The End Is But The Beginning

April 17, 2011

All right folks.  It’s with heavy heart that I must say this: I have decided that the time has come to end this magical ride on my Mackintosh Fun Time blog.  I guess some of you who are old-school TV fanatics may have picked up on this from the title I used, which is an episode title of the old TV series that turned into a Harrison Ford movie, “The Fugitive”.

But the reality is, I have burned out, and it’s not fun anymore to blog about the Apple stuff I love.  Given the old adage, when it’s no longer fun to do something, you might as well stop doing it.

And the worst part of it is, my iPhone’s Sleep/Wake switch decided it was going to stop working about a week or two ago, and I’ve had to adapt ever since.  I even got myself a new Nintendo 3DS this past week, which put all of this into a sharp, focused perspective for me.  Recently, I have found joy in things I never found much joy in before, and that in and of itself was a stark reminder to me that what I was doing here was no longer fun, or giving me any joy at all.  So, I’ll see you all later.

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Review: iStudiez Pro for Mac and iOS

March 24, 2011

Okay, after a very long wait, here’s my first review.  I must say in the interests of full disclosure that I actually bought the apps in question myself, thankfully they weren’t that expensive.  You can check out the app I’m reviewing below here.

iStudiez Pro (iPhone/iPad/Mac), $2.99 on the iOS App Store, Universal to iOS devices; $9.99 on the Mac App Store:

I’ve looked at several organizational apps over the years, but the one thing that all of them lacked was keeping things in sync across any and all devices that I owned.  iStudiez Pro is the very first one I’ve seen that has really transformed how organized I am, and really makes me feel good about using the app on a daily basis.

However, I always like to know what problem that product solves in a review of said product.  The problem that this solves for me personally is that I used to be perpetually off target with assignment due dates, etc.  (You wonder, then, why I have been a college student for so long?)  iStudiez Pro not only solves that particular problem, but it also solves the issue of keeping track of grades, grade weights, session GPAs, etc.  So, it really is perfect for a college student like myself.

I have not gotten the chance to play with the iPad version yet, but that is because I do not have an iPad of my own, but my guess is the interface is eerily similar to that of the Mac OS X version.

So, let’s go through each of the interfaces of the versions I do have, and I will describe them in a text-based form, but nothing is better than looking at screenshots, which you can find at their website, which I linked above.

Firstly, the iPhone interface: On the bottom, you have four categorical tabs that you can tap (from left-to-right): Today, Calendar, Assignments, and Planner.

On the Today tab, you can keep track of when you have to be in class, any assignments that are due, and some other things.  On the Calendar tab, you can take a look see at a monthly view of your schedule or your assignments, and if you color-code your classes (as I did), your class schedule will show up as multi-colored dots.

On the Assignments tab, you can see what’s coming up in the near-term as well as the long term, and you can also see all your completed assignments and the grades therein, and you can also edit the grades that you receive as you receive your completed assignments back.

And finally, on the Planner tab, you can drill down into your classes, add new semesters, add previous semesters if you like, and also look at your holidays and instructors.  You can also look at your overall GPA, but there is a slight problem with this that I’ll explain in a minute.

Also, you can change your settings on the Today tab with an i (for “Info”) button on the top left hand corner.  Tapping it reveals 4 large buttons in the middle of the screen, 1 smaller button on the upper right, and several bits of information.  First is the name of the app, iStudiez Pro, and the version number; in my case, it’s Version 1.5 (343).  Then, you get 4 large buttons in the middle of the screen, Settings, Data Managing, Technical Support, and Tell A Friend.  Then on the bottom, there’s the credits and copyrights involved with creating the application.

The Settings button is pretty self-explanatory, as you can change the application settings here.  When you tap Settings, you get Today, Calendar, and Planner (as you do on the main screen of the app), but then you also get 4 other options you can change: App Icon Badge, Grades, Notifications, and Sync.  More on the syncing part later.

Tapping Today shows that you can actually change the Today Icon that shows up in the Today tab on the main app screen, as well as the phrases that show up when there are either a) no more classes today, b) a day off, such as a weekend, or c) a vacation day.

Tapping Calendar says that you can manage iOS’s built-in Calendar app events from within iStudiez Pro, and you can see the different views and change whether or not you can have week numbers show up in the Week view as well as whether or not you can have multiple dots, colored dots, assignment icons, and exam icons show up in the Month view.

