Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Aw, hell!

I never met Steve Jobs. And yet somehow he has been a major factor in my life.

I didn’t get on the Apple bandwagon until 1984 when the Mac debuted. Before that I used mainframes, then Commodore machines. the unlamented TRS-80, and the like. After the Mac, Steve’s vision dominated my interaction with computers. In my business life I worked with MS-DOS and later, with Windows, but I never liked the ungainly mundanities. Macs were poetry. Macs were magic. Macs were the way of the future.

As the years have passed, I think that initial assessment has proven true, over and over. True ease of use, the whole GUI and WYSIWYG approach, would, at the very least, have been drastically delayed but for Steve Jobs’ initial push. Xerox Parc may have been the birthplace and early proving grounds for these approaches to computer interfaces and usages, but it was Steve and the Apple Corps who pushed them out into an initially skeptical world and made believers of the Rest of Us.

During the Wilderness Years while he was away from Apple the company stumbled and very nearly died, but he brought it back and led it to new triumphs. So while there are at least seven Macs scattered around my house, there are also a couple of iPads and an iPhone, with iPods resting in honoured retirement here and there. I’m sure there will be more wonderful devices out of Apple, coming from the teams Steve nurtured, but the world is a little dimmer today than it was last week.

Dammit. Just … Dammit.

Another day, another app to try

OK, I lied.

While it’s certainly another day, it’s only another version of an app which failed previously – namely, the WordPress app. The last time I tried this out, it failed about as many times as it succeeded, and I eventually gave up on it. However, I didn’t delete it from the iPad, and yesterday the App Store let me know that there was an update available.

So far though, I have to say, not so good. In trying to post this item, I lost the edit about halfway through the setting up of the headers – specifically, when I tried to set the category, the entry screen reset to blanks, and I had to start over. I’ll forgive that, at least for now, but it doesn’t bode well for the continuing saga…

Manual update

It’s rather unfortunate, but since the iPad version of the WordPress app fails, I’ve had to update this post manually. There are some very strange quirks in the update process, related no doubt to the auto-completion which I have enabled. However, while this article reports the same troubles with WordPress as I have experienced, it also reports trouble with updates using Safari on the iPad — which I am not seeing at all. Strange -about the only weirdness I see with Safari is that in text entry for this blog I am unable to position the cursor at the first point on a line, and have to set it at the second character and then backspace to get to the position I really want. I find that to be only a minor irritant, but YMMMV.

WordPress updater FAIL

I have been updating the blog through the WordPress app on my iPad, but for some reason I am no longer able to connect through that app. I did manage to update my other blog location with it, so it’s not a total fail, but it’s a mystery to me why it works on one but not the other. Not a big deal, since I can still update using the web interface, but it’s still irritating (and as my wife will testify, lots of other things are irritating to me).

Tap tap — is this thing on?

Another try at posting from my iPad, though this time only from home. Posting from out in the wilds of Bramalea, specifically from my dentist’s office, was successful, but since then I’ve added another blog to my list (my formerly inert blog) and that seems to have confused the WordPress app no end.

In particular, going from local draft to draft to Published seems to be fraught with danger – I’ve had the entire text of a post disappear on me while transitioning from local draft -held on the iPad – to remote draft – held on the server, and thereafter the placement of the cursor while trying to enter text was very iffy. Ultimately I reset the app by reentering all the id’s and passwords for the two blogs. Very annoying.

Then again, this is a free app, so I suppose I’m getting what I paid for.

Having fun (is that even legal?)

Sitting here in a Tim Horton’s in the back end of nowhere, typing away, I realize that – first of all – I am enjoying myself. I’m not actually connected, yet I’m still able to make entries on my blog (be afraid!), continuing the evaluation of my iPad even while far away from my office. That is, forgive my geekiness, something off a rush.

