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Technology Review: Mac Book Pro Initial Impression March 22, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Technology.
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I started this blog a while back just to put ideas out there and, over time, it has evolved into a review site. I often find myself doing research online and try to get answers to simple questions (and hard ones too). So, when I started noticing I was not finding certain things and decided I would focus on all the reviewable things in my life. Lately, that has mostly been movies and some books. Today, I am excited to start reviewing my new Mac Book Pro.

Last week, I picked up a new Mac Book Pro – the 13-inch model with a Core i5 processor, 4 GB, a 320 GB hard drive. It is my first time touching a Mac OS since some college classes, nearly fifteen years ago. I have had less than a week and I feel like not much as changed. When I left college, Windows was in release 3.1. Mac OS was in a release called System 7 and having just moved to support a PowerPC processor, similar chip architecture to the ones used by Windows-based computers. In other words, fifteen years ago Apple opened the door to Windows running on their computers. To this date, they are not reciprocating and allowing their operating system on any hardware other than their own.

Granted when I used the System 7 OS, it was strictly as a basic application user. I did not experience any application installs or system administration of any kind. This was also the mid-90s when the Internet as we know it was non-existent. The number of applications and tools was very limited. Today, computers are integrated/networked and much, much more powerful.

But enough of the basic history lesson. Let’s get to the first impressions. I will say that this machine is fast and for geeks like me, the term beautiful comes to mind. The Core i5 processor super fast and I am very impressed at how quickly this computer does basic functions. The boot time and restarting from sleep is amazingly fact compared to my Windows 7 machine. The build of the computer is very clean. I love the uni-body form of the case. I did debate getting the thinner and lighter Mac Book Air but decided the reduction in weight and thickness was not worth the loss in processor power and small hard drive, among other things. The Mac Book Air is an impressive feat of technology miniaturization, but for the same price, you can get “more” computer. And I can still fit my 15″ Windows 7 work laptop AND the Mac Book Pro in the same protective sleeve of my backpack case.

The backlit keys (not available on the Air) surround a nicely spaced keyboard, although I am having a tough time getting used to the fact that there are no dedicated home, delete, end, page up or page down keys. What is up with that? I am also still getting used to the glossy screen – it gives off a whole lot of glare and I do not need to see my reflection. The magnetic closing hinge is cool and of course the lit-apple on the back is neat, although I am still getting used to being “one of those” people!

The operating system is clean and efficient and easy to work with and learn. I had no problems defining users for different member of my family with different levels of authorization. I have had to spend a little time trying to find certain settings and different functions. But I have had the same type of adjustments at work moving from Windows XP to 7. I am also getting used to the way the OS “hides” the filesystem much like iOS and relies on the applications to access the files. It makes perfect sense to remove those concerns over where files are, but coming from the old school of DOS and file managers, this is a big adjustments. I have also started installing some additional software and that has gone relatively smoothly. I am still amazed with the nearly 8 hour battery life. With the power of the processor and impressive screen, I did expect only 5 hours or less.

I plan to use this machine to learn the OS, but also get into iOS development. The SDK is currently free for Xcode 3.2.6 (I can upgrade to Xcode 4 when I join the developer community for $99/yr). I will start building basic test apps and designing and creating special applications of my own in the coming weeks. Look for future reviews on that and more.

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What needs to be fixed in iOS4 for my Touch July 27, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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The new iOS4 has been out about a month now and I am having mixed feelings about it. I definitely like the addition of the folders in the interface. I also like that applications (like Facebook and Mail) can update their icons to provide notifications. I am not sure how I feel about the fast task switching feature. I am not going to refer to it has multi-tasking since I feel that is not what it is. There are some applications that can go background processing, but in general, applications are just being stopped and returned to in the same state.

But my two biggest complaints about the new operating system is the wireless network function and the calendar sync. First, prior to the upgrade, known wireless networks would automatically connect and work. There was no need to go into Setting and Networks and reselect the new network. Now, I have to do just that… and I seem to have to do that each time I put it to sleep. This is painfully annoying. Sometimes, it will connect if I wait a few minutes, but that should not be the case. The second issue I have is with the calendar sync. Previously, I simply had the Sync Calendar option checked in iTunes and it brought over all my entries whenever I did a sync. Well, at some point during the upgrade (whether it was iTunes 9.2 or iOS4 is not clear) the check box become unselected. It took me a couple of weeks to notice that I was not getting updates, but once I did, I tried to recheck the box. That was my big mistake as it crashed and corrupted my local (.ost) mail file the next time I tried to sync.