Tapping Planner allows you to have a time interval of either 1 or 5 minutes, and you can also modify the standard class duration as well, which is quite nice.

Tapping App Icon Badge allows you to either show or hide the badge and show how many days in advance you want to show tasks within the App Icon badge, whether all tasks, all overdue tasks, or even intervals of 1-6 days, 1-3 weeks, or one month.  That is very nice, believe me.  Keeps me much, MUCH more organized as a result!

Tapping Grades shows a toggle switch for whether you want to keep track of grades or not, what grading scale you need to have, whether it’s Percents, Points, or different kinds of letter grades, from A-F, some Chinese or Japanese characters I don’t know (I guess those are for the Asian schools), HD-F, and A-F (+/-), the last one of them I actually use for my own grades.  You can also see the GPA scale, as well as toggle overall GPA on/off (again, more on this later), and whether or not you want the Smart Keypad turned on once you get your assignments back (TRUST ME, it is that much easier to use the smart keypad, so keep it on, PLEASE!).

Tapping Notifications shows a Notifications toggle switch for classes as well as assignments, along with some minor tweaking on how you get notified about your classes or assignments.  For classes, you can get notified at a certain time before your class (depending upon your time interval), and what sound you want to be notified with (quite nice of them to do that).  For assignments, you can set a default time that you can get notified that certain assignments are due, as well as the sound you want to be notified with (again, quite nice of them to do that).

Data Management is basically how you can back up your data in case of emergency, yada yada yada.  Technical Support and Tell a Friend are also equally self-explanatory.

For the Mac OS X version, the main window is as follows: Along the top of the application window, you have 6 clickable icons (other than the standard Mac OS X icons), from left to right: Instructors, Holidays, Overview, Assignments, Planner, and Sync Now (if you have the Cloud Sync function enabled, which I do).  The Overview shows you your calendar view, it’s much like the Today and Calendar views on the iPhone version rolled into one.  The Assignments and Planner are pretty self-explanatory, although the Instructors and Holidays are essentially split off from their places in the Planner on the iOS version.

Also, there is NO Lite version on the Mac, but there is a free Lite version on the iOS so you can try it out.

So, after looking over all of the pieces and facets of the app, what’s the bottom line?

Pros:

  • Allows for really nice organization of your schoolwork, and the Cloud Sync is a really nice feature.
  • The ability to keep track of current semesters is a lifesaver for me.
  • The customizability of the way that the app notifies you of your class times and assignments is a really neat bonus.

Cons:

  • Cloud Sync, while being a really nice feature, is exceptionally wonky, where some things don’t sync from iOS to Mac, and most things don’t sync from Mac to iOS.
  • Keeping track of previous semesters as well as the GPAs therein to keep track of your Overall GPA is a really badly implemented feature, because it does not take into account grade replacements, or anything that affects overall GPA.
  • Color-coding and keeping track of each and every assignment actually has to be done manually before you can keep track of it in the app, but the manual labor required to keep yourself organized is worth it in the end.

Rating (out of 10): 9.7


iPad 2 Possibilities and An Update

February 27, 2011

Before I get into the meat of this post, I have an announcement to make: If you are friends with me on Facebook, or are following me on Twitter, you will now get notifications in your respective feeds on those sites thanks to the WordPress Publicize feature, which came at just the right time for this blogger.  Can’t wait to do more blogging now!

So, the meat of this post will be the iPad 2… a mythical device, but not for much longer.  Wednesday will bring us those glorious details of the next iPad, but I’ve been trying to make sense of the rumors and misinformation floating around the blogosphere, and am coming up empty.

First, the obvious one: The thinness.  I was unsure of this one at first, but now that I think of it, (and now that I have an iPad-sized pocket on my relatively new ScotteVest I got for Christmas), the thinness of the new device, especially if the rumors are true of a thinner iPad, will probably prove to be easier to take in the long run.  Plus, the thinner iPad might have an easier time coming into and out of said pocket, but since I have no iPad 1 to test this theory, I dunno.

