July 16, 2010

Reaction to Apple’s Press Conference

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 2:42 pm

Engadget’s live blog

1. Despite Steve not-quite-answering the question about whether they would make hardware changes by sort-of-but-not-really saying “no,” I’m not convinced that if I buy an iPhone today it would be identical to the one I would buy in a month. And since they obviously won’t acknowledge a change in the hardware, I would have no recourse if I later found out the phone I bought was inferior to the later ones.

2. They seem to think they’ve fixed the problem. Giving people a free case and full satisfaction guarantee is an appropriate response to the situation, and I appreciate that. But putting a case over the phone is not the same thing as fixing the PHONE, and I find that a little unsettling that at once they say there is no problem and never was any problem, but also they have now fixed it. By giving away a $30 case, and making no change to the $700 phone itself.

3. As a prospective buyer, I like that they are giving an option of various cases. I posted somewhere on the interwebs a few days ago that if they did indeed give out free cases, I hoped it would be in a selection of colors, as being forced to use a case was bad enough, but it would be nice to at least have some basic options of personal style.

4. My desire to purchase the phone from Radio Shack to get the trade-in on the 3GS complicates the situation. The 30-day guarantee is great. They say most people don’t have a problem with the phone at all — now you can find out for yourself and be under no obligation if you are one of the minority with the problem. Great. Except if I trade in my 3GS, and my iPhone 4 doesn’t work, I don’t expect Radio Shack to give me my old phone back. If Apple was willing to replace the iPhone 4 with a 3GS instead of a refund, I would feel fine about the situation. Except that they apparently no longer sell 3GS’s with 32GB. A refurb would be fine, but I’m skeptical. And they don’t really say how the refund will work if you bought the phone from a third party store. I’m curious to hear what those kinds of policies will be, once the other retailers catch up to what Apple just announced.

5. For me personally, the 30-day return period doesn’t help me now. I’m currently in an area with pretty good AT&T coverage, and will be for about the next 35 days. I want to use it in Manhattan (and in Fargo, for that matter, although that’s more impractical) before I decide if it works or not.

I still really want the phone, but money is tight, even with a job, after just barely being able to pay off my Macbook Pro, and I’ll be unemployed for most of September. Buying it without trading the 3GS would be irresponsible. For a number of reasons, I don’t think I should make a move for at least a month — to see if a minor change is made in manufacturing, to test the phone in NYC, and so that by the time the credit card bill is due, I’ll have gotten at least one check from The Acting Company!

I am still really enjoying iOS4 on my 3GS, especially now that Google Apps has fixed a settings problem that caused all Standard users to be forced to use a 1-minute auto-lock on the phone (just delete and recreate your account on the phone if you’re experiencing it).

There are a number of purchases valued between $100-300 I’ve wanted to make in the months since I had to replace my Macbook Pro, and a few of them are actually things I would rather have sooner than a new iPhone. If I can only afford just one in the near future, the iPhone would not be my first choice.

I’m very curious to see what the reaction is to all this in the coming days and weeks, though.

June 18, 2010

My iPhone Upgrade Plan

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 5:25 pm

Since Steve Jobs’ latest keynote a few weeks back, I haven’t mentioned what my thoughts are on the iPhone 4. I did tweet a bit during the keynote. Before it began I said:

(8:57AM) Just for the record, as of right now I don’t feel the need to buy a new iPhone the day it comes out. We’ll see in a few hours.

Later during the keynote my tone changed:

(1:37PM) Sigh. Do want.

Basically what attracts me about it is the higher pixel density (“higher” is kind of an understatement for allegedly greater than the human eye can perceive), and the camera features. I use my camera constantly, mostly for blogging and Flickr, and often for work. When I’m not using my camera, it’s usually because I want to take a picture, but the subject is too dark, or will come out too blurry for my needs. Any improvement to the camera is something I will benefit from every day.

Unlike some people, I really like the new design with the square-ish edges and metal border. Especially when we found out that the border is metal because it IS the antenna. That’s pretty brilliant, and I hope it pays off in better reception. I don’t honestly think the phone gets bad reception on average. I think AT&T’s coverage spontaneously decides to suck (like this morning when I got a phone call in my apartment where I normally have full bars of 3G, but at that particular moment had 1 bar of GPRS and couldn’t hear the other party).

