Category: Geeking

Must-Have App for Space Nuts :-)

I’ve been totally digging the ISS Detector app from RunaR and wanted to give ’em a shout out. I have it set up to automatically notify me, with 15 minutes notice or so, when the ISS is going to be overhead. It has some VERY cool options whereby it only notifies me when the station will be high enough above the horizon to see (10 degrees max = no thank you) AND only when the weather is cooperating (if it’s rainy, please don’t bother me!). The app has a built-in compass to help you orient yourself, and as per the screen snap below, it’ll tell you where it’s gonna show up, when, how it’s gonna travel across the sky, how long it’ll be visible for, and how high it’ll get.

The ISS is visible with the naked eye. However, if you can scrounge up a pair of binoculars you can make out the outline of its PV wings. The ISS in toto is roughly the size of a football field. Note that the ISS moves fast. In fact, it’s orbiting Earth every 92 minutes at a speed of 17,500 MPH (more than 25X faster than the last jet you were on!). As you look up, it’ll almost certainly be the fastest moving  object in the sky.

Net-net, if you’re a space geek, this is a must-have app IMO. Enjoy!

Disappointed with Apple Today :-(

I know the fanbois are falling all over themselves today to laud the new gadgets Apple announced. Like them, I sat in rapt attention following the streams of info coming out of SF a few hours ago. Net-net, I’m just not that impressed. I still LOVE my iPad 2 and use it all the damn time. LOVE IT! But I was hoping for more from the iPad 3.

Even the curmudgeons in the crowd (like YT) have to hand it to them re: the iPad 3 display. It truly does look like a thing of immense and impressive beauty. I doff my cap in well-earned respect. However, the thing is, there are plenty of devices that have launched over the past years that have pixel densities similar to (and greater than) the iPad 3. Check out this (incomplete) list on Wikipedia, for example. What Apple is doing with the iPad 3 retina display isn’t about pixel density – it’s about pushing the manufacturers to get larger total-usable-square-inch yields out of their glass. It’s one thing to produce 333 ppi (LG LU1400) on a 16:9 2.8″ diagonal screen that totals less than 3.5 square inches of glass. With the iPad 3 you’re now talking about that sort of level of zero-defect glass totaling nearly 42 square inches! That’s 12X (TWELVE TIMES!) larger – more than an order of magnitude! What’s impressive here is NOT the general pixel density. What’s impressive is that the supplier(s) can produce this glass at this ppi at these sizes repeatably, reliably, and (presumably) profitably. As one twitterer put it about these Apple events: it’s “fun to see what Samsung will be shipping in six months”. If supplier X can manufacture 264 ppi at 42 as of 01/01/12, then everybody will have access to that (and better) in a matter of months.

The A5X appears to be impressive. But the Tegra 4 is already in early test runs and will probably smoke the A5X. Moore’s Law happens. Never mind the chips that N other manufacturers are working on to outperform the A5X and the Tegra 4 and so on. Apple leans on multiple global experts to innovate on displays, but Apple is assuming a huge risk in keeping its processors in-house. The competitive market is more likely to innovate faster than  Apple can internally over time. I guess they’ve “picked their poison”, perhaps?

The camera update was grossly overdue. The camera in the iPads 1 and 2 was a joke when each were respectively released. It’d be interesting to learn though why they went with this 5MP solution instead of an 8 or 10. My guess is that the camera in my HTC Amaze will out-shoot the iPad 3’s camera. And I can slot SD cards in and out when I need more space to store more pictures!

And, of course, the iPad 3 still won’t run Flash 😦 . Sigh. Dear Apple: please feel free to keep your religious beliefs out of my technology needs.

What I wanted to see was a retina display, an A5X, an SD card slot, Flash support, and an 8MP or better camera. LTE is irrelevant – I’ve been and will continue to tether my WiFi tablets to my phone(s). I came this close to buying an ASUS Transformer Prime tablet a couple months ago, but balked as they sort out some radio problems et. al. My guess is that during the summer my iPad 2 will be replaced by an Android tablet and the boss or kids will get the hand-me-down.

The Apple TV updates were purely incremental and grossly overdue to keep up with the Jones’s ($70 for an XD, delivered). The new Apple TV sell well though, since a lot of the uber-geek Apple fanbois wouldn’t buy at 720p and have been waiting patiently. Too bad Apple’s software apparently isn’t keeping up – maybe it’ll bump to iOS next cycle?

