iPad Thoughts

So Apple release an iPad, to some happiness and much bitching. I can’t believe so many people have missed the point and are whining about specs and missing features. A few pointers:

1. Never believe the pre-release hype. It’s all rumours. If you expect it to have tentacles, you’re absolutely going to be disappointed.

2. Apple designs for 80% of the needs of 80% of the people. Those 80% don’t care about multitasking. At all. If a feature could confuse, there’s a good chance it won’t make the cut. That said, Apple have relented on many small items and if they can make some form of multitasking work, they probably will. Eventually.

3. The iPad is not the device for forum trolls, tinkerers or demanding tech geeks. However, it’s great as a second browsing device for around the house, as an eReader or while travelling. It’s perfect for a vast number of younger people who don’t need or want a full computer. Perfect for kids. Perfect for older people or anyone scared of computers. Perfect for professional applications where it could be used while walking around. Fantastic for education with Pages and Keynote built in.

4. Think harder about the cool stuff you’ll be able to do with a bigger screen. For starters, think of existing apps. How about a larger Pianist or Guitarist? Sketchbook Mobile, actually the size of a sketchbook. Comics the size of real comics. Never having to buy a physical book again, and having your whole library searchable, in your hands. Interactive storybooks that actually look and feel like storybooks.

5. The software and interface looks great. Nobody else has nailed it to date and I don’t see anyone else coming close soon. Apple makes sexy gear that everyone can use and few other companies seem to be able to do either.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. I’d love to see videoconferencing on this and I think Apple could have made it a killer app. Maybe v2. In the meantime, this is still the perfect machine for my mother-in-law.

Two people who do get it: Stephen Fry and Fahim Ahad on Mactalk.

Oh finally, the name. Yeah, recalls feminine hygiene products. Well, Nintendo named their last console after urine. Worked out pretty well for them.

F-Key Options

Some odd Mac shortcuts you might not know. These all work if you’ve given the media keys (volume etc.) priority.

Option-Brightness (F1/F2) opens System Preferences > Displays.
Option-Expose or Dashboard (F3/F4) opens System Preferences > Exposé & Spaces.
Option-Volume (F9/10/11) opens System Preferences > Sound.

And one very few people will use:

Option-Eject opens the second optical drive on a Mac Pro.

The Pioneer Blu-ray 12x burner I bought is working out, though I do run a script to keep it from falling asleep. The script is:

on idle
do shell script "drutil info"
end idle

And it runs as an application (important).

But hey, it lets me burn Blu-ray discs ($4 each in lots of ten from here) through the Finder or through Final Cut at 10x. No coasters yet but I haven’t pushed it.

F-Keys Quickly

The function keys on the Mac are very useful in a few apps (Flash’s F5-8 and Motion’s F1-3 come to mind) but the rest of the time it’s probably more useful to have the media keys (volume, brightness etc.) up front. Yes, you can hold “fn” to get the other option, but that’s tedious. So is switching the priority in System Preferences > Keyboard all the time.

So, get a script to do it for you and use FastScripts to assign a shortcut key to it (F13, just above “fn”, is recommended). The only problem is that the posted script works on Leopard, but not Snow Leopard. So… here’s the modified script for 10.6:

tell application "System Preferences"
set current pane to pane "com.apple.preference.keyboard"
end tell

tell application "System Events"
-- If we don't have UI Elements enabled, then nothing is really going to work.
if UI elements enabled then
tell application process "System Preferences"
get properties

click radio button "Keyboard" of tab group 1 of window "Keyboard"
click checkbox "Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys" of tab group 1 of window "Keyboard"
end tell
tell application "System Preferences" to quit
-- GUI scripting not enabled. Display an alert
tell application "System Preferences"
set current pane to pane "com.apple.preference.universalaccess"
display dialog "UI element scripting is not enabled. Please activate "Enable access for assistive devices""
end tell
end if
end tell

Convenient. Now you can use volume easily most of the time, but switch to the function keys for editing or animation.

How To Research

As an ex-university teacher, a little advice for new university students writing essays.

You have to reference your sources. Wikipedia is great, but it isn’t acceptable as a reference. It’s also what a vast number of your colleagues just read. Easy way out: read a Wikipedia article for background, then skip to its reference section at the end. Read those articles and reference them if they’re useful. Read something else too. For the moment, anything printed on a dead tree carries more weight (figurative and literal) than work on the web.

A Recipe

To even out the posts on Hazel and on technology, I thought I’d post a recipe. I do most of the cooking at the moment, and nearly always make something that’s quick — not much time between getting home and Hazel’s bedtime. So:

Creamy Bacon Gnocchi. Serves 3ish.

