Apple

The Unheralded Awesome New Feature in Apple TV

A couple of weeks ago, Apple released a software update to the Apple TV, and the news was mostly under the radar.  The fact that Vimeo support was added got a bit more play than the feature I care most about — streaming previously-purchased TV shows through the Apple TV via iCloud!

I’ve written a few times about my use of external hard drives to store my iTunes media, and the purchased TV shows are the big space hogs.  Then, when I had a major data loss, I resigned myself to never being able to get back to the media files that were lost.

We have two Apple TVs in the house, one in the living room, one in the bedroom.  Any time that I wanted to watch something I’d purchased from Apple, I needed to have my external hard drive connected to a computer in the house, and leave iTunes up and running on that computer, in order to stream the media using the Apple TV.  Not a big deal, but a White Whine / First World Problem on those nights when I go upstairs to bed, want to watch TV, but forgot to set up the computer downstairs for this scenario.

Now, with the Apple TV software update, the problem goes away.  No more do I have to leave the hard drive plugged into the laptop and leave iTunes running.  No more do I have to lament losing the previously purchased TV shows.  I can now offload the files from my external hard drive, freeing up space for other things.  This could easily be my favorite new Apple feature of 2011… which is kind of sad, now that I think about it.

Update: As I go back through the news about this software update, looks like John Gruber agrees that the pre-purchased aspect was more interesting than the Vimeo inclusion.  Nice to know I’m not the only one.

Want: BookBook for iPhone

I see my next gadget purchase, and it’s name is BookBook for iPhone.  The short description from the Twelve South site:

BookBook for iPhone is a wallet and iPhone case rolled into one pocket-sized, vintage book. Open this beautifully designed leather book and you will see a wallet on the left and a slot for your iPhone 4 on the right. Trade your wallet for this handsome little book and you’ll have one less thing in your pocket or purse when you walk out the door. And, as long as you remember your phone, you’ll never forget your wallet again.

April uses a similar iPhone/wallet case from Michael Kors, but that’s, uhm, a little flashy for my tastes.  I can’t really see myself carrying around a gold designer clutch.

However, I can see myself using the BookBook for iPhone.  It would require cleaning out my wallet and carrying around less cards and cash, which is not a bad thing.

If only it were my birthday coming up… I don’t think I can wait 6 months to have someone buy it for me as a gift!

See the BookBook for iPhone in action:

Originally seen on Mashable.

Do It (Tomorrow) — My New Favorite App

I think my new favorite application is going to be Do It (Tomorrow), from Adylitica.  It’s ultra-simple task management, with a snazzy interface.  You’re only putting in your tasks for today, and then you have the ability to postpone them to the next day.  It’s available as a web application at http://tomorrow.do, and there’s a paid version for the iPhone/iPad (only $1.99!) that allows you to sync with the web app.  Free versions of the app are also available for iPhone (without sync) and Android.

I’ve been on the lookout for something like this, with the following features:

  1. Super-simple to add tasks
  2. Sync between a web interface or a Mac thick client, and iPhone and iPad
  3. Re-order task list
  4. Postpone tasks manually
  5. Automatically roll over incomplete tasks to the next day
  6. Give me a way to search for completed tasks by date range

I’ve tried a number of solutions, never really found one that felt right for me — either too many bells and whistles, or a clunky interface, or missing a web interface or a mobile app. In just a few minutes with Do It (Tomorrow), it looks like they cover the first four features on my wish list.  I’ll know tomorrow if they handle #5 on the list.  Doesn’t look like #6 is possible at this point.  But for a measly $1.99, to get the first four features?  Gimme!

The design of the web application is really beautiful, too, see below with my tasks for tomorrow blurred out so you don’t have to read what I’m doing for work tomorrow.  It looks like a Moleskine notebook, and the font is a simple handwriting font.  They even add the obligatory coffee stain image!

Lion Spotlight Doesn’t Like External Hard Drives

I think I’ve narrowed down the external hard drive problem that I wrote about yesterday in my post about Mac OS X Lion.  There’s something failing in the Spotlight indexing process that’s causing the external hard drive to unmount.  When I tell Spotlight to ignore the external hard drive partitions, then the OS will keep the hard drive mounted normally.

