The iPhone Killed The Ringtone

Maybe I’m missing something, but wasn’t there a time a few years ago when every other TV commercial was a ringtone/SMS scam? When a ringtone was the primary means of customizing a phone? When mobile carriers like Sprint were raking in a high margin fortune selling 30 second clips of popular songs?

Don’t see that much, these days. I wonder why?

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Tales of a New MacPerson #2

Since my first post, the Mac mini has replaced a Gateway Windows box as our HTPC, I’ve moved to a 27″ iMac, and the wife has transitioned to a (white, non-Pro) Macbook.

  • Some of my complaints about the OS X dock have been addressed by a nifty app called HyperDock. HD adds Aero Peek and Aero Snap to OS X, effectively co-opting the best gizmos MS added to Windows 7.
  • OS X’s means of organizing apps (such as it is) blows donkeys. I’m really looking forward to what OS X Lion delivers on that front.
  • The Mac App Store is 9/10 of the way toward awesome. The process of finding and installing apps is nearly identical to doing the same stuff on iOS, which means it is a giant improvement the traditional methods of acquiring and setting up new software.
  • Best thing about the Mac App Store: thanks to Apple’s standardizing on a single DRM model across devices and media, every App Store app comes with a five-user/machine license. Yeah, DRM sucks, but that’s positively generous compared to the licenses on 99% of the apps/games available on other platforms.
  • Worst thing about the Mac App Store: even as a stand-alone, non-iTunes-based application, the MAS is sluggish as hell. Not as painfully slow as, say, the iTunes store on the iPad, nut annoying.
  • The 27″ iMac has pixel-density issues for people with shitty vision. This thing is natively 2560×1440, but in order for me to be able to read really comfortably, I need to drop it all the way to 1600×900. I’ve got it at 1920×1080 at the moment, and everything is just a touch too small for me. Apple really needs to get its ass in gear and make OS X resolution independent.
  • On a similar subject, I have to give Apple huge props for their accessibility system. The Mac’s built-in screen magnifier is so much better than the one in Windows… I use it all the time, particularly sense I can manipulate the zoom just by holding down CONTROL and swiping one finger up and down the surface of the mouse.
  • Finder is no Windows Explorer. Okay, fine, it’s better than Explorer circa WinXP, but it isn’t even close to the stuff MS is shipping in Windows 7. There are plugins and replacements you can use to fill the gap, but again, this is something Apple needs to address.
  • I’ve come to appreciate the One Menu Bar To Rule Them All approach in Apple’s UI. It ultimately saves lots of little bits of screen real estate, and gives all those little tray icons somewhere (mostly) unobtrusive to live.
  • Built-in VNC is nice.
  • Apple’s uninstall process for non-App-Store apps is both cool and slightly irritating. Basically, uninstalling is as simple as right-clicking an app’s icon or folder and clicking “Move to Trash”. Can’t beat that. But in a move designed to protect the average user and keep the process as logically pure as possible, doing such an uninstall does nothing about any cache material and other data the app may have been using on your machine. To get rid of that stuff (which, mind you, is unnecessary 95% of the time) you either need to buy an app, or dig through the Finder manually. It’s still better than the Windows Way, but decidedly sub-optimal.
  • When you get down to it, you don’t really notice that the Mac software market is so much smaller than that of Windows; whatever you’re needing, there’s probably a Mac equivalent that will do the job. What you notice is that about half the time, there is no free equivalent. I suspect the Mac App Store will eventually change this, but at the moment, small utilities that would be free on Windows are $19.95 on the Mac.
  • Even on a quad-core, 6GB machine, running a Windows XP virtual machine inside OS X is annoying. Everything works as expected, but it quickly makes an otherwise speedy Mac rather sluggish. Thankfully, I’m pretty much completely weaned off Windows apps… I’ve got everything I need running natively in OS X.
  • The more time you spend with a Mac, the more you start to appreciate Apple’s industrial design. And OS design, for that matter. They pay attention to details that other manufacturers and developers ignore.
  • The wife’s Macbook is a delight. It has the longest running battery either of us have ever seen in a full-sized laptop, which is a huge deal. But perhaps even bigger is the simple fact that it is a laptop that virtually never gets hot. You can get it to heat up if you bury it in blankets or something, but if it’s sitting on your actual lap, it stays pretty much room temperature at all times.
  • In contrast, the top of a quad-core, 27″ iMac? Near the exhaust vent? Don’t touch that. Trust me.
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Ill-Advised Confessional Bullshit

I hate myself.

