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Calling the iPhone Medics!!

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I don’t usually endorse products or services on The MAD Blog, so when I do you can bet it’s because I am really impressed with whatever it is I am recommending. UBreakIFix iPhone repair service is one of those exceptions. Here’s the story:

The entire Richmond family was visiting Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park last week when my son Thomas had a disaster with his iPhone 3g. He took it out to type what was probably his 10,000th text message of the day when it slipped out of his grasp and fell face first to the sidewalk. When he picked it up it looked like this:

He has a protective case but didn’t have it on that day. Needless to say he was devastated because he knew two things:

  1. He was not going to have a phone for the rest of that trip and
  2. He was not going to get another iPhone

That second one is the killer. The reason is because iPhones may be (sort of) reasonably priced when you can get one with a 2 year contract with AT&T ($99 for his model), but what if you have only had your phone for a few months and are ineligible for a contract discount and you break it? Well, then you are SOL, because you will not be able to get a replacement for the contract price and will have to pay full retail for it. For a new 3Gs that is a whopping $399 for the 16gb and $499 for the 32gb. Whoa.

But hold on, ubreakifix.com to the rescue!

UBreakIFix is an iPhone repair service that will handle all sorts of repairs to your phone including replacing a broken touch screen, water damage, broken and unresponsive buttons, camera, rear casing and battery replacement. They have complete menus on their website, with detailed descriptions of what kinds of damage or problems you may have so you can self-diagnose the issues and order the right repair. They also have a diagnostic service that will determine what you need for you.

As it turned out Tom royally messed up his phone, not only breaking the touchscreen glass but also ruining the LCD screen. We needed both the glass and LCD replacement service… total cost with shipping was $149.00. Not exactly cheap but better than  $399 replacement phone. That kid has a lot of free snow shoveling to do this winter to pay that off… but he’d have been mowing the lawn for free all summer without UBreakIFix!

The best part was I shipped the phone off on Monday morning via overnight delivery, and we received the repaired and perfectly functioning phone back on Wednesday… 48 hour turnaround. The repairs were flawless and the phone is working just like new.

The phones are expensive and when something like that happens it’s nice to know there is a reliable and fast way to fix them that will save you some money.

Apple’s Magic Mouse- A Review

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

The New Magic Mouse

Whenever I get a new techie toy that I use in conjunction with my work I try and post a review of it from a visual artist’s perspective… in other words how does it affect my work on the computer or in business? You can read my reviews of the Cintiq 12wxOS X Leopard and the iPhone from previous posts.

I wanted to review the new Apple Magic Mouse from such a perspective, but to be honest it’s still just a mouse, and has no real impact positively or negatively on my illustration/graphic work on the computer.

It is a cool new toy, though. Thus the review. :)

First off, some complaining. Apple has a very annoying habit of announcing new hardware and then have it unavailable for an unacceptable amount of time. It’s frustrating when you walk into an Apple store with $70 in you hand and you are told they don’t want your money because the product they have been crowing about for a week is still not in their store, and it’s over a week before it ships if you order it online. Yet every new iMac on display has one. That is some serious arrogance. Vaporware is one thing, but when the product is obviously in production and included with new computers, Apple should just wait until it’s got that product boxed and in stock before announcing it… especially at the premium prices they charge. $70 for a MOUSE??? That better be an amazing pice of equipment.

Well, for the most part it is pretty amazing. I finally received mine the other day after ordering it online, and immediately realized I can’t go back to the old wheel and button style. In case you have not read about the Magic Mouse, it is an innovative new design in mice that combines the technology of the iPhone touchscreen and the new multi-touch pads on Apple notebook computers to create a button-less mouse than responds to the movement of your fingers across it’s surface.

Like the old Mighty Mouse, you click the entire mouse unit rather than indivdual buttons, but it is sensitive enough to recognize both left and right clicks as the Mighty Mouse did. Unlike the Mighty design, this mouse has no scrolling  ball sticking up from the mouse’s surface. Instead your finger slides across the touch-sensitive surface to scroll up or down a document or web page. You can also scroll about a large document or web page in a circular motion or to right and left. Momentum of movement also counts, so a slow drag of your finger down the mouse surface moves the page accordingly, while a fast flick sends the page rolling downward and slowing up naturally like spinning the Price is Right prize wheel. Movement is very responsive.

You can also do a two fingered sideways swipe, that will navigate in programs like iPhoto, iTunes and the Finder to browse folders, photos and such in “cover flow” and other modes. It also works to go backwards and forwards to browse web pages in browsers like Safari. Handy but only for a small number of programs.

