top of Unix. But there are other factors to be considered, especially as a developer, and I feel that Ubuntu could have been just as good as my end choice.

Not only that, but I must also say that my old T42p was a much more comfortable laptop, despite costing half the price. Anyways, it came to my mind that I could either run Ubuntu as my main operating system on the MacBook Pro, or fix the cosmetic issues on the laptop and sell it to buy a nice Lenovo T61p. Cosmetic issues can usually be ignored or easily fixed, but on the second hand market they often impede the possibility of selling it for a good price.

Just out of curiosity I decided to call Apple and ask how much it would cost to get it fixed. The laptop is still under warranty (only 7 months old), but I caused the damage, so I pay, no issues there. The agent on the phone understood the problem very well and quoted me about $200. I specifically asked him if the lid could be replaced independently from the screen (which is in perfect shape) and he confirmed this. So Apple booked an appointment at the Genius Bar at an Apple Store downtown Toronto. I went there on Saturday, by public transportation it took me almost two hours each way. The “genius” confirmed that the latch on the base is somewhat broken and that the upper lid may or may not be slightly warped (hard to tell with the latch issue in place). After a long wait he came back with a quote… $1,348.09. I kid you not. It turns out that the lid is sold as one piece with the screen and the whole display assembly can be replaced for $809. The guy at the genius bar agreed that it’s probably only the base that needs to be replaced. But it’s still $214 dollars for the part, $170 for labour plus taxes. A whopping $437 for a little latch that is not behaving. I wasn’t too happy with being quoted $1350 given the price of the laptop and the fact that I was previously quoted an all-inclusive $200 on the phone. I wasted 4 hours of my Saturday. I’m not repairing an Aston-Martin here for Darwin’s sake.

If you drop an Apple laptop and you break the screen (not my case) you may as well just get a new laptop because it’s going to be cheaper. This is sort of true for any laptop, but I feel that just like Apple makes you pay a premium to get their hardware, they still charge you plenty for any minimal repair. To change the lid they wanted to replace the whole screen. To change a broken latch, they needed to replace the entire base. And $170 plus tax for carrying out the repair!? I’m aware of sites that sell parts and instructions on how to perform the replacement myself and may consider it in the future (changing only the base assembly). For now I’m fine, given that the latch issue doesn’t cause too many problems for me. I must say though that my experience at the yuppie Apple Store made me even more convinced that my choice of getting a Mac in the first place may have been the wrong one. I wonder how long it will take before I’ll follow Mark and Cory and switch back to Ubuntu full-time. The thought both excites and saddens me. Time will tell.

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  1. alejperez February 1, 2008
  2. James O'Kelly February 2, 2008

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