“The Social Network” – Better than I thought it would be

The Social Network

I had resisted watching the movie The Social Network for no particularly good reason, other than why would I want to watch a fictionalized (and, presumably, sensationalized) version of the creation of Facebook. But last night I did finally watch the DVD of the movie, and I confess that I found it riveting. Whether or not any of it is true is irrelevant, because it was a good story well told. Jesse Eisenberg caught that socially inept quality that a lot of computer geeks have. (The character reminded me in his argumentatively brilliant way of a brilliant person I used to work with, where whatever you said would be met with some challenge.) I can see why he was nominated for an Oscar. It will be interesting to follow his career and see if his acting range is greater than a 20-something computer guy.

Germans vs. Italians | Leuchtturm1917 vs. Moleskine

I’ve long been a fan of Moleskine (http://moleskine.com) notebooks, those ubiquitous little black books that people write in in coffee shops to look cool. Lately, however, I’ve been using a similar pocket notebook by Moleskine’s German competitor Leuchtturm1917 (http://leuchtturm1917.com). The pocket size is slightly larger than the equivalent Moleskine, and the binding and paper seem to be a slightly higher quality. They are approximately the same size and can be ordered from Amazon.com. And they are now slightly more exotic than the Moleskines. (I started using those when they were hard to come by and couldn’t be bought everywhere.) I’m sure they both have their partisans.

In praise of Audio Galaxy

I have a personal digital music library at home over 500 GB in size, and, yes, it is all either ripped from CDs I own or purchased from legitimate sources. It’s too large to carry around on an iPod or to have replicated on my office computer for when I want to listen to some obscure piece or other.

Over the past few years I have tried virtually every piece of software that has come out for streaming music from my home Macintosh to a remote location.  A few I have used:  Simplify Media (the first and most popular; acquired by Google); ootunes (works pretty well, but tries to do too much, you have to mess around with router settings, opening ports to make it work, and it has a very unpolished user interface); lala.com (you had to upload your music to their servers and then were able to stream it to a web page; you could buy “tracks” for $.10 that you didn’t own but could stream as much as you want; you could also buy and download the tracks; didn’t work well for classical music/multi-disk sets; acquired by Apple and put out of business.)  There have been others, now lost in the mists of time and technology.

The latest of these services that I have found, and the best so far is audiogalaxy.com.  It’s been around for a while, in a previous incarnation, but the current version streams from your own home (or wherever) machine, using a tiny piece of server software that runs in the background.  And—best of all—it just works.  No need to change router settings; the preference settings are minimal: pointing out your music library.  It defaults to iTunes and uses the iTunes playlists, although you can choose other music folders if you wish.  There are apps for iPhone/iPod Touch and Android. (I’ve used both, and they work really well).  And you can listen from the audiogalaxy web site to stream your own music.  It is not trying to stream internet radio, video, or other sources.  It does one thing really well, streaming music.  (My home ISP is Time-Warner cable, average home speed, so nothing very fast.)  The listening experience at a remote site (even on cellular 3G service) is steady, with very few drop-outs.  Audiogalaxy uses the cover art embedded into the sound file.  It streams a variety of file formats, but no DRM protected files.

There is a limit of 200,000 songs, but even with my large library, I’m nowhere near that.  If you want to, you can sign up for audiogalaxy using your Facebook credentials, but to their credit, audiogalaxy doesn’t add anything to your Facebook feed unless you want them to.  Audiogalaxy is still in beta.  A feature that will eventually become available is the ability to browse other audiogalaxy users’ collection.  You can disable this function.  You can also have audiogalaxy automatically display correct tagging information, even if your tags are incorrect.  It doesn’t, however, make any changes to your music files.

If you’re looking for an easy way to listen to your home music library remotely, I highly recommend audiogalaxy.

Cleveland is falling apart

Is it my imagination or is Cleveland’s aging infrastructure starting to give way all of a sudden? In the past week, here are the things that have affected me personally:

* a major water main break on Adelbert Road in the middle of the CWRU campus, which has closed traffic off and on for the better part of a week.
* two major power outages last weekend that left about 10,000 homes without power.
* another water main break on Adelbert today (or was the first one just not fixed right?)
* a major water main break on eastbound Cedar Road on Cedar Hill, one of the major arteries from the eastern suburbs to downtown. Many thousands of cars/drivers were greatly delayed during this evening’s rush hour, with no ETA for completion of repairs.

