Posts Tagged iPhone

Pebble on the Wrist


Kickstarter Edition!


It would be nice if this view could be customized; perhaps a future update will enable that.

Back in April, I jumped on the opportunity to acquire Dave2‘s Pebble watch, Kickstarter Edition, at a bargain price. Shortly thereafter, the firmware was updated with several significant fixes and the expected addition of support for displaying running data from various iOS apps.

For me, displaying the run data completes the replacement of my GPS watch with my iPhone. I had already made the switch and adjusted to no longer being able to glance at my wrist for current data; it’s very nice to have that back.

Over the months I’ve had the Pebble, I’ve experimented with a number of watch faces, including a couple that pulled HTTP data via an extra iOS app. While those were nice, they drained the Pebble’s battery much too fast for my liking. I also suspect the app caused significant additional drain of my iPhone’s battery. One of the more entertaining watch faces I tried was Gallifrey Time by SzDom. I’m currently using Bigger Time by Gorges, which is by far my favorite.


“Gallifrey Time” – I had a fun time with this one for a while; only took a short time to learn to read it.

The best feature of the Pebble, naturally, is its raison d’être: notifications. The fully supported notifications (on iOS) are Phone, Messages and, mostly, Mail. The caveat for Mail is that use of Mail’s VIP feature disables Pebble notifications (unless that’s been fixed since I last checked on it). The Phone notifications aren’t particularly useful for me, as I almost certainly want to pull out my phone to deal with the call in one way or another. Rarely, I just want to ignore the call, which I can do from the Pebble. In theory, that is. For some reason, call notifications aren’t going to my Pebble at this moment for me to verify, though the “Missed Call” notification does come through.

Despite this limitation on supported apps for notifications, it turns out that getting other apps to work reliably is possible, if inconvenient. After the Pebble and iPhone are paired, you can go into the iPhone’s Settings->Notifications and, for each app that you want to have Pebble notifications, select it and toggle the “View in Lock Screen” setting off and then back on (it must be on). From that point forward, as long as the Pebble connection persists, notifications from those apps while show up on the Pebble. For some apps, I like to disable the iOS Sounds notification and rely on the Pebble.


“Bigger Watch” by Gorges

This is all well and good, and worth the minor inconvenience, except for one thing: the BlueTooth connection between the Pebble and the iPhone is fragile. I don’t know all of the triggers, but large spatial separation between the devices is certainly one of them. Once this happens, it is highly likely that the notification work-arounds will need to be re-done. Worse, I’ve had the connection drop without recovering on its own, necessitating a launch of the the Pebble app on the iPhone to see that they are not connected and to reconnect them semi-manually (starting the manual process seems to trigger the automatic one).


Getting vibration reminders on my wrist makes me more likely to take action.

For the most part, I’m quite happy with my Pebble. I admit, however, that some of this is with forward-looking optimism that leaves me expecting better reliability in the future. There’s some reason to think that iOS 7 will improve the connectivity, and future firmware updates from Pebble could possibly help as well.

Oh, one more thing, I think I get 5-7 days on a charge of the Pebble. I wish it gave a better warning that the battery is low. The indicator isn’t visible on the watch face, only in other views. If I see the indicator in the morning, the watch will usually last until that night, though I have had it die in the early evening. I could just charge it every night — I wish I weren’t paranoid about charging patterns affecting rechargeable battery life.






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Home Screen


For no reason in particular, I’ve decided to post a short overview of the apps on my iPhone’s home screen. As you can see in the image, I also have six folders on my home screen; I’m not going to go into detail on those. I’m also not going to detail the other two pages, though I will volunteer that the second page contains less-frequently used apps and the third is all games (none of which do I play with any regularity at all).


Flashlight’s portrait clock

Flashlight – This is an oldie that I had long ago stopped using, but I’ve since rediscovered it as the best bedside clock I’ve found.


Occasions – By far the best birthday tracking app I’ve found. Bonus feature is that it allows curated syncing of contacts from Facebook (as opposed to the all-or-nothing version offered by the official app).

Reminders – I’m still not completely sold on Apple’s app, but its superior integration with both Siri and the Notification drop-down keep me using it for now. I also use Toodledo for tasks that I want to repeat based on completion date (it’s on my 2nd screen).

