Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Not much going on here, is there...

When I'm not brewing up a long-form post, most of my blog-like activities have shifted over to Google+. That's why you haven't really seen much here this year. The mobile G+ client is far from perfect, but it is light years ahead of the mobile Blogger clients.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gizmodo, your Thrive review doesn't Jive...

Gizmodo has a so-called "review" of the Thrive here:

The central argument seems to be that it's not an iPad. This is, not surprisingly for an Android tablet, absolutely true. I shall now mock the reviewer's mockery in my best tongue-in-cheek, yet still righteously indignant, satirical prose. Caveat lector!

For example, the widescreen tablet is chided for "somehow" being at once wider and shorter (in landscape orientation) than a 4:3 aspect ratio iPad. The abject horror is completely overwhelming. Perhaps all video content is formatted for the average 1950s-era TV, and this widescreen fad is about to die out. Somehow, said inherent widescreen-ness also makes it completely untenable to use the tablet in portrait orientation, where the usability is vastly superior than a 3:4 screen for most e-books, any 8.5x11 PDF pages, and even certain webpages (*cough*, like Gizmodo, *cough*) that assume that people stopped buying monitors in 1999 because 4:3 CRTs running at 800x600 are the flippin' bees knees. But, I digress... Oh, yeah, because it's narrower in portrait mode, thumb-typing is easier. That is, if you choose not to just use Swype, which is also included...

Port ability vs. portability?
The principal argument against the ports is that their presence renders the tablet "more like a PC".  As in, there's an HDMI output that allows you to plug it into your HDTV and play your movies without the need for a $100 peripheral (I'm looking at you, Apple TV). Better yet, you can plug it into your friends' TVs without having to bring along your $100 peripheral...  

Or perhaps, the criticism is levied specifically against the USB host port. After all, consider the following choice quote:
"I just know that in my entire history as a tablet-owner, I've not once cursed the gods at my lack of a USB port. Because tablets aren't laptops."

Insight at its finest, right? That USB port would enable you to plug in a USB thumb drive where your buddy has an MP3 or a photo that they want to share. It must be so much nicer to plug the drive into your computer, and use iTunes to copy onto your tablet instead of just plugging in the USB key and accessing the content -- especially when you're out and about. Definitely not the kind of thing that has any utility...

Similarly, since the SD card slot is built in, you can carry a metric arse-load of content spread across multiple easy-to-pack cards. The alternative of carrying a computer, firing up iTunes, and downloading different content to the device certainly seems more "magical" and "revolutionary", doesn't it. You're right, Brian, tablets are not laptops.  But, methinks that you shouldn't have to carry both if you want to access more content than fits on the devices's internal storage. 

Or maybe, like me, you take the occasional photograph. If you shoot on SD cards, you can just plug in your SD/SDHC/SDXC card and start browsing away -- swipe, pinch to zoom, etc. If you shoot on CF, your USB card reader can be attached just as easily. Damn, that sounds horrible, doesn't it.  I'd totally much rather sync everything into iPhoto before I can even look at it on the large high-res screen on my tablet. Oh, sorry, I forgot about that adapter kit thingy -- it looks way more convenient. I mean, who wouldn't want one of them 'donks hanging out of their dock port just so that they could read an SD card or attach the camera directly to the USB port? Samsung aped Apple in this regard, so the Galaxy tab must be awesome; oh, wait, I forgot -- it's widescreen. Game, set, and match to the iPad, for a certainty!

Convenient oversights?
In the amazingly insightful claim that the ports make it thick, the "reviewer" also completely misses the fact that a portion of the thickness can be attributed to the design decision that allows the back cover to be removed. Doing so reveals the battery which can also be -- horror of all horrors -- removed and swapped. Nobody could possibly imagine a scenario where a dock connector wouldn't present itself to recharge the battery, could they? I'll give you a hint. They could, and they have, and fairly often.

The rear-facing camera is mentioned, but not the front-facing camera.  The fact that Google Talk is fully video-enabled and enables communication with far more people than the narrow demographic that has access to "FaceTime". Heck, even those crazy open source/Linux people can use the Google Talk! The name isn't nearly as catchy, though. 

