IA.Writer Review

This is not a word processor!

I am using the iA.Writer to write this review on my iPad using the on screen keyboard. It is really handy to have that extra row of keys on the main screen if you are writing a letter or a review like this but if you need to access a lot of symbols while you are writing, it would be better to have an external keyboard. It is still necessary to shift twice to access the percent sign or the plus sign.

It is really convenient to have a left and right arrow key to position the cursor more precisely for inserts.

The undo/redo is accomplished using two finger swipes arose the screen. Have to start learning to think touch screen!

By the way, to select the suggested word you need to press the space bar.

You can think of this program as a front end to any other program that requires a lot of text input.

iPad

On the day that Apple started selling the iPad 2 (3/11/2011) I found a great deal on the iPad 1 on Craigslist. I scored a 32 Gig iPad with an Incase leather case and a screen protector for $350.

I already have an iPhone 4 and am heavily invested in apps, both paid and free, which loaded on the iPad with no problems. I really can’t think of any reason why I would want an iPad 2 other than speed.

How do I use the iPad…let me count the ways.
For starters, I am writing this post on the iPad using an Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard that I also use on my iMac.
When I am cooking from a recipe, I have the iPad in the kitchen.
When I am working on my bicycle forks and I need the instructions, the iPad is in the garage.
When I am watching TV I am playing games on the iPad during commercials.
When I’m eating alone I read a book on the iPad or read other blogs online.

The screen is beautiful and the unit never gets hot like most laptops.
The screen is not very visible outdoors in daylight but for me that is not a problem.

iPhone Multitasking

Navigation

Today I drove to Infineon Raceway for yet another motorcycle track day and I used my TomTom turn by turn navigation program to see if it worked better on the iPhone 4. The program definitely loads faster and acquires the GPS signal faster and it doesn’t drop out as often as it did on my 3G. In addition, I was listening to Pandora in the background and since the phone was in a dashboard mount, I decided to take a video of the road ahead using the included camera app. Everything worked flawlessly and I was also able to switch to the front camera and video myself driving. Pretty cool!

I just found out that the latest version of Waze (free software) also has turn by turn navigation and will be trying it out soon.

Voice Control

Finally I can voice dial using my bluetooth headset. It is a little awkward because I cannot initiate voice commands from the headset. One must press the home button on the phone for a few seconds  to activate the voice command feature. Once activated it does work quite well. Very convenient while driving!

Getting familiar with the iPhone 4 cameras.

The iPhone 3G camera app was so bad that I didn’t use the camera until I found 3rd party applications that had shake detection. I tried the following programs on my 3G:

  • Quick Shot
  • ProCamera
  • Gorillacam
  • Darkroom
  • Camera Plus (Updated for iOS4)
  • Camera Genius
  • Photogene (Updated for iOS4)
  • SmugShot  (Updated for iOS4)

On the iPhone 4 the default camera app is fast and includes movie capabilities. The only thing missing is the anti-shake feature but since the shutter speeds is fast, that feature might not be necessary. I love the fact that you can switch between the front and rear camera any time in either photo or movie mode.  I have used this feature to photograph a shy person. If they wont pose for me I have them stand next to me presumably to look at what is on the screen and I capture them with the front camera.

Taken with front camera

Of course the resolution will not be the same as the front camera is VGA resolution (640×480) and the rear camera is 5 Megapixel.

Taken with rear camera

These photos were taken with the Apple camera app.

iPhone 4

I received my new iPhone 4 yesterday and here is my experience.

First contact

I connected it to my PC and iTunes 9.2 recognized it right away. It went through the process of activating the phone and told me it would take a few minutes. In the mean time, I synchronize to get all my apps and music over to the phone. Everything went smoothly except that I had had no phone signal. Now my 3G was officially disconnected and my 4G was not finding the network. I was getting a little frantic since I don’t have a home phone so I couldn’t call anyone to find out what was wrong. Fortunately there is an Apple store 2 miles from my house. I walked in and went up to the first person I saw who just happened to be the store manager. I explained my problem and he reset my phone and everything was fine. Boy, did I feel stupid, I should have thought to try that myself.

