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My Recommendations for Cydia Tweaks on the iPad

March 11th, 2013 2 comments

Apple’s walled-garden approach puts an inordinate number of limitations on what you can and cannot do with a non-jailbroken device. It’s supposed to be all about security and functionality: get apps from anywhere you want, and you’ll soon get clobbered by malware; ignore Apple’s limitations, and your machine will slow down or crash.

However, many of Apple’s limitations are not really about making things better for the user, but rather about forcing a specific aesthetic on the user. As if Steve Jobs decided what would look best, and in order to keep users from modding their Apple devices to look they way they preferred, they locked these features down.

In other words, it’s less about helping you than it is about forcing your to maintain an appearance that Apple wants you to present when carrying their device. This, to me, is as bad as any license agreement which tries to extend control beyond the point of sale: it’s your goddamned device, you can do whatever the hell you want with it.

Jailbreaks open the doors to these modifications, allowing you control over things that you may not need but really want. Apple, predictably, continues to shut down jailbreak efforts, patching cracks in the garden wall as the jailbreaks lead users out. Many users are pissed off by this, wanting Apple to let them have the freedom they desire. It is a certainty that Apple will disregard these wishes, if for no other reason that it threatens Apple’s absolute lock on the marketplace. (Hell, I’m surprised Apple lets you upload your own books to read in iBooks, and hasn’t shut down the option to rip your own music from CDs.)

I think Apple is being dumb about this. They should defeat the whole jailbreak thing by allowing users, who agree to a very specific license agreement (e.g., you get no support from Apple if you go beyond this point), to access packages that will modify their systems. They could still collect their 30% cut from sales of such packages, they could still monitor them for malware, and they could let the users have the fun they want. Sure, Apple would still block some things (e.g., apps that break legal requirements like sound volume levels), but most things that are blocked now would be accessible.

For the time being—until the next update, that is—we still have a jailbreak, and that means a bit less organization in terms of knowing what’s best to get once you’ve jailbroken your device. That task is left mostly to web sites; beyond that, the user must trust Cydia’s recommendations, or else scan the massive lists of items in the repositories—web sites which host the jailbreak apps, tweaks, themes, and so forth.

Most Cydia “best” lists tend to be about the iPhone and not the iPad. They also tend to assume things, like that you love the Notifications Center, or that you don’t mind doing four swipes instead of just one.

Here is a list of tweaks which I think are good; you may or may not agree. I am putting up thirteen tweaks because that’s how many I find useful—none of this padding-the-list-to-come-to-a-round-number crap.


Activator (free)
Activator allows you to assign gestures to nearly everything you can imagine, in various contexts. Want a 4-fingered pinch to take a screenshot? Or a 3-fingered tap to open your Maps app? Use taps, swipes, pinches, spreads, buttons, and device-shaking to open apps, change settings, and control music.

Barrel ($2.99)
Bored of your icons simply sliding left and right when you swipe to a new set of icons? Barrel provides 20 cool animations for when you switch between icon screens, from 3-D cubes and zooms to various intricate pattern swirls and dances. Apple missed the boat in not making this a standard feature—really, it’s got a definite cool factor working for it.

EUUnlimited (free)
Did you ever have trouble getting your iOS device to be loud enough? I used to be frustrated by being unable to hear music or movies on the train, plane, or in other places with a fair amount of background noise, even though I was using headphones at full volume. Turns out there’s a reason: the EU prohibits devices from playing sounds beyond a certain volume. This tweak turns off that limitation.

Gridlock ($4.99)
I am not a fan of the normal way Apple has icons arrange themselves—from left to right, top to bottom. Gridlock makes it possible to put icons anywhere on the screen (within the confined of a grid), ignoring that ordering. Arrange your icons however you like, in a T-shape, around the periphery of the screen, all crowded in the center, wherever.

Iconoclasm ($3.00)
This tweak also breaks you out of Apple’s monotonous icon drudgery, except this time it’s about how icons are spaced. Apple lets you have twenty icons per screen, no more. Why? Because they say so, dammit! Who knows, maybe people with stubby fingers make too many errors if the icons are closer together. Most people, however, have no problem dealing with and 8 x 6 screen with 48 icons on it—or even more bunched even closer together.

Infinidock ($1.99)
Why no more than six icons in the dock? And why can’t the dock scroll? Infinidock fixes that oversight, allowing you to cram as many as ten icons into the visible dock—and then extends that by allowing you to scroll the dock back and forth so as to accommodate more. Yes, I know, scrolling kind of works against the purpose of the dock (to have certain icons always visible and accessible), but so long as you don’t go overboard, you can have all the apps you want more readily accessible than scrolling four screens to the right.

Mark Read ($1.99)
Apple failed to allow for multiple or all emails to be marked read in one action. Problem solved.

MultiIcon Mover (free)
A really stupid design decision by Apple was to make it so you have to drag individual icons across multiple screens, in what often feels like an endurance trial to see if you can keep your finger on the screen whilst trying to manipulate screen scrolling. MultiIcon Mover is what Apple obviously should have done: tap any number of icons on one screen, scroll to another screen, and hit the Home button. Presto: all selected icons move at once.

NoCamSound (free)
Sorry, but I hate that snapshot sound. Yes, I know pervs will use this to take inappropriate photos. I prefer not being treated like some sex offender while taking innocent photos in public. This replaces the shutter sound with a sound file of nothing.

Quickshoot (free)
You know how sometimes you tap your camera app and it takes ten seconds to open, making you completely miss the shot you wanted to take? Yeah, I hate that too. Quickshoot allows you to just double-tap the Camera app icon and it’ll take a photo without opening the app’s interface. I know, again, a tool for pervs. This one also has legitimate uses though.

SBSettings (free)
SBSettings gives you control over a number of system processes. With a simply-called control palette, you can control brightness, toggle Bluetooth, Wifi, Data, and Location services, power off or reboot/respring the device, quit any open apps and free up memory. Plus, it allows you to customize what appears in the Status Bar, including IP Addresses and date & time options. Considered a must-have on almost tweak-list.

Springtomize 2 ($2.99)
Another must-have. Cydia has truckloads of themes, but if you would like to make many of the customizations some themes offer without all the extra baggage, Springtomize is a good way to do it. You can change animation speeds, app-to-app animation direction, and adjust screen colors; you can change the number of icons in the docks and turn on or off various dock graphic elements, like the shadow or tray; change the lockscreen; change icon properties such as jittering, badges, spacing, and sizing, as well as hiding things you don’t want (like the Newsstand); change how folders work; change how the App Switcher works; change what appears in the status bar; hide paging dots or remove limits on how many pages you can have; change icon label fonts and icon opacity; and change how the Notification Center works. Some of these could potentially replace other tweaks (like Iconoclasm or InfiniDock), or could be used in concert with them. In short, it does a lot.