Actually, I’m not sure that’s 100% accurate. It’s not like I spend my time staring into the mirror and spitting at my reflection. I don’t wallow in guilt. I do tend to indulge in a bit of regret (guilt’s introverted twin sister) from time-to-time, but it’s not all-consuming. If pressed, I could probably even rattle off ten or so things about me that I think are worthwhile, and a couple more that I truly, sincerely like. When viewed from a certain angle, one could easily conclude that my self-esteem is under-developed, but not necessarily broken… kind of a Thalidomide baby arm of the soul.

And yet.

I can feel the disdain. From everyone, everywhere. They think I’m ugly. My words aren’t clever enough. My thoughts aren’t deep enough. I can’t be kind enough. I can’t be sufficiently cutting. My opinions are pointless. My contributions useless. My value is minimal, and that’s being generous. I’m the never-was has-been whose best was just good enough to be disappointing.

And yet.

That’s absurd. First of all, I don’t matter enough to merit that sort of harsh analysis from the entire human race. Second, there are a handful of people close to me, people I know don’t view me quite so derisively. Although that brings in its own set of problems, now that I mention it. After all, there’s a lesson to be learned in watching some deluded teenager show up at an American Idol audition with a dozen devoted family members and years of music lessons in tow, only to discover to his horror that he can’t sing a note. Love is blinding, and you therefore can’t trust the perspective of those so blinded… especially when they’re telling you what you desperately need to hear.

And so.

Maybe the truth is, I hate you. All of you, everywhere. Why else would I put such hateful words in your mouths and thoughts in your skulls? Why would I doubt your ability to appreciate me on any level? Why else would every minor cut you give me feel like an amputation?

Unless I love you.

And I hate myself.

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Tales of a New MacPerson #1

So after twenty-five years of determinedly avoiding it, I am now the owner of a Macintosh computing device. The iPhone was my gateway drug, which led to an iPad, which in turn led to the Mac mini that is powering the writing of this post.

I fought it for so long, primarily, because Apple stuff was always so expensive. It may have been cool, well designed, stable, and so on, but the most defining description for me was always “too fucking pricey”. There was always that feeling that I could get more raw mega- (and later, giga-) hertz on the Windows side of the world, and after finally abandoning my Amiga fanboydom in my early twenties, I was after all the pure, cheap power I could get.

But then things changed. First, I was just getting sick of Windows. I mean, Win7 is easily the best iteration of that OS ever distributed, and I’m really quite fond of it… but even now, when Microsoft has their OS as stable, secure, and usable as can be expected, it’s still a mess. Nothing they do can make the experience of using random assemblages of commodity hardware, vendor-specific drivers, and quirky manufacturing. Few things ever seem to work as they should, and when stuff fails, it fails in grand, show-stopping fashion. (Note to self: never, ever buy anything from Gateway, ever again.)

More importantly, the pricing structure changed in Cupertino. They got me on the iOS platform with a $299 smartphone, and locked me in as a passionate fan with a $499 tablet that is better than any $1000 laptop I’ve ever owned. (I could burn up thousands of words about how much I love the iPad, but that’s not the subject at hand.) And now, the $699 Mac mini, with it’s exquisitely designed case and ports, it’s adequately (though unspectacularly) outfitted CPU/GPU, and it’s familiar-yet-strange-and-beautiful OS has pushed me off the biggest ledge of all. I’m in OSX free-fall, and it’s pretty interesting.

So starting here, I’m gonna document my random thoughts as a new Mac user… the stuff that impresses, the stuff that, annoys, and the random things that just flat-out perplex.

