SimCity For iPhone

EA Mobile games released the classic SimCity for the iPhone. Having played SimCity Classic, 2000 and the Palm OS version, when I heard about this version, I knew it was going to be on my short list of wanted apps. Truth be told most of the games in the AppStore are worthless, so spending $9.99 on a game series I’ve enjoyed before didn’t seem like a bad deal.

It’s essentially SimCity 2000 + a few things. If you liked 2000, it’s a pretty safe bet the iPhone version won’t be a let down. You can of course save your game and keep it going for months since this isn’t the typical 5 minute iPhone game.

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APC USB Mobile Power Pack

APC USB Mobile Power Pack (UPB10)Recently I ordered an APC USB Mobile Power Pack (UPB10) since I found it for a good price (< $30) and was going to be traveling. I had considered it before for my older Sony CLIÉ whose battery was starting to suffer but held off. Now having an iPhone this seemed like a good investment. While traveling this weekend I got a chance to give it a real test.

The great thing about this device is that it’s generic. Any device that can be powered or charged via USB can be charged with this. It simply provides power over USB, nothing more. You use your regular USB sync/charging cables. iPhone, iPod, PDA, bluetooth headset, most cell phones, all can be charged this way. That’s much better than an accessory that only charges a certain device. The downside is you need to have the cable handy, which for me isn’t a big deal since the iPhone power adapter is USB based as well. Being able to charge all sorts of gadgets makes this a pretty handy thing to have.

The unit itself is dead simple. It’s a little smaller than an iPhone, and surprisingly light. Two ports, a USB Type A, and USB Mini-B on the top, and a status indicator and button on the front. To charge use the power adapter, which is sufficiently compact though could be better which interfaces with the USB Mini-B port. It takes about 3.5hrs to charge. To charge your device just use the USB cord you normally use and plug it into the USB Type A port. The power pack itself doesn’t come with a cable to charge. Press the indicator button to see how much of a charge is left. That’s about all there is to the device.

After not charging for a while, and watching a movie on the plane, my battery was getting pretty low. I decided to hook up the APC USB Mobile Power Pack and continue watching video. After about an hour or so (while watching more video), my battery was fully charged and the Power Pack still has about 75% of it’s charge remaining. Not bad at all. Rather than land with a drained battery as you typically do with gadgets, I had a full battery.

It’s not a bad device for a pretty reasonable price. Some airplanes have power outlets outside of first class, though may cost a little extra for those seats. In many cases they use EmPower® or a DC “cigarette lighter” port which require their respective adapters. This runs about the same cost as an adapter, and removes the requirement of being on a plane, in a seat that has a outlet handy. If you need to power a laptop, your going to need an outlet. For a mobile device, this is a much better solution.

Geek Reading: High Performance Web Sites

So I decided to do a little book shopping a few weeks ago and one thing I purchased was High Performance Web Sites: Essential Knowledge for Front-End Engineers (affiliate link). At its core is essentially a 14 step guide to making faster websites. I don’t think any of the steps are new or innovative, so anyone looking for something groundbreaking will be sorely disappointed. I don’t think the target audience has that expectation though. It’s still a rather practical book for any developer who spends a lot of time on the front-end of things.

It gives many great examples on how to implement, as well as suggestions based on what some of the biggest sites on the web are doing (including Yahoo, the authors employer). I found it pretty helpful because it saves hours worth of research on what other sites are doing to improve their performance. For that reason alone it’s a worthwhile book to checkout. For each rule there’s enough discussion to help you decide if you can implement an improvement on your own site or not. Most sites are limited by their legacy systems such as cms, processes (including human) and audience in what they can actually do. Unless you’ve got a serious budget, you likely fail rule #2 (use a CDN) right off the bat. Regardless there’s likely a few tips you can take advantage of. It’s also a very fast book to get through.

Most steps are pretty quick to implement provided they are feasible in your situation. Overall one of the best “make it better” tech books I’ve seen regarding web development. One of the few that actually appeared worth purchasing (and I did). The majority of the tips require a somewhat tech savvy approach to web development, the book isn’t oriented much towards web designers (with the notable exception of reducing the # of requests by using CSS and better use of images) or casual webmasters. It’s important for those who understand the importance of HTTP headers, but could use some help deciding on best practices, and those who want to know how the small things can add up.

Interestingly enough, I learned about the book by trying the YSlow extension which essentially evaluates a page against the rules suggested in the book. Interesting from a marketing perspective I guess. Overall this blog evaluates ok (about as well as it ever will considering I’m not putting it on a CDN anytime soon). Though I guess I could add some expires headers in a few places.