Design wise it’s as elegant and attractive as most everything Apple comes up with. Not that you need your mouse to be pretty, but it’s a great combination of aesthetics and functionality. It’s got a lower height profile than the old Mighty Mouse. It moves nicely on the surface of the desk and seems to work better on natural surfaces eliminating the need for a mouse pad.

The control panel

It’s also very customizable, and the mouse’s control panel in “Preferences” is very well done with nice little video demos on the right showing the feature highlighted on the left. Most of the preferences from the old design are here (like switching to a left handed mouse) and new features like “momentum” can be turned off. It looks like there is plenty of room for future features as well.

It was a welcome change from the Mighty Mouse, which was a really poor design. Being impossible to open up to clean, it was difficult to keep the scroll ball from becoming virtually unusable. The Lovely Anna hated that mouse as it would quickly become dirty and the scrolling useless, and she loves the new design for eliminating that problem. Please do not write me or comment on how to turn the stupid thing upside down and rub it vigorously on a piece of white paper or similar instructions on cleaning it. We did all that over and over and at best it helped for a little while, but eventually it could not be cleaned up to work like it should and needed replacement. I even found a tutorial on the web on how to open and clean it which involve breaking iti open and re-gluing it, and ruined one mouse in the attempt.

Which brings me to the one complaint I have with the Magic Mouse, and really on ongoing issue I have with Apple in general. The complaint with the new mouse is the lack of side buttons to activate Expose or a way to bring up the dashboard like the old mouse so conveniently had. Yes, there are simple keyboard shortcuts for these but I miss the mouse features. So why did Apple leave them out? For the same reason they designed the old mouse to be sealed and unable to clean thoroughly… they think their customers are morons. Really, they must. They don’t trust them to be able to do the simplest of tasks, like open up a mouse, remove the tracking ball, clean the wheels and reassemble the unit. The guts of a Mac and the nuts and bolts of the software are hidden and inaccessible to the average consumer as well. They keep designing their hardware to be more and more simple, seemingly because they don’t think their customers are smart enough to handle things like extra buttons on the mouse. I’m all for clean design, but give me a little credit in that I won’t fall apart and be hopelessly confused because there are a few extra buttons on my new mouse. I keep squeezing the sides of the Magic Mouse expecting the Expose feature to activate and then grumble as I reach for my keyboard. oh, well.

So, does the new Magic Mouse make working on the computer easier? No, but I don’t have to get angry because my mouse won’t scroll to one side or the other anymore. $70 is pretty steep for a mouse but it works very well, despite the dumbing down of the features.

Why The Apple Store’s Movie Rentals Suck

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Apple does a lot of things right.

They build good computers. They design good software that is easy and intuitive to use. They (mostly) stand by their products and offer very good support, especially if you are willing to pay for their AppleCare extended warranties. AppleCare is expensive, but you get something for your money. Macs are expensive but you get a lot of computer for the money. Apple comes up with innovative products like the iPod and the iPhone. They pride themselves on having their fingers on the pulse of their customers.

However, Apple is truly clueless when it comes to the video rentals in their Apple Store. In that case they are trying to take the pulse of their customer by sticking their fingers in the customer’s eyes. They have the best portable video player available today in the iPhone and iPod Touch, but their rental system is designed to be as inconvenient to a traveler as possible.

I haven’t had many occasions to rent a movie from Apple. Usually I rent them from Netflix, but dragging along a bunch of DVDs and watching them on my laptop isn’t nearly as easy and convenient as loading a couple of movies on my iPhone and watching them. For starters, I’d be lucky to get through two full movies with a charge on my laptop before it died. Second, there is not a lot of room in those airplane seats and only a small DVD player is easy to move when you have to get up and let the fat, smelly man in the seat next to you out to use the bathroom he obviously needed to visit 10 minutes ago. No, if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch you can load 6 or more movies on them and watch them in an easy to access and put away manner.

Watching movies on the iPhone is great… but renting them sucks because for some reason Apple insists on building in a 24 hour self destruct on their rentals. Once you rent them, you have an unlimited amount of time to start watching the movie, but once you start watching it the movie erases itself from your iPhone (or from your Apple TV or in iTunes) after 24 hours. Not once you are done watching it, once you START watching it. So you have 24 hours to finish watching your movie… or else you don’t get to finish it. Ever.

