Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Thoughts on Apple’s iPad

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Having just watched the video of Steve Jobs unveiling Apple’s long-awaited tablet, the iPad, I’m now ready to share my thoughts on the device.  First, the good parts:

For some tasks, the iPad will definitely be much better than a laptop or iPhone.  This includes surfing the web from pretty much anywhere (and in any position) and showing your photos to people.  Its size and weight also make it ideal for traveling, where it would have more than enough power for the average person.  With the right apps, it ought to be able to do some basic photo editing and upload photos to the web during a trip.

Unfortunately, the initial version of the iPad has some serious drawbacks.  Some can probably be solved with future software updates, but others require different hardware.  First, and most important (to me, at least), the iPad has no multitasking abilities, just like its smaller cousins the iPhone and iPod touch.  When I’m on my computer, I usually have an instant messaging client running all the time (two, actually, since I haven’t found a Mac app that does both AIM and IRC).  One way that I would use an iPad is to surf the web while lying on my bed, and I want to be able to run both Safari and an IM app simultaneously.  With a 1 GHz processor, the iPad should have plenty of power to do that, even if it can only display one app on the screen at a time.

Next, of course, is the lack of Flash support.  I’m not particularly concerned with this, as I generally don’t pay attention to Flash objects on websites, but it does need to be added to provide a complete web experience.  This and the lack of multitasking should be fixable with an upgrade to the iPhone OS.  Even if they impact battery life, I (and many others) would prefer having those capabilities.

Next, USB support.  In my idea for an iTablet, I had mentioned it having some USB ports and being able to access external drives, for such purposes as transferring photos from a camera’s memory card to a portable hard drive or accessing media that there isn’t room for on the tablet itself.  The iPad will have a camera connection kit for transferring photos from a camera, but where do you transfer them to?  The biggest iPad is only 64GB, and in all likelihood I’d have most of that filled up with other media (my music library alone fills almost 30GB at this point).  I can easily take 1GB of photos in a day, probably more if I’m really going nuts (trains in a foreign country, say).  That would fill up any remaining space on an iPad pretty quickly, forcing me to get a bunch of memory cards instead.  A much better solution would be the one I started this paragraph with.  An external drive would be far cheaper than a stack of memory cards with the same total capacity.

As a side note to the USB issue, it would be great if the iPad had some basic Finder capabilities to go along with being able to access drives.  Just the ability to create folders, rename files, and save the occasional file from the web would be enough.  It would only need to be able to deal with files from outside sources, be it the internet or a memory stick; the files associated with the various other apps can stay locked up in their hidden databases.

As a side side note, Amazon should port its Amazon MP3 Downloader to the iPad.  Even if I have to sync with my Mac before getting songs into iTunes, I still want to be able to download songs from Amazon on the go.

On to storage.  Only 64GB maximum currently?  For something that can store and playback HD videos, that seems insufficient.  Add in the much larger photos (for all we know they get transferred at full resolution from your computer), and you’re seriously crunched for space.  There really needs to be a 128GB version of the iPad.

And why is the GPS tied to the 3G service? If you’re using an app with built-in maps, or one designed to track your course or record waypoints, there’s no need for 3G service. GPS should just be standard for the iPad (and for all iPhone OS devices).

Finally, there’s the name. Steve Jobs had barely finished his keynote before the first feminine hygiene jokes started appearing. (Actually, the first one appeared back in 2006 as a Mad TV sketch parodying the iPod.) Please, Apple, change the name to iSlate before it ships.

The iPad has some great potential if these flaws can be worked out. Until they are, though, I’m inclined to pass on it and continue with my current tech usage patterns.

Idea for a tablet Mac

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

There have been rumors about a Mac tablet for years now, but so far nothing has left Apple’s secret labs in Cupertino.  Just for fun, I came up with some specs for what I think would make a totally awesome tablet Mac - or rather, an iPod tablet.  Read on, and enjoy.  


 The iPod tablet (or iTablet, as many people call it) is essentially a very large iPod touch.  It is based around an 8.9″ multi-touch screen with a resolution of 1280 x 768.  Like its smaller cousin, it has only three buttons: Home, Sleep, and Volume.  In addition to the expected Dock connector and headphone ports, it also has two mini-USB ports, an SD/SDHC slot, and a mini-HDMI port.  Inside are dedicated chips for processing audio, video, and graphics, in addition to the CPU.  Except for the audio chip, which is the same one used across the iPod family, they were all developed in-house by Apple following its acquisition of P.A. Semi in 2008.  For storage, the iTablet has up to 128 GB of flash memory. The iTablet has the same audio capabilities that iPods have had for years, with the exception of finally being able to create custom equalizer settings.