  • For the first two weeks, I was convinced that Mac users must have the most powerful index fingers on the planet… my Magic Mouse was painfully difficult to click. I couldn’t even manage to consistently click-and-drag with it, leaving me thinking that switching my OS was going to be a bigger task than initially suspected. Until, that is, I happened to touch a Magic Mouse on a display machine at Best Buy, and knew instantly that my mouse at the house was just plain broken from the factory. A quick return to the store, and I’m happily clicking like a normal person.
  • I have several PC laptops with HDMI ports, and have tried hooking them up to my A/V receiver, and in every case, the result has been nothing but frustration. In one case I might get audio but no video, in another, I’d get video and audio, but only in stereo. It was seemingly impossible to find the magic combination of hardware, software, and drivers to make it all work. Meanwhile, I plugged the Mac mini into the receiver, ran Plex, and everything Just Worked. First time, no problems. If I wasn’t sold before that, I would have been at that point.
  • Subtle but pervasive irritation: OS X isn’t as good as Win7 at providing “hold on a second, dude, I’m busy” feedback via mouse pointer animations. Yeah, you get the occasional stopwatch and spinning beachball, but you also spend a lot of time staring at a standard pointer that appears ready to accept your input, but really isn’t. I’ve never missed Ye Olde Hourglass so much in my life.
  • The Mac version of Evernote is so much better than the Windows version, it’s ridiculous. From small touches to the overall UI, it’s just a superior product. As much as I depend on Evernote, I might have switched sooner if I’d known this. (P.S. to people with memory problems: get Evernote, and use it constantly.)
  • It feels like OS X is actually a bit more RAM-hungry than Win7. A 2GB Windows machine is pretty solid… not great (you don’t get consistently smooth performance until you hit 4GB), but it’s wholly acceptable. A 2GB Mac, on the other hand, can get sluggish pretty quickly when trying to multitask with non-Apple-written apps. I suspect I’ll be jacking this thing up to 8GB pretty soon.
  • iTunes on the Mac? Okay, so now I see why Apple sticks with this app. On Windows, iTunes is easily the biggest piece of shit on my machine… it eats RAM and CPU cycles like crazy, making it impossible to use the thing as intended. I frakkin’ hate it. But on the Mac, it’s… totally decent. I can leave it running in the background and not even notice it’s there most of the time. Honestly, anyone tied to iOS devices should probably just jump to OS X, simply to save themselves the inevitable Windows/iTunes headaches.
  • The OS X dock is inferior to Win7’s taskbar. It just is. After years of people (including me) installing Mac-alike system utilities to make the Windows 95/98/XP/Vista taskbar do something useful, Microsoft finally came along and perfected the concept. In fact, just about everything in Win7’s Aero toolbox is missing or half-implemented in OS X. I’ve got an applet called BetterTouchTool running on the mini that gives me a clone of Aero Snap, but I’m still a long way from content.
  • Windows Home Server is easily one of my all-time favorite Microsoft products… it works very well, and can be administered by anyone with a decent geek rating. But for pure backup functionality, Time Machine has got it beat. It’s tough for WHS’s daily backups to compete with TM’s hourlies. On the plus side, the Mac works quite nicely with all of my WHS shares.

More to come!

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Obstructive Sleep Apnea (or, How Ignoring Snoring Can Fuck You Up)

Those who know me are aware I have a number of physical/psychological challenges that are stacked pretty high: I was born with cataracts and am color-blind, I have Essential Tremor, have had life-long problems with social anxiety, and probably other crap I’m forgetting. They all tend to combine in unfortunate ways: for example, the tremor is embarrassing, which increases the social anxiety, and under that stress, the tremor increases in severity.

Well, for the last 5+ years, there’s been a relatively new problem that I’ve determinedly ignored. Actually, it hasn’t been entirely “ignored,” so much as “partially unnoticed, but when finally noticed, ignored.” I didn’t even realize it was happening for the longest time, and when other people tried to point it out, I either laughed at or argued with them. Only a few weeks ago did I finally, fully accept it as a reality.

“It” is memory loss. Not just memory loss, of course; there’s been deepening depression, inability to focus, listlessness, confusion, and so on. But memory loss is the biggie for me. My brain, the data it holds, and the connections I’m able to make between discrete bits of information, are really the only things about me that I’ve ever liked. And they have been slowly melting  away.

For the first few years, everyone else thought I was simply being lazy or belligerent when I failed to do agreed-upon things, recall important stuff, etc. And I kinda concurred with them, although I wasn’t quite sure why I was being lazy and belligerent. It was just… happening. I would fall into periods of what I thought of as “writer’s block”, where I just couldn’t seem to create anything, whether it be code, conversation, or prose.