I was able to create work around that I am “okay” with, but I suppose I am lucky in that respect. A while back, I started using Google Calendar Sync to copy (one way) my Outlook calendar out to Google so that my wife and I could see each other’s schedule. So, my work around is actually to pull this calendar down into my primary iOS calendar. It works fine, except that I get notifications from my wife’s calendar on my iTouch. But Apple, seriously, why would you be good with this? I know they added a bunch a functionality with single mailbox and additional features, so it obvious that just mistakenly broke my sync. Unfortunately, it seems like when this happens, Apple does not often go back and fix these types of problems.

Another thing that continues to be a disappointment is the Nike+ application. I feel like I can complain about that here because this is a joint venture between Apple and Nike to bring pedometer-like functionality to the iTouch and Nano. And the Nike+ application comes built into the OS like the calendar, mail and Safari browser applications. The primary problem is that Apple refuses to support flash web sites AND the NikePlus.com web site is built entirely in flash. I would not be as disappointed if Apple took the time to improve their application to incorporate more of the website’s functionality. Instead I have to visit the web site on another device (computer). I feel like this a bad way to support their relationship with a partner.

Nike+ Feedback April 15, 2010

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It occurred to me that I was not specific enough in my review of the Nike+ sensor, app, and website. I need to clear my brain of these thoughts, so here is a list things Nike and Apple need to fix with this gadget interface.

Firstly, I must say that setup for this gadget was amazingly simple. The App downloaded and sync’d to my foot sensor without any issues. So much so that I forget how it worked and hope that I don’t have to resync or change any of that setup. I say this because the interface is equally simple and I have not been able to find any of the setup now that I am off and running with it. These are the three basic screens:

Despite this simplicity, there are some basic functions that do not work. The app allows you to define a custom workout (timed run with a given playlist, for example), but it does not allow you to use smart playlists – it always selects another playlist. And the once created, the workout does not show any details about the configuration despite there being plenty of room for it. See center pic above.

The primary function of the app is to record foot steps once the workout is started. It does force you to quickly sync to the foot pod which works fine. The problem is sometimes, randomly, you can start a workout and it somehow lost track of the sensor and if you aren’t watching, the timer runs, but zero distance is recorded. I have learned to check it once I get a few minutes into the workout. On a couple of early runs, it was recording some movement, but even running at 9min/mi (6.5 MPH), it recorded something like 1 MPH.

As I said in my first review, one of coolest functions of the Nike+ community is the challenges. To me, this should be something that they could build into the app. There should be a tab for challenges that shows where you are (if only at the time of your last sync) on any given sync. It should also provide a way to see and sign up for new challenges. The challenges can only be seen on the all flash website – which means you can not do it from the iPhone OS at all! That is ridiculous to me. This is a joint relationship from Apple and Nike and yet Apple feud with Adobe is cutting off the head of this app.

Now for the website. It looks super slick and clean – but it is slow – thus the reason Apple won’t let you run flash on their phones. However, some basic features do not work. First, on several occasions I have had trouble finding configuration things for my profile. It is not always intuitive. Also, the member search does not work. I have tried to use email and user name and neither work. For a social community site, this should be a required functionality to have working.

Now, since I have only been on the site for a few months (nearly 3 now), I am not completely sure how the challenges are working. I don’t think very well so far. In a recently one that ended last week, I came in second. The challenge was named “First to reach level Green” and the description read: Im taking this challenge so I can advance to level green. Feel free to do the same or just individually run to 122 miles. Now, the winner ran 123+ miles and I only ran 86+ miles, but he didn’t turn green yet. What is up with that? (I did turn green less than a week later.) I think I need to create a challenge for myself and see how that really works, but I am guessing the only criteria that the winner can be evaluated is the distance completed or fasted time not whatever the creator wants. So, when I create my challenge to reach Level Blue, it will be 460 Miles from now, but someone who is halfway there will turn blue in say 200 miles. It is all very confusing, but fun nonetheless and somewhat motivating, which is all that matters really.

I hope in future releases, Apple and Nike work out these kinks so that I can feel more satisfied with this nifty little workout gadget.

Friday Run… Cold! March 26, 2010

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I generated enough will power to head out into the cold today. It is about 40 degrees, which is still my lower limit on going out in shorts. It felt cold for a few minutes, but after a while only my hands and thigh stayed cold throughout. It was a bit windy, so that did not help.