Now, you might say “Big deal! A movie is only two hours or so. You should be able to finish it in 24 hours!” Not if you are traveling, especially in an airplane. You only have a certain amount of time you are allowed to use “approved electronic devices” on an airplane. After all, as we all know, if you happen to have a small, handheld electronic device like an iPod still powered on when the plane is under 20,000 feet it’s enormous magnetic field will “interfere with the plane’s navigation system” quickly turning the aircraft into a flaming pinwheel of death. How often do you think a traveler would start a movie on an airplane and actually finish it before landing? If it’s along flight, could you finish two movies? Not likely. It’s much more likely that said traveler would end up “turning off and stowing” that iPhone somewhere during whatever film they were watching, thereby saving the lives of all the other passengers by deactivating the insidious, plane navigation destroying magnetic field of destruction that threatens the aircraft.

Yet, Apple only allows you another 22 hours to watch the end of that movie. Here’s the rub… in all likelyhood you are going to your destination to do something other than sit in your hotel room and finish watching a rented movie. It’s also likely that eventually you will be taking a flight BACK to where you just came from, and would like to resume your movie at that time, or perhaps even rewind a bit to get back into the story.

No, says Apple! Your $2.99 is only good for 24 hours after you START the film. If you don’t get around to watching the entire thing it that time, it will disappear along with your money from your device. Poof… gone. This happened to me not once but TWICE recently.

That is just plain stupid. Of course Apple needs to restrict the time frame in which you are allowed to have the movie on your device… as a rental you must “return” it at some point. However when you rent a disk from Netflix or BlockBuster, you are allowed to watch it as often as you want during the time period allowed, stopping and starting as often as you wish over a period of at least a week. Apple lets you watch your movie over and over if you want during that 24 hour period, but once it’s over it’s gone.

Wouldn’t it be better for the customer to guarantee they will be able to watch the ENTIRE movie at least once? Why not set the 24 hour self destruct to start once the movie is over… or a week from the time the movie starts? It’s very aggravating to pay $2.99 for a movie rental and never get to see the end because you were too busy doing whatever it is you were travelling for to stop and watch the rest of your film and it was digital dust by the time your return flight departs.

The self destruct 24 hour limit on their movies is extremely counter productive. They should design their rental system to be as travel convenient as possible, and this is anything but. Right now portability is the biggest thing the Apple Store’s video offers, but they don’t do it in the kind of user-friendly fashion one would expect from Apple.

Can you tell I just spent about 24 hours on airplanes in the last week? Next time I’ll rant about the stupidity of travelers who wear surgical masks that offer absolutely no protection from Swine Flu.

The Apple TV and Autism

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Apple TV

I have blogged some in the past about our oldest daughter Elizabeth, who is autistic. Elizabeth will be 19 on Tuesday (gulp!), and like many autistic people she has certain routines, patterns and obsessive/compulsive demands that dictate her days. One of Elizabeth’s big things is watching videos. Her subject matter of choice will gradually fluctuate but there are several constants: the “Barney” children’s videos, the “Roseanne” TV show and currently the “Kidsongs”, “BabySongs” and “WeeSing” series of kid’s videos. She will watch these shows repeatedly all day long, often rewinding and watching a certain scene over and over.

Back in the days of VHS rule, she had at least a hundred video tapes of many of these shows that she would literally wear out watching. Frustratingly for us, one of the first things she’d do upon getting a new tape was to destroy the packaging and scrape off the tape’s label, so we could not tell them apart. Fortunately she could somehow. We could hold up a video that had no label or marking on it, one of a hundred that looked exactly alike we kept in several laundry baskets in the downstairs TV room, and she would tell us what the video was. She was never wrong. I still do not know how she could tell them apart… it’s an autistic thing. (more…)

Reviewing the Cintiq 12wx

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Back in November of last year Wacom released a smaller, more portable version of it’s Cintiq line of monitor/tablet combo devices, the Cintiq 12wx. This was of great interest to me because up until that point there was no really viable solution to doing PhotoShop color work while “on the road” in the manner in which I am accustomed… i.e. using a Cintiq’s “draw on the screen” style of working. This and the Axiotron ModBook, a third party modified, tablet style MacBook were the two most promising solutions for this issue.

Before I go on, and before I get a lot of e-mails or comments about how this or that person “gets by just fine” and does great work on a regular Wacom tablet, let me just say this: Yes, I could use a regular Wacom tablet and my MacBook Pro. I have done this and for many years I did my line-and-color work in this manner in my studio as well… but once you get used to using a Cintiq you find going back to a regular Wacom tablet awkward and very inefficient. Looking at the screen and not at your hand is a skill that takes practice and more importantly continued execution to stay proficient at. Case in point, this spring I had to work on the color stage of this product illustration job while travelling and I did one of the product illustrations with a regular Wacom and my MacBook Pro, and then the other using my friend Ed Steckley‘s Cintiq 12wx. I did the second one in about half the time it took to do the first. For me, finding a truly portable version of the Cintiq experience was a worthwhile endeavor.

