Thoughts on Apple’s iPad

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.

SITE UPDATE: Transit Day 2009

October 12th, 2009

I just uploaded photos from my last two trips to Seashore on September 27 and October 10.  They start with number 211 on this page (in the 5th row).  The latter date, btw, was Transit Day, so there was quite a lot happening.  In between regular trips to Talbott Park with 1267 and 434D were two photo runbys at Messerve’s Crossing, featuring 01000/0210 and the train of R9s (the “A train”).  As with last year, I was in charge of the photo line at Messerve’s.  Special rides were done on 01000/0210; the A train; Chicago, North Shore & Milwaulkee interurban car 755; #4 Cambridge-Dorchester car 0719 (making its first trip up the main line in over 25 years); and Wheeling Traction Co. car 639, the latter being for members only, as the shop is still doing finishing touches to it.  There was also some stuff involving the buses and trackless trolleys, but I paid little attention to that.  Although the day started off rainy when I left Boston, the rain had stopped by the time I reached Portsmouth, NH and the clouds gradually cleared away during the day.  The only downside was that my camera’s battery died around 3:30PM, so I missed a few opportunities for shots.

The photos in this update are also the first ones from my new Panasonic ZS3 that I’ve uploaded. The ZS3 replaces my old Canon SD400, with which I’ve become dissatisfied over the years. The new camera takes better photos, with noticeably less noise at higher ISO speeds. It also has a bunch of features which outclass all comparable cameras from Canon, particularly the ability to set a minimum shutter speed to use and to optically zoom while shooting video. It can shoot video at 720P, although the quality is relatively poor.

Time to list all the recent photo updates

October 2nd, 2009

This is a little late, but I’ve finished posting all the new photos I took whilst doing the station map photo survey.

Red Line - the first few photos on this page are from an earlier railfanning expedition, but the rest were taken during the survey.

Blue Line - new photos start on the third row with number 60.

Science Park - most of the last two rows starting with number 14. My first photos there since the elevated was torn down.

Lechmere - the last three photos are new.

D-Riverside Line - new photos start with the last one on this page, although the first six are from a decade ago and were scanned in over the summer.

Commuter Rail - I’ve scrapped the original page and created separate pages for each line. New photos can be found in the pages for North Station, South Station, and Boston to Braintree. The latter is the only one with photos taken from the survey; the other two have photos that I’ve taken over the past several years.

Mattapan-Ashmont High Speed Line - the last four photos are new.


At last, I finally have time to work on my own photos

September 7th, 2009

I finished up the last processing work for the photos I took for the station map photo survey over the past week, so I finally have time to work on the photos I took for myself during that time. Up first is the Blue Line. On September 2nd I was out covering Wood Island to Wonderland, getting photos at most of the stations on that half of the line. The exception was Wood Island, where a work crew was removing the top layer of the platform with some jackhammers. I was not inclined to stay around any longer than I had to to get the map photos I was officially there for. I’ll have to go back another time. The photos I did get, though, start here with the last one on the third row.

Coming soon will be photos of the Red Line, Green Line, and Commuter Rail. The latter will take the longest to do because I think the best way to do it is scrap my existing gallery and create new ones for each line. Otherwise it’s a real pain in the ass to update the existing gallery.

I have no life for the next 2 weeks

September 5th, 2009

And I haven’t had one for the past week either. One of the current projects at CTPS is a photo survey of all the maps at the T’s stations, and guess who one of the main contributors to that project is? Yep, yours truly. I’ve been spending several hours a day out taking photos, and several more hours at home editing them. On top of that, school starts on Tuesday, so I’ll have that to deal with as well. The flip side of having all this work to do is that I’m also photographing the trains while I’m out there, so once I have time to work on those photos I’ll have a bunch of updates to my MBTA pages. In the meantime, though, it’s gonna be a busy couple of weeks.

Wow, I am way behind on updates

July 10th, 2009

Well, a lot has happened on the site since I last updated the blog. My photo scanning project is mostly complete now, with only my slides from Railcamps 2000 and 2001 left to do. All my shots from Europe (those worth scanning, that is) have been scanned. I have posted selections of photos from the first five trips I took to Europe, which can be found here. I’ll post photos from my trip to England in a few days.

Last weekend I was up at Seashore for the 4th of July trolley parade. A couple of cars that rarely see the light of day go pulled out and shown to people. Photos of that are here.

