Software

PowerTunes: a Flexible Time Saver

If you are anything like me, you will love PowerTunes. The reason for this is that I have an iTunes library with tens of thousands of songs that started about a decade ago from ripped CDs. This library has been moved from computer to computer. As a result of this it has built up a lot of crud: orphan files that were removed from the library but never removed, duplicate files thanks to compilations or CDDB errors upon re-rip. Or maybe you have multiple libraries with overlapping content for when you tried to manage everything manually and keep the mp3s separate from the higher quality music as I did? After years of neglect, trying to fix these problems is one of those, “I’ll do it before I backup, or when I am procrastinating from real work” situations. You might get through a few hundred tracks, but never really finish. If this sounds familiar, then read on, for the answer to your mess…

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App.net might look like just another social service to some. And, in fact, it currently looks very much like Twitter was when it started: It is just a lot of tech-savvy people talking freely and enthusiastically about app.net and whatever strikes their fancy: No celebrities promoting themselves, no ad-spam, no fake users, no incredibly stupid posts—although there are some stupid posts, there’s no one stupid enough to post public calls to kill government officials as one woman who has disappeared did. App.net is just a lot of signal with very low noise.

I get at least a few invites each month to join a new SoNet. The invites usually get a tossed into the trash almost immediately. Few get me to look at the site. But that’s usually it. Even if I do sign up the to site, I often let it languish and simply forget about it until they start spamming me to use their site, “log in with…” or want me to link my other SoNets to it.

Paying not to Share but Selectively Share

App.net is 180° away from ll of these sites though, because their interests align with my interests:

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Yet another major version release of OS X is out, and I have talked to a few people about it. For the most part, aside from a few “.0” bugs, the response has been pretty positive. I decided to upgrade after I noticed a vast majority of the apps I use regularly released updated Mountain Lion compatible versions within days of its release. Also, there were no reports of data loss (not that I have to worry about that because of the religious fanatic level of backups I have) or any major problems from people that upgraded right away.

My Advice for Upgrading to Mountain Lion: 10.8

So, I followed my own advice previously posted about upgrading. I’ll recap it here. In short:

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A few days ago I was in a Costco and I came across a display of solar portable panels with a company representative giving demonstrations to whomever would stop long enough to speak to him. Me, being always curious about the current state of various technologies, stopped to speak with him. After discussing the power output per panel, how many it would take to power my laptop (4) and how the system worked, he asked what sort of engineer I am. I admitted to him I wasn’t an engineer (at least in the sense that he was thinking), but I knew a bit about pretty much anything with electrons running through it.

Last week, Dice’s Mark Feffer sent an email to me asking what my specialty is. Meanwhile, I have met at least 3 other people in the IT field this past week and a half. All of them eventually asked what my specialty is. The thing is, my specialty is actually the opposite of a specialist: I know most if not all of technology available, what is coming and what is possible now to integrate them. This allows me to do my job of recommending electronics and computer technology pretty well.

How do I do it? Read on to learn what resources I tap every time it is time to buy any electronics…

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Part 1 of my 2 part article on TouchUI is now up on DiceNews. In it I talk about the current state of TouchUI in the setting of responding to Josh Clark’s views on it. I want to make it perfectly clear, I think he is on the right track. However, he seems to miss some of what we have learned about user interfaces the past 25+ years.

In order to fit in the format, I pulled a section of the article where I brainstormed about how I believe a TouchUI should work as a foundation for adding custom gestures and interfaces. There are probably problems with some of these ideas, but it is just a cursory glance at what a baseline UI should have. I am throwing it in here for your consideration. As always: intelligent feedback is welcome.

Some are obviously inspired (“ripped off”) from WebOS, and some are from Android and iOS. However, for the most part a cohesive convention of how things should be done that is translatable to all manner of touch screens has not emerged. This is my “first” public swing, but I think about this stuff all the time, especially whenever I am using a frustrating interface. Continue Reading

I just looked at my almost 1800 word opinion piece I submitted to draft status on Dice this morning, and I feel guilty that my editor will have to read it all and whittle it down to a more usable format. I am pretty sure my wanton dreaming of a new set of UI conventions: “STIG” will hit the cutting room floor. If that happens, look for it here next week.

Stay “tuned” for my thoughts on Touch User Interfaces. (link forthcoming…) My tentative title for it is “TouchUI & The Misunderstood Paradigm.” I think it’s catchy, but SEO might not. :) If you read my blog posts you already know where I stand, this is just more elaboration on how I would make a Touch User Interface, the “SOOMY Tao” Rule and how far we still have to go. In my humble opinion user interfaces have barely scratched the surface of what they could be.

Speaking on Phase 2.5: At some point I will probably write about a new yet old interface that recalls a toy of decades past, that just needs a bit of an update: some styling love and sophisticated circuitry running XLP hardware. It could probably by developed and sold for less than $100. It could also be discreetly embedded in discrete common products to whittle manufacturing costs down to just the chips, circuitry and sensors needed. If you actually included kinetic energy generation you could conceivably power the device primarily through movement. Yup more wanton dreaming… Inspired by SciFi Books and Childhood dreams of Asimov’s “Significantly Advanced Technology.”