There’s always the next keynote…

Addicted To Murfie

Not too long ago, a friend emailed me about a new online music retailer named Murfie that he had heard about on NPR . I was addicted to Murfie within moments of hitting their site!

For me, Murfie rocks for four reasons:

First, when I buy a CD on Murfie, I actually own it. I own the plastic disc. It’s mine. They hold onto it for me and will ship it to me if I want. I buy and love CDs because I get all the “first-sale doctrine” legal rights I want with my music – rights that I assure you you want, and that you do NOT get with iTunes et. al. Here’s a great ZDnet article on the difference between online music and CD music legalities.

Second, it’s a marketplace. I can ship them the CDs in my collection that I think I might want to trade or sell (or, hell, ALL my discs!). They inventory them and rip them and when someone searches for something I have, it shows up and they can buy it or offer a trade for it. Ditto the discs I buy directly on Murfie (new or used). I used to be an avid user of for my CDs – but no more.

Third, I’m a cheapskate. I own > 1,000 CDs and probably half of them were purchased used or were trades. Tonight I purchased five used discs on Murfie for a total of $16.00 ripped to FLAC and delivered to my hard drive. That averages to $3.20 per album. At iTunes pricing of $1.29 per song, that’s like buying 2.5 songs from the album except that you get ALL the songs on the album and the rights to listen to it wherever you like and trade it and sell it! To-date I have purchased a total of 26 discs on Murfie – averaging down to $4.69 each ripped and delivered. But 5 of those 26 were new discs, which seem to be priced between $8 and $12. If you remove those 5 new discs, you get down to an average of $3.29 per each of 21 CDs, ripped and delivered and owned. This is a no-brainer if you ask “cheap me!”

Fourth, rationally or irrationally, I’m an audio quality nut, and I “jst sy NO 2 lssy music.” Murfie lets me pick how I want my CDs ripped. I choose lossless FLAC, but they also offer MP3 (256 kbps ABR) and AAC. You may not care about this, of course, but it’s always nice to know there are options.

Why am I bothering YOU about this? Well, since Murfie is a market, it behaves along the lines of Metcalfe’s Law: the value of the network is proportional to the square of the number of users. The more people using Murfie, the more buyers and sellers and CDs in the system! That’s a good thing for me as a user, so I’m happy to pimp them out!

So go check out Murfie, sign up, and get Murfying!!!!

NB: I do not have any financial interest in Murfie – though that may change as they close up their A round. I’m simply a very very very happy, addicted customer. I LOVE YOU MURFIE!!!!!

Competition Fucking Rocks!!!

I still have my iPhone 3GS, and it’s a solid device, for sure. The iPhone 4 is very cool. The rumored next-gen iPhone looks quite nice too.

But the pace of innovation in handsets outside the iOS world seems to just be accelerating and accelerating. This article discusses five upcoming Android devices – including the Nexus Prime that I’m particularly curious about (my Nexus One is still my main squeeze).

Long term, Apple simply won’t be able to keep up with the pace of change of dozens of independent handset manufacturers who spend their EVERY WAKING HOUR working to out-do their counterparts. Competition is a great fucking thing, and Apple has nobody shoving hard on their back.

Similarly, the tablet market is going to evolve in the same way. Today, you’d literally have to shoot me, stab me, and dump me in a ditch to pry my iPad 2 out of my hands. But in 12 months or 18 months the market will have radically shifted in favor of a more open OS than what Apple can offer – because the hardware manufacturers are WILDLY more paranoid than Apple cares to be.

PS: my wife inherited my iPhone 3GS some time ago, and last week she replaced it with an Android phone

Experiment: Tiny Laptop

This week I picked up a MacBook Air 11″ laptop. I’ve only been using it in earnest for about 24 (busy) hours, but it seems like a useful piece of kit.

In the mid 1990s, I did some damage to my back lugging a hugely-heavy Toshiba laptop (et. al.) around San Francisco, in a shoulder bag, on foot, for a month. It put me on my back, in pain for a few days afterwards, and I seem to re-injure the damage every 18 to 24 months ever since. Yup: I am a dope.

I vowed never to lug around a heavy laptop again, and proceeded to own a series of ultra-light Sony and IBM/Lenovo machines. When the original MacBook Air was announced, I was excited to pounce. As it turned out, my excitement was premature, as the machine just didn’t cut the mustard for the non-trivial computing I needed to do.