The iTablet supports video resolutions up to 720p, and several other MPEG and AVI file formats besides the expected MPEG-4 format (iTunes also supports those formats now).  As on the iPod touch, video playback uses the whole screen, with non-HD videos appearing in their native resolution by default; triple-tapping on them makes the device upscale them to fill the screen.  Double-tapping a widescreen video (that’s already filling the screen side-to-side in the case of non-HD videos) still causes it to expand to fill the screen entirely, with the sides being cut off.  The iTablet can also send video to a TV via either the mini-HDMI port, or Composite or Component video through the Dock connector.

While iTunes still optimizes images for previews on the iTablet, it now has an option to sync full versions of photos to the device, as long as they’re JPEGs (users can still choose to have iTunes optimize photos larger than the iTablet’s display).  iPhoto has an option to optimize individual photos or entire albums based on customizable settings (photos larger than a certain resolution and/or file size determined by the user can be shrunk to a smaller resolution and file size, also determined by the user).  iPorn Family vacation photos never looked so good on a mobile device!

The iTablet’s OS is based on the iPhone OS, though with substantial changes.  There’s still the Dock at the bottom of the home screen that holds your favorite apps, but the other apps have been moved into a separate Apps screen, leaving the home screen clear for a few open applications (or just wallpaper).  Most apps can be run in windows on the home screen, similar to how apps work on regular computers; they can be resized at will by pinching or spreading your fingers apart, or run in full-screen.  Some apps run only in full-screen, such as Photos, Videos, and action/graphics-intensive games.

The iTablet can use SD cards and even external hard drives for additional storage.  A limited version of Mac OS X’s Finder allows enabled apps (including Music, Videos, Photos, and third-party apps such as word processors and such) to search through such devices for compatible files.  The iTablet can also copy files from one drive to another (i.e. from a camera’s memory card to an external hard drive), or even to its own flash memory.  The latter scenario uses a special folder that the iTablet spoofs as a flash drive when it’s connected to a computer.

wow, I’m way behind on updating this

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Wow, I’ve fallen way behind on updating the blog.  First up, I have a few photo updates.  I’ve added a ton of new photos of Seashore Trolley Museum, starting halfway down this page.  I also have some new photos from Greensboro, starting with the last six on this page

I’ve been quite busy this summer up at Seashore, going up every 2-3 weeks on average.  I’m now qualified on cars 1267, 631, 303, and 1700, and I’m familiar with how to operate the Type 3 snowplows and Eastern Mass snow sweeper P-601. The only things I don’t have are the formal pink license card and a name badge. Otherwise I’m a fully qualified motorman/conductor.

Last Saturday was Members’ Day at the museum, so naturally my friend Bernie and I went up. 631, 1267, and 303 were in service as usual, and mail car 108 was also put into service, though for members only as there are no seats on it. Although 1700 is back in service, it was blocked inside Riverside Carhouse by Boston El cars 0210 and 01000, which were placed on Riverside track 2 (the same track 1700 is kept on) so other cars could be retrieved from Central. One of those cars was Eastern Mass snow sweeper P-601, which was placed on South Boston track 1 for the day. Double-decker 144 from Blackpool, England, which normally sits in the back of South Boston Carhouse on track 2 was pulled out into the sun for the day. Its exterior has been repainted recently so it looks pretty nice, but the interior and electrical systems still need to be restored before it can operate.

Interborough Rapid Transit “Gibbs” car 3352 was pulled out from Central, and made several runs up and down the Butler Grove Lead. This was the first time it had run in many years, so there was lots of dust and rust flying off its trucks during the first trip it made. Around 3PM the museum’s Smee cars (the R-22/R-33 “Subway Series” cars from NYC) made a trip up the main line as the members-only Banana Split Express, with banana split sundaes being served on board. Yum! With the number of people on board, of course, many didn’t get served until after the train returned to the visitor’s center, but a good time was had by all nonetheless. I opted to get a vanilla and chocolate sundae without the banana.

