Tag Archives: Review

What’s on My iPad – Page 1

IMG_0016 So it’s been nearly a month or so since the iPad hit the streets in the US and 48 days since I got mine. In that time, it has become an indispensable item in my hi-tech arsenal. With the iPad reaching far-off lands and foreign shores today, it’s time for the first in a series of thoughts about the various apps I’ve installed on my iPad.

First, I’ve got a few thoughts about the iPad in general. There’s nothing particularly earth-shaking or revolutionary in my thoughts on the device but they warrant repeating.

Unlike the iPhone, the iPad is not a ubiquitous device. It isn’t just magically at your hip and unless you’re in the habit of carrying a knapsack with you, as a student might, you have to plan to have it with you.

I had the same exact problem with my laptop. When I went places I had to decide, with the convenience of having the computer with me outweigh the inconvenience of having to carry it and keep an eye on it when I’m not using it? 99 times out of 100 the answer was, “no”. With the iPhone, it’s “yes” 99 times out of 100. The iPad falls somewhere in between, and I’m still developing my habits in this area. If I go out for breakfast on a Saturday morning amongst the loonies at Chick-Fil-A, I’ll take it with me. Free Wi-Fi, a playground for the kids and reasonably neat food is a perfect combination for the iPad. Around the house, unless someone else in the household is using it, it’s pretty much always in the room with me. It’s awesome for reading my mail, checking the web, reading my RSS newsfeeds or just grabbing it for a quick games of solitaire in a down moment.

It’s also quite sufficient for making (typically shorter) blog posts and online comments. Typically it gets tiresome after 3 or 4 good-sized paragraphs. (I’m not typing this review on the iPad, but I could have. I can’t say the same for the iPhone.)

The iPad was billed as a “content consumption” device, and that’s certainly true. but as you’ll see from a few of the apps I use, it’s a lot more versatile and developers are beginning to make some awesome content manipulation and creation applications for it.

One thing that the iPad does, exactly like the iPhone does, is to encourage you to end up with software you never use but you can’t bear to part with. Unlike the iPhone, iPad software is often much more expensive. In face, I have one app on my iPad that cost $50. I probably don’t have a total of little more than $50 worth of apps on my iPhone.

Looking at the first page, and going in no particular order but vaguely left to right, top to bottom, here’s what I’ve got.

Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, YouTube, Safari, Mail, iPod are all basically the same as the iPhone, but scaled up. Videos is new, but is mostly the video function of the iPod made into a distinct app. Videos on the iPad are gorgeous and while I generally poo-poo the idea of a person video device, I regularly use the iPad to watch Dr. Who episodes for review. The iPad, with easy backward and forward, high resolution and headphones makes for a great environment to really concentrate on a show (and thus give me more details to pick on.)

Pages and Numbers (I have no use for Keynote) are nice implementations of Apple’s word processor and spreadsheet. On the Mac, I use Pages, but I tend to avoid the “fancy stuff” with templates and rather just start with a blank page and type. As such, Pages on the iPad suffers from the 3 or 4 paragraph and I’m tired syndrome, but it does doa good job of rendering more complex page layouts. Numbers, which is much less typing intensive, it really nice. For what i use it for it’s as good as the full version and more convenient on the iPad.

Wikipanion is an app I have on both the iPhone and the iPad, and I wouldn’t be without it. It’s a great interface on Wikipedia that works better than a web-based search. This is a common theme on iPhone OS devices. Apps can be made better than web pages – bucking the recent trend on the Internet in the recent years.

Google search is a standalone Google application, it’s main superiority over the browser based version (it is in the tool bar on Safari, afterall) is that it has voice to text search capabilities and they are quite good. The iPad’s microphone is remarkably good – every bit as good as the one on MacBooks. In fact, the iPad works great for Skype, which really surprised me.

Photogene and PhotoForge are two photo manipulation apps. I have several others on my iPhone, but these two have made the jump to full iPad apps and the added screen space really makes the difference when doing photo manipulation. Photogene is the more polished of the two apps and has a lot of Photoshop like filters and adjustments, but it doesn’t have an retouching tools. PhotoForge is less polished, but has some cloning and smudging tools – which is why I have both on the iPad.

NewsRack is my RSS reader. It ties directly into my Google Reader account and this is the app I use more than anything else on the iPad. I have hundreds of RSS feeds I monitor and NewsRack makes it simple. On the iPhone I use ByLine, which I still like better, but ByLine hasn’t made the jump to the iPad and native iPhone-only apps mostly such blown up on the iPad. Yes, they work, but, you really feel the pain. I’m hoping ByLine gets with the program and gets an iPad version out soon. Not that I have any real complaints about NewsRack.

iThoughts HD is a MindMapping software, which I like much better than MindMapping on the MacBook simply because you can carry it around like a notebook and do your mapping on-the-fly in meetings. The fingers to screen paradigm, rather than mouse to screen, really shines for this type of program. MindMapping is about taking notes and organizing thoughts and the iPad is a great way to do it.