Music – For a long time, I relied on the Music app usually being accessible from the player controls in the multi-tasking panel, but this fell apart when Podcasts were split into their own app. Now, it’s much more likely that the wrong app is active. If I were a more regular user of something like Pandora, this would’ve already been a problem.

Podcasts – I’m pretty happy with this app after Apple’s last few updates. In fact, the only real problem I have is the issue described in the previous entry, along with the fact that the Music app is still the real default. This means that very often when I get in the car I have to manually restart the podcast that was playing earlier.




Camera+ – There are so many reasons to use this over the built-in camera that it deserves its own post. Simultaneous sharing to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr is probably the key feature for me, but others are nice as well.

Google Maps – I’m a big fan of Waze, and for a long time that held this spot. But I’ve concluded that Google Maps is just better. Sure, I miss the social aspect of Waze a bit — in particular, the possibility that someone marked an upcoming hazard with a description of what lane to avoid — but it wasn’t enough. I still reach to mark items occasionally, before remembering that I no longer can.


Phone – It is a phone, after all.

Photos – I do like showing off my pictures, though I’m much more likely to do so with my iPad.

Safari – I’ve toyed with using Google as my browser, but I appreciate the iCloud support in Safari. Plus, I know Javascript is faster in Safari than anything else on the iPhone, even if I may never notice the difference.

Week Cal – I’ve tried lots and lots of calendar apps and, for me, this is head and shoulders above any of them. This is another one that deserves its own post. A couple of my oft-used features are templates and copying events. Multi-select is also very nice.

NOOK – This spot changes to whichever reader has the book I’m currently reading. At the moment, I’m reading Magyk (Septimus Heap Series #1) which I think was free when I first installed the app. When I finish it, I’ll likely delete the app as I don’t think I have any other books exclusively there.

Gmail – Direct access to searching all my mail is the killer feature here. It also looks nice. That being said, the iPad app is much worse and I still use Apple’s app primarily there. I am on the waiting list for Mailbox (182,886 and falling!), so that may change. I used Sparrow for a while, but gave up on it for reasons I don’t recall.


Settings – Previously, my most often use of Settings was to adjust brightness. However, I’ve found with the iPhone 5 on iOS 6, the auto brightness works much better than it used to, so I rarely need to adjust it. On the other hand, my cellular connection seems to go wonky every so often, and I’ve found that turning LTE off and on (and/or Cellular Data) usually resolves the issue. Having just written this, though, I’ve decided to swap it to the 2nd page, replacing it with DataMan, which tracks my cellular data usage in real time.

That completes the first page, leaving the privileged four apps that get to be on every page. In the past, I favored apps that I wanted to be sure and notice notification bubbles. However, I’ve since changed my habits such that I’m almost always on the home screen (if not in an app), so that need no longer exists. Now, it’s just my most launched apps.

Messages – Probably my most frequent method of remote personal communication.

MoneyWell – Great for on-the-go tracking of spending, but requires the desktop version to actually work. If you are a fan of envelope-budgeting, this (the desktop version, that is) is the best implementation of it I’ve found on any platform.

Tweetbot – I’ve used lots of Twitter apps, and while there are some features I miss from some of them, Tweetbot tops them all in many ways. I’d say the killer feature for me is being able to Mute via regular expressions. My most-missed feature is being able to optionally post any update to Facebook (in addition to or instead of Twitter).

Foursquare – I’m not sure what to say here as you either get it or you don’t. I certainly preferred Gowalla before they broke it and then killed it, but either way, I’m a fan of the concept.

And there you have it!



iTunes Match

Two nights ago, I finally decided to take the plunge and give iTunes Match a try.20130124-171511.jpg

I’ve held off for this long mostly because it didn’t seem to offer much value to me. I’m not much of an audiophile, so the upgrade to 256-bit wasn’t very tempting. My iOS devices have plenty of memory and my music library isn’t all that large, so having my music in the cloud hasn’t been compelling.

The features that ended up luring me were cloud-syncing of playlists, star ratings and newly ripped CDs. The feature that *should* have been compelling but that I hadn’t even considered was syncing between multiple computers. Pre-iTunes Match, syncing new music between my iMac and my MBP has been fairly easy via Home Sharing. (Music not bought via iTunes that is — iTunes purchases were automatically downloaded.) Syncing meta data changes, on the other hand, was nigh impossible. Finally, syncing to my computer at work — on which I just installed iTunes today — is what really makes it all worthwhile.

So, how did my iTunes Match migration go?

