Archive for June, 2010

Some quick snapshots with the new iPhone 4 camera

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

So I got my new iPhone 4 yesterday and took a few very quick snapshots outdoors when I was walking Tova. Still haven’t tried the flash or anything fancy, but wanted to throw these up here, at full size, so you can get a look at the camera’s quality.

License plate
Amazing detail here. If you view the photo at full size, you can see the reflection of my wedding ring in the Toyota logo!

A nice close-up of a pretty yellow flower.

Peace pole
A generic outdoor scenery shot

Tova sniffing (HD movie)
Short movie of our dog sniffing around. Shaky as hell – it is hard to hold an iPhone still and I hope the iMovie for the iPhone has the shake-remover feature of it’s desktop big brother, otherwise post-processing in iMovie will almost be required.

iPhone screenshot
A screenshot of my iPhone’s screen, to get an idea of the pixel density.

Categories: Apple Tags:

Au revoir, mon jailbreak

June 21st, 2010 1 comment

iOS 4.0 will be released tomorrow (or today if you are reading this Monday morning). The iPhone 4 itself will arrive on Thursday.

With my new iPhone, I have to bid a very fond farewell to my jailbroken iPhone. While the iOS 4.0 itself will remain jailbreakble on older iPhones, it is likely that it may be weeks if not months before the new hardware will be jailbroken by the Dev Team.

I am looking forward to my new iPhone and its awesome screen and great camera, but I will miss a lot of the features that third-party developers have created.

What is especially sad is that the three things I will miss the most are not esoteric tweaks useful only to hackers; rather they are essential usability enhancements that make using the phone more pleasant. It boggles my mind that after three years Apple’s engineers have not yet implemented basic ideas such as…

1. Customizable SMS notification tones. The crappy piece-of-junk phone your carrier gives away free probably includes a feature allowing you, the user, to utilize your own custom tones for incoming SMS message notification (or they will at least let you pay to change them). This feature isn’t available on the iPhone at any price. iPhone users are stuck with the same six (crappy) tones that have shipped with the iPhone from day one.

2. Instant reply functionality for incoming SMS messages. On the iPhone, when you get an incoming text message, you have two options. Either ignore it until later, or choose to reply. If you reply, whatever app you are currently running is unceremoniously quit and you are dumped in the full-fledged text messaging app to write your reply. On a jailbroken iPhone you can choose to permit q “quick reply” pop-up window, allowing you to dash off a text message response without quitting the app you are already running. Hopefully, multitasking on iOS 4 will help here, but even so, is the ability to instantly reply to messages too much to ask?

3. Quick access to common phone settings. On a jailbroken iPhone, frequently-used toggle settings, like turning wifi, bluetooth, or data on and off is a single fast swipe no matter what you are doing on your phone. On the stock iPhone, even with iOS 4, doing something simple like turning off 3G requires quitting what you are doing, and navigating deep within the Settings app. Ugh.

Notice that none of these three items requires changing the fundamentals of how the phone works, or opening up the OS or bypassing the app store. In other words, they are all things Apple should add to the basic OS without changing the iPhone business or use models. I hope that these features show up in iOS 5, but in the mean time, I eagerly await the time when a jailbreak for the iPhone 4 is revealed. I have to have my custom SMS tone, after all!

Categories: Apple Tags:

Internet Imagineering HQ

June 10th, 2010 1 comment

I am in San Francisco for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. I found out that the conference is taking place less then a block from the Twitter world headquarters. Since Twitter is such a big part of my connected life these days, I couldn’t resist the urge to wander over during the time between conference sessions.

The Twitter HQ doesn’t even have a sign on the outside of the building they are located within…just a non-descript 6-story office building, but the magic inside…nah, it looks like any other office. No stench of whale meat or chirping of birds. Just the place where one of the best parts of the Internet happens to be developed. I didn’t get a tour or anything…it’s an office where people are working, not Disneyland, but I did convince the receptionist to snap a photo of me, and I checked in on Foursquare, completing the social media double-play of the year for me at least!

Me at Twitter HQ

Your humble blogger on hallowed ground

They also have a nice little art wall with a collection of their awards, magazine covers and other artwork about the brand.

Twitter art wall part 1

Twitter art wall part 1

Twitter art wall part 2

Twitter art wall part 2

Categories: social media Tags:

Looking for some summer reading bargains?