SpotlightChecking the system.log through Console, I’m seeing these errors:

Jul 22 13:39:06 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Error) IndexCI in store_stream_init:store_stream_init err:2
Jul 22 13:39:06 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Error) IndexCI in indexPrepareForSyncBulk:indexPrepareForSync error: 2, 0.
Jul 22 13:39:06 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Error) IndexCI in _CISyncContextSync:indexPrepareForSyncBulk error:2
Jul 22 13:49:02 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Warning) IndexGeneral in _SIOpenIndex:datastore clean, reverse store dirty
Jul 22 13:53:59 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Error) IndexCI in indexPrepareForSyncBulk:indexPrepareForSync error: -1, 0.
Jul 22 13:53:59 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Error) IndexCI in _CISyncContextSync:indexPrepareForSyncBulk error:-1
Jul 22 14:08:59 Jason-Nassis-MacBook-Air mds[44]: (/Volumes/iTunes/.Spotlight-V100/Store-V2/98C64515-4F23-400B-8608-B8D79F12A34D)(Warning) IndexGeneral in _SIOpenIndex:datastore clean, reverse store dirty

Not sure what else I should do to debug this, other than just leave Spotlight ignoring the external drives.  Any suggestions, Mac experts?

First Impressions of OS X Lion

I Iz Upgrading Yor Makbuk

I upgraded my MacBook Air today to OS X Lion, and I thought I’d share my first impressions of Apple’s new operating system.

Download and Install

Lion is the first Mac OS to only be available as a download through the App Store, which is perfect for the MacBook Air.  The Air doesn’t have an on-board DVD drive — although you can use an external drive via USB connection — and with Apple pushing out a new model of the MacBook Air, you know they want everyone to go electronic copy only, no discs to ship or sell at the retail stores.

The download took about 20 minutes on my home network, and then the install process took another 30 minutes or so.  My immediate thought after the install started was, “Man, I probably should’ve done this on another computer first and not the work computer… oh well, too late now!”

Launch Pad

The first thing that shows up in the Dock after the install is the new Launch Pad feature.  It’s basically the iOS finder, where you can re-arrange your applications, group them, create new pages for the application lists, etc.  In other words, an entirely useless feature for the Mac.  I have the Dock already for my most-used apps; I have the Applications folder shortcut in the Dock for the less-common apps.  But, really, if you’re a power user on a Mac nowadays, you’re already using something like Spotlight, Quicksilver, or Alfred (my personal favorite).

Mission Control

Pretty much ruins my habits for using Expose and Spaces.  I had six Spaces pre-defined in Snow Leopard, with all of my common apps pinned to one of those Spaces (or all of them, in the case of iTunes).  After the upgrade to Lion, I had to reset my hot corners, and the Spaces become Desktops, but it’s an odd transition.  I wound up killing off all six Desktops for now, until I get the hang of Mission Control enough to start using multiple Desktops effectively.

Up/Down Scrolling

Which is natural to you?

This was the most jarring change for me.  Trackpad gestures reversed the movement of up versus down.  It’s like gravity has no meaning anymore!

Prior to Lion, when you used two fingers to gesture down on the trackpad (towards you, away from the keyboard), your app would scroll down.  In Lion, it’s the other way around — you gesture UP on the trackpad (away from you, towards the keyboard), and your app would then scroll down.

It seems completely unnatural to me, in spite of Apple calling that the “natural” scroll direction.  Luckily, you can disable that gesture and revert back to pre-Lion behavior.

I know that the “natural” direction is what’s used by iOS, and I’m completely fine with it on the iPhone and iPad, but it seems daunting to change that habit on the computer after years and years of mouse movements, scroll wheels and trackpad gestures.

iCal

iCal gets a HUGE facelift, looking just like the iPad version of iCal now.  It’s a huge step forward, and I found it very easy to use.  The quick create for events is going to take some time to get used to, but the couple of events I created today for work picked up my syntax perfectly.