But I decided that I will try to write one blog for each run to cover the music, podcast or TV show that I listen to during the run. Here is my Nike+ update from Twitter about today’s run: ran 4.57 mi on 3/26/2010 at 12:16 PM with a pace of 9’30″/mi

It was a good run. I tried to keep it light and not push too hard, but my heart rate monitor did not work right for the first half. It slide down to my stomach and registered up to 210 BPM. After I got it situated, I managed to keep it under 160 for the remainder of the run. Assuming that is right, it is about 10 points lower than normal.

On today’s podcast, I listened to Engadget’s audio podcast #188. I am actually three episodes behind, but listened to this thanks to the outstanding buggy ipod Touch/iTunes software. Unfortunately, you can not control the sort order on Smart Playlists. I have four special playlists that allow me to only sync the podcasts that I have not listened to yet. That is a nice feature, but I would like to listen to them in chronological order… thanks Apple!

Anyway, the podcast is over an hour long and I only ran for 43 minutes. In the parts I listened to, they talked about Windows Mobile Phone Series 7 operating system… nice name Microsoft. It sounds like it is going to be a Vista like improvement over the prior version. They have built it from scratch, so rather than just make version 6.5 better, they started over and left some key and touted functionality out, like cut and paste… really? Did you learn from Apple?

By the time I finished the run, the guys had moved onto Palm’s current financial status, which does not sound good. They have been getting tremendous reviews on the Pre Plus, so it is a shame. This really just goes to show that the cell phone market has gotten way to fragmented. Let’s take a look just at the number of operating systems: Palm WebOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Mobile Phone Series 7, Nokia Symbian, RIM Blackberry, and of course Apple iPhone… that is big list. Now, add to that the diverse set of phones from each carrier and phone manufacturers. It is too complex. I think the cell market is at a tipping point.

As they tout the roll out of 4th Generation cellular networks, it will add even more confusion. And the problem I have most with the cell services and manufacturers is they are ignoring the feature phone market. While they have added 5MP cameras on the expensive smartphones, they refused to move away from VGA and 1.3MP cameras on the feature phones. A year from now, they will still be at the same feature set and ultimately force people move up to the more expensive phones and services… that, to me, is unfair business practices.

Gadget Review: Nike+ sensor March 5, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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Let’s start by saying, running and walking are the simplest of all fitness activities. Absolutely no special equipment is necessary to participate and it can be done almost anywhere. Now, that being said, there are plenty of special equipment out there for sale to make the activities more productive, more interesting, more fun, more motivating, more informative. I started running as a kid to get in shape for other sports – soccer, basketball, and even baseball, but I never participated on a running/track team.

Now, I keep running to stay in and improve my fitness. I run to relax, to get away and to clear my mind. Six years ago I got a Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS watch. For five years, it was a motivational factor in getting me outside to run, including my second marathon. For me, working full time and having two young kids, I feel pretty good about putting over 1,000 miles on it. Then last year, I upgraded to a Forerunner 305 that has the same (though more accurate GPS, but it adds a heart rate monitor, foot pod, and cadence monitor as possible accessories.

It made it so much easier to track and monitor my runs indoors as well as out. It is also great to be see my heart rate as I ran and then be able to see it graphed alongside my pace and cadence in Garmin’s Training Center software. I even used it a couple of times to see what my heart rate looked like as I slept.
But is missing from Garmin’s system is a sense of community. It is all good to motivate yourself, but if you are up for a little friendly competition, you need to look elsewhere.

And when my wonderful wife won me a new Apple iPod Touch last fall, I decided I would get the Nike+ sensor. I finally picked one up (for $20) in January. The sensor is just a small disc about the top digit of your thumb. It can fit into specific Nike shoes or can be attached to the top of ANY shoe in a little pouch (another $7). Essentially, there is a iPhone/iPod application that works like a sophisticated pedometer. It can be digitally calibrated, it stores past runs, and displays pace, time elapsed and calories burned. But after all that, it uploads runs to the Nike.com website when you Sync your iPod.

The website provides a way to track and display runs. It provides suggesting training regimes, it allows you to set up goals and share your runs with other Nike+ users. However, what is the most inspirational here is the ability to create and join challenges. Who can run the most miles in the next month? Who can run the fastest 5K in the next year? And these can be done at the team level – my state or country against yours. I am in one for the most active blood types (A+ is in a distant second place to O+).