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

I got my copy of Mac OS X 10.5 earlier this week. Bought it from J&R (via Amazon) since it was $99 + shipping, less than Amazon itself was selling it for. For some reason both of them are able to undercut Apple (even with a corporate discount) which seemed odd. Here’s my rundown of the new OS during the first 24 hours.

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Remote Desktop Connection 2.0 Beta For Mac

Microsoft yesterday released Remote Desktop Connection 2.0 Beta for Mac OS X. This is the first release since 2002. The current version was really old, clunky and limited compared to it’s Windows counterpart. Worse was the fact that it was PPC native and was never turned into a Universal Binary, making it just that much slower. This is a really welcome upgrade for all Mac users in a PC environment. Unfortunately it’s still missing key things, but it’s still beta so there is still hope.

I’m primarily a Mac user at work, but do work on a few PC’s as well, so I have RDC running constantly since I find it easier than hitting the KVM switch all the time. No, I don’t use Parallels as of yet. This works pretty well for most tasks, but on occasion when I need to do more intensive PC work I do switch over using the KVM for the time being. Because I work like this, I switched to CoRD, which is an open source Remote Desktop implementation. I’d highly recommend it. It’s very good.

RDC 2.0 has a really nice new look, and much improved performance for Intel Mac users. It does however have some issues that still aren’t addressed.

RDC Menu

Adding a computer using Remote Desktop Connection 2.0

Notice in the menu above, you can’t make a “new” connection. Only open a saved one. I can’t for the life of me understand why this is. Do I really have to plan my connections in advance? What if I’m connected to a computer and want to quickly connect to another? The only way I can find to get a prompt for a new connection is when you don’t have any connections open. This just doesn’t seem right.

CoRD - Add Computer

Adding a computer using CoRD 0.4.1

With CoRD I can easily add a new RDC connection using the quick connect box, or by adding it to the tray. This is in my opinion essential functionality. It’s so easy to manage connections in CoRD. IMHO it’s the greatest feature this application provides.

RDC - Dock

Switch between computers in Remote Desktop Connection 2.0

Having multiple connections open in RDC 2.0 gives multiple dock icons with the address of the host in the icon. A rather nice way to tell who you’re connected to. There is a bug however which results in one looking cut off on my PPC Mac Mini, not sure about the Intel one (maybe lack of Core Image support at fault?). One downside to this design is that the dock can get pretty cluttered quickly if you have a few connections open. But in my case it’s never really more than 2, so it works well for me.

CoRD - Tray

Switching between computers in CoRD 0.4.1

CoRD uses a “tray” like interface for managing connected an saved connections. This means no connection files sitting all over your computer (yay!). It also means switching between connections is really easy, even if you had a dozen, and it doesn’t clutter your dock. It’s great interface.

New to RDC 2.0 is Full Screen mode. Something that was missing in prior versions (and really hurt). CoRD also has this feature. This is one place where both applications have shortcomings. In RDC 2.0, if your resolution isn’t ideal for your display, it crops and looks really poor. In CoRD if you are using a windowed view, and go full screen, it disconnects then reconnects to go full screen. This is a real drag. There is however a workaround for CoRD. The trick is to start full screen and exit if you want to use it windowed. CoRD then seems to scale down the resolution but maintain the same connection. Despite scaling the fonts are still very readable.

I don’t think CoRD can map drives though. That’s a pretty nice feature.

Overall I think I’ll be using both applications depending on the tasks at hand, but I think I still prefer CoRD.

For anyone wondering, Entourage on an Intel Mac isn’t bad. Can’t wait for the next release where everything is a Universal Binary. PowerPoint is dead to me until that upgrade.

iPhone Keyboard

Dvorak aka Nostradamus seems to have sources that say the fatal flaw in the iPhone is the keyboard. Of course he’s been wrong a few times.

“The keyboard is a disaster, and people are going to return the phone in droves. I’m guessing 20% will go back.”

One important thing to note is that the iPhone has an iPod connection on the bottom. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Blackberry style keyboard attachment that snaps onto the bottom for those who don’t like the feel of glass. I’m sure someone is already looking into this.

Regardless, I think the market for accessories on the iPhone will be very interesting to watch.

Update: Walt Mossberg posted his take as did David Pogue.

