Computers


I got my iPhone 5 (no bloody C or S) for Virgin Mobile about a month ago, and it’s been a marvelous device. The iPhone seems to much better access the Sprint/Virgin network in Albuquerque much better than the old HTC or the dumbphone I had before that. Here’s the original review when it was still on iOS6, so we’ll concentrate on the move to iOS7 here. I turned to the iPhone because the user experience of the iPad 2 has been so good, that I figured it would be recreated on the small phone. I was not wrong. So how did the new iOS7 change the user experience?

For me, it was an excellent switch. There’s a ton of articles online about the technical aspects, the bugs and glitches, the various interface aspects of the software. You can Google them if that’s what you are looking for, but here’s my experience with iOS7: The new interface is cleaner and the “flat” design and new typeface makes it easier to see and use for my LASIK modified eyes. (I’m now mildly farsighted.) The new notification center can be accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen and works from the lock screen, so you can check the weather or any message notes — this makes it very easy to do quick checks of your calendar, etc. without having to punch in your password. (No fingerprint crap here.) The command center, or whatever they call it, swipes up from the bottom. You can set airplane mode or do not disturb from here, use the camera, or the camera flash as a flashlight (a feature I’ve used more than I expected), or adjust the sound or screen brightness without going through your passcode screen.

Once you’ve passcoded into the phone, it operates no differently from iOS6; easy, intuitive, and I saw no slow down in performance, nor issues with phone or wifi reception. Battery life did drop about 10-15% percent. I can get through two days of use with a bit of internet access, messaging, and the occasional phone call. I was able to cut about half of the new battery drain by killing the background app updates, the fancy parallax effects, and limiting the location services to the essential apps. (By the way, if the parallax stuff is giving you some kind of motion sickness, you’re way too damned sensitive; I couldn’t even notice it unless i really concentrated — hence why I turned it off.)

The integration of email/Twitter/Facebook/other app sharing across the platform makes it easy to do most things you might need. Siri works better than I thought it would when accessing functionality on the phone, but still isn’t much use as a search engine. The voice recognition for speech-to-text is quite good and can handle my strange Amero-Scottish accent without too much trouble.

Otherwise, there’s it’s much the same user experience — just cleaner and a bit better integrated than the last iteration of the OS.

Now, on the iPad 2, the experience is much improved. I know others might be having issues with the upgrade; I’m not. As with the iPhone, the new notifications and command centers are handy; and the interface is cleaner, easier to read, but here the functionality is much improved by the ability to still get out of an app to the “switcher” with a quick four-finger flick up. (I wish the iPhone incorporated this, as it would save the double tapping on the Home button and increase the life of the device.) Once in the switcher, you simply flick with a finger the app closed. It cuts down on the use of the home button on the iPad — you almost don’t need it. I’ve also seen not dramatic drop in performance of the device — none of the reported keyboard lag, no hanging apps or sudden app closures (although I do occasionally get one on the phone.) Even Real Racing 3, which is a resource hog of Texas boar proportions (and kinda sucks now that they’re trying to squeeze every last dime out of the player with their new freemium paradigm) runs well, with just a few jitters in the initial menu screens.

So, was the update worth it? Yes, even for an older iPad 2. (My wife also reports no issues on her iPad 3.)

Style: 5 out of 5 — the new look is modern, simple, and easier to use than iOS6. Substance: 4.5 out of 5 — the OS works as advertised and integrates a lot of the functions in ways that make it easy for the user to access. Siri still isn’t too impressive, and Maps is still slower than the DMV if you use a sat or hybrid view; stick to the straight map function and this isn’t an issue.

Sigh…I really like the OS X environment, I think the operating system works very well and is remarkably stable compared to Windows (although I do like Windows 7 very much)…but what the #$%@ is with iTunes? Every improvement is a pain in the ass — it either doesn’t work well, or it does something to piss me off.

The latest was that every time I would open the program, it woud ask if I wanted to accept network connections. It’s a firewall issue; you’d think iTunes would play nice with OS X’s own firewall. (Good job, iTunes development team; you still suck!)

