Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Prepping for My Next Graduate Course (More iPhone Goodness)

Got an e-mail from my prof regarding my upcoming class. Naturally, I opened it on my iPhone (funny how I haven't used my tablet that much anymore except for syncing music and movies -- but do I miss it? No, not really.) Anyway, the e-mail says that the syllabus is ready to go and the class members should review it and ask the professor any questions that come to mind. The first class is July 7 (right around the corner timewise) so I took a gander at the syllabus.

This is where it gets interesting. I didn't go to my computer to get the syllabus. Nope, I opened it right on my iPhone from Hopkins' BlackBoard. Now, before, when I tried this with Windows Mobile, I couldn't get it to work. I tried Internet Explorer, then tried Opera after IE failed me, but I got no love from BlackBoard. I feared the same thing on the iPhone, but lo and behold, BlackBoard opened up, let me log in, and took me to my class list. Cool so far. Then I went into the specific class links, and was able to open and review the Syllabus link, took a look in the Course Documents link, and even got into the Discussion Boards! Now I'm impressed even more.....

I'm going to see how much I can use the iPhone for this class. I already know that the PowerPoint presentations required in the syllabus will have to be on my tablet since there's no app for that yet, but the reading and research (in Safari) and note taking (in DocsToGo's Word app) most likely can be done in Safari. This is kinda like jkOnTheRun's experiment of mid-last year with using the cloud exclusively for a couple of months to do work. Thanks for the inspiration guys! We'll see how far I get.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Some iPhone Goodness

Here are some cool things I have noticed over the last few days of using my iPhone. I can't believe I've had it a week already!

- Undocking and using headphones are seamless (there's that word again!). When I have my phone docked into my new clock radio, everything will play through the radio speakers. When I remove it from the dock, the sound transfers over to my Tritton headphone dongle. Even better, when a phone all comes in, a screen pops up asking me to use the phone, the speaker, or the headphones. Excellent!

- In looking at the app store, I found many apps. One in particular caught my eye because of our WalkingWorks.com competition in the office. This app is called iTreadmill and I've been using it to capture my steps during the day. It has a lot of bells and whistles, lets me keep a log of what I'm doing, and even let's me email the info myself (which means I can send the results straight into my health blog).

- I also am using the standard Pandora. People are right: The app is *very* good at playing music based on the 5 artists that I initially put in. I've already found quite a few other artists that I consider great, and have gone straight to Rhapsody to get their music.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Seen on a bumper sticker

The well-behaved rarely make history.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Just Got Our First JungleDisk Bill

And the costs were in line with what I thought. Here's the breakdown:

  • The first two lines are a monthly recurring charge for Jungledisk's special web access service (so we can get to our files from any browser, anywhere with an Internet connection).
  • The GETs and PUTs are the upload and download commands. They are about one penny for each 10,000 requests. We had a lot of PUTs this billing period because we were uploading each of our computers' data to JungleDisk's servers. The next bill will probably be one penny for PUTs and another penny for GETs.
  • The next line shows the amount of data we uploaded during the month (21.7GB) . This cost will only be for this month to upload all our files.
  • The next line shows the amount we (actually I) downloaded. I accidentally deleted a folder and had to restore. (This is cool: I opened the JungleDisk disk drive icon in Windows Explorer, navigated to the deleted folder, then dragged-n-dropped from the JungleDisk list down to my system. The folder was back in a few seconds. No muss, no fuss! It's like we have local storage, but without the worry of our backup drives crashing yet again.....)
  • The final line shows the actual storage costs. I guess it's the average over the month because we have over 21GB stored there now, yet the bill is for only 17.9GB. The next bill will probably show the full 21GB stored.
I had originally estimated $6 for the month. The first month, though, I figured would be a bit higher because of all the uploading, then the cost would go back down to normal. Now, I'm thinking that subsequent bills will be even lower, because:

$1 for the web access service
$0.02 for the GETs and PUTs
$0.10 for uploaded data
$0.02 for downloaded data (let's say this amount -- hopefully we won't have to use part this very often!!)
$3.00 for data storage

$4.14 for the month -- NICE!

We're really digging this JungleDisk/Amazon S3 service, and hope to have a long relationship with both of them.

Keep in mind this is just one front-end service using Amazon's backend. There are more out there (listed on the Amazon S3 website) and they offer different services. Be sure to do your research if this encrypted, always available from anywhere, don't have to worry about local hard drive crashes service interests you, so that you can get the best fit for your goals.

UPDATE: Just got our second bill and it's also in line with what we expected.

Monday, June 22, 2009

iPhone Gets Better and Better

So today is the first day back at work.

I'm finding all sorts of stuff to like about the iPhone that Windows Mobile just doesn't do (or maybe it does, but requires some sort of add-on, or maybe it doesn't). Examples include:

- The automatic switch between my home network then AT&T's 3G then the Starbucks network down the street then back to AT&T's 3G is just, well, I don't have words for it. It's been totally seamless and the only way I know of the switch is the change of the icons in the upper left-hand corner. It's very well implemented, and gets me to my goal of always being connected somehow. The radio station I was listening to with ooTunes didn't miss a beat the whole time. Impressive.