During the next phase, people not named Roger started to detect something a bit.. off with me. I would swear that I had never participated in a conversation in which I had actually been actively involved. Food I had eaten and enjoyed on a number of occasions would be recalled as unpleasant or uninteresting, when recalled at all. There always seemed to be someone contradicting my version of events. This routinely pissed me off, to the point that I began insisting that my memories were accurate, even on the odd occasion when I could see they were foggy or fragmented. And any time one of these people had the misfortune to actually misremember something themselves, I seized upon it as proof that I was right about everything else.

Which brings us to the last couple months. I finally went to my GP, complaining of depression, constant drowsiness, and inability to concentrate. He sent me to a sleep specialist, and I went along with the recommended sleep-study… didn’t really think too much about it, but I figured if there was any chance it would get me out of my funk, I’d play ball. I spent the night in a little faux-bedroom, hooked up to a bunch of sensors and computers, and was told I’d hear from the doc about my results in a few weeks.

While waiting for that, it happened. A client of mine started having trouble with her email server, and I went to work trying to figure out what could have gone wrong. It was so mystifying that I asked my network engineer of a wife to have a look, and she went poking through my configuration.

At one point, she looked up from her laptop and asked if I’d made sure my client’s mail app was configured to use a certain port number. I looked at her blankly and said, “Of course not. I’ve never even heard of that port number being used for outgoing mail. Why would I tell her to use it?”

“Because that’s how your server is set up,” she replied.

“Bullshit,” I thought, and nearly said. Despite the fact that she knows way more about this specific topic than I do, I assumed she was somehow misreading the settings, and logged in myself. I was wrong. “Motherfucker. How the hell did the port get set to that? Did you do it?”

“Um, no.” She was getting exasperated, and I was starting to take a dickish tone to cover the confused and worried feeling developing in my gut. “Why don’t you ask [the client] for a screenshot of her settings?”

I did, and the client patiently complied. The results were just unfathomable. There in her settings was the port number in question, one that she would have never guessed or chosen on her own in a million years. It was insane, and that confused/worried feeling I was having turned to dread. I popped into Gmail, did a search for that magic number, and a couple seconds later, just stared at the results.

Two years ago, there I was, sending the client a message, instructing her to use this new port number and explaining why I had changed things. I talked about all the research I’d done on the topic, and the steps I’d taken to resolve her long-ago problem.

And I didn’t remember any of it. Nothing. It wasn’t like something I’d forgotten and found again. It wasn’t a frayed thread of thought that had disintegrated in places. It wasn’t even an empty space that I could define relative to things I could remember. Reading those emails was like looking into the past and seeing someone else use my name and mannerisms to carry on an interaction that never happened to me.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but it was. Scared the shit out of me, in fact.

A couple days ago, I finally get to see my sleep guy, and he laid it out for me.

  • Within a minute of falling asleep, I stop breathing.
  • After that, I stop breathing an average of once per minute the rest of the night.
  • In total, while asleep, I spend more time not breathing than I do breathing.
  • In an attempt to protect itself, my body proceeds to awaken me hundreds of times each night, hoping my conscious mind will force a breath into my lungs.
  • During this time, my heart rate is shooting up and down chaotically.
  • My blood oxygen drops to dangerous levels for the duration.

After seeing the test results, he was shocked at how functional I seemed during my initial interview. “Most people in this condition,” he said, “would be completely ‘zombified’.” Yeah, he really said “zombified”.

He went on to explain that some (if not all) of the depression, confusion, and –most significantly– memory loss was the result of brain damage incurred over many years of nightly oxygen deprivation, my brain cells slowly dying as my collapsed airway starved them. He further explained that if I don’t want a heart attack or dementia, I have to strap myself into a CPAP machine every night, and for the foreseeable future, make sure I’m getting at least eight hours of sleep a day.

Oddly enough, the diagnosis doesn’t worry me at all. Compared to that moment I spent looking  in disbelief at an email I can’t believe I wrote, I’m positively giddy. Maybe the reality of the last fuck-knows-how-many years just hasn’t sunk in… maybe I’m eventually going to “get” that I burned precious years in a daze, and will never be able to get back some moments that would have otherwise been important to me.

But for right now, it’s a relief. I know what to do next. I know what I need. I know when to be wary. I don’t have to keep being a prick to preserve my stupid pride. Now that I know the contours and hand-holds, I can see ways to extricate myself from the hole I’ve lived in for ages.