Six months ago, I made the switch from my original MacBook Air to a honkin’ MacBook Pro 15″ i7. It’s a stupendous piece of computing. It’s also really big, bulky, and not light. My operating theory was that I’d mostly use the MBP for desk-based work, haul it between home and work, and use my Samsung Galaxy Tab (which experiment is itself well overdue for its own blog post) for more portable work. That plan wasn’t per se not working out – but it wasn’t working great, either.

I type well. I type fast. In fact, these folks say I type really well really fast. A quick test there shows 90 words per minute with 98% accuracy. That’s one word every 666 milliseconds. Maybe I’m the text-entry-man-of-the-beast 🙂 . 54 baud FTW! I’ve been typing virtually every single day of my life since the early 1980s on my TRaSh-80. So the two finger, two thumb, or one finger swiping solutions – on smartphones and tablets – haven’t been affording me the efficiency I want. Keyboards work for me.

The MacBook Air 11″ is about 1 pound heavier and 2 inches longer than an iPad2. It’s freakin’ tiny.

It took me a few hours to get used to the keyboard, but I’m there: I’m creating this blog post on it, and that speed test mentioned above was done just now on it. Thus far I’ve used iWork, Microsoft Office, and Adobe CS4 apps. I also run a local mirror of the play140 database on MySQL server and have been running some gnarly analytics queries against it today. Frankly, I’ve yet to identify any task this machine will barf on. I imagine I’ll find it – but not yet. The 4GB or RAM and 128GB of flash storage seem to be haulin’ ass. It fits in my jacket pocket. Sweet! It takes up a TON less horizontal space when I whip it out at Peet’s or on the subway. It’ll fit on an airplane tray table without drama. I haven’t used it enough to judge the battery life yet – but it clearly doesn’t suck. Well over 3 hours at least. Thus far, the substantial decrease in screen real estate is the only thing that’s been truly painful. I’ll admit it: I’m a pixel slut. The screen on this little beastie has 41% fewer pixels than the screen on my 15″ MBP. Put inversely, the MBP has 68% more pixels than the MBA. Yowza.

Let the experiment continue…

I want to like the Xoom

Dear VerizonWireless:

I stopped by my local VerizonWireless store last night on my way home. I put my name into the queue for help and then proceeded to wait for 20 minutes or so for someone to call my name.

I was informed (finally) that the return policy on the Xoom is a $70 restocking fee; plus the cellular service fee for the period; and it’s a 14 day window. So basically it’s $100 to spend time with this thing and figure out if I want one for $800 (no contract). Maybe folks were lining up yesterday morning around the block to buy Xooms at your stores across the country – but I’d be very surprised.

There’s gotta be a better way to get people over the hump, guys.

NOT buying a Xoom,


PS: Honeycomb is neat! Can’t wait to get it on my Samsung Galaxy Tab (officially or via cyanogen/xda).

Some Nexus One Wallpapers…

I threw these together late last night on a whim. They’re 960×800 N1 sized – feel free to do whatever you like with them to make them work on your device. I’m pretty sure the first three are public domain / creative commons. If my friends at Cartoon Network / Turner / TimeWarner have a big problem with the last one, just let me know and I’ll pull it. Each thumbnail below links to the full-res file. Enjoy!

Earth At Night

Earth At Night

Boston Satellite

Boston Satellite

We The People

We The People

Frisky Dingo

Frisky Dingo

Seeking Mac Software – Address Book Tool

I tweeted on this and came up 110% empty. Let’s see if a blog post gets us any further 🙂 .

In Windows land, there is a very useful app called Anagram. I’ve been a happy user of Anagram for probably five years or more. What Anagram basically does is allow you to select some text and then hit a key (I used to use F12) and it would automagically take that text, parse it, process it, and put it into your address book (Outlook, in my case, though I think it worked with others too). It let you do a nice pass over the data to make sure it was kosher before you hit the final commit. It’s a nice app – I highly recommend it!

On OSX I can find nothing equivalent, and not for lack of looking. Can anybody point me in some useful directions?

Most importantly, I need it to work inside Thunderbird (Thunderbird extension, anybody?!?!?) and feed However, it should also work across any application – processing any selected text, or data on the clipboard from within Pages, Word, Firefox, Safari, Evernote, TextEdit, Preview, and so on and so forth.

If nothing exists, could one of you creative folks out there please whip one up? The Anagram guys have been making money on this for a long time. LinkedIn even licensed their technology for their “grab” toolbar. There’s gotta be a Mac market for something like this, no? And of course you can charge an extra $5 to $10 over what Anagram does, just ‘cuz you’re selling to Mac users 😉 😉 .