Development« Previous Entries Next Entries »
Funny how getting my car detailed can kick my auto-passion into high gear. Tuesday evening I picked up my A6 from Mirrorworks from having a full detail and some paint work done. It’s shiny and like-new again – I’m swooning all over my precious car again!
Also in the world of good things Scott came over last night. He hadn’t experienced a proper viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End so we did dinner and a showing of that. As silly and overly-Disney as the film is I really do enjoy watching it. I really do hope that big budget swashbucklers never die – they are just so much fun to experience.
Right – back to work now. I have to finish up a ton of stuff today and tomorrow to be ready to take off a few days to be home for Christmas!
This has been quite the productive and exciting weekend: I’ve seen Alissa’s play again (this time with Jesse and Brenda), taken interesting makeup photos with Jessie (see above), learned bucket loads about SQL, and released an early alpha of Traskpro.
I’m feeling surprisingly good given that I didn’t have much downtime this weekend. Having a personal project like Traskpro has re-energized me. I’d forgotten how fun coding can be – particularly with tons of small rewarding features to work on. I feel like I’m using agile with a 2 hour sprint!
Traskpro is finally feature-complete enough to stand up to day to day use. I still have a TON of work left to do on it, but that can happen over the next few weeks. Go in and check it out – updates from now on will be pretty much transparent to the users. The temporary production location is at Traskpro.com – I’ll be getting a more official URL for it shortly.
Update: Changed the URL above to the actual production URL. No more temporary URL’s for me baby!
The dev bug has bitten me again and I’m playing with code. This time it was prompted by a few missing features in Backpack and the brilliant idea to roll my own life management solution. Thus Traskpro (Task Tracking Pro) was born. Unlike most of my development stings in the last 5 years I actually sat down and did a little planning before I dived into it this time.
I have spent the last couple of days analyzing and designing my user scenarios and figuring out exactly how best to implement a task tracking solution so that it’s as flexible as possible and requires the fewest number of actions to operate. The Traskpro specification is now complete for version 0.1 and I started to dive into coding tonight. Having spent my first few days planning is making a huge difference – coding is easier this way and I suspect the end result will be a lot cleaner.
I’ve started my development with MAMP (PHP/MySQL on the Mac), but am toying with switching over to Ruby on Rails at some point. For now I’d rather stick to a language I’m more comfortable with given that I have a big learning curve ahead for SQL which I haven’t touched in ages.
More to come – I need to get a few more of my classes built out and then get to bed. I have two more days of ‘day job’ ahead before the much needed weekend arrives.
I’ve allowed my obsession with Smart Playlists in iTunes to get a little out of hand. After spending the last month combing through my media collection, tweaking ID3 tags, and rating as I go I’m learning how to create personalized radio experiences from my library that are easy to manage and sync/update automatically with my iPhone. By making a series of smart playlists with size limits limited by least recently played I can keep both my iPhone and my Apple TV stocked to the brim with a great music selection that gradually changes as I listen to it.
While the Smart Playlists feature is amazingly powerful I have unfortunately discovered a few pieces of highly useful metadata that are not exposed as options for the creation of iTunes Smart Playlists. These all seem like simple things to add, and would enable some really cool Smart Playlist scenarios. Here are the things I think iTunes is missing on this one:
- A purchased flag – a simple true/false bit to indicate if the track was purchased from the iTunes store or imported from media (CD or HDD).
- An iTunes Plus flag – again a true/false bit to indicate if the track is an iTunes Plus track or not. This flag could easily be combined with the purchased flag as a dropdown.
- A kind field – a field to select the kind of media from video; audio booklet, music, podcast, etc. Adding this field would make it much easier to keep iTunes TV shows and podcasts from leaking into music-only playlists.
- Ringtone flag – another true/false bit to indicate if the track is eligible for creating ringtones from.
If anyone at Apple is listening please, PLEASE get these added to the next version of iTunes! They all look reasonably simple to implement and would make me one happy iTunes geek!
I did some general housekeeping tonight on Futurist Now. I upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, and to a newer version of VeryPlainText. I applied some of the hacks from the old version of the VeryPlainText theme, but made a few other minor typographic tweaks. I’ve added a few new categories and back-added a few posts into them, but that’s mostly a move to help for some future planned expansion.