OmniGraffle is a longtime Mac graphing/template program (similar to Visio on the PC). Their iPad version costs an astounding $49.99, but I have it here because I do lots of charts likes this. Normally I do them on giant sticky notes on my wall – and my coworkers can attest, I have them everywhere with design and flow ideas. I bit the bullet for OmniGraffle for the iPad because, like iThoughtsHD, I felt this would finally be the right tool for doing this sort of design on the fly, in meetings and other impromptu situations. For $50, I have a few complaints about how it works, but I’m confident these are mostly bugs that will be resolved soon. Text boxes in UML diagrams in particular are irritating as they keep resizing and double text while you’re editing it. But if you’re doing flow diagrams, it’s pretty much perfect.

WordPress is a free interface to WordPress blogs, like lonelocust.com. I use it for blogging, but detest the fact that you have to do all formatting in HTML. The iPhone and iPad keyboard is not friendly for type XML elements like <b></b> This limits how much I’m willing to blog in the program. Recently I’ve started experimenting with BlogPress, a not-free app that seems a bit better, but still limited. This is an area when someone could really make huge improvements.

Solitaire City is probably the second most used app on my iPad. I love a good game of solitaire and Solitaire City is great. Easy to use, has lots of games and variations and is just a nice, rich visual presentation. If only it would not shout “Yaaahooooo!” whenever you win a game. I could really do without that.

Next, there’s ReelDirector, a video editing program. Honestly, I’ve not had much time to test this on the iPad. I purchased it for the iPhone and they’ve since updated it to be iPhone/iPad native in a single version. Many developers are making second versions of iPad only software and from a development standpoint, there are legitimate pros and cons for either way. It’s seems that what’s happening mostly, though, is that developers are realizing if they upgrade their iPhone version to be native on both, everyone just gets a free upgrade. If they make a separate version, they get paid twice and they almost all charge more for the iPad version.

I wouldn’t have bought ReelDirector for the iPad but since it was a free upgrade, I’ll try it. The interface on the iPad seems a lot easier than the iPhone version, but there’s a problem with content. On the iPhone 3GS, you can shoot video, then edit it with ReelDirector. If you sync you photos to a computer, the videos and photos are removed and then synced back as part of your normal photo albums. Video, by default, are not synced back and so disappear from your phone, so you have to make that change to your settings to have an archive of video available for the program.

Second, you can’t put videos on that weren’t shot with the iPhone – at least I haven’t been able to trick it into accepting them.

Finally, the iPad has no camera, so, you have to shoot on an iPhone 3GS, transfer to your computer through iTunes, then have iTunes sync the videos onto the iPad, otherwise, you’ve got nothing to edit. That’s too much of a pain in the rear. If I’m going to sync it to my computer, I’ll just use iMovie or Final Cut to edit. I guess if all I had was Movie Maker on a PC, I might push it back to the iPad to edit elsewhere.

Finally, I have iBooks and Kindle at the bottom, two e-readers. I like them both. Ibooks is easier, more visually appealing and has in-app purchases of books, but Kindle has a much larger book selection and you can sync your last read location across several machines, such as real Kindle. Honestly, they’ll be selling “real” Kindles and Sony e-reader in the discount bin at Big Lots in a year. Who would want one of those horrid things when you can have an iPad which does so much more.

Doctor Who – Review – Amy’s Choice – Spoilers

Low self-esteem reaches new heights.

Synopsis

Leadworth, circa 2015, Rory and Amy Wiliams (nee Pond) are on the verge of having their first baby when the Doctor returns to their lives, five years after leaving them.

Not everything is as it seems, though as they all wake up aboard the TARDIS back in “regular” time. The Doctor is confronted by the mysterious Dream Lord, who hates the Doctor, and he sets him a challenge: One of the two worlds is real, one a dream. If they die in the dream world, they awake in the real world. If they die in the real world, they die. To add an element of urgency to the proceedings, the TARDIS goes powerless and begins plummeting towards a “cold star” while in the Leadworth world, the OAPs reveal themselves to be alien-infested invaders and begin killing everyone in town. Ultimately, Amy must decide if her future lies with the Doctor or with Rory.

Analysis

This is an unusual Doctor Who story and one that deconstructs along interesting lines, but ultimately, the story fails for me, but only just.

We are presented with two different Doctor Who stories; the Leadworth and TARDIS stories. Their dilemma is to figure out which one is real, but as presented to the audience, there can only be one choice: Leadworth is the fake. (You’ll note, I said “…as presented to the audience” Consider, with Leadworth we have to take the most untold story to set it up. We know that the Doctor, Amy and Rory were on the TARDIS at the end of the previous story and Rory was going to travel with them. We have to accept that they’ve skipped five or more years to accept that they’re living back in Leadworth.

