Thursday, December 27, 2007

iPod Touch Review

So, I got an iPod Touch (is it officially an iTouch?) for Christmas.  8Gig.  Given that in my history of listening to podcasts on my 60gig video I never went above 10gig, I think I can safely live with 8.  I have to admit that while I am highly impressed with the technology and the innovative interface, I continue to be disappointed with the lipservice that Apple pays to podcasting.  This is still very much an MP3 music player that can do other things, instead of a true personal media device.

First, some positives:

* The WiFi works great.  I was able to connect both at home (WEP) and at work (WPA) without problem.  I am happy to discover that sites like GMail work just fine, so I can check mail from the thing.  The browser (Safari) is very good, even handling multiple tabs/pages.

* The touchscreen is amazingly intuitive in ways you can't even imagine.  My particular favorite is the "two finger spread", where you literally just stretch the screen out and watch it zoom under your fingers.  Very nice.

* You can delete videos.  I've always wanted a delete button.  After all, with podcasts you typically listen once and you're done, so why go through the hassle of continually syncing it? 

...and that's about it for the positives.  I mean, everything else is fine.  The widescreen form is nice, but I was living without it.  And it plays music the same way it always has.


And now, the negatives.

* No offline storage.  With iPods as far back as I can remember there was a Notes feature which you could hack into storing text files.  With the Touch having Safari and a PDF reader, I was really hoping to store some PDFs and have a nice little ebook reader.  No such luck.  If you're not connected, you're not reading.  No idea why they took this out, I want it back.  True, with only 8gig you don't have as much storage to work with, but I can live with that.  I hear rumors that they're putting it back in.  (There is a hack floating around that allows you to do offline reading, but it only works for HTML files less than 100k.  Many ebooks out of Project Gutenberg are bigger than that.)

* Treatment of video is surprisingly secondary to the music player.  For instance, no video playlists.  You can watch movies and tv shows that you bought from itunes, or you can go through your video podcasts one episode at a time, but you cannot create a video playlist. 

* Then, it will always switch the widescreen, regardless of how you are holding the device (something that it can detect).  Which would be fine, except that the menu stays in regular mode.  So if you watch many video podcasts of short length you are constantly turning the device back and forth for no real reason. 

* You can delete videos, yes, but you can't delete anything else.  What's the logic there, exactly - that videos are bigger?  Because I'd bet that a 10second YouTube video of some fratboy getting punched in the crotch takes up less space than an hour long IT Conversations lecture.

* What's the story with a big honkin YouTube button on my main screen?  Don't care don't care don't care.  There's a dozen different video sites I'd rather go to.  Having something like that hardwired so blatantly in this day and age is like buying a highdef television with a big button on the top that says "DEMO".  It's fine when you're trying to make the sale, but the second you get it home it's useless and taking up space.

* Podcasts continue to be secondary, regardless of what Apple says.  Where are they?  Under the "Music" button.  It even says so in the manual - "Press the Music button to hear Music, Podcasts and Audiobooks."  Does that sound stupid to anybody else?  Reminds me of how Microsoft put the Shutdown button underneath Start.

* You can go to iTunes directly from the device, but hey look, no podcasts.  Just stuff to buy.  That should be pretty telling, there.  That's not a convenience for you, it's a portable cash register for Apple.

* Unless I'm doing it wrong, the iTunes button actually only lets you get music, not TV or Movies.  That rules it right out for me, I was actually willing to pull down some movies or something to try it out.  Oh, well.

* Once again, smart playlists don't work.  I have a playlist for strictly new podcasts using the "playcount=0" rule.  But as I listen to those podcasts, do they go away?  Nope, they stay in the way until I delete them.  This was broken once in an earlier version of the traditional ipods, too, so maybe that's an easy fix.


Overall I like it as a piece of technology, but if it wasn't given to me as a gift I think I'd still be fine with my old one.  If they give me video playlists so I can at least get back to watching how I used to watch, and then add offline storage so I can read PDFs at will, I'll change my tune completely and recommend it strongly.  But without those things, for me, it's really little more than the same old video ipod with a new screen.  I don't care about cover flow.  I don't care about YouTube, or about whether I can go directly to iTunes if I can't get podcasts and video. 


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

iPod Touch : Magnify PDF on Safari

Just got an iPod touch for Christmas, and since I'm a fan of e-books I went right to the PDF reader, which basically means "Hit it with Safari."  The first thing I discovered was that the PDF will in all likelihood enlarge itself to display in the window, whether you are holding the device normally or rotated 90 degrees.  But what if the font is still not legible?  The double tap to magnify trick does not work - it just wiggles a little and stays where it is.