Mail

Another daily use application that gets a major UI update.  I love that the 3-pane view is in the core product now.  Previously, I’d used a 3rd-party app to achieve that view, which of course would break on every OS update that touched Mail.  Conversations view is interesting, a little too much with the animation for my taste.  The new search functionality will be a HUGE benefit for me.  One thing to know when you’re first upgrading is that it takes a while to update your mail database, so carve out some time to let your Mac chug through the process before you need to immediately jump into your email.

Miscellaneous Stuff

  • Overall system performance seems a bit sluggish, especially when you’re switching apps.  I’ll have to see if eliminating multiple Desktops has an effect on that.
  • Full-screen mode is going to take a while to catch on, we’ll have to wait for all the 3rd-party apps to adopt it.  So far, the only apps that I use daily that have it are Mail, iCal and iTunes — none of which I’m ever able to stay in from a full-screen perspective.  I’m sure it’d be great for focusing on writing.  Maybe I’ll use Pages to write my next blog post, and go full-screen mode, just as an experiment.  Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 already has that feature, so no big whoop.
  • Time Machine… ugh… every time you do a major OS upgrade, it takes FOREVER to run a Time Machine backup.  30-something GBs were trying to back up over my home wifi today.  I had to cancel it for now since it was clobbering my network performance as well as the computer’s performance.  I’ll let it run overnight, and with the Ethernet USB adapter plugged in.

Problem!

I use an external Western Digital hard drive to store my iTunes media and my iPhoto library, and it has to be connected anytime I want to A) use iTunes or iPhoto, and B) sync my iPhone or iPad.  Since the update to Lion, though, I’m finding that the external hard drive is unexpectedly being ejected.  I haven’t found any reports on the Internet about that being a problem with Lion yet, and I did a Disk Utility verify and repair, no problems found.  This could be a serious issue for me, I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

Healthy Competition

April introduced me to the new Zynga game, Hanging With Friends. The problem with games like this is we wind up playing against each other… and we’re both a little, ahem, competitive.

This invariably leads to comments muttered my way like, “I don’t like you”, or “You suck”, or “I’m going to start using made up words, like how you’re a monkeybutt.”

It’s not that I’m good at these kinds of games, mind you. I suck at Scrabble… but I’m better than her :)

Dropbox and iTunes, a match made in heaven?

There’s this hashtag that goes around on Twitter, #firstworldproblems, for when you complain about something that’s soooooooo not a real problem.

My problem since Thanksgiving has been having too much media in my iTunes library, and trying to keep everything in sync across two different Mac laptops.  I know, woe is me.

Background Problem

I’ve owned a MacBook Pro for a couple of years.  I got a new MacBook Air through work just before Thanksgiving.  I also own an iPad and an iPhone 4.  And, lastly, I buy a lot of music and TV shows through the iTunes Music Store.  At last count, I’m looking at 61 GB of music, and 323 GB of video (mostly TV season passes).  That’s far more media than the Air can store on its hard drive, and it’s even more than I can keep on the Pro without running out of space for other things — like the operating system!

Initial Solution

I purchased a 1 TB external portable hard drive to store the iTunes media, as well as other large files that weren’t necessary to keep on the Air’s hard drive at all times.  I moved all of the media onto the hard drive, and pointed the iTunes library on both computers to the hard drive location.  I kept the name of the library the same on both computers, in order to keep the file paths correct.

This works for the media, with one trick.  First, if you purchase the media from iTunes Music Store on one computer, you have to remember to use the Add To Library menu option on the other computer.

However…. There were two significant new problems that come up with this method.

  1. iTunes metadata like playlists, play count, album artwork, ratings, etc. are not stored in the same location as the media library.  There isn’t a preference you can set through the iTunes UI to change the location to the external hard drive, like you can with the media library.  This meant that all those playlists that I’d meticulously constructed on the MacBook Pro weren’t ported over to the MacBook Air automatically.  I would have to export each playlist individually, bring it over to the other machine, and then import it to the other machine.  Not worth the effort.
  2. iOS apps and the sync data for your iOS devices (iPad and iPhone) are also not stored in the same location as the media library.  This meant that I couldn’t backup my iOS devices on both computers, only on the MacBook Pro, which I wasn’t taking with me to work on a daily basis, or with me when I was out of town.  No backup, no sync, nothing.

