Archive for 2012

The Night Before Pyslentmas

December 24th, 2012, 6:30pm by Jake

Twas the night before Christmas, and on our website
All had stopped posting, and comments were light
WordPress still running Pyslent with due care
Even if it’s slow, we still check in here

Five children were nestled, all snug in their beds
While visions of gadgets danced in dads’ heads
The Pats comeback worked, while the Niners fell way short
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul now rule the court

Out on the internet arose such a clatter
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter
Grabbed my MacBook Air, no way it’s a fad?
Checked Twitter & email, this Mac’s stuff not bad

The internet was crazy, I’d never seen such a flurry
But I must be quick, I must be in a hurry
Then I just saw him, almost did not catch it.
It’s Rotiveo– the patron saint of gadgets!

Rotiveo wore Mobile Pants, size extra tall
And his clothes were vibrating, must be a phone call
Brought a load of gadgets, and even a game
And he whistled, and shouted and called sites by name

“Now Groupon! Now Apple! Now Target and Best Buy!
To Starbucks! To Costco! To Amazon and Fry’s”
All over the web, he searched high and searched low
To find all the stuff, now it’s ready to go!

All across the internet, Rotiveo he flew
A storm of traffic he did see in his rear view
He found the best deals, on the very best gear
It’s so cutting edge, it will still be good next year.

The net’s overflowing with really good stuff
Getting it to work might be kind of tough
With all sorts of cords and fifty kinds of plugs
(For us early adopters, we’re used to the bugs)

Rotiveo’s got just the right thing for us all
No Veer, Symbian, nor ‘lectronic pinball
Instead it’s the new Windows 8 and iPads galore,
Prime lenses, Wii U, Nexuses and more!

Giant TVs, they are perfect for games
Phones from Samsung, Apple, and a bunch of no-names
With the right kind of gear and a well-trained eye,
You’ll soon take great photos, and that ain’t no lie

The Dimiccos, spending another Christmas together
There’ll be much joy on a run, just ignore at the weather
To Kelvin, Serena, Montana & Lucas
Happily running all around, don’t fall on your tucus.

Jake and Olivia off to Tucson,
New people to meet, there will be lots of fun in the sun
Derrick, Emily, Brandon & Tiffany
Finally settled down, a permanent home for the family

Lucas’ sixth & Brandon’s eight Christmas Eve
Montana always dreaming, of food I believe
Tiffany, Adam & Emma now know that Christmas is grand
Too many toys to hold in ten little hands.

Rotiveo sprang to Roomba (hacked years before)
And away they went, after cleaning the floor
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Hurricane Sandy!

October 29th, 2012, 3:32pm by Mike

Writing from the middle of the storm! Well, if by “middle” I mean 500 miles from the eye of the storm — but we’re getting pretty well pounded here in Boston.

In the interest of future context, the “Frankenstorm” is a rare, late-season hurricane that started up in the Carribbean and basically tracked due north toward the mid-Atlantic. The storm was predicted to combine with a strong, cold jet stream, and a high-pressure area over Greenland was to prevent the normal hurricane track, and force it onshore. In the about 7 days leading up to its arrival, the hype has built and built — and as of now, it looks like it was pretty well-founded.

Here in Boston, we’re having lots of wind, and power outages (or so I’ve heard), but not much rain, and we probably won’t get too much. The coast is really getting battered by the waves, and there’s massive flooding in New Jersey. I cancelled my work trip to NYC — turns out that flights and trains were all cancelled, and NYC transit shut down last night at 7pm — so it would have been all for nothing, anyway.

And I just saw on Twitter that a crane atop an under-construction building, across the street from the hotel I often stay in, is about to collapse.

Every disaster these days seems to bring with it new technological ways of experiencing what’s going on, and this one is no different. Between Twitter’s Sandy hashtag, all sorts of interactive maps (like the Boston Globe’s and NStar’s power outage map, live streams from the Weather Channel, and live updates on the NYT’s site, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with info.

You’ll know if we lose power if the site goes down!

State of the Apple: Announcements, etc

October 26th, 2012, 3:55pm by Mike

So as we’ve discussed on Twitter, Apple surprised zero people this week by announcing the iPad mini, a 7.9″ version of the iPad. So now there are 5 different  screens for iOS devices:

  • 3.5″ 960×640 “retina” display @ 326 ppi (iPhone 4S)
  • 5″ 1136 x 640 retina display @ 326 ppi (iPhone 5, iPod touch)
  • 7.9″ 1024 x 768 display @ 163 ppi (iPad mini)
  • 10.7″ 1024 x 768 display @ 132 ppi (iPad 2)
  • 10.7″ 2048 x 1536 display @ 264 ppi (iPad 4)

 

My gut feeling about the iPad mini from having only watched the announcement (and making a paper mockup is that it doesn’t fill a niche that I think I have. I realize I’ve said this about many products I’ve gone on to buy (particularly from Apple), so I reserve the right to change my mind. Clearly the sell is on portability and one-handed use, but there are already small iOS devices that cost less (iPod touch 32 GB is $130 less than iPad mini 32 GB), and much more capable iOS devices that cost a bit more (iPad 4 costs $170 more than iPad mini across capacities). So price-wise, it fills a gulf of $300 between the iPod touch and the iPad 4 — but I’m not sure it actually fills a capability gap, at least for me.