Anyway, I decided the phone was worth getting, and since it will be obsolete in a year, buying it on day 1 or day 20 or day 100 is going to cost the same amount of money, but will provide the earliest and longest enjoyment when purchased on Day 1.

So on pre-order day I began trying to place my order. The Apple site was crashing when it tried to access AT&T’s records, so while attempting to use it for hours, I read all the tweets complaining about it, and found one that mentioned that Radio Shack is offering a trade-in for old iPhones. Now I’m a self-respecting Mac geek and would never go anywhere to buy an iPhone other than an Apple Store at 5AM on launch day. Certainly not to a freakin’ Radio Shack! But I did some more research and found that they are offering between $200-300 for a used 3GS, depending on wear and tear. I think mine is in pretty good shape, having been in a case all its life. Still recovering from the purchase of my MacBook Pro, a discount that would simplify the process of getting rid of my 3GS, and give me back most or all of the cost of the new phone sounded too good to pass up. So I went to my local Radio Shack just before they started taking preorders.

I was #5 in line when sales started at 1PM. After a few tries, the first guy got his phone. I waited in that store for 45 minutes, with three registers attempting to reach the servers, and in that time, nobody else was able to complete a sale. Then I had to go to work. Just before I left, I also found out that Radio Shack — all of Radio Shack — had only 9,500 units available for preorder. They have 6,500 stores. Having recently read an article about Radio Shack franchises, I knew this number was somewhere around 5,000, and realized that I had been standing on line for what was probably only 1 or 2 available phones.

Now I know that Foxconn can only make so many phones before launch (especially with most of their employees jumping off the roof), and that Apple wants to make sure that their own stores have the best supply, but I was insulted at having spent an hour of my life in line for a phone that it would have been impossible to buy, even if the servers had worked. Why even bother selling something if you only have one per store? That doesn’t benefit customers at all, it only benefits the corporation to trick people into their store with an item they want, when they know damn well they don’t have any.

The local Radio Shack is taking a waiting list, but at first I was still considering making the annual pilgrimage to the Apple Store at 5AM, because it’s fun, more than anything else. But I think I need to be a responsible adult and enjoy the release of iOS4 on launch day, which will still be exciting for my 3GS, and then at some later date, when the second batch of phones hits Radio Shack, I can get mine cheap. I don’t need to have the new features next week as opposed to next month. Most of all I will really miss the excitement of an Apple Store opening on launch day. If anybody I know is getting one, I would totally get on line with them for moral support!

Unless I can think of something to buy with the Radio Shack store credit that I actually need and would have to eventually buy anyway… Windows 7 is a possibility. So in short, I still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But right now I think I might wait a while.

May 8, 2010

iPhone App Review: Pano

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 7:46 pm

I don’t usually do reviews of individual apps, but I feel like this one needs it, because it’s not just an app, but a way of taking photos that has specific applications for stage management that I find handy.

Pano ($1.99 on the App Store) is a photo-taking app that automatically stitches together multiple photos to make a panorama.

Now of course you could do this with any camera and then spend an hour painstakingly putting the photos together yourself in Photoshop, but this app will do a surprisingly good job in about a minute, all right there on your phone. The convenience of it is that even if you have the skill and software to make your own panoramas, this app allows you to do it almost as fast as taking a regular picture, which allows you to use it in situations where it otherwise wouldn’t be practical, such as when you need to take a picture and email it to someone right away. Instead of making do with one or more regular photos that don’t capture everything you’re trying to show, you can give the big picture with a panorama.

Here’s a purely work-related example:

Before beginning rehearsal on Romeo and Juliet, Nick and I flew out to Minneapolis a few days early and set up the rehearsal room. Our director would not arrive until the night before rehearsals began, so to give her an idea of what the environment would be like, and a chance to request any changes, I took this panorama and emailed it to her. I didn’t do the greatest job, as you can see the room looks a little wiggly in the middle. I have been trying to get better at positioning myself to avoid distorting the image. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of time or movement to set up the perfect shot, but in those cases Pano will still do a decent job of letting you snap off a few quick pics. It might be obvious it isn’t one photo, but it will still capture the idea of the space better than a single photo.