Something I miss on the soft keyboard is cursor control. if I make a mistake I may not recognize it for some time, and it’s usually faster for me to move up a line or two rather than reposition the cursor manually by touch. Something else is the curse of soft keyboards – if I brush against the keys even briefly, I may find that I have inadvertently entered something inappropriate or just plain nonsensical. The auto completion and corrections are great, but I wish the system would recognize that an ‘i’ by itself is probably a a first person pronoun and should be capitalized. Oh, and I wish the spelling could be set to a Canadian variation – the US uses too many ‘z’s for my taste.

All that aside, using the iPad under these circumstances is painless and fun. And so….

WARNING: increased number of inane posts may follow.

Sent from my iPad…

This may be interesting. I’m posting this from my iPad using a (free) WordPress app. I expect to make some use of the app in the future at least for plain posts if it turns out to be easy to use. There have been some complaints (for a free app, which strikes me as somewhat churlish) already about the fact the app is not WYSIWYG entry, so there may be upgrades which will make this easier…. Right now, I’m just posting from home, but on the upcoming trip or from someplace like Starfest, this could be a very useful tool.

Speaking of useful tools, text entry is currently by way of the soft keyboard on the iPad. Doable, but awkward. I may wind up investing in a folding Bluetooth keyboard if this proves useful. It may be even more likely that I will buy one if the iWork suite works out being useful (but I can’t test paid apps yet. Sigh).

It’s heeere!

I’ve been absent for quite a while. It’s not that I’ve been especially busy, it’s much more like that I’ve been distracted, over the past several weeks, by thoughts of the Apple iPad and how I might use it. That’s right, I’ve been swallowed by the hype machine.

It was an unpleasant surprise a few days back when Apple announced that the local release of the iPad would be put back a month. I had been geared up for a release around April 24, but now I had to reset to the end of May. Nuh-uh. Wasn’t going to wait that long – I need something to take to the UK during the early part of that month.

The US and Canadian dollars are at par for the moment (which shows how the US has been tumbling), so it really isn’t a big deal to swing down to Buffalo and hit the Apple Store there. I went down on Thursday and picked up a shiny (really!) 64Gb iPad with WiFi but no 3G access. I don’t expect to use it a great deal away from the house (I don’t go much away from the house!), so on the rare occasions when I do, and need Internet access, I can look for a hotspot. I don’t expect much from local cell service providers, so I’ve decided not to buy the 3G model for now. I may revisit that decision later, once I’ve had a chance to use the ‘Pad for a while, particularly after my [planned] trip to the UK next month [assuming planes aren’t grounded by ash!].

I ran into a problem once I got back home. The Canadian iPad store isn’t active yet, so I couldn’t buy any apps and I couldn’t update the ones I had already (I was able to buy the GoodReader app a few days back for some reason, despite the fact the iPad store wasn’t ready). There was a workaround for free apps, though – I registered a different id using my daughter’s US address. That got me the iBook app, and let me load up the Epub format ebooks I have purchased already from Baen’s ebook store. My usual ebook reader, Stanza, doesn’t have an iPad version as yet (or at least, not that I could find), so the iBook app was a necessity. The iPad is a very comfortable reader, and I’m finding it much better to use than the iPod Touch I had been using, even if I can’t access the Baen store directly as I could under Stanza.

The iPad has been billed by many as a pure entertainment device, and so far it has been entertaining enough (book reader, web browser, music player, occasional video views), but I have also been using apps from my old iPod touch, and they work well enough. There are a number of iPad-specific apps available which I might buy, but since my credit card uses a Canadian address I can’t buy them from the US iPad store, and will have to wait for the Canadian store to open. Also, for updates to existing apps transferred from my iPod I am having a problem since I can’t login to the App Store to update anything purchased from the Canadian store. This is a pain, though it should be resolved by the end of May when I expect the Canadian store to open up.

Battery life has been excellent. I used the ‘pad all day yesterday, manually turning it off whenever I expected to be away from the machine or not paying attention for more than a brief time, and at the end of the day I still had 72% power. During the day I had read a couple of books (Much Fall of Blood and The Rolling Stones), so there were a few hours of use in that time. This is quite acceptable, and I expect to be able to eke out a weekend’s use if I am away from power for any length of time. I have a solar cell which might let me charge up enough to last out a longer observing trip, say to Starfest or Nirvana, though even there I usually have access to a power outlet for long enough to charge up.