- The ease of getting my e-mail from gmail and from the office in one place is just exemplary. (Oh, geez, am I sounding like a fanboi? Eh, not yet.....) I don't think this is the "universal mailbox" because messages from my two accounts are not co-mingled -- each has its own mailbox. And the display of the mail messages is just like looking at my laptop or desktop. I never had this functionality in the few WinMo mail apps I could find. Gmail is set to IMAP (and the office Exchange account defaults this way too). I find that I can quickly go through these two accounts, deleting what I don't need, reading the rest, and allowing them to sit until the evening when I fire up my tablet and download the messages to my "just in case my gmail account or Exchange account disappears I have a local backup" Outlook client. When the download happens, the mailbox on my iPhone is cleaned out, ready for the next day. OH, and the folders from Outlook is duplicated on the iPhone. DONT'T KNOW HOW that happened, it just did, and is incredible.

- The Tritton bluetooth dongle is working well. When a call comes in, the caller name (or phone number if the caller is not in my contacts) shows up on the screen. I can accept the call by pressing the action button once, or reject it by pressing and holding for a few seconds. Sweet! I also found that if I'm not on a call, I can double-click the action button and initiate a call to the most recent phone number I dialed. Hmmmm... I wonder if I'm in a call that I received, and I double-click the button, can I initiate a call to the most recent phone number I dialed and have that call automatically added to the conversation? I'll have to try it out!

- I just can't believe how fast the iPhone 3GS runs when rendering webpages in Safari, even using my AT&T 3G connection. I can't think of any site that I've been to yet where the page didn't render VERY quickly and VERY well. I'm just amazed.

Do I sound like I'm gushing? Oh, well, I guess I am. My friends were telling me that I wouldn't understand the experience until I actually owned an iPhone and actually used it for more than a few hours or even a couple of days. I can't believe I'm already on my 4th day -- and unbelievably, I can't imagine going back to WinMo. I also have found that yesterday and today (other than to type up these long-ass blog entries and to fire up my Outlook client for a few minutes to collect e-mail), I've not even used my computers at home. That's HIGHLY ODD for me; maybe it's the newness of the iPhone, maybe I'm just trying to push the boundaries of what the iPhone will do for me, who knows..... More later.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I'm gonna be iPhone app $ broke pretty soon

Well, I did it. I stood in line at the AT&T store on Friday morning and jumped to The Apple Side (TM).

It all started when my best friend, other friends, and coworkers showed me the apps on their iPhone 3G's and bragged about what the apps could do. They would let me hold and fondle and play with it to seduce me, then they'd take it away, leaving me salivating for more. Once, and only once, I got to play with one for awhile, a couple of hours actually -- I was supposed to be helping with the writing of a Master's thesis paper and I would occasionally grunt in the writer's direction when he asked questions and wanted feedback. But I digress. Anyway, time seemed to stop as I tapped, slid, pinched, and lovingly rubbed that screen; in reality, I found that over 2 hours had passed in a flash. The iPhone was like a Succubus in disguise.

That time with the iPhone showed me just how stale the Windows Mobile experience had become. My beloved HTC Advantage, my previous XV6700, my new HTC Fuze, all were stuck in the 1990's. Oh, understand that the Fuze's TouchFlo helped tremendously, but the touch experience was still quite lacking when the interface had to drop back into the native Windows environment. On the WinMo phones, I found myself pressing multiple times to select something, pressing hard(er) to have the screen register, having to use a fingernail or a stylus to select too-small icons and menus. On the iPhone, I touched and it responded. Simple and uncomplicated.

That time alone with the iPhone baited me and I bit the hook. I told my boss that I'd be out of the office on Friday (but I didn't tell him WHY) since I didn't know how long the lines would be or how long the whole process of upgrading my account would take. When I arrived at the local AT&T store around 6:45a or so, much to my surprise, there were only about 40 people in line (it's a little bitty AT&T store in one of those trendy boutique strip malls). I had read that the AT&T stores would open at 10am like normal, at 9am because of the iPhone launch, and also at 7am for the pre-registrations. I hadn't pre-registered, but figured if I went at 7am, at the most I'd get a new phone, at the least they'd say "Sorry, you didn't pre-register, go away." We waited in line, neighbors talking with each other, excitement in the air, people lining up behind me.