Put a kettle of water on to boil for gnocchi later.
Put a large wok-style saucepan on medium-high heat. Add olive oil.
Cut about 6 short-cut rashers of bacon into small squares and add to the pan. Give them a minute or two.
Cut a large handful of green beans into short pieces.
Shake the bacon up and add the beans on the top.
Cut a zucchini into small pieces.
Shake the pan again and add the zucchini.
Chop up a large tomato into pieces and throw that in the pan too.
Add a teaspoon of pesto to the pan (whatever’s in the fridge). Shake it all up.
Add a drizzle of cream if you have it, shake it up, then turn the pan down.
Put the freshly boiled water into a pan on high and get it back up to the boil.
In your fresh pan, cook a packet of baby gnocchi (Golden Pasta brand are good; they’ll be done as soon as the pan comes back to the boil).
Shake the other pan up one more time. Add fresh basil if you have some.
Drain the gnocchi when done, add to wide bowls. Spoon the topping over it.
Add freshly grated parmesan and enjoy with red wine.

(Original recipe. Share and enjoy.)

Why Junk Mail Matters

If you keep up with Apple you’ll doubtless be watching very closely for the new iPad/Slate/whatever tablet-style computer-thing to be released next Thursday morning, 4am Brisbane time. You might even be wondering what it will be good for? If you have a laptop and an iPhone, why would you need anything else? Well, a few reasons.

Living without a letterbox, we don’t get junk mail. That’s made me realise the power of a piece of print: it hangs around. Simply because it’s there, it gets read at breakfast, dinner, whenever. We still get the RACQ monthly magazine and it hangs about too. As we aren’t fans of the local newspaper, we simply don’t get one.

A tablet computer which actively presented news to me would be left around the house — in a way a laptop isn’t — and would actually get read. Reading a lot on the iPhone can be a pain, simply because of the size of the screen. However, I have read books on it, and I read The Guardian a lot more now that I have their app. I can choose to see more of what I want to read and skip the ads. As with the iPhone itself, it’s all about making the experience better, easier to use. Yes, I could read the website for free, but I’ll pay (once!) for the ability to easily find Charlie Brooker’s latest rants and see my news on the front page.

So, hanging around the house. Surfing, reading and watching videos from bed or sofa. Sure. But the thing that would really make a difference? Imagine what the best iPhone apps could offer if they had much more screen space. Think about your current apps (games for starters) and I think you’ll find a few things you’d love even more if they were bigger.

There are already screen-sharing/remote control apps which let you see your local Macs on your phone — much more useful showing the full screen. A holiday computer with a Lonely Planet app that gives you an interactive version of a guidebook, with maps in English that locate you — but guidebook-sized. A 5MP still/HD video camera with a 10″ viewfinder? Hell yeah. A video-chatting machine that’s much lighter and easier to use than the current solutions? Yes please. Some truly cool stuff from the multi-touch interface is a given.

People like apps because Apple made them accessible and easy to buy. Applications on a Mac or a PC are still a scary concept for most people — if it didn’t come pre-installed, it doesn’t exist. Computers scare people. iPhones don’t. The tablet probably won’t either.

Hazel Loves iPhones

Hazelwatch: while being driven, by Nana, to a party on the weekend. (Hazel likes to watch Meg and Mog cartoons on the iPhone; she’s only allowed on the way home.)

“Can I watch Meg and Mog on the iPhone Nana?”
“I don’t have an iPhone Hazel. I’ve got an ordinary phone, but it doesn’t have Meg and Mog on it.”
“Oh. You’d better go to the shop and buy an iPhone right now!”

She’s her father’s daughter.

Movies, 2000-2009

Inspired by The Onion AV Club’s lists of the last decade, I thought I’d record my favourite films of the last ten years. I’m sure I’ll miss some, but that’s the nature of the beast. They’re not the best, necessarily, but the ones I remember fondly and will watch again. In no particular order but with Pixar first:

Up (wonderful, a 3D marvel)
Wall-E (genius on many levels)
Ratatouille (just brilliant, happy making cinema)
Children of Men (in which Clive Owen is good)
Memento (twistedly good)
The Lord of The Rings (yes, all 3, extended editions)
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (oddness goes mainstream)
Amélie (joy)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes! You Rock!)
The Life Aquatic (Wes!)
Sunshine (a modern day Silent Running — track that down if you’ve never heard of it)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen in Europe!)
Wonder Boys (so many great elements)
Sideways (for re-inventing American Indie films)
Michael Clayton (George Clooney and Tilda Swinton in fine form)
Burn After Reading (The Coens can’t fail)
Lost In Translation (so slight, but the memories are happy)
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (unusual, beautiful)
Stranger Than Fiction (surprisingly enjoyable)
The Barbarian Invasions (a superb film about death after life)

and the worst I had the misfortune to see:
King Arthur (in which Clive Owen is not good and the direction is staggeringly bad)
Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (so bad we turned it off; the highlight is in the extras where the director is proud of the largest set ever made that houses two full-size galleons in one shot, and then the effects guy casually mentions that they mostly painted the second boat out)
Transformers 2 (abysmal, awful, horrible)