UPDATE20120507: The Article has been split in two, and will be run soon.

free space after cleaning today

As threatened, I wrote my picks for the most useful iOS apps. This time I focus on the two biggies: time and money.

Sadly, my It’s-It reference about saving enough gas money to buy a few of these chocolate coated goodness and my aside about trying to fool my nephew using my Jedi powers {or is it Sith powers?}  to enter text with a wave of my hand using PasteBot fell by the wayside. However, sneaking in links to my “he has no idea that he is my virtual”-pal Conan’s archaic word campaign succeeded! I feel like Zim!

Okay, enough teasing, on with the DiceNews Article: The Best iOS Apps for Deals, Integration, Security, Productivity

Apple has really turned the corner in the last 6 months. They finally settled a court case to replace the defective design of the first generation mag-safe adapters.
When one I had was intermittently failing, I took it in (after being forced to make an appointment and wait a week) and was told that because it was currently working, I could not get it replaced, despite the fact that the court case settlement was to do just that.
Next, I tried to find information in their online pages, including their knowledge base and about a particular issue. When all documents lead to a less than helpful landing page, I was seriously discouraged.
Then, my 2 year old MacBook Pro lost a little plastic foot, and I can see the hard drive beneath it. I called Apple requesting a replacement be sent. Even though I have AppleCare the help desk person on the other side didn’t care about the problem and refused to send me a foot. I told him I could install it myself, and it was a 50 cent part at most and to send the laptop in for service was a huge waste of time and money. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, he refused to patch me through. The call ended with him hanging up on me. I haven’t called back, and oddly the usual email that Apple sends out asking how my support experience was, never came.
Now, I found a glitch in iOS that caches passwords even after a person logs out of the iTMS apps section on an iOS device. I tried to report it, and I didn’t hear back for a few days. My only recourse was to pull all my account info. I do not think I will be reentering it. When support finally did get back to me I took the time to explain what happened. The response I got was something other computer companies are infamous for doing: it was a cut and paste set of links to very basic knowledge base articles that did not address my problem. I wrote back and the support rep then copy and pasted the exact same basic “newbie” article into the email. When I wrote back and told “Trina” (no last name to protect horrid service) that none of this addressed the problem, I got another canned response. I didn’t realize Apple was hiring illiterate email support people. Either that or Siri is now handling email parsing: this would explain the lack of human responses and concern.
I have been an Apple Customer for about 25 years, and this is worse than when I had to strong-arm Apple into replacing my friend’s faulty 7200 logic board, that was among a series of defective boards.
Sadly their software is probably the most efficient for getting things done in a GUI environment, and the integration of things like Tapbot’s Pastebot, their own Airplay, and tons of donation-ware—including set and forget backup apps that are better than commercial Windows small network backup apps. Let’s not even mention the apps in my recommended list. I depend on these apps many times a day.
I am not tied into he ecosystem because I ripped virtually all my own media from hard copies. Also, after working with Windows, Linux and Macs for years at various companies, I have no doubt I could fix any problems. But the thing is, I know the added hassle that come with the other 2 platforms. So, I could leave, but where would I go?
If HP hadn’t completely bungled WebOS it might be a potential replacement. Linux is too much of a patchwork OS as is its mobile equivalent: Android. Every year the companies that make Android phones promise to update current models to the new OS when they are released, and many times the companies retract that after the models are discontinued. So, that is out as well, considering timely updates are a crapshoot. I feel I would have better odds breaking even in Vegas.
Windows 8? Not a chance. I know how horrid the underpinnings of the OS are. The second to have to do anything a tech would do the settings to do it are still buried, and some only easily accessible via a command prompt. Also, despite what novices and the unexperienced think, without purchasing subscription software to manage and protect he machine, it would be only a matter of time before I either lost or had data stolen.
Also, the interface to Windows 8 is a joke. Really? Tiles with seemingly arbitrary colors with small thin text in them that updates. I can do the same thing by tiling 8 console windows, changing the background color and tailing the logs of 8 programs. But to make is as unreadable as Windows 8’s tiles, I would have to chose the lightest version of a font with an awkward x-height.
I would probably also have to do what my old roommate did: wipe the HD every 6 months to keep the Windows stable and speedy with the number of programs that I have to test. Unless I missed the memo, Microsoft still relies on a monolithic single point of failure file that is written to all the time and is in control of the entire system.
About testing: I can test Mac, Linux and Windows apps on one machine. This is not the case for either Linux nor Windows boxes (which are identical).
So, I’ll have to wait until a better OS comes out (doubtful, considering all the OSes are getting facelifts to look thrice as stupid as their predecessors, and 9 times less efficient.) It is no wonder browser based OSes are gaining mindshare: all the big OS’s UIs are being driven by Toonces and browsers are great for inefficient local computing paradigms.

UPDATE: Looks like others are cluing in on this as well: Bad Apple
Also, on the 19th, I spoke to a DSL field technician that makes anywhere from 5-10 house calls a day and he commented that people are starting to notice Apple is turning into Microsoft. Sad.