Here’s what worked for me. Swear vociferously. Close iTunes. Open the application manager and kill the iTunes helper process. (Search — you’ll find it faster.) Delete iTunes — no you will not lose your library, files, or downloads. Mountain Lion won’t let you drag to the trash can, so open the terminal, type in cd /Applications/

Yes, capitalize Application.

Then type: sudo rm -rf iTunes.app/ It will ask you for your administrator password if it’s enabled.

That’s it. Nothing else will happen, but the iTunes icon will be gone. Restart your computer, go to the iTunes web page and download the new 11.0.2. If you want to throw in some verbal abuse at Apple, the iTunes developers, Macs and how much easier Windows is to use — hit it. I recommend swearing. Or hitting an inanimate object.

Now option+click iTunes in the application folder, find your libraries, and you should be good to go.

Now for the saying nice things portion of the rant: iTunes 11.0.2 is much much faster than the last iteration on my 2010 Air, even accessing my network drive for the files. It found the files quickly, and accessed the store remarkably fast. Usually I wait through a long slog just to get into the store, much less try to find something. At this point I apologize to the iTunes code monkeys — this is still a kludged mess in some ways, but it’s running better than it has in years.

First you want to reset the keyboard shortcuts for Duplicate to something not what we’re going to do.

Go into System Preferences, Keyboard, then to Keyboard Shortcuts. On the right, click on “All Applications” and hit the + sign button. You’ll get a window something like this:

To get the command to work, you’ve got to do it right. Type Save As with the capitalizations. You can’t type the elipses, I found; you have to use Option+semi-colon. Then in the shortcut Shift+Command+S (or whatever you want.)

So long as the program allows for Save As, it should show up in the File menu, as well!

Now, allegedly it’s because names are notoriously difficult for speech recognition (and people for that matter) to capture, but Apple sends your speech-to-text data — and your contacts list — to “the cloud” (their massive server farms) to do the translation, much like Siri on the iPhone.

When you go to the Systems Preferences and Dictation & Speech, hit the button about privacy at the bottom. Here’s what you’ll get:

When you use the keyboard dictation feature on your computer, the things you dictate will be recorded and sent to Apple to convert what you say into text. Your computer will also send Apple other information, such as your first name and nickname; and the names, nicknames, and relationship with you (for example, “my dad”) of your address book contacts.  All of this data is used to help the dictation feature understand you better and recognize what you say. Your User Data is not linked to other data that Apple may have from your use of other Apple services.

Information collected by Apple will be treated in accordance with Apple’s Privacy Policy, which can be found at www.apple.com/privacy.

You can choose to turn off the dictation feature at any time. To do so, open System Preferences, click Dictation & Speech, and then click Off in the Dictation section. If you turn off Dictation, Apple will delete your User Data, as well as your recent voice input data. Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Dictation and other Apple products and services. This voice input data may include audio files and transcripts of what you said and related diagnostic data, such as hardware and operating system specifications and performance statistics.

You can restrict access to the Dictation feature on your computer in the Parental Controls pane of System Preferences.

So user beware.

By now the Mac fanbois have devoured the various gushings of the technorati on the internet and have seen all of the glowing reviews of Mountain Lion, the new OS for Apple’s computer line. I’m a relatively new user of Macs, having switched over when the wife bought me an Air back in late 2010. It’s a superb little machine, I like the interface, but I thought Lion was a disaster. Why? Because prior to that Snow Leopard ran quickly and quietly. Lion, not so much; I saw the beachball much more often, especially when external drives (a must for the small SSDs of the Air), hear the fan crank up to Boeing 787 levels of noise when doing things as simple as watching a short clip on the net or as data intensive as cutting a DVD so I could watch it on my iPad (the gateway drug of the Apple world.)

I was never happy with Lion, but was willing to ignore it. Then comes along Mountain Lion. Notification Center, just like iOS! Reminders, just like iOS! Airplay, just like iOS…unless you have anything older than a Mac produced last week. Hey, wait…I was able to Airplay on my “old” machine with Lion; what the hell? Admittedly, Airplay made my machine labor hard and ran the fans loud enough I had to crank the TV to hear dialogue (seriously, Hollywood, balance the damned sound in movies better!), but it worked. With Mountain Lion? It just locks up iTunes good and dead until you force quit.