Also, the TARDIS storyline is fatalistic, in that (it appears) that the Doctor is powerless to stop them from dying and doesn’t even try. It is, in effect, the ticking clock on the time bomb. In 40 minutes, you die.

However, in Leadworth, they could go on forever, simply by escaping the town, or finding their way back into the TARDIS. From the standpoint of the story, this means that a decision needs to be made in Leadsworth.

It seems painfully obvious to me that you were supposed to decide that Leadworth was the dream and I came to that conclusion as soon as the nature of the threat was revealed in both storylines. There was just minor thing niggling at the back of my mind: Whenever something is “painfully obvious” I’m always suspicious that the writer is trying to trick the audience. The writer was “tricking”us, both worlds were dreams but in all fairness, I did not figure that out.)

On second viewing, I liked the story better, partially because it got to spend a little time examining what I call, “The Companions Dilemma.” The moment of a companion’s departure has always been problematic. The Doctor literally dumped his granddaughter, forcing her to stay on Earth with the man she fell in love with. Ian and Barbara finally got to go home back in the days when the Doctor could never, ever arrive when and where he wanted to be. After that, though, the companions rarely show any indication that they’re going to leave until moments before they do.

I ask you, is that what you’d do? I don’t think I would. I think I’d stay aboard the TARDIS forever. Why would you leave it? It’s the very question Amy asks Rory, “Why would we give up all this?” Since the series’ revival, this has become a very sticky problem, because the companions are obviously a lot more emotionally invested in the Doctor as a partner rather than as a father-figure. It’s terribly sad (and I’m not looking forward to it) but all little girls grow up and leave their fathers. There is an inevitability about it that we must expect. When someone leaves their chosen partner, it is a different dynamic. Few people go into relationships with the idea that someday they will leave and so when they do, it’s often a time of acrimony and disappointment.

In a TV series, no one wants to see a beloved companion depart on acrimonious terms – we want to remember our TV friends as they were, and so the departures of Rose and Donna were contrived to make it impossible for them to stay. The departure of Martha was so poorly realized that to this day one would think she’d been fired on the spur of a moment rather than as a planned departure from the show.

In any case, Amy’s Choice is partially an analysis of why people stay and what might make someone leave. Clearly Rory prefers Leadworth and Amy prefers the TARDIS. When she finally realizes that she really loves Rory and can’t live without him, she grows up a little bit right in front of our eyes.

The other major plot, and part of the reason the story ultimately fails for me, is the Doctor’s self-loathing. The Dream Lord is himself; his own deep, dark side that dislikes what he is and how he treats his friends. The story would have a lot more impact over the course of the episode if we knew this from the start, but instead, the reveal that the Dream Lord is the Doctor comes tacked on at the end like an afterthought.

If someone is making snide remarks about someone else, it has a certain weight to it. If they’re making comments about another person and you recognize those things to be to a certain degree truthful, it has more weight, but if a person is making comments about themself it opens up a whole insight on that person. By saving the reveal of the Dream Lord’s identify to the end, you have to go back and re-evaluate what you’d seen earlier. That’s why this episode is better on second viewing. What the Dream Lord says is much more important the second time through.

If I had to rate this episode on a scale of 0 to 100, where 50 equates to “approval”, I’d have to give it 49.9999. It just misses by the smallest of margin.


Ben and I chatted about this episode in greater detail over at the Fusion Patrol Podcast. You can listen to the episode here:


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Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes

I’ll not review the finale of Ashes to Ashes as an episode, I never really reviewed the finale of Life on Mars, nor have I been reviewing either series on an episode by episode basis. There’s no reason for me to start that now. That notwithstanding, I’ve faithfully watched both series from day one. I had more affinity for Life on Mars probably because my age my closely matches Sam Tyler’s and because the mystery of the series was more unique and pronounced than then post-Life on Mars finale world of Ashes to Ashes.

If you’ve not watched these series, be aware that no discussion of the end of either of these series could be considered spoiler-free. You have been warned. Really, if you haven’t watched Life on Mars and you ever think you might (and you should) don’t read this post. It will ruin the show for you.

Read more after the break…

Continue reading Implications of the world of Ashes to Ashes

Doctor Who – Review – Vampires in Venice – Spoilers

Summary

The Doctor decides that Rory needs to go on a date with Amy and so he picks him up at his stag night and whisks the two off to Venice in 1580. They encounter a mysterious Countess who runs a school for pale, slightly creepy girls who hate the sunlight. They are, of course, not really vampires but alien crayfish refugees intent on sinking venice and repopulating their race.

Analysis

No matter how hard I try, I just could not care less about this episode. I don’t actively hate it (like Love and Monsters – go on, read my review of that, at least I had some emotions about it) but I am completely and utterly apathetic about it. It killed the better part of an hour and little more.