Overall not much has changed but just in case let me know if you see anything broken on the site and I’ll be glad to take a look at it – you can just leave some information about what you saw and what browser you are using as a comment.
Yesterday I was introduced to Backpackit and Ta-Da Lists, two fabulous web based information collection and management tools. Ta-Da Lists is the most simple of simple web based task/list management solution, but implemented with a clean and sensible design. Backpack picks up where Ta-Da lists leaves off and offers a full blown web based information capture, search, and management solution.
Backpacks genius lies in its simple interface to import email, notes, lists, and documents and allow the user to organize them into meaningful groups and pages. Entering information can be done through the AJAX powered web interface, or emailed to unique email addresses per page you create.
For the mildly OCD and scatterbrained professional like me it’s a perfect information dump solution. Previously I had accomplished this task with a mixture of desktop search technologies (Spotlight and Windows Desktop Search) and text files. Backpack allows for the capture of my stream of consciousness and later triage and sort information into tasks, savable bits, and ideas.
A web based solution is the perfect answer to my multi-computer, multi-platform lifestyle – all of the power of text files on OS X, OneNote on Windows, and accessible from any browser at the drop of a hat. Each page also has a unique email address making it possible to send notes and todo’s from any email capable device for quick entry on the go.
Backpack tops off it’s powerful information management technology with a well implemented developer API, SMS or email based reminders, and basic calendaring and calendar sharing functionality. I’m hooked on the Exchange/Outlook calendaring solution at work, but were I not chained to the evil empire the calendar looks well enough implemented to live out of.
Ta-Da Lists is likely enough for most people, and is entirely free. Ta-Da offers a maximum of 10 concurrent lists, and a very slick iPhone specific interface for those iPhone owners dying for a task/list solution. Backpack is very iPhone friendly, but lacks an iPhone specific interface which does make it slightly less useful on the iPhone, but Backpack’s power-user interface and abilities to go beyond simple lists into key-worded pages full of lists, notes, images, documents, and emails makes it an easy sell.
Backpack offers a free version which is likely sufficent enough for most users, but for a small monthly fee they will increase the number of pages you can create as well as increase the amount of storage available for you.
Check it out – it’s free for basic use and if you manage information anything like I do you will be instantly hooked.
Now that I’ve spent a full week with the iPhone I wanted to put pen to paper (or should that be fingers to keys) and write a more in depth review than my initial impressions. Needless to say Apple generated a lot of hype with the iPhone and many feared it would flop in the face of near impossible levels of pre-release fanaticism. Thankfully I am glad that after a full weeks usage I can attest: Apple actually pulled it off. They lived up to or exceeded every single promise they made about the iPhone.
My impressions are obviously quite favorable over all, but the iPhone does have a few flaws. Regardless of it’s flaws I think this will be an industry-changing phone and will raise the bars for Microsoft, Symbian, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and other competitors in the mobile marketplace to produce better phones featuring integration, ease of use, and stability all orders of magnitude ahead of what they now offer.
Things Apple got right with the iPhone:
Using the iPhone is just plain fun. Apple has managed to take something fairly common like a phone and completely revolutionize it. From the simple fades and transitions between modes to the delete animations the whole device feels very modern and high-tech. It’s a thin and highly attractive device that attracts attention and feels a little like something from a few years in the future – particularly compared to the industrial design of its main competitors. It’s a simple interface to learn (more so than any previous OS I’ve used before – mobile or desktop) and has playful feel that just begs to be explored.
The iPhone provides a fun to use and mostly consistent experience end to end. In all previous smart-phones each different feature had a different experience: you could use it as a phone, or as a browser, or as an email client but each different application and experience has a very different feel to it. With the iPhone you don’t use a phone, browser, or email client – you use the iPhone. Everything feels very well integrated, and intermeshed. It does have a bit of a learning curve for the device as a whole, but once you learn it you can have any of it’s features at your fingertips. The closest competitor they have in this space is the consumer-oriented Sidekick from Danger, but the iPhone puts even that to shame.