Docked for docking?
The reviewer somewhat implicitly mocks the concept of using a USB keyboard with a tablet; but last time I checked, $20 USB keyboards were more affordable than $60 bluetooth ones (which also work, including the Apple one) or proprietary $70 solutions. I mean, nobody would ever consider having their tablet docked and using a keyboard to enable things like composing a long e-mail without having to resort to the on-screen keyboard, right?

Double standards make fine double-edged swords!
While I am also not a fan of built-in apps that I can't uninstall (apart from rooting), there is no small amount of irony in criticizing Toshiba for providing their own AppVendor and BookVendor (which, by the way, are among the many available alternatives you can use, including the Android Market, Amazon, and a host of others). After all, Apple certainly doesn't -- in any way -- encourage you to purchase any content from their first-party stores. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that the iBooks and AppStore links are almost impossible to find, and can be easily removed from an iPad.

Postscript: Back to that widescreen-a-phobia thing...
I could fit three Gizmodos in one browser window! Gotta love that scrolling action, even if you ditch their crap-tacular default view in favor of the "blog" view...
Giz <3 whitespace!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Sync, then add new MP3s from a folder to iTunes

The "Sitch":
Like many "advanced" users, I reluctantly use iTunes because it's the most straightforward way to load my iPod. However, less than 0.01%* of my content was purchased from the iTunes store, and there is absolutely no way that I will ever allow iTunes to organize obliterate my folder and file structure. When I rip a disc, buy a $5 album from Amazon MP3, download free tracks, etc., the files get stored on a NAS, where the collection is archived.

For a while, I've been rsynching the master collection on the NAS to a local folder on the living room PC, because iTunes has exhibited poor behavior with both remote libraries (supported by my NAS) and libraries on network shares -- particularly if said share is accessed from multiple computers. (I won't go into the details, but the past issues in both of these options made a local copy highly desirable... Maybe Apple fixed all the issues I ever encountered. Maybe not. I simply don't feel like finding out.)

The Hitch:
Unlike practically every other media player in the universe, iTunes isn't programmed to fulfill the simple task of identifying that files have been added to a given folder and then importing said files into its precious little library. This meant opening iTunes and running Add to Library from its menu. There were two options: remember what you just rsynched and pick the appropriate sub-folder(s) or re-add the whole top-level folder and trust that duplicates won't be added (which generally worked.) Either way, it was manual and therefore bogus...

The Fix (for this Son of a *itch):
Enter Automator. As you can see in the top part of the (rather wide) screen snippets below, it takes a massive two steps to A.) find brand-spanking new music files in a specified folder structure and then B.) add said files to the iTunes Library. Why this has to be done with an extravagant macro-type concoction is beyond me, but the fact that is literally this trivial to accomplish was refreshing, as I haven't really messed with Automator nearly enough...

Music being synchronized to a local folder, then being added to iTunes automagically. Dogs and cats, living together! The apocalypse is nigh!!! 
After adding those two tasks to a "Workflow" in Automator, I saved it as an Application so that I could just run the bugger without opening Automator every time. The other benefit of saving as an app is that I could just add another line at the end of my rsync script and make it run by itself. That's what that little open command at the end of the script snippet above does. Note that the rsync line excludes the meta-files that are created by various OSes when the master copy on the NAS is accessed directly, and that it doesn't perform any deletions.

*: This isn't hyperbole! I have over 10k files, and exactly one track in the archived collection was purchased from the iTunes store.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Initial Impressions on the Squier Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar

It's a Guitar!
Here's a quick and dirty flash snapshot with some even quicker and dirtier Photoshop masking, showing (Left to Right) the Rock Band 1 Strat, the new Pro Rock Band 3 Squier, an actual Stratocaster, and the Rock Band 2 Strat. The Squier's built in string mute takes the place of the neck pickup, but the bridge pickup is indeed functional when plugged into that Fender Deluxe amp that all these instruments (real, fake, and hybrid) are posing in front of.

