The Boyce Blog: January 2010

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Friday, January 29, 2010

My Top Five FREE iPhone Apps

Here are five free iPhone apps that I use all the time. Click the links to get more info via the Apple iTunes Store.

Christian Boyce's Top Five FREE iPhone Apps
NYTimes (Best app for news, reviewed by me here)
Mint (Best app for keeping track of your credit card and bank balances, reviewed by me here)
eReader (Best app for reading books, many of them free, reviewed by me here)
Rimshot & Crickets (Best app for doing "ba-doom-boom, kishhhh" after you say something funny)
BigOven (Best app for recipes)

This list does not include any of the very excellent set of standard iPhone apps (Maps, Mail, Calendar, etc.). I use those apps all the time too.

Interesting Dock Behavior



Pictured above: a Dock with the magnification feature turned on. This feature, which makes Dock icons squirm as you move your mouse over them, is absolutely adored by some people, but not by me, because a squirming target is harder to click on.

Tonight, for some reason, I thought it would be fun to experiment with the Dock (which was better in OS X 10.5 than it is in 10.6), and I found an interesting shortcut: if you hold the Control and Shift keys you will temporarily switch the Dock's magnification feature ON if it's set to be off, and OFF if it's set to be on.

Armed with this knowledge, you're now able to very gracefully and surreptitiously and temporarily turn the Dock magnification feature off when you use Macs with Dock magnification set to "on." This will be especially useful for those of you who make a living helping others with their Macs, double-especially if the Dock magnification "feature" drives you nuts. Oh wait, that's me. Never mind.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple iPad Info


You may not have heard but Apple introduced something called the iPad today. There are plenty of places for you to read about the not-shipping-for-two-months iPad, and I haven't had my hand(s) on one yet, so rather than write about it myself I'm just sending you a few links.
It certainly looks like an interesting device. Two things that jump out at me: Apple used its own chip to power the iPad-- they did not use an Intel chip, nor an AMD chip, nor any other kind of chip. I've always liked apple chips, by the way, though I prefer banana.

The other thing that jumps out at me is the lack of a camera. I sort of think it ought to have one. So much for doing video chats with it.

I wonder if it can print. I'll try to find out.

UPDATE: here is the video of Steve Jobs introducing the iPad. 93 minutes.

UPDATE AGAIN: I should have included a link to John Gruber's Daring Fireball website. Go there now and read everything he had to say about the iPad.

Save Time and Trouble with Tripit.com


You know that feeling you get when you suddenly discover that there's a much easier way to do things? That's the feeling I got when I "discovered" Tripit.com, because Tripit makes one of my more tedious tasks go away. Which task is that? The one where I type flight information into my calendar so I have it when I need it.

Anyone who's done it knows the routine: you make your travel plans online (typity-type, clickety-click), then you get to type even more into the calendar, trying very hard to be careful, but take it from me, it's hard to be perfect.

Enter Tripit.com. Go there and sign up for a free account. Then, when you make plane reservations and subsequently get a confirmation email from an airline, you forward the email to "plans@tripit.com." Tripit reads the email, puts the information into a handy little private space for you on their site, and then-- the best part-- they put your trip information into an iCal feed, which you subscribe to ONCE, and all of the information about the flying out and flying in is automatically part of your iCal calendar, forever and ever amen.

I made a Rule in Mail to automatically forward my Southwest Airlines "Ticketless Confirmation" emails to plans@tripit.com, and by golly it works. My calendar has ALL of the information-- flight numbers, departure times, arrival times, confirmation numbers, you name it-- and of course I can subscribe to the same iCal feed on my iPhone, so my iPhone's calendar is up to date too. You can change the information if you'd like, so the trip that Tripit titles "Oakland, CA 2/11/2010" can be retitled "MacWorld Expo SF 2010." That's what I did.

Tripit has a "pro" account but the free one is great as it is. If you fly frequently this is a no-brainer. Go to tripit.com now and sign up. You will save yourself a lot of typing, over and over and over. I wouldn't do any of the stuff that asks you to upload your email address book-- that will just irritate your friends-- but that's not required anyway. Just do the minimal free stuff, and you will reap the benefits time after time.

If you can't figure out how to subscribe to your Tripit calendar let me know. I can help you.

Bonus: if you use the USA Today's free iPhone app called "AutoPilot" you can connect to your Tripit calendar information very easily. Give that a whirl too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How to Compress Movies for Email

I wrote a couple of days ago about Photo Booth and how you can use it to record a movie and then email it. It's easy, and it's fun-- so easy, and so fun, that just about all of you recorded a movie and emailed it to me. That's the good news.

The bad news is that these files are a little on the large side. But, there's more good news: you can easily compress a movie to less than half its original size while retaining almost all of the quality. All you need is "iSquint," a free download available by clicking here.


