How I use my iPhone pt.2 (long)

This is old news to my friends on app.net but I have some family and friends still trying to get a handle on the possibilities of having a computer in your pocket.

 

Ok, continuing on my apps I use theme…

 

The app store is absolutely awash in weather apps. Most of them seem to be about the particular Apple fetish, design. Lots and lots of pretty apps. Some really are wonderful. I tend to use a couple more utilitarian ones. I use the Weather Channel app a lot because of the amount of info it gives. It’s especially good for warning explanations. The other is a more localized app. Dark skies revolves around one theme. When is it going to rain and for how long, right here. As in, where I’m standing. I’ve found it really useful, saved me several drenching when trying to figure out when to leave/go back to the car. 

 

Ok, here’s the big one, Communication. Yes, I mentioned earlier on that it being a phone is almost an afterthought. I do talk on the phone, but in several different ways. There is the regular phone app. I use my sell number like any other phone. I do also have a Google Voice number. I got this for three reasons. 1) I live in a cellular hole so I would frequently drop calls at home. Using wifi is far better. 2) A land line is even better, n ow I have one. 3) I can hand out 1 number and use it both on the go and at home, pretty useful. I use Talkatone to access Google voice. I also use Obion to access the little box that my landline is created by. Gives me better sound quality while at home. Of course I prefer doing FaceTime with my Apple friends. It’s like Skype but a little easier to use. I “call” someone and it rings all of their stuff, phone, iPad, and computer. Good stuff.

 Texting is handled by the messages app. I can either send an SMS or an iMessage depending on what kind of device they have. The only practical difference is that iMessages can go to people’s other devices like computers and iPads while texts can only go to phones.

 And then there’s my most common ways of communicating, social media. I use two different services. The first one is Facebook. Everyone knows what it is, even if they don’t use it. It’s ubiquitous, most people that I know have an account. I’ll post various things on there and keep up with the goings on of my extended friend network.

 I have been using Facebook less and less ever since I joined app.net. Yes, I’m going to talk about that again, mostly because I use it with my phone so much. App.net is a social service that is user supported. It has the same business model as Dropbox, Github, or even an idealized public broadcasting without fund raisers and Federal funding. The service is mostly made up of free users with a small amount of paid users supporting it. Because users are supporting it, there are no ads. Because there are no ads, the people using the service are the customers. They do not monetize your activity or track you in any way. You can read about it and their core values here. You won’t find any other social network like this. They are actually the complete opposite of ad financed social networks. Here’s the full complement of my app.net apps on my phone:

 

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It is also different in the fact that they are allowing developers to make whatever they want on top of the service. I have apps for microblogging (a la Twitter), private chats/messages, podcasting, check ins, journaling, photo sharing, and file management. I might start backing my websites to it as well. Storage space is part of the membership so I have access to all of my content. All the apps I use are unique to iOS. Here’s what I use the most:

1) hAppy, Riposte, and Felix. They are general purpose microblogging clients with a host of other features like private messages and chats.

2) #pan. It is a general use App.net client for microblogging but I primarily use it for posting media. I make podcasts with it and I share pictures with it. Whatever media I post with it gets stored in my private storage and then is aggregated on my own web site. It generates an RSS feed and I can distribute it to Facebook, blogs, etc. You can see my main one here.

3) Whisper is a private messaging app. It supports both individual and group chats. Once again, because there isn’t any advertising these really are private and app.net actually encourages people to use them!

4) Ohai is a journalling app that stores the info on your app.net storage. This is a daily (or more) journal I do for myself. I will occasionally public all post to app.net as well. It records location, a picture, and text. One of the nice things about the information being stored on app.net is that if someone else makes a journalling app that uses app.net I can switch to that and all of my posts come over to the new app.

5) Filez is a file manager for the stuff in my app.net storage and allows me to post the content in other places.

 

Whew! That’s longer than I thought it would be. I hope this gives you a feel why I’m addicted to my phone. Everyone has different things that get them, but iPhone users usually get gotten by some apps or services:) Let me know what your favorite apps are!

How I use my iPhone pt. 1

While this will all be old news to my ADN friends, I have other friends and family that are still getting used to the idea of having a computer in their pocket.