Second, the cameras.  I’m really not sure why everybody and their brother is screaming about how they *need* cameras on the iPad. With the iPad’s current form factor, a 10-inch tablet, there is absolutely no way that cameras would work on the iPad (especially rear-facing cameras).  However, if the iPad were to have a somewhat smaller brother that sacrificed none of the screen resolution of the iPad 10-inch, then I think that makes sense.  Also, I would like to see that Apple learned their lesson from using less-than-ideal cameras on the iPod touch 4 to completely blow out the camera resolution on the iPad 2, especially if it could take exceptionally good photos as well as take some majorly good videos.  And can we please have an LED flash?  Thanks!

Third, the internals.  Everybody and their brother screams about specifications (“specs” for short), but really, all I care about is how those internals combine to create a special experience for all iPad 2 owners.  Hopefully they include a few features that have been implemented in the iPhone 4, but not the iPad as yet, such as the gyroscope and the dual-band 3G chips from Qualcomm found in the Verizon iPhone 4.

Finally, the price tag.  The text of Apple’s invitation to Wednesday’s event was pretty much an open invitation to speculate wildly: “Come see what 2011 will be the year of.”  This week is GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco, and then Apple has their event this week.  Uncanny timing, Apple.  But I digress.  I personally think 2011 will be the year of the cloud, the year of the cheaper iPads, and the year of iPhones being free on contract starting with the iPhone 5.  But what price should the iPad 2 come in at?  Apple has started to make serious inroads into business and education markets with the iPad, but those inroads could very easily be magnified by a power of 10 by making the iPad $200-$300 cheaper.  Yes, their price targets were extremely aggressive the last time around, but they could do better.  They priced a great many e-reading-curious customers out of the market in my opinion, and the Kindle is actually a better deal if you just buy Kindle stuff off Amazon.


Hiatus Over (For Now)

February 27, 2011

Yes, I’m still here, and have found my time to be increasingly limited for things like this as of recently.  I’m actually currently on Spring Break from school for the rest of this week, so that might make getting back into the habit of posting a bit easier.

My main reason for coming out of hiding, however, is to comment on a couple of iPad-related items that have popped up recently.

First, there will be an iPad 2 press event on Wednesday, March 2nd (what would have been my maternal grandmother’s 86th birthday), and I may do a wrap-up post, or maybe not.  It all depends on whether I’ll be doing any traveling or not, or whether I’ll be stuck at home, possibly having to hear two lawyers going at it to try to convince me of some nutjob’s innocence or guilt.

Secondly, I’ve been looking for any reason at all to mention my very favourite Disney travel book publisher, PassPorter Travel Press, in a post. I don’t remember if I threw it into an off-topic post or not, but I digress.  The timing for my (temporary) return could not have been more perfect for this.  PassPorter is holding a contest right now that I think is way cool. DISCLAIMER: I only am mentioning it here because some of us don’t have iPads yet (your humble blogger included), and it is NOT in any way my trying to help my chances of getting that prize (I think it’ll only get less likely I’ll win if I mention it).  The prize in question is an Apple iPad loaded with all the PassPorter eBooks, as well as eBook versions of all of the PassPorter guidebooks, including Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, and Disney Cruise Line!  More details can be found here.

NOTE: I think a Passporter message board membership is required, so if you haven’t had any knowledge of these wonderful guidebooks before, you can register for the Concierge Desk, but it is very much in beta, with the typical minor problems of any beta release of anything.

So, hope you guys have had fun in my absence (and not made TOO much of a mess!! ;)), and hopefully I’ll get to talk to you soon!


What I Use 2.0

February 1, 2011

With the advent of the Mac App Store, the apps I use have been upended considerably, especially since MAS apps actually install to the Dock, instead to another place within OS X, which is actually kind of surprising.

WHAT I USE OF THE BUILT-IN APPS:

  • Finder: This is always in the Dock, I don’t think that this can essentially be removed, except on pain of death.
  • App Store: The new Dock-sitter, ever since Mac OS X 10.6.6 came out.  Some very neat apps, but most of the apps are excruciatingly expensive, especially for college students.  And Apple not providing app redemption codes is a bit underhanded, especially because for those of us who are broke college students, we would have to scrimp and save our money just to get, say, Borderlands Game of the Year edition on the Mac App Store.
  • QuickTime Player X: Since I use Snow Leopard, I tend to always come back to this.  This is usually in my Dock most times.
  • Mail: This app is another one that tends to be in my Dock as well. Usually, I’m in this just to check my email when I’m not at my iPhone at the current moment.
  • Safari: Absolute must-have for me, and I use it all the time.
  • iTunes: Ditto.