Later on 108 developed a hotbox just after leaving Talbott Park. There was some discussion as to whether one of the Type 3 plows should be sent out to rescue it.  Fortunately, it was able to coast back to the visitor’s center.  To save time, the crew was ordered to pass non-stop by Morrison Hill, so I was sent out to flag the crossing there, and pick up the paddles from their conductor on the fly.  Now I know what it must have been like to pick up train orders on the fly when railroads still did that.  When 108 was being put away in South Boston I noticed that one of the resistor grids was glowing red hot.  Clearly whoever was running it left it in a point below full series for too long.  

Near the end of the day we tried to do a trip with North Shore Line interurban car 420. First, we had to move the MBTA side-dump car from Highwood track 2 to track 1 so that 420 could get out. Although 420 was blue-tagged with a bad motor, the dispatcher decided to ignore that and we started getting the car ready. We had to spend several minutes playing with the emergency brake valve before the air tank started to charge up. Alas, all that work proved to be for nothing, as it turned out a Brill Bullet on track 3 was sticking too far out for 420 to get by, and we had to put it back in the carhouse after moving it only 150 feet or so.

The last thing we did was take P-601 on a trip to Talbott Park. The car runs fine, but as we discovered, at least one of the controllers has suffered some internal damage and the points are virtually impossible to distinguish. That trip was also interesting because some fairly dense fog had rolled in, so visibility in places was down to only two line poles. After that we left to go home.

I’m now enrolled at Massasoit Community College in their Electronic Technology program. So far the coursework has been utterly unchallenging. Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to graduate and get a real job.

I got a 2G iPod touch back on the 10th. I would’ve gotten one the day earlier when they were announced, but the Braintree Apple Store didn’t have them yet. And when I did get mine, they hadn’t even put any on the display floor - they were still flashing their memory in the back. It’s quite a nice model. The front of course is the same as its predecessor, as is the power button on the top. The polished metal back has a nice curved shape. The cutout for the Wi-Fi antenna is now a black plastic oval, much nicer looking than the rectangular cutout on the previous model. A welcome addition over the old model are the volume up/down buttons on the left side. I’m conflicted on the addition of an internal speaker. While there are times when it’s good to have, there are also times when I wish it wasn’t there.

On the software side, not much has changed since I reviewed the original iPod touch. The major changes include the addition of all the apps the iPhone comes with (phone excluded, of course), plus access to the App Store, which didn’t exist when I did that review. I have discovered a few oddball things that can’t really be discovered by playing with the display units at the stores. First, if music is paused and you unplug the headphones or anything else plugged into the headphone port, it resumes playing the music using the internal speaker. While the last few iPod models (this one included) will pause music when you unplug the headphones, this is the first one I’ve seen that does the opposite. I have no idea if the original iPod touch or the iPhone models do this as well. Regardless, it’s not desirable behavior.

Next, it seems I was wrong about the iPhone firmware displaying every video on the device in a single big list. While it remains true that there are no submenus for the various video types and no support for video playlists (except as a way for choosing what videos to sync to the device, but more on that in a bit), there are in fact submenus for any TV show, artist, or podcast for which there are three or more videos. These submenus sort videos either by newest first, or in alphabetical order if the season/episode tags haven’t been set. I’d prefer the option to sort by oldest first, which is a more natural sorting order.

I had some minor problems getting it to work with our wireless network, mostly due to the router being a bitch and not adding the iPod touch’s MAC address to the list of allowed devices. Once that was resolved, I had some more problems getting the Remote app to work properly. It would allow me to select songs, albums, artists, and music videos to play, but nothing else. After posting a question on Apple’s discussion boards, someone pointed out an oddball setting in iTunes that had to be changed. Remote now works fine.

I’ve purchased a bunch of apps from the App Store. iMatrix takes photos stored on the device and overlays the “raining code” effect from The Matrix on top of them. It looks pretty cool (here’s the original image). A Free Level is essentially the Level demo app available to iPhone developers with some added (and very annoying) sound effects. I have a pair of unit converters, which in fact have different capabilities. Strangely, the one with a thousand different units is missing Kelvin, which the other one does have. FileMagnet replicates the disc mode from other iPods, although it depends on a Mac-only app for moving files onto the device. This doesn’t pose a problem for me at the moment. It also can open a number of file types that the iPhone OS doesn’t handle at all. iResist is a resistor color code calculator - quite useful for my electronics classes. Bubble Snap is one of the several bubblewrap popping games available. iCounter is a basic tally counter - it might be useful for my work at CTPS at some point. Constitution is an annotated copy of the US Constitution - you never know when that might be handy. Flashlight simply turns the entire display to a single color - white is the default when you open it, but there’s half a dozen other colors. Mondo Top 5 is a set of five different versions of Solitaire. After having Solitaire on my last few iPods, I’d miss not having it around. Cannon Challenge is a game that’s little more than a demonstration of projectile motion - you set the angle and speed of a cannon shell and try to hit some targets. I have a pair of calculators, one which includes the programming mode that the built-in calculator lacks (if I ever need to convert between decimal, hexadecimal and binary), and one which is a graphing calculator. Finally, I have the official AIM client. Now if only someone would make an IRC client.