 

A friend of mine recently got an iPhone and posted something to the effect of, “What’s the big deal?” I put off buying an iPhone for a while because I thought the same. My iPod touch convinced me I needed to try an iPhone and I’ve never looked back. Calling an iPhone a phone doesn’t really make sense any more. All of the smart phones out there are networked pocket computers with cameras, GPS, and sensors. If you want to know why a smart phone is a big deal, you need to use the apps made for them. The iPhone has an advantage in that it typically gets apps before anyone else and they tend to look, and function better as well. iPhones also get regular updates adding features and security patches along with bug fixes. Other platforms tend to lag behind, if they get updated at all. Plus, it’s nice owning a product that wasn’t designed as a method of collecting your data and presenting ads to you. Here’s a run down of my most frequently used apps…

Productivity apps. Not going to go into detail here but things like calendar, notes, contacts, and reminders are used so frequently that a lot of us have forgotten that we didn’t used to do them on our phone. Adding to their usefulness is the ability to sync back to your computer(s) and other devices, great having everything available.

Music. I can’t tell you how important this is to me. I have not listened to the radio in years. I get everything from my phone. i stream music for a radio-like experience (minus the ads and plus control over which songs get played) primarily from Slacker Radio and Spotify. For listening to specific things, I either use spottily or my iTunes library. I use iTunes in the cloud so that I have access to all of my songs without having to keep them on my phone. When I’m at home I listen to my stereo of course but I use my phone either to control my iTunes library with the Remote app from Apple or using other services and sending the audio to my stereo via airplay. Airplay is a super simple way to send media to my TV or stereo via Apple devices.

News. I get a lot of my news via RSS feeds. Really Simple Syndication is a way for websites to send out updates to you instead of having to go to each site. I follow… 100 websites? This is the best way to see what they are doing with minimal fuss. I use an app/service called Newsblur. I’ve been very happy with it, it does what I need it to do. I also use several apps that aggregate news based on my interests or specific sites. They tend to be more visually attractive and fun whereas RSS readers tend to be text based and emphasize functionality. I use both Zite and Pulse for attractive ways to read the news that’s important to me. That tends towards the geeky, techy side of things. I also use apps from Al Jeezera English, BBC, and The Guardian for regular news. I tend to use foreign news sites because they have much better coverage of world wide events.

Reading. I read books, short stories, and web sites saved for later reading on my phone. I buy content from a variety of sources including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and the Apple iBookstore. I prefer reading on a larger screen but my phone is always with me and is ideal for killing time.  I use Instapaper to save specific web articles to read later. There are plenty of times that I have come across blog posts, articles, or stories that I don’t have time to read at the moment or I just want to always have access to. I can save any web page to Instapaper to read later.

Games. I’m not much of a gamer but there are several games that I do play more than I should. Pinball arcade is amazing. They take real life pinball games, disassemble them, and then reconstruct them digitally. The physics engine is amazing and its a ton of fun. I think I have managed to shake my Bejeweled addiction although I always fear a relapse. I’m currently obsessing over Spelltower and I’ve had some intense Letterpress games. Both of those are word games.

Photography. iPhones are easily the most popular camera on photo sharing sites designed around mobile phones. I am a huge camera and lens snob. I have no delusions about the absolute quality of the iPhone’s camera but damn, it is awfully handy. The killer application of a phone camera is sharing. I can snap a picture and in seconds share it with anyone. It really isn’t a bad point and shoot camera, especially outdoors. The standard camera app is fine but its panorama mode is amazing. So easy to do and it makes impressive images. There are a zillion photography apps for the iPhone.  Cortex Cam is a great app for getting good shots in low light. It takes a bunch of images and then stacks them. It can then do a pretty good job of taking noise out of the end result. It doesn’t work for things that are moving but it can be a life saver in darker situations. 645PRO is the most sophisticated photo app that I’ve seen for the iPhone. It has emulsion emulators, lots of different “lens filters”, and WB adjustments. It also allows you to capture uncompressed images. When I don’t feel like fiddling with controls, I use the standard photo app for color and Hueless for B&W.

I even use photography apps after the picture has been taken. I’ll get to some sharing options in the next post. I use an app named Geotag Photos in order to make GPS coordinates for the pictures I take with my real camera. The app records where I am as I am shooting. The file it makes can be merged with the pictures I’ve taken and BAM! All my pictures are geotagged. All of the pictures taken with the phone are already geotagged of course. For quick edits of the pictures I take I use Snapseed. It’s a super easy editing program and surprisingly powerful one at that. For more involved edits I use iPhoto. Lots and lots of options and there is a ton of things you can do to your pictures with it.

That’s enough for now. Will hopefully finish up in the next post.