I have no doubt they’ll sell a ton of these, but it seems like they’ll have some issues to overcome to convert the technologically literate:

  • Marketing: I actually heard people on the train this morning exasperated that Apple would release a product with a non-HD screen to compete with similarly-priced products with an HD screen (specifically, the Kindle Fire HD was mentioned). I just bit my tongue for several reasons, but in some ways, we’re back to the megahertz discussion of the PC days. People love quantitative specs, so much that they’ll often make irrational decisions. Apple has tried to get ahead of the curve on this — in the keynote, they started selling it as the “iPad, concentrated” rather than stripped-down and shrunk.
  • Typing: Having typed on both an iPhone and an iPad, I can’t figure out how this thing will stack up. It seems too big in both dimensions for thumb typing, and far too small for normal touch typing. If my initial thoughts are close to correct, I think I’d rather shoot myself than try to actually bang out anything on an iPad mini.
  • Actual use cases: I think they’d do well to find and show some examples of how the iPad mini is perfect for certain use cases. For me, the subway is one (though the Kindle is my choice for this, particularly since I also have an iPhone). The fact of the matter, though, is that nobody needs one of these, and those that do already have an iPad, a Kindle, an iPhone, or all three. Another potential example is for kids — might be fun to have an iPad that’s cheaper, lighter, and smaller for kids to use around the house. Kids that are older than mine, that is…

 

 

 

Half Ironman Triathlon tomorrow!

October 13th, 2012, 1:53pm by Jake

It’s payback time! Of course, in keeping with tradition, it’s going to be 90 at Castaic Lake tomorrow. Same as last year‘s Magic Mountain Man Triathlon. Same as the 2 marathons. Somehow, the 3 half marathons I have run have there been on days where the mercury barely touched 70. Just my luck. Heading up there soon to get my bib & set up the transition. Going to be a tough day. I might post an update or two during the race, but don’t count on it.

iPhone 5 and Maps

September 22nd, 2012, 6:26pm by Mike

Just stopped by a Verizon store and played with the iPhone 5. I agree with the reviews that it feels super-light (in fact, too light, I think — feels a little cheap, but nothing a battery case wouldn’t “solve”). Screen is nice, iOS 6 looks fine, but I’m not chomping at the bit. Maybe after January when I’m upgrade-eligible.

Of course the big story is Maps, Apple’s homegrown replacement for Google Maps. Reports are that it really sucks — difficulty finding places, locations not being on the right block (or the right city), etc. The reason is said to be the underlying data source — while Google Maps leverages Google’s local search and behemoth databases, Apple supposedly based Maps on TomTom and Yelp (among others) which according to experts provides a much inferior set of POIs.

If it’s true that Maps doesn’t work for normal people in normal situations, Apple’s got a real problem. I know people who are regretting their pre-order of iPhone 5, and lots who haven’t upgraded to iOS 6 for this reason. Apple’s earnings, and therefore stock price, depend on a rabid fan base religiously upgrading, since they can’t expect a ton more market penetration. You guys know more about telco and handset financials than I do, but anything that makes people not want an iPhone is a potential disaster for Apple.

Google is already thought to be working on a standalone GMaps app, which will be great for a couple of reasons — first, they’ll be competing with the preinstalled Maps app, so they’ll need good features (hopefully including turn-by-turn directions) — let’s hope they move closer to feature parity with the Android version. Second, they can update the app independently of Apple’s iOS updates, which was the only way they could update a built-in app before. Overall, I expect the standalone GMaps app for iOS to be better than the current one.

Personally, I’m waiting for the untethered JB before going to iOS6 (won’t be long now, tethered JB already available), and by the time that comes around, there will undoubtedly be a way to redirect Maps links inside software to GMaps instead of Apple Maps (similar to how there are tweaks now redirecting links to non-Safari browsers, like Chrome, which I’m using). Too bad there’s no way this will be an option without jailbreaking — I’ll bet that option will appeal to lots of iPhone users. I wonder if more people will jailbreak?

I’m interested to hear real people’s experiences with Maps. In my quick trial at the Verizon Store, it was fine — no major problems, but nothing that seemed any better than GMaps, either. In other words, if Apple Maps were available as a standalone app, I doubt I’d install it, since I’m happy enough with GMaps.

iPhone 5: Liveblogging the Liveblogs

September 12th, 2012, 1:00pm by Jake

A Pyslent tradition.