On another trip this summer, visiting Ed and his wife in New York City, I ended up having to spend one evening finishing the color work on the last of the images from the “Super Capers” movie job, and I again borrowed Ed’s Cintiq 12wx to do the job. I ordered one of my own when I got back home. I have now had occasion to use it several more times, and am finally getting around to doing an in depth review of the unit.

The Hardware

The 12wx is a well designed device that is both light (about 4 lbs) and easy to work on with gently beveled edges and a pop out stand. The screen is a 12.1″ diagonal TFT widescreen (16:10 ratio) display with a native resolution of WXGA (1280 x 800). Both sides have the newer design of the Wacom Expresskey/Touchstrip sets of programmable shortcut buttons.

The overall dimensions are 16″ W x 10.5″ H x .67″ D (40.64cm W x 26.67cm H x 1.7cm D). The unit also comes with a power brick, a “video control unit” box, DVI-I to DVI-D and DVI-I to VGA video cables, a Cintiq cordless, battery-less pen, holder stand and replacement nibs.

It is Really Portable?

That depends on how you define “portable”. If you mean can you whip the 12wx out at the coffee shop and start sketching on it… then no. If you mean you can pack it all up in a medium sized shoulder bag and set it up in your hotel room in a few minutes… then yes. The 12wx is not a tablet computer. It is a supplementary device needing a laptop with a secondary display output (most have these) to work from, and room to set it up. It’s not anywhere near as convenient or easy to set up as a regular Wacom tablet, which requires no power itself and only a USB cable attached to the laptop.

In order to make the 12wx unit itself as light and comfortable as it is, Wacom moved much of the circuitry out of the unit itself and into it’s “Video Control Unit”, a 6″ x 4″ x 1″ box that acts as a bridge between the laptop and the 12wx. In the full sized Cintiqs, all this hardware is inside the unit itself, and a very thick cable protrudes from the back center of the devices and extends to the computer it is hooked to, splitting into a power cord (that in turn hooks to a power brick) a DVI video cable and a USB cable. In the 12wx, the only cable coming from the unit itself is a relatively slim (about the thickness of a power cord) one that emanates from the top right edge and hooks to the VCU. Then the cable parade begins. The other side of the VCU is where you hook up the video and USB cables that go to the computer as well as the power cord that goes to the power brick that goes to the outlet. That’s a lot of cables. However the VCU can be placed out of the way and the only cable you have to contend with when working is the one coming from the 12wx, which isn’t that much bigger or less flexible than a typical USB cable. Still, you have to have the room to put all this together, plus plug in your laptop unless you plan on only working for a short time. That requires a desktop area with two power outlets… you won’t be doing that on the airplane or at the bus stop.

For me, this is not a problem. I never intended to use the 12wx to do spontaneous sketching at the diner. It’s meant to be a portable studio, and that’s just how it functions. I can carry the 12wx, all cords, bricks and accessories in a messenger-style shoulder bag or pack said bag into my suitcase and add only about 6 lbs or so to the overall weight. If I need to work on the road then I need to work, and setting up somewhere suitable to get it done is a necessity regardless.

Using the 12wx

Here’s another quick sidetrack: When using it in the Mac OS X environment, there are two ways you can use the screen real estate of the 12wx or any Cintiq: as a supplementary area of your main desktop or as the main screen of your OS X desktop (meaning your main screen becomes the secondary monitor). PC users have it easier because of the way Windows programs and menu bars work as opposed to the Mac OS. In PC programs, the menu bar (i.e. the “File, Edit, View… etc.”) of any program is embedded into the window of that program. In other words, if you have two monitors hooked up, you can move the window of any program from the main monitor to the secondary one, and the menu bar will follow along. With the Mac, the menu bar is always along the top of the main desktop window, and it changes with whatever program is active. The bad part about this is if you want to work on a secondary monitor, you can move the window of the files you have open to the secondary monitor but the menu bar remains on the main monitor. Oh, you can move all the palettes and everything from PhotoShop over to the Cintiq manually, and you can save the setup you created in PhotoShop itself under if you want to under Window>Workspace>Save Workspace so you can set it all back up that way again if you want to. I don’t like doing it that way, because I cannot move that handy little palette dock that reduces the palettes to small icons on the right for easy access but easier hiding, and screen real estate is important with the 12wx. I hate having to switch back and forth from the Cintiq to the main screen, even though the Cintiq’s “Display Toggle” makes that a little easier, so keeping palettes on the other screen isn’t very appealing. Also, I do use the menu bar when working and like being able to access it on the Cintiq rather than switching to the main screen. Therefore what I do is actually switch the Cintiq to be the main screen of desktop. That way I get all the palettes the way I want them plus the menu bar on my work screen, and by turning “hiding” on to the dock I can get that out of the way as well.

