Archive for the ‘iPhone’ Category

Resolution update: February report card

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Here’s my report card for February.

  1. Strive to always pay full attention to those I’m around.

    This one is still hard to assess objectively. At work, I’ve started leaving my laptop and cell phone at my desk sometimes, to make sure I’m fully engaged in whatever meeting I’m attending. I welcome feedback from my friends and co-workers, but I think I’m still improving albeit with still a long way to go. Overall, let’s say C+.

  2. Read two books a month (including the free book each month for having a Kindle and Amazon Prime).

    My Goodreads activity was a bit light in February — I diverted some reading time into watching Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Julian Fellowes’ “Downton Abbey” instead.

    I finished:

    1. Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire (second book in The Hunger Games trilogy): Three stars.
    2. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #4: A Voice in the Wilderness: Four stars.
    3. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #5: Tales From the Clarke: Three stars.
    4. John Scalzi’s The Human Division #6: The Back Channel: Four stars.

    I made it two-thirds of the way through the last Hunger Games book, but didn’t finish in time for February. (I’m not sure how I should count books that I read part in one month and part in another. Maybe I should have set the goal as a page count instead.)

    Altogether, I read just about two books’ worth of pages in February, but a bit shy of goal. Let’s say C+.

  3. Run three 5k races and one 10k race, spaced throughout the year.

    I ran The Color Run in San Francisco (Candlestick Park) on Saturday, March 2, at 10 am. (I posted about it on FriendFeed.)

    I need to decide on my next race (ideally in April, May or June). I could do the Color Run again in May (in San Jose this time), or there’s The Electric Run in April, or the very similar-seeming Neon Run in June. Both of these are evening runs, and both are held at Candlestick Park, the same location as the SF Color Run. I wouldn’t mind actually racing inside the stadium, and when they demolish it next year, I’ll miss that place.

    Overall, while I enjoyed The Color Run, it’s a bit of a strange event, and it was very different from my first 5k, the Santa Run back in December. That race was timed, and seemed to be about racing. These other runs are more like raves or festivals (Burning Man lite) with running as a side note. And they’re not really charitable events. So I’m not quite sure about what precisely the point is — I don’t need motivation to go running, and these races don’t really tax my endurance or allow me to push my pace. (The Color Run was so crowded that running was more weaving than anything.) So maybe my next run should be a bit more “serious” (whatever that means)?

    Status: One down, three to go! Incomplete, but on track (assuming I sign up soon for a race for next quarter).

  4. For the other 8 months, set and accomplish a goal each a month in Runkeeper (total distance, speed, etc.). February goal: Run 30 miles.

    While this will be officially “N/A” for March since March is a 5k month, for February I set a goal of 30 miles in total, and I was happy with my 35 miles of Runkeeper activity for February.

    (For March, my unofficial Runkeeper goal is to run another 35 miles. I’m on track for running a total of 300 miles in 2013.)

    February also helped me get a bit closer to my stretch goal of running 3 miles in 21 minutes by the end of the year — I turned in a 2.2 mile run with an average 7:11 pace on Feb 22, my fastest pace to date.

    Status: A

  5. Keep up with the Fitbit by walking at least 10k steps a day (about 5 miles) — accomplish this 28 days each month.

    [Graph of February steps]

    In February, Fitbit shows that I walked a total of 390,761 steps (down from 403,821 steps in January, but with 3 fewer days), with an average of 13,956 per day (up from 13,026), a most active day of 20,179, and a least active day of 922. I was sick that day — probably with the Norovirus that’s going around. While I only missed the 10k goal once in February, on that one day, I did not construct my goal properly: I gave myself some wiggle room for other months, but not February. So, FAIL.

    Status: F

  6. Each month, have at least 9 runs, 9 calisthenics/abs workouts, and 9 weightlifting sessions.

    I almost left this too late, but thanks to some hustle at the end of the month, I (barely) made this goal — I actually had 13 runs in February, and 9 workouts each for the other two types (although some of those at the end were a bit shorter sessions than I would like).

    Status: A-

  7. After my dental surgery in December, the surgeon commanded me to floss twice daily. So shall I do.

    [Screenshot of Flossy iPhone applicationBecause in January I had to use an estimate, for February I started using a spreadsheet to track this — but it was still difficult to remember to track diligently. Not counting the day I was sick (when I didn’t floss at all because I didn’t eat at all), my spreadsheet shows that I did floss on average twice per day.

    For March, to remind me to floss and to track it more accurately, I actually acquired an iPhone app: It’s called Flossy, it costs 99 cents, it has a big button for you to hit when you floss, it shows you your flossing history by day, and can remind you once a day to floss. There really is an app for everything. (I’d like it if you could edit your history for previous days — nice to have if you forget to record flossing on one day — and if you could set more than one reminder a day. Sometimes you have to hit the button more than once for it to register. Despite those quibbles, it’s a fine app, and a no-brainer for 99 cents.)

    Status: A

  8. Drink more water, coffee, and tea; continue with the elimination I started last year of soda/diet soda/juice. (One soda or juice drink a week is acceptable.)

    I had three diet sodas in February (worse than January but still on goal), and not much of anything else other than water/coffee/tea (and some wine and sangria with Scott and MC when I was podcasting with them), so this is met.