…and… that’s… about… it.

Oh, surely I can come up with something to bitch about.

This reminds me a lot of Toby Whithouse’s other Doctor Who script, School Reunion, which was mostly enjoyable only for the return of Sarah Jane Smith and not for the imaginative story-telling. He’s got a thing for vampires and faux-vampires, though. Next thing you know, he’ll probably be writing a series about them…

I’m sick of the low-level perception filter gimmick. Let’s get back to aliens that either look human or look like guys in rubber suits.

The Doctor is completely trying to be Jerry Lewis in this episode. I hate Jerry Lewis.

Ben and I discuss this story on Episode 3 of the Fusion Patrol Podcast.


You can listen to it here


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Doctor Who – Review – Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone – Spoilers

We’ve heading into uncharted territory now. Historically, I’ve reviewed most new Doctor Who episodes right here on the blog, but now that we’re doing the Fusion Patrol Podcast, I’ve been letting it slip.

The fact is, we’re not really doing reviews at the podcast. I’ve likened to a book club discussion, although, not having attended a book club, how would I know? Basically, we’re just having a discussion about what we think about the episode – so, maybe it is a review. In any case, I’ll try to synthesize some of that down here as my “review.”

Summary

In Time of Angels, the Doctor is re-united with River Song, the archaeologist from the Doctor’s future, first introduced in Silence in the Library. River has cleverly arranged for the Doctor to answer her call and come to her assistance, where she is helping a crack military squad of clerics to neutralize a Weeping Angel: a bizarre quantum-locked alien species that can only move when they’re not being observed. The starliner Byzantium was carrying the angel, but it crashed on a planet, releasing the angel.

As the clerics attempt to work their way through catacombs towards the wrecked ship, Amy is unwittingly infected by one of the angels. The clerics are being killed off one-by-one and only too late does the Doctor realize that all the statues in the catacombs are angels, and they are being brought back to life by the energy from the wrecked starliner. Surrounded, and trapped in a cave just meters below the wrecked ship, things look very bleak indeed.

In Flesh and Stone, the Doctor manages to get the survivors aboard the ship, but the angels are aboard, too. As they make their way through an artificial forest inside the ship, the mysterious crack from Amy’s bedroom wall puts in an appearance, threatening to swallow everything.

Amy must keep her eyes shut to stay alive, and she is left in the care of the cleric, but one-by-one, they are swallowed by the crack and cease to have ever existed. Amy must pretend to be able to see, to fool the angels into leaving her alone, and navigate blindly through the forest to reach the Doctor and River.

Can the Doctor stop the angels and close the crack which threatens to devour the entire universe?

Analysis

From my point of view, this two-parter was an exemplary episode of Doctor Who. While it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d almost say the best episode since the series returned in 2005.

In pacing, it is unlike any new series episode to date. Even though it maintains suspense from end to end, it is slower than most new series episodes. Midpoint during each 45 minute episode, comes an almost perfect “cliffhanger” point – as if this story was written to be four, 22 minute episodes ala the classic series. I much prefer this pacing and really wish Steven Moffat would convert all the stories into two-parters. That said, the resolution to the problem of both the angels and the crack did present itself rather quickly and conveniently right at the end and wasn’t really any of the Doctor’s doing. In effect, his cleverness just kept them alive long enough for them to get lucky. That was probably the most dissatisfying part of the whole story to me.

We (the audience and the Doctor) are meeting River Song for only the second time, but from her timeline, she’s met the Doctor many times before, and knows about his future. Last time, we learned that she was someone very, very important to the Doctor in his future and that he trusted her with enough knowing his real name. This time, which is much earlier in her timeline, we learn that she is a murderer and is being held in prison for that crime. She has only been released so that she can help the expedition, “control” the Doctor and try to earn herself a pardon.

During the first episode, it’s not revealed that she’s a prisoner, but it is revealed that the Doctor might not help her if he knew “…who and what [she is]…” At that point, I began to suspect that a beautiful piece of plot contrivance on the Grand Moff’s part would be to have had River die in the first episode that the Doctor meets (which she did) and for the Doctor to die the first time River meets him. That idea was bolstered in my mind when she stated that she had “pictures of all his incarnations” which is only possible if she’s in a timeline after the Doctor is dead. That she was his killer also fit with the “who and what” comment, in that what she is is his murderer. Logical to assume that he’d not want to help her under those conditions.

I thought I was being particularly clever reasoning that out in the first episode, but then they started beating it over our heads in the second episode. Revealing that she was in prison for murder, they she’d murdered a great man, a hero to many. She herself even tells the Doctor, when confronted, that she killed the greatest man she’s ever known.

In slippery Grand Moff style, though, the crack in time has put the idea in the Doctor’s head that time can be “unwritten” and he seems oddly comforted by that idea. Perhaps he thinks he can unwrite River’s crime, or, on a bigger scale, perhaps he can unwrite the Time War, the rise of Rassilon and the destruction of Gallifrey.