Home for a week

August 26th, 2012, 6:58pm by Jake


Home for a week, originally uploaded by jakerome.

Happy to be back gain at Camp Lawrence. Right now it’s just me with the three boys. I’m officially insane! 9th year at Family Camp, this is my 25th year at camp, including 7 as a camper and 9 as a boys camp counselor.

Gadget roundup

August 25th, 2012, 4:01pm by Mike

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about any new gadgets I’ve gotten, and there have been a couple. So, without further ado:

Shurese215s

  • Shure SE215s headphones: In the past couple of years, I haven’t really used Bluetooth earpieces for phones — a combination of losing them, losing/breaking proprietary chargers, and lately, not driving, have brought me back around to wired headsets with in-line microphones. I’m on a lot of calls on my cell phone with work, and I also have been listening to more and more music, and like the combination of good stereo sound, portability, and ability to switch instantly to a call. The Apple ones that come with iPods/iPhones have never worked well in my ears (in fact, they hurt). For about 8 months I had a pair of Klipsch S4is that I liked, but the cord was pretty fragile, and ended up fraying when it accidentally got wrapped up in my suitcase handle on an NYC subway.

    I read some reviews, including from my favorite tech review website, The Wirecutter, and ended up going with their recommendation (at the time), the Shure SE215s. Though they’ve moved on to another recommendation, I’m really happy with them. First of all, they’re noise-isolating — Shure makes studio monitors for musicians, so they’re into using foam to really isolate outside noise. Secondly, the cable itself is thick — almost Fisher-Price thick. But it won’t get worn (and if it does, the cable itself is replaceable, much cheaper than new headphones). And finally, they sound really good — even The Wirecutter said that they sounded better than the newest pick in the $100 range. The only downside — they don’t have a microphone unless you buy the optional microphone cable, which I did. So that boosts the price a bit.

Contigoautoseal

  • Contigo mug: My Oxo / Good Grips mug had an incident of leaking (probably from me putting it in the dishwasher), so I was in the market for a new coffee mug. After reading Amazon reviews, it sounded like the new leader in the market was Contigo, so I got one of their autoseal mugs. It’s awesome. I literally can throw it into a suitcase and not worry about the dregs of my coffee leaking. It keeps things hot for a long time, and I think it looks pretty cool, too. Continuing his “I’ll have what he’s having” approach to travel coffee mugs, Kelvin has recently bought the Contigo, too — we’ll see how he likes it.

Verizonjetpack

  • Verizon JetPack hotspot: I had a work-issued Sprint 3G PCMCIA card, which worked pretty well, except where it didn’t get signal. In addition, being a card for a laptop, it was limited to getting only one device online at a time — and that device had to have a PCMCIA slot and drivers for the card. When I found out that I could request a Mifi hotspot to replace it, I jumped on it. Being Verizon, the coverage is better than Sprint. It’s also a 4G (LTE) hotspot, can get all my devices online simultaneously, has a ~3 hour battery (can also be plugged into USB while working), and of course, needs no special hardware or software beyond wifi compatibility. It’s great.

Kindlebasic

  • Kindle: Last Christmas, I got the Kindle Touch, which I liked except for the fact that (at the time), RSS feeds couldn’t be formatted on it correctly when you used a service like Kindlefeeder or a server-based program like Calibre (which is my choice). So I returned it, got a Kindle Basic for $79, and haven’t thought twice about it. Unlike the Touch, you can read one-handed, and unlike the iPad, it’s super-light and small. I like that there are no distractions (like email, the web, Twitter, etc) while I’m reading on it — really lets me tune out. On the iPad, there’s always something else to do.

Mophiejuicepackair

  • Mophie Juice Pack Air: In NYC, AT&T coverage is famously bad. While I was working there on a case, my phone battery would routinely be in the 10-20% range by 3pm, due to constant searching for signal. So, I bought a Mophie battery case for my iPhone. It adds a little heft, but it’s really not bad at all. The battery just sits there passively until you flip the switch, at which point it’s as if you’ve plugged into the wall — the battery discharges into the internal iPhone battery while also letting you continue talking immediately. This method means less wear and tear on the battery than if it were constantly draining. The only downside is that the dock connector is covered up when the case is on — charging is by a mini-USB on the side (which is actually not bad — same connector as my Kindle and MiFi.

I’m sure there are others, but those are the ones that come to mind. How about you guys, anything new and fun?