    Status: A

  9. By year’s end, eliminate non-dairy sweeteners (both sugar and artificial) from the coffee I drink.

    Still working on this one, but I definitely had more unsweetened lattes. The danger is in drinking too many milk calories.

    Status: Incomplete, not yet on track

  10. Start tracking my spending more closely with Mint.

    Still on track with this. Still scared at how much I spend.

  11. Start writing again: Write at least one short story this year, and post to this blog at least once a month.

    I won’t count these resolution posts, because they’re too dull. So February fails.

    Status: F

Last August I posted about my weight loss, and mentioned that I had a stretch goal of hitting 150 pounds by October. I didn’t make that — from October of last year through February of this year, I did come close a few times but my weight usually varied between slightly above 150 to a bit 155. Well, in February I fell below 150 after my stomach flu, and was quite active when I was on vacation in Tahoe with the kids the week after. I have managed to mostly stay below 150 since then. My size 32 pants are now a bit loose (even the “skinny” pair), and I bet I could fit into size 31. I wore size 30 as a high school freshman, but have been size 32 or bigger since college, so this is probably the thinnest I’ve been since 1982 or so. In total, I’ve lost 30 pounds in 20 months. My body fat percentage (although not measured that reliably since I don’t consider the Aria readings to be very accurate) has probably fallen from somewhere around 22% to somewhere around 18%. Since these resolutions are mostly about supporting and improving my physical health, it’s great to see some progress on these objective measurements.

[Weight chart]

Draw Something was fun until I mastered it

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Draw Something screenshot of Blondie's Parallel Lines album

Draw Something screenshot of Catwoman

Draw Something screenshot of YouTube

Actually, though, the truth is I’m terrible at drawing in Draw Something.

And the real reason I’m boycotting Draw Something is both because I dislike Zynga’s business practices and I found the CEO’s behavior after his company OMGPop’s acquisition by Zynga to be reprehensible.

While it was fun to play, I’m trying to eliminate some of my life’s time wasters, so I’ll use the above as my excuse for quitting Draw Something… at the top of my game.

(If you want to see some genuinely good Draw Something drawings, check out Rachel Fox’s gallery.)

‘Twas the Night Before iSlate

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

'Twas the night before iSlate, when all through the land
Every techie was jonesing a bit out of hand;
The stock market was hung on the announcement to be,
In hopes that Steve Jobs would soon let them all see.
The faithful were tapping upon their iPods
While mock-ups of AMOLEDs appeared on their blogs;
And Terry McGraw (he's the McGraw-Hill head)
Let slip a few things that he should not have said.
Then suddenly on twitter there arose such a chatter,
I pulled out my MacBook to check out the blather.
And I sifted through web sites all loaded with flash
And read many nutters using #ipad as hash.
The loons who loved gadgets were gabbing again
Giving the lustre of newness to concepts mundane,
When what to my iGoggling eyes should appear
But a plausible leak from a tunneling peer.
With its burnished titanium shiny and new
I knew in a moment this jpeg was true.
More features than Kindle or Android they came
And we googled and journaled and guessed at its name;
"It's iBook, no-- Canvas, no-- Tablet or eSlate!
Or iPad! Or iGuide! Or maybe it's iWait."
To the top of the trends! To my facebook wall!
Now post away! Post away! Post away all!
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So onto my wish-list this gadget did flew
With a cart full of accessories and free shipping too.
And then it was Wednesday morning at last
I'd canceled my meetings and closed all my tasks.
As I fired up Safari and loaded the sites,
I logged out of my IMs and ate my last bites.
And onto the stage strided Steve Jobs
He was dressed in a turtleneck like the flash mobs.
The Apple Store and iTunes were down to deliver
And Steve looked like he could use a new liver.
His iPad -- how it glistened, its curves were so sexy!
Its apps were all written in code that was hexy!
Its cute little screen was so packed up with pixels,
And its underlying OS allowed many C-shells;
The form factor was sleek and just right for reading,
And with its touch-based UI no keyboard was needing.
It used up broadband and a little more 3G,
And no buttons at all, just multi-touch easy.
It was silver and sleek, a right sexy device
And I had lust when I saw it in spite of the price;
A wink of Steve's eye and twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke a few words, then went straight to his demo,
And filled all the screens with a 3-D memo,
And showing us the features we all had expected,
Including which apps were not yet rejected,
We sprang to attention as his team came to the stages,
And an exec from B-N showed us how to turn pages.
And I heard Steve exclaim before he said one more thing,
"Many iPads on sale, for just $899."

Little kids review iPhone apps: Doodle Buddy

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Doodle Buddy screenshotWhen you’re taking two little kids on a plane for 2 hours, after you’ve read them four books, worked with the Play-Doh, let them annoy nearby passengers by standing up and playing peek-a-boo, spent a few minutes talking with the flight attendant about available drinks and the lack of lids for cups before settling on half a cup of apple juice each, watched one kid spill said half a cup of said apple juice all over themself, cleaned up said spill, read them another three books, exhausted the questions related to oxygen masks and other pictograms in the safety card, and then checked your watch to find that there’s still another hour in the flight, what do you do to pass the time and keep your kids occupied?

You pull out your iPhone and start having them play around with different apps, of course. If you’re exceptionally fortunate, you may even be prepared in advance by having an iPhone for each of them. (Both iPhones in Airplane mode, of course.)

