Tuesday, January 25, 2011

iOS App of the Day: Find My iPhone

"Can you ring my phone?"  How many times have you had to tell your friends or family to do this?  Misplaced your phone?  Can't remember where you left it?  Was it stolen?

Since the iPhone 4 came out, there have been millions of units sold... and millions have been lost and/or stolen as well. (This is an unsubstantiated number of lost/stolen iPhones I made up for the purposes of dramatization for this entry only)

How do you begin to locate your iPhone 4?  Well, Apple has conveniently created an app called Find My iPhone to help you begin your search.

Install the app on your iOS device (This only works on the current generation of iOS devices: iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4, and iPad)

If you don't have a MobileMe account, the app will ask you to create one, you can use your iTunes Account info.  Signing up is free, as is the Find My iPhone service.  It is the only component of the MobileMe service that Apple provides for free.  For older iOS devices running 3.1.3, the paid MobileMe service is required.  I haven't tested it on my older iPod Touch so I can't confirm this personally.

If you lose or misplace your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, you can find it by logging into Find My iPhone on another iOS device.

A list of available devices registered under your account will show up.

Simply tap on the device you want to find, and you will be given a set of options of what to do:

-View on Map
-Lock the device
-Erase all data on the device
-Beep and send a message to the device

If you have a compatible iOS device, this is a pretty useful app!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hard Up: An SSD Hard Drive Upgrade

Patient: A 2003 IBM X31 1.4 GHz Thinkpad

Procedure: Transcend SSD upgrade

I've had my IBM X31 for a few years now.  It was one of the many ultraportables I've owned.  The first being the famous "Butterfly" Thinkpad (701C).  For something that's going on 6 years, it has fairly decent specs: 1.4 GHz CPU, 12.1" LCD, 3 lbs, ATi video card, Bluetooth, Wifi, PC card slot.  Nothing impressive by today's standards... but the fact that it can still hold up to entry level machines today after 6 years says a lot.

The only thing that was showing signs of aging was the tiny 40GB HDD.

So I decided to try and see if the new SSD (Solid State Drives) would extend it's useful life even further.

Procedure was simple enough, Thinkpads are fairly easy to upgrade due to their modular construction, access to internal components is easy.

1) Clone your original drive using back-up software if you have no intentions of doing a clean install.  I use Acronis True Image.

2) Get all your parts ready, screwdriver, SSD, USB CD-Drive, external HDD

3) SSDs are more sensitive to static discharge so don't forget your grounding band.  You can just touch a large metal object to drain your body's static electricity or wear a ground band on your wrist.  Or my preferred method: ESD footwear (Also useful in dry climates to eliminate static shock when you open car doors)

4) Swap out your original drive, then install the new SSD

5) Restore the back-up image to the new drive

6) Boot up

    Now, I only did a restore of my original IBM setup.  This includes all the original IBM software that came with my Thinkpad out of the factory.  You may do a clean install of Windows if you want as well.

    Noticeable improvements:
    • Startup-Shutdown times is under 30 seconds
    • Webpage loading is significantly faster
    • Battery Life extended by 40%
    Additional benefits:
    • Shock resistance.  SSDs do not have moving parts (like an iPad and the new Macbook Air) so you can use it on the move, and makes your system immune to extreme vibration.
    • Slight reduction in weight.  SSDs are far lighter than traditional spinning drives so you save a few grams.
    Now a few minuses:
    • SSDs offer significant speed increases in most areas, but create DECREASES is performance in others.  For those in A/V production, SSDs offer much slower read/write real-world performance than current performance drives.  This is due to the fact that SSDs have to erase data before writing new data...ALL THE TIME.  Even over empty sectors of the drive.
    • Current OSes aren't fully optimized for SSDs and some optimization settings can cause significant lag.  Swap files, temp files, and prefetching all cause really bad system lag.  These must be disabled when upgrading to an SSD.  Easiest way to do this is to run SSD Tweaker
    How big a deal are SSDs?  Well, right now, 50/50.  For everyday computer tasks like surfing, word processing, and e-mail it is a big deal.  For large files, you might still be better off with a traditional platter drive.

    **Hallo, ich lerne Deutsch und ich kann ein paar Fragen zu beantworten.
    Je parle un peu français aussi. Je peux répondre à des questions sur mes messages.**

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Memory Lane

    In case you were wondering what all this fuss is about SSD (Solid State Drives) is about, the basics of how your computer stores information is needed.

    A computer hard drive is where all your information, programs, pictures, music, software, and other things are stored.  Think of it like a warehouse.

    Up until recently, these are commonly spinning disks.  Much like a music record (vinyl).  With a controller arm (like the needle of a record player).  Just like a record player, a hard drive is sensitive to physical shock, bumps, jolts, drops, etc... specially when in use, like when you're playing a video, music, or using a program.

    If the hard drive is spinning and you hit, bump, or drop your computer, the controller arm may hit the spinning disk and damage data, and most likely the physical disk as well.  Like a needle scratching a record if hit during playback.

    Over the years, hard drive manufacturers have added special systems that can detect if the disk is falling and moves the controller arm away from the spinning disk to prevent any physical damage.  Think of it like an airbag or parachute for the hard drive.  But this is still a mechanical system, subject to physical damage and failure.