I will probably have additional comments on the iPad over the next few weeks – right now I’m still nosing around trying to determine the usage limits I can expect.

iPad. Umm. Awful name… but I think I want one

From what I can see so far, I will want an iPad. I won’t be happy with the name – my Mac’s iPad? Ugh! But according to the spec I can use an accessory connector to import images from an SD card over USB, and I would hope in the future to be able to use a similar accessory to use a standard external USB hard drive.

If that hope is fulfilled, the iPad just might wind up replacing my MacBook, and either the iPod touch would go away or wind up as a supplementary device (i.e., go back to being mainly my music device). On the other hand, if it isn’t possible to use some form of external storage, I would be much less enthusiastic about the tablet, though I would still be able to maintain external data using software over the WiFi connection (the way I currently work with stanza, for example). I expect my desktop would remain, but even that might change if I can use a USB drive with the iPad.

It looks as though I can read books adequately using the existing ebook readers, which means I’ll have access to the Baen books which meet my criterion for ebooks (prior post). In addition, there are enough other apps which I already use that the iPad will be a useful device right away and will become even more useful later, particularly as developers extend and adapt their existing products and release new ones.

The price. OK, I’m not entirely happy with that. It’s fair for the feature set, but obviously lower is better, particularly in light of my retirement last year. Living on savings is difficult at best, and every new device will add to the problems (Have I mentioned before about how I’d like to see certain business leeches people taken out and shot for what they have done to the economy? No? Consider it said.).

The iPad won’t be available for a couple more months – and maybe in the meantime additional info will have cooled me down – but for now, I’m jumping up and down in anticipation.

Ebooks? So far, not interested.

I like to read. A lot. There’re probably around 5000 books accumulated over the years and scattered around the house, and it’s not unusual for me to be carrying a couple of books in a coat or jacket. I pull one out when I have to wait in a line, if I have to ride a bus, or if I’m stuck in a waiting room.

For several months now, I’ve been able to read books on my iPod. Great stuff.

Well, not really. If I want to read a new book on my iPod, I have to buy it. And that’s a problem.

Oh, it’s easy enough. There are lots of apps which connect to on-line bookstores which would be happy to supply me with books for a price. The price, the price…. is too high.

This is my reader (whether it’s on a pod, a tablet, a desktop, wherever). I’m supplying the place to store the content. There is no paper, no shelf, no bricks-and-mortar store. Distribution costs have to be minimal compared to the cost of printing the book on dead trees, burning up fossils to drag the book to a physical store, and paying clerks to handle the physical stock. So why do most ebooks cost almost the same as the hardcover version of the text, and in any case more than the paperback edition*? As long as that is true, where is my incentive to buy the ebook version?

I buy paperbacks and treat them well. It’s the only way to feed my habit – I can read the book, and come back to it a few years later. Offer me an ebook for less than the paperback price, in a format which I can read on a device I choose and can transfer to other devices — because in a couple of years I might have moved on to a different device — and I’ll buy that instead. Otherwise? Forget it.

*case in point – Blood Bound, by Patricia Briggs, published in paperback in 2007 [so, not a new bestseller] is $7.99 on, or $8.39 for the Kindle e-book. As it happens, I have it as a paperback, but if I’d missed it, I would have been quite happy to pay, say, $1.49, directly to Ms Briggs for an epub version. I would have been even happier to have bought it that way at that price in the first place, but that’s another matter.

But let’s tip the hat to Jim Baen and his policy of keeping ebook prices low, and sending the majority of the payment to the author (per Eric Flint, in The Best of Baen’s Universe #1. Jim Baen is gone now, but was a great role-model for other publisher’s – and I hope they will ultimately follow his example (and that of his successors).