There are a range of apps my kids like, including apps related to bubbles and apps related to noise making, but their favorites (that is, the most distracting) are the different sketch apps that let them draw.

Today, we’ll be reviewing one free sketch app, Doodle Buddy, which as far as my kids are concerned is the best thing about daddy’s phone. (That opinion will probably last another week. When it changes, I’ll post another app review.)

I could talk about Doodle Buddy’s ability to let two users collaborate on drawings (which I’ve never tried), or how it has basic sketching options (in 24 colors, with variable width, plus a smudge tool and eraser), multi-level undo, lets you take a photo or use an existing photo for a background, and has several other background choices, and — its key feature — has 24 stamps (smileys, a couple of animals, and some basic symbols) that make sounds when you put them on your drawing. I could mention it lacks basic shape drawing — no circles or lines or squares. I could talk about all that. But let’s instead let my kids review this app.

Sophie (age 2): “Doodle buddy! Doodle buddy! Doodle buddy!”

I take a photo of her as the background, have her draw over it in various colors, then have her use the eraser tool to reveal her picture.

Sophie: “There’s Sophie! There’s my NOSE!”

With the multi-level undo, you can undo the erasing, letting her play peek-a-boo with her picture again. For a two-year-old, repetition is the soul of amusement.

Sophie: “There’s Sophie!”

Me: “Sophie, do you like Doodle Buddy? Is it good?”

Sophie: “Um. Yes. Um. It’s good. Doodle Buddy. Doodle Buddy!”

Me: “What’s your favorite feature?”

Sophie: (quietly doodles)

My son Sammy, age 4, has a more sophisticated review.

Sammy: “Well, it’s a game that you play with drawing. It has yellow. And there’s blue. And more colors. So that’s pretty good. It has snow and fire. And a basketball. It does NOT have dinosaurs.”

He was reluctant to make more observations because he was busy drawing something that looked just as good to me as your average Jackson Pollack masterpiece.

Demerits that I could see: The shake-to-clear feature is sometimes a misfeature, and can’t be switched off, and you can’t undo it. As a free app it has some ads, which is fine, but if you touch them it will naturally take you out of the app. So the kids will do that from time to time, and then you’ll need to close the Safari window and go back to the app. The app should be smart enough to know if it’s in Airplane mode and that the ads won’t work.

All in all this app is worth about 20 minutes of blissful silence per child on an airplane ride, so its worth is approximately $25. At the price of free, it’s a total steal.

Doodle Buddy, by Pinger, Inc. App Store Link
Also available with a holiday theme for $0.99

Catan iPhone app review

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Screenshot of Apple iPhone app 'Catan - The First Island'I’ve expressed before that The Settlers of Catan is my favorite board game. But I don’t get to play it much lately, so I was excited by the news that there’s now a version for the iPhone and iPod Touch. “Catan – The First Island” was developed by Exozet Games and released by USM; the Catan app is $4.99 from the iPhone App Store.

Previously, Catan fans had to settle for a knock-off called Kolonists (currently not available from the iPhone App Store — pulled due to being too close to Catan without a license, perhaps?). Kolonists dressed the game in a Roman theme and did away with the random dice roll element of resource gathering, replacing the roll with a workable-but-inferior mechanic of having a single worker per settlement (and two per city) that provided guaranteed resources each turn, and a bit of jostling for position with your neighbors. It made the game faster but less interesting. So it was refreshing to go back to the original mechanic. (Other limitations of the Kolonists app are that it’s single player only, and there’s no ability to trade resources with the computer players, only the bank.)

This is a preliminary review of Catan, having just three-and-a-half games under my belt, but that’s enough experience to offer the following points. First, the good:

  • It’s Catan. The rules are implemented faithfully, the terrain and icons are familiar, and the gameplay is smooth. If you’re a Catan fan, you can stop reading here and just go get it now.
  • The music is excellent, and the sounds are good (but I could see them becoming annoying over time). There are options to switch off either or both.

And the bad:

  • This is just basic Settlers. No expansions, no 5- or 6- player options. You do have a few options when creating a game, however. These options are: fixed or variable setup, random vs. stacked dice, optional friendly robber (no attacking players who haven’t earned any points yet), changing the victory requirement from the default 10 points to either 8, 9, 11 or 12, an optional catch-up “resource bonus” to players who haven’t earned any resources in five turns, or starting with a settlement and city instead of two settlements.
  • Even switching the option for “quick animation” on is not quick enough. You get bogged down in transitions and long dice roll animations and the resource assignment animation. Kolonists had a faster pace.
  • I don’t like the UI. All the commands (building, trading, etc.) are hidden in a slide-out menu to the right, guaranteeing that even a simple “end turn” is two gestures. Building a settlement is needlessly complex: Slide out menu, tap build, slide left in the build menu to choose to build a settlement, tap a checkmark to confirm, tap on screen where you want to build the settlement, tap a second checkmark to confirm. A better option would have been to dedicate some of the screen real estate to action buttons.
  • No undo.
  • While there is a good in-game statistics section (keeping track of dice rolls and other interesting data), it doesn’t keep track of your overall win-loss record. Kolonists offered a campaign mode, awarding points for each game that earned you new (cosmetic) titles. Catan would have done well to offer something similar.
  • The AI does not seem great. I’m 3-0 so far (but might have lost another game that crashed). You can choose either random computer opponents or select different characters, which are rated by skill. I’ve seen even the best-rated AIs make some questionable moves. And they all trade too much in the end-game.
  • You can only save one game at a time. If you save a game and then start a new game, it doesn’t warn you that your previously saved game is lost.
  • It’s a bit buggy. For example, I chose to switch off the insipid comments that the AIs make when building items, but sometimes they still make comments anyway. And one game had to be abandoned when it was a computer player’s turn but it took no actions, with no options to continue or skip.
  • Multi-player is only done via pass-the-phone (hot-potato style) — no networking support.
  • Picky: The random setup of ports isn’t in accordance with the rules, randomly putting ports closer together than the official random setup rules allow. (Unless something has changed in the fourth edition that I’m unaware of.)