On the other hand, if he tries something that big, perhaps he causes the crack himself?

I would like to point out that, while I don’t really give a toss about season-spanning story arcs, I am pleased that this seasons story arc at least appears to be playing out meaningfully during the season, rather than just being a series of catchphrases badly interjected into the scripts with no bearing on the stories. The Bad Wolf syndrome has a been a great, dead albatross hanging around the nexk of the past four series, and I hope it’s gone forever.

Amy, in this episode, is both playful, brilliant and somewhat useless in equal measures. The later is not really her fault, as she’s blind, about to die, all alone in a forest full of angels and terrified out of her wits. Who wouldn’t be useless under those conditions?

All-in-all, one of the best episodes for a long, long time.

No review of this episode would be complete without discussing the final scene, set in Amy’s bedroom, on the night before her wedding (also the night she left with the Doctor.) In no uncertain terms, Amy, having just been terrified for her life, tries to get a leg over on the Doctor.

Prudish I might be, but the tone and content of the scene just felt wrong to me. It didn’t really have a place in a program aimed (partially) at such a young audience, but this is a criticism I’ve had ever since the series returned in 2005. This was just the single most overt expression of it yet.

While I didn’t like it, it was logical. It’s the logical extension (at least in the TV world) of Amy’s lifelong obsession with the Doctor, her fears about marriage and her very near brush with death. It was a accurate portrayal of humanity.

What I did appreciate, though, was that the Doctor clearly felt the same way: This is a totally inappropriate Doctor/Companion interaction, and he puts a stop to it. My hope is that this is the Grand Moff telling us that, “…we’ve pushed the issue to it’s logical conclusion and there’ll no more of that going on in the TARDIS while I’m at the helm.”

Victory of the Daleks – Review – Spoilers

This is really going to me more about the Daleks than this week’s episode of Doctor Who, but we’ll do both.

Victory of the Daleks is the Moffat-era reboot of the Daleks, and they desperately needed a reboot, but will this really be an improvement?

Summary

Winston Churchill calls the Doctor to the Cabinet War Rooms during the London Blitz to introduce his new secret weapon against the Nazi’s, the Daleks – although he doesn’t know them as Daleks, but instead as Ironsides, created by Prof. Bracewell.

The Doctor goes F-ing crazy to try to prove they’re nasty little alien Daleks and when he finally confronts them face-to-face proclaiming himself to be the Doctor and they to be the Daleks they get all happy and leave, but not before revealing that Bracewell is an android they created as a cover story, but he thinks he’s a real boy.

Back on the Dalek ship, they use the recording of the Doctor to prove they’re really Daleks and start the Progenitor device: A Dalek gene-bank to create a new army of Daleks. The Daleks threaten to destroy the Earth, the Doctor saves the Earth, but the Daleks escape.

Analysis

This first non-Moffat story of the Moffat-era is entertaining, but ultimately empty. It’s nothing more than a vehicle to unleash the Daleks into the Who-universe once more. The Dalek plan seems nearly hare-brained, the plot device that says the genetically-imperfect Daleks can’t activate the Progenitor device is ridiculous to begin with (wouldn’t it be better if anyone could turn it on with the right passcode?) and the resolution of just having the Doctor admit they’re Daleks being good enough to overcome the lockout beggar’s belief.

Before I go on about the Daleks, let me take a moment to talk about the rest of the episode. Spitfires in space, fighting Daleks, yeah, Ok, that was fun. Winston Churchill, not much of a key player, looked a little fatter than I remember. Amy did a nice job, but then she’d brighten any scene she’s in. Prof. Bracewell as the misguided android did a nice job. (And he likes girls.)

But let’s go back to the Daleks.

Do you know what it takes to make a genuinely mediocre episode of Doctor Who? Answer: The Daleks.

Confined in their metal city on Skaro, in a claustrophobic setting, they were a credible threat. Unleashed on the universe, they’re a joke. I’m sure the writers of the original Doctor Who knew that. Just look at the Dalek stories starting in the Pertwee era. They are absolutely the most unconvincing villains ever created, but they’re popular with the punters and they just had to keep bringing them back. Even back then, their master plans were idiotic. Hollowing out the cores of planets, running their own funeral parlor, etc. The power of nostalgia overcomes people when thinking about the Daleks.

Then a funny thing happened, Russell T. Davies, an admittedly massively nostalgic fan of the original series, came along and he wanted his Daleks to be menacing – like he remembered them in the misty, poorly remembered corners of his mind. (Keep this in mind, They were never menacing, it’s just his memory failing.) So, during his reign, the Daleks were brilliant and massively powerful. One single Dalek could wipe out an entire city. They’re really, really dangerous.

