Macbooks Are Sexy

The longer I write about technology, the more I realize I sound like an Apple fanboy. I’m sure some of you already feel that way about me. You’re wrong, but nothing in the Windows PC market has really come out to grab my attention. Let’s be honest, they’re just as much “clone” computers today as they were when the term meant a non-IBM PC. They just don’t invigorate the imaginations of people the way new Apple tech and designs do. (Except for maybe the early Alienware systems.)

Getting back to the point, Apple announced new Macbook and Macbook Pro laptops. The local Apple Store got them in last night and they were on display starting today for everyone to play with. I won’t bother going over the specs in detail. You can read about all of that elsewhere. Every blogger and news site out there has that covered. As for getting up close and personal with the new Macbook and Macbook Pro systems…they are every bit as awesome as the pictures lead you to hope they are. While they aren’t anywhere as light as the Air, they feel very solid without coming off as cumbersome or overweight. The magnetic closure works really really well, clasping tightly enough to hold the lid closed but without being so strong that it snaps closed that last little bit before the lid makes contact with the base. They found a perfect balance between holding the lid secure and allowing it to release easily.

The trackpad, which is what I’m sure you’re really interested in hearing about, is a joy to use. It truly takes very little time to get into the feel of using the three and four finger gestures for different functions. I did find that I clicked the trackpad a couple of times when I didn’t intend to which was slightly frustrating. Overall, though, the new trackpad is a winner in my book. The multitouch convenience is very likely to spread to the other OSes before much longer and soon we’ll all be using it without thinking.

Many people are griping about the 13″ Macbook losing the Firewire port. Get over it. There’s only so much room for device connectors and I’d much rather have two USB ports than one USB and one Firewire. I don’t own a single Firewire cable or device. I do, however, have enough USB devices to require multiple hubs. If you really need the speed of that port, get the Macbook Pro. Oh, and as for the price drop on the base model Macbook…it’s a half-step in the right direction but only half. It really should have been a $200 drop.

Conclusion? I love the new design. I love the feel and function of the glass multitouch trackpad. I want a Macbook by Christmas. Is that endorsement enough?

Apps Examined – iPhone Owns Us (Yay?)

Or my Vowel post…whichever way you want to look at it. C’mon…it’s so simple. The first letter in each word of the title…AEIOU (and sometimes Y). Sheesh. So I promised a quick list of apps that are just absolute must haves for me. Some of these are useful, most are geeky to some degree and a couple are just plain pretty. Let’s start with function. And by the way, unless noted these apps are all free because I’m cheap. Free is good, right?

I use a lot of online services. I need a mobile way to keep up with these things. So if you use Evernote, go get their free app. Not only does it allow you to see your notes, but you can add text, snapshot, saved photo and voice notes. It’s the all inclusive way to keep up with all the incidentals. Twitter users can look forward to a host of apps and probably the most popular is Twitterrific since it’s the most popular Mac client for Twitter. I say big whoop-de-doo. Twinkle has been a far more enjoyable app for me. It does the standard reading and posting that you’d expect, but the developers of Twinkle also decided to tap the GPS to show you what people near you are posting. I keep mine set for a 25 mile radius to keep down on what I read through but it’s been a wonderful experience digitally meeting people near me. This gives Twinkle the edge in the Twitter clients in my opinion. Oh, and they’ll be adding a block function for that radius section in the next release. The news just gets better and better. Moving on to IM, well I haven’t found one that I really like but Palringo’s free app seems to be more or less functional. This isn’t so much a knock against their app as it’s a knock against trying to use the iPhone for IM purposes. It’s really frustrating to try and hold an IM conversation on the device.

Fortunately I have the Last.fm app to stream some radio through my phone to calm me down a bit. It works rather nicely as long as you have a good signal and if you can hook the phone to your radio…then you don’t really need XM. For those times that you are actually listening to the radio but can’t place that song, get Shazam. Just hold it up to a speaker for a few seconds and it’ll come back with the song, artist, album, and a series of links to purchase the song and possibly even see the music video on Youtube. Neat, huh? Something funny happen while you were finding that song? Want to blog it and use WordPress? Just hop into the WordPress app and type away.