OK, I love the phone, it is much faster than my 3G (400 MHz vs. 1 GHz).
I thought I would use it without a screen protector but it still shows fingerprints which bothers me a bit so I decided to use a screen protector I had left over from the 3G. It didn’t fit quite perfectly but I decided to use it anyway. Later on I was testing the forward facing camera and found it to be quite blurry then I realized that the matte screen protector I was using didn’t have a hole for the forward facing camera, duh!

Throughout the course of the day I made some phone calls and played with some apps. Everything worked as expected. When it was time to go to bed I had about 30% battery life left so I left the phone off the charger to see how long the battery would last me.

When I got up and tried the phone the battery was completely drained and I had to put it on the charger for a while before it would even turn on. When I was finally able to turn it on I checked to what background tasks where running and found that I had about 10 apps in the task bar. The one that I think actually killed the battery was my TomTom navigation app which is designed to stay on all the time.

This is the first issue that I am not really thrilled with. To force and app to exit you have to do the following:

  1. Press the Home button to minimize the app.
  2. Double click the Home button to bring up the task bar.
  3. Scroll through the list of apps if necessary to find the app you want to kill.
  4. Press and hold the icon until it starts to jiggle and the red minus sign shows.
  5. Press the minus sign.
  6. Press anywhere on the screen above the task bar or the Home button again to stop the jiggling.

And, as far as I know, there is no ‘kill all’ button or command.

Ergonomics

I thought I would really like the fact that the 4G is 25% thinner than the 3G but once I installed the bumper it is almost the same size. Also the rounded back of the previous models really does feel better in my hands. I find that holding the new phone for extended periods of time while playing games is not as comfortable as the 3G was.

Hardware Compatibility

I had no problem pairing with my Jawbone Bluetooth earpiece.
I have a couple of third party USB to 30 pin cables that I use for the car charger and the AC brick that I take when I am travelling. These cables worked fine until I installed the bumper. The third party plug will not fit all the way through the hole in the bumper which is an exact fit for the Apple plug. So now I either don’t use the bumper or buy new cables which are compatible with the bumper.

TomTom for the iPhone Functional Review

TomTom app v1.2

  • App version 8.150 (462780)
  • Map: ‘United_States_2GB’
  • v840.2569
  • Language: English US

My Configuration

  • iPhone 3G 8GB
  • OS 3.1.2
  • Network ATT
  • Songs – 453
  • Videos – 1
  • Photos – 250
  • Applications – 60
  • Location – San Jose, California

Prelude

After getting familiar with the settings of this navigation program, I set out to test its functionality in familiar routes. This review is only going to deal with basic navigation; I am not going to concern myself with bells and whistles like POI or playing music while navigating.

Accuracy

  • The GPS is quite accurate when it comes to determining my location.

Route Planning

  • Route planning is quite good and recalculating a route if I chose to deviate from the recommended path is automatic.
  • One of the routes I take regularly has a stop light that has me under a freeway overpass and possibly due to poor satellite reception the program gets confused and tries to recalculate the route and usually gets it wrong. This is a simple software algorithm, if I’m on the recommended path and I come to a stop for whatever reason, there should be no reason to recalculate the route unless I request it.

Text to Speech

  • There is only one computer voice that is used to pronounce street names. This voice is in English which works for me because I am an American. The problem is that pronunciations of Spanish street names are quite often unintelligible. I live in California where many of the town and street names are Spanish. (For test purposes try “Los Gatos”, “Santa Cruz”, or “San Jose”)

Here is a direct quote for the TomTom User Guide:

“The text-to-speech program looks at the whole sentence to make sure that the sound you hear is as close to the real thing as possible. The program is also able to recognize and quite accurately pronounce foreign place and street names. For example, the English voice can read French street names.”