Problem is, if they’re so smart, that might be able to learn and adapt and become peaceful, even productive members of the universe. Not to mention that, but, if they did take over the universe, what would they do with it? Really, they’ve got no good motivation, either. Can’t have that, let’s make them insane too! It doesn’t matter how dumb the idea, right up to and including destroying reality itself, they’re up for it. They’re crazy, the audience will buy anything they want to do.

No, we won’t.

The Daleks should never have been made so smart and all-powerful that they could destroy all of reality, no more than the Time Lords should have been made powerful enough to destroy all of time itself. When you get villains that big and powerful any plot you come up with just gets dumber and dumber and the resolution more insane.

The Daleks desperately needed a reboot (as do the Time Lords). Perhaps these new Daleks, unaware of what’s transpired, will be closer to the older Daleks. Big enough of a threat to take over whole planets, subjugate whole races of people, launch intergalactic wars. but not big enough to contemplate the total destruction of the fabric of reality. Let’s give the Doctor something I can believe he could defeat using his wits.

So with this story, let’s all wish on the first star we see tonight and send Stephen Moffat some psychic messages. If we can’t have “no Daleks, ever”, then at least let’s wish for “sensible Daleks.”

A lot of ire has been spreading across the ‘net regarding the look of the new Daleks. I can take it or leave it. Since they barely ever looked menacing, I don’t think the new ones are much of a departure. They’re bigger, they’re colorful, they’re still laughable.

iPad Notes and Review

I promised my incoherent thoughts on the iPad after days of use and here they are… in no particular order.