Just for fun, I say Sol Free or the inexpensive Solebon are great little card game apps. Just want to show off the accelerometer? Grab Labyrinth LE and let the amazement begin. Perhaps you prefer word games? Just go spend the $1.99 and get Wurdle…it’s very much like the old game called Boggle if you are old enough to remember it. It’s also the game I play the most on my phone. I actually don’t have any other games on my iPhone. I do have a couple of “just for fun” apps. I spent the money for Koi Pond. It’s fun and relaxing at the same time. I also picked up the free Lightsaber app. Don’t worry, this one is official (and more limited) so it shouldn’t be pulled.

In my area of random apps I have CheckPlease to help me figure up tips. I also have Dice Bag and D20 Dice which both are pretty neat for those of us that still enjoy pen and paper RPGs. eReader is a way to pass the time when there’s nothing else to do but honestly, I just don’t like reading long text on a backlit screen. Don’t get me wrong, it works really nicely…but I want e-ink. Let’s see…I left out Earthscape. It’s sort of a GoogleEarth for the iPhone. The app is really ambitious but I find that even the iPhone 3G hardware makes it really sluggish and the phone heats up awfully fast. But the app does do amazing things, albeit at a geriatric pace. There’s also WhatTasks as an interesting task list but I really don’t use task lists often so it’s been relegated to the back page where I don’t see it.

Now, someone tell me why there are no decent Magic 8-Ball apps out there? Huh? I’ve tried every free one and they all suck.

iPhone or WinMo?

I have now been with an iPhone for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to toy around with the interface and let the new wear off of the novelty. It has also given me time to delve into a few of the productivity apps that one can get for free from the App Store. Why the free apps and not pay apps? Simple. Many of the pay apps are mobile versions of commercial software. Quality for those is expected to be fairly high. I wanted to see what the really thrifty could use.

First off, I really like my iPhone. If you frequent my site, then you know that I have used the AT&T Tilt since its release last year and I have had almost nothing but praise for it. I still do. It is a wonderful device for those who want to use a Windows Mobile phone. I still suggest changing the ROM on the Tilt to make it truly speedy and functional. What does this have to do with the iPhone? Well I decided to try out the Apple offering to see how it fared against my beloved Tilt. iPhone wins hands down. First off the device isn’t nearly as clunky as the Tilt. This is a big deal to me. I’m not a style hound, but I don’t enjoy walking around holding a small car up to my head to talk to someone.

As of the 2.0.2 Firmware update the battery life and signal reliability have been improved. I would say that it now rivals the stock Tilt for battery life. While it may be playing catch-up with the Tilt in the areas of signal and battery, it far outstrips the device when it comes to the screen. The iPhone display is absolutely beautiful. The touch screen accuracy and sensitivity are generations beyond the Tilt. The system works far more fluidly than I thought it would.

What about the lack of a physical keyboard? As many have said before me, after a little time with the touch screen, I don’t miss the tactile board and actually find I am faster on the iPhone. I used to struggle with the Tilt’s keyboard. It took both hands to use at all. The iPhone screen keyboard can be used one handed once you learn the distance to move your finger to hit the different “keys”. The autocorrect feature rarely makes mistakes unless you happen to be typing in slang. That does confuse it sometimes. Overall, however, autocorrect keeps you from having to backspace because you missed a key by a nanometer.

The GPS on the 2.0.1 firmware was terrible. I won’t even try to make an excuse for it. It downright sucked. Even the Tilt on a radio firmware version that took nearly 3 minutes to boot the GPS chipset beat the iPhone on 2.0.1 firmware. That’s is completely different on 2.0.2. The GPS literally finds you in a matter of seconds. At least that has been my experience. And let me tell you, my GPS completely stopped working the second day I had my iPhone. Firmware FTW!

I suggest buying a case for your iPhone if you want to keep it safe. I rather think the Speck ArmorSkin is great. It’s easy to deal with, gives you simple access to every button and port you need and is thick enough to help protect your expensive device from a small drop. A word of warning on the belt clip: Don’t use it. The plastic is flimsy and it doesn’t hold the phone securely at all. Just put it in a pocket and be happy.

What about the software? This post got long. I’ll write up the review on my software choices next week.

Mississippi Apple Store Opens

Apple’s first store in Mississippi opens today at 10:00am Central time. I’m going to be there updating this post from my iPhone as I can as things progress.

Edit: I moved the images to the bottom of the post and created thumbnails to speed load times.

Update 9:02 – I just arrived and there’s already a crowd.

Update 9:17 – Only one person in this crowd is here for an iPhone. Apparently Apple has a large userbase in Jackson, MS.

Update 9:28 – The line has stretched around the corner farther than I can see through the store windows. Also, we have two of Ridgeland’s finest supporting mall security at the entrance.