If you want to try it my way, here’s how you accomplish this:

First, you need to change the tablet’s focus from the Cintiq screen to the main desktop screen. This is easy to do, just open System Preferences>Wacom Tablet. Make sure you have highlighted the “Cintiq 12wx” on the “Tablet” window across the top part of the preference window, and then click on “Calibration”. Change “Monitor” from “Cintiq (2)” to whatever your main display (1) is. What will happen now is that the Cintiq will act like a regular Wacom tablet and moving around on it will move the cursor on your main screen. Do not panic, this is expected.

Now open System Preferences>Displays. You will see a window pop up on both monitors. The main one will be a little different, as it will have “Arrangement” and “Options” as choices not on the other box. Click “Arrangement” and drag the white menu bar from the left display square to the top of the right one. A red border appears on the display that is actively selected as the main desktop as you do this.

The result will be that now your menu bar and dock will be on your Cintiq, and the pen will again function correctly on the screen. Hide the dock if it’s in your way. Again, this is a personal preference on may part and does not affect the functions of the Cintiq in any way.

Back to the review…

Usablility

The 12wx is a true Cintiq. With 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt sensitivity it has all the functionality of it’s bigger brethren. In fact I feel no difference at all in it’s feel and use. You would think the smaller screen would be a hindrance, but I didn’t have any trouble working on it with any but the biggest of images. The 1280 x 800 resolution doesn’t give up THAT much to the 1600 x 1200 I get with my 21ux, and the 16:10 aspect ration of the 12wx helps. It give you a wider screen that allows the palettes to stay away from the work area, giving you the feel of more space than you actually have. Pressure sensitivity, surface feel, response time… it’s exactly like the full size units.


The rear of the Cintiq 12wx and the stand

I also thought I would miss the excellent rotating stand the full size Cintiqs have which allow for nearly 360 degree rotation of the screen instantly and is very stable. The 12wx has a static pop-out stand that keeps it at a stable angle from the table top but does not allow for rotation. There is a token “bump” in the center of the back of the unit that it can rotate on if the stand is folded in, but who works with it on a flat surface? This presented no problems, though, as the 12wx is so light and comfortable that it can easily be used in your lap or just turned as you need while working. The cord stays out of your way.

There is a vent located along the top edge for heat disbursement. There is some warmth that develops when it’s been on for a while but as many of the electronic guts of the 12wx are in the VCU, the heat is nowhere near as pronounced as it can get in the bigger, self contained units. In fact you can quite easily use in on your lap without getting uncomfortable (or sterile) from the heat.

The Expresskeys and Touchstrips also function in the same way as the full sized Cintiqs. I have the original 21ux in the studio, which is older and has the 4 buttons with the touch strip above configuration. Not the best design with the strips, as they are so easy to brush across and zoom your image in or out accidentally. The newer 20wsx has the 16:10 ratio and has smartly relocated the Touchstrips to the underside of the unit’s right and left edges, eliminating that issue. On the 12wx, the strips on on the surface of the unit on each side, but on the beveled part of the edge and therefore a little less likely to be accidentally brushed. The strips can be programmed for functions as well as each individual button. This is very handy. I have buttons set to increase and decrease brush size, switch to the “hand” tool for image panning, switch to the eyedropper tool for easy color picking, mode changes, etc.

One very welcome new feature with the Cintiq, and it’s with all the Cintiqs that have the latest drivers, is the “Display Toggle” feature. This is a drop down menu choice for any of the ExpressKey buttons that switches the control of your tablet from the Cintiq screen to your other screen and back. It used to be a real pain to have to access anything on the other screen, as I had to put down my pen and grab my mouse (another reason for my preference of making the Cintiq my main desktop monitor when working). Wacom used to make a “companion” mini tablet that connected to the side or bottom of the Cintig that would be set to control the other monitor, so you could just move to it with your pen to do something on that other monitor. Now with a touch of the “Display Toggle”, the surface of your Cintiq becomes like a regular tablet that controls your other screen. You can do what you need to do over there, then press the toggle again to switch back. If I can figure out how to move those palette docks I might eschew my switching-the-main-desktop strategy entirely thanks to this smart feature.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, for $999 this is a terrific device that could almost replace my studio Cintiq. Taking it on the road is not much of a hassle, and it truly allows me to be able to do the same type of work in the same way, and in the same amount of time, as I can from the comfort of my studio. If you are looking for a portable Cintiq-experience solution, or can’t afford the larger units but still want a Cintiq for your work, this is the ticket.

