iPhone – Jailbreaking and problems

It’s customary these days to spend time with your family and friends, preparing for New Year’s Eve and the various festivities. Me? I have spend about two whole days now, trying to upgrade my iPhone. How funny can that be?!?!?

Let me give you some background details to understand my frustration and the reasons behind this blog entry.

About three years ago, I purchased my first iPhone. And since then, I’ve been perfectly happy with the various iPhones I got (original, 3G, 3GS and finally iPhone 4). The only times I cursed my luck (and my lack of common sense) is when I upgrade my phones to the new iOS versions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Apple has made sure that the upgrade process is painless, easy and quick. The problems start, if like me, you want to jailbreak your iPhone. For the uninitiated, the term “jailbreak” refers to the action of changing your iPhone software, so that it can do more things than Apple allows you. There is a whole community out there, of people who try to bypass Apple’s code and allow the rest of us to enhance our phones with additional functionality. The jailbreakers exploit various bugs in every new release of Apple iOS software (the software that makes your iPhone work) and create ways to unlock the phone so you can add programs in addition to those found in Apple’s App Store.

From the moment you enter the jailbreaking trap, you can never look back. You are hooked to the charms of these additional programs, which admittedly make your iPhone so much more useful. However, jailbreaking is NOT without cost. Take for example my latest two days of banging my head on the wall, trying to make my iPhone 4 work again, using the latest iOS that Apple has released.

Three days ago, I had my iPhone right where I wanted. It was running iOS 4.3.3 and I had installed all the applications I wanted from Apple’s store and from the jailbreak community. It was working just fine and I was a happy camper. Then I read on the internet that the jailbreakers had finally released the tools to jailbreak the latest release of iOS 5.0.1! And of course, like an idiot, I upgraded my phone to the latest Apple release and jailbroke it. I had of course backed up everything, using a special tool that exists in the market, and all I had to do (I thought) was to restore my backup and be up and running.

Guess again John! No luck! As soon as I restored my backup, nothing was working as before. It took me two whole days to figure out why: several programs that were working just fine under iOS 4.3.3 didn’t work under iOS 5.0.1. Why? Search me, probably because Apple has changed something significant in the latest release and the programmers who wrote those programs haven’t bothered to update them for the newest iOS.

The worst part is, that Apple doesn’t allow you to go back to a previous version of their iOS, once you have installed a later version on your phone. So once you installed the latest version, you’re doomed.

Right now, I am working to do just that. Go back to the previous version, because I can’t stand my phone the way it is today.

So for all of you, new iPhone owners out there, before jailbreaking your iPhone, please understand what you are getting into. Either be prepared to spend countless hours trying to make your phone work as it used to do, or once you have your phone in a condition you like, don’t bother to upgrade. Stay there and avoid the frustration. Better yet, forget all about jailbreaking and use only software, that comes from Apple. Your  phone may not be doing fancy things like the phones of your friends, but at least you won’t have to spend hours figuring out how to bring your phone back to the condition you liked.

As for me, wish me luck in downgrading to the previous iOS release, I do not care for the new one, all I want is to have my phone as it was three days ago.

 

 

Fujifilm X100

OK, I admit it, I am a photography nut. I love taking pictures, I love working on them on my computer, I love showing them off. But I must admit that I am an equipment freak too. While it is the end result of a picture that matters, and the equipment is just the means to an end, I can’t say that I do not care about cameras, lenses and all other sort of photography equipment.

While I consider myself to be at the front edge of equipment, as far as cameras are concerned, I also love older cameras. In other words, in addition to my digital SLR cameras (a Nikon D700 and a Nikon D300), I also own a Nikon F2A which was produced in the 80’s, and I enjoy taking pictures with it. Actually, the F2 was my first good camera (the real first one was a Russian Zenit B), which I acquired when I was 18 years old.

And while I love modern digital cameras, I still can’t cope well with some of the latest trends in them. For example, one thing I detest is the fact that most of the modern cameras are designed so that you hold them at arms length and use a screen at their back to compose your picture. I just hate using cameras in that way. For me, a camera has to have a “hole”, an opening through which you look at your scene, a tunnel which somehow eliminates all the surrounding distractions and make you focus at what you see in there, what will ultimately be in your picture.