June 3rd, 2010 Comments off

Last fall, on my old blog, I posted a review of what were my favorite books of the year..

Now that it is six months later, a bunch of these are now available in paperback, and most of the hardcovers are now available at remainder or bargain prices.

So, if you are looking for a good read this summer, you might check some of these out (and don’t worry, I am already working on the 2010 list!)

First are the ten new books I enjoyed reading the most in 2009. I am not going to say these are the “best” books of that year, merely my best books. You’ll notices a theme. I like speculative fiction, science, history, and cultural studies. You will not find this year’s best romance novel here.

So, in random order…

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
A masterpiece, and one of the finest examples of quality, thoughtful, intellectual popular science writing I have ever read. If it were merely a thorough overview of evolutionary theory, it would be brilliant just on that alone, but Dawkins also manages to convey a beautiful sense of how science is done, as well as conveying his thoughts with a subtle wit and good humor lacking in his other, more strident books. If you love science, you need to read this book.

Ark by Stephen Baxter
“Ark” is the second book in Baxter’s duology of planetary extinction from a massive flood. Baxter is known for his “hard science fiction” and “Ark” doesn’t disappoint on that level, but what makes this book something special is the human element, as well as the sense of crushing, overwhelming loss, seasoned with the tiniest bit of hope that keeps moving as inexorably as the flood waters. “Ark” can be read as a standalone, but the prequel, “Flood” is nearly as good, so read it first.

Lost To the West by Lars Brownworth
“Lost To the West” is what popular history is supposed to be. It is enlightening, and sheds light on a subject that few people – even those of us who like to think we know something about history – really understand other then as a dim caricature. I am referring to the Byzantine Empire, and Brownworth covers a millenium of history gloriously, with a full pageant of heroes, villains, emperors and patriarchs, with a good overview of the cultural and religious aspects of the empire as well. By necessity, he glosses over a lot of territory (literally and figuratively) but this is a general survey, and was a pleasure to read.

The Illustrious Dead by Stephan Talty
Speaking of great popular history, “The Illustrious Dead” manages to find a fresh look at a subject that has been trampled to death….Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. What makes Talty’s book unique is his focus on medical detective work, and the role of disease in crushing Napoleon’s ambitions. An excellent mix of science and history, told in a lively fashion. This was probably my favorite history book of the year so far.

Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson
If I had to choose a “best book of 2009” this would be it. This book is so many things at once: a speculative look at America after our technological civilization is done away with by peak oil, a mediation on the role of history and the preservation (and loss of) knowledge, a rousing military buddy adventure story, a wry comedic social commentary a la Mark Twain, and simply a damn good read. “Julian Comstock” is an amazingly deft, thoughtful story, which will really make you think. I deeply identified with the characters and the deft nuance of the writing, and, yeah, I laughed out loud a few times as well. This book is a triumph.

Fragment by William Fahey
“Fragment” is an old-fashioned scientific horror novel, kind of like Jurassic Park remixed and kicked up a notch. Of all the book I read in 2009, it is the most likely to be turned into a movie, and reading it, it feels almost cinematic. Although the book offers plenty of fascinating speculation, and lots of strange and hungry animals, there’s also enough scientific exposition to make this book several levels more enjoyable then a mere gore-fest like “The Ruins” (which many have compared to this). A fun, smart action read.

Idiot America by Charles Pierce
Sarcastic, smart, bitter, yet hopeful. I’d like to think that describes some of me, but even if it doesn’t it certainly describes Charles Pierce, who lays bare the genius and depravity of America. This is not just some Michael Moore-ish rant, but rather a thoughtful and bitingly funny celebration of the American crank, ranging from radio shock jocks to Creation Science museum curators. Pierce explores the fauna and flora of American idiocy with a deft hand, and a firm grasp on the saddle (which is itself on top of a dinosaur at the creation museum).

Why Shit Happens by Peter Bentley
You make up in the morning late because your alarm doesn’t go off. Your toast falls on the floor, a bird craps on you as you walk outside, your car breaks down on the way to work, and your pen explodes in your packet. And this is all before 9 AM. Using as his hook a litany of minor disasters that we have all dealt with at one time or another, Bentley explores the science and technology of our daily lives, and how it affects us in ways both bug and small. This is a delightful little book.