According to Walt Mossberg:

On the keyboard…

The virtual keys are large and get larger as you touch them. Software tries to guess what you’re typing, and fix errors. Overall, it works. But the error-correction system didn’t seem as clever as the one on the BlackBerry, and you have to switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or comma, which is annoying.

On what’s missing…

…There’s no instant messaging, only standard text messaging. While its two megapixel camera took excellent pictures in our tests, it can’t record video. Its otherwise excellent Web browser can’t fully utilize some Web sites, because it doesn’t yet support Adobe’s Flash technology….

Countdown to Meebo being iPhone compatible commences now. I’m surprised about the inability to recording video. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the feature added in the future. No flash? I think that’s just temporary as well. I don’t think Adobe wants to miss out on this market.

There’s of course much more in that review, I’d recommend giving it a read. It’s a real nice summary that goes into many aspects of the phone.

David Pogue had a somewhat similar take on the iPhone. Overall pretty positive. He does make this interesting note:

But otherwise, you have to use AT&T’s ancient EDGE cellular network, which is excruciatingly slow. The New York Times’s home page takes 55 seconds to appear; Amazon.com, 100 seconds; Yahoo. two minutes. You almost ache for a dial-up modem.

You can’t follow Apple hardware and not read what these guys have to say. I’ve been waiting for their takes on the iPhone for a while.

LG CU500

LG CU500Tonight I replaced my 2+ year old LG vx6000 with a LG CU500 [Amazon]. Family plan upgrade time.

I haven’t had too much time to play with it. Perhaps later I’ll take a few test photo’s outside in daylight (if it’s not raining) and see how they look, and perhaps upload them.

I first setup bluetooth between my Mac and my phone, just paired them up. Took about 10 seconds. Then tried to do the same with my Thinkpad. Took about 2 minutes, thanks to slightly more confusing software (never did either). Next task was to transfer a picture from the phone to the PC. After about 20 minutes I had no success on my Thinkpad, kept being told “Sending Cancelled” by the phone. Went over to the Mac, and it took no more than 15 seconds.

Everything is easier on a Mac.

I haven’t had to much time to play with it, but here are some initial impressions:

  • WOW!!!
  • Call quality seems very clear. Good indoor reception.
  • Seems like stronger vibrate mode than the vx6000, or maybe mine just got tired after so long.
  • 1.3 MP camera is surprisingly good… will need to purchase a memory card (MicroSD) tomorrow.
  • Recording video’s is super awesome… again, will need that memory card.
  • Bluetooth on Mac: sweet. Bluetooth on Thinkpad: ugh (see above).
  • Mp3 player looks pretty solid, again need memory card, though this is a feature I’m not really that interested in.
  • Menu’s very well laid out, organized, clear.
  • Build quality seems exceptionally good. I’ve held a couple of them now, and all are rock solid.
  • Comes with travel charger, rather than one with a stand… prefer the stand on my desk, no option to buy that. Hooking up the cable is more cumbersome than slipping it on the stand.
  • Apparently supports 3GPP, so a movie could be saved to the memory card… note: buy memory card.
  • No voice dialing (though is that really so critical?)
  • Buttons on the side are pretty slim and take some getting used to… not good for gorilla’s who use cell phones.
  • Bright vibrant screen, great looking case, again, great build quality.
  • Photo’s have EXIF data! Unlike the vx6000, which was a drag.

New Laptop Redux

I definitely like my new IBM Thinkpad (made by Lenovo). I did have a few complaints of things that weren’t quite ideal, so I though I’d do a quick little post on how they have been resolved (or if I adjusted to them):

  • PATA->SATA Bridge – This little chip was causing problems prohibiting you from using a third party hard drive in a T43 without an annoying error on boot. While still not officially supported, IBM did release a new BIOS to disable the error. This makes it easier to upgrade. So I consider this fixed. A major setback, as I really want a 100GB Hard Drive in this beast.
  • Fan Noise
  • Web Navigation Keys – I got used to not having these anymore. Still liked the feature though.
  • IBM Backup Software Stinks – This wasn’t a big deal, I got Acronis True Image, and I’m thrilled with it.
  • No 2nd hard drive – Now that I can get a 100GB Hard Drive, I could partition. Now I have a lighter computer, and the storage. Very cool

In addition to these mainly minor complains, the Keyboard is a little strange. Still better than many other brands, it doesn’t feel “right”. Especially compared to my old A31. The response isn’t always there, causing missed keys, and it occasionally squeaks (mainly the trackpoint scroll button). There’s slight flex on the right side. After a little research, I found out that some T43 keyboards are made in China (Alps brand), and others are made in Thailand (NMB). A simple call to IBM today and the support rep had no problem sending me a new keyboard. This type of stuff typically ships same day (and arrives the next). Now that’s service!

