iMessage Forces Hands

I love iOS 5 on my iPhone. iMessage is so dope. Totally beats BBM. #iPhone #iOS5 #apple #iMessage #BBM anyone else have it?

I’ve been a happy iPhone user since picking mine up on launch day last summer for the iPhone4.  With the announcement of the much anticipated and then slightly disappointing 4s I’ve chosen to not upgrade, there’s not enough bang for the buck and I’m still tied to my current contract for another 8ish months.  What I did do was upgrade to iOS5 though, curious to get some of the new features and functions; one of which is iMessage.

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Top 10 NetBook Accessories

With all the good that NetBooks bring, they still need some accessories to help accomplish tasks better and faster.

1. Case Logic’s Urban Messenger Pak

It doesn’t look like a computer bag, yet holds a NetBook, accessories, phone and more in a stylish package.  An adjustable shoulder or hand strap lets you carry the bag on your back or in your hands.

case-logic

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Things that have improved over time: Griffin iTrip Auto Universal Plus

I can still remember the joy of getting my first iPod nearly five years ago, a 4th generation photo iPod, 40gb in size.  It was great, albeit one problem, listening to it in a car was almost impossible.  Sure they made tape adapters but who had a tape deck in their car anymore?  Surely not me!  Along came a company who filled the need I had by selling the iTrip, a small device that plugged into my iPod, and along with some software played the music in my car stereo.  It was the first generation one and the software was a big buggy, but it worked well enough that I enjoyed it up until the point my iPod was stolen.  I still have the original iTrip somewhere floating around, a relic of this company who has really started to fill needs that I seem to have.

Newly announced from Griffin Technology is the iTrip Auto Universal Plus, taking the concept of the original iPod specific iTrip one step further.  This new device works through your cars cigarette lighter and features SmartScan technology to find the vacant FM station to broadcast music through, no software needs to be loading onto your device.  It’s called Universal because there is no limitation on what audio devices this will work with, so it’s 100% compatible with:

  • iPod
  • Zune
  • iPhone
  • Portable CD Player
  • Walkman (seriously)
  • Any other MP3 Player

Possibly the most ingenious innovations with this device is the Plus ability to flip the back off the power adapter and plug in a USB cable, allowing you to charge your device (iPods, Zunes, etc. that are normally charged by USB).  This means you use the standard cable that came with your device to charge it, while it’s playing in your car!

Buy the iTrip Auto Universal Plus through Amazon.

Things I love: Griffin SmartShare USB slim hub

A year and a half ago I bought my way into the cool club buy purchasing a Macbook.  It’s been serving me very well and I’ve been so happy with it I actually sold my Windows desktop this past fall, the Macbook is now my only computer.  The one thing I always felt slighted about when buying it was the lack of USB ports, it only comes with two.  Two, seriously, are Macbook users less likely to plug things in than Macbook Pro users?

While I’ve lived this long with playing the swap this for that game, sometimes it’s a real pain.  The USB ports are so close that it’s nearly impossible to use a thumb drive + any other cable, and my card reader, yea that’s the only thing fitting in there, the second port becomes inaccessible.  Last night, I finally found a solution.

Griffin introduced the SmartShare USB slimmed down two port USB hub, kind of aimed towards the Macbook Air but works great with my Macbook.  USB hubs are nothing new, but they’ve always been bulky and often offer 4 or more USB ports in line, which again presents a problem if you’re using a larger than average thumb drive or something funky like the card reader for my compact flash card. Not anymore.

The SmartShare is simple and elegant in design and has two ports not connected to each other, allowing devices to be plugged in of almost any size.  At less than three inches long, it neatly fits into my Crumpler bag without excessive cables or plugs.

These small, simple devices make my both more productive and happy.  It’s fully USB 2.0 compatible and will transfer speeds up to 480 Mbps.  Last night I plugged two external hard drives into it and had no speed issues accessing either one of them.  If you need an extra USB port without the bulk of other models, check out the SmartShare.

Use Understudy to stream TV / Movies to your television using Front Row on a Mac

Just over a week ago I published the complete list of websites to stream full TV shows and movies from, the legal way to stream content to your computer.   The problem is, I don’t want to watch videos on my computer, I have a 42” plasma that I’d much prefer to watch TV and movies on from the comfort of my couch.  Yesterday Twitter user @scpi shared a link to an obscure piece of software featured here on Macworld called Understudy.  The article on Macworld is well written but simply doesn’t convey how awesome Understudy really is.