Swipebright (free)
For some reason, I could not find a way in Activator to directly change brightness with a single gesture. Usually you have to double-click the Home button to activate the App Switcher, then swipe left to get music, sound, and brightness controls, swipe to change the brightness, and then dismiss the App Switcher. I use my iPad at night a lot, and need a way to quickly change the brightness; this adds that feature to Activator.


With all of these tweaks for $18, I am able to do a lot more that I could before. Some are purely aesthetic (but let’s face it, the iPad is an aesthetic device), a lot are quite functional. The true test is, how much do you miss these things when you lose them? The answer for me: a lot. I will keep using 6.1.2 until a new jailbreak comes out (and dammit, of course 6.1.3 is when Apple updates Japanese maps.)

There are some other tweaks I like, but many are iPhone only, like Unfold, which provides a really cool way to open the lockscreen. There’s an App Switcher mod called Auxo ($1.99) which is usually lauded, but it’s for the iPhone only—not to mention, the screenshots it uses instead of icons are usually worthless, I prefer just the icons better. There’s a fantastic camera app called CameraTweak for just a dollar, but it’s iPhone only as well. NES solutions allow you to play classic arcade games like Donkey Kong.

A lot of people rave about BiteSMS (free). I have no idea why. My current SMS is fine; BiteSMS was just pissing me off. iFile is nice if you have a need for it, but I don’t. I tried another free app called f.lux, but it was too jarring and made Swipebright not work.

If you know of any other good iPad tweaks, let me know!

Categories: iPad Tags:

The New iPad

March 18th, 2012 3 comments

Twopads

It’s been a day and a half since I got the “New iPad” (which, hereafter, I will refer to as the “iPad 3,” as “New iPad” is subject to confusion). Unfortunately, that does not mean I have had much chance to play with it–I got it at 9:30 a.m. and immediately had to leave for work, which ran from about 11:00 to 8:00 yesterday. Today was our anniversary, so much of it was dinner and a show (much better, but not iPad-intensive, naturally!), much of the rest reserved for caring for Ponta and doing some work.

Nevertheless, I have already used it enough to get a few basic impressions.

First of all, at least some of my comparison is based on two years of daily use of the first iPad, pictured above; I have barely even held an iPad 2 for more than a few seconds, so the design was fairly novel for me. The difference was immediately apparent in details like the bezel being far less visible. The iPad 3 comes across as noticeably thinner and lighter, something which an iPad 2 user will likely not feel at all. As you can see as well, the colors on the iPad 3 are more saturated; what does not show as well in the photo above is the fact that the iPad3 also comes across as having a brighter screen.

But what about the iPad 3 itself? How does it perform, especially in light of expectations? Well, let’s start with the negatives.

Maybe it’s just the first run before a full recharge, or perhaps it’s only the machine I got (or my prior iPad was exceptional), but my impression is that the battery life sucks. I was expecting a stronger battery, not a weaker one. I recharged it last night, and have only used it for a short time this morning, and already the battery’s down to 90%. My old iPad 1, even with all-day use, never got as low a battery reading as the iPad 3 got yesterday. Keep in mind that I am using the WiFi version, so there is no 3G or LTE to suck the battery dry. Nor was I using any graphics-intense software–just normal, everyday apps. I took a handful of photos and maybe ten seconds of video, and did not watch any video at all.

So, what the hell? I’ll keep my eye on this as I use the iPad daily, but if this keeps up, then maybe I should consider taking it to the Genius Bar at Ginza and asking for a replacement. I know people who get iPhones with the same issue–my iPhone lasts more than all day on a single charge, but others report that their batteries drain within a few hours of off-and-on use.

Next, Siri is a notable omission in the new tablet–for what reason I can only guess at. Maybe Apple’s servers are overloading, or they want to sell more iPhones, but there should be no reason that they leave Siri off of the iPad. Again, what the hell. They do have dictation, but I had to dig through preferences to figure out how to activate it–it is not on by default. It also needs a live WiFi connection to work, and that’s not always available. For example, I wanted to try it out in class yesterday to get a transcript of what I taught, but I was not able to get WiFi in the classroom.

When I was able to try it out, it was fairly good when I intended to make a transcription; I didn’t get a chance to test it out under natural conditions. However, I did try to use it to transcribe a video clip–I held it up to the speakers on my Mac as an interview played.

Did it work? No, not really. At least, not at a practical level. Even not counting the lack of punctuation (you can speak it to make it appear, though), the transcription was pretty bad, requiring a ton of correction. Not as bad as transcribing by hand, but not a whole bunch better, either.

Another problem: the transcription only works in 40-second chunks, and does not reveal in real time. So, when you are transcribing, you see nothing but a blank screen, and then after two-thirds of a minute, it snaps off, waits for a few seconds, then shows what it got.

40 seconds in not nearly enough for most transcription needs; to do anything meaningful, you’ll be needing to constantly be stopping as you get interrupted by the end of the time limit (they could at least include a countdown!), then having to restart when you activate it, and then go back and edit out the sentences which were cut off. Certainly, this will be useless for transcribing stuff like class lectures. Currently, I can’t think of any use for it considering the time limit.

Finally, that hot corner everyone has been talking about? It’s for real, all right. Yesterday, in fact, it felt like a good half of the unit was warming up. It’ll be great in winter, but I can imagine getting sweaty palms in summer.


Okay, that’s the bad news. Now for the good stuff.

The hardware is definitely far better… than the iPad 1′s. Again, I have no iPad 2 experience to reference against. However, I have one game (Civ Rev) that gets stuttery at times on my old pad, and almost goes too fast on the new one. The speed bump–and maybe the 1 GB of RAM (compared to the iPad 1′s 256 MB)–is immediately noticeable to be. I am even considering dropping six bucks or so on one of those HD-graphics games, just to see what it looks like…

The screen is indeed really, really good. I don’t necessarily agree with the reviews saying it is “awesome” or “eye-popping,” but it is definitely noticeable, and is noticeably improved. Here are some photographs of the two screens, taken with my digital SLR, showing the difference as well as I can represent it.

First, here’s an icon–and immediately you can see a huge difference:

I1-Ic-Cu-01 I3-Ic-Cu-01

Text in iBooks is remarkably more clear; for fun, I even added the same text from the same book in its paper form:

I1-Tx-Cu-02

I3-Tx-Cu-02

Bk-Tx-Cu-02

The iPad 3 gives even a paper book a run for its money in terms of clarity and readability; only those who, for whatever reason, cannot tolerate a backlit screen will not find the iPad 3 a reasonable replacement. Here is a closer look:

I1-Tx-Cu-01

I3-Tx-Cu-01A

Bk-Tx-Cu-01

Note that in the extreme closeup of the iPad 3, the pixels begin to become visible–but this is only due to the camera’s detail. Unless you have excellent vision, chances are you’ll see no more than the barest hint of pixels, and that only by bringing it right up to your face and straining a bit.

Here are comparisons with video, in this case, using the trailer from “Brave”

I1-Vi-Cu-02

I3-Vi-Cu-02

I1-Vi-Cu-01

I3-Vi-Cu-01

To be fair, the iPad 1 images use the 720p trailer, while the iPad 3 images use the 1080p version–but this is fair, since the iPad 1 cannot even load 1080p video (I tried), and 720p on the iPad 3 is less meaningful considering the available resolution.