WHAT I USE OF THE OTHER APPS:

  • NetNewsWire: Another app I use all of the time, it’s basically my way to keep up-to-date with all the things I would like to keep up with.
  • Miro: Another app I use all of the time, and I usually use it to keep up with YouTube users I like to follow.
  • Twitter for Mac: The replacement to Tweetie for Mac, but the ever-changing icon, especially in the early days, was HIGHLY annoying.
  • EyeTV: I made a post a week or two ago about EyeTV, but this one is my favourite app in the bunch.
  • 1Password: After the Gawker Media breach, this became my lifeline, and now permanently sits in my Dock.
  • Word & Excel 2011: Well, I had to start using Office 2011, and I actually can somewhat understand and enjoy using these new versions, but it is no replacement for my preferred word processor of choice (and my spreadsheet of choice has changed).
  • Steam for Mac: Whatever, I appreciate looking through different stores!
  • Angry Birds: Oh come on, how can I not have Angry Birds?? I’m addicted, just like the rest of you!

APPS THAT HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE DOCK AND/OR FROM THE COMPUTER SINCE THE LAST WHAT I USE POST:

  • MacScan
  • Pages (haven’t picked up the MAS version yet)
  • Tweetie for Mac (replaced by Twitter for Mac, above)

Hiatus Over (For Now Anyway)

January 30, 2011

Okay, after much consideration and thought, I have made a decision on how to do this Mac blog.  What I am going to do from here on in is just take whatever topic I want whenever the mood strikes me, which is much more relaxed than having to come up with a topic that is in strict, confined boundaries.  So, either Apple or Off-Topic will be the categories, and Apple will probably be the category of each day’s blog entry more often than not.


Steve Jobs’s Leave of Absence

January 17, 2011

Today’s Macintosh Mondays is going to be preempted because of some Apple-related happenings this morning.  Normally I don’t ride other people’s coattails, as I have a personal policy of never quoting another Apple blog if I can help it, because a) it’s lazy, and b) I’d rather do my OWN research, even if my posts are therefore shorter as a result.  This is going to happen again in the future if there’s a big enough Apple story that will preempt my blog entry for that day, so be prepared in the future.  Also, things should return to normal tomorrow.

It was reported through the wires this morning that Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, was going on yet another medical leave of absence.

This is only the second time in three years, not the two years I’ve heard in the reporting this morning.

Unfortunately, this means that there will be a ton of doom and gloom coming thru the wires for the next several weeks or months, speculating on how well Apple is going to do without Jobs.

I think this is a giant load of bullpuckey because Jobs has put into place some amazing people who share his own vision, so if he happens to be forced out due to his health problems, his vision for Apple will continue to flourish for the next two-plus years in his absence.

Thankfully, this time he is still going to be CEO, tho he won’t be in the office to make all the big decisions, et al.  This makes me think it’s another medical procedure, like his liver transplant 2 years ago in a Tennessee hospital, but my guess is that this time it’s a procedure that’s minimally invasive, which is why he is still going to be able to function as Apple’s CEO during his leave of absence.  I know from my own experiences with the (sometimes incompetent) medical profession that there are a number of procedures that are minimally invasive, after which I was able to function as normal or possibly even better than I did.

I hate to talk about myself in a post that is dedicated to such a brilliant entrepreneur as Steve Jobs, but I believe that my experiences in dealing with the medical profession that I bring to the table make my talking about Steve Jobs’s leave of absence from Apple unique to my blog.  One procedure I did have that improved my functioning in the short term, but made my health a bit more precarious in the long term was a surgery back in 1997 that opened up a progenitally malformed sinus that had given me a lot of really bizarre sinus headaches.  I was supposed to remain in the hospital for several days for post-procedure monitoring, but the sinus relief that the procedure had given me was so great, I only was kept in the hospital for a few hours, overnight at the most!

Of course, I don’t think it’s going to be nearly that simple for Steve Jobs’s procedure, whatever that is, but it might be one of those procedures that helps to make his existence on this planet that much better.