Despite the limitations, I recommend this anyway. I’m hopeful that all of the above problems will be fixed over time.

For players not familiar with the board game of Catan, they offer extensive tutorials and help. I didn’t go through them all but they seemed exhaustive, which should help a bit with the learning curve.

I’ll give it 3.5 stars for now.

Why isn’t my entire music library available on my iPhone?

Friday, March 27th, 2009

As I drove home from the dentist just now, a song came into my head. (I won’t say which song, it’s embarrassing.) I knew I had this song ripped from CD on my computer at home, in my iTunes library. Some days it might well have been synced to my iPhone’s music library, but not today.

I really wanted to hear the song. But instead I had to wait until I got home.

It occurred to me, though, that I should not have to wait. I should be able to access that song using my iPhone itself. Streamed. Instantly.

My computer is on 24/7 and connected to the Internet 24/7. The file size for the song is reasonable. My iPhone can handle music streams from various sources (Pandora, CBS, PBS, many others) and music downloads (from Apple via iTunes). So why isn’t my iPhone aware of my entire home music library, and able to let me browse for songs I want to remotely sync, and then download (or stream) those songs upon my whim and demand?

If you’re an iPhone app developer and want to make this reality, feel free. (Just give me credit and a free copy of your app if this post really was your inspiration.)

Or Apple (via my many Apple employee friends), you guys should run with it. Here, I’ll even name the feature for you: “iMusicLibrary.” You’re totally welcome.

WordPress 2.6 installed

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

If all went well, you won’t see any difference.

However, it seems to have blown away all of my categories. Hmm.

EDIT: Fixed my categories, what a pain. I fixed them by following steps at this article. If you happen to have this problem with your blog when updating from 2.0x to 2.6, only the last step is actually needed (you don’t need to mess around in your phpMyAdmin page) — but you do have to repeat the step for each category. I have 30 categories, so this was annoying, but it’s done now. If you see anything else about the blog acting funky, please let me know.

EDIT THE SECOND: I’ve switched on avatars and converted from the default permalink structure to a month-and-name-based structure. (Old links will still work.)

EDIT THE THIRD: I’ve installed a plugin to make it easier to read this blog on an iPhone/iPod Touch.

If none of the above makes any sense to you, ignore it. :)

Well, it doesn’t always work

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Last night someone in customer support sent an outage escalation to our on-call team. (Turned out to be a non-urgent issue with one of their tools.) I was tickled by the IT employee’s e-mail response to the escalation, which was:

“We will oil at this and get ba do to you.

Sent from my iPhone”

Texting on an iPhone is generally quite easy and the auto-correct usually does its job very well. But just like embarassing situations where a spell check does something like automatically changing your boss’s name “Semmelly” into “Smelly,” every now and then the iPhone oils up.

What’s your most embarrassing typo sent in a work e-mail?

3G iPhone — the drawbacks that haven’t changed

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I’m still very enthusiastic about my iPhone. But with today’s announcements, I definitely do plan to upgrade to a new 3G phone when they’re available next month. I’ll get double the storage space, faster download speed, faster processing, plus GPS — all that in exchange for $299, two more years of AT&T contract commitment, and an extra $10 per month for the 3G data plan.

For both new and old iPhones, the app store will be a world-changer when it launches. I know of dozens of interesting, useful and mind-bending applications just waiting to be unleashed for the masses.

However, despite all that positive news, here are the things that one might have hoped would be addressed in the iPhone 2.0 but are still going to be limitations:

  • AT&T only. Not a problem for me, but many customers say they can’t stand the company, or live in areas where AT&T’s coverage is bad.
  • Battery: It’s still internal, and not user serviceable. (Unless you’re daring enough to trust this scary battery alternative.)
  • No IM: Even with the application store forthcoming, it doesn’t seem like there will be an instant messaging solution. Never mind, looks like this one is solved.
  • Camera not so hot. It’s 2 megapixel, with really bad performance in low light situations; the iPhone 2.0 doesn’t seem to change it.

Overall, though, a lot is improved — and a price cut that significant really is incredible.

Variegated miscellany

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

Today I attended Jack and Andy’s fifth birthday party at Hoover park, and watched Bob get pelted by water balloons and shaving-cream-filled sponges by ten ecstatic kids. (How I escaped that fate, given I’m a co-godparent? Dunno! But I am oh so grateful.) Aunt Beth made two cakes, one a race car, and the other a chocolate volcano with lava made from melted orange lifesavers. Amazingly beautiful cakes.