Route Demo

  • Another feature that could be useful if implemented correctly is the “Route Demo” option. The whole idea of having a “Route Demo” is tremendously powerful as one can rehearse the route before ever getting in the vehicle. BUT… didn’t anybody ever try it before releasing the product? The demo is in REAL time. If my route is an hour long and 58 minutes of it is a straight shot down the expressway and the last two minutes has a number of complicated turns, I want to fast forward the demo to the last two minutes and even the last two minutes needs to have the option of running in fast time. In this example, the entire demo should run in under a minute. God forbid I should want to rehearse a trip from my house in California to my friend’s house in Miami, Florida, which would take 44 hours according to the program’s calculations.

My recommendation would be an onscreen slider to allow me to control the speed of the demo dynamically.

Route Calculation

  • Speaking of calculations, the program reported that it checked over a million roads when it was planning my trip to Miami, Florida. How can that be? I don’t believe there are a million major thoroughfares in the whole country. Google maps takes a few seconds to calculate the trip to Miami and TomTom takes over 6 minutes. In the overall scheme of things the time is insignificant it just seems inefficient.

Map Browsing

  • It is really annoying when browsing the map that scrolling and zooming causes the screen to clear before the new information is displayed. Because the screen is cleared every time I scroll, I’m never sure that the new screen is anywhere near the previous screen which forces me to zoom out to verify what I’m looking at. I would like to see it implemented the same way that Google Maps or Google Earth does it.

Bug Report

The problems that I have outlined are design and test issues, now I want to mention a bug or omission; I’m not sure which.

  • Under “Change Settings->Alerts” I only see the ‘speed limit’ option but not the ‘safety camera’ option as mentioned in the user’s guide.

Feature request

  • I would like to be able to change the route by dragging the existing route with my finger to the new road.

Summary

Definitely get a car mount. Being able to glance at the screen is important, as there is a lot of useful information available.

Overall I really like the program and I can’t wait till these issues are addressed.

TomTom USA iPhone Review

I finally bought GPS software! Here is my review.

I believe that all reviews should include the following configuration information.

Configuration

  • iPhone 3G 8GB
  • OS 3.1.2
  • Network – ATT
  • Songs – 453
  • Videos – 1
  • Photos – 250
  • Applications – 60

My Location:

  • San Jose, California

Prelude

I have been reading reviews and vacillating between all the top players. I didn’t want to spend $100 or have recurring fees. I have tried a number of  free or lite versions of GPS software that are available from the App Store but none of them were serious contenders.

Here are two reasons that helped me decide. First, TomTom dropped the price to $50. Second, I was driving back from Laguna Seca Raceway with a friend and we were getting hungry so I used Google Mobile App to find a steak house along our current route and then discovered that my friend had TomTom on his iPhone. Even though he was somewhat unfamiliar with the program, we were directed accurately to the restaurant. In addition I plugged his phone into my car speakers and the spoken directions were incredibly clear.

Downloading

The following day I went to the TomTom web site and downloaded and read the user manual.  That made me realize how intuitive the user interface was and I finally decided to purchase TomTom USA from the App Store using iTunes on my PC at home. Be forewarned that the download is over 1 Gigabyte in size and it will take a while. I have a very high-speed internet connection at home (15 Mbps) and the download took over 10 minutes. The first time I download the program, iTunes hung after it had received the file so I had to restart iTunes and download it again.

Installing

I had around 3GB of free space on my phone when I started the Sync and after the file had been transferred to the phone I received a complaint that the app could not be installed due to low memory.  I went through my list of apps and started deleting the bigger ones then started the Sync again and all went well. Now that TomTom is installed and working, my phone has 2GB free space so I will reinstall the apps that I removed.

Learning

As soon as the program was installed I started playing with it while I was in my den at home. I tried every button, went to all the screens, looked at all of the available options, planned a route, re-calculated the route, and generally got familiar with the interface. It is really important to get familiar with the program while you are stationary.