One downside to the new screen: old stuff looks worse than before. While text in old apps displays sharply, and some graphics get smoothed out, some apps show marked pixellation when used full-screen. As someone noted, it’s kind of like watching old standard-definition TV shows on a new HD TV–the old stuff, which looked nice and sharp on an older TV, now looks really bad, as if it’s all out of focus. The effect is not quite as pronounced on the iPad, but it’s certainly something that stands out.

Other than that, everything about the new tablet feels excellent. Now that I have enough RAM to run it, iCloud works for me and is running on all my devices, finally. I don’t have to shut down and start up the device under iOS 5 like I did my old pad. As I mentioned above, the iPad 3′s screen comes across as brighter as well, with more saturated colors and slightly better contrasts. Compared to the iPad 1, the iPad 3′s look and feel are much superior–though the beveled edges take a bit of getting used to–it feels a bit like it’ll slip out of my fingers sometimes.

Overall, I am quite pleased, but hope that the down points will be helped over time. Maybe my battery’s performance will improve, maybe Apple will improve the dictation feature or even enable Siri, and possibly Apple will update the iOS to cool down that corner a tad. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I look forward to using the iPad 3 in earnest.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, iPad Tags:

Got It

March 16th, 2012 Comments off

By the way, it came… I just haven’t had much time to do much with it yet (it came just before I left for work). Still, I was able to get the basics set up.

Quick impressions: battery seems to be going faster than I expected, maybe a bit faster than the old one… The thing does in fact warm up around the edge… The dictation feature was not turned on when I got it and I had to figure that out….

But: the screen is indeed excellent (though I can easily see myself getting so used to it that I’ll take it for granted), and the camera seems to work very well (though it is kind of ‘zoomed in,’ especially in video mode). And most of all, it’s snappy as hell. Very nice after limping along on the 2-year-old iPad 1.

Gotta go to class!

Categories: iPad Tags:

iPad on the Way

March 15th, 2012 3 comments

I ordered one of the new iPads (32 GB WiFi model) early in the morning Japan time after it was announced, and from March 10 I got tracking info from Yamato Takkyubin that the package had been registered in China (and left China on the 13th). After a few days of no movement, suddenly this showed up:

Screen Shot 2012-03-15 At 1.52.35 Pm

The “ADSC” is apparently the “Apple Delivery Support Center” in Shinagawa (not far from here in Tokyo), which the tracking page claims the unit left at the same time it arrived. Not that it’s out for delivery–Apple undoubtedly has strict orders that nothing is delivered until 8 am tomorrow morning (late afternoon on the 15th, U.S. time), but at least I know that it’s in town and ready to go. So it’s probably headed for a local distribution node to stand by for delivery tomorrow.

I will be slightly peeved if it doesn’t get to me before I leave for work; usually I get woken up by deliveries I don’t care about one way or the other. To have this one be late would be a tad annoying.

Categories: iPad Tags:

iPad 3 and LTE

February 14th, 2012 1 comment

Rumors are now solidifying, identifying a March 7 date for an Apple event announcing the iPad 3. The release is expected within a week after the event, in mid-March. The new iPad will almost certainly have a high-density 2048 x 1536 screen, a stronger battery, and likely a quad-core A6 CPU.

What about the long-rumored LTE, however? The most recent stories claim thew other features are expected, but that LTE is only “possible.”

That made me wonder, if there is LTE in the new iPad, how will Softbank be able to react to it? They don’t have LTE yet, do they? So I looked it up.

Softbank actually “soft-launched” (whatever that means) an LTE network last November, covering only parts of major cities. It plans to cover more than 90% of Japan by the end of 2012, with eventual 97% coverage of the country. They have been installing a very large number of microcells, as many as 150 base stations per square kilometer, in the hopes of handling high capacity traffic. The service will reportedly provide speeds of up to 110 Mbps download and 15 Mbps upload.

However, it’s not publicly available yet. So, when will it be commercially launched?

At the end of February. A week before the iPad 3 is announced, just a few weeks before it is launched.

Hmmmmm…

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012, iPad, Mac News Tags:

The iPad, Two Years Later

January 21st, 2012 2 comments

When the iPad was first announced, it was panned. People called it an iPod Touch on steroids, made fun of the name in its similarities to feminine hygiene products, bemoaned all the things they expected but the device lacked, and dismissed it because it brought nothing new to the game of mobile computing.

I disagreed. And, as it turns out, I was pretty much spot-on. I noted that the paucity of features would be made up for over time, with software and hardware upgrades–and so it happened. I noted that the low capacity was OK because it’s a networking device–I was right, and even more so, we now have the iCloud. I noted that the device’s simplicity was an asset, that the user experience would be superior, and that the UI was a key to its success. That its success would lie not in bells & whistles, but in the potential of the software that could be written for it.

Then, a week later, I made another prediction: that textbooks would be the killer app for the iPad. Well, the iPad took off without textbooks, but now it may take off even faster with them.

Nice to see that I was not only right about the iPad when so many others were writing its obituary, but I was also right about why. In short, it was not just fanboyism, but recognizing what would and would not work.

Categories: iPad Tags:

Looking Before You Leap

January 3rd, 2012 3 comments

My iPad (first generation) has been more or less disabled by Apple. How? Because I upgraded to iOS 5, thinking that because I had not heard any horror stories about the upgrade on various sites, it must be OK.

Huge mistake. If you have a first-generation iPad, DO NOT upgrade to iOS 5.

Apple should be ashamed of itself for allowing iOS 5 to be approved for the iPad 1, considering how they will easily disallow upgrades on devices whenever they feel the user experience is not supportable with new software. How they felt that the iPad 1 could work under iOS 5 is completely beyond me.

It’s mostly a matter of RAM memory. Using iOS 4, I could count on about half of the iPad’s 256 MB of RAM to be free upon a restart. This would often dwindle, especially when I used memory-intensive apps like Civilization Revolution. I noted that if free memory got down to below 10 MB, any app I used would be likely to crash.

After “upgrading” to iOS 5, primarily because I wanted to use iCloud with all my other devices (Apple’s syncing with all prior software sucked big-time), I started installing stuff–and began to notice that apps would start crashing all the time. I checked the free memory and found it to be below 10 MB. I tried restarting, and it jumped to about 30 MB–only to fall to 15 MB in a few seconds, and fluctuated below 10 MB regularly.

I tried a new restore–same problem. I restored again, this time as a new iPad–same problem. I checked out various web sites and Apple discussions, and people claimed it was just the restore that would fix it. But then I stumbled across the correct answer, finding the culprit which was causing most of the grief.

iCloud. Yep, the app which was pretty much the only reason I upgraded was the one which essentially wiped out the iPad’s memory and made the device completely unusable. This was not something wrong with my iPad or mys settings. This was Apple’s recommended basic setup.