* * *

While I was feting twins, Kimi took Sammy and Sophie to the Hiller Airplane Museum, which never gets old for Sammy.

Me: Sammy, what did you see at the airplane museum today?
Sammy: Airplanes.
Me: What kind of airplanes?
Sammy: Old airplanes. With wings!

* * *

Yesterday was Sophie’s eight month birthday. She babbles incessantly now, has the tiniest of teeth buds coming in, gives a smile to everyone, likes to wave somewhat erratically at people, and can roll over, but seems to show no interest in crawling. We’ve started the ferberizing to break her of her 3 a.m. feedings, and so far so good; she slept through the night for the last two nights.

* * *

Yesterday was also photo day at Sammy and Sophie’s school, and in addition, teachers’ lunch out for Sophie’s class. This semi-annual event asks the parents to donate their time and a little money for the teachers to get an escape, while parents come in during the lunch hour to watch the kids. There are eight kids in Sophie’s class, ranging from four months to almost a year old. For the noon to 1 shift where I helped out, we had five parents. When we first started our shift, the teachers had left us well-fed, happy, clean-diapered kids. Within about, oh, ten minutes, half of the kids were bawling, and most had dirty diapers. We parents just looked at each other and laughed. What a profoundly difficult job. The two teachers handle four infants each, with aplomb. We parents were having difficulty with less than two each. Things soon settled down though, and the hour ended up flying by.

* * *

While the photographers set up outside the school and we lined the kids up to have their individual and class photos taken, smoke and haze filled the sky from the nearby Santa Cruz mountains fire. Yesterday morning over 3,400 acres had burned, dozens of homes were destroyed, and the fire was less than 1% contained. Even though we were fifty miles away, kids rubbed their eyes and coughed; and the strange air reminded me of a smell from my childhood, in London: walking down the street in winter evenings, with seemingly every house having a fireplace with a blazing wood fire, smoke pouring out of chimneys, getting on your clothes.

Chim chimminee, chim chiminee, chim chim cheroo.

I was very glad to see the unexpected and unseasonable light rain today, giving the firefighters the break they needed to control the mountain blaze. The dull weather was not so much fun for five-year-olds attending a birthday party, but everything in life is a trade-off.

* * *

Earlier in the week, I caught Speed Racer and then snuck in to a showing of Prince Caspian. It took me about thirty minutes to catch on to Speed Racer’s vibe, but once I did, I loved it. I think this is a vastly underrated movie. The critical smackdown is somewhat intense; I guess most of the critics never watched the original cartoon, because I think the movie catches the goofy tone of the movie pretty much perfectly. And the visuals do not disappoint, exceeding even the hype.

Prince Caspian, on the other hand, is a dreadful bore, missing all spark of charm and whimsy of the first Narnia movie, laying the religious theme on over-thick, and really missing the point of the book (which I read probably twenty times before I was 12).

Speed Racer is over two hours but feels like 60 minutes. Prince Caspian is over two hours but feels like three or four.

* * *

Rob and I have been playing a new card game, Race for the Galaxy (which Steve and Larry introduced me to when they visited a couple of months ago). We play whenever we get a chance. I love this game. It’s a bit fiddly to learn, and the fact that you’re not directly interacting with your opponents takes a few plays before you understand how you can actually have a huge effect on your opponents’ play — but it’s such a short and intense game, I find myself even dreaming about it. Get this game!

* * *

Kimi gave me the new Flight of the Conchords CD for my birthday (among a lot of other CDs, thanks sweetie!). Although I loved the first season of the HBO show, I had thought some of the songs were hit or miss. But I was able to really listen to the lyrics (thanks to the iPhone making it easier for me to carry around music), and now I love all the songs. Buy this CD. Please mister, you won’t regret it.

* * *

There’s a friends-and-family deal at TiVo right now for a TiVo HD. If you’re a friend or family and want a new HD DVR, drop me an e-mail.

* * *

While I do aim to generate content, rather than pass along content from elsewhere, here’s a link. I have to say I applaud these two for their convictions and avocation.
* * *

Kimi: “Your blog is so random. No one likes all the content. No one!”

Guilty — variegated miscellany is what this is. I do tend to be all over the place. Everything’s connected, somehow. Just think though — there are half of the categories listed on the right not even touched by this post. But comments are what I like best, so let me know what you’d like to see more of, and less of.

How to enter accent characters on the iPhone keyboard

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

(Sorry, iPhone haters! Three blog posts in a row about the iPhone… Go read The Sneeze or something.)

Maybe everyone already knows this, but I just found out about it by accident: Holding down a virtual letter key can produce alternate versions of that letter for different languages.

For example, if you want to enter a character such as é (for you francophiles) or ö (for you Mötörhëäd enthusiasts), just hold down the E or O buttons on the keyboard for a second or two.

  • E offers È É Ê Ë Ę
  • Y offers Ÿ
  • U offers Ú Ù Ãœ Û
  • I offers í ì ï î
  • O offers Ø Å’ Õ Ó Ã’ Ö Ô
  • A offers À Á Â Ä Æ Ã Ã… Ä„
  • S offers ß Åš Å 
  • L offers Ł
  • Z offers Ź Ž Å»
  • C offers Ç Ć
  • N offers Ń Ñ
  • ? offers ¿
  • ! offers ¡
  • $ offers â‚© Â¥ £ €
  • ” offers » « „ ” “
  • ’ offers ‘ ’ ‘

Now I’ve got a question for the world. When entering a URL, how can you enter in a # character? It’s used for web page anchors within a page. There doesn’t seem to be a way to enter that character at all (other than bookmarking on your computer and syncing that bookmark over).

