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September 19, 2010

iPod Games

Even the original iPod came with games, but the iPod Touch has none. I don't care too much about games, but Solitaire is okay when you're bored (the original Solitaire for the iPod using the click wheel was HORRIBLE). And Euchre is kind of fun. But the biggest selling game app on iTunes is Angry Birds, which I had never even heard of. I downloaded the free intro version and it is pretty funny. You use a slingshot to hurl different kinds of birds at structures that house green pigs until the green pigs are all gone. It's kind of like Lemmings in that different birds do different things, and maybe reminds me a little of Fantastic Contraptions except it is less about building and more about destroying. The graphics and sounds are really cute. I played it all weekend and got 3 stars (the best score) on all but one of the 10 games. What is great about this game is that it is the most downloaded, highest grossing, and it only costs 99 cents. So I figured I should pay for the full version.

I also downloaded Euchre Lite which is free because it has ads. I thought the computer was doing a decent job, but my computer partner and I won 10 games of the first 11. The free version makes everyone play screw the dealer whereas the one on my Palm I would force myself to pick a suit on my deal, but I didn't set it up so the computer had to (it was on the honor system). But the Palm really did some dumb things, so that just helped level the playing field. There are some pay versions of Euchre at the app store that are supposed to be hard to beat, but part of that seems to be because they cheat and give the human a weak partner and miserable cards. I had a Backgammon game like that on the Palm where if you ever left a piece by itself exposed, the computer would always roll whatever it took to send that one back to the bar. That takes a lot of fun out of the game.

September 15, 2010

Memos on iPod

One of the great features of the Palm from the very beginning was keeping memos. Anything you need to remember you can just write down and then look up them alphabetized by the first line. Not only that, but you can categorize the memos so I would have personal memos, memos for stuff to remember about computers, stuff to remember about work, etc. People sometimes refer to the Palm as my "brain" but most of what I am remembering in my brain is just these little snippets of text I had stored in there.

Now when the iPod came out, it had a Notes feature which was very similar. I even wrote a piece of software that would take the archive of my notes from the Palm and turn it in to individual text files that could be stored directly on the iPod hard drive. By putting the files in folders, it was just like having categories. Nice. No software, you just put the text files on the iPod and the iPod would recognize them. I never really needed that feature though because I always carried my Palm and the iPod had no way of editing or adding memos (or notes; in the end even Palm started calling them notes).

So you may know I got a new iPod Touch this week. And by default a Notes application (or "app") is included. However, you never have access to the hard drive of the iPod Touch. And the notes app doesn't let you categorize notes. And then notes are in a magic marker font that is cute, but means that the notes are much longer because of the large font. You can synchronize the notes with Microsoft Outlook's notes, but Google did away with notes in favor of Google Docs (which can be spreadsheets, pdf's, word processing documents, etc.) and I tried to import notes from Yahoo like I did with my contacts (also unable to be categorized) but nothing came over.

So I started looking for third-party app for the notes. There were a few free apps, but I wanted a way to back up the notes to my hard drive or to Yahoo or whatever. And I also needed a way to import the 450 notes I have on my Palm into the iPod. It would be nice if it would sync up like the Palm did so that I could write a note on my computer (which is way, way, way easier than typing in notes on the iPod) and it would be updated on the iPod.

The problem is there isn't any real synchronization on the iPod except with iTunes and iTunes doesn't support the notes the way I want (maybe I could write a iPod note in iTunes, get it into the iPod's default notes app and then copy the text to a note in the new app). None of the free apps for notes did categories and would let me import and export all of my notes.

But I did find a $2 app called Memo Book that did all of these things and seemed to be tailored to people migrating from Palm devices. I hate paying $2 for something that I think should be included, but at least $2 isn't very much.

It is pretty neat how the imports and exports are done. Since the iPod has wi-fi web surfing built in, all the hardware was there for the iPod to also act as a web server. So the app beams a web site on my wi-fi network that my computer can pull up. And on that web page is a list of files that can be downloaded from the app and a way to drop off files from my hard drive. It's as easy as downloading or uploading a file on a website. I had no idea an iPod could that. It was pretty cool.