iPad notes

  • Carrying it is awkward. There’s just no good way to carry the iPad by itself. You’d think it would be natural to carry it like a textbook, but it isn’t. No matter which way you hold it, your fingers are grasping slick glass on one side. it doesn’t feel secure or natural. Therefore…
  • A case is mandatory. I tried to get away without buying one as they’re ridiculously expensive (for what they are) but the iPad just needs something. I think, perhaps, in the future I’ll get one of those portfolio types similar to a zipped up paper pad, but for now I’ve just got a neoprene sleeve.
  • Videos are fantastic. Hand down, video looks great on this thing. Whether it’s iTunes movies, videos I’ve made myself for my Apple TV or Youtube videos, they really shine. The lack of a 16:9 aspect ratio isn’t that big of a deal. Youtube videos on webpages now play inline rather than jumping you to the YouTube as the iPhone does, which is very refreshing and apps like ABC’s TV service is magnificent. Pity ABC hasn’t got jack to watch. Here’s hoping soon for Hulu, CBS, NBC and the others to follow suit. I hear, but haven’t seen the Netflix streaming rocks, but I don’t have a Netflix account, nor am I likely to ever get one until the have a pay-as-you use plan rather than a flat monthly fee. Not enough movies in the world that I want to see to justify a monthly expense.
  • Brightness control is inconvenient. The iBooks program recognizes that easy to adjust brightness is critical for using a screen like this and builds it right into the program. Sadly, I’m learning that’s a forbidden, undocumented API that Apple alone uses and other programs cannot use it without risking Apple’s wrath or rejection. To change the brightness otherwise, you have to dig into settings, which is a hassle when you’re just moving from room to room. Supposedly, the iPad has auto-brightness but it doesn’t seem to work too well. I’ve not noticed any dimming or brightening at all.
  • Many apps are “splitting” into an iPhone and an iPad path. I think it’s pretty clear that Apple would like all developers of iPhone apps to use the dual-target, universal binary to produce a single app that runs on both platforms and takes advantage of the environment its running on. There are pros and cons against that modality. Yes, it’s great when I pop open a program that I had previously purchased on my iPhone and discover it’s been ported to run bigger and better – and yes, it is better – but at the same time, any graphic intensive program would require that higher resolution graphics be stored within the application bundle, resulting in bloated app packages, straining your already full iPhone for no benefit to the iPhone. Consequently, many programs now have iPhone and iPad versions. This is confusing because I don’t know which app developers might have released a newer better version since it is outside of the normal upgrade path provided through iTunes. But that’s not all…
  • Apps are beginning to cost more. That’s great if you’re a developer. iPhone apps have been pigeonholed into the free/$0.99-4.99 paradigm because that’s the prevailing wisdom. iPhone apps are an impulse buy and that means low-price. The price is completely divorced from the amount of effort involved in the development. Apple has sent a signal by releasing Pages, Numbers and Keynote at $9.99 – it’s OK to charge more for advanced apps. That’s great, but it certainly will (should) slow down app purchases. That said, I think I’ve spent more on iPad apps already than I have in their entirety on my iPhone. OmniGraffle has put out what looks to be a kick-ass flow charting/design program, but at $49.99… it’s going to have to wait. Come to think of it, Omni Group’s programs on the Mac are always just a little too expensive for my blood.
  • iPad apps are better. Ooo, this will probably get me in trouble with somebody but, here’s how I see it. iPhone OS is brilliant, it really is a ground-up rethink of the computer operating system which is what was needed for the iPhone. Previous mobile phone approaches (are you listening Microsoft) took the computer OS and scaled it down. That is, they cut it down. That was the wrong approach. Let’s face it, the iPhone’s screen is small. There’s not much room to work with and they made it work. Now, on the iPad, it’s like they’ve been taking steroids. It is bigger and better and the ground-up rethink is really paying off because you can do so much more, but you’re still working within an intimate space. I don’t know that you could continue to scale it up indefinitely, but at the iPad’s size, it’s wonderful.
  • Any purchased iPhone/iPod Touch apps you have will transfer to your iPad. In case you didn’t realize that, the copy protection applied to your purchased apps is applied at the iTunes library level, not the device level. That means if you’ve already purchased it, it will load right onto your iPad, assuming (a) that you’re using the same iTunes library and (b) the app is compatible with the iPad. (It might be possible that one isn’t, but the vast majority are.)
  • iPhone apps don’t cut it on the iPad. There’s an odd sort of delight when you pop open one of your iPhone apps and it turns out it’s already ported to the iPad. More importantly, there’s a crushing letdown feeling when you open on and all you get is the iPhone penalty box. Similarly, there’s a letdown when they don’t. The single size mode just feels bad and the double-sized mode looks awful. Very few of the programs I have on the iPhone are acceptable on the iPad.
  • My Bejeweled 2 scores are going way up. That having been said, at least Bejeweled 2 is passable on the big screen in double mode, and my scores are going way up. It’s much easy to see and manipulate those little jewels on the bigger screen.
  • I am not enthralled with programs that have functions that only work in one orientation or another. That requires a little explanation. You may recall the other day that I said at the Best Buy I was having some problems with Pages on the iPad. Specifically, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the damned document and start a new one. Answer: You can only have that menu in portrait mode. In landscape, which is the easiest to type in, the menu doesn’t come up. I don’t like that. Developers – stop it. Do not do that. Bad developer, bad, bad, bad. Rolled up newspaper time for you. The user should decide which orientation works best for them.
  • You can type on it. At least, you can type on it better than the iPhone. In landscape orientation I can type two-handed, 10-fingers and quite quickly; however, punctuation is still penalized by having to switch to a secondary keyboard mode and it begins to jar the fingers knocking on the screen after a short period of time. I’ve never really had too much trouble with typing on the iPhone, but the iPad is better – hands down. (Actually, I think all my typing problems on the iPhone are actually a plot by the developers of the iPhone Facebook app. I think they’ve written the code to randomly misspell one word in every Facebook post I make, not matter how careful I am.)
  • Not enough books and you can’t see what they are until you own an iPad! The iBooks reader is gorgeous and works well, but, before I bought the iPad, I wanted to know what books were available. No can do, the only way I can find to see what’s on the iBookstore is to have an iPad and iBooks. Silly Apple. There aren’t enough books (yet) in the store, and hardly anything on sciences (especially paleontology.) I imagine there’s plenty of fictional bestsellers for the dim sheeple, but I don’t care.
  • Kindle works nicely, but isn’t as polished as iBooks. Amazon cranked out their Kindle app for the iPhone rather quickly and it’s also very nice. I liked it on the iPhone, but after purchasing a couple books, I never finished them. It’s too much of a eye strain to read them on the phone. Joy of joy, my previously purchased books synced right onto the iPad and were at exactly the point I left off. I’m finally going to get to finish Capture the Saint by Burl Barer (the only Saint book I haven’t been able to buy in print) and The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. (I know, I know, you’d think I’d have read that, wouldn’t you, but… I haven’t. But I will now.)
  • There is no comfortable position to sit and use the iPad. At least I haven’t found one. It’s too heavy to hold as a book for long periods of time and I think that may be exacerbated by the thinness of it. It feels a little unnatural to hold, but then a lifetime of holding books feels natural because that’s what I’ve done for a lifetime. I have a size and a weight expectation. We’ll see if time will change my opinion on this.
  • Mail and Safari are particularly nice. They’re really nice, The big screen for Mail and the inline videos for Safari really seal it as a great way to browse and read mail. There’s a buggy or two in Mail, especially when changing orientation. You can get out of a mailbox, work your way back to the root, even start down towards another mailbox and, if you rotate the screen, you’ll find yourself back in the original mailbox you started from. That’s annoying. It’s especially bad when you have the iPad fasted to the airbag section of your car’s steering wheel and using it to read mail while you’re driving. Sometimes if you make a fast turn, you spin the wheel enough to change the orientation and you loose your place*. Thank Apple for the orientation lock.
  • No problems, so far, with wireless. Others are reporting problems with their wireless connections. I’ve not experienced any problems. It worked first time, zero hassle, immediately. it even worked when we took it out to restaurant yesterday and glommed onto their free by authenticated network.
  • File sharing is weird to implement. Programs can now “save” files into user space for later retrieval, such as Pages being able to save PDFs, Word Docs and Pages Docs for moving to another computer, but it’s all done through iTunes and completely non-intuitive. I knew it could do it, but I had to look up how to do it on the ‘net. Minus several points for hiding this important feature where no one would look for it.
  • I wonder if the need for apps will decrease on the iPad when people realize the browser is more full featured. Steve Jobs recently pointed out that, at least for the iPhone (and therefore the lion’s share of this market) people use apps more than web browsing – hence the initiative to create Apple’s iAds service for monetizing apps – but I wonder if that’s because an app can deliver a much better experience than a web app on the iPhone? Safari’s browser is much better on the iPad. It’s possible that people will again begin to shift back towards online services over apps.