Neither problem was the end of the world, but a seemingly unnecessary pain in the ass.

(Proposed) Follow-Up Solution

I haven’t verified this as working yet, it’ll take some more time to finish all the file transfers, but… Now verified!

I have a Dropbox account, where I can store files in one location on one computer, and then have them sync up “to the cloud!” and then back down to the other computer’s same location.

If I move the rest of the iTunes library folder over to Dropbox, and then add an alias in my original location (/Users/jason/Library/Music/) that points to the Dropbox location (/Users/jason/Dropbox/iTunes/), then, in theory, I can repeat the process on the second computer.

I’ve verified that I can safely move the library from its original location to Dropbox, and have the alias (or symlink, if you prefer) pick up all of the files.  My playlists are intact on the MacBook Pro, music play counts, album artwork, etc.  I can backup my iOS devices safely.

I’m sure that it’s necessary that both computers have the same name for the hard drive (Macintosh HD), and I use the same username (jason) for both computers.  Otherwise, I expect that file paths would cause trouble.

Once the MacBook Pro finished uploading all the files to Dropbox, the files downloaded from Dropbox to the MacBook Air shortly thereafter.  Once that was completed, I switched the hard drive over to the MacBook Air and switched the file path of the iTunes metadata library to the Dropbox location using an alias.  I’ll update this post, or do a Part Two tomorrow once I’ve confirmed everything works as I’d hoped. Everything now works as I’d hoped!

Side Question #1

Why not use Dropbox to store everything, including the iTunes media?

Two reasons.  First, Dropbox storage, even with a Pro account, only goes up to 100 GB, and I’m looking at nearly 400 GB of data.  Second, even if Dropbox could store that much data, the two laptops’ hard drives would run out of room.  Thus, Dropbox can only be part of the solution, not the complete solution.

Side Question #2

Why not use Box.net to store everything?

Again, two reasons.  First, my Box.net Business account is through work, and I wouldn’t want to store all of that personal data in a company-controlled location.  Second, Box.net hasn’t come out with a desktop sync application yet for Macs.  Thus, Box.net isn’t an option here at all.

Side Question #3

How to backup the external hard drive?

That part I haven’t figured out yet.  I have to come up with another large hard drive at home that I can use as a Time Machine backup location, just for this portable external drive.  Haven’t gotten around to that yet, and that means I’m playing with fire.

E-Reading Is Fundamental

So much for a more consistent writing schedule, huh?  Forgive me, WordPress, for I have sinned. It has been more than 30 days since my last blog post…

Reading Is Fundamental

Reading Is Fundamental

It’s Books Or Nothing For Me

I read a pretty fair number of books – 231 of them since I started tracking them in Booxter five years ago.  According to my lousy math, I read about one book every eight days.  As you can probably imagine, that means I have some pretty ingrained habits and some pretty strong preferences about how I consume the material.

Since I’m also a gadget guy, you would think that I’d have been an early e-reader adopter.  But you’d be wrong.

Back in the day, I never liked reading on the computer screen, and I never liked reading from a PDA or cell phone.  Even all the way up to the iPhone 3Gs, I was never comfortable reading on that kind of device.  For me, it was all about physical books made out of paper.  I liked the heft of a book; I liked looking at the cover art.  I liked being able to loan the book to a friend, never really concerned about getting it back after I’d already read it.  And I really loved buying books, toting a bag of them out of the bookstore, or finding that delivery box from Amazon waiting for me when I got home.

None of the early e-readers struck my fancy.  Too many limitations from a technology standpoint, or the material that you could read on them didn’t match my tastes.  You were stuck with finding PDFs of DRM-free material, which meant you were either pirating the books or you were reading something that you probably scowled at being forced to read back in high school.  And let’s not start on how manual the transfer process was from your computer to the e-reader device…

Can We Interest You In A Kindle?