Here’s an example of why panoramas aren’t just for landscapes and wide open spaces: on tour this year we were big fans of playing Wii on our bus, and I wanted to take a picture of this. With the slide out, the bus is 10 feet wide, which is not usually very wide for a picture, but in the cramped conditions of a bus it’s hard to stand back far enough to get everything in the shot.

Another use I’ve found that’s kind of related to the above is that a panorama can be better at showing things the way the human eye perceives them. I had a really cool calling desk at one venue on the road, and just taking a flat picture of it wasn’t capturing all the detail. After several attempts, this is the best panorama I came up with:

If you look at the bottom edge of the Macbook you’ll see an imperfect stitch where it gets a little wavy, but for the most part it looks like a single image.

Basically what I’ve taken to using this app for is to get a better picture of something when all of it won’t fit in one frame. You can also get more detailed shots because you’re getting closeups of say, four sections of something, rather than standing back and getting a smaller-resolution photo of all of it.

So how does it work?

Now that I’ve told you all the reasons you should want this app, here’s how it actually works. As an example, I will take a picture of part of my desk.

The first shot is easy, and every shot after that will show you a transparent slice of the edge you’re trying to align the next photo with:

The hardest part is putting yourself in the perfect position to get the next shot lined up with the guide from the previous shot. You may not notice you’re moving, but every slight adjustment in all three dimensions changes your alignment, and even when you think you’ve got a couple distinctive parts of the image lined up perfectly, there may be one thing that you didn’t notice was all out of whack, especially when dealing with things that are varying distances from the camera.

Here’s an example of the final product:

The one thing I really messed up is the iPhone cable coming off the computer. The keyboard on the left has a slight waviness to it near the arrow keys as well, though that’s less noticeable. I could fix either of those things in Photoshop if I really cared about making it look perfect, but if my goal was just to show somebody what my desk looks like, it won’t hurt their understanding of the photo as a whole.

You also have the option of taking your photos in portrait or landscape. In the example above I used portrait mode, but the first photo of the rehearsal room was done in landscape. It just depends on what you’re trying to include and how many photos you want to take to cover that area. You can also use pano to include more vertical space than you could otherwise, as shown in this quick-and-dirty thing:

I have two complaints:

  • If you are interrupted while constructing your panorama, and have to leave the app, it will not save your progress, so you have to start over with the first shot.
  • The camera doesn’t support the advanced tap-to-focus features of the 3GS, which gives you less flexibility in getting a clear shot than you would get with the default camera app. Not sure if this is a limitation Apple places on third-party apps, or an oversight from the developer, but my guess is it’s the former.

What I find most useful overall is that at the most basic level, I am in the business of transmitting information. Pano allows me to convey more information in a photo than often is possible with a camera alone, which gives the recipient a greater understanding of the situation in question.

March 17, 2010

The Map

I call this: On the Road Again,phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 10:22 am

Behold, the Acting Company tour overlaid on the only map that truly matters: AT&T’s 3G coverage.

AT&T has claimed that they cover 97% of Americans. I often feel like it’s The Acting Company’s mission to bring Shakespeare to the other 3%. To be honest, we’ve only been in a handful of places where my phone didn’t work at all, and I imagine that AT&T considers all of them to be part of their coverage area because your phone might sometimes work. Of course when you’re a stage manager trying to put on a show and you can’t reliably send or receive phone calls, text messages or email at your hotel, your venue, or anywhere in between, “in an hour there are many days,” as Shakespeare says.

But actually when you look at it, we only spend maybe half the tour in places without 3G coverage. At least according to this map. What it doesn’t show is that in places like Fairfax, VA, which is very close to Washington, and within the 3G bubble thereabouts, there is no AT&T service in the dressing rooms, which are only maybe 30 feet from the loading dock. I blame that on AT&T regardless. Buildings are made of concrete. People live and work in buildings. Plan for it.