Update 9:39 – We’ve got a group in line singing “My Girl”.

Update 9:43 – The staff just came running up and cheering. They’re really getting the crowd energized.

Update 9:47 – The staff is now in the store and chanting. I can’t make out what they are saying so I’ll ask when I get in the store.

Update 9:58 – They just had the countdown and we’re headed in. And I’m the first one stopped…

Update 10:28 – They let me in with only a minor wait and I’ve been busy shopping. The service is great, which is what you expect from Apple stores. Photos will be added to this post when I get home.

Update 10:41 – The line still stretches out of sight from in the store. Apple, you have a winner.

Update 11:13 – Looks like the line finally went away and you can just stroll inside.

And there you have it. The first Apple Store in Mississippi is now officially open for business. I want to personally thank Jessica and Sara for all of the wonderful help they gave me while I was busily trying to spend my entire paycheck. Oh, WLBT, you so lose. Why on earth would you even bother showing up at all if you weren’t going to get there until an hour after the doors opened? You missed the best part of the opening.

Geek Plague – Fanboyism

In the world of geeks we have a problem. A serious epidemic that threatens our peaceful natures. This plague must be stopped before needless violence rips from us the very thing that binds us together: our overwhelming passion for tech/sci-fi/fantasy stuffs. This plague is the mutation of a mild mannered geek into a frothing-at-the-mouth fanboy. Fanboyism really isn’t a new phenomenon. As long as there have been geeks, there have been the radical right-wing zealots that evolved into full blown fanboys. It isn’t restricted to a specific genre of geekdom either. For today’s purposes, though, we will look at the OS Fanboys.

Probably the most famous group of fanboys in current times is the Apple Fanboy. Oh sure, there have been Apple Fanboys since the birth of the computer company in an unsuspecting garage. Since the advent of the iPod, however, the Apple Fanboy has been propelled into the Spotlight (see what I did there?). These are the guys that swear by everything Apple and condemn everything Microsoft. They are touted to have an unwavering belief in Jobs, their “messiah”. But they are not alone.

Microsoft Fanboys are always ready to return a volley of scathing remarks about Apple’s “toy” computers. They all but worship the corporate empire that Gates built and believe that the only reason people resent the object of their near-worship is its unparalleled business success. They resent the idea that any software or hardware offering could dare to think it can compete with their Titan Champion. They stand resolute and declare that all other systems are either just as vulnerable or more vulnerable than theirs. They proudly preach that the only reason their beloved OS is unfairly targeted more than any other is because it is so awesome. It doesn’t stop here, however.

The third leg of this unholy trinity is the Linux Fanboy. He lives by the mantra that all software should be free and open to everyone. He denounces Microsoft and Apple for their evil and secretive ways and blames any faults discovered in their systems on this closed environment. In the eyes of the Linux Fanboy, only the almighty Linus understands the truth in how to get the most out of a computer. Only open-source can save the geek world according to this steaming waste of carbon-based life form. Okay, that was unfair…all fanboys are steaming wastes of carbon-based lifeforms.

I’ve been accused of being each of these over the years. I find that funny. While it’s true that I do not like them all equally, the levels at which I do like them changes with time. I have a tendency to ramble on about one more than the others at any given moment. It has to do with which one I’m learning new things about or spending the most time on. See, I keep saying this in many different places: Each systems has its strengths and weaknesses. Each OS has tasks it performs a bit better than the others. The best thing to do is know them all and use the right system for the job. I really don’t see what is so hard about that idea.

Do I agree with Microsoft’s marketing practices? Not really. Do I believe that open-source is the silver bullet (ugh, I just used a buzzword) for cracking the computer world into an ecosystem that dwarfs what we have now? Not a bit. Do I think that Apple’s idea of totally locking down everything is the solution to the world’s computer problems? Not even close. But each of these groups does have important things to offer. The hard part is navigating the Fanboy Minefield to find real information. I think Dwight Silverman found this out with his article on Mac pricing. I’m guessing he wasn’t expecting a three way war to break out in the comments like it did. Unfortunately, that’s life on the intarwebs.

So to all Fanboys: Until you can stop frothing at the mouth and open your minds a little…shut up. Learn to recognize that other systems…other opinions…can have merit. I’ll be glad to calmly debate the merits of any system over any other. Is that too hard for you?