    Enter the SSD, or Solid State Drive.  These are memory chips that replace the spinning platter and moving parts of a traditional hard drive.  The technology of SSD is not new, but only recently has it been made affordable (well, that's relative) to the general public.

    Essentially, modern day computers are built around economic compromise.  You may notice that computer ads boast about several types of memory (Cache, RAM, HDD, VRAM, etc)  Some numbers are smaller (KB, MB) and others larger (GB, TB).  The reason for having so many types of memory is simply cost.

    If the whole computer ran on the best, and fastest type of memory available, computers would cost several thousands of US$ more than they do today.

    Each type of memory decreases in speed and cost... the slower the memory, the lower the price and more storage can be given to the consumer.  Current hard drives can hold 1000x more data than   So cost for current hard drives was 1/1000 of previous memory chips.  With the introduction of SSDs, that gap has been decreased to about 1/20.  Still way more expensive than traditional hard drives, but offer a significant speed increase in system performance.

    What computer manufacturers don't tell you is that usually, the reason you 'old' laptop feels slower than a model that is just a few months newer, is usually just a few upgrades that can be done to bring your aging laptop to a respectable speed once again.  It won't make up for newer technologies, but it will make laptops that are a few years old, usable again and practical to keep.

    My upcoming entry will be on upgrading and updating my trusty IBM Thinkpad X31 to as close to modern specs as possible.  This means 2 simple hardware upgrades: maximum RAM, and an SSD upgrade.  That's coming up tomorrow!

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Who Needs a Magic Trackpad????

    I'm not a big fan of trackpads.  I think they are a necessary evil for laptops (although for mobile devices, I still prefer IBM's TrackPoint) but they are my least preferred pointing device.  Recently, my Apple Magic Mouse started giving me tracking problems (completely stopped tracking on my wooden desk, doesn't track on bond paper or mouse pads, but it does track on shiny cardboard packaging only)

    While Apple is running diagnostics on my Magic Mouse, I didn't want to buy a cheap mouse nor did I want to waste money on the Magic Trackpad.  I did find a better solution: iTap Mobile's Touchpad app for iOS.  (And recently, they added an Android version as well!  Yay!)

    Basically, it turns your iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad into a wireless trackpad and keyboard.  If like me, you use your computer on your LCD TV, having a compact, wireless keyboard & pointing device comes in quite handy for watching movies, controlling media playback and couch surfing.

    So, until my Magic Mouse is fixed, I'm using this as my primary trackpad on my home computer.  It works on both Mac and Windows, controlled from either iOS or Android!

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Mozart's 7th... An HTC Mozart Windows 7 initial review

    The HTC Mozart running Windows Phone 7 is one of the newer Windows Phone models.  I was skeptical about Windows Phone (for good reason) given MS track record with horrible mobile software.  How does it fare to iOS?  And my trusty Android?

    So far... right smack in the middle.

    Offering live "tiles" (ie:widgets) and a more customizable interface than iOS... without the fragmented and messy myriad of options that Android offers... WP7 might just be MS's ticket back into the mobile game.

    Although it's still too soon to tell, WP7 seems very streamlined.  Social networking, scheduling, and messaging integration are better than both Android and iOS.  Applications are still very scarce but the 'essentials' (being Facebook and Twitter) are there.

    I like how the tiles of WP7 are customizable, and yet don't look as cluttered as iOS does with overly colorful icons for each app.  Something I wish I could customize with Android as well... so far I haven't found a launcher that can just do a basic text menu or single color graphic icons.  The weird blank bar on the right of the tiles bothers me a bit, it serves to let you know that you can swipe to the right, but from a design standpoint it's a bit off, but that's just my personal opinion.

    Interface on WP7 is relatively intuitive and animated quite nicely. Animations are smooth without being annoying.  Although I do not like the iOS style expose on tabbed browser windows.  I don't like it on iOS, and I don't like it on WP7. Some tiles are 'live' essentially widgets displaying relevant information.  Like the calendar tile shows current and upcoming appointments without having to launch the calendar app.  The people tile shows photos of your contacts pulled from your phonebook or Facebook. (Both Android and WP7 offer live FB address book integration which is such a great feature since all contact info and photos are always up to date)

    Voice functions on WP7 are about at par with iOS.  Both being way behind Android, but for the average consumer, more than enough.  Just press the microphone icon by the search bar and speak your query.

    If you function in a Windows environment, WP7 is the more seamless smartphone option.  Outlook and Office are quite handy to have and function almost like their desktop counterparts.  Oddly, Windows Messenger is absent from WP7.

    The HTC Mozart is quite nice as well.  The screen is readable even in bright sunlight.  Not as good as trans-reflective screens, but decent enough by today's standards.  Build quality is good, with no creaking or flex.  Touchscreen is responsive enough with the 1GHz CPU.  I like that the Home, Search, and Back buttons are also touch sensitive.  This eliminates the annoying Home button problem that iOS devices have.

    They may be late (very late) in the game, but with over 80% of PCs running Windows, the seamless integration and ease of use of WP7 (over past Windows Mobile versions) is a very good entry from MS in the mobile OS race.  The next few years will be very exciting!

    Past Tech Gospels

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