Drood by Dan Simmons
I normally do not read 900+ page novels about Charles Dickens, but I loved Simmons’ incredible Arctic horror story “The Terror” so I gave “Drood” a try (it didn’t hurt that it was 40% off!) I am very glad I did. “Drood” is gripping psychological horror story, told through the drug-addled memory of one of Dickens’ closes friends and biggest rivals. “Drood” is meticulously researched, and by itself, the depiction of day-to-day life in Victorian England is fascinating. Throw in a healthy dollop of genuinely frightening gothic horror, and you have a book which kept me up a few nights.

Angles and Ages by Adam Gopnik
This year marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of two giants: Darwin and Lincoln. Gopnik uses these two intellects to synthesize a tour de force essay on the cultural changes ushered in to the world by these two men, and how they affected our views of man’s role in nature, and the governments role in societies.

Continuing on in a similar vein, here are my nine favorite books I read last year that were not published in 2009 (i.e. previously published). Mostly, these are paperback or remainder editions of books published last year or a few years before, that I have only gotten around to reading now.

The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English by Henry Hitchings
There are a lot of books covering the history of English, and Hitchings’ book is one of the best. He focuses on words and vocabulary, and how it has developed over time. It is a joy to read for a word-lover, with a focus on the words themselves and less on the theory of language.

Physics for Future Presidents by Richard Muller
Muller’s writing feels like being in a class by one of those memorable college professors that everyone loves. He makes the complex science behind our public policy choices easy to understand…and interesting to boot. Focusing on physics and chemistry, Muller covers the science behind the headlines in the fields of climate changes, nuclear weapons, and energy. I really learned a lot reading this book. I hope Obama read it too!

Chances Are: Adventures in Probability by Michael and Ellen Kaplan
A history and overview of the nature of probability and chance, written for non-math majors. Each chapter covers a different aspect of the field…gambling, insurance, medical research, and so on. Given the importance that numbers play in our lives, this book ought to be read by a lot more people.

In Search of Time: The Science of a Curious Dimension by Dan Falk
A great mind-fuck, this book covers the strange nature of time. What does it mean, when did it start, and how will it end? Falk explains the basic stuff (relativity, and so forth) in a clear and easy to understand manner, and then delves into the really fascinating aspects of how we perceive time, and even covers time travel. A fun, fascinating book.

Glasshouse by Charles Stross
“Glasshouse” is a superb science fiction novel about a group of 28th century researchers, living in a post-human “accelerated” future who are running an experiment to simulate life in the 20th century. Seeing their attempts, it gives me much greater appreciation for the archeologists of our day trying to understand life 1000 years ago. “Glasshouse” is much more then a simple meditation on historic research. There’s a heroic gender-bending protagonist, an evil conspiracy and thoughtful science fictional adventure. A great, thoughtful, fun novel.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
“The Hunger Games” is a novel aimed at teenaged readers, but is certainly enjoyable for adults as well. It is the story of a protagonist in the distant future who must participate in a gladiatorial game put on by an oppressive government, a la “The Running Man.” I don’t think it is quite as good as the similarly targeted “City of Ember” but in the burgeoning field of post-apocalyptic teenage literature, “The Hunger Games” is a very enjoyable entry.

Dark Side of the Moon by Gerard Degroot
I read this book after enjoying the nostalgia of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Although I am firmly on the side of manned space exploration, I found Degroot’s book a very good “contrarian” history of the space program and some of the flawed assumptions behind it. In addition to being a great history of the program, Degroot has a wry sense of humor and covers many things that were left out of the papers, including self-pleasuring space monkeys and on the more serious side, some of the technical and human issues that were pushed under the rug during development.

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson
The amazing “Julian Comstock” (see above) made me check out Robert Charles Wilson’s earlier books, and of them, the best was “Blind Lake,” the tale of a research base where humans observe (but cannot interact with) a distant alien species via a type of quantum viewer. Things are not as simple as they seem, and a series of strange events follow. This book took a little while to get going, but once it got rolling, it was great.

City of Thieves by David Benioff
FInally, non-science fiction fiction! “City of Thieves” is an old-fashioned adventure story set in Leningrad during the German siege, about two young men who must brave the elements — human and nature — to retrieve food for a Russian general. Memorable encounters with Nazis, civilians, and even a gang of cannibals make for a memorable and touching story of friendship and survival.

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