15 MB of free RAM after a basic startup is ludicrous. What the fuck was Apple thinking?

So I restored once again and this time didn’t activate iCloud, and sure enough, memory cleared up–somewhat. Now I’ll have as much as 60 MB of memory free upon startup–only half of what there was before–but now the damned thing at least will not crash all the time. I suspect that I won’t be able to use many of the apps I took for granted before, and as such will have a half-lobotomized iPad.

I intend to complain, loudly, to Apple and insist they do more than tell me that I’m screwed. Not that it will get me anywhere, but customers have to give companies grief if they pull crap like this.

Categories: iPad, Mac News Tags:

iPads in the Classroom

February 6th, 2011 5 comments

Georgia is considering buying an iPad for every middle school student in the state. The deal with Apple would include setting up WiFi in all the schools, loading the textbooks onto the devices, and training the teachers. A test program at a private school worked well, and so they’re looking into it statewide now.

This really is what we need to be seeing. Tablets have been a long time in coming, and they really do have enormous potential. Many people I have spoken to in education are excited at the prospects. An iPad app, Inkling, is getting off to a slow start but now offers two textbooks we use at my college branch here in Tokyo. Whenever I demo the app to students, they are blown away. All of my textbooks on that little thing? I can highlight, take notes, share notes wirelessly, listen to audio and watch video? I can buy only the chapters I need? They love the idea.

The problem: publishers. Of course. They have a sweet deal with college textbooks, charging a steep premium and limiting used-book resale with constant edition updates, most of which are really not needed. Ironically, tablets could increase their profits even more–no more paper printing or shipping, no more unsold textbooks to deal with, no textbook resale at all, and they can probably sell with less taken out by the sellers than bookstores currently take. The problem is, they’re afraid to try something new, afraid that piracy will prevail and they’ll lose their sweet deal.

News flash, idiots: textbooks are already being pirated. And a lot of piracy takes place because publishers don’t make a good deal available as an alternative. If they don’t move to set the trend before the pirates (inevitably) will do, they’re going to pay the price. Hell, already in Japan, publishers are seeing businesses pop up–like this one, called BookScan–which scan books for people for as little as ¥100 ($1.20) a pop, maybe double that for an OCR’ed version.

I am pretty sure that if they opened the floodgates or flipped the switch or whatever, and got downloadable textbooks going full-speed, that a lot of students in my school would get an iPad right fast and start using that. hell, the ability to search text alone would be a big plus.

But no, instead we’re going to see the same crap we saw from the music industry, and now the movie and TV people. Like I said: idiots.

Categories: Education, iPad Tags:

iPad Magazine Sales Mysteriously Drop

December 30th, 2010 1 comment

Reports are out that despite a couple of magazines having a strong debut on the iPad, sales are dropping rather quickly.

It’s a complete mystery as to why, except for the fact that it’s not. Sorry for the sarcasm, but it’s been crystal clear from the start why they’ve failed. And while some of the blame lays at the feet of the publishers, Apple is chiefly responsible. It sold the iPad as a media-industry savior, but did not give publishers a workable means of selling magazines.

Magazines are sold in two ways: newsstand and subscriptions. Newsstands work because people walk by, see an interesting cover, maybe leaf through it, and decide to buy it. You can’t do that on the iPad. Instead, you have to go to the app store and seek out either magazines or a specific magazine by name–it’s a multi-step process, in a location most people don’t even think of as a source of reading material. It’s like selling magazines at a hardware shop, and you have to ask for the magazines at the counter. And you can’t even see issue covers, unless you first download the app and check each one out. Most people just don’t buy magazines that way, certainly not at newsstand prices.

The other way is subscriptions, and Apple hasn’t been good in that respect, either. They demand their 30% off the top, and won’t allow magazine publishers to sell subscriptions elsewhere. Fair enough, I suppose–but Apple doesn’t even allow for subscriptions in the App Store–you just have to buy each copy as it comes out as an in-app purchase. Apple’s reluctance to let the publishers have direct contact with and information about the consumers is also reportedly a problem.

Apple needs to make a special effort for the magazines. Either create a magazine store or include mags in the iBook Store, for starters. Give publishers a special rate for subscription sells–they mark down, so why not Apple? And make subscriptions possible, of course.

Not that Apple is wholly at fault on this, of course. Some publishers are still freaking out about piracy (a huge issue with textbook publishers, gee I wonder why). These people have simply got to get over themselves. Their paper issues are just as pirate-able, but unless they feature porn, they simply aren’t a target for the pirate crowd.

Most notably, however, publishers have just been too damned greedy. They have way overpriced their issues. Almost all of them started out at $5 a pop, and many are still at that price point, despite subscription prices for the paper copies going for far less. People magazine, for example, started at $4 per issue but the most recent issue jumped to $5; you can get it for $2 per issue by mail. TIME is still $5 on the iPad, but less than 30 cents by mail–almost 18 times more expensive electronically. Most magazines fall within that disparity range, and most consumers will see that and will blanch. Yes, I know, newsstand prices–but that simply won’t work in the long run, and $5 for magazine content simply isn’t reasonable, when $12 can get you a novel. Many publishers simply saw the chance to fleece people who plunked down fair amounts for a sexy media device.

Yes, publishers have to create special versions for the iPad, but the lack of printing & distribution costs should make up for that and way more, just as with book publishers. Maybe it’s not as easy to cram ads into the electronic version, but I doubt that fully explains the prices either.

A lot of people undoubtedly went for initial issues for the novelty of it, and people who still buy are probably those who would pay the full newsstand price otherwise. But as it stands, this just will not work. Not unless the publishers start providing better selections at prices closer to subscription rates, e-mags simply will not sell. So Apple, get your act together and make a better magazine rack as well as subscriptions that don’t bleed the publishers, and publishers, get your heads out of your arses and give your readers more reasons than flashy presentation to buy your wares.

Categories: iPad Tags:

App Store Gripe

December 19th, 2010 Comments off

I’m getting pretty tired of something which is becoming a standard practice on the iOS App Store: reeling you in with “free” apps that aren’t free. It used to be that you could tell the difference because if it was branded “Lite” or even “Free,” that would almost always mean that it was a demo version of some sort. You could count on the label letting you know what you were getting.

However, now that we have in-app purchases (a good thing, in general), we see more and more apps which are released crippled or limited in some fashion, and you have to make in-app purchases to get them to work. This would also not be a problem–if the apps were sufficiently labeled.

What we get instead is developers trying to pass off their apps as free when they are anything but. The app is listed as free and advertised as fully functional–until you get to the 16th paragraph of the app’s description where the developer makes an oblique reference to the app not being fully functional or completely free.

Obviously, the developers want to mislead you into downloading a “free” app, hoping you won’t notice the buried text indicating that it’s not. They want you to be invested enough in terms of time spent and anticipation and desire of the functionality that when you do come across the limitations that require you to pay, you’ll figure, “What the hell” and tap the button to pay.