Pretty well, I’d say, mostly because I was prepared.

I did quite a bit of research ahead of time so that I wouldn’t be surprised. This is key as there are certainly things about the process that might be very disconcerting if they were unexpected. In particular, it seems that a lot of people expect that after a track is matched it will have its meta data normalized with the iTunes Store data. That is not the case. I can understand that many people may not want their custom metadata overwritten, but it seems like there should be some method of updating to Apple’s curated data.

Years ago, I ripped a bunch of CDs in Linux and ended up with track_names_like_this, often including the album and/or artist in the name of the track. I’ve cleaned up most of these in the intervening years, but had a handful of CDs, mostly my wife’s, that still have this. I was concerned that this might affect matching, though I don’t think that’s actually true. Even so, I preferred to clean this up beforehand. I manually fixed one or two CD’s worth and then decided to simply re-rip the rest. In the end, I’m not sure if this was the best decision. I ended up editing the names of many of the re-ripped tracks anyway as iTunes added prefixes that I didn’t like to those tracks.

Also worth noting, I had recently verified that all of my tracks had album artwork.

With my preparations done, I took the plunge. Of 2546 tracks, 347 (14%) were purchased from iTunes and thus already in the cloud and 1855 (73%) were successfully matched. Combined, that’s a bit over 86% success. All of the remaining 344 were uploaded, so arguably that’s 100% success, depending on how you measure success. Of those 344, 143 are Beatles songs, most of which are from the Mono box set that is not available in iTunes. I wouldn’t have wanted these to match the stereo versions, so that’s fine. Another 34 are from narrow distribution albums that I’m not surprised are not available in the iTunes store. Also, 4 tracks are custom recordings and 1 is a 4-second CD intro.

I looked through the final 162 tracks and nothing really jumped out at me. I know I have some songs that were acquired from a select-your-tracks CD burner vending machine, but I don’t recall which songs those were. Counting only these 162 as “maybe should have matched”, gives a 6.4% match failure rate. Not bad.

Living with iTunes Match

20130124-171822.jpgHaving fully populated iCloud with my music, the next step was to enable it on my iOS devices. Also, I knew I was going to need some new playlists as my previous go-to playlists are not supported by iTunes Match. Specifically, smart playlists that reference other playlists don’t work. While iTunes was processing my library, I worked on creating new playlists and I’m actually happier with my new playlists than my old ones.

With tracks and new playlists in iCloud and devices synced with “all music” to have all of the newest metadata (and re-ripped tracks) pre-loaded to avoid needless download, I flipped the switch on my iPhone to enable iTunes Match. As expected, my list playlists changed but my tracks were available. What I hadn’t expected was that most of my album artwork vanished. Worse, two days later and it’s still mostly missing with no obvious sign of progress. Hmm.

Perhaps ten hours later, I also flipped the switch on my iPad. Oddly, while the album artwork did appear to disappear briefly, it very obviously started repopulating and seemed to finish pretty quickly. Certainly it wasn’t missing any artwork when I more thoroughly checked it hours later.20130124-171900.jpg

I’ve tried turning iTunes Match off and back on on my iPhone, but that didn’t help.

What’s next?

I have yet to replace my matched tracks with their higher quality versions from iTunes. I feel like I need to do some level of verification that the songs are the same.

I may delete all of the tracks from my iPhone and then let them download from iTunes to see if that fixes the artwork issue. I expect it will.

Will I re-up my subscription in a year? It’s too early to tell. If I stick with listening to music at work via my computer, rather than my iPad as I’ve been doing (or my iPhone before that), then having the automatic sync between disparate devices is probably worth $2.09 per month.

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Cortex Camera

About a month-and-a-half ago, I did something I don’t usually do: I purchased an iPhone camera app for $2.99. I’m certainly no stranger to purchasing apps, but I typically pay little attention to alternative camera apps and I seldom purchase an app — particularly for more than 99¢ — without either a friend’s suggestion or a trial version.

However, something about a mini-review of Cortex Camera convinced me to buy it. What this camera app does is take a quick burst of photos, lasting a few seconds, and then quickly processes those into a single photo. The result is supposed to be a higher quality photo than the built-in camera can provide in lower light settings.