But you know what works?  The "two finger spread".  Put two fingers on the screen, and pull them apart.  The PDF will expand and zoom.  Up to you to figure out the best size for reading.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Joy That Is Bubble Wrap

So I walk into the office yesterday, and over by the copy room is a roll of bubble wrap.  The kind with the big bubbles.  The roll is maybe 2ft in diameter.  I reverently pick it up, walk over to the office admin and say, "If you don't use all of this, the development team would like to play with it."

"Sorry, but I think I'm going to need it all," she tells me.

The CFO hears this and says, "If that will make them happy, we'll buy more."

The HR lady hears this and says, "You know what we could do?  We could mummify one of you in it, and then roll you up and down the halls and listen to the poppy noises!"

I volunteer the guy in the cube next to me.

"I'm in," he says, "As long as you don't kill me."

I assure him that, should this game come to pass, that we will leave airholes.

Later that afternoon there is a meeting in the room near the bubble wrap.  The CTO just goes ahead and rips a piece right off the roll and brings it into the meeting with him.  He keeps popping it while others are talking, until one of his underlings says, "Are you gonna share that?"  He apologizes for bogarting the bubble wrap and it is passed to the next guy. 

At one point I notice it lying unclaimed in the center of the table, so being in mid sentence, I slide it in front of my space so I can pop some when I'm done speaking.  As I'm talking the operations guy reaches over and steals the bubble wrap from me.

Later that day I'm speaking with the CTO about something in the hall, and the HR lady walks by. She is waving a strip of bubble wrap in the air over her head.  Apparently this has caught on, and people are just tearing personal sized pieces from the roll whenever they walk by. 

The admin is gonna be pissed :)!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Stupid Ruby Mistake

And by that I mean stupid thing I did.  The << notation is a great way to chain things together.  It's a little like +=, but it's flexible enough to work with strings or arrays and do the right thing.  When I need to build up an array or something I'll almost always do it like this:


Object.find(:all).each { |o|

 ret << o.value


and presto, I have my array.  Or when building strings:

url = config[:webserviceurl]<<"/controller/action?"<<params.join("&")


Oops.  <<, if you didn't know it, is destructive in the case of strings and arrays(*).  b = a << ", world"

Then not only does b equal "hello, world" but I just changed the value of a as well! 


That took me a little while to find.  Even worse, it was working fine for me in development mode for my Rails app.  It was only when I switched to production that it showed up.  Must have something to do with the string storage?

Anyway, just thought I'd blog it and save somebody else the stupid mistake.


(*) In the case of numerics, << means a completely different thing.  It's a bitshift.  So if a=1 then a<<2 is 4.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why you don't go shopping with your technewbie father in law

Speaking of HD televisions, I was out this weekend with my father in law doing some errands when we decided to go pick up the TV (at Walmart).  He asks me out of the clear blue, "What's the name of that toy Kerry told me to look for?"

I have no idea what he's talking about.  We have three small kids so it could be a toy for them, or it could also be an electronic toy for Daddy.

"It's supposed to be the big thing, nobody can find it anywhere."

I am deliberately playing dumb because if the wife is getting me something as a surprise I'd rather not know what it is.

He ends up asking the TV guy.  "Nintendo Wii?" the salesman asks.

"Yeah, that's it!" says my father in law.  "Got any?"

The salesman laughs.


So apparently, if my wife and her spies can find it, I'm getting a Wii for Christmas.  Thanks sweetie!

She is unhappy that her father gave away the surprise.  But I tried to explain as nicely as I could that there's no way she's going to find one, so please don't be disappointed if you're relying on that for the big surprise.  "Then why did Karen [the neighbor] find one?" she said.  <shrug>  I guess it's possible?

Of all the variables to forget to track....

So I'm finally getting a HD tv.  I'm late to the game, but I always found something else to spend the money on.  My TV requirements are not large, I just want to upgrade the quality of the picture, not my entire lifestyle.  In particular I don't want to rearrange my living room.  That means fitting a television into the cabinet where we already have the rest of our stack.  Turns out I only have about 36" clearance in that cabinet, which means a 32" television.

Fair enough.  I go hunting.  720p, 2HDMI ports, 5000:1 contrast ratio whatever that means.  I was looking at the Sony Bravia, but when it came time to get one I saw a Samsung for the same price and better stats, so I got that one.  Just got it hooked up.

And then I realized the variable I hadn't considered.

The television just fits into my cabinet, leaving maybe a half inch or a little more clearance on each side.

The A/V port #2 is on the *side* of the television.

I have no way to plug in a second device.  It just plain physically won't fit.

That's a pain.

Well, when the new cable box shows up and switches to HDMI that'll free up the A/V port in the back for something.  But, still, annoying.