The Guitar Pickup
So far, I've only banged out a few quick chord progressions and simple riffs. The pickup is a little noisier, and not as "hot" as either of the single coils or the humbucker in my trusty hot-rodded Strat (or the humbuckers on an Epiphone Dot Studio semi-hollow body). You have to keep the volume knob set much higher on this guy to get similar output SPL levels, because it's just naturally quieter than its cousins. I'll have to come back at some other time to figure out how to properly comment on the tone -- it wasn't offensive by any means, but it does seem a little bit "flatter" and "less interesting" than the other pickups and pickup combinations at my disposal. The pickup is passive, and you really don't want to turn the switch for the active electronics (MIDI, etc.) on when this thing is amped, unless you want an irritating fixed-rate metronome and extra noise to come through your amp.

Fit and Finish
When the UPS guy handed me the box, it seemed light to me. Upon further subjective review, this axe is indeed noticeably lighter than the Strat, but it seems extremely real compared to the 3/4 scale plastic toys. The other thing you'll notice is the sensor package on the fretboard -- it sticks up above where the fretboard would normally end, making for an interesting architecture between the nut and the tuning keys (compared to the Strat, below). The body is apparently a little bit thicker, as things at that end look fairly normal.

I haven't exhaustively tested the out-of-box intonation by playing open - octave - harmonic with the tuner in line, but it wasn't obviously off. What will require some tweaking is the string profile. To me, the strings were unnaturally aligned in a plane out of the box, making it a little more challenging than it should be to hit the 3rd and 4th strings accurately without peeking when playing the in-game tutorials. There's normally a slight arc to the strings, and because this was absent, it felt wrong trying to play riffs. Mercifully, the saddles are adjustable, and the allen wrench is included, so this should be a reasonably straightforward operation. The action is not as low as the Strat, but is not unreasonably high by any means.

The included strings feel like they may be .010s -- pretty comfortable, and they were wound very cleanly (better than I did on the Strat, for sure). As expected, the tuning keys aren't as precise as the higher-cost units I've grown accustomed to. They remind me of my first electric guitar that I had as a kid; they get the job done, but you can feel the minor spacing and slop in the gear train when trying to dial in the tuning.

It's a Game Peripheral!
The version of tablature that Harmonix came up with will take some getting used to before I'll graduate to higher difficult levels, but the fact that it tells you what you currently have fretted is already proving useful. The aforementioned super-planar string profile threw me off a couple of times, and I think it will be easier to accurately jump between strings when playing single notes once I do a little bit of adjustment. (Playing the same "riffs" from the tutorials on my Strat seemed easier.) Even in Easy Pro mode, I can tell that getting good scores at higher difficulties will require actually learning parts of the song, particularly the less-predictable solos and bridges.

I've grown used to sight-reading in 5-button Expert and Hard modes, and haven't practiced a song in a long time. It will take discipline to actually repeat sections, use practice mode, and learn songs if I want to ever play them in the harder difficulties. For single notes, the tablature is easier to try to sight-read than the Pro keyboard track is, but I haven't done much with their chord notation yet...

My normal playing position is just far enough away that I'll probably stick a USB extension cable in line with the 9' cable on the Mad Catz MIDI Pro adapter so it's not laying on the floor. The buttons on the guitar can handle all of the navigation, and the select button and accelerometer can kick off overdrive. So, you don't have to use the buttons on the MIDI adapter for much of anything in-game. The guitar shipped with a 2m MIDI cable, which would be a little long if you were clipping the adapter to a belt or the guitar strap (also included). All of my Guitar Hero and Rock Band controllers have always been wireless, so it's a little bit of a bummer to have to string the MIDI adapter across the room to use the Pro Squier.

Slides are pretty natural in the game, but there's no tremolo so folks who love their whammy bar are going to be disappointed... Also, if you try to bend a held note, the sensors will register that you're on a different string, and you'll break the note. So, no embellishment! It will be interesting to see how the game handles bends (maybe I will have to upgrade that Stevie Ray Vaughn song).

It's a MIDI controller!
Sorry, I haven't had the chance to try this yet.  Maybe over the weekend...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Android client for Blogger

I'm just testing the Android client from my tablet. When moblogging needs supercede tweet capacity, this could prove to be useful...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Foray into Tabletdom with the Archos 101

I picked up an Archos 101 recently.  It is one of the current generation of Android 2.2 tablets, meaning that it runs a version of Android that Google publicly poo-pooed for these larger-screen devices. So, this means that I entered into this technology relationship with full knowledge of the likelihood of the existence of warts.