My initial testing was basically positive, but I found it to have fairly limited use. It didn’t support iOS 6’s new low-light functionality, so it really only worked in moderate lighting. In such lighting, Cortex Camera’s results did have more detail and less noise than photos from the built-in camera, but the built-in results were really “good enough”. In true low-light, the built-in camera’s boosted ISO produced much better results. I didn’t delete the app, but wasn’t sure I would be likely to use it.

About a month ago, Cortex Camera received an update with several enhancements. The most notable was support for iOS6’s low-light mode. With this change, the app has become much more useful, as I will now demonstrate.

I took these two photos from the same spot. I had to back up extra so that the trees would block fewer lights, so I zoomed-in when taking both photos, though not by exactly the same amount as you can see. Even in these very-scaled-down versions (click them for full-size), you can see how much smoother the sky is in the Cortex shot.


Built-in iPhone 5 Camera, zoomed


Cortex Cam, 8MP, zoomed

I did the crops below on the iPad and tried to get them to be the same. One disadvantage of using the iPad is that I can’t look at one crop while I do the other. In retrospect, I could have easily used my iPhone to check the other crop (though I would have had to pause The Daily Show). Even then, the sizes would still have been different due to the slightly different zoom of the original images. I do not think these differences have any effect on the obvious quality win of the Cortex versions.


built-in, 100% crop


Cortex Cam, 100% crop


built-in, 100% crop


Cortex Cam, 100% crop

From these crops you can see that the built-in camera produced very muddy results, presumably due to some aggressive noise correction. Also, there is appreciably more motion blur. I’m not certain, but I think that Cortex uses a shorter exposer and then relies on a certain amount of additive combination of the composite photos to increase the effective exposure. In any event, I’m quite please with the results; well worth $3.

In case it isn’t obvious, this technique — and thus, Cortex Camera — isn’t useful for photos of moving objects.

One other point: some of Cortex Camera’s functionality is iPhone 5 only. On older iPhones, I believe it takes a video rather than multiple photos, so the final resolution is a bit lower (though higher than the video resolution). Also, it’s supposed to support 12.5MP on the iPhone 5, but with that enabled, the app consistently crashes for me.

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I didn’t feel like staying up ’til 2 AM, but I awoke briefly at about 3:50 AM and just before I fell back to sleep it occurred to me that I could order my iPhone. I grabbed the iPad and did so with no difficulty, but as the confirmation above shows, I missed the first batch for next Friday.


A Friend, A Shirt and A Slice

I was recently afforded an opportunity, during a long layover in Chicago, to head downtown and meet, for the first time, @kapgar. It’s difficult to believe that we hadn’t already met, but I’m glad we finally did.
Once we were together, our first order of business was a visit to the Rock Shock at the Hard Rock Cafe so I could add another shirt to my growing Hard Rock collection. Afterward, we wandered the Miracle Mile for a bit, making stops at the Apple and Lego stores.
Eventually, it was time for some sustenance and we happened to find ourselves a block away from one (well, two) of my favorite Chicago restaurants: Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. Yum!
It was a short meeting, but a good one. I look forward to another visit someday.
Totally Unrelated AsideA post about meeting Kevin wouldn’t be complete without a TUA, which makes this one not completely unrelated. Furthermore, the topic is the loading of the images included above, so I suppose this is really a TRA. Oh, well. On the flight from Chicago I decided to test whether it was possible to load pictures from the iPhone to the iPad using the Camera Connection Kit. I’m delighted to report that it worked beautifully, allowing me to include those images even though I don’t currently have any data access on my iPhone.

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My Second Hybrid

I never got around to writing a post about the Toyota Prius that I purchased last October. Perhaps I will do so eventually. Now, however, I am writing about a different sort of hybrid. Unfortunately, it’s probably a much less interesting type. It’s a hybrid laptop hard drive, which amounts to a normal laptop hard drive with a bit of SSD thrown in for performance advantages. Wow, I’m already bored with this topic just writing it, so if you want the details, have a look at what Wayne wrote about it earlier this year.

The primary differences between my story and Wayne’s are:

  • I only paid $100 for the drive. (Score!)
  • I put it in my MacBook Pro rather than a Windows system. (Duh!)
  • I did absolutely no performance testing. (Um…)

As you may or may not know, the hard drive in a MacBook Pro is not considered an upgradeable part by Apple, and certainly not a user-serviceable part. The procedure for disassembling and reassembling the laptop is far from trivial, though certainly not brain surgery. Using thorough instructions obtained from the Internet a very special resource I use, it took me about 40 minutes to perform the procedure.