Panasonic BD-50 vs. PS3 for Blu-Ray

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

My home theater is my little oasis from the real world, where I can sink into a comfortable leather recliner and become fully immersed in a good (or sometimes not so good) movie via a dedicated, totally dark room and a setup of pretty high end audio visual equipment. Since the last time I wrote about my theater, I have upgraded my projector from a 720p Sim2 to the Marantz VP-15S1 1080p DLP projector, my pre/pro and video scaler from the Sunfire Theater Grand VI and a DVDO iScan VP-50 respectively to the awesome Anthem Statement D2 integrated Pre/Pro and scaler. Coupled with a 103″ screen and 7.1 James loudspeakers, the experience is as close to a real movie theater as you can get… minus the sticky floors and the smell.

Another recent acquisition for the theater is the Panasonic BD-50 Blu-Ray player. While I am still mourning the death of HD-DVD, which in my opinion was the most suited of the two high def formats to win over the general public is a short enough time to beat out downloaded media for the next generation of home media delivery, Blu-Ray has finally made it to the big leagues with players capable of all the features they promised home theater enthusiats back when it was introduced. The BD-50 is the first stand-alone Blu-Ray player capable of internally decoding both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-MA HD sound formats, accessing the internet via an Ethernet port for both firmware updates and BD-Live content as well as doing all the other Blu-Ray stuff like full 1080p output, 24p film-based refresh rates, etc.

It’s been frustrating that until now only the Sony Playstation 3 has been a fully Blu-Ray 2.0 (BD-Live capable) compliant player. The BD-50′s release was pushed back several times and is just now becoming available in the US, albeit on back order for more recent buyers. I got tired of waiting and actually bought a PS3 for a Blu-Ray player, and then received my BD-50 anyway. As a result, I got to compare the two directly to see which one really was the better Blu-Ray player. Reviews are always distorted by obvious bias either for or against Sony. With a cold eye, I compared the two using an equal setup. Here are my results: (more…)

Posting from my iPhone!

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

Okay, this is more than a little geeky, but nonetheless pretty cool. Other than the pic above, I did this entire post directly from my iPhone!

One of the more annoying things about the iPhone’s web capabilities is it’s absence of flash support. Since my blog software, WordPress, uses flash for much of its dashboard functionality, that means I have never been able to post directly from my iPhone… at least until I installed this nifty plugin called WPhone. I think my pal Cedric told me about it a while ago but for some reason I never went and got it.

It works pretty well, but with limitations. I can’t seem to be able to upload a picture (added one above after the fact), or easily add one already uploaded. I can do a hyperlink, but need to manually add the HTML tags. I can choose a category, add tags, turn on or off comments and pings, create a custom “slug” and preview.

I’m told WP is working on a native iPhone app for more full featured accessibility.

You can find more info here: WPhone Plugin Website .

UPDATED: Looks like WordPress is a lot closer to getting a native iPhone app than I thought:

3G iPhone: Skip this Upgrade

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

To upgrade or not to upgrade…actually there is no question at all. The easy answer, IMO anyway, is a big NO.

That’s saying a lot coming from me, a guy who is always itching to get the latest and greatest in cool gadgets. I bought the original iPhone on the day it was released. I will not be getting this upgrade, which is being released tomorrow… in case you haven’t heard.

Why not? The cost of the new iPhone is half what they were when it debuted last year in June, and they are offering to cancel the previous contract agreement for first gen iPhone users and give them the subsidized price with a new agreement. The new 3G technology in it boasts much faster web surfing/mail downloads and it now has a built in real GPS for real time navigation and map features. The new software will allow for 3rd party applications to be downloaded and to run on the iPhone… which promises a lot of useful programs and cool stuff that will make the iPhone more productive and fun. So what’s the problem?

In short, not worth it. Not enough new and in the long run it’s much more expensive in terms of your phone plan.

Yes, the 16GB 3G iPhone is only $299.00, but the data plan for the new phone rises from $20 a month for unlimited internet to $30 a month. That’s an extra $120 a year for the same service, albeit faster IF you are in a 3G area. However, AT&T also quietly eliminated the included 200 SMS text messages a month that was previously included in all the different iPhone plans. Getting that back will cost another $5 per month, for a whopping $180 a year increase in service costs, $360 more over the two year term. You will pay more than 100% of what the iPhone itself costs in extra charges over the two years of your commitment (if you use text messaging).