So yes, I’m very satisfied now. I was satisfied, now I feel very satisfied. The keyboard was the last thing that got on my nerves. Once you miss a few keys, and know your finger touched them, you get a little frustrated. At first I blamed it on myself, and that I just need to get used to the new laptop, but I’m convinced it’s the way the keyboard is. I hear the NMB are vastly preferred.

A few weeks ago, I decided to make backup CD’s for my Thinkpad (restores to factory defaults should the HD die or I replace the HD). I made them, but the last one failed. I tried again, and couldn’t do it (in retrospect, it appears that uninstalling the backup software may have broke a shortcut or two in the whole Access IBM deal. I found a few dead ones, fixed them, and everything was fine). Called IBM, and they sent me the CD’s ASAP. Hopefully no need for them, but it’s good to have in case there is a problem.

So IBM service just rocks. They make stuff like this so easy to resolve. When I asked the rep just said “sure, I can do that for you”, and got my information. My last real complaint on the replacement computer is resolved. I guess I’m once again a completely satisfied customer. They screwed up my A31’s repair pretty bad, and the replacement process was way to slow. But I feel that I’ve been taken care of very well again.

So for anyone out there that just doesn’t understand why their Thinkpad keyboard feels inferior compared to other Thinkpads they have used, check the part number and see what model it is. The NMB’s (made in Thailand) are considered to be the better made ones.

So yes, the Thinkpad T43 gets a 5/5. It’s a fantastic laptop.

Firefox annoyances?

Here’s an interesting article about Firefox annoyances. Some valid points that I agree with, but some that show a lack of research or understanding of the product.

The concept of “language packs” that was so prevalent on the Mozilla 1.x and Netscape 6.x / 7.x days seems to have been dropped in favor of “one Firefox installer for every language”….it should be possible to make the installer a SINGLE EXE for all languages.

This one I agree with. A single download would be a better alternative. While the file size would be larger, it would avoid some confusion. I can’t think of many downloads these days where I pick my language on download. I download then pick my language. It’s easier. The downside here is waiting to release until all locale’s are updated. This requires faster localization efforts.

Why deliver security fixes as “new versions”, instead of patches?. Mozzarella Foundation currently forces one to download an ENTIRE 4MB+ FULL INSTALLER to get a “.01+” bug fix.

I’ve made this argument more than once. A popular argument against it is that the bulk of Firefox is 1 file, and a small change means updating that file. While this is a valid point, it can be read as “50% of download time can be saved by using patches”. We need to start using xpi’s to patch rather than new releases. I agree.

Mozilla Foundation should offer users the option of an applications bundle, packing together the thunderbird e-mail client and the Firefox web browser.

We do, it’s called Mozilla Suite (SeaMonkey). It’s name will change as it’s not an official product any more. It will still be developed. Since most people these days use webmail, bundling an email client that most won’t need is pointless. Look how many Hotmail and Yahoo users there are and you can see. Why would we penalize people with extra download size? People who need a good email client can easily download it.

Firefox currently is currently riding the “mindshare wave” and making headlines. So can anyone at the Foundation give me a good excuse NOT TO rename the email client I refer to as Thunderchicken to “Firefox Mailer” or such a similar name?

Er No. Renaming products is a terrible thing to do. It’s very bad for branding in general because it’s confusing. There are still thousands of references to Firebird out there. Changing names is terrible for brand recognition. There’s no good reason to shoot outselves in the foot. Apple’s iPod, iTunes, iMac have been very popular, but they didn’t rename old products to fit the new naming scheme (iPower Mac, iFinal Cut Pro, iMac OS X, iQuickTime). Why? Because it’s bad for brand recognition. Companies spend billions to improve brand recognition. Why would the Mozilla Foundation try to destroy brand recognition and start over? Is the name itself a bug? Offensive? Trademark Infringement? Nope. Unless there’s a problem that can only be fixed by changing the name, it should stay.

The Gecko Runtime Engine (GRE) was created so, in theory, all applications could share a single “runtime engine”, and avoid the duplication of files. This is often not the case.

There’s a bug on that, and it’s said it will be fixed when it’s ready. That time is not now.

No splash screen. Actually this is a minor annoyance. But since I’m riding the annoyances protest wave, I decided to include it.