Now that’s something all my SLR cameras have (both digital and film SLRs), but good luck if you try to find a more compact camera with that feature. If you combine this with my other desire, to be in total control of the exposure, then there are very few cameras that fulfill those two requirements.

The cameras which fulfill my above mentioned needs can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Let’s see: There is of course the Canon G12 and the Nikon P7000 but both of these cameras have a small (tiny) sensor and they were actually designed to be used with the rear screen as a composition tool, with the viewfinder added almost as an after-thought. They also do not allow easy exposure manipulation, in the sense that while they do offer an aperture ring around their lenses, they do not have a shutter speed dial. Yes, both of them have exposure compensation dials, but that’s not the same as a proper shutter speed dial.

Then, there is of course the extremely expensive Leica M9, a camera which costs almost as much as a new car. While film Leicas used to be a life-long dream of mine, when I finally got myself one (an M6 with three Leica lenses), I discovered that I just couldn’t get used to it. My problem lies with the fact that the lenses have their controls at the wrong place, compared to the Nikkor lenses I am used to work with. The aperture ring, in all my Nikkors is at the rear of the lens towards the camera and the focusing ring is towards the front. In the M-series lenses, the aperture ring is at the front (and it rotates in the opposite way than the Nikkors ones) and the focusing ring is at the rear. This difference made using the M6 an absolute nightmare. My twins were getting so bored when I was trying to take a picture of them, that they simply walk away, leaving me fighting with the camera controls. So even if I could afford the M9, I wouldn’t buy it.

So, what is left?

Well, last year as I was browsing the Internet, I came across what I thought would be the ultimate compact camera for me.

Fujifilm X100

Just by looking at it, I was in love with the X100.

This camera had not only an optical viewfinder, but also a digital one. It had an APS-C sensor (the same size as my Nikon D300) with a resolution of 12 Mpixels. It also featured a 35mm fixed lens (not a zoom) which in itself is not a deal-breaker for me but it also had full aperture control (the ring is at the rear of the lens, just like on a Nikkor) as well a proper shutter speed dial at the top, just like God meant cameras to have.

Top side X100

That's what a camera's top side should look like.

It was love at first sight, or rather at first read, when I went through the specs of this little camera. The fact that it also looked very “retro” and very much like the Leica M6 I used to have, helped it become a dream. Its price is a little steep at around $1,200 in US or about 800 pounds in UK, but price alone has never stopped me from getting my dreams.

A few months after its introduction, when the first samples of the X100 became available to journalists around the globe, we all learned much more about this camera. Here is a summary of the pros and cons:

PROS

  • Image quality is superb.
  • Lens is sharp, distortion-free, in a word “excellent”.
  • Excellent dynamic range.
  • The camera is virtually noiseless.
  • Built-in flash works great as a fill-in flash.
  • Build quality is extremely high.
  • The optical and the digital viewfinders work quite well.
  • It shoots raw and/or jpeg.
  • Macro-shooting to about 10cm from the lens.

CONS

While the above pros would make any photographer drool and get his credit card out, unfortunately, it seems that Fuji has left this project half-completed. In other words, as some writer/reviewer put it, it appears that while the top team of Fuji engineers set the specs and did the initial design of the camera, somewhere down the road, the masters left the completion to some newbies, which managed to turn one of the best camera designs of the last few years, to a nightmare. Here is a short (and by no means extensive) list of its shortcomings:

  • The menu system is a nightmare to use (*).
  • The focusing leaves a lot to be desired, especially in manual mode (*).
  • Aperture ring and shutter dial allow you to change only between full stops, you have to use a rear dial to get down to steps of 1/3 of a stop.
  • There is no optical rangefinder for manual focusing. With the way manual focusing works in this camera, I sincerely doubt if a rangefinder would be useful. Fuji has to fix the focusing of the camera, and has to do it fast.
  • Writing to the memory card (SDHC cards are recommended) is slow, especially if shooting raw (*).
  • The location of some of the camera controls is irrational.
  • Battery life is too short, by contemporary standards (about 300 pictures per charge). The charger is also of a strange design.
  • You can’t use a filter over the lens, unless you buy a special adaptor.
  • A lens hood is not included in the price (there is a filter-adaptor-lens-hood kit, available separately, which is priced at about $70!!).
  • Burst shooting is there, but autofocus doesn’t track the subject when shooting bursts (*?).
  • Video recording appears to be an after-thought too (not that I care about video).