When Amazon first came out with the Kindle, I was slow to accept it.  The second generation Kindle devices especially started to catch my interest about a year ago, due to several factors:

  1. The price point started to drop to something I could stomach for a single-purpose gadget
  2. The Whispersync technology that allowed you to purchase the book on Amazon.com and have it wirelessly delivered to your Kindle, without any manual action
  3. The ability to sync your current spot in the book from the Kindle to other devices with a Kindle app – namely the iPhone at the time.
Amazon Kindle 2

Amazon Kindle 2

We bought my mom a Kindle for her birthday in 2009, and I was finally able to see one in person, to touch it, to test the screen.  The electronic ink seemed an acceptable alternative to the printed page.  I waited a couple more months to see how my mom found the experience – “What do you DISLIKE about it?” — and then I finally took the plunge in buying a Kindle in October.

The timing of the purchase was important. The price had just dropped on the Kindle 2 to $259, and I was going to be traveling internationally at the end of October.  Previously, whenever I traveled, it meant throwing several books into my backpack and suitcase, and for this trip, I knew I wasn’t going to have much room in my suitcase.  The Kindle was a perfect solution for the problem at that point in time.

I had just started reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown in hardcover when my Kindle arrived.  I switched over to reading it electronically once the Kindle arrived. The first book that I read completely in Kindle format was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.  The first book that I had to switch over from Kindle back to print was The Book of Basketball: The NBA According To The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons – excessive footnotes are an absolute horror in an e-reader.  Thanks a lot, Sports Guy.

I liked the Kindle 2.  It wasn’t anything groundbreaking as a gadget, and I quickly found the limitations that kept me from loving it:

  • Slow page-turning
  • No auto-rotating of the screen
  • Next-page buttons that weren’t in quite the right ergonomic places for my hands

Apple Ruins The Kindle For Me

None of these were deal breakers for me. I count seventeen books that I read on the Kindle 2 over the next few months.  But I knew that my time with the Kindle 2 had an expiration date once the iPad rumors started flying.  The iPad was going to solve all of my Kindle 2 limitations and more!  It was going to be revolutionary!  It was going to be magical! It was going to end world hunger!

When the iPad did land in my grubby little hands, the Kindle 2 was relegated to an afterthought. The iPad was so much more than a simple e-reader… how could Amazon’s no-frills device compete?  I quickly gifted my Kindle 2 to my cousin, who was getting ready to move overseas and would be losing easy access to English books.

Kindle app on iPad

Kindle app on iPad

But I quickly discovered the limitations of the iPad as an e-reader:

  • It’s not lightweight!  I do a lot of my reading in bed at night, lying on my back, and the iPad is too heavy to hold in that position for long periods of time.
  • It sucks in direct sunlight.  The Kindle may not have been backlit, requiring a booklight or a bedside lamp at night, but at least the e-ink was visible when I was outside.  A definite drawback in the summer months.
  • It’s revolutionary and magical and all that wonderful stuff that Apple promised.  With such a powerful device in my hands, I would easily be distracted from my reading, and switch away from the Kindle app on the iPad back over to Facebook or Twitter or email.
  • No retina display.  I wouldn’t have noticed this at all if not for the iPhone 4’s display. The Kindle app on the iPhone 4 is so much crisper than the Kindle app on the iPad.  It ain’t bad on the iPad, until you’ve seen the iPhone 4.

But Wait! Amazon Makes A Comeback!

Then Amazon had to go and announce the Kindle 3.  When I first heard the rumblings on Twitter, I dismissed the idea of buying another Kindle… been there, done that, bought the iPad.  At least, that’s what I thought until I read the details – even lighter than the Kindle 2; faster page-turning; better battery life (which wasn’t a problem on the Kindle 2); and, most importantly, a $139.00 price for a Wifi only version of the device!