Couple that with the fact that there is very little in the way of functionality changes specific to the 3G, and that extra $$ is way too much to upgrade. Most of the new software, at least that which doesn’t need the true GPS to function, will also be available and usable on the first gen iPhone which receives the same updated OS and third party compatibility. The new 3G has the same awful 2 mega-pixel camera, the same sized screen, the same basic form and function. No addition of MMS image text messaging, cut and paste,  instant messaging or voice dialing… all glaring shortcomings of the iPhone. There is not a lot of new and shiny here. I just read one review of the 3G that claims the GPS antennae in the new iPhone is too small to give you true real time turn-by-turn map directions. That’s a key selling point gone for me.

In fact, the only other really substantial change outside of the 3G connection and the GPS? A non-recessed headphone jack so any headphones can be used without an adapter. BTW, I hope the moron at Apple who’s idea it was to recess that jack so non-apple headphones would need an adapter is bagging groceries for a living somewhere in out-state Nebraska right now.

Nope, this is one to skip. If Apple is smart they are already hard at work on iPhone 3.0, and it will be a more substantial advance in technology. Better camera, easier to access contact list, voice dialing, more memory capacity and horizontal-capable text and e-mail keyboards would be welcome. I’ll wait for that one. My iPhone 1.0 is still doing the job admirably.

My Dirty Little Mac Pro

Saturday, June 14th, 2008


You drrrrty, drrrrty little tramp.

Despite what Apple might want you to believe, Mac’s are not infallible supercomputers that “just work”. They are machines… and as such they break down, have technical problems, glitches, etc. just like any other machines. Hardware-wise they aren’t any better than PCs, and since you are severely restricted in what hardware you can use if your Mac has a design flaw of some kind it becomes a problem that cannot be easily corrected. That is one of the major drawbacks of using Apple computers… you have to take what Apple will give you with few, if any, other options.

Take my 2006 Mac Pro…. PLEASE.

I’m kidding about wanting to get rid of my Mac Pro. It’s a fine computer and has served me well for going on two years. In fact, after two years this is usually the time I would be thinking seriously of upgrading my PC. Not so the Mac Pro. I think this will last some years yet… or would if I could get a decent video card for it.

A few months ago I started having weird problems with my Mac Pro. The system would crash with that seriously annoying (but elegantly designed) Gray Curtain of Death that would suddenly roll down my screen and display the message that I need to reboot my Mac, sometimes costing me time if I had not recently saved whatever I was working on. In fact, this has continued to happen with increasing frequency in the last few months. I ran all sorts of utilities and such on it, but nothing seemed to solve the problems. My computer also stopped putting itself to sleep, and would run non-stop unless I shut it down. Then I had this problem.

In the last few weeks, weird lines of colored pixels have been appearing at random on both my Apple Cinema display and my Cintiq. This was very disturbing, and it signaled to me that the video card may be having problems. Some Google searching revealed the issue… apparently a common one with Mac Pros. The ATI Radeon X1900 video card, which BTW was an upgrade from the standard video card at the time, is notorious for getting it’s fan grill and fan blades clogged with dust and debris, and causing it to overheat. This made sense to me, because I thought I noticed my Mac being a lot noisier lately, which was the fans vainly trying to keep the temperature down inside the machine. The video card was overheating and likely the cause of all the problems I was having.

So this week I opened the Mac, removed the video card and disassembled it to get at the fan blades and grill. The picture above is not of my video card but one from an article I found describing the problem, but that’s about what it looked like… clogged solid with junk. Using compressed air and a vacuum cleaner I cleaned it all out and reassembled. Bingo! Nice, quiet Mac again and so far no weird lines or Gray Curtain of Death. My Mac also sleeps again. Nice.

Mac Pro users have been complaining about this card for some time, but until recently there has not been a reasonably priced alternative available. About two months ago NVidia came out with an 8800 video card that was compatible with the original Mac Pro, but while it was good for gaming it was actually found to be slower for applications. Finally on Thursday AMD announced the imminent release of the ATI Radeon HD 3870, a new card that hopefully will give Mac users sick of the problems of the X1900 an alternative. Of course installing a newly released video card is only for the very brave or very stupid… video drivers are notoriously buggy and it’s wise to wait for at least 3 to 6 months for all the kinks to get worked out before you trust your computer to a new video source.