Incidentally, the reason that Verizon works better indoors is because the frequency they operate on penetrates walls and floors better, so even with equal numbers of towers, they will always have better building penetration than AT&T (at least on the current generation of frequencies). However, with good service, AT&T does have theoretically higher speeds. Actually just the other day we were in 3G coverage somewhere and I ran a speed test on my phone and was getting speeds higher than the theoretical maximum of Verizon’s EV-DO Rev A. So it does pay off in the real world occasionally, I guess.

March 12, 2010

Dear Civilization: Please Help. Crew Starving. Send Interwebs.

I call this: On the Road Again,phones,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:54 pm

Here I sit, at the Fairfield Inn in Ottumwa, IA. Clinging to a single bar of Edge on my iPhone.

I know what you’re thinking: “why are you even looking at your phone and expecting it to work? — you’re in Iowa. AT&T has made it clear they don’t care about Iowa. You should be happy you have any signal at all.”

Well, about that. The Fairfield Inn is charging us $90 a night. What in Ottumwa is worth that much for a hotel room? I have no idea. ¬†It must be something or else they’d be out of business. ¬†All I know is it’s half a mile to the closest source of food, and this afternoon we had to have our bus driver drive us to the grocery store, and tonight he’s taking us downtown for dinner. ¬†The bus driver, by the way, is not really supposed to have to do that. ¬†His job is to drive us between cities, to the hotel, and to the venue. ¬†Otherwise he should be sleeping, or picking up chicks, or whatever else bus drivers do when they’re off the clock. ¬†Any other trips beyond that are just to be nice.

The bus internet, which uses Sprint, is struggling a bit here, too, which is surprising because it always does better than AT&T in places of dubious importance to wireless carriers.

No problem though. We have two days off here. We have hotel rooms. We can just sit in the hotel and use the internet all we want. WRONG.


They don’t know when it will be fixed.

Let me recap what we’re getting for $90/night at the Fairfield Inn in Ottumwa, IA:

  • No access to food aside from the snack machine in the hall (I don’t know if it works)
  • Located in the middle of nowhere where both AT&T and Sprint don’t provide reliable service

Look at this smug little anthropomorphized ethernet jack. Lies. All lies. Now, a hotel advertising “high speed internet” almost always means that one time, about 10 years ago, their bandwidth would have been considered high speed. When I installed my first 56K modem I felt like I had put a rocketship in my computer too, so I get where they’re coming from. But seeing the little sticker on the wall when I checked in did not fill me with hope. I did kind of expect that there would be something coming out of it, though.

We’ve complained, but the manager won’t be in until tomorrow, so who knows how it will turn out. I wouldn’t mind paying half the price for a place to shower, sleep and do laundry, but we’ve stayed in nice hotels in the downtown areas of major cities for less, and they had internet, too.

If we were just passing through it would be one thing, but this is where we’re spending two days off. The cast, lucky sons-of-guns, are staying an extra day in our previous hotel, which was near a lot of stuff, including a fast food / ice cream joint called Culver’s, which I’d never heard of, but about which I will be fantasizing for months if not years.

I think I may be doing a lot of writing for these days, although usually when I write I do refer to the internet for things. I will get by with whatever I can eke out of my one bar of Edge. I can only imagine what a disaster my life would be right now if my phone wasn’t jailbroken and I couldn’t tether. You hear me, AT&T? I’m stealing the bandwidth I already paid you for — 1KB every second!


Well things worked out OK. An hour before we were supposed to check out, Bobby called to say that the hotel was going to take care of us and let us stay all night (we have a 4AM load-in, so we were going to check out at 1PM and then sit on the bus in the middle of nowhere until our 3:30AM departure). And on top of that, they just fixed the internet! So the ability to stay all day, time to grab some sleep before load-in, even shower again if we want to, and the access to internet while here, have made it worth the $90 (I consider that a day-and-a-half hotel stay, which works out to just about what the room is worth).

I had just settled in to spend my last hour in the hotel beginning to prepare graphic elements for the next version of my stage management database, which I will begin working on once the tour is over. I figured it’s the one project I can accomplish completely offline. I want it to share the look and feel of the website, so I began importing the graphics. Here’s what I came up with in the five minutes before the phone rang.

And this whole experience allowed me to return to my childhood, when you could click a web link, go take a shower, and come back to see if the page had finished loading.