Those are my thoughts so far. Perhaps they seem a bit negative, but they aren’t. All in all it’s a great little device and the potential seems limitless. Next time, I’ll talk about some of the specific applications, like Popular Science Mag+ electronic magazine and Marvel Comics e-comic reader. (I’m going to have a guest reviewer and well-placed insider in the comic book trade giving me his feedback before I write that one. Will the iPad finally kill the comic book? Will there be a super-hero created by bitten by a radioactive iPad? Find out next time… or whenever I get around to it, same bat-time, same bat channel.)


*Oh, and people, that part about the driving and stuff… totally a joke. Like my wife would let me have the iPad when I driving. She’s totally monopolizing it to read The Lightening Thief.


MacBook Pro – After the honeymoon

I really need to catch up on my writing!

After my initial analysis of my MacBook Pro, I thought I should point out a few things after using it for a few weeks.

In no particular order:

  • The edges on this thing are sharp. I’m not quite ready to take a file to it, but really! Did your ergonomic testers have bionic arms?
  • The battery life is phenomenal – most of the time. For the first week, I was regularly getting 7 or more hours from the battery every day. Then one day, I started to only get 4-5. Nothing was running, and I couldn’t hear the fans (although, they are so whisper quiet, you can barely hear them when they are running.) This went on for a week, then I happened to reboot. Suddenly, I’m back to 7 hours. This has happened twice since then and reboots always solve the problem. I can’t find anything running, but I think it may be tied to Xcode or Eclipse.
  • Despite the sharp edge, the laptop keyboard is still easier to type on when on your lap than the old MacBook was. Perhaps it’s just roomier.
  • The speakers have a really long delay when switching from internal to external, sometimes 3-4 seconds after the plug is in before it shifts to the external speakers.

Still… I love it.

Doctor Who – The Beast Below – Review – Spoilers

“Say, ‘Whee!'” – the Doctor

I’ll skip the usual synopsis/analysis section and cut right to the bone: this was another fine episode of Doctor Who. With only two episodes of Smith’s reign and Moffat’s stewardship, I could hardly be happier with their start.

This episode we get to see Smith in all his gangly, oddly walking Time Lord glory and he really does fit perfectly. I’m convinced now that he’s not aping Troughton and Davison, but that’s he’s settled on a persona that bears resemblances to them without being the copies. It’s perhaps the best example of “same man, different face” that we’ve yet seen in the actors who play the Doctor.

For the first time ever, the Doctor finds himself in a truly unwinnable situation: He has three choices and in all of them innocents will be grievously harmed or killed. Gone is Russell T. Davies “the Doctor is an absolute moral compass” – or perhaps it’s still there, but we realize even with a compass, sometimes life’s decisions are about taking the least of bad situations.

In the previous episode, the only thing that bothered me about the story was the fact that there were so many coma victims in such a small town, in this episode there were several points that bothered me:

  • Why did the smilers have rotating heads? Each smiler has three expressions, “Happy”, “Sad” and “Angry”, yet only two sides to their face – front and back. When ‘happy’ turned to ‘sad’ and then ‘sad’ turned to ‘angry’, the ‘happy’ face must somehow have been transmogrified to the ‘angry’ one. If the face could be changed, why bother rotating?
  • If the space whale refused to eat children over the course of their 200+ year flight, why did they continue to feed the children to them? Wishful thinking?
  • Having had the children not eaten, what do they do with them? Did they just collect the “zeroes” down in the tower?
  • When the children were inside the whale, as the Doctor and Amy were, how could the whale tell that it had children in its mouth rather than adults?
  • What was the point of having the recorded statement for the “protest/forget” voting booths? If you protested, you were killed, if you chose to forget, surely they would never let you see the recorded statement, otherwise, you could just tell yourself what you were about to forget.

All that said, all is forgiven for this story, a truly unique Doctor Who story.

Next week, the Daleks – I can already tell that I don’t like the idea of a phone-line to the TARDIS.