And seriously, folks… if you snore so loudly that other people can hear you through multiple walls on the other side of the house, get yourself checked out. It’s not a funny quirk; it’s your life.

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ComicRack and the iPad: A Workflow Walkthrough

Okay, this is just a little step-by-step guide to how I use ComicRack in conjunction with a CBR/CBZ reader on my iPad. (These days I’m primarily using Comic Zeal, but I still use Comic Reader Mobi on the iPhone.)

  1. In ComicRack, I start by creating a list folder called Comics I Follow.
  2. Inside that folder, I create individual Reading Lists for each ongoing series I’m following. I usually go with a Smart List, which will automatically pick up new issues as I add them to the database.
  3. Next I set up non-Smart Lists (Dumb Lists?) for older runs/series/events that I want to re-read or catch up with… just create the list, and drag-n-drop all the relevant issues into the list.
  4. If there are single issues/graphic novels that I’m wanting to read, I toss them into a Miscellaneous list.
  5. Now the most important step: I add a new root-level Smart List (outside the Comics I Follow folder, in other words) that has two features: (a) it uses Comics I Follow as its source, and (b) filters out all comics that I’ve already read. This Smart List gets labeled Comics To Sync.

So that’s the setup. Now here’s the usage:

  1. Every week or so, when I’m ready to move new content on to the iPad, I run ComicRack and view the Comics To Sync list.
  2. I also open up iTunes, and size both windows for easy dragging-and-dropping. Within iTunes, I select my connected iPad, click the Apps tab. scroll down to the file syncing section, and click my reader app of choice.
  3. Back in ComicRack, I select the comics I want to read, and drag them into iTunes.
  4. Immediately after kicking off that copy operation, I return to the ComicRack window, right-click on the selected comics, and select Mark As Read. (Remember the “unread only” filter I set up? The combination of this step and that filter means that we won’t waste space/time copying the same files to the iPad over and over again.)

That’s pretty much it. In my experience, this process makes keeping up with a steady flow of creatively collected digital comics relatively easy. The flaws in the system are entirely on the reader side, really… Comic Zeal fails to group issues of the same series between syncs, for example, while Comic Reader Mobi doesn’t group anything at all. But those are wrinkles that will work themselves out eventually, and the present situation is still better than any other alternative I’ve seen.

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Mophie Juicepack Air: iPhone & Essential Tremor

I’ve mentioned before that I love my iPhone. Smartphones with hardware keyboards are harder for me to use because the fine muscle control required to push down firmly on a tiny nub makes my hands shake even worse than usual. The iPhones tap-and-swipe interface, on the other hand, makes things relatively easy… no pressure == less muscular activity == less shaking.

But there’s always been one nagging issue with the iPhone, relative to my tremor: its size. The thing, lightweight form factor that everyone else loves so much turns my hand into a trembling, shivering claw when I try to use it one-handed. It probably seems counter-intuitive to people without ET –especially in light of what I just said about muscle activity– but when it comes to holding stuff, small, delicate items are a real pain in the ass. Most of us take for granted how much control it takes to hold something gently until you wake up one day and “gently” has become a matter of concentration.

Mophie Juicepack AirAnyway… for reasons having nothing to do with ET, I picked up a Mophie Juicepack Air the other day. It’s a case/battery-pack combo that doubles the battery life of the iPhone while also providing it with a bit of protection. I’m constantly letting my phone run low, and I already had it in a semi-bulky case anyway, so I figured it’d be worth it.

What I didn’t realize is that, by doubling the thickness of the device and adding several ounces of battery and plastic to my phone, the whole thing would become so much more comfortable to use. Yeah, it’s no longer as sleek and beautiful a device as it once was, but I use my iPhone constantly, and having it feel so much more secure in my grip is a blessing.

If you’ve got ET and a Jesus Phone, definitely look into Mophie’s wonderful little add-on. It does everything it claims on the box, and then some.

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New Podcast Update

For the one or two people subscribed here, this is the latest episode of my FWDAJ Extra podcast.

FWDAJ Extra 2009-09-30

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My Experimental Podcast

Go ahead, give ‘er a shot. It’s about seven, eight minutes long and completely devoid of even a single attempt at humor. TRANSLATION: it will completely cure your insomnia.


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In Brief… 2009-08-05

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