Mac Media Center – Quick Note

I was at Best Buy today and noticed that SimpleTech has apparently reworked their external drive offerings. As a result, the old model of the 1TB external USB drive that was $259.99 is now on clearance for…get this…$92.99! The online store still lists the full price so I suggest that if you are in the market for a huge external drive for pocket change, stop into the store and see if they’ve got it marked down. It’ll be the silver drive with the sloped front (the enclosure, not the box it’s in).

Also remember that if you use a Mac then you will have to format it because it comes as NTFS which will only give you read access. If you aren’t sure how that works, just fire up Disk Utility (in the Utilities folder) and select the drive. From there select the Partition tab and click on Options. You have to make it a GUID partition table or else the format will fail. After doing that you can format the drive using Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Give it whatever name you want and click Apply. In moments you will have a fresh drive ready for mass quantities of digital goodness. (Important note: There is a backup utility on the drive that you will need to copy off first if you plan on using it. I prefer to just use Time Machine so I didn’t bother.)

Personally I made two partitions so I can have one for Time Machine (200GB) and one for my movies (731GB, you lose some in formatting). I’m still waiting on Time Machine to finish the initial backup and then I’m going to copy the movies I’ve already ripped via Handbrake over and see how it works with the Xbox. When I get it all up and going I will update the Mac Media Center page with the details. Oh, and if you are worried that USB 2.0 won’t be fast enough, let’s just say I’m getting better than 1GB/min transfer and since the movies are about 1GB per hour…there should be nothing to worry about.

Edit: I fixed the reduced price. I incorrectly reported it as $96.99.

Whoop De Doo, A New iPhone

Media is all atwitter (yep…a pun in the first sentence) about the launch of the 3G iPhone. Well I say whoop-de-doo. Apple finally released the device they should have unleashed upon the masses when it first hit the market a year ago. Seriously, why wouldn’t you make your ground-breaking new piece of hardware take advantage of the latest and greatest technology like 3G?

Think about it. One of the major selling points was online media a-la Youtube. What possessed the creators to settle for EDGE? We all know EDGE sucks. We all know 3G is much faster and makes the entire mobile online experience tolerable. We all accept 3G as the best thing to use next to WiFi and real broadband. But you settled for EDGE. 3G always wins because EDGE is dumb.

You touted how great it was to have online map lookups for places you might be interested in and yet you didn’t include GPS. So I can know where I’m going but not where I’m at? Who comes up with this stuff? If I’m using the map to find a place to eat, I am probably in a place unfamiliar to me so it would help to know where I’m sitting in relation to my destination. It makes it easier to determine my travel route. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just full of crazy talk.

You finally decided to let AT&T subsidize the price so more people can buy it. Why didn’t you do that before? Sure the whole profit sharing thing may have sounded interesting but did you not learn a lesson from Wal-Mart? It’s far better to get a dollar from thousands than ten dollars from hundreds. You make more in the long run that way. If you don’t believe that then you haven’t been to ebay lately.

You say it has wonderful Exchange integration. Like it or not they own the market. Why wouldn’t you support that right out of the gate? There are several clients that can talk to Exchange so it shouldn’t have been a huge deal to get working. Did you have some delusion that by offering this “must-have” device to the masses that corporate attitudes would change overnight? I certainly hope not. I really don’t understand what you were thinking there, Steve.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not an Apple hater. I adore my iMac and I use it far more than my Windows laptop. I really like the iPhone and I want to get one. But I think you goofed. You brought out a device that, while revolutionary, lacked in many key areas. You also flubbed the pricing and had to offer some compensation to stifle the ire of the masses. The intial offer seems more and more like a beta and popular opinion would say that doing such a thing is a Microsoft thing, not an Apple thing.

Then to top it all off you earn the Fail Whale trophy for activation. You had the stock out there. You really should have known what kind of bombardment you were going to have as AT&T doors opened. But it’s okay. You aren’t the only one that loused it up today. AT&T is right there with you. They had the gall to allocate every last store rep to iPhone sales. Every last one. I needed to get a phone for an employee today…a Nokia…before he left for a job out of town. I was told point blank that I couldn’t and I would have to wait until this afternoon or tomorrow. You know, AT&T, you aren’t the only game in town that offers standard ho-hum phones. I can get one somewhere else if my business isn’t worth 10 minutes of one rep’s time.

All in all I say that the Fail Whale award for today goes to Apple with support from AT&T.