This irritates the hell out of me. I prefer to be told up-front: if I see a possibility that I would use the app, I will download the demo and try it out, and pay for the full version if I am satisfied–I have done so many times. But if they back-end the payment, hiding behind obscurity, it pisses me off and I will abandon the app on principle alone, not paying for something I might otherwise have bought were it presented straight up.

Now, you have to start developing a new sense as to what constitutes such a play at tricking you and wasting your time. Any app that seems like it should cost money probably does. A “free” app with a long description in the App Store usually has such a long description to hide the statement that it’s not free–let that be a red flag. The admission of guilt is never at the top, nor at the very end–it is usually about 60% to 80% of the way down–I just skip to that part and usually find the offending statement after a few moments. But it still ticks me off, like any attempt to defraud me. It insults me and makes me not want to download not only that app, but any app that developer makes.

Categories: iPad, iPhone Tags:

Black Friday at the App Store

November 28th, 2010 Comments off

If you own an iPhone or an iPad, it’s still not too late: a lot of developers are discounting their apps for Black Friday. I’ve downloaded at least a dozen and a half apps, many of them just to try because they were free, and found a few good ones–and paid no more than a dollar apiece, even though some are usually $5 ~ $8. It looks like most of these discounts will be good for the weekend, but of course there are no guarantees.

IcondictOne very nice one: a Dictionary app, “English BigDict.” Apple neglected to include the Oxford Dictionary in the iPhone and iPad, and most dictionaries are online, requiring an Internet connection, and are kind of slow. This one–weighing in at 306 MB–resides on your iOS device. The interface is very nice, and it seems to have an excellent selection of words–220,000 “keywords and phrases,” whatever that means.

It is now going for free–for how long they don’t say.

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Iconsketch-1Another good $8 app, this one discounted to $1, is Sketchbook Pro. I have only played around with it for a short time, but it seems like a very nice, powerful drawing app, the best I’ve tried out so far.

This one allows you to select from a wide variety of brushes, with a very nice color picker. The interface is not that hard to learn. More importantly, you can work with layers, allowing you to sketch at one layer and then draw in a background on a lower layer. The main drawback seems to be that it does not have the ability to smudge–at least not that I can find so far. If it really is missing, it’s a huge oversight… but as I mentioned, I am still figuring the app out. There are probably user tutorials on YouTube, and I should check them out when I have time.

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IconsdkOne I got for the hell of it is SDK Tutorials HD, previously $5 (though often vacillating between $2 and $5), now $1. It seems to give a very quick rundown of how to make an iPhone app using the Apple Xcode app. I did not expect it to be comprehensive, and it seems to expect some prior understanding, but should be a good help when using a more extensive training book on Objective C and iPhone apps.

One big minus point to this app: the font size is way too small and hard to read. Legible enough for someone who doesn’t mind squinting a bit, but this developer definitely needs to make it easier to read in the next version.

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Iconnfl Iconmnfl

For the iPhone–and for the iPad if you don’t mind a bit of the jaggies–two NFL game apps, NFL 2011 and Madden NFL 11. Both usually go for $5, both are on sale now for $1 each. NFL 2011 often drops to $3, but Madden’s just as often goes up to $8. When checking out reviews, each had its defenders and detractors. Each game seems to have a different interface and quality of graphics. I figured, what the hell, they’re just a buck apiece, and picked them both up. Again, I haven’t had enough time to really get used to them, but they look like they could be fun. Both have up-to-date rosters and, I am assuming, play out according to the actual players’ and teams’ real-life strengths and weaknesses.

From NFL 2011:

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From the Madden App:

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So, keep checking the app store until Sunday or Monday, there should be some more deals waiting. For a powerful and very useful site to search for and keep up-to-date on apps, try AppShopper.com, which not only allows you to search and sort by a lot of very helpful categories (alas, not by specific prices or price ranges except for free or paid), but also gives you a history of each app’s pricing. They also have a free app for that.

Categories: iPad, iPhone Tags:

Harry Potter and the Ring of Reduction: Now in epub Format for the iPad

August 3rd, 2010 1 comment

Ror-Dl

Sorry for the delay! Here’s book two of my brother’s original series branching off from The Order of the Phoenix, and the sequel to The Veil of Mystery. This novel, The Ring of Reduction, follows Harry in his last year at Hogwarts as a student–and his second as a teacher. With Dumbledore now communing with Harry from the “other side” and helping to fight Voldemort, the long struggle comes to a climax.

Background: as you may or may not know, my brother has written several Harry Potter fan-fiction novels under the pen name “Semprini” (Monty Python in-joke), which are widely considered amongst the best published on the web. The first three novels pick up after the end of Rowlings’ The Order of the Phoenix, and go off on an alternate timeline for the sixth and seventh years (with an additional novel set five years later). Although they have a different tone than Rowling’s books, they are a close match in terms of the inventiveness and “look and feel” of the originals, so much so that I have sometimes become mixed up about what characters and events are from Rowlings’ books and which are from the alternate novels.

Personally, I like my brother’s versions a good deal better than the real deals–they seem much more reasonable in terms of how people act and how events turn out, and are much more satisfying in general. Even better, they recognize and discuss a variety of moral, ethical, and spiritual issues in a manner that is entertaining, making the stories more interesting for adults and more valuable for younger audiences. The greatest flaw with the book was the tendency to draw out some discussions about personal feelings and such, but this is a subsequent edit, in which the author did much to improve the read.

This first novel was titled The Veil of Mystery, and was finished in late 2004. I first published text and pdf versions on this blog in mid-2005, and since then, there have been about 10,000 downloads of the novel from this site. Keeping in mind that that this is not the primary source of publication–that would be fan fiction sites–that number is quite appreciable.

Even more impressive is the fact that the versions published so far are not the easiest to read–one must either print out a large stack of text, or read the book in a less-than-optimal form on a computer. Now that the iPad has come along, it seems the perfect chance to publish the novels in a form which is both attractive and easy to read.

To read the novel using iBooks on the iPad, just download the ebook (click on the cover art below or the download button at top), decompress the ZIP archive (zipped so as to preserve the book title), and add it to iTunes (drag and drop it into your “Books” section of the Library, or in the Library itself if there is no “Books” section yet). When you connect and sync your iPad, iTunes should upload the book automatically; if not, you can select it under the “Books” tab of your iPad’s content area, then Apply/Sync. The book will appear on your bookshelf, as pictured above.

If you have not read the previous novel, then to get the proper context, read or watch Rowling’s The Order of the Phoenix (book / DVD / BluRay) first, then read The Veil of Mystery. This novel picks up where that one leaves off.

Enjoy!

Ror-Cover

click image to download

Categories: Books, iPad Tags:

Blockbuster vs. Bluster

July 30th, 2010 2 comments

Steve Ballmer on the iPad:

They’ve sold certainly more than I’d like them to sell, let me just be clear about that. We have got to make things happen. Just like we had to make things happen on netbooks, we’ve got to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates, and we’re in the process of doing that as we speak.