Update: Kevin Fox answered this in the comments. Use the shift button after hitting @123.

iPhone development

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Web development for Safari on the iPhone is a pain in the button.

  • No label support, requiring a stupid JavaScript workaround? Check.
  • Inconsistent and kinda messed up DOM? Check.
  • Required use of bizarre meta tags for appearance? Check.
  • Limited troubleshooting methods? Check.
  • Bugs when you change orientation? Check.
  • Some really bizarre and buggy behavior with the built-in Go button upon form submission? Check.

Speed dial buttons on your iPhone’s home screen

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

(If you don’t have an iPhone, move along… Nothing to see here.)

The newest version of software on the iPhone, 1.1.3, lets you save buttons on your home screen that point to web pages.

I ran across an article with a method to let you make a button that automatically dials a number you choose. But that hack was a bit too cumbersome for me to use, plus it requires you entering in your phone numbers in a URL that could be logged on someone else’s server.

So, I wrote a front-end to make it a little easier to create speed dial buttons. Full credit to Nate True for his discovery and method; I just put a nice form in front of it and made it so no logging is possible.

This doesn’t interact with your contacts at all — it’s just a virtual web page. Once you’ve created it, you just touch your home screen button, tap Call, then — voila — you’re dialing.

To create your own buttons, just go to zeigen.com/dial using Safari on your iPhone, and follow the instructions. (Requires javascript on, and 1.1.3 or later.)

Nothing you submit is stored on my server, and once you create the Home button, it dials automatically without Safari needing to be connected to Edge or wireless.

You can view-source on that page to see how it works. It’s basically a data URI built with JavaScript that uses meta refresh and the tel URI to make your phone dial.

I’m working with a friend to provide some sample icons to select from. I also hope to add more error checking of entries and a preview of the icon you’ve selected.

Let me know how you like it!

Update: Version 4 released around 9pm 1/26 — implements version checking and a message if JavaScript is off, and lets you switch off the instructions, plus a little cleanup of language.

New Update: Version 0.5 (with retroactive re-versioning!) released around 1:30am on 1/28 — adds a selection of spiffy icons you can choose, thanks to Kevin Fox.

Busy? I know just how you feel

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

[iTunes dialog box: 'The iTunes update server could not be contacted. Please check your Internet connection, or try again later. OK']

iPhone dialog box: 'The iPhone software update server could not be contacted. Make sure your network settings are correct and your network connection is active, or try again later. OK']

Update: Back online after about 1pm. Glad to see 1.1.3 supports map auto-locate, multiple SMS delivery, customized home screen layout, web shortcut buttons, chapters in video playback, video rental, IMAP for GMail, and probably more.

What a time for technology to fail

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

I’m so upset right now. I just found out that an e-mail I sent using my iPhone on Sunday night in our hospital room to my closest friends and family was never delivered.

I used the “Email Photo” feature to send a photo (the first one I included in the blog entry below, the one with Kimi and Sophie taken minutes after Sophie was born). I heard the “whoosh” sound to say the e-mail was sent. But it didn’t get delivered, didn’t get put into my Yahoo mail Sent folder, no error messages no nothing. I don’t even have a record of who I need to apologize to.

I don’t know if it’s the iPhone’s fault or AT&T’s fault or Yahoo’s fault, but in testing right now it’s totally random whether the photos I mail get delivered or not.

I at least called my immediate relatives to tell them the news, but some of my cousins — Mark, Tracy — and closest friends — Howard, Ken, Bob, John and many others — never got the news or photo.

In testing earlier, only 2 of my 10 test picture mails arrived (all going to the same address). But just now 2 out of 2 were delivered fine. In perhaps related news, different apps (photo, iPod) seem to be crashing a lot. My iPhone is unmodified if that makes a difference.
There’s a lesson about reliance on new technology in there somewhere. But I’m too furious to see it right now.

Preliminary grades: What my iPhone replaces

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

This is day four of using my new iPhone. I’m still getting used to it (and my typing on it is slow as of yet), but I think of it in terms of what other devices it replaces for me. The iPhone is a hybrid — and normally hybrid devices are inferior to the dedicated devices that they try to replace, so that you end up with a compromise.

With a combination fax/printer, for example, you have to ask yourself if the combo does a good enough job at both printing and faxing, or if in the process of making it a single device has introduced so many shortcomings that it’s worse than just buying a separate printer and a separate fax machine that can actually handle what you need.

But in the iPhone’s case, it’s not a compromise. I can legitimately head to a meeting or go on a trip with fewer devices and gadgets than I previously would have taken along.