On iPods and iPhoto

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

One of the features of all current iPods (with the exception of the iPod shuffle) is displaying photos. However, all the click wheel iPods suffer from the same issue of portrait-mode images only taking up about half the space on the screen (thus looking tiny), while square and landscape-mode images take up most of the screen. To counter this, when I add images to iPhoto I often add duplicate copies of any portrait-mode images. One set is left as-is for viewing on my computer, while the other set is rotated for my iPod, which treats them as regular landscape-mode images. For organization, I maintain two sets of photo albums in iPhoto, one for viewing on the computer, one for syncing to my iPod. Except for one set containing rotated images, both sets are mirrors of each other.

This comes with quite a cost in harddrive space, however. I spent some time last night figuring out how many duplicate images I had and how much space they took up. Getting the number of photos was quite easy, as I just had to manipulate the keyword tags across my entire photo library and have a smart album accumulate all the images that ended up having the rotated tag. This produced an album of just under 9800 images - almost 40% of my iPhoto library!

Finding out how much space they took up was harder to do. The smart album claimed it was only 4.6GB, but extrapolating from the size of the iPhoto Library folder on my harddrive suggested they should have taken up 9.5GB. After looking more closely at the folders and files inside the iPhoto Library folder, I determined that iPhoto is storing two copies of rotated images. One set (which is left unrotated) is stored in the main Originals folder, alongside the unrotated images. The other set is stored in the Modified folder. This set is odd because each image takes up twice as much space as the original file. In the end, the rotated images are taking up 3x the space they normally do, or some 15GB worth.

I really should get an iPod touch. Since it can rotate between portrait and landscape mode, I’ll be able to eliminate all those duplicate photos and free up some much-needed space on my harddrive. It’ll also reduce the size of my iPod Photo Cache, as iPod touch-optimized images require less space than 5G iPod-optimzed images.

Front Row 2.0: One Step Forward, One Step Backward

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Last night I poked through the revamped version of Front Row that comes with Leopard. The look has been changed considerably, but in general it works the same as it did before, with two exceptions. First, Apple stopped using a random number generator to sort TV shows. Why they were using one to begin with is unknown, but its removal is much appreciated. Unfortunately, the other change was that they removed the Season submenus for TV shows where you have episodes from more than one season. Front Row now lists every episode in one menu, with the most recent at the top. So if someone had every episode of The Simpsons on their computer (I don’t, but it makes a good example) and wanted to watch the first one, that person would have to sit around for a few minutes scrolling through all 405 episodes to get to it. As you might have guessed, this is considerably slower than the simple click-click-click you would’ve done in Front Row 1.0 to watch the same episode. Time to send Apple a note.

I upgraded to Leopard

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Last night I upgraded my MacBook Pro to Leopard.  Installation took less than two hours and went without a hitch.  None of the problems that have been reported have shown up, even though I chose the “Upgrade” option rather than “Archive and Install” or “Erase and Install”.  Only two programs so far have died on me: Google Earth (fixed by downloading the latest version) and Photoshop Elements 2 (which will cost some money to upgrade).  There’s a few other apps which potentially might be broken, but I haven’t gotten around to checking them yet.  The app with the most changes is iChat.  The buddy list is handled differently, with offline buddies thrown into a separate category.  A nice addition is a chat room manager, which can be programmed with your favorite chat rooms.  It is currently unclear if it handles Jabber better than the previous version of iChat.  There’s also some new video chat features, but I haven’t checked those out since I never do video chats.  Unfortunately, AIM is so fucked up of late that it appears I’ll be moving a lot of my chatting over to IRC, which iChat doesn’t support.   The overall appearance of the GUI has been standardized and noticeably altered.  The old brushed metal look has disappeared in favor of the matte gray look that iTunes and some other apps have been using for a while now.  The menu bar, which has been solid white since Macintosh was first released 23 years ago, is now translucent.  How good it looks depends on how bright or dark the desktop pattern is.  It would be nice if the translucence was adjustable.  The Finder looks more like iTunes now, with the same side bar design.  It also has Cover Flow, which I regard as useless eye candy (fortunately, you don’t have to use it). The Dock has been altered as well.  The translucent background has become a plain stretching off to infinity that mirrors the icons above it.  The black triangles that indicated which apps were open have been replaced by glowing blue ovals which look like something from a movie about aliens.  Finally, there’s Stacks, which are folders placed on the Dock which spring open when you click on them, producing a curved column of files.  Most people seem to hate it, but I dunno.  It works well enough for the Downloads folder. One thing I haven’t gotten to yet is Time Machine, for backing up the hard drive.  Once I’m certain everything is good to go I’ll activate that.  Overall, Leopard is a pretty good update.