I think of these sorts of events in cold winter weather, but not in the summer. Perhaps a civil engineer can answer why this stuff is all happening now, other than the obvious answer that our government is not doing appropriate preventive maintenance.

Perhaps the Tea Party folks pressing for doing away with government should consider what happens when the government is deprived of enough money to fix the streets, change the bulbs in street lights, maintain the sewage systems. The state of California is already finding out; the rest of us may be finding out soon.

A G-1 upgrade

This evening I finally got fed up with T-Mobile taking so long to update my G-1 Android phone to a newer version of Android, so I took it upon myself to do the dirty work.  Version 1.6 was the last that T-Mobile made available as an update, but new phones from Verizon, Google and even T-Mobile are up to version 2.2. (Of course, by doing this I have made myself persona non grata to T-Mobile, invalidating any warranty that might be left.)

I followed the instructions found here, studied them very carefully and downloaded all of the files required before I started. (They even have videos that run through the whole procedure.) Once I got started it took less than a half hour, and now my phone as a new lease on life.  For the record, I used the mod from Cyanogen, which took the phone to 2.1. It all seems to work just fine.  I was just hoping not to end up with a useless brick.

iPad after a week

I have owned an iPad now for a week (16 GB, WiFi only), so I thought it was time to give a little report. Everything you have read is true, both the good and the bad. It is a large iPod Touch, but with several spectacular differences: the screen is very bright and with such high resolution that it seems larger than it is. It is much clearer than my HP Netbook. The other obvious difference is the virtual keyboard. I am touch typing this post on it while seated at a table with the iPad in its Apple case propped at a slight incline. I have rather thin fingers, and I am quite a good touch typist, but it hasn’t taken me long to get used to the keyboard. (One complaint–the apostrophe is on the symbols page of the keyboard, so it makes typing contractions a pain.) In reality the virtual keyboard is not much smaller than that of many netbooks that i have tried. There is a built in dictionary that offers to complete some words as you type, but i can’t figure out how the words are chosen, because some of the offerings are really off the wall, but some very common words do not show up. I am planning to take only the iPad with me to a business conference this week, so that will be a good test. No, it doesn’t play Flash video. My online life has not come to a halt. Yours probably won’t either.

The battery life is unusually long for a portable device such as this. I have easily gotten as much as ten hours of active use (e.g. Playing music while reading an ebook, then watching a Netflix streaming movie.)

The apps that have been ramped up to be “universal” for both the iPad and iPhone, iTouch are great on large screen. The WordPress client that I am using at the moment is spacious and easy to navigate. Apple Pages is quite full-featured and could be used to write fairly lengthy documents.

Two apps sold me on getting the iPad: the Kindle book reader app and the Netflix app. I have read many books on the iPhone Kindle app with satisfaction. It is quite an immersive experience, superior to the Kindle device itself. The iPad version wipes the Kindle off the map. In it’s current incarnation, I don’t know why anyone would choose the Kindle over the iPad as an ebook reading device.

The Netflix app is truly amazing. If you are a Netflix subscriber, you can stream movies from your “play now” queue directly to your iPad. I was doubtful, but it Just Works. No more being tied to a laptop or your TV. ABC has a similar app for streaming selected episodes of ABC shows, but it is not as sophisticated.

I am not a gamer, so I cannot report on the device as a gaming machine. There do seem to be a fair number of famed in the App Store.

All the usual iPhone buIlt-in apps have been rethought with gorgeous new user interfaces (mail, contacts, calendar, iPod) Syncing is through iTunes. The non-iPad iPhone apps all still work oxo, either at their native iPhone screen size or magnified two times. They can be a bit pixellated, but are still perfectly usable. Apps are being updated every day. I have had at least one app update per day for the past week.

I think we are seeing only the infancy of the iPad’s potential. We will see an explosion of new apps and new KINDS of apps in the next few months. I think the iPad has the potential to be a great educational tool, with the development of “learning apps” that could be assembled in various ways.

The rule of thumb is to never by generation 1 of a new device, but I think that the first generation iPad offers enough new and intriguing features and inspired rethinking of existing apps that I can recommend it. If you need a laptop, get a laptop, but for the majority of day to day use, and above all for consuming digital content, the iPad is in a class apart at the moment.