In other news, their internet seemed really fast, maybe fast enough for gaming, which is what I usually hope to do when staying in a hotel for a day off, so I headed over to DSL Reports to see what the speeds were. One time it tested at about 100kpbs, and another in excess of 1MB. Anyway, I’m happy with whatever it is.

January 23, 2010

Small Wonderful iPhone Moment

I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 9:03 am

This afternoon during rehearsal I got an email from Hunter, who runs the accessibility program that provides a variety of ways for audiences with disabilities to experience Guthrie shows. He wanted to get a transcript of our preshow and intermission announcements so they could be added to the captions for our performance tomorrow night.

I had an older version of the preshow announcement, but they both had been somewhat improvised when they were recorded, so I didn’t have anything with the exact wording of the current announcement.

During the preshow sound check I asked our engineer, Jake, to play both announcements for me while I used the voice recorder on my iPhone to record it, so I could later write it out for Hunter. It so happens, as I was doing so, Hunter came into the house to prepare for the sign language interpreters we had tonight. He saw what I was doing, and said that if I just sent him the audio file he could handle it. So right there, with a couple clicks, I emailed the file to him, and was done.

It’s not the most exciting thing ever, but it was just one of those really simple cases where something can be handled so much more elegantly than ever before with modern technology.

June 19, 2009

iPhone 3GS Day

I call this: mac,phones — Posted by KP @ 5:39 am

4:32AM (Yawn) Good morning! Almost time to go! Jean-Alfred will be picking me up at 4:40. I’m not really tired, but I had no idea what my alarm was doing going off at 3:30.

4:58AM We timed it well. One guy arrived about 10 seconds ahead of us. We’re 2nd & 3rd in line.
After a couple minutes we’re up to about 6 people. The security guard is letting us wait in the vestibule cause it’s raining. The doors will open at 6:00.

5:20AM I don’t think you can tell from the picture but they’ve set up some velvet ropes outside the store.

5:40AM We are in the mall now and in front of the store. A friendly Apple employee is chatting us up. He has the new phone to do all their sales stuff. Here’s a picture of the compass. He said there’s 400-something reservations here!

The current topic of conversation is the Palm Pre. People surprised they went with a plastic screen.
The view from my spot in line:

As has been reported elsewhere, there are two lines — one for reservations and one not. I’m glad we’re at the front since we don’t have reservations and there are over 400 people who do. I heard a rumor that they will pull people from each line in turn (I believe 3 reservations to every 1 non-reserved). No idea if this is true though.

Many more employees showing up, wishing us good morning as they pass.

6:20AM Lost you there for a while. Man this WordPress client sucks. Had to delete and reinstall.

They came around serving coffee a little while ago. The line is now getting substantial. It hasn’t gone outside the ropes yet. Jean-Alfred is estimating about 40 people.

Apple employees inside look like they’re having a meeting.

The giant iPhone in the window next to us is showing demos of the software, including MMS. Ummm. Are they trying to antagonize AT&T, or too lazy to have multiple videos for different regions?

6:37AM Employees still meeting. Nothing much is new. The line has only grown a little bit.

6:50AM. Meeting over. Employees manning battle stations. We may be going soon!

Manager heard asking employees if they’re ready.

Looks like they may just be waiting on the clock.

Employees look as restless as we are!

And we’re going!!!

Because they are taking more reserved, I’m the 1st person who didn’t get immediately to a salesperson.

Being helped. The guy went to get it.

Having problems with upgrade pricing. On hold with AT&T. I think Jean-Alfred is done. Looks like he went for the white one.

No he’s done with purchase, now has to activate (he’s switching from Verizon).

Jean-Alfred is done, now waiting for me! Still on hold after at least 20 minutes.

Apple Store still unable to reach AT&T in excess of 45 minutes.

The plan now is I pay full price and can return the phone within 30 days if they establish that I paid too much. Just waiting for my original salesguy to be free. Employees here are great, keeping those of us at the problem desk in a good mood. I feel bad for them being on hold with AT&T all day.

8:55AM I’m home now with my new phone. Sorry I couldn’t update, but once my phone switched over, I didn’t have all my apps on it yet (and didn’t want to bother downloading them). Setting up the phone now.