In a nutshell, Understudy is a small plugin that works in conjunction with the Front Row application on Macs (must run Leopard) to gain access to both your existing Netflix account and Hulu by default, other streams can be added in by the end user.  So why on earth am I so stoked for this?  Simple, I can now use the Apple Remote Control to navigate Front Row after connecting my Macbook to my plasma from my couch!  It’s easier than it sounds.

Here’s what I used to make this work:

My Macbook came with the remote, so my total investment was less than $25, depending on the total length of cables you need your out of pocket expenses could vary.  My plasma has HDMI inputs; make sure yours does before starting.

Install Understudy by downloading the package file and double clicking it.  Since the manual for their software is pretty much just the source code for other coders to look at, you should know that’s all you need to do, it doesn’t say that anywhere on their site though.  Understudy is not a stand alone application, so you won’t need to launch it by itself.   Launch your web browser and make sure you are logged into Hulu (free to create an account) and if you use it, Netflix.  In Netflix, add some movies or TV shows to your Watch Instantly queue.  Start up Front Row either from the Applications folder or by pressing the Menu button on the Apple Remote.  You’ll now see the Understudy icon show up in the list of options.  Navigate through the menu to add Netflix movies and Hulu streams, this can all be done by the remote control.  The only thing that still isn’t perfect is finding shows on Hulu from Front Row, as you have to add streams such as Popular Today or Newly Added Movies, so it might take a few minutes to find the exact show you are looking for.  Understanding that Understudy was meant to work with the Apple remote, I can only imagine that no search box will be added, but perhaps as the plugin becomes more developed they ability to add streams by network can added.

To connect my Macbook to my TV was pretty straightforward.  I used the Mini DV to HDMI adapter on the side of the Macbook, then connected the HDMI cable to it and the other end to the TV, this transfers the video content.  Connect the Mini audio cable to the headphone jack of the Macbook and, in my case, I plugged the white and red RCA jacks into the back of my stereo receiver, but could have easily plugged them right into my TV’s audio inputs as well.  That takes care of sound.  Lastly, make sure to have power to your laptop, don’t want the battery to die in the middle of a movie; again if you are using a Mini, you need power to work.

Getting the video to display on the plasma is takne care of, doing it so the laptop screen goes to sleep took a bit of experimenting to get working properly on my Macbook (not Pro, not applicable to a Mini).  In the preferences pane, set the display to Mirror with a second monitor attached, not Span.  On the TV, change the input to the HDMI (this is usually done with your TV remote control and choosing the source option, much in the same way you’d select a DVD player) and you should see the same on the laptop screen as the TV.  It was annoying to watch a movie with my Macbook on the stand below my plasma showing the same thing, but there is no easy way to sleep the Macbook’s display and keep the stream on the TV, but there is a trick!

Close the lid to the Macbook, wait for it to go to sleep, the hard drive will stop spinning and the light on the front will start to pulse slowly.  Plug a USB drive into the Macbook, this will wake the computer up and start the hard drive to spin, wait about 15-20 seconds and open the lid to the Macbook.  The display on the Macbook is now in sleep mode and enables the video to continue to work on the Plasma.

Edit: Randomn3ss commenter joelco pointed out that simply lowering the LCD brightness on my Macbook would turn it totally black, skip everything in the top 2 paragraphs, that’s much wasier!

Get comfortable on your couch, use the Apple remote to start Front Room and enjoy watching Hulu and Netflix on your television.  I will be experimenting with adding other feeds into Understudy from the laundry list I now have and will be looking at purchasing a Mac Mini sometime in the soon future to use full time as a media center so my Macbook can remain my working computer.

NO NO NO! Christmas light privileges should be taken away from this person

Twitter user @insomnic sent out a tweet a few minutes ago with a link that makes me want to kill people.  OK not really kill them, but this person should have their Christmas light privileges should be taken away from them.  Before I share the link, let me explain what this most annoying holiday site is,

three Christmas webcams for a live view of over 20,000 Christmas lights and also CONTROL them – heck, you can even inflate (or deflate) the giant Elmo, Frosty, Santa, and Homer Simpson – D’OH!

Because that’s not enough, you also will have to put up with a Santa cursor that you can change the size of, I suggest trying Hulk’in mode. Best yet, you can send text messages to change views and control things. This is truely insane, and possibly one of the worst laid out web pages I’ve ever seen.  Graphic designers and web monkeys, please be prepare your barf bags.

Now, please enjoy Alek’s CONTROLLABLE Christmas Lights.