So far (I have only put 73 miles on the device since January 21st), I am enjoying this extra motivational tool. It keeps me wanting to get running and recording distances for my challenges. There some minor bugs in the iPod app and it could use a little more functionality – like I think it should download current challenge standings when the system syncs. It couldn’t be up to date unless they also sync’d over the network, but at least it would not tie you to your computer. And the challenges have some built in biases that are difficult to overcome. But they are still very motivational to anyone who is a little competitive. And the app does let you play playlists while you run and of course works fairly accurately to record distances. All in all, this is a cool product that is fairly inexpensive if you already have an iPod.

Filling up 32GB on an Apple Touch November 10, 2009

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Fitness, Society, Technology.
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So, I have had a few weeks with my new iPod Touch 32GB 3rd Generation…. and I have to say it is all I expected and more. It is very easy to use. Even the free-est of free apps are quite good. I have already managed to download 4 additional pages of apps, mostly games, and have enjoyed all but a few.

One thing the Touch has caused me to do is clean up my data. I have managed to find and remove numerous duplicate copies of music of my library. I have also consolidated all my contacts from my phone as well as my other mail progams into GMail with which the Touch syncs pretty seemlessly. Although the default contacts app is pretty lame. My next big project is to start utilizing Google Health so that I have access to our family’s health records any time, any place. Well, with the Touch it isn’t exactly that completely available – having only WiFi does have its major limitations. But you would be surprised at how many unlocked wireless connections are out there. Just this morning, I tweeted outside my son’s day care on someone’s wireless connection.

It would be very nice to have anytime/any place access, but I am still not ready to pay $40 bucks month to get it. Granted, I am als missing out on GPS apps that don’t work on a Touch, but since the OS does not allow 2 apps to run at once, I think that functionality would be disappointing anyway. The new Motorola Droid will probably do that thing kind of better once there are more diverse applications available for it.

So, my favorite uses so far? I haven’t quite figured out tweeter and I am not addicted to Facebook yet, but I guess that is the anti-social side of me. Those are two excellent uses for the Touch for sure. Like I said, I consolidated all my contacts, so I do like the fact that I can now carry around my whole address book, although I still need do some work to keep that in sync. And my biggest benefit all along has been to keep my podcasts in sync. It obviously works seemlessly with iTunes, which has every podcast under the sun (and any other podcast can be subscribed to also). And with the 32 GB, I have room for my entire 20 GB music library. I am starting to carry around pictures too. And then there are games. Sadly, my favorites are old classics, a brick breaker game, a toobz game, a real GTI is very cool, sudoku, maj jong, air hockey… like I said, I now have four screens to apps.

I have yet to pay for an app or a podcast, though. As much as I love the apps I have found, I would be very tormented if I spent money on something that ultimate is just a time waster. I would want to get my money’s worth, but I also would not want to waste time on this machine. It is certainly a fun, entertaining, useful tool and I am so lucky my wife loves me so much that she worked as hard as she did to win it for me. ‘Nuff said!

Microsoft always playing catch-up… marketing! September 8, 2009

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Zune vs iTouch

This month, Microsoft will release a new personal media player, the Zune HD. It is the equivalent of Apple’s move from iPod to iTouch. It is touted to be technically superior to Apple’s iTouch hardware. Of course, it will likely not fair nearly as well in the mass market all because of marketing. Microsoft has the most widely accepted operating system and office productivity software. But developers and hackers do not like Microsoft. Therefore, there will not be nearly as many applications developed for the Zune stores.

Apple will anounce their new line of updated media players on September 9th, generation #3. Microsoft finally releases its Zune HD on September 15th. So far, it looks like there will be nearly $75 difference on the highest 32 GB models (in Microsoft’s favor). They both will obviously have wireless networking and touch screens. Word on the street is the iTouch will add a digital camera. But for me, the big draw in interest to the Zune is the HD output as well as the HD radio. I think that is huge. There are very few portable HD radios on the market and this is essentially a computer plus the HD radio. Now, let’s hope the Zune supports flash and java players so any online content can be relayed onto the big screen!

(Note: a few hours after I posted this, Apple dropped its prices – the 32GB iTouch went from $399 to $279 (practically the same as the proposed Zune HD 32 GB) – in preparation for it’s big 9/9/09 annoucements.)