  • Phone: A-. Very capable cell phone. More thoughts (and quirks) below. Overall I’m happy to replace my previous phone and use the iPhone instead.
  • Pager: B+. I used to carry a separate pager (remember those?). If I hadn’t dumped it previously, I could dump it now. Some issues though: When I get new page that’s long, I always have to scroll up to the top — for some reason it always shows me just the bottom by default. Also, a long page becomes even longer because the right fifth of the screen is taken up with a GUI widget that’s only shown haflway down the page. Most annoying of all (and probably not Apple’s fault), AT&T is assigning random numbers that the page is “from,” which seem to totally confuse the iPhone’s chat model. Deleting pages is one tap too many — tap Edit, tap the minus, tap Delete.
  • Laptop: B+. Web browsing and e-mail are both very effective. You can’t edit spreadsheets or project PowerPoint presentations, so for some jobs I still need my laptop. But the web browsing is wonderful and intuitive. On the e-mail side, the default gmail settings totally blow (although I know a solution is coming soon, and you can always just browse to gmail.com), but the Yahoo mail settings work very well — the only things I’ve wanted to do that I couldn’t were to create a new folder, and to make some mail as spam. I can’t yet access my corporate e-mail, but that’s not the iPhone’s fault (although I suppose the native VPN support could be better).
  • iPod: A-. Eight gigs isn’t close to enough to hold my music collection, so I’d need to bring my 80gig video iPod if I want access to all my songs (and Apple’d need to create a 300 gig classic model for all my videos). On the iPhone’s iPod player, I find it weird that I can’t see full info on a track (like its year, composer, or any notes I’ve added). But there’s enough space that right now I have loaded 1,161 of my favorite songs, and the interface is smooth enough that I have to agree that this is the best iPod I’ve ever owned.
  • Boom box: C-. The speakers are not terrible, but also not loud enough to replace a boom box. I do think it takes too many clicks to pause a song (assuming you don’t have headphones on).
  • Calculator: D. Only the basics (addition, multiplication, subtraction, division). Even my old cell phone’s lame calculator handled more than that. C’mon, Apple, couldn’t you have fit in a few more operations?
  • Stock ticker: B. Some people carry a dedicated stock ticker device. The iPhone’s quotes are 15 minutes delayed, but you could always use the web browser and log into whatever service you use to get real-time quotes. And most day traders switched to laptops or pagers with custom alerts anyway.
  • Flashlight: C. In a pinch, any cell phone can double as a flashlight (and sometimes the results are life-saving). The iPhone offers decent illumination; obviously not what it was designed for, but it can help you find your dropped keys on a dark night.
  • Watch / Alarm clock / Stop watch: A. The time of day is shown on every screen. I don’t wear a watch anyway, but on a business trip I wouldn’t need a watch, or an alarm clock, or a stop watch — just the iPhone. I love the timer UI with its weird circular tumblers and an iPod sleep option. The alarm clock should let you wake to a favorite track, but I can deal.
  • Camera: D+. It’s a 2 megapixel camera, but without a flash, pretty bad low-light performance, a pokey shutter speed, and no options for controlling camera settings whatsoever. You can take pictures, delete ’em, set them as wallpaper, associate them with a contact, or mail them off — and that’s literally it. For loading pictures taken on a real camera and showing those snaps to friends, the resolution is great and the slideshow transitions are beautiful — however, all the photo management (selection, orientation, cropping, etc.) has to be done on your PC ahead of time. On the iPhone itself you can’t even delete a photo that you sync’d onto it.
  • GPS / map case: B+. Does this replace my TomTom or Dash GPS navigator? Not quite. There’s no GPS in the iPhone, so it can’t tell you when to turn, nor automatically show you on a map where you are, nor does it read out the directions. But you can type in a simple reference to a location (“Mountain View sushi”) and get a list — and show overhead satellite or street views with pins, plus get directions to or from. The map is a delight to browse; a slick implementation of Google maps at the palm of your hand. For a long road trip I’d want my on-dash navigator. For short trips, the iPhone is good enough to get you there and prevent you from getting lost. I love how it walks you through each step of the trip with an animation on the map.
  • Datebook: C. Syncing with Outlook is giving me a few fits, and it takes way too long. Any updates throughout the day are not reflected unless I sync again. You can’t sync wirelessly, only via the supplied USB cable and dock. The meeting attendees aren’t included, just the meeting title, time, location, and notes.
  • Address book: A. No need to carry your little black book. Once you get your contacts imported, the address function is quite handy and capable. Some of the fields I’d like to use (like a category filter) aren’t really exposed, but the address book is really quite good.
  • PDA: B-. When I first starting using a Palm Pilot in 1997, the main functions I used were calendar reminders, address book, notes, the “to do” list, and games. Later came mail and expenses. I stopped using my Palm once wireless became common, and started carrying my laptop everywhere instead. But there are times I miss carrying a Palm. I’ve already covered how the iPhone can handle my calendar and contacts. The notepad on the iPhone is nothing special; you can’t import notes, and the only way to get your typed notes off the iPhone is via mail. I’d also like the notepad better if I could password-protect individual notes. There’s no “to do” list function on the iPhone at all. And there are no built-in games, although more and more web sites with free games are popping up. (Plus you could hack your iPhone and load on the various custom apps and games that are starting to spring up, but I’m not going to do that just yet.)
  • Blender: F. There are a lot of references to the iPhone blending, but I don’t see anywhere I can put in the fruit and juice. I still need to carry my dedicated blender if I want a smoothie.

Extra thoughts on iPhone as a cell phone: As a cell phone, the iPhone is very good. The UI is clear and functional, much better than the UI of my Motorola SLVR L7 that it replaces. I can hear people clearly and I’m told they can hear me clearly, and the dialing performance is quick (almost too quick).