Planning a route is real simple, enter a destination and go. All the selection buttons are big and the text is easy to read which is especially nice since I need reading glasses.

There is pertinent information on the main screen: Current street name, distance to destination, current speed, distance to next turn, ETA, current time.

There were a number of features that I wanted to be completely familiar with before I started driving. I wanted to be able to see a map of the whole route, zoom in and out easily and see a turn by turn list of the route.

I can’t emphasize this enough, you should be familiar with accessing the features that are important to you before you ever start your trip. Driving in an unfamiliar environment and trying to operate an unfamiliar device is a recipe for disaster!

Examples

To see turn by turn directions from the main screen:

  • Touch the screen to access the main menu.
  • Touch “Route Options” to access the route options menu.
  • Touch “Instructions” to access the turn by turn list.

Not entirely intuitive but reasonably easy once you know where the information is.

To see a map of whole route:

  • Touch the screen to access the main menu.
  • Touch “Route Options” to access the route options menu.
  • Touch “Map of Route” to see a map of the entire route.

Or:

  • Touch the screen to access the main menu.
  • Scroll down till you see “Browse Map”.
  • Touch “Browse Map” button.

When viewing a map, the program responds to the standard “pinch” gestures to zoom in and out. In addition, you can double tap the map with one finger to zoom in and single tap the map with two fingers to zoom out.

Summary

All of this preparation and I haven’t even used the program to navigate anywhere yet! My next blog entry will contain my impressions of the actual navigation capabilities of the TomTom program.

Cheap DIY iPhone External Battery

The beauty of this design is that you can take a box of AA batteries with you on a trip and not have to worry about your phone dying and you can buy AA batteries just about anywhere.

Use your existing docking cable to connect the iPhone to the battery. I prefer this method to the one where the battery attaches to the phone directly. The battery can be in your pocket or purse while you use your phone normally with just the cable connected to it.

Caveat: I did this and tested it on my first generation iPhone!!! Should work on new 3G iPhone but I haven’t even seen one yet.

Radio shack sells a 4 AA battery holder with on/off switch for $1.99.
Radio Shack 4 AA battery holder

Radio Shack 4 AA battery holder

I prefer rechargeable batteries but any AA will do.

Type A female USB connector

Type A female USB connector

You will need a female Type A USB connector. I had one laying around that came with the last motherboard I bought.
USB A Male to A Female Extension Cable

USB A Male to A Female Extension Cable

You could also buy  a cable from Amazon.com or cablestogo.com and cut off the male end. (OUCH)


Computer end of USB cable

Computer end of USB cable

I cut off the end that was intended for the motherboard.
Type A female USB connector

Type A female USB connector

Now you would think that all I needed to do was connect the Red (VCC) and Black (GND) to the  battery and it would be done. I tried that and it didn’t work.

To make a long story short, the iPhone wants to see some voltage on the data pins or it will not start charging. I created a voltage divider with a couple of huge resistors (100K) and tied both data pins to the junction which yields half of the battery voltage which seems to satisfy the iPhone. The current drawn by those two 100K resistor is 30 microamps at 6V.

Wiring Diagram

Wiring Diagram - pin colors = wire colors

Resistor divider under shrink tubing

Resistor divider under shrink tubing

I forgot to take a picture of the resistors before I put the shrink tubing on but believe me, the resistors are in there.
You can tie the shield to the GND wire but I didn’t bother since there is no data being transmitted over this cable.
External iPhone battery for less than $10.

External iPhone battery for less than $10.

Here is the finished product. I pasted the diagram on the box because 2 weeks from now I won’t remember what the hell I did to make it work!

I suggest you turn off the off the switch on the battery holder when not in use to prevent the resistor divider from draining the the batteries. (Do not despair if you don’t have an on/off switch, it will take a long time to drain the batteries with a 30 microamp load.)

WARNING: There are no guarantees and I will not be held responsible for you damaging your phone.  I only tried this with my phone using 4 NiMH batteries that were putting out about 5.2 volts.