Yesterday, since I had to go into Boston anyway to pick up work at CTPS, I brought my camera with me and spent a few hours photographing the Tall Ships that are in Boston this week. It was quite an interesting collection of vessels.

I’ll be heading up to Seashore again tomorrow. Boeing 3424 finally got trucked up there yesterday, so I’ll be getting photos of that. Hopefully it’ll be ready to run soon. That will be cool.

Scanning the past

June 8th, 2009

First thing’s first: I have new photos up of Seashore (starting with the last 3 images on that page) and the Mattapan Line (summer photos on that page and the next). I also have a new photo at the bottom of my Funny Photos page. Enjoy!

Classes are out for the summer, which means I still have plenty of work to do. Besides data entry for CTPS and railfanning, I have two major projects I’m working on. First is an iPhone app I’ve been thinking of for a while. I finally got a book on iPhone development, so I’ll be starting that project once I get the other project out of the way.

The other project, which is currently being worked on, is scanning in my photos from my trips to Europe. I recently upgraded to iLife ‘09, and the new version of iPhoto includes this neat feature called Places which lets you geotag your photos. It then produces a map with pins wherever you took photos. So now I’m busy scanning photos so I can populate the map. I am uncertain if I will post those photos online. If I do, it will be a limited subset due to space limitations on my server. Regardless, it’s fun going through those photos again and remembering all the places I’ve been.

Idea for a tablet Mac

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.

SITE UPDATE: Photos from around the BU Bridge

April 19th, 2009

Last Friday I went over to Cambridge to have the hard drive in my MacBook Pro replaced with a larger one. Since I had a few hours to spare while that was being done, I went and took some shots from the nearby BU Bridge and the Boston College branch of the Green Line. My shots of the B line are here, while those of other subjects are here.

On Legos past and present

April 4th, 2009

Yesterday I got a Lego set for the first time in about 7 years. The Off-Roader looked to be the most interesting and challenging of the current Technic sets, so that’s what I got. Building it was no harder or easier than any other set I’ve built in the past, so this post will be mainly on how things have changed since I last built a Lego set.

First, the box. Everyone’s probably experienced a time when they saw something and thought “That seems a lot smaller than it was when I was a kid.” In this case, the reverse happened: the box seemed larger than it needed to be. Being scientifically inclined, I decided to see if my initial impression was correct and located in my attic the box for the Super Car (yes, I still have a lot of Lego boxes from years ago. Don’t ask.), a set from 1994 that is of comparable size to the Off-Roader.

Off-Roader and Super Car boxes side by side

Yep, I was right. Despite having about 18% fewer pieces than the Super Car, the box for the Off-Roader was over 23% bigger. What could possibly require that much additional space? Were there a bunch of pieces that were particularly big?


inside the Off-Roader's box

Air. The extra space was filled with air. Lego might have been able to justify that extra space if the bags of pieces were in the bins of a plastic tray, which they often used in the past and takes up more space than the bags by themselves, but as you can see the bags are just loose in there. Nice job helping the environment, Lego.

On to the pieces. When I last built a Technic set, the main structural pieces were mostly studded beams (essentially regular Lego beams with holes in the side) that could be freely used with any regular Lego pieces, and usually were. While a few smooth beams existed at the time, they were only being used in a limited fashion as a complement to the older-style beams. The photo of the Super Car below shows off the studded beams, and how many “normal” Lego pieces were used in Technic sets.

Super Car

Now, the studded beams have been replaced entirely with various shapes and sizes of smooth beams.


The immediate consequence of this change is that there are very few normal Lego pieces in this set, most of which were used for the lights. This seems like a mistake to me. While there are certainly things the smooth beams are better for, there are other things the studded beams are better for. For example, this detail on the roof of the car:

close-up detail of the roof

As you can see, the smooth beams require a completely new piece to join them together at that right-angle joint. With studded beams, all you would need to do is butt the ends together and attach some ordinary right angle plates on the top and bottom - no special pieces required. There were a lot of other connections in this set where, although they didn’t require such specialized pieces, were still more complicated than would be needed if studded beams were being used. It seems to me it would be better to mix the two types of beams together.

The assortment of basic connectors used to hold everything together has changed as well. Some have changed color, while others now come in several varieties (to allow whatever’s connected to them to swing freely - or not - for example); two of the pieces that were common in the past weren’t present at all in this set. I hope that’s simply because they weren’t needed; it’s hard to imagine that they’d no longer be in use period.

Anyway, that’s all I had to say. Here’s one last photo to end this post:

Off-Roader and Super Car side by side