The New Apple TV plan

August 25th, 2012, 3:04pm by Mike

I’ve decided that it’s time to upgrade my 1st gen Apple TV. I bought the thing almost exactly 5 years ago — I got the 40 GB hard drive version, and spent $299 on it. Since then, I’ve jailbroken it, which has opened up its functionality tremendously — its main use is to stream downloaded TV shows from my server (the computer that’s also serving this website) to the TV in the living room. We also use it for looking at our iPhoto photo collection.

So why upgrade?

My ATV has started to show some wear and tear — with all the hacks I have on it, it’s having some mysterious, recurring issues (spontaneous restarts, not able to stream music, etc). The spontaneous restarts are especially bothersome — because of my audio setup (more below), the ATV is plugged straight into the soundbar, and the volume is often kind of high for watching movies — so a spontaneous restart in the middle of the night has actually woken us up!).

In addition, the new Apple TV has some nice capabilities — notably, the ability to throw video from a computer or iDevice to the TV. This is handled natively in OS 10.8, or with third party software like AirParrot in 10.6.8 or higher (I’m running 10.6.8 on my Macs, haven’t seen any reason to upgrade, and lots of reasons not to — but that’s a different story).

The drawback

The newest Apple TV (3rd gen) isn’t jailbreakable — at least not yet. Though it’s been out for quite some time, the fact that there are very few services running on the device makes it really hard to inject the jailbreak code into the system. As recently as this month, there’s some vague hope that a jailbreak is in the works, but nothing definite.

So, then, whats the plan?

  • Get a 2nd gen Apple TV. As Kelvin and Jake know, I figured the easiest way was to find somebody with a second-gen ATV who hadn’t hacked it, and offer to replace it with a brand-new 3rd gen. Kelvin took me up on the offer, and I think he’s on his way to pick up his new ATV 3 at the Palo Alto Apple Store as I write this (thanks to Apple’s in-store pickup option, I ordered it for his pickup). You can still buy an ATV 2, but the prices are outrageous (see the photo in the link above, for example) — BTW, Kelvin, if I ever sell it, you get the proceeds — this isn’t a money-making operation for me!
  • Get the requisite connection gear. As I’ve posted before, a difficulty is that the ATV2 (and 3) only have HDMI and optical audio out. My old Westinghouse TV (man, the Board archives are great for searching for old gadgets!) only has one HDMI input, and no optical audio in — more importantly, it only has RCA audio out, and this doesn’t work unless the TV is on (bad for streaming audio to external speakers via AppleTV). Also, you have to go through the menu to switch on the external audio every time the TV is switched off). Bottom line — the best way to handle the ATV audio is straight to the soundbar, bypassing the TV altogether. The 1st Gen ATV has RCA audio out, which is great, since the soundbar only has RCA audio in. But switching to the ATV 2, there’s no RCA out.

    So, long story short: One of these should hopefully do the trick.

  • Jailbreak the ATV 2. Rather than do it all by hand like I did last time, I think I’ll just buy FireCore aTV Flash.
  • Install AirParrot. This will allow me to do things like fire up ESPN3 on the Mac and stream to the ATV. The alternative now is to move the Mac mini over to the TV and mess with all the wires — this will be much easier. (Down the road, when I get a new iPhone or iPad, I should also be able to use Airplay Mirroring to throw video to the TV from there — but it won’t work with my current iPhone 4 and iPad 1).

So, if my calculations are right, that’s $100 for the ATV, $16 for the DA converter, $30 for aTV flash, and $10 for AirParrot. So for a little over $150, I’ll be slightly ahead of where I am now, but hopefully with an ATV that won’t spontaneously restart every once in a while, and actually works correctly for audio streaming. Wish me luck!

Judging Music

August 11th, 2012, 3:44pm by Mike

I have a backlog of things I want to post, and here’s one of them.

 

Zite is great, in my opinion — it <i>always</i> finds interesting stuff for me to read, and somehow knows about things I haven’t told it about. For example, it knows that early in college, one of the genres of music I listened to was basically guitar-noise music, like My Bloody Valentine and Pale Saints. So I came across a blog post via Zite claiming that My Bloody Valentine’s <i>Loveless</i> was “the greatest rock album of our greatness-averse age.” It went on to say, “Loveless is hardly obscure if you happened to care about alternative rock back when the name Dave Kendall still meant something.” I definitely fall into that crowd — I would videotape 120 Minutes every week.

And while I vehemently disagree with the assessment of Loveless, I definitely wanted to read the post. The most thought-provoking quote, buried in the middle, was:

People are physically incapable of accurately judging the greatness of music that was released before they turned 13 and after they turned 35.

I think this explains why there’s lots of “great” indie music that I don’t really get. There’s definitely some that I like, but I’ve always found that when I’m in a rut, I usually discover something that’s not new to start listening to.

What do you guys think?

The rest of the article is worth a read — not because it goes off on how great (?) My Bloody Valentine was, but it was an interesting discussion of some issues of greatness, fame, and critical reception of music.


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