Jean-Alfred tried to take a picture of me leaving the store with my phone, but he took a video instead. It cracks me up, so I will share that.

9:20AM Looks like the Apple servers are having some problems (maybe AT&T’s). My phone restored, but doesn’t seem able to register. iTunes is hanging at “Connecting to iTunes Store.” It restored my icon placement and bookmarks on the springboard, but hasn’t restored any of my apps or music. I hope it’s not a repeat of last year where I had to wait hours for my phone to be able to sync. I hate that they make it so that you can’t accomplish anything with the phone until it’s registered. Oh, it just gave up with an error message. Now it looks like it’s letting me sync anyway.

Oh, P.S. at the store they also were pushing a 30% discount on MobileMe when you buy the phone. Good deal. Jean-Alfred signed up for it, and I bought it as well, since I can apply that to my existing subscription, basically giving me a discount on my next year.

To elaborate on what my problem with AT&T was…
A while back I checked my eligibility for an upgrade, and the Apple and AT&T sites were showing only the option to pay $699 full price without a contract extension. I emailed AT&T customer service about this, and it was explained that if I signed a new 2-year contract I could get it for $499. Well when I went to buy the phone of course that option does not come up. As I said, the customer care guy was on hold with AT&T for an hour before I left, and none of the store employees had successfully gotten a call through to an AT&T rep since sales began. So they couldn’t straighten it out, but I bought the phone for full price, with the promise that I could return it within 30 days if I later was able to establish that I was wrongly charged, and then re-purchase it for the lower price. So I have just sent an email to my AT&T person, asking if there’s something wrong with my account file that needs to be corrected to allow the sale to go through. As I said at the Apple Store, I’m starting to believe she may have just pulled that story out of her ass, since none of the Apple Store employees knew anything about the policy either.

10:20AM Done syncing for the moment. I think maybe the speaker is just a touch louder when playing music. I’m listening to the same song on both phones side-by-side. The 3GS just sounds a little “fuller” somehow. Entirely possible it’s my imagination.

I’m still not able to access the App Store. Also my MobileMe SMTP server isn’t working. Incoming mail seems fine. Hardly surprising, I’m just really frustrated that no decent push-enabled apps have shown up in the store yet, and I want to see if more have been approved!

I may go back to bed now. I need to be still awake and calling a show in about 12 hours, and that just ain’t gonna happen! Maybe the server traffic will be better when I get up.

4:00PMI slept for a couple hours. By the time I got back up, OS 3.0 jailbreak is available for the 3G. Did that. All is well and the 3G works fine with the 3GS’s SIM card. Not sure what AT&T thinks of that. I’m sure they have some problem with me using the SIM card for the phone I paid $700 for in the phone I paid $500 for, for which service I pay $100/month. Those couple KB of data must really be causing some irreparable harm to their business because I used a different but almost-identical piece of hardware to consume it. I’ll be cautious with my data usage until some time passes and there are no horror stories from other people.

Also, I got a response to my email from a different rep at AT&T saying my problem is being forwarded to a “specialty group” and I will be contacted within one business day for more follow-up.

UPDATE: Just a couple hours later, somebody from AT&T called me, which I appreciate. Turns out I’m actually NOT eligible and the customer service lady who originally handled my inquiry, in her “extensive review” of my account seems to have neglected to check that I was eligible before telling me I was eligible. Well the good news is that it will all come out in the wash next year, as by paying $200 extra this time, I will be eligible for $400 off the next model.

I haven’t touched on this now because unless one wants to do complex testing, it’s kind of hard to objectively test speed. But lest you think the phone is not faster, let me just say it is. It’s snappy. I also noticed a speed boost with 3.0 on my 3G, but I wasn’t sure if that was simply because I was using a non-jailbroken firmware. Jailbreaking adds some background processes, so a legit firmware always runs a little faster anyway. Which is why I hope AT&T gets their tethering plan together quickly so I will never need to jailbreak again.