So the idea is that I export my memos to a file of comma-separated values that contains all of my notes and then upload that via the app's web page to my iPod. I have always used tab-separated values because a lot of my notes already have commas. So I wondered if I would have to remove all the commas first. I looked up CSV on Wikipedia and it seems they already thought of this. If you had a simple database of produce, then comma-separated values might look like this:

tomato, vegetable, red
lemon, fruit, yellow
apple, fruit, red

Each line item is the value of a field, and each line is a record. But what the CSV format does is puts long fields in quotation marks so it knows where the beginning and ending is and ignores the commas between there. But some of my notes have quotation marks too. These are converted to two quotation marks so they can be treated correctly. Anyway, it worked for the most part except that when I finally got the notes onto the iPod (the Sea Monkey browser didn't work that well; I wound up using Internet Explorer instead), they were in the wrong order. So I tried again and now I just had two of each note in the wrong order. So I had to uninstall the program (there's no way to select all the notes and delete them and there is also no way to sort them alphabetically). Most of them were alphabetical, but some of the ones I use the most were down at the end and out of order. I changed the Palm export to export all selected notes in the order they were in on the handheld and it seems to have worked. It took a while and I uninstalled the app about four times before I got it right. It works, so I'm pretty happy.

Next up is finding a good database program . . .

September 12, 2010


Today I looked for apps to replace my favorite applications on the Palm. I found a free HP48 calculator emulator that should work pretty well called m48 (it actually uses the same operating system ROM which HP released to the public several years ago, so it is even programmable though I don't think there is any way to load programs I have already written except by keying them in a character at a time).

Also I had already bought Dataviz Documents To Go that I have used for years on my Palm when they released an iPod version last year. I updated it to the latest version yesterday and they soon announced an even newer version that isn't available yet. Hopefully that will be free too, but it may be the last version since the people that make the Blackberry just bought Dataviz and may not want to write iOS software.

I'm still looking for a good database program similar to SmartList which Dataviz doesn't even list on its website anymore. Apple just released a version of Filemaker for iOS, but it is $30. They also have a $5 database program called Bento, but I don't think it will do what I want. So I'm looking at another former Palm app called HanDBase, though it is supposedly buggy and won't let you export or import entries unless you get the Deluxe version for another $25 (the app itself is $10). TapForms is only $7 and will at least let me import the data from my SmartList databases.

I also would like an offline browser. I have been using SunriseXP and Plucker on the Palm to store my blog, movie reviews, New York Times, and other web pages on my Palm so I can read them even if I don't have wifi (which is most of the time). I'd really like something like that that can download a page and everything that page links to, preferably automatically. RSS newsreaders seem to only get a summary of an article, not the whole thing. Instapaper gets all of the text of a web page, but doesn't follow the links. Offline Pages does the same thing, except it also gets images, and has a "Pro" version that will get pages automatically as well as pages they link to (actually not sure about that). Unfortunately, it is only for the iPad. (Note: Later on, they made a version for iPhone/iPod, but I wound up using Browse Later which works fine)

Another neat thing I heard about was that you could download all of Wikipedia to an iPod. That would be fantastic. There seem to be three apps that do that: Encyclopedia, Wikipedia Offline, and AllOfWiki Offline. But each seems to use a processed version of the free Wikipedia dump and you have to pay each time you want an updated version of Wikipedia from them. The download is at least 2-5 GB and includes only the text of the articles, no pictures, references, discussion, or user profiles. Search is supposed to be pretty bad and requires you to enter the exact name of the article (no forwarding and no guesses; Ultra seems to have better search). Ultra is $6 (now $8) and the other two are $10 each.

And of course I need a dictionary, but I think I found one of those too called WordWeb which is free, but they have a pay version that has audio pronunciations.

September 10, 2010

Time for a New iPod

On September 1 Apple announced their new lineup of iPods. After waiting for many years, I figured this would be the year for me to get an iPod Touch to replace my Palm TX and iPod Nano. Unfortunately, on the day of the announcement I was driving around southern Utah and couldn't get internet reception and the hotel in Bryce Canyon National Park didn't even have television. So that night I texted Jeb "No wifi or tv need new ipod info" realizing it was pretty late in Atlanta. But I got a text back right away: "What? Did you get my email?" Knowing he was awake, I just called him and told him I had no internet. He asked "Didn't you go to work?" He had forgotten I was in the desert, even though he had just lent me his hat for the trip a few days earlier. He said the Touch was basically an iPhone 4 without the phone, which is what I was hoping for. So it had front and back cameras and the high resolution screen. Then after we stopped talking he kept sending me more details: prices, battery life, facetime video calls, and iTunes 10's new Ping service.

So I figured once I was back in civilization I would probably get one and maybe it could be on the way to me before I got home. After Steve Jobs reality distortion field faded, people realized that the Touch isn't quite the same as an iPhone: the rear camera doesn't have nearly the resolution of the iPhone, there is half as much processor memory (256MB instead of 512MB), and there still isn't GPS. Still it was worth getting so I had to decide between the 32GB version or the 64GB version and decided 32GB just wasn't going to be enough since I have almost 30GB of music, leaving too little room for video and apps.