Wow, I ended up writing about it again. I thought I was done with that. On a more interesting note, here’s a picture of my first hybrid:And, just for the heck of it, here’s a graph of my mileage so far (courtesy of the Road Trip App on my iPhone):

white - MPG, blue - average MPG, yellow - gas price

The low outlier is, I think, a result of either a heavy headwind or some bad gas, or both.

Totally Unrelated AsideI’m heading to D.C. this weekend for #NoVACon2011!

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Spring Break Ski Trip

We spent Spring Break skiing Copper Mountain with Travis and his two sons. Despite some minor injuries, we had a great time. Read on for my summary, journal-style. Also, in case my account is too long and boring to get through, I’ll point out that there’s a pretty cool 90-second video at the end of the post. Read the rest of this entry »

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One of my time-wasters is to play Words with Friends on my iPhone. I typically have a number of games going at the same time. I’ve always been a strategic player, focusing more energy on scoring points than making long words. Recently, however, I’ve been experimenting with a couple of additional strategies. First, sacrificing my own potential points to block my opponent from a large score. Second, trying to setup higher multiple turn scores.

It’s difficult to measure the success of the first strategy, as I seldom have the opportunity to know what would have happened had I not blocked my opponent. The second strategy, however, is quite measurable. It either works as planned, or it gets blocked by my opponent. So far, it’s been blocked more often than not.

There are, naturally, other small strategies that come into play. For example, I typically like to play a Q as soon as a decent opportunity presents itself. Likewise for the other rare letters.

It’s not often that all of these things come together, but in the board shown here that is exactly what happened. The result is that I have a plethora of choices of where to play. Note that I’m not counting the choices of words when I say that, and it may be that many of my choices are eliminated by what words I can actually form.

The choices that jump out at me are:

  • Play the Q with the U and DW – get ‘er done!
  • Play the S at the end of JET to get the TW (and probably the TL) – points!
  • Try to preserve the S and play on the other J TW – block & gamble.
  • Play on the TW at the top right – block, but low percentage.

I have yet to decide, so I hope you’re not waiting for any sort of conclusion. 🙂

Oh, and if you want to play WWF, my username (as seen in the image) is RenM.




I was commenting over at kapgar‘s site on his post about his headphones futzing out, but very quickly I realized that I was going to write a lot and decided to make my own post instead. So here it is.

I go through headphones like crazy. I mostly by cheap headphones, so I presume that’s a big part of the problem. But not always. I’m partial to over-the-ear headphones as the plain ear buds simply don’t stay in my ears.

Sony MDR-J11G Headphones

Sony MDR-J11G Headphones

Philips SH J030 Headphones

Philips SH J030 Headphones

I’ve had these Sony’s for a while, but even they tend to fall out of my ears when I run. They have a clip on them which helps a lot as it transfers most of the weight, but the clip broke months (a year?) ago. I’ve gone through a couple of similar sets that have failed, but this particular pair has lasted quite some time, other than the clip. More recently, I’ve started using something like these, though I’m not sure those are the specific ones. They have hinges on the behind-the-ear hooks, which help quite a bit. However, there isn’t enough tension and they still come loose when I run — particularly in my right ear.

Altec-Lansing UHP 307 Headphones

Altec-Lansing UHP 307 Headphones

After I got my iPhone last year, I started looking for some over-the-ear headphones that also included a microphone. I found these Altec-Lansings at the Apple store and was actually very happen with them. They were comfortable for everyday use, allowed for phone conversations, and stayed in my ears when I ran. Also, the cord is nylon wrapped so I anticipated that they would be much sturdier than typical headphones. Apparently not, as they really didn’t last very long before one of the ears started failing due to a broken wire.

Altec-Lansing BackBeat 903 Bluetooth Headphones

Altec-Lansing BackBeat 903 Bluetooth Headphones

For a while, I considered buying another set of the same headphones, but I was hesitant given how short-lived the previous pair had been for their cost. Finally, the iPhone 3.0 OS upgrade enabled bluetooth music and my quest changed to finding a set of over-the-ear bluetooth headphones with built-in mic. I found another set of Altec-Lansings that looked very promising. I’ve been quite happy with them, but I’m saving the deatails for a video blog that I’ve been meaning to do for weeks now. I will note that I haven’t tried running with them because I don’t run with my phone, so no bluetooth.

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