Stereo overhaul

OK, Last stereo post for a while, I swear…

 

I have been willing to put up with a lot over the years in order to get the sound I wanted from my stereo. My goal has always been to get an equivalent emotional response as I would to a live show. It wouldn’t be the same experience of course, but the effect should have the same emotional/experiential value. In some ways, recorded music is superior to live events. No worries about mistakes or bad performances. The acoustics are much more controllable, etc.

My stereo has usually involved lots of boxes, cables strewn all over the place, and lots of fiddly things to do. Before I played any record, I cleaned the stylus and cleaned the record. I had to allow the tubes to warm up. I spent weeks experimenting with the angle and positioning of the speakers. I messed around with adjusting the acoustics of the room. I was constantly on the look out for better tubes, cables, and whatever was being made new. 

As I’ve gotten older, several things have happened. I live in smaller places now. Some of the speakers I’ve owned were 5 feet tall and weighed over 110 pounds. My current amplifiers weigh 50 pounds apiece, the custom granite stands they sit on are another 20 each. It’s just too much. I’ve also become weary of going through all of the little rituals to keep records in the best shape possible, hell, I don’t even want to deal with CDs anymore. I have gotten much more realistic about what I can actually hear. The top end response of my ears aren’t anything like they were when I was younger.

Maybe more importantly, the quality of sound vs. hassle ratio has gotten to be so much better. Even inexpensive AV receivers have DACs (Digital to Analog Convertor) that are pretty damn good. There have been great strides in speaker design, especially in regards to active systems. The vast majority of people have always had “passive” systems. That means you have a separate amplifier and there is a crossover in the speaker that splits the sound out to the various drivers in the speaker. Active speakers split the frequencies before they are amplified. The amplifiers only amplify a small range of frequencies and attached directly to the voice coil of the speakers. There are tremendous advantages to this approach and it obviates a lot of the stuff that I used to obsess over. 

Three years ago I bought a Squeezebox. You can think of it as a network music player. I was able to stream music from my computer to the stereo and from online services like Slacker Radio, Spotify, etc. Completely changed how I listened to music. I was able to control it from the computer or my iPhone/ipad. heaven. The sound quality was miles better than my old (and expensive) CD player. 

Logitech has announced that they are discontinuing the Squeezebox line. I had been hoping that they would come out with something that would fix the various little things that made me crazy. Spent the better part of a year trying to find something that would allow me to play music from my computer as well as all of the other services I love. Felt really stupid when I realized all I needed was an Apple Airport Express. That allows me to use airplay from any of my devices and play any music I want. So simple, and so cheap!

I think next year I am going to purchase my first pair of active speakers and get rid of my amps. My most complicated system had a turntable/cartridge and a CD player as sources. The turntable plugged into a phono preamp and then into a preamp. The CD player plugged into the preamp. The preamp plugged into the amp(s) and then they were plugged into the speakers. Next year I could very well have my computer, an Airport Express, and a pair of speakers all connected wirelessly. The amps would be inside the speakers. The DAC could be too depending on which ones I go with. Much less hassle, cost, and I shouldn’t give anything up sound-wise. I do love how technology is making our lives simpler and improving the overall quality as well. Exciting times. 

If you read my last post about amps, you might have a good idea about what a big change this will be for me. Looking forward to it! As I get older I crave simplification. Hell, it’ll be nice to get the space back:)

Stereo journey

 For those of you that haven’t been keeping up with me for a while, I need to make a confession that may prove to be shocking to some. I am recovering from Audiophillia Nervousa. This has actually become a bit of a rare condition. Starting in college, I became obsessed with the idea of “sound quality.” My first job out of college was selling so called high end audio systems and home theaters. I have spent a serious amount of money over the years on equipment and music. For most of those years, every different thing I bought was to eke out another bit of performance out of the system.

A lot of people, well, I say people but I really mean guys, claim to want a really “nice” system. There is a huge range of opinion about what that actually means. For many it is all about bass and volume. I value tonal accuracy and dynamics. I like to be able to hear the mix, the mics, and the decisions that were made in recording when it comes to mic placement, recording philosophy, etc. I went to some crazy lengths to get those things. At one point I had well over 7 grand worth of gear in my system. That would have included the turntable, cartridge, preamp (possibly a separate phono preamp), CD player, amplifiers, and speakers. Sad thing is that’s nothing in the high end world. 