Well, Steve, we’re waiting. And so far, we’re unimpressed. Despite having a multi-year head start on cell phone operating systems, Microsoft was caught off-guard and only now–three years after the iPhone first came out, three and a half since it was introduced–is their own product, Windows Phone 7, on the verge of coming out… kind of, maybe before the end of the year. And remember what Ballmer said about the iPhone back before its release:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

Oh, Steve. What a card.

What happened was that Microsoft was arrogant and miscalculated. It had a crappy OS, and mistook a lack of competition for excellence. It didn’t get cell phones, didn’t see the same potential Apple saw. And as a result, they were left sitting in the iPhone’s dust, wondering what the hell went wrong. They had to completely abandon what they had and start over from scratch, putting them years behind.

So, what does this say about tablets? Ballmer introduced a few running Windows before the iPad was introduced; nobody was interested. Probably one of the biggest problems is that despite appearances, Microsoft doesn’t have an OS for tablets yet. All it has is its OS designed for desktops and laptops, which is particularly unsuited for tablets. Ballmer said at the beginning of the year that tablets “should take advantage of the touch and mobility capabilities of Windows 7.” But Windows was designed for a single-point user interface, tablets run best with multi-touch. Microsoft is still stuck in the past in this regard. Back at the beginning of the year, Bill Gates said:

You know, I’m a big believer in touch and digital reading, but I still think that some mixture of voice, the pen and a real keyboard — in other words a netbook – will be the mainstream on that. So, it’s not like I sit there and feel the same way I did with iPhone where I say, “Oh my God, Microsoft didn’t aim high enough.” It’s a nice reader, but there’s nothing on the iPad I look at and say, “Oh, I wish Microsoft had done it.”

This shows one of the reasons why Microsoft was again caught off guard: it didn’t get tablets, just like it didn’t get the cell phone. Remember, Microsoft eschewed finger-based interfaces with cell phones right up until the iPhone became a runaway hit, thinking that people preferred using a stylus. Unbelievably, Gates still thinks people prefer a stylus over multitouch, and after seeing the iPad, still thought that netbooks would win out. With the iPad likely having sold around five million units so far, and aiming for 10 million by the end of the year, tablets–with the iPad predominating–are predicted to outsell netbooks within just a few years.

Ballmer now says that Microsoft will “make things happen” on tablets like they did on netbooks, but that’s not so likely. The way Microsoft “made things happen” on netbooks was to pressure manufacturers to replace Linux with Windows XP, until netbooks got powerful enough to run Windows 7. That’s not “making things happen,” that’s just throwing your weight around and (as usual) not really innovating anything. And on tablets, it’s not like Apple will be pressured to put Windows 7 on the iPad, not to mention that Microsoft will be up against Android tablets as well–and Google won’t be as easy a push-over as Linux was.

As usual, Microsoft got it wrong on its own, and is playing catch-up here. What else is new?

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, iPad Tags:

Cheap iPad Dock

June 27th, 2010 1 comment

I was in Akihabara with a school club group checking out computer parts stores when I came across an interesting find: an iPad dock/stand. Apple sells this for ¥2,980 ($29), but this one–a cheap knock-off made in China–cost just ¥1,280, or about thirteen bucks. I figured, what the heck. I’d like one but I don’t want to spend thirty bucks on what is essentially a hunk of molded plastic with a small iPod cable embedded in it. You can buy iPod cables for a buck at the 100 yen shops, so you know the device itself must cost chump change to make; even $13 probably includes a healthy profit margin.

So I figured I’d get one, hoping that it wasn’t going to simply refuse to function when I got home. I chose a white one because the black ones have this horrendous “MADE IN CHINA” sticker on the front, god knows why. So I paid my money, took it home, and it works. Not with just any cable, mind you–some of the 100 yen cables don’t work so well in terms of connecting to the computer, even directly–but one of my cheapo cables, in addition to the original Apple cable, worked fine. There’s even an audio-out port on the back in case you want to add speakers.

Ips01

Ipds02

Ipds01

So this will work nicely as a charging stand/picture frame holder. Sometimes you can find some really nice stuff in the small shops in Akihabara, for good prices. You just have to look around to see if you’re really getting the best price. In this case, the shop I found it at was the only one selling this–I found one other store selling an iPad stand, but they were charging $30 for it. This one will do nicely. Even my iPhone 3G will dock on it, though just barely. (Makes a good stand for taking timed photos, though.) Wonder how he iPhone 4 will do. I dunno–I’m still waiting on it, damn SoftBank.

Iphs01

Categories: iPad, iPhone Tags:

It’s Never Gonna Sell…

June 23rd, 2010 3 comments

Apple just sold 3 million iPads in 80 days. It is estimated that, even on the lowest-priced model, Apple gets a bit over $200 in profit. If that’s the case, Apple just made over $600 million in less than three months on one product.

Not too shabby.

In the next few days, the iPhone 4 is coming out, and Apple makes maybe $300 a pop for each one of those. And Apple seems to estimate that for the first quarter, it will move an average of 3 million of those per month. Reviews are now out, and all rave, calling the iPhone 4 the best smartphone on the market (MossbergPogueUSATodayEngadget).

Hey, here’s a blast from the past:

“The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant. [...] Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.”

–Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg, Jan 13, 2007

He wasn’t the only one. Ah, it brings back the memories from the days when people were predicting Apple’s imminent demise every other week, or so it seemed. Here’s a prognostication from May 2003–this after the iPod was a success and the Mac market share was on the rise:

“Is Apple doomed to fail? If I had to bet on it I would say they absolutely are. No one at Apple has the guts to correct the mistakes of Steve Jobs. Apple is a toy for Steve, and a way to massage his ego. Right now no PC company makes hardware that looks as good as Macs, and no OS looks as good as OS X. That can, and will, change very soon. The PC world has gotten the message, and they’ll soon drive the final nail into the Apple coffin.”

–John Manzione, MacNet, May 08, 2003

Gee whiz, kinda sounds like what they’re saying about iPads now, doesn’t it? It’s cool, but just wait, all those other manufacturers are coming out with much better stuff real soon!

And from just a few days later:

“Many close observers of the legendary Silicon Valley company believe shareholders shouldn’t be selling the stock. They should be buying it, they say, in order to press the 48-year-old Jobs to split Apple into two separate companies built around its hardware and software lines of businesses, or get new management that will. ‘Given what their valuation currently is, I think this is something they will eventually have to do,’ argues Rob Enderle, a research fellow at Giga, a research unit of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Forrester Research Inc. ‘They have to dig themselves out of the going-out-of-business cycle they are currently in.’”

–Joshua Jaffe , TheDeal.com, May 12, 2003

Needless to say, Apple didn’t split into pieces.

On May 9, 2003, Apple’s stock price was at $9, up from about $7 a week before. But let’s say you bought it at $9 at that time, and invested $10,000. Taking into account the stock split in 2005, you’d have over $600,000 in Apple stock right now.

Me, I waited way too long. I started thinking about it back in ’03, but chickened out, and have seen what I got only triple in value. Coulda shoulda woulda.