Holding a flat soap bar to my head is a little weird (and the screen gets dirty quickly), but it works much better than I expected. However, there are a few quirks and areas for improvement:

  1. Importing contacts needs to be more flexible. You can’t take them off the SIM of your old cell phone; iPhone doesn’t seem to use the SIM for saving or retrieving contacts at all. You can’t beam them over from your old cell phone via SMS or MMS or bluetooth or IR. For a Windows user like me, your only options are to enter them manually on the iPhone, get them from Yahoo (if you happen to put your contacts there), or sync them with Outlook Express or Outlook 2003/2007. I can’t stand Outlook and don’t use it beyond what I’m required to at work (where we use it for our calendaring). It took me two days to format my Palm Desktop contact list properly, export it as a CVS file, manually add headers, manually map the fields for importing into Outlook, and then sync with the iPhone. (Wonderful now that it’s done, but it was a lot of tedious work.)
  2. The recent call list doesn’t support separation by outgoing and incoming calls — it only shows all calls or missed calls. The iPhone’s a little too smart for its own good about collapsing calls into a single entry. If I call my brother Rob’s cell, then he calls me from his home number, then I call his work, then he calls me from his cell, that all becomes “Robert (4)” and then if I tap for the details, it only shows the times and that the most recent call was from his cell, not a list of who called whom and the duration.

There’s some more I have to say, including the need for a separate RSS reader, some concerns about battery life and recharge time, and some weird UI design inconsistencies (sometimes you confirm in the keyboard widget, sometimes in the upper right, sometimes the upper left). But this is already long enough for now.

Let me sum it up: The sum is greater than the parts. Overall, I love my iPhone.

I hate you, AT&T

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Busy morning — Kimi’s exhausted and in pain (honestly, I think the baby’s going to arrive any day now), so I took Sammy out with me. Dry cleaning, bagel shop, Costco, Children’s Museum & Zoo, Stanford shopping center for lunch, and then the UMF bit. Shiny new 8g iPhone, at $200 less than what I’d thought about paying for it.

Only now to activate it:

Message from AT&T on iTunes -- Market down -- iPhone activations in your area are temporarily unavailable due to routine AT&T maintenance. Please disconnet your iPhone and reconnect it in 38 hours to begin again; you will be required to re-enter your activation information. We apologize for this inconvenience.

38 hours? 38 HOURS OF MAINTENANCE? Nothing going until Monday at 5:30am? I first called the Apple Store at the Stanford mall to see if this was accurate, and someone named Joe there said this was news to him but activation was an AT&T issue. He could give me the AT&T phone number. Sure, I said. The number he gave me was for DIRECTV. Joe, Joe, Joe. Sorry Joe. You’re fired. In a few seconds online I found the AT&T phone number from their iPhone FAQs page — it’s 1-800-331-0500. I called and eventually the woman admitted that yeah it’s probably down until Monday morning. 38 hours? 38 HOURS? AT&T, you’re fired. This is gross incompetence of the most preposterous proportions. 38 hours?

The main reason I needed a phone is because my old one, a SLVR L7, has started to have a bad speaker — I can hardly hear. So don’t call me until Monday, because I can’t hear you.

I hate you, AT&T. So much hate. You’re fired.

iPhone UMF

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

“UMF” stands for the “unseen mystical force” which urges you to buy things. After yesterday’s $200 price reduction in the iPhone, I am suffering from some serious UMF.

iPhone holdout

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

At work today, many are sporting their shiny new iPhones.

For now, I’ve held off. A good friend of mine works at Apple and I was able to see it in action last week. I want one really badly, but I don’t NEED one. And $600 for a phone isn’t really smart for me to spend right now, what with… oh wait, I haven’t announced that yet. Stand by for that.

Anyway, it’s beautiful and elegant and I don’t mind any of the shortcomings people have written about (with the possible exception of the battery being built-in, that does irk me). I want want want. But for now I shall not indulge the Unseen Mystical Force floating all around me.

Under wraps

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Every other Tuesday we have a poker night; mostly it’s folks from TiVo, but we also have folks from Apple, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and eBay show up. (We used to play at TiVo HQ, but HR put a stop to it for insurance reasons. If you play poker and want to join in, drop me a line.)

Happened to be that one of our poker nights was on the Tuesday of MacWorld and the iPhone announcement. One of the guys from Apple was at Macworld and couldn’t play. Turns out he’s on the iPhone team; he told us about it at last week’s game.

So, for months, he had been working on the iPhone. He couldn’t tell us about it, though, because the project was a secret. He couldn’t tell his friends about it. He couldn’t tell his family about it. The other poker player from Apple is one of his best friends, who he’s known for years, who works at Apple, but still he couldn’t tell him about it.

We tried getting all kinds of questions answered on Tuesday, but he really couldn’t say anything. We wanted to see an iPhone, but he’s not allowed to take any of ’em outside the building where he works.

That’s secrecy.

Some people wondered why Apple revealed the iPhone now when it won’t be available until June. Jobs said (during Macworld) it was because they had to make semi-public filings about it, and he wanted to tell the world about it himself rather than let the FCC leak it.

I believe that. Sure looks to me that Apple takes secrecy a whole lot more seriously than our government does.