The third generation iPad was unveiled today, and being the semi-anonymous person I am, I did not get an invite. So I did the next best thing: I followed the event on Ars Technica. I was going to follow on other outlets as well but their coverage was spotty.

Aside from the conspicuous absence of a number, most of the specs of the new mobile computer have been tweeted and blogged like crazy. So by now, you know the third iPad’s specs, 9–10 hour battery life, a Retina display, A5X dual-core CPU and quad-core graphics, 5MP camera with 1080HD video, AirPlay video streaming to Apple TV (3rd generation) at up to 1080p, and—most important to investors and pundits—4G LTE. Oh, and what no one mentioned: BlueTooth 4.0 whose inclusion is probably more important than faster internet over the communications carriers networks. But let’s look at what it doesn’t have? Thunderbolt, any new interfaces such as an SDXC slot, and a lack any new accessibility features for my friends that do not have full mobility. As some of you know, I have been trying for months to find supported devices for non-physical for Siri activation.

But does the lack of any of these things matter? Not to most people, and certainly not to investors. Immediately after the event, the Apple Store was mostly unreachable for at least an hour unless you got lucky. Most people I talked to that pre-ordered one after the event had to try at least 4 times before being able to place their order. I have a few people asking me about it as well. The question is not “Should I get one?” but “which model should I get?” Before diving into that, let’s look at what was said try to use that to forecast Apple’s future a bit.

Apple will probably continue the trend of taking last year’s iOS models and discounting the price on the base model and offering that for budget customers from now on as with the 3GS and iPhone 4. That will address their lack of product offerings and price complaints that many pundits use to ding Apple. Apple still thinks 16GB is a good entry point, unfortunately. Interconnectivity is now embedded in their DNA: all the new features emphasize wireless sharing between your other iOS devices, Macs or PCs. Apple realizes that they have to synchronize their iOS and OS X offerings by migrating applications and features between the two, but still change the UI to match the use context paradigm. Finally, Apple is not about to rest on its laurels. Android is racing to catch up, and Windows 8 is just around the corner. It will use the same strategy that revived the Mac business: build on standards, continue to vertically integrate an expanded their lineup of interconnected devices, innovate and not compromise quality for the sake of market share. Also, most importantly, not be afraid to cannibalize their own market share. So, that should put to rest the constant low-price Mac or iPhone rumors. Next year’s low cost iOS device is last year’s ground breaking device. Remember that if you can’t afford this year’s hot iOS offering and can wait a year.

If you cannot wait, read on. To decide what model to get, you can do what I do: take your current needs, add 20%-30% head room for 3+ years growth and go from there. To assess your current needs, take your most demanding use of your computers: audio/video creation, large movie or audio libraries, etc. and figure out how much storage you use and how fast it is growing. Unfortunately, my laptop drive is packed with full bit-rate audio ripped from my CD collection, so it made more sense to join iTunes Match than to buy a 64GB model. (For the $100 difference* I can pay for 4 years of iTunes match and have all my ~140GB of music in reach.) However, since I discovered AppAdvice.coms AppsGoneFree, my application footprint on my iPhone has gone from 2–3GBs to just over 10GB in about 6 months. So, it looks like the 32GB model will be my buy-in point. However if it wasn’t for the apps,  there are now WiFi friendly portable Hard drives that can add additional video or audio storage as long as you have a WiFi connection. (Coincidentally, the WiFi Drive nullifies the need for any storage expansion slots.)

Speaking of networking, let’s look at 4G LTE and AT&T vs. Verizon. I am not a cheapskate (or else I would probably only be using the triple-boot PC I built myself 5 years ago), but I am frugal. I realize that if I buy into a carrier by chosing either the Verizon or the AT&T model, they have the leverage and can hike prices leaving me with no recourse. So I will forego the 4G LTE models entirely, get the WiFi only model and then purchase a hotspot so I can use all my iDevices and my laptop anywhere there is coverage. T-Mobile offers a no contract month-to-month 5GB/$50 hotspot plan, but I have not checked how their coverage is in my region nor their data rate and latency. But that’s what suits me.

If you want simplicity, have a small media collection and will probably not download a ton of apps—even if they are free—then you might be better served with a less expensive model. If you are just using your computer for email, web browsing, music and video streaming at home and have no interest in content creation, faster 3D games, full 1080p streaming to your TV via a third generation AppleTV, or a higher resolution display, then an iPad2 might suit you until you discover other uses. $400 for an entry-level—yet still snappy—iPad2 is fine. It’s still a good machine.

Also, I realize I am biased when it comes to iOS/OS X. I have been using Macs since the 128K Macintosh. My loyalty is not to Apple, but the most reliable and time-efficient platform. In every company I have worked for I noticed the Windows machines required around thrice the support resources, no matter how responsive and proactive the IT department. If you are a true gearhead like some of my friends, want to be able to hack freely and can solve technical glitches yourself, then stick with Android and Linux. I hear that the new Android 4.0 ICS is pretty good. But if you want to save money in the long run, the upfront costs are the least of your considerations. That’s why I recommend iPads to first time tablet buyers.