The doors opened at a few minutes after 7am. They let us in one at a time at first, and I figured they were getting used to the system for registering the iPhones. After 8 or 10 people were finished (a little over an hour or so), they started letting in 2 or 3 people at a time. My turn came up, and in I went. The sales rep, Ali, seemed very knowledgeable about the iPhone and the activation process. My case was special (hence no pre-registration for me) since I was using a second phone on my account to get the lowest pricing, then moving my main number to the iPhone. He asked me which one I wanted (the black one with 32G, of course!). The process took about 15 minutes, and while the phone was activating, Ali showed me the accessories. I picked up one of the slim leather DLO cases for my belt and a couple of extra power supplies. When I was done shopping, the phone had registered and was ready to go. Just as I was finishing paying, I heard one of the clerks say that the lady behind me had gotten the last phone, then heard them telling people still in line that there were no more 32G iPhones to be had. Whew -- that was close!

It's been a little over two days of playing and tweaking and syncing and downloading apps (geez, I've already filled up over two screens). I've gotten quite good at the on-screen keyboard and it feels like I'm typing faster than I was using the physical keyboard on my Fuze. The trick (from someone in the AT&T store line who had the iPhone 3G) was to use my forefinger, not my thumbs, and to use portrait, not landscape. I do find it much easier and more accurate to just let my finger dance across the narrow, portrait-oriented keyboard. The autocorrect helps for the occasional mistype, and has been amazingly accurate.

Knowing how Windows-centric I am, my friends have welcomed me to The Apple Side, probably wondering when I'm gonna get my first Mac (Tablet, of course!). Since I didn't tell anyone in the office what I was doing with my day off on Friday, my officemates will be HIGHLY shocked on Monday when I walk in with a new iPhone on my hip.....

Friday, June 05, 2009

Western Digital Drives Suck, For Us Anyway

I figured out the failing backup situation. Turns out that the WD MyBook drive (500GB) crashed. It's only a few months old, so I'm pissed. I don't think we lost anything (unlike the previous WD 250GB MyBook drive that we had, which was a holder of our stuff, but we didn't have a backup of it). Turns out we're not alone. The drives are (were) hooked up to a desktop system in the basement that's only used to hold backups from the laptops around the house and for TivoToGo. Screw having local drives to back everything up. We'll just start using the Internet.

Based on a mention from jkOnTheRun, I looked up JungleDisk. It's an interesting product that leverages Amazon's amazing backup offerings. As I researched, I found that Amazon has this incredible set of infrastructure solutions, one of which is the "Amazon Simple Storage Solution" aka "Amazon S3." The S3 solution provides an unlimited storage area (they say that some of their accounts have terabytes of information stored there) that is fully encrypted and uses redundant storage so no data would be lost. (They're serious about the encryption: During the setup process, they caution that if the user loses the encryption password, the data will be readable by no one.)

The costs are beyond reasonable. It only costs 17 cents per GB stored, plus a few pennies for each GB uploaded or downloaded. We figure that the bill will be about $6 per month -- to back up our computers -- ALL the computers in the house. This is great for us because we don't have to worry about setting up some sort of redundancy for these drives that keep crashing, and we don't have to fret when a drive crashes and we have to figure out what we've lost. We can even shutdown the basement computer and put TivoToGo on our laptops.

The front end is where JungleDisk comes into play. They provide a piece of software that sits in the system tray (like SecondCopy does, which is the software we use to back up the laptops to the basement computer) and kicks off a backup on a schedule that we set up for each computer. The best part of all this is that we only need one account to back up all the computers; each computer doesn't need its own account. Nice!

I opened an account with JungleDisk and started using this solution the other day. It's been easy to use and works very much like SecondCopy. We get a daily e-mail report of which computer backed up which files, how long it took, and how much was uploaded to the server. Even better, we can access our files from anywhere using JungleDisk's web interface, an option we didn't have before!

Thanks James and Kevin for pointing this out!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Four New iPhones Coming Soon? GeekDotCom Says So

I'm drooling! And bored with the *very* tired Windows Mobile. I have an HTC Fuze (and an HTC Advantage and an XV6700 before that and a Dell something or other before that). All run Windows Mobile, and need a reboot every few days to keep going -- hey! just like my Windows desktop and laptop.

My best friend's iPhone, he says, has never needed a reboot (except for when upgrading or adding software). I believe him, and he's been trying to woo me to the Apple side. The current iPhones lack two things that I won't do without: Bluetooth stereo and tethering. I've been reading that these are available in the new iPhones.

Plus there are tons of rumors about an impending Mac Tablet PC. Remembering the days with my Newton, I'm drooling again. I currently have an IBM Lenovo X60 Tablet, which I use all the time for e-mail and magazines and school books. (My Acer Aspire One, while nice to carry, does no justice to a Zinio'd Motor Trend or Science magazine!) The Lenovo's cool and all, but something seems not-as-good when I compare it to my Compaq TC1100 Tablet. I think it's the rounded corners (Compaq) versus the squared off corners (Lenovo), but I'm not totally sure.

I'm probably definitely surely most likely getting the 32GB version of the iPhone -- I can never have enough entertainment (music and movies) with me!

Guess I'll start looking in the couch, chair, car seats, old bags, wherever I think I can collect some money to put toward this new beastie.....