Organization Will Set You Free

I don’t know about the rest of you but I have friends that like to borrow things. These things are usually in the form of DVDs or books. With my memory not exactly being what it used to be, I really have a hard time remembering who has what. Heck, I’ve loaned stuff out that stayed gone so long that I forgot I even owned it. This is where Delicious Library 2 comes in if you have a Mac.

Delicious Library 2 is a program that will catalog pretty much anything and everything you own. Yes, I am aware there are lots of programs that will do this. Let me tell you the joys of why DL2 is superior. Probably the best feature in my opinion is the barcode scan ability. All you do is hold the book or DVD or whatever’s barcode up to your iSight camera and it will read it, look the item up on Amazon, and download all information about that item into your database (including current sale value!).

DL2 also integrates into your Mac’s address book which will let you drag an item you loaned to that person’s entry so you can keep up with who has what. It’ll even put an iCal reminder for the due date you set. See? Bad memory is no longer a problem. And speaking of friends, DL2 will use Bonjour to show you the library of other Macs on your network. It’ll even let you find libraries of your friends that are published to the web. Did I mention you can publish it to the web (using either .Mac or iWeb or even FTP)?

There’s a whole host of other things you can do including a simple three click process to sell an item on Amazon but for a full list of everything it can do I would suggest just going to the website. You can download the program and put up to 25 items in it before you need to purchase it. The cost is a very reasonable $40. Actually, next to the $20 I spent on Connect360, I think this is the best investment I’ve made in my iMac.

iPhone Pricing – Some Restrictions Apply

Well the net is all afire with the just released pricing plans from AT&T for the iPhone 3G. Jobs announced that the phones would be retailing for $199 for the 8GB model and $299 for the 16GB model. What he failed to mention was the specific circumstances at which these prices are valid. Yes, I know it is shocking to think that AT&T might make things complicated and that they might have their own pocketbooks in mind rather than the customer…but it’s true.

See, the prices are for a specific group. To get these prices you must have purchased an iPhone before July 11, be activating a new line of service with AT&T, or be eligible for an upgrade. If you don’t fall into these categories, then be prepared to pay the same old $399 and $499 prices for these phones…with a two-year contract. Isn’t it great to be the customer? They will also be offering the phones without a contract but that’ll run you $599 or $699 depending on storage size. Now, I like Apple. I also happen to like my AT&T service. I want to like the iPhone. But man are they making it hard for me to consider giving up my Tilt.

Jobs failed to put the tell-tale * in the slides with the pricing during his keynote. I can understand how this information could dampen the response to his company’s new toy. But I can’t stomach the special “customer service” that’s going on with this pricing. Well, it really isn’t the pricing itself that I find annoying. Most AT&T phones have two prices, the upgrade and the non-upgrade price. It’s the deceitful way that Jobs presented it to the world. I think my Tilt has plenty of use left in it even though it is a much bulkier device.

Thanks so much for saving me a few hundred dollars AT&T. I couldn’t have done it without your special touch to what was a wonderful offer from Apple. Oh, and don’t forget kiddies, AT&T data plans no longer include an SMS package. You’ll have to add that piece of overpriced fluff separately.

Home Media Makeover Part One: DVD Library

Technology abounds in every aspect of our lives. Computers are usually the center of a great many media types that we experience throughout the day. You can buy a computer pretty much anywhere these days for really reasonable prices. So the question on my mind has been, why are most people still using the old components of yore for their home theaters? Why not leverage some of this wonderful computer technology and versatility for the home theater experience?

Yes, I know there are HTPC options out there. Most of them run well over $1500 for the base model. I also know you can roll your own HTPC/DVR for about the same price. What I’m talking about is using a more distributed model, preferably leveraging systems you already have in place…just extending them to the HDTV in the living room. For my personal project, I have a 20″ iMac on my desk and a Vista laptop that usually sits on the coffee table. There’s a 50″ Samsung plasma TV in the living room that I really want to use to watch my media such as streaming video from the web with an XBox360 under it.

Ideally, I want to get rid of the DVD player and replace the set-top box from Comcast with my media system so I can drop the cable television service and thus save myself over $1000 a year. Now I realize that for my particular desires, I will not need a PVR/DVR setup and can thus skimp on some hardware. Actually, for step one of my media center makeover, I just want to stream ripped copies of my DVD library so my 360 will play the part of extender. For this setup, storage will be the biggest concern with network bandwidth running a close second. With today’s prices for hardware, neither of those should be a challenge to satisfy on a budget.

Continue reading “Home Media Makeover Part One: DVD Library”