What did I need a 3G Kindle for, anyway?  I already have a 3G iPhone and a 3G iPad. Surely I could wait until I was on a Wifi network to Whispersync my Kindle 3.  I wanted (needed?) 3G for the iPad because it could do everything else besides be an e-reader.  An e-reader, though, can get by with Wifi only.

My Kindle 3 arrived on my doorstep on Friday, and I spent most of the day on Saturday and most of the morning today with it – currently reading Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.  I can say unequivocally that I needed the Kindle back in my life for my reading purposes.  I forgot how light it was in comparison to the iPad.  I forgot how easy it was to read in direct sunlight.  I forgot how much focus I put on the book when I wasn’t constantly hitting the Home button to check Facebook and Twitter.

Kindle 3

Kindle 3

The Kindle case has improved since the Kindle 2, with an elastic band that keeps the case closed when not in use (or open when you’re reading with the device propped up).  Even with the case on, I was able to stick the Kindle in the backpocket of my jeans while walking yesterday, like a paperback book.  Can’t do that with an iPad.

Some drawbacks… Amazon still hasn’t added auto-rotating of the screen to the Kindle 3, which isn’t a big deal at the size of the device.  Worse for me, the Next Page buttons still aren’t in quite the right place for my fingers.  I’d love to have a next page button at the bottom of the screen, not just on the sides, for instance.  Or, I wish I could re-map Previous and Next, either putting Next solely on the right and Previous solely on the left, or at least putting Next as the top button instead of the bottom button.  That’s where my thumbs feel more natural.  However, the extremely light weight of the device makes it easier for me to hold the Kindle 3 in comfortable enough positions.  By the way, I’ve held the Nook from Barnes & Noble in my hand, it’s no better for me in this regard.

There’s room in my life for multiple devices.  At the moment, I’m typing on my Macbook Pro, with my headphones plugged into my iPhone 4 on the table next to me; my Kindle 3 is also on the table, and my iPad is tucked into my backpack at my feet.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses, each has its specific purposes in my life. And you can bet that each will be traveling with me wherever I go.

Fanboy Status Restored

The New Hotness

As I wait for my new iPhone 4 to sync up for the first time, transferring apps and music and other data, I hereby reclaim my Apple fanboy status.  My brother Alex arrived at the Valley Fair mall in San Jose just after 12pm today to claim our spot in line.  I finally was able to join up with him around 12:45pm.

Your reservation will be held until close of business on June 24.

I’ve gone through 4 previous Apple Store launches like this — 3 previous iPhone generations plus the iPad.  This was the first one where I took advantage of the reservation system.  I’m glad I did, since it gave me peace of mind that I would be leaving with an iPhone 4 today.  While Apple’s email fine print was squishy on whether or not it was guaranteed — I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV — I felt comfortable that I’d have a new iPhone in my grubby hands.

The specific language in the fine print, by the way:

Pre-authorization does not guarantee iPhone availability at an Apple Retail Store. iPhone is sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
Your reservation is valid for pickup only at the Apple Retail Store that you selected.
If you do not collect your selected item(s) by the designated date and time, your reservation will be canceled.

Fairly clear to me at first, but some of my co-workers were stressing over it, which introduced a doubt in the back of my head.  Apple Store employees were assuring people in the reservation line that they’d be taken care of, that there was a unit in the store that wouldn’t leave unless it was with us.

Alex had to split to head to work around 2:45pm, so I was holding down the fort for a while.  My co-worker Nate showed up a bit later to hang with me, and then my old bud Bill arrived around 5:30pm.  I’d left Nate in our place in line to use the restroom, and as I was walking back, I did a headcount from the front of the line — I was right around 100 people from the front of the line, and that felt like a manageable wait at that point.  Of course, as I’m visibly counting people, they’re thinking that I must be someone important and the line would suddenly, miraculously move faster.

Finally got into the store around 6:00pm, and walked out 15 minutes later with two iPhones in hand (one for me, one for Alex).  I made it home just a little while ago, and I’m patiently waiting for the new hotness to sync my apps, music, and data over from my computer.

Feel free to FaceTime me tomorrow!