The screen on the iPhone is crystal clear and very high resolution. It features a 480×320 screen (more than twice the resolution of your standard 320×240 screen), but at a very high DPI so text, images, and video looks stunningly crisp. The screen has an ambient light sensor so it’s always the perfect brightness for your environment. The brightest setting is stunning and makes the iPhone’s screen completely visible outdoors in bright sunlight – a feat most phones (smart or otherwise) can’t lay a finger on.
Mapping by google, interface by Apple
Apple’s much vaunted Google Maps application delivers as promised. The pinch and zoom features are well implemented, although it’s usefulness is limited without some sort of geo-location feature, be it actual GPS or based on cell towers/Wifi access points. One of the ‘hidden gems’ of the Google Maps application is it’s traffic feature – on the way down to my car every morning a quick click into the iPhone’s mapping experience and I can see which of the freeways has the least congestion for my morning commute.
Talking about talking
When it comes to being an actual phone the iPhone delivers above expectations. Sure, I’ve used better ‘dumb’ phones in terms of signal strength or voice quality, but as smart phones goes this is well implemented and very usable as a voice communications device. Conversations are easy to hear for both parties and the interface for dialing is very slick looking. While you can’t type out someone’s name to call them the scroll by letter feature is well implemented and you can set as many contacts as you want to be favorites and show up on a short list of people to call. Since I use my phone to make and receive calls so infrequently I’ve not found this to be a problem.
Further on the topic of the iPhone as a phone the new Visual Voicemail feature is stunning. Rather than having to call up my provider and navigate through Byzantine phone menues with a dial-pad AT&T sends the voicemail to my phone using the data network, and I can browse, play, replay, call-back, and delete all without calling my voicemail. The Visual Voicemail feature brings more of an email paradigm to voicemail and makes someone like me who usually HATES voicemail find it pleasant to use and entirely tolerable.
In addition to making voicemail a pleasant experience Apple chose some highly tasteful alerts. When an SMS, calendar alarm, or missed call occurs the lock screen displays a visual history since last unlock on translucent blue pads. Sadly emails (and their subject lines) are not privy to the same unlock screen notifications and must be accessed via the email application.
The mail client is a well implemented piece of software. While it’s still not perfect. It’s better than all mobile email solutions I’ve seen, and a good number of desktop mail clients. It lacks true push capabilities with most email servers making the iPhone not the ideal solution for many enterprise customers, but it more than makes up for it in my book with near perfect IMAP support. I can have it check my inbox regularly (every 15, 30, 90, or 120 minutes) as well as browse my entire IMAP hierarchy and browse my last 10 years of mail, pulling down emails and attachments from the server on demand.
Many of the initial nay-sayers of the iPhone were focusing on it’s virtual keyboard. Having come from several years of QWERTY phones I myself was more than a little worried about this. Luckily Apple pulled it off and I’ve found that after a few days of getting the virtual keyboard into my head I actually like it as much as a physical keyboard. While it lacks tactile feedback it does offer the ability to change the keyboard depending on the task (adding a .com button to the keyboard while in the browser for instance), and it’s predictive text corrects pretty much every ‘fat finger’ mistake I’ve thrown at it. After a while you learn to just trust they keyboard and grind away at typing as fast as you can and magically what you meant to appear on screen does – just be prepared for a couple of days of re-learning the skill of typing on QWERTY thumb boards.
The iPhone as an iPod
The iPod portion of the iPhone is extremely well implemented. It’s more intuitive than even the 5.5G iPods which preceded it. While I barely use Coverflow at home in iTunes I’ve found it to be a very natural way to browse the 20 or so albums that I have selected to bring with me. There are other nice touch based interface tweaks which make selecting music easier, and allows for a ton of eye candy. I have a few minor complaints about the iPod interface, but I’ll leave those for the ‘what Apple missed’ section later in the article.
There are a lot of nice audio touches like slowly fading the music when a call comes in, and pausing the music entirely when you accept the call. When you hang up the music un-pauses and gracefully fades back in. Most alert sounds (new email or a calendar event for instance) are accompanied by the music fading down just slightly to make sure you hear the alert but without jarring you out of your music listening experience. These touches make using the iPhone in a car with an auxiliary input or iPod integration fun and far less jarring or complicated than dealing with a separate iPod and phone.