Categories: iPad, iPhone Tags:

iPad Fever in Japan

June 10th, 2010 2 comments

I am consistently surprised by the level of interest and often sheer enthusiasm for the iPad in Japan. The iPhone received some good attention after it was released, but with the iPad, things are almost at the crazy level. I have people coming up to me all the time asking to see it, and showing an even more positive reaction to it than people did with the iPhone when it was first released here. Just yesterday, a teacher asked me to come in and demo it for his class, which all eagerly gathered around and made a lot of noise every time something new was done. In short, they loved it. Studentshiba-1I am getting similar reactions on trains, with people making comments to each other, often stealing glances and sometimes asking questions. I thought the interest would subside soon after the release of the iPad in Japan, but if anything, it has only gotten stronger.

On another Apple mobile device front, my students are getting the iPhone in droves. Initially, they wanted it but stayed away since SoftBank’s plans didn’t allow for cheap calling of their friends, who mostly had non-SoftBank contracts. But then SoftBank initiated a special student plan, and now the students are buying them in droves. Sadly, many bought in with a recently discount plan–not knowing that iPhone 4 was just a few weeks away. I told a few of my students who just got iPhones about this until I noted I was just disappointing them, then I shut up.

Still, SoftBank and Apple mobile products are just getting stronger and stronger in Japan, building on both brand recognition and new devices and features.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPad, iPhone Tags:

Apple Store, iPad Screen Protector Film Drama

June 2nd, 2010 3 comments

Today, I took some time to do some computer shopping and maintenance downtown. The worst part of it was taking my MacBook Pro to the Apple store in Ginza, where it conveniently died. It had lost its optical drive a few days before–the issue I had come in for–and was having difficulty restarting. When I tried to restart it in the store, it just refused–wouldn’t work in target mode, after zapping the PRAM, after letting it rest for 20 minutes, nothing. And before turning it off, I had neglected to collect my most recent files on a USB flash. Argh. So it’ll be in for repairs for a week or so, and I’ll probably be lucky to get the files back.

While there, it was hard to miss the fact that the first floor was packed with people checking out the iPad. They have none in stock, and when I asked about reserving one (my brother may be interested), they pointed me to the online store, which has a long waiting period. Interestingly, this may help its popularity in Japan. People here think something is cooler if it is unobtainable or even hard to get. Krispy Kreme was a big hit when the lines were a mile long.

On the way to the store, I saw my first iPad used by someone else on a train–a westerner, as it turned out (he said he bought it in Japan). I also noticed that people pay attention to your iPad more in crowded trains; on the local trains on the Seibu line, the seats are half empty, and I never noticed anyone looking. Taking the subway during rush hour, to Ginza and then Akihabara, however, it was easy to note people sneaking looks. In fact, a couple of young ladies made quiet but greatly interested noises as I used the iPad to read an ebook, oohing and ahhing when I turned a page.


I went to Akihabara to complain about an iPad screen film I had bought the week before, when I was in Akihabara for something else. I had bought the screen film at the Labi (Yamada Denki) there as I had seen it on sale nowhere else. When I got home and opened it, the damned thing was blue. I called the shop chain, Labi, about getting a replacement, and they said they could not do that at any store but the original–meaning I’d have to go all the way back to Akihabara to exchange the thing, a proposition that would take an hour or two for me, and would cost maybe four bucks in train fares, to exchange a $15 product.

I tried to figure out where I was going wrong, but there seemed no solution–it was a blue sheet cut perfectly for the iPad, right down to the hole for the home button, stuck to a slightly larger clear sheet to protect the side to affix to the iPad. The instructions showed only those two sheets, the ones that I saw. No freakin’ way I would put something so blue on my iPad. I figured it had to be a packaging error.

I finally found time to go to Akihabara today, coming back from the Apple store, so I made the trek back to Labi. When I showed the film to the shop staff, the guy pointed out that the blue sheet was a secondary protective cover, with the actual film–exactly the same shape and size as the blue film–sandwiched invisibly between the clear plastic sheet and the blue film top. Very badly designed, incredibly badly written instructions. They were indistinguishable until you spent a while prying them apart.

What really ticked me off, though, was the shop staff’s attitude and demeanor. First, the guy who pointed out the blue protective sheet did so in a manner that all but shouted, “what, are you stupid, dumb ass?” I wanted to smack him, he was so condescending–I doubt one out of three people would have figured it out. Second, when he demonstrated that they were separate, he did so by separating the blue sheet from the film, which took him about 10 or 15 seconds, demonstrating how hard it was to separate them–and in the process touched the inside part of the film liberally with flaky-skinned hands. I grabbed it back from him before he could do more damage. Tis guy was the antithesis of the normal shop staff in these kinds of stores, who are usually very helpful and polite.

Not wanting to have to return to the store for a third time if I encountered more difficulty, I tried to apply the film right there. I spent a few minutes very carefully wiping down the iPad, and took extreme care in handing the film. But the product–made by “Elecom”–was very badly made, aside from the poor instructions. There was a crease near the bottom which had been covered by a tape, which all by itself would have ruined it–at first I thought maybe I could get it off later somehow. The film was slightly smaller than the actual screen, making it difficult to put on just right, and it attracted dust like a magnet–not unexpected for such films, but this one gave me headaches. One piece of dust had settled on the inside of the film near the center, making a big splotch when the film was affixed.

This was when I really did get stupid: I asked another clerk there for help. He told me to use my microfiber cloth to wipe it off. “Really?” I asked, and he said, yeah, that’ll do it. Like an idiot–partly because I could see no other way, partly because I figured he knew what he was talking about–I did what he said. And promptly saw an inch-wide splotch of dozens of dust particles now stuck where one had been before. The sheet was ruined. The ass then suggested I use a kleenex tissue, as if that wouldn’t leave any more dust and would solve my problems. As far as I could tell, the film was ruined there and then, doubly so from the crease that had been there from the start. When I said so, they guy just shrugged. No way I would even try to get a refund then–they would without any doubt have refused. I don’t know, maybe it could have been washed or something, but I didn’t see that or anything else working. Frustrated, I just tore the thing off and crumpled it up, telling the guy “thanks a lot” before leaving the place for good.

On the way back, I stopped by Bic and bought a cheaper film made by Buffalo, and took it home. It was clear, the right size, and easy to affix. Let me tell you, I am never going back to the Akihabara Labi, and am staying away from Elecom junk.

Alas, I may have to ditch the Buffalo product as well. While it covered the screen OK and seems to reduce the glare a bit, it is a horrible surface for fingerprints. People complain about how the iPad picks up fingerprints–let me tell you, the iPad’s oleophobic screen is getting a bad rap. The cover film picks up fingerprints like nobody’s business, smudges which are three times more visible than they were on the iPad screen, making me want to wipe it down every 30 seconds or so. Worse, the film is five times as hard to wipe down. Relative to this, the iPad’s own screen is far, far superior to this film, harder to smudge and a breeze to clear off. I don’t know if I just got a bad product again, but damn, this is disappointing. I had wanted to protect the screen, foreseeing either potential scratching or other damage, or possibly having the oleophobic coating wear off. The film I have on my iPhone is great. The stuff on the iPad sucks, big time.