That’s one of the things that frustrates me with Macs as opposed to PCs. If you are having troubles with some piece of hardware or software on your PC, there are at least a dozen alternatives out there waiting to be sold to you. With Apple, they are far fewer and usually behind in the R&D department. AMD has put out many upgraded video cards in the last two years… but none that work with the Mac. This is one of the first in two years to be released.

So now my dirty little Mac is all shiny and spiffy, and running well. When was the last time you cleaned out the fans and air intakes in your computer and video card?

The iPhone 2.0… worth it?

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The New iPhone

I admit it. I am a techno-gadget junkie. I love all that crap. Shiny new technology is cool and sometimes irresistible for me. The Lovely Anna calls it my only vice (okay, my most troublesome vice… however when she starts making fun of me about it I mention shoes and handbags and she shuts right up). I got the original iPhone the day it was released, although quite by accident and with only about a 2 hour wait in line.

So, it was with great interest I read about the new iPhone 3G that was announced on Monday at WWDC. I really like my iPhone, and have found it to be incredibly useful as a combination phone, portable e-mail and communications device and PDA… not to mention being able to watch the occasional movie on it. It has really been invaluable for keeping in touch with my clients when on the road, and for running the business.

On July 11th comes the new version of the iPhone. Originally I was skeptical about upgrading, and still am to some degree. I paid $499 for my iPhone (after the $100 credit early adopters got from Apple) and it’s still working great. Why upgrade? Here are the pros and cons for me on the dillema:

Reasons to Upgrade-

  • Faster Speeds- The 3G network should bring twice the download speeds for internet and e-mail use. E-mail seems to me to load pretty fast, unless there is an attachment with it. Still, no doubt I would notice and relish the new speeds. Minneapolis/St. Paul has the 3G network so I would be able to take advantage of that speed increase (not every market has the 3G network in place).
  • Real GPS- The Maps feature on the iPhone I have actually used a lot, but it is limited. You need to know exactly where you are in order to plot directions to a destination, and then if you screw up the route you need to stop and redo it from your new starting point, which you again must know the address of. Real GPS in the iPhone 3G will pinpoint your exact location and map your route to a destination, plus it will follow you in real time so if you go off track you can easily reroute. 3rd party apps like TomTom are going to further enhance your GPS navigation capabilities as well. This is something I would really use.
  • More Memory- I have the 8 GB iPhone and while there has been a 16 GB for a while now I wouldn’t mind the extra room. Then on a trip I could load up several more movies and/or TV shows for watching.
  • Better Battery Life- Supposedly the 3G will have a longer battery charge life, although using the 3G network will eat it faster and probably result in the same real time use between charges. It will last longer on a charge when in “airplane mode” though, and that is cool if you are on a long flight and still want some juice on your phone at the end of the trip after two full length movies.
  • Lower cost, can upgrade even if current iPhone user- The 16 GB 3G is only $299, which is half what the original 8 GB cost. AT&T is allowing current iPhone users to upgrade at that price regardless of their current plan’s commitment length.

Reasons Not to Upgrade-

  • Software upgraded for free on Original iPhone- Two of the biggest new features are going to be the ability to run 3rd part applications and use “push” technology for Microsoft Exchange software. I don’t care about the latter and the former, while cool and full of promises, makes me a little nervous. Running 3rd party apps are likely going to cause some headaches with compatibility and make make the iPhone’s tech support busy. Still there is no denying that the iPhone could be greatly enhanced by some cool new applications, and it will be fun to see what becomes available. Here’s the rub… I get that for free when my current iPhone get’s the ne 2.0 software. Only apps designed to use the GPS or new hardware will not work on my iPhone.
  • Higher Cost for Plan- The new data plan for the 3G is $10 a month more than the current plan. That’ $120 more a year. Suddenly the cheaper price for the phone doesn’t look much cheaper.
  • Form Factor the Same- Even though they now sport plastic backs, non-recessed headphone jacks and some slightly different button, this phone is basically the same as the one I have physically. I’d have liked to see something new and cool in that regard. Significantly lighter would have been enticing.

The reasons to upgrade are actually a little thin. Basically it’s all about the faster speed and GPS… most of the rest you get for free with the software update. I can live with the slower speeds, as I really do very little websurfing, finding that aspect frustrating on the small screen. E-mail, as I said, works pretty quickly and is certainly not so slow that it is a problem. The true GPS is the one really covetous new feature.

I’ll have to think about it. My iPhone is working great and I really use it a lot, and it has no glaring deficiencies that really scream for updating… still if you are the betting type I’d put my money on “Tom upgrades on Day One” with 2 to 1 odds.

 

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