The iPhone features a standard headset jack so you can theoretically use it with any headphones, not just the manufacturer provided ones like so many phone manufacturers force you to by using a non-standard jack. This let’s the audiophiles of the world ditch the built in earbuds for some high end headphones. Doing this loses out on the built in microphone, but gains a lot of quality. So far the audio quality has been fantastic and even when hooked up to my high-end home stereo system the output sounds great! See the ‘what Apple missed’ section below for some more comments on the headphone jack.
The network for the iPhone is both a good thing and a bad thing. The inclusion of EDGE data (it’s faster than dial up was way back in the day – but not by that much) for getting the internet from ATT&T was a surprise, and makes browsing out on the road somewhat painful. Luckily Apple made up for this by adding a great WiFi implementation. The handoff between WiFi and EDGE is seamless if you have previously approved a wireless access point, and the WiFi power consumption actually appears lower than EDGE to me.
As much as some might gripe about the EDGE data connection it’s obvious that they did it for battery life. 3G networks like AT&T’s HSDPA network use far more power than EDGE modems do and would have significantly reduced the fantastic battery life the iPhone offers. On my old AT&T 8525 (an HTC Hermes) I was lucky to get 12 hours of use out of my phone between the occasional phone call, some web browsing, and a few hundred emails. The iPhone makes it through all that (and a lot more web browsing because the experience is so much better) and still has 40-50% of it’s battery life left at the end of the day. Apple quotes 8 hours of talk time and over 24 hours of music playback – very impressive numbers for any phone.
The 2 megapixel camera included with the iPhone is definitely a camera phone and can’t hold a finger to a dedicated camera device it still takes some impressive photos. Like all digital cameras it does best in bright, evenly light scenes, but even in unevenly lit scenes (like the shot below) come out looking halfway decent. The iPhone camera falls flat on it’s face in dimly lit scenes though, and produces something that could be considered modern art of sorts: black canvas with slightly less black blobs hovering over it like ethereal souls from our ancestors.
YouTube is nice, although unless you are within range of a WiFi access point be prepared to both wait a long time and get very poor quality video. The fact that the videos are encoded in both EDGE and WiFi friendly versions is a nice touch, but the limited availability of the YouTube library is a bit annoying at times.
And one more thing: syncing
A final slick little touch iPhone has over previous iPods and competing media-centric smart-phones is that you can sync an iPhone to multiple computers at once. For instance I was able to sync my iPhone with a Windows PC running Microsoft Outlook to get my contacts and calendars onto the iPhone, but sync music, podcasts, and video from iTunes on my mac. This is a slick little touch and one that will make it easy for people to keep their contacts at work, and their media collection at home.
Things Apple missed with the iPhone:
No IM client
No instant messaging application. The SMS and email clients are very well implemented (chat bubbles aside in the SMS client) but with todays youth generation ditching email for IM I’m surprised to see it not included at launch. I am guessing that iChat will be one of the earlier software updates – sadly that will likely continue with the chat bubbles, and be AIM only – a tough pill to swallow for a heavy MSN Messenger network user. The good news is that various clever web guru’s are already working on hacking IM, SSH, VNC (done by my uber-geek friend Nate), and IRC onto the iPhone via web interfaces.
No 3rd party applications
No SDK for building full blown iPhone applications for 3rd parties yet. A lot can be done with a Safari web application, but there are a lot of Mac applications that I think could port fairly well to the iPhone – Adium, Ecto, and NetNewsWire to name a few. Hopefully Apple will amend this shortly and release a full blown SDK for the iPhone to the legions of hip cool Mac developers.
The iPhone features a standard headset jack so you can theoretically use it with the headphones of your choice. The only problem is that the headphone jack is recessed slightly more than normal headphone jacks are so some headphones require an adapter to work properly. I was able to trim down the rubber hump on one of my headphones with a sharp knife, but for my metal tipped Grado SR225′s and Etymotic ER-6′s I’m out of luck until I get my hands on one of the adapters.
Another miss is that while locked in iPod mode the unlock screen fails to show a scrubber (a bar representing the track with a ball on the track to show the current play position), the length of the track, and other information so I see everything about a track without having to unlock the iPhone. It’s nice that the unlock screen shows my album art and the current time, but I’d like to get more information about the track I’m listening to than just the name.