What would possess someone to do this?  A love of crispy fried chicken and charity.  Alek is competing in the Controllable Christmas Lights for Celiac Disease contest put on by KFC.  So there is a good cause here, but it still makes me want to curl up in a ball under my desk and cry with fear like a little girl.

At about the same time, Twitter user @scpi showed me this:

[googlevideo]http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8290192083117426204[/googlevideo]

Seems the creator of these lights is Carson Williams, internet fame brought him so much attention he started his own business, Cosnar Lights, where him and his wife do custom Christmas light installations.

Interactive LED Coffee Table

From today’s earlier article about fwdfwdfwd, this is something that Kevin was talking about in the diggnation podcast, and I found the link on the second page and the inner-geek in me wants this.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkmpIXd9Q90[/youtube]

The table is built by none other than Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, the same people that made bristlebots more than 2 years ago.  For just under $2,000 you can get one of your very own from Because We Can.

My internet is faster than yours

OK maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but two weeks ago I had really fast internet installed.  The background is, when I bought my home, the only negative aspect besides not having a garage was the lack of true high-speed internet.  I’ve been suffering for more than two years with one-way cable.  For those who don’t know, that means I had about a 2 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds (download rates of about 200 kb/s) and a dial-up modem for my uploads.  Yes, a dial-up modem to send emails, attachments, upload content to FTP servers, etc.  Not only was it archaically slow, it was hardly reliable.  There was no other option because the cable run through the house was 35 years old and wouldn’t handle cable internet and I live about one half mile too far out to get DSL service, which would require a phone line anyway.

For the last 2 years or so my community has been trying to rally Verizon to bring in DSL, gaining over 50 signatures and sending them in, they seemed to have cared less.  A few of us even talked with a local interent service provider about bringing in one really fast commercial connection and sharing it but the cost to build the infrastructure was insane, as were the monthly costs.  All of this changed at the end of April.

I came home from a typical day of work and noticed spray painted lines in my front yard, my neighbors had them too, and some had white and blue as well.  While walking my dog I asked my one retired neighbor what was up, he said we were getting new internet and pointed to a small trailer with what appeared to be orange stuff wrapped around it down the street.  I walked down; sure as shit it was fiber!  Over the next nearly 3 months, workers came and went, running fiber optic cable underground and then up to each of our houses.  A notice on my door from Verizon said they were installing FiOS, and they would follow up when service was available.  I naively thought it would take 4-6 weeks to do; it was closer to three and a half months till the service was available.

About three weeks ago while walking Bella before work I ran into a neighbor who said Fios internet was finally available and they were coming to install it at his house in 30 minutes.  By the time I got home from work, he was hooked up with one of the fastest packages they offered and loving life.  I called to subscribe to one of the lower cost packages offering 10/2, that is 10Mbps down and 2Mbps up and had them come the following Saturday morning.  Install was about four hours long and everything is neatly tucked away in my utility closet.  When installation was done, they setup the wireless router that comes with the service for free, this took less than 5 minutes and I was online.

Real world speed tests indicate that I have blazingly fast internet.  How fast?  This week I’ve been watching 480p HD TV shows on Hulu.com while downloading music and shows via bittorrent and have yet to see a single show skip or buffer.  I also downloaded a 1.7gb file in just less than 25 minutes.  But what about numbers?  Check out the speed test I did last night to confirm just how fast my internet is.

I checked several servers and all showed speeds faster than 10Mbps and about the same upload, so I’m getting everything I’m paying for.  Now that I finally have a real internet connection, I’m looking into the Netflix Roku and / or building a computer / buying a Mac mini to hook up to my Plasma to stream TV, act as a DVR and be a multimedia center.  I’m also kicking around the idea of putting a network video camera in my home so I can watch my dog while I’m at work or away.

Dollar for dollar I’m actually saving about $10 / month with FiOS as I don’t need or use my home telephone line anymore and the craptastic one-way cable has also been canceled.  If and when Verizon installs FiOS in your area, I’d hop on it.  For those who do serious downloading, they offer a 50/20 connection [at least in my area] that can be had for around $150 / month.  That’s 34 times faster than a commercial grade T1!

Nikon D90 real world video footage

The Nikon D90 released about a week ago, this is the first digital SLR camera that features the ability to record 720p HD video, something really amazing since this is a digital still camera.  Up until this point you could buy a digital video camera and get OK quality stills (read that as crappy) or if you had a point & shoot digital still camera you could do OK quality video (read that as meh), but never both from an SLR, which you can change lenses on.