So on Friday, back in Salt Lake, I ordered a 64GB Touch, but they said it wouldn't ship for a week, even though Apple usually has iPods ready to ship the day of the announcement (I think this was for everyone, but I also got mine engraved which takes an extra day; the new iPods were in Apple stores earlier this week though). So today it is a week and I got a notice this morning that it had shipped from Kunshan, a whole different place than Shenzen where my Nanos were built.

September 5, 2010


Today I went to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. They had one building where they had different "villain" creatures from movies and listed which movies they had starred in. So they had piranha, tarantulas (actually a bird-eating spider, which does not typically eat birds despite its name), and bats. But the bats weren't in a cage, they were hanging from a tree inside the building. These bats were pretty big, but they were fruit bats, so they don't suck blood or anything. The ones on the outside of the clump stay awake and watch for trouble while the ones in the middle snooze. In this picture it looks like they are all asleep, but they were actually moving around and opening their mouths some while we watched.


September 4, 2010

Zion National Park

I just got back from Zion National Park. We drove there Thursday from Bryce Canyon and came through the East entrance, a winding road with a mile-long tunnel (though it also has 4 "galleries" which are like windows into the canyon, but we weren't allowed to stop). That road is under construction so they have it down to one lane traffic in several places, including the tunnel. Therefore we were escorted through. It is impressive, but since a lot of the road was torn up, it was also pretty rough.


We went to the visitor's center first and it seemed to be chaos, with a lot more people than at Bryce, and a lot higher temperature. The main road is closed to public car traffic, so you have to take a shuttle bus that comes every six minutes. The poor road and everything else made a bad first impression. But we got on the shuttle and went to the museum, looking at exhibits about the park and a 20-minute film. Basically Zion is a canyon with huge nearly vertical sandstone cliffs on each side. These are impressive with giant rough blocks having fallen out of the walls and different colors and layers as you work your way up. It is not as big as the Grand Canyon, but it is narrower, with more vertical faces and more greenery.

We decided to take a shuttle up the canyon just to see everything and wound up taking a walk at the Temple of Sinawava where the surrounding cliffs form a circle around some pillars in the center. From there you can take a nice walk upstream on a paved path until the river comes out of the narrows, though we didn't make it that far.


We stopped by the lodge and gift ship before heading out of the park. We returned the next morning around 8:30 AM to try the Angel's Landing Trail. This trail is mostly uphill and then ends up on top of a thin cliff with 1,000 feet drop-offs on each side. It is crazy and it makes me woozy looking so far down it was like we were in an airplane. Susan continued most of the last half-mile but didn't make it all the way to the landing itself. She did get some nice pictures.


Here's a picture of the top of the ridge out to Angel's Landing. The landing is the highest point, so I don't think you can see it here:


Here's a fantastic picture of the dropoff with a bus down on the road. The cliff on the inside of the road curve is like a skyscraper and we're way, way above that. There is no rail; this is just a picture Susan took at the edge of a 1000-foot cliff:


September 2, 2010

Bryce Canyon

The day after I got to Salt Lake City we drove about 4 hours down to Bryce Canyon National Park. This park is famous for its "hoodoos" which are spires of eroded rock sitting in rows, most famously in the "amphitheater" area. We stayed near the old lodge in the park (inside the park they have the lodge, cabins (single or duplex), and two "motels," so the motel was all they had left by the time I made reservations and we were probably lucky to get that because the town outside the park is pretty junky) which was just a short walk from the amphitheater.


It was late afternoon by the time we got there so we went to the visitor's center to get oriented, then checked in at the lodge. We walked over to the amphitheater area and walked along the rim between Sunrise and Sunset Points. The hoodoos have a lot of different formations as they slowly erode, forming narrow ridges, then sometimes windows or arches along those spines, and then individual spires along those spines. There is a harder layer of rock on top that protects the softer rock below and as the harder rock cracks, the rock below starts to disappear, making everything look like drip castles you make at the beach only with different color layers (and bigger).


Part of what drives the erosion is the freeze/thaw cycle as water finds its way into a crack. Then it freezes during the cold night, expanding and forcing the crack open more. During the day the ice melts and seeps further down into the crack where it will freeze again and start the cycle over. They said that at Bryce they get 200 freeze/thaw cycles per year. Even though it was pretty hot elsewhere, it got down to 40 degrees at night when we were there.crevasse.jpg

The next morning we hiked down into the canyon (despite the name, it is not actually a canyon since there isn't another side wall; instead it is actually a plateau) which gives a better appreciation for the size of the hoodoos. We walked down in an area called Wall Street because it is like going in between tall skyscrapers. At the bottom there is a narrow passageway which then opens up into the bottom of the plateau.


After that hike it was time to head to Zion, but we drove through the viewing points first, including one with a natural bridge (though they said technically it is an arch).