So, not the best afternoon ever.

Categories: iPad Tags:

Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery: Now in epub Format for the iPad

May 30th, 2010 8 comments

Vom Dlb

As you may or may not know, my brother has written several Harry Potter fan-fiction novels under the pen name “Semprini” (Monty Python in-joke), which are widely considered amongst the best published on the web. The first three novels pick up after the end of Rowlings’ The Order of the Phoenix, and go off on an alternate timeline for the sixth and seventh years (with an additional novel set five years later). Although they have a different tone than Rowling’s books, they are a close match in terms of the inventiveness and “look and feel” of the originals, so much so that I have sometimes become mixed up about what characters and events are from Rowlings’ books and which are from the alternate novels.

Personally, I like my brother’s versions a good deal better than the real deals–they seem much more reasonable in terms of how people act and how events turn out, and are much more satisfying in general. Even better, they recognize and discuss a variety of moral, ethical, and spiritual issues in a manner that is entertaining, making the stories more interesting for adults and more valuable for younger audiences. The greatest flaw with the book was the tendency to draw out some discussions about personal feelings and such, but this is a subsequent edit, in which the author did much to improve the read.

This first novel is titled The Veil of Mystery, and was finished in late 2004. I first published text and pdf versions on this blog in mid-2005, and since then, there have been about 10,000 downloads of the novel from this site. Keeping in mind that that this is not the primary source of publication–that would be fan fiction sites–that number is quite appreciable.

Even more impressive is the fact that the versions published so far are not the easiest to read–one must either print out a large stack of text, or read the book in a less-than-optimal form on a computer. Now that the iPad has come along, it seems the perfect chance to publish the novel in a form which is both attractive and easy to read.

Vom Page

I spent the last week or so learning how epubs are put together; on the Mac, at least, Sigil seems to be the best for creating an ebook from scratch. I was able to create an epub version with a cover image, table of contents, and nice formatting (using xhtml, so not so much of a stretch for me). This allowed for nice font selections, making the text look more like a professional publication. The primary font is Baskerville; Zapfino and Cochin are used for chapter headings; representations of hand-written notes use Snell Roundhand (for adults) and Marker Felt (for children); newspaper articles are in Futura and Optima. iBooks does the rest in making the ebook look very nice indeed. The fonts were selected because they were the best available among the iPad’s offerings; if you use another ebook reading device, the appearance may suffer if the fonts aren’t there–but try it anyway, and let me know how it works.

Vom Ibooks

To read the novel using iBooks on the iPad, just download the ebook (click on the cover art below or the download button at top), decompress the archive (zipped so as to preserve the book title), and add it to iTunes (drag and drop it into your “Books” section of the Library, or in the Library itself if there is no “Books” section yet). When you connect your iPad, iTunes should upload the book automatically; if not, you can select it under the “Books” tab of your iPad’s content area, then Apply/Sync. The book will appear on your bookshelf, as pictured above.

This is just the first novel of the series; over the next few months, I hope to similarly translate the other four novels into epub format as well. Bookmark this page and/or keep an eye on this blog for additional downloads.

If you have not read this book before, then to get the proper context, read or watch Rowling’s The Order of the Phoenix (book / DVD / BluRay) first. This novel picks up where that one leaves off.

Enjoy!

Vom Cover

click image to download

Categories: Books, iPad Tags:

iPad Fever

May 28th, 2010 2 comments

There are long lines around Tokyo for the iPad. Very long lines.

Sachi told me that she got tired of so many iPad news stories on TV. My students seemed particularly interested in the iPad today, a few demanding a demo, and some stating a distinct desire to get one sometime soon.

So, so far, so good.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPad Tags:

Smudginess

May 28th, 2010 Comments off

The WSJ has what is to me a rather insipid article on iPad finger smudges:

The smudging has turned some of the giddiness of iPad ownership to disappointment. Matthew Rudnick, a hotel supervisor in San Mateo, Calif., looked forward to getting an iPad so much that he reserved one ahead of time. Now, however, “every time you touch it, it just leaves greasy smudges all over,” says the 26 year old. “It’s very disappointing because I’m showing it off to co-workers, to my friends and family, and the first thing they see is grease.”

It’s a touch-screen device with a glossy screen. What do you expect? Magic? Fingers have finger grease. Deal with it. But then the article gets absurd and starts catering to hypochondria:

Others worry about the device becoming a bacterial breeding ground. Stephen Hood stood in line outside an Apple store the first weekend the iPad went on sale, but by the time the 35-year-old resident of Menlo Park, Calif., got to try the display device, so many people had touched it that the screen was smeared by fingerprints and smudges.

“I couldn’t read the screen because the way the light was hitting it, all I could see were finger smears,” says the software developer. Mr. Hood later tweeted, “demoed an iPad at the Apple store. Loved it but from the amount of finger grease covering it I expect I’ve just contracted H1N1.”

OK, dude, I get that you’re kidding, but seriously, do you realize that the only difference between an iPad screen and every single computer keyboard you have ever touched is that you can see the finger grease on one and not so much on the other? I hope this guy never figures out what’s on escalator handrails or men’s room door handles. But maybe the guy is just exaggerating–seriously, I have seen my iPad screen pretty badly smudged, but never to a point where the smudges are visible when the screen is lit. Mostly I notice smudges when I turn it off.

But then the WSJ flies off into idiocy with an “expert” assessment of the germ threat:

Chuck Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona who is studying bacteria on touchscreens, says it’s possible for people to contract a disease from sharing a device like an iPad. Personal touchscreen devices aren’t as bad as the self-checkout screens in grocery stores, but he knows of rare cases where people contracted a serious skin disease called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, from sharing a cell phone with bacteria on it.

“The best friend your germ has ever had is your fingers,” says Mr. Gerba. MRSA makes skin red and swollen and can even cause fever and skin abscesses.

Oy. Do I even need to get into how stupid including that in this story is? If you can catch MRSA from an iPad, you can catch it from any door handle. The same finger grease is everywhere. If anything, the iPad is safer than keyboards or door handles because you will wipe off the iPad screen, whereas you will not wipe off keyboards or door handles you use.

But no, let’s all panic now. Or perhaps you can (a) avoid handing your iPad to other people (and don’t let them near your urine jar collection), and/or (b) stop being such a blazing drama queen. At least the article does mention the obvious:

Ms. Sobhany, the disc jockey, says she has become an expert at quickly wiping down one iPad while the other handles the music-playing. Her recommended technique is to breathe on the screen and wipe it with a microfiber cloth.

Bingo. Though breathing on it first is not necessary. A tiny, cheap piece of cloth in your pocket, three seconds of wiping off a few times a day. What a horrible fate. And maybe stop throwing your iPad into a mosh pit.

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