Hail Leopard!

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Apple released Mac OS X v10.5 “Leopard” this evening. I went down the Apple Store in Braintree for the event. Photos and a video are here. I pickd up a copy of Leopardfor myself, plus one of the free t-shirts they were giving away as part of the event. I’ll wait a few days before installing Leopard - I’ll let other people find out what the bugs are ;)

UPDATE: I added another image to the gallery.

Problems with the iPod touch

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

As I mentioned previously, the iPod touch currently has only 16GB of storage at most, with a price tag of $400. That’s too expensive to replace my 8GB 2G iPod nano ($250 at the time), and too small to replace my 60GB 5G iPod. If the touch became cheaper than my nano or got at least 32GB of storage (my music collection is just over 17GB now, and I can live with only a fraction of my video and photo collections) I’d be interested in buying one.

But there’s a few other problems I have with it. After hearing reports on iLounge that some Apple Stores had received shipments of the iPod touch, I went to the one in Braintree to check it out if they were one of the lucky stores. Sure enough, they had it. As I was playing around with one, it dawned on me that both it and the iPhone don’t sort videos very well. The other video iPod models have submenus for Movies, Music Videos, TV Shows, Video Podcasts, and Video Playlists. The iPhone/iPod touch just have a single Video menu which lists every single video synced to the device. While they are separated by kind, if you want to go to a video podcast, you have to scroll through every movie, music video, and tv show that’s on the device first (video playlists aren’t supported at all). On my current iPod, that would mean going through 283 videos, which starts to become a lengthy task. While the capacities of Apple’s current multi-touch devices will probably limit most users to a few dozen videos, this will start to become a problem once flash drive capacities start closing in on the current hard drive capacities.

There’s also a bunch of handy features present on the iPhone that are missing from the iPod touch. No Notes and no way of adding events to calendars, for starters. Despite the Wi-Fi capabilities, there are no widgets for Google Maps, Weather, or Stocks - but there’s a widget for YouTube, not to mention the same Safari browser the iPhone has. The Notes especially are a feature I’d like to have. Hopefully Apple will add a lot of these apps to the touch in future firmware updates.

New iPods leave much to be desired

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Yesterday Apple refreshed the entire iPod line-up. In the past, such events have been the cause of much excitement both before and after, but this time it did not live up to the pre-show anticipation. Here’s my reactions to the new iPods:

iPod shuffle: Meh. New colors, but nothing else. I’ve never cared for the shuffle (no screen and not enough capacity for my tastes).

iPod nano: “I’m a little iPod, short and stout…” The 3G nano needs to go on a diet. Seriously, that extra inch of width just doesn’t look good on it. And what was the point in adding a bigger screen and video support to it? Now it’s just a low capacity iPod with a smaller screen. They should’ve just updated the 2G version with more memory.

iPod classic (aka 6G iPod): Just plain pointless. It’s almost unchanged from the 5G iPod. Admittedly, the greater capacity, component video output, virtually unscratchable anodized aluminum front (too bad the screen is the same old scratch-prone plastic), and modestly enhanced interface will be nice for some people, I’m not going to pay $250 for a new version of what I already have.

iPod touch: “So close, and yet so far…” Pluses: multi-touch display and Wi-Fi. Minuses: maxes out at 16GB of memory (my music collection is now in excess of 17GB), and lacks a lot of the apps the iPhone has (No notepad? WTF?). If it had at least 60GB of memory (the same as my current iPod), I definitely would’ve bought one, but it looks like I’ll have to wait a year or so for the capacity and features to increase.

iPhone: Apple dropped the price to $400 for the 8GB version (this is the same price as the 16GB iPod touch, btw). If dad and I can’t straighten things out with Verizon to get new phones, I might just buy an iPhone. The charging cradle for my current phone is a POS.