But with the 3GS, there is a definite speed improvement above and beyond the performance of the 3G. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to upgrade. Annoying splash screens on apps that almost made me want to delete them are now gone in just a second or two. The camera takes pictures faster, everything just kind of zips along. To me even a couple seconds’ difference is a huge advantage in usability, because I will now make decisions differently. If I only have a couple seconds to take a picture or jot a note to myself, I may now bother to do so where before I would have thought I wouldn’t have time.

I can’t wait to play with the camera more. I think this is the best thing about the phone for me. I take a lot of pictures, in situations where a phone camera is not really the best choice. Almost all the photos in this blog in the last 9 months or so were taken with my 3G iPhone, as well as my entire Flickr photostream. One of my Flickr photos of the St. Louis arch was even chosen to be published in an online travel guide. I have been very impressed with the ability of the iPhone to take decent pictures and upload them instantly and with GPS coordinates to various places on the web. I think it has changed the rules of casual photography, especially for bloggers. The 3G does pretty well for a phone camera, but I think the 3GS will close the gap between phone and real camera even more. When I’m someplace more interesting than my apartment I’ll start taking some pics for a later post.

Important Tip!
gpsI was about to write a strongly worded post about how the Maps app doesn’t show the direction you’re facing to take advantage of the new compass, but TUAW has a post explaining all. You just have to hit the location button twice to toggle it on, and then you can spin around and the map will rotate so that the direction you’re facing is always “up” on the map. As someone who is frequently away from home and in unfamiliar places, this may be the greatest feature ever. I feel like a character in a video game now.

June 18, 2009

iPhone 3GS News Coming Soon

I call this: phones — Posted by KP @ 9:19 am

picture-1Well it’s just 22 hours or so before the release of the iPhone 3GS here on the east coast. Hello, Dolly! has its first performance this afternoon, then we have a little party at our choreographer’s house (famous for her midnight volleyball games, although this time it might be “rainy, early-evening volleyball”).

Then tomorrow at the crack of dawn — literally — I will be traveling with my friend and co-worker Jean-Alfred to the Apple Store, where we will line up for the new iPhone. I did it last year, but I was by myself so it was kind of boring, and I was there for four and a half hours with only a Windows Mobile phone (yuck!) to keep me entertained and informed. I think this year will be much better, and I hope I will not be standing still in line for an hour or more while AT&T’s servers are crashed.

I plan to blog our experience in line, so check back tomorrow!

May 30, 2009

Look – It’s a Game You Can Carry in Your Pocket!

I call this: gaming,phones — Posted by KP @ 12:27 pm

While visiting my parents last week, I ran across this contraption that was rather special to me in my childhood. On one side, it has a chess board with little holes, and these two drawers slide out and there are little teeny tiny chess pieces you can stick in the holes. On the back, there is a circular maze-like game where you have three silver balls and have to tilt the board so that all three balls wind up in the center of the maze. I thought this multi-purpose portable gaming device was the coolest thing in the ’80s.

It was nice to see it again, and I had it just sitting on the table in front of me for a while, and then at some point put my phone down on the table. Eventually I went to get my phone and found these two devices sitting side-by-side. See, 20 years ago, the device on the right was sooo cool, cause it was portable (although you’d need some pretty big pockets!), and you could play two games!

April 24, 2009

My Newfound Love of OmniFocus

I call this: computers,mac,phones — Posted by KP @ 9:40 pm

Among my favorite types of computing applications has always been the organizer/checklist/outline kind of app. Back in my PDA days, the Palm apps Bonsai and ShadowPlan competed for my heart with each new update. When I got a Mac it came with a version of OmniOutliner which I loved a lot, but alas because it was one of those “came-with-the-Mac” things, as soon as I tried to install a new update it broke my fragile registered version, and I was pissed about it and refused to pay for it, so it was gone (I’m currently having that relationship with ComicLife).

The other problem I have with tasks in general is that the default Apple apps have a really stupid way of handling them, or at least stupid to me, growing up with Palm’s big four apps: Datebook, Contacts, To-Dos and Memo. Apple seems to hate to-dos and memos, so much so that after what seems like centuries in technological time, we may soon finally be seeing them sync between iCal, Mail and the iPhone. What, I ask, was the damn point of using them at all until now? First I stopped using tasks, because I could never get them to sync properly between iCal and my Treo. So I just wrote everything as a note. Now as an iPhone user my notes don’t sync with anything (???!!!!WTF??!!), and yet I still write everything as a note. Occasionally I will email that note to myself if I really need it in another format.