I won’t bore you with a review of the D90, enough people have done that.  What I will do now is share with you is real world footage shot on the D90, not something that Nikon has laced together to be fancy.  This first video is a short clip showing how what aperture can really do with video.  Shot with a 85mm f/1.4 lens, this camera is capable of capturing video footage that only a high-end digital video camera could do, not the cheaper quality ones.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/clip:1711608[/vimeo]

The second video is shot with a 10.5mm fisheye lens, adding much more creativity to your video.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/clip:1711639[/vimeo]

Remember, this is from a still camera that also does video!  I’m a Canon shooter, but this new feature from Nikon means that many first or even second time buyers of a DSLR can now take just one camera with them on vacation to do stills and video.  For budding photojournalists, this now gives them the ability to do short video clips in addition to taking still captures.

Videos courtesy of Dan’s Camera City on Vimeo.

Steve Jobs Knows Customer Service

It always seems to happen this way: as soon as I am about to embark on a long trip, my big iPod breaks. This occurred two years ago three days before I was to leave for Japan – and let me tell you, a Nano would not do on a 13 hour flight. Same thing – a week before I take off for Colorado, my 30GB iPod gave me the sad battery face (seriously, it should just say “$70 repair” instead because that’s what it means). So I prepared myself to shell out some cash for a new battery and call it a day.

Because it’s me, this is totally not what happened.

I went to my local Apple Store in Suburban Square (Ardmore, PA) on Wednesday and spoke with a concierge about my problem. He assured me that the fix would be done by Saturday at the latest, since I had to leave town on Sunday. We scheduled an appointment with a “Genius” for Friday at 1pm, the next available appointment. He didn’t check to see if the battery was in stock then – and in retrospect I should have asked – but assumed that he would get the part in by Friday if they didn’t have it, since he knew a customer 1) needed that part and 2) could not wait to have it sent in and 3) with only a Nano, would end up killing her friend Kim on their cross-country drive.

I show up on Friday, surrounded by people with iPhone issues (dude, I’d totally be on that bandwagon if they hadn’t contracted with AT&T, but that’s another story). My personal Genius said yep, you need a new battery and OF COURSE they were completely out of stock. I state, somewhat irately (the first Genius wasn’t really that nice and blamed me for not checking on the stock on Wednesday), that it needed to be done, please call the King of Prussia store – anywhere from here to Delaware – and get me the part and an appointment. He stated that he didn’t have time to help me and grabbed the man who eventually become my Apple Store savior – Dan in the black shirt.

Thank god for black shirt Dan. After hearing my sob story about the stresses of moving across the country (I know – I’m moving to freaking paradise, finally going to grad school, and getting a dog… my life is soooooo tough), he called KOP (who OF COURSE also didn’t have the part). Sensing that I had completely given up hope (literally, head down on my Fat City Reprise purse, completely dejected, and wondering how many times I’d hear Miley Cyrus on shuffle all on my Nano), Dan vowed to figure something out. I expected, I guess, that maybe they would forward my info to the Apple Store in Boulder and hook me up or maybe let me purchase a replacement 30GB (since they no longer sell them) for the price of the repair.

I was offered neither of those options. I saw the Holy Grail of ridiculously amazing customer service.

Since there were no 30GB iPods in stock (OF COURSE!!!), I was going to be given a brand spanking new 80GB iPod for the price of the repair. Holy shit. Insane – I don’t even have enough music to fill that. I looked at Dan and tried to not cry, which freaked him out I think, because he got that “Oh Christ, please don’t freak out” look on his face. I assured him that I was thrilled, just because shit like this doesn’t ever happen to me and I had been super-stressed out. He then made it better by telling me that it would be easier if they charged me nothing. NOTHING.

Because Apple cares about their customers, I got an 80GB iPod for free.

Now, I think this is just an instance of good karma… I wouldn’t expect to just be handed iPods when you walk in. They definitely saw my case as a special circumstance, especially since I had been promised that the repair could be completely by a certain date. And I tried to keep my composure (although I’ve been an emotional headcase because of this stupid move and leaving my friends), which I think helped my case a bit. I was just really pleased to see that they value their customers – I’ve been pretty loyal to that store, having purchased my two iPods, my mom’s iPod, and my MacBook there. But I think this was just Gaia’s way of telling my misanthrope self that humanity have some redeeming qualities (like the patience of Dan in the black shirt). Well done, Sub Square Apple Store – not only have you redeemed my faith in humanity, but you made a long road trip much more bearable.