This is really somewhat mindless. A spash screen is purely for the reason of brand recognition. It’s not a feature, and doesn’t provide a benefit. If anything it can slightly diminish load performance on a slow system. The only reason any splash screens exist are for brand recognition. It’s free ad space.

No “CCK”. Netscape once offered their “Client Customization Kit” for their Mozilla Suite based 7.x browser.

There have been a few people playing with this as a 3rd party project. Not sure on the status on that. In theory it’s not something with a large market. Anyone who really needs to do this has someone with enough experience to quickly make an extension like SpeakEasy does for their customers. This would be the preferred method as you can use the extension on multiple versions with likely no changes. Creating a framework for doing this could be a mozdev project (any takers?). Perhaps just a webtool to create it (upload images, create bookmarks, and download an xpi). A CCK is bad. An extension to customize is good. I’ve discussed this before.

NO FTP UPLOADS. I type a ftp:// url including username and password (in the form ftp://user:pass@hostname), and then go to File->… to find there’s no “File Upload” option!

Sigh 18977 24867

BRING BACK THE TABBED SIDEBAR, at least as an option not enabled by default if you don’t want to annoy current firefox advocates.

This one I could agree with. Tabs are obviously popular with users. And they are beneficial.

Outside voices have little saying in the future direction of Firefox, or Thunderbird. Why not implement a process or programme like the Java Community Process to give the industry and user groups a voice in the future of the technology?

Where the heck did this come from? It’s obvious from the above the author did little/no research before writing this article but this one is pretty off base. Between the Wiki, Bugzilla, Forums, IRC, etc. etc. This is really flame bait more than article. Firefox contributors and Mozilla Foundation Employees lurck all of these constantly. Not to mention they read virtually any blog/news article with “firefox” in the post.

Okay, I said ten… here’s one more: An INSTANT MESSENGER (coded in xul) should be integrated. The lightweight AIM and ICQ clients on the browser’s sidebar tab is one of the reasons that keep me using Netscape 7.2.

And we’ve come full circle. The author has described clearly that they want Netscape 7.2 branded as “Firefox”. With all the authors suggestions, there would be no difference between Netscape 7.2 and Firefox other than the download site. If the author did any research they would know AIM is rather closed off to any third party development. Now considering the author likely knows AOL made a signifigant contribution to the Mozilla Foundation, would it be wise to reverse engineer their product? I’d think not. As far as AOL doing it themselves, they have. As part of their Netscape product line.

Overall I do think there are a few suggestions worth listening, but a few that aren’t even worth the keystrokes typed. To summarize, the main complaint is that Firefox is not Netscape. Well that’s obvious. I think the product (and organization) the author really should be talking about is Netscape. A review of this browser (Netscape 8, based on Firefox) would be much more relevant.

Perhaps the next article should be on picking the product to meet your needs, rather than talk about the one that’s in the news the most? Just because Firefox is popular doesn’t mean it’s perfect for you. That’s what choice is about. Firefox introduces choice. The ability to choose the best browser for you.

iSkin evo2 Reviewed

Got my iSkin for my iPod today. Boy is this a cool product. Some quick observations:

Things that rock

  • Very nice tight fit. Not loose at all. Fits like a perfect glove.
  • Belt clip is extremely strange (in the way it’s attached to the case). Very clever, but unusual.
  • Screen cover is really clear. I don’t even notice it’s there.
  • The White color still keeps that iPod look, but gives some protection.
  • With the belt clip removed, you can see the Apple logo in a clear part of the case on the back, in a big circle. Pretty cool looking.

Things that can be improved

  • Belt clip is a bit weak, but I never intended to use it. Hence I liked the fact it came off. Would be better if it were metal, and spring loaded. Not to mention rotated smoother.
  • screen cover lifts the small part between the screen and the clickwheel. Not bad, just could be a bit tighter.
  • iSkin around the clickwheel should have been beveled. Same for where it meets the standby switch, and headphone jack.

It’s not perfect for those who use an iPod dock (though you can pull the iPod partially out through the clickwheel hole, and sync that way). I’d recommend a cable for ease.

Overall it’s a well made product. It’s a very simple design that compliments the iPod very well. It’s sleek, comfortable, and protective. It does provide a little padding for your iPod, not to mention a screen cover. It’s also made of water resistant material (though don’t test that out).

Products Mentioned
iSkin eVo2 4G iPod 20GB – Arctic
iSkin eVo2 4G iPod 40GB – Arctic

[Crossposted from MacVillage.net]