So of course I looked to the App Store to see what the third party developers had come up with that might serve as a basic tasks app. I honestly wanted a basic tasks app — a list and a bunch of giant checkboxes. I tried, I really did. But at the time the basic apps were either ugly, overpriced, or reported buggy and lacking basic features. Who knows, since there are no free trials. But the one that sounded the best to me was the most complicated of all — OmniFocus. At $20, it’s one of the more expensive apps in the App Store, but that was back in the day when an average game was $10, so it didn’t seem as expensive to me then as it might now when everything else is 99 cents.

Using OmniFocus brought some kind of order to my life. I use it sometimes for shopping lists, generally more of the long-term stuff, not like “what I need to get from Duane Reade in 3 hours,” which is usually a straight list. I write down things I want to work on with my computer, like reinstalling Parallels, which I forgot to do the last time I was home; and things I need to pack for the next leg of the tour, or what I hope to accomplish during my down time on the next load-in day. I also have a special project for fight call, which is really not what OmniFocus is designed to do, but I tried it anyway. With both Henry V and The Spy, we have a rather extensive fight call, running through distinct sections of fight choreography with different actors. There is a standard order which we have developed for that, and especially because we perform The Spy so infrequently, Nick and I needed a way to keep track of that order and make sure we’ve hit all the proper scenes. So I have a project for Fight Call and a sub-project for each show, and inside each are the actions representing each individual fight and the actors needed. I’m not sure exactly what app Nick uses for his list, but he has it on his Blackberry. This allows both of us to open our phones at the top of fight call and Nick runs the current fight while I can let the actors know who is up next and which scene it is, and make sure they have their weapons ready when it’s their turn. This is sort of a recurring checklist rather than a regular list of tasks, and the blending of the two types of lists is kind of weird to me, but I think OmniFocus can be made useful for things like this, or prop checklists, with a little work.

Anyway, I was very happy with my purchase. Of course it’s designed to sync with the desktop version of the app. That is, if you’re willing to pay $80(!!??!!WTF??!!) for it. It’s kind of all or nothing. There’s not a way to say “Gee I’d like to be able to see and edit my OmniFocus file on a desktop machine” without fully committing to using the software to run your life. I’m not sure exactly what happened to me, I think it was a conversation over drinks with a few of my colleagues about organization and task lists that led me to question if the fact that my technology has failed me, and is driving me closer and closer to having to etch my tasks on tablets, might someday result in me screwing something up. I’ve done OK with this seat-of-the-pants way I’ve been running my life and career with the occasional iCal appointment (with or without an alarm) to remind me to do things, or with a plain-text list in my iPhone’s notepad. But really, how far I have fallen since the days when there was a checklist for home and shopping, and work stuff was laid out in fancy outlines with multi-part projects and due dates and things!

So I decided — by way of writing an action in OmniFocus on my iPhone — that when I got a chance I would download the 14-day trial of OmniFocus desktop. I have been using it for about two days, and so far I am hooked. It’s got an even steeper learning curve than the iPhone version, but the larger screen in some ways makes the relationship between the different views and types of data clearer. I’ve also been watching some of the introductory videos on the website. After that, I discovered a great set of video podcasts called ScreenCastsOnline, which do in-depth screencasts of popular Mac apps. I’ve only watched a couple, but they have tons available that I want to see. They also offer podcast subscriptions in HD or iPhone-compatible sizes. I sense this will be a new favorite podcast of mine. You can get the links to either of these feeds on their website.

In all, I’ve been having fun trying to think of every little thing I need to accomplish and entering it into OmniFocus and categorizing it. I think I’ll be much more efficient using the desktop app since the majority of what I need to accomplish either requires me to be at my computer, or in an environment where my computer is out. This way, the iPhone app, which is a little more cumbersome to use due to the fact that it can’t run in the background, is only really needed when I’m out and about. More thoughts to come as this experiment goes on…

UPDATE: there is now an entire page of the site dedicated to OmniFocus tips!

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