When you start iSquint the first time you'll get a sales pitch to upgrade to another program. Just say no. You'll then get a window that looks like this:

The settings are important. When you Optimize for iPod you get a movie that fits an iPod's screen just perfectly (that is, it's 320 pixels wide by 240 pixels tall). When you Optimize for TV you get a movie that's 640 x 480. Tiny Quality gives the smallest file size, while "Go Nuts" Quality gives the largest file size. I like "Standard." I also like "H.264 Encoding." I could explain what H.264 means but Wikipedia's already done that, so click this link and read all about it. All you really need to know is that H.264 is a kind of compression, and it works great. There's nothing better.

iSquint is really easy to use. Just drag a movie file into the big box (the one under "Drag files below."). Then click "Start." Your original movie will be untouched; a compressed copy will be created and saved in the same location as the original. In my experiments, my movies compressed almost in half under "Standard" Quality and almost by a factor of 4 if I went "Tiny." Choosing "Optimize for iPod" gives another 4x compression since iPod screens are 1/4 the screen dimensions of a Photo Booth-generated movie. Note the "Add to iTunes" button-- that will put your movie into iTunes, handy if you want to eventually get it onto your iPod or iPhone.

You can email the compressed movie using the drag-it-to-the-Mail-icon method I wrote about here.

Be aware that compressing a movie results in some reduction in quality. Here, for example, are three versions of the same frame in a movie.



First is from the original movie, the second is from one compressed with "Standard" settings, and the third is from one compressed with "Tiny" settings. Look around the eyes and the hair-- the original is sharper and has more detail. (The sound is better too, though you can't tell by looking at the picture.) You will have to experiment to find settings that work for you. Keep in mind that the settings that work great for one movie may not be so great on the next one. It's a case-by-case thing. Luckily, all you have to do is move the slider and click "Start" to see another variation.

(Note: if you've recorded a movie in Photo Booth it will be easiest to drag the movie to the Desktop, and from there into iSquint. The compressed movie will be put on the Desktop when the compression process is complete.)

Looking forward to seeing your new, smaller movies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Apple's new i-thing

Everyone's asking me about this new "thing" from Apple, so I thought I'd answer all of you at once. First of all, no one outside of a select few at Apple know anything about Apple's not-yet-announced thing. We don't know what it's called, we don't know what it looks like, we don't know when it will be available, we don't know what it will cost. And we don't know what it will do. All we do know is that Apple sent out an invitation yesterday (I didn't get one) and that Apple will show their "latest creation" on January 27th, 2010.

Here's what the invitation looks like.

People are trying to find meaning in the colors, in the splashiness, etc. but all of it is guesswork. All of it.

My advice: wait until the 27th. Then we'll all know. However... I do have some thoughts.
  1. If Apple does introduce a tablet-style computing device it will be far more than just an Apple version of Amazon's Kindle book-reading device. FAR more.
  2. I would expect Apple to try to leverage the vast universe of iPhone apps, probably enabling you to run more than one app at a time on the tablet, to drag them around on the screen, and to resize them arbitrarily.
  3. We already have great Apple products for when we have a desk or a table to work from (iMac, MacBook), and we already have iPhones for those times when we're on the go. There seems to be no need for something in between. You can bet that Apple has thought of this too. I expect Apple's tablet to include something very cool, which you and I will want desperately-- and it will not be available on any other device, including the iPhone. That will give you a reason to buy the tablet. My guesses: live video chatting, tablet to tablet-- or streaming TV and movies. Or both.
Calendar synching with your Mac? Of course. Address book synching with your Mac? Double of course. Weather/stocks/maps/wireless-- yes/yes/yes/yes. Something really incredible that I haven't thought of? Almost certainly yes.

A couple of years ago, my friend Dave asked me what I thought Apple would introduce at MacWorld Expo. I told him I didn't have any idea-- but I wanted two of them. That's how I feel about this January 27th Apple product intro. I can barely wait.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blog from anywhere!

There's a nifty little iPhone app called BlogPress and it lets you add and edit Blogger and Blogspot blog entries. If you have a blog on either Blogger or Blogspot you simply must try it. I'm using the free version (there's a fancier not-free version) and it works like a charm.

This MAY result in more-frequent posts here at The Boyce Blog. Only if I have something to say, of course.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Sunday, January 17, 2010

VIDEO: How to use Photo Booth


Doing a little experimenting today-- thought it might be fun to make a video showing how to use Photo Booth.

Click where it says "Click to Play." You MIGHT have to click a little triangular button after that-- look around, it's worth it. And no, I don't know why you might have to click that button. I'll try to find out.



Friday, January 15, 2010

Lower Prices for AT&T's iPhone plan


This just in: AT&T is cutting the price of their unlimited voice and data plan for the iPhone to $99. The old price was $129. There is no word (yet) about whether they will cut the price on the other, not-unlimited plans.

Existing iPhone users can switch to the cheaper plan by going to AT&T's website starting Monday January 18th, 2010. There is no fee for making the switch and the end date of your contract will not change. Basically, if your iPhone is on an unlimited plan, it's a no-brainer. Change to the $99 plan.

There is always the chance that AT&T will do this automatically for you but I wouldn't count on it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Missing the Steve Jobs keynote

In years past, the first week of January meant "incredibly cool and awesome" new products from Apple, presented by Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his keynote speech at MacWorld Expo. Apple's not going to MacWorld this year, and MacWorld's been moved to February anyway, and gee it feels like something's missing.

This video-- a condensed edition of a recent Steve Jobs talk-- isn't a substitute for the real thing, but it helps. Check it out. 86 seconds long. You'll laugh.