No Airplay: Bad. the skeumorphic contact book and calendar interfaces: Bad. Dictation (voice to text) for most programs: Good, but not great — it’s got a very limited cache because it sends what you say to Apple for translation to text. I have a few security qualms about that, on top of it being slow and buggy.

I haven’t bothered with Safari’s new features, since I use Chrome. The share feature being all over the place (but not in Chrome): ambivalent. I use it a lot on my iPad, but perhaps it’s because the laptop is my “work” machine I don’t find it that useful. I’m not surfing the net looking for intriguing things to send my friends when I’m on the Air, unlike the iPad (the first bit of technology, other than vehicles, that I’ve named.) So I’m also not very impressed with the Twitter integration, either, although I use it heavily on the iPad.

iTunes, the bane of pretty much anyone’s existence, seems to run a bit smoother and it’s talking to my network drive without any lag that I can see. Mail having VIP slots for your important contacts? Good. Having reminders and notes separated from mail: Even better. Notification center: Fantastic. More so than I would have thought. Having all of my programs run on ML: Brilliant.

The best part: I haven’t had the fan come on more than once since loading Mountain Lion…and that was pushing a full backup of 52Gb to a network drive. Even then, it only came on for a short time. The beachball has only put in an appearance when iTunes locked up on Airplay, and as I type, I have a movie playing in the background, Mail open, Acrobat open, Word open, and Chrome with 5 tabs. No fan (temps did jump from about 100F or so to 160F.) No lag. Just like when I was running Snow Leopard.

Is it worth it? I blew some of my royalty money from my book sales on the $20 for Mountain Lion and unlike Lion, I think I got my money’s worth. It’s a definite buy — there’s not enough bad changes to not do it, and the bits and bobs (there’s no major changes anywhere) that improve the user experience are definitely worth it.

I just fired up iSkysoft’s iMedia Converter to rip a DVD to see how the machine would handle it. The processors hit a peak of 189F and 180F respectively, with stable temps about 5 degrees cooler. This is on par with the performance on Lion. Fans a-blazin’.

My “big drive” — a 2Tb Western Digital that I use to store our media library went sideways on my Friday, locking up while doing a simple shift of a video from movie to TV show category (thanks, iTunes; I know you were the culprit!) I could read, but not write to the drive and the Mac Air could not repair the drive.

As a result, I bought the Seagate GoFlex Home 2Tb network drive from Best Buy for $150. It’s an all-black unit that plugs into the networking base, which then plugs into the back of your router. Setup was simple, once I realized the drive was just not going to let me set it up without the Seagate software. I hate the way these companies set up the folders, and you can rarely mess with the higher level folders. Same issue here — I’ve got all these “GoFlex Public” and “GoFlex Private” folders. I’ll live with it because there’s a benefit — you can use their GoFlex Access app on your iPad to access the information from the drive via wifi, or through the internet (I’ve yet to try this, but the next trip to the coffee shop, I’ll experiment…)

Transfer speeds from the Air were very fast, the drive has functions, so far, flawlessly, and I was able to back up almost all of the iTunes library before the old Big Drive took a dump and had to finally be reformatted. I’m going to use the former for my Time Machine backups (as well as another disk) and to hold the iTunes library for my Air when it’s plugged in at home, but depending on how well the laptop and iPad can access the media through the internet, I may eventually ditch it or use it as a secondary backup for the media library.

My main concern about the drive is the same as the main benefit: it’s on the internet. Someone could , potentially, locate and crack the drive. The other issue is the Gestapo tactics of the RIAA and MPAA, and their minions in the Department of Homeland Security. These copyright trolls have been working hard to find any excuse to limit our free and fair use of media we’ve already bought form them in the name of preventing piracy (which studies repeated show do not impact sales, save to drive them up — it’s advertisement, like a radio station.)

If it doesn’t crap out like the WD drive, it’ll definitely be worth the $150.

Some douche out of Bangladesh (allegedly) calling himself Tiger-M@te hacked the server over at the gaming blog Campaign Mastery and is awfully proud of himself for his mad skillz and his stripey bestiality.

Simply put, mate,you’re not cool wrecking somebody’s site; it just makes you a destructive asshole.

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