I would love to hear from you if you found this article useful or if I made a glaring misteak!?!

7/24/2008
I just ordered a car charger for the iPhone for a nickel plus $2.98 shipping. It has the iPhone specific connector that I can use instead of the female USB connector. I will update this blog when I have tried it.

iPhone car charger

7/29/2008
I just received the above charger and although it works it is not what I was looking for.

Charger circuitry

The board contains 4 capacitors, 5 resistors, 1 diode, 1LED and the regulator IC.
Two wires connected to Firewire power pins.

Two wires connected to Firewire power pins.

Unfortunately the cable only has two wires in it and the are attached to pins 19 & 20 (Red, Firewire power +12 VDC) and pins 29 & 30 (Black, Firewire ground).
This charger supplies approximately 9 VDC to the Firewire power pins and it seems to do the job.
I also ordered the following cable for 33 cents plus $2.98 shipping.
Retractable USB to iPhone cable

Retractable USB to iPhone cable

This one should do the trick. When I receive it I will cut of the USB end and wire it directly to the battery pack.

Windows PowerShell 1.0 (continued)

This will probably be my last post about Windows PowerShell. I was really hoping that it would be the cat’s meow but I’m sorry to report that I don’t believe it is ready for prime time. It is no surprise to me that Microsoft chose to leave it out of the Vista release.

I have to say that it is pretty cool that you can access the .NET objects from the command line.

I still feel that the documentation is terrible. I am going to be more specific but it is hard to know where to start.

First of all, the primer needs an INDEX! How hard can that be?

  • Help files are a mixture of text files and xml files. This means that to search for a word in the help files, I first have to run the get-help cmdlet and pipe the output through some filter to find the word of interest. This makes scripts like apropos (http://www.leeholmes.com/blog/GetHelpMatchSearchHelpAproposInPowerShell.aspx) run quite slow.
  • I didn’t see any reference in the Primer about one of the most useful cmdlets… “select-string”.
  • Try to find out anything about “prompt”.
  • Cut and paste from the screen to the command line is primitive.
  • Neither the get-help cmdlet nor the command line editor have any facility for searching. With command lines approaching 200 characters or more this is painful if you made a typo.
  • There is not much about script writing. I finally discovered how to list the existing scripts like “help” by doing a “get-content” on the function. In analyzing the “help” script I see constructs that I have yet to find an explanation for in any of the documentation.

I could go on and on but I will spare the reader that agony.

In conclusion, there is a lot of potential here and maybe by version 5.0 it will really be the cat’s meow but for now I will stick to the older shells that have evolved over time to become quite powerful.

Windows PowerShell 1.0 Command Line Editing

Retrieving and Editing previous commands

I was going to be critical about the command line editing features but after playing around with it I find that it has all the features I am looking for. I am not fond of having to use function keys to manipulate the history list because I am a ‘vi’ user and don’t like to leave the home row on the keyboard.

Powershell still can’t compare to Unix shells which allows the user to chose Emacs or VI commands to edit the command line.

There is one HUGE omission in the help file ‘about_history’ where it talks about using the F7 key to pull up the history list then F9 to prompt the user for the command number of interest to place on the command line for editing. The omission is that all one has to do is use the arrow keys to scroll to the command of interest then press either the left or right arrow key to move the command to the command line for editing. This makes all the difference for me.

Irregularities with the History list

Get-History does not show the current command in the list. Of course, the current command will always be ‘Get-History’.

Pressing F7 also brings up a history list and it does show the most recent command but it only shows 50 commands even though the default MaximumHistoryCount is 64.

Interim thoughts

I have Cygwin installed on my Windows machine so I have a Bash shell available to me and it is pretty powerful. I am having second thoughts about spending the time learning PowerShell but I am intrigued by the object oriented concept. I’m not so sure it is a suitable tool for the IT professional that is running around with his hair on fire. (I heard that on one of the PowerShell webcasts)