That being said, Archos did some things that piqued my interest. First, the device has 16 GB onboard, and sports an easily-accessible MicroSD card slot where I currently have another 16 GB (although 32 GB cards are available and supported, they're expensive). Since I have 90-minute 720p videos that occupy less than 800 MB, this is easily adequate for media. The wide-screen form-factor, built-in kickstand, and capacity to easily render HD content are a good combination for on-the-go media consumption. The HDMI out port doesn't hurt in this regard, either.

The Killer App (for me):
More importantly than its significant media prowess is the fact that Archos included a USB Host port, and provides Mass Storage and HID drivers. This was the killer feature that made me want to lay down my 350 bones and see what this thing was all about. With the USB Host, I gain the ability to plug in a memory key, card reader, or HDD. I had one particular HDD in mind when thinking about this device, and that's my Digital Foci Photo Safe II, which always lives in my camera bag. Since I shoot RAW + JPG, I can preview the JPGs on the Archos' big screen, pinch to zoom, swipe to navigate, and do everything else the gallery allows. All of this is significantly better than the experience of reviewing images on-camera, and in many ways easier than using a netbook for the same tasks.

Other Things I Like:
  • The wide-screen form-factor makes the Archos 101 comfortable to hold in one hand in portrait mode. 
    • This is particularly helpful for web browsing, twitter browsing, e-book reader apps, and portrait-mode games. 
    • Also, in this mode, you can hold the device with both hands and comfortably thumb-type on the default Android soft keyboard. 
  • In landscape mode, the kickstand is great for table-top and tray table passive usage.
  • WiFi actually does 802.11n.
  • No 3G/4G support means no contract, ever. 
  • The HDMI output is nice to have, although I doubt I'll use it very often.
  • HD playback is smooth, and you can jump around the timeline smoothly.
  • Battery life is respectable when on WiFi and fantastic when working off-line.
    • In mixed operation, with about 40% online time I got through the whole weekend with about 20% to spare.
    • Watching 90 minutes of 720p video only sucked about 10% of the screen. (I had it set fairly dim, so it won't always be this good). 
The Dark Side:
Unlike Samsung, Archos didn't lobby Google for Market and Google Apps support. Out of the box, the following are absent: Gmail app, Google Maps, Calendar, and the "standard" Android Market. Archos attempts to bridge this by including some bundled apps and the AppsLib alternate market. AppsLib is not terrible, but it is much more sparsely populated than the normal Market. Mercifully, the community on the XDA forums has managed to close these gaps. By following the community guidance, I was able to get all of the normal Google goodness onto my tablet within hours of taking it out of the box.

Officially-sanctioned Flash support is "coming soon." The aforementioned community has fixed this, too.

Like the Galaxy Tab before it, the micro USB port on the Archos 101 is for data transfer, and not for charging. Don't forget to pack the included charger...

The default Android keyboard is too wide to use effectively in landscape mode.  If you need to type more than a single text or tweet, you'll want to go portrait mode, or use a USB or bluetooth keyboard. Swype won't install, stating that the screen resolution isn't supported :^(.

The screen looks really good, but takes some getting used to from a touch perspective. You have to be super-gentle to effectively long-touch or drag. At first, I couldn't even set up my home screens, but I quickly learned to be delicate. Dragging in games like Robo Defense is still really hard to get right consistently (but seeing the entire board without scrolling is awesome). You can see the grid that controls the capacitive input when the screen is off, and it's spaced out almost 1/4". So, while the screen is big enough to play Slice It comfortably, the input resolution can still lead to frustration.

Unlike the Galaxy Tab, scaling is on by default, so everything goes full-screen. This is perfectly fine most of the time, but can cause some content to be truncated, and the occasional misalignment between where buttons are drawn and where you actually have to press...  

Final Impressions:
If you don't mind (and don't fear) applying some community-supported enhancements, the Archos 101 is a very good device, particularly for the price-point. Although the gripe-list above is pretty long, I am in no way disappointed that I spent my hard-earned cash on this device. I love the fact that it's WiFi-only, and what this means for battery life (particularly when WiFi is off).

I picked this up before CES, and may have waited for a Honeycomb device if this weren't the case.  But, that being said, I have something fun and useful in hand right now... If I'm lucky, Archos will provide an update. If not, c'est la vie...