It’s also mildly annoying that while playing audio you can have the scrubber or the rating of the song visible but not both at the same time. I have a large music collection and I’ve been working to slowly rate it all for future use – with the current iPhone music interface it takes several more ‘clicks’ than I would think necessary. These are both such minor gripes that I’m almost certain Apple will address them in a future build of the iPhone software.
The inclusion of slower EDGE data rather than AT&T’s high-speed HSDPA connection. AT&T ramped up their EDGE network for the iPhone at launch to 200kbps, which is 2-3 times faster than dial up, but nothing like the 700-1,000kbps connections I regularly saw with my HTC Hermes on AT&T’s network. I’m listing this as my last “thing Apple missed” because with the seamless transition to wifi, and increased power consumption of HSDPA I think Apple may have made the right decision in the short term – but keep an eye out for a 3G iPhone once the chip-sets become more power-friendly and as battery technology improves.
My goodness run, don’t walk to buy an iPhone. I bought it with reservations – particularly about the EDGE data, yet everything else about the iPhone makes me feel so warm and gooey inside that I’m keeping the iPhone for sure. The iPhone will revolutionize the mobile industry and for once I’m pretty damn proud to be an early adopter and on the bleeding edge of tomorrow. I can’t wait to see some of the new phones Apples competitors will be coming up with in the next few years, and what kind of long term impact the iPhone will have on the mobile phone market as we know it – consider the bar officially raised!
The iPhone is the first phone I’ve ever used that works as advertised, offers a great mobile web browsing experience, great battery life, and is fun to use. I give it a solid 8 out of 10 Stars of Sparky, and would have given it the 10/10 Stars of Sparky had the iPhone featured a true SDK and high speed data out of the box.
I just had my million dollar idea and I’m all but giving it away in an effort to make the web safer – just give cut if you make your fortune on it. While plugging in a network cable I realized that the cable itself needs to be smarter and able to help filter and protect its user from network attacks.
For a long time software firewalls on computers have been problematic for many reasons. While they can be helpful in keeping malware and hackers out of a computer once something has breeched the firewall in even the tiniest of ways it’s possible to disable or subvert a software firewall to enable further attacks or malicious use of the machine. This is the reason most businesses put their trust in hardware firewalls – a hardware solution is much more difficult to remotely disable and can do a much better job of filtering both incoming and outgoing traffic.
While businesses with IT professionals can manage and maintain a hardware firewall with little muss or fuss it’s often beyond the average consumer. Many consumer grade routers offer firewalls and in addition offer a level of security by putting users behind NAT (Network Address Translation) which helps mask them from the Internet as a whole. These routers help, but not everyone has a router at home, and even a router can be tricky to set up.
What is needed is a smart network cable with a simple built in firewall. Imagine a cable with a “bump in the wire” which contained a small embedded OS which performed simple firewall and content filtering duties. It of course would be difficult to offer an enterprise grade solution from something this simple, but even the most basic filtering would make helping secure a computer as easy as plugging it into the wall. Because the cable would offer a hardware solution it would be far easier to not only prevent incoming attack vectors, but also if the attached computer does become compromised common outgoing ports used by malware could be blocked.
To take this kind of solution to the next level the cable could be offered as a managed service. The bump would be automatically updated by a server side component which could manage ports for their users and adapt the firewalls rules to new malware that has been identified in the wild.
Simple and transparent to the user, and yet another layer of security in this wild west we call the Internet. Am I a genius for coming up with such a simple but effective idea, or is the idea flawed in some way that’s escaping my exhausted mental state right now?
Months after having been given a key to activate Parallels I finally decided to give it a shot. I acquired a copy of Vista and installed it on Marbles, my macbook. I have to say right out of the gate I’m rather impressed! Vista runs decently well in a virtual machine, and I can run Outlook 2007 in coherence mode (where the Vista desktop slides away leaving your Windows applications on OS X desktop alongside the rest of my mac apps) – it’s a very zen experience and will make doing email from home a much more pleasant experience.
Bravo Parallels for the most polished and full feature emulation package I’ve ever seen – from installing Vista automatically for me from the DVD to providing slick OS X to Windows integration and hardware sharing features I’m impressed end to end.« Previous Entries Next Entries »