The flashiest things I ever own are my amps. I have been a tube (or valve as my friends across the pond call them) amp lover from the beginning. Hope you’ll forgive a quick history of my tube amps, I’m feeling nostalgic:)

 

I went big for my first set. And when I say set, I mean a pair of amps. One for the left side and another for the right. I had a pair of Golden Tube Audio SE-40 amps. Looked like this:

 

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Yeah, I had two of these. That meant I had 12 output tubes cooking away. It used 6l6 type tubes and had a very “Chocolate cake” kind of presentation. Sweet, sticky, and addictive. When I moved up to Northern Virginia, I had to scale my system way back because I couldn’t afford the space for that kind of system any more. I ended up with a little Jolida amp.

 

 

 

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Pretty sure that’s the one, don’t remember the model number but it did use EL84 output tubes. A tiny thing, about a third the size of one of the Golden Tube amps! I then went into the wilderness and had solid state amps for a while. When I got back into tubes, once again I went big:) Audio Mirror was what I went with this time.

 

 

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These are also mono blocks so I have 2 of them. The front is about 9 inches across and they are about 1 3/4 feet deep. Big sound, big, impressive amps. I still have these. About a year ago, a friend bought me an amp, totally out of the blue!

 

 

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This one isn’t nearly as flashy as the others but in some ways it is probably the best amp I’ve ever had. This was actually a kit and was put together by a hobbyist. You might not think that’s a recipe for a good product but it turns out that one of the biggest expenses with tube amps is the labor putting them together. If you spend the money on parts alone, you can get much better quality components. this is an interesting amp (to tube nerds at least) because it is able to use two totally different tube types. It can use Pentodes like 6l6 or KT88 as well as 300b tubes! Wild. 

Between this amp and the acoustics of my current room, I have never had better sound. I still have the urge to upgrade though, but my upgrade path is going to take me down the road of simplification. I’ll be very happy if I can keep the same sound quality. I’ll bore you with those ideas next:)

Insomnia is good and bad (geeking out)

The downsides of insomnia are obvious. I’m super tired and super frustrated. But while I’m exhausted physically, I have been a bit wired mentally. So at least in my current bout of insomnia I’m getting stuff done. Sleeping 5 hours over two days gives you a lot of time to take of things. In addition to the blog goodness I mentioned earlier, I have set up a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone system and redid my stereo.

 

The phone thing has been a long time coming. Like a lot of people, I only have a cell phone. That’s mostly OK but there are some downsides to it. Unless the phone is on you, it is easy to miss calls. It’s like being back in the 70’s when we only had one phone! The bigger issue is that I have zero signal in the basement which is where I spend most of my time. Rick has a land line but it’s his number. Plus, there has been a lot of robo callers accumulated over the years on that line. 

For a long time I thought I’d get a femtocell network booster. Those are essentially a mini cell tower in your house that uses your broadband connection to hook you to their system. By all accounts they work well but I thought they were expensive. Plus, it still doesn’t solve the problem of having the phone nearby. Alex Lindsey (of Pixel Corp fame) mentioned the Obie VOIP bridges on a podcast I watch. That got me thinking about the possibilities. I got one for a little less than $40 and a free Google Voice account. Hooked the Obie100 to the internet and tied the Google Voice number to it and Viola! I now have a land line with no monthly charges!

All I needed was a phone. I hadn’t looked at cordless phones in a decade or more. Turns out there have been some really cool improvements over the years. Bought a set of Panasonic Bluetooth cordless phones off of Amazon around 5:45 AM (insomnia, remember?) and had them delivered around 3PM later that day. I love living in the future… Hooked the main base station to the Obie and put the other handsets downstairs. Pow! I now have a fully functional phone system. Here’s where it gets good… I paired my iPhone to the base station. Now when I get a call on my iPhone, all of these phones will ring! That means I can leave the iPhone upstairs where there is a decent signal and I can still receive my calls downstairs! The cordless phones also imported my contacts from my iPhone. We’ll see how easy it is to actually use that contact list. My call quality has gone up, I can talk downstairs, and I didn’t add any new monthly charges. I call that winning…

I made sure that the handsets I got had the ability to use a headset. I had assumed that by headset they meant headphones because that is what is used in the mobile phone world. Well, no, they don’t mean headphones at all. They have their own, slightly smaller connection for headsets. Grrr. Still they aren’t very expensive. If I wanted to get really fancy I could try using a bluetooth headset pair to the base station. Need to look into that…

My stepsister is in town with her little ones right now. The obvious place for the base station is within easy reach of the littlest one. So I’l have to wait until they go back home before I can really take advantage of the cell phone thing but at least I can make calls from downstairs. Next post is another gear head one I’m afraid. Going to regale you about my stereo…