It’s an almost even balance of pros and cons (without counting). So what would you do? Would you invest $1,200 in an X100, since you can hope that most of the cons (those marked with a *) can be fixed by new firmware, or would you pass?

I have already one in my Amazon shopping card (and the price went up by 35 pounds a couple of days ago) but I just can’t make up my mind to hit the “Buy” button. So what do you guys/gals think?

 

Our blogs are at their final home

First of all, let me welcome you to our new family server, our little corner of the Internet.

I’ve been working with computers professionally since 1985, so creating a little home server for the family was something I wanted to do ever since I … got a family. Being totally independent of external services, was something I always fancied and with the kids growing up (well, the twins, the third is already a grown up) I decided to build this little network in our home, to serve our needs. Some background is in order though, for you to better understand my ramblings below.

A couple of years ago, I decided that I had enough of the Windows problems and switched over to Apple. A MacBook first, to test the waters, was soon followed by a 24″ iMac, and then last January a Mac Mini Server was added, to act as the family server. The services I wanted the server to provide were;

  • Calendar server
  • Address Book server
  • Email server
  • Web server
  • Blog server
  • Domain name server (with our family name, as the domain name)

The idea was that we could use this server to synchronize our iPhones (yes, the switch to Apple included our phones too), present our family to the public (as if someone is interested in reading about us) and have a place to post our thoughts. Some additional email addresses, in the family name domain space would be a welcome addition too.

The Mac Mini, loaded with Snow Leopard served the intended role for some months, not without frustrations, due mainly to Apple’s GUI (Graphical User Interface) server management tools, which is both a blessing (when it works) and a curse (when it can’t do what you want it to do, just like any other Unix-based server). But after some experimentation, and after learning to ignore parts of the GUI in favor of the good old command-line interface, I had it set up and running, as I wanted it to.

Fast forward to last summer, when Apple released its OS-X Lion server. Although I know better than installing a brand new version of any software on my machines, when I finally decided to install Lion on my server, I wasn’t expecting the problems that move would bring upon me. Several things that were working OK on the previous version of OS-X, just stopped working. Why would Apple change my existing domain name server configuration files, when upgrading? Why would Apache configuration change with the new version? Why on earth the Wiki and blogs had to be changed so much so to become useless? After spending a couple of frustrating months with Apple’s new server software, I decided I had enough of it.

I had an old, Pentium 4 based computer, which I no longer used, so after some advice from a good friend (thanks Don), I build my first Linux box, using CentOS distribution. I had some experience with Unix (I once owned a Sun SparcStation 4, which I loved) so it was not so difficult for me to build the server. Eventually, the CentOS box took over some services from the Apple server, such as the web server, the DNS server and the blogs server, the Mac retaining what it does best, collaborating with other Apple devices such as our Apple computers, our iPhones and iPad.

So here is where we are today. We are a family with a small private network, connecting two servers, two Apple computers (the iMac and the MacBook), two Windows-based HP netbooks for the twins (I know, it’s a sin, but Apple’s notebooks are way too expensive to trust the kids with such devices), two iPhones, two iPod Touches and one iPad 2. And this here, is the first, inaugural post in our blogs. I am sure many more will follow especially by both me and my wife.

I hope that the above environment will help our kids get acquainted with the computers and the Internet, and it will provide me with the opportunity to learn more things about computers, which is my favorite pass time.

What you can expect to read about in here?

Well, my main interests are computers, photography and cars. But I am sure that you will also find many more blogposts about other things in life, things we love and things we hate. Lena will probably use this space to post her own thoughts, and I’ve heard something about posting some Greek recipes. Lena is Ukrainian but she had learned to cook Greek food and she cooks it beautifully, so I would urge you to try out her recipes, when of course she gets herself to start posting. The only problem you may have with that, is that she would probably post the recipes in Russian, so you English-speaking friends will have a hard time reading them. But of course, there are Internet-based translation tools, which can help you understand her writings, and I am sure she would be too happy to answer your questions, if you have any.

So, welcome to our little corner of the web, we hope to see you around.