A Day with my iPad Pro

2c21537200000578-0-image-a-53_1441851880661Artists, designers, and tech pundits have all provided their (generally positive) comments and reviews of the new iPad Pro, but I thought I would add my two cents on the new Apple device. I’m an Apple fanboy who loves the idea of a bigger iPad. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be able to draw directly onto my computer screen. Thanks to Apple, this is now a reality for me (well, except my Apple Pencil has not yet arrived — Back-ordered!)

I can’t say that I know many of the tech specs of the iPad Pro, but I know it’s bigger (duh!) than my gen3 iPad. I believe it’s almost 13 inches across. I’ve just been telling people that the height of my old iPad is now the width of my iPad Pro. You definitely feel that it’s bigger. I had mentioned to my brother that I didn’t love the way the app icons are still the same size as the ones on my old iPad, but now they’re spaced further apart. That seemed kind of silly to me. With a bigger screen area you’d think they would fit more apps on a single screen instead! Surprisingly, now that I’ve been using it for a day, I don’t really mind the waste of space. Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer wanted to give drivers a feeling of luxury on his mile of highway by making a three-lane highway into two lanes? It’s a little bit like that. More breathing room isn’t a bad thing.

I felt that roominess certainly when I started playing games on the iPad Pro. Against my wishes, I am getting older and I find that I appreciate a larger size (especially when I’m playing a board game like Talisman), and the cartoony games like Angry Birds, or Nibblers, look so nice blown up. On apps like Flipboard (which has been updated for iPad Pro) it actually fits more content on a page rather than merely enlarging things. I used to be unhappy with the limited number of topic tiles that Flipboard could display on its main pages, but now I get so many more tiles that I can easily access all my favourite topics (without hitting the “More” button). I can’t wait for more apps to take advantage of the available screen real estate.

I actually got a case for my iPad Pro from Amazon (didn’t want to shell out for the pricey keyboard case from Apple) and so now with my iPad Pro in a nice, black folio it feels very much like choir folder (for anyone whose ever sung in a choir). It’s not light, but considering how much bigger it is, it’s not too heavy either. It feels good in my arms, but I think I’d be hard-pressed to hold it in one hand for very long.

I tried the multi-tasking, split-screen view, and it’s not bad, but I don’t know how useful I’m going to find it from day to day (and it kind of pops up too often when I’m swiping from right to left). I don’t actually work with a lot of documents (since I’m not using this device for work). Plus, the view only works with apps that have been updated for iPad Pro. Generally, the iPad Pro feels faster and the wifi is better than on my old iPad (again, I’m not sure how much better the tech specs are). I’ve played many simple games, but also some fast moving games like Marvel’s Contest of Champions. I have yet to play Infinity Blade 3 on it, but everything seems to be quite zippy.

Something else new to me (but not to the rest of you in Appleland) is TouchID. I love how easy it is to use and (now that I’ve set up both thumbprints in the system), I can activate it from any angle and either thumb. It’s no surprise that I would want to get away from entering a number code to unlock my iPad, but since I don’t bring my iPad out so much, it’s probably not as useful as it could be. This experience really makes me want to upgrade my phone to one with TouchID as well.

Knock on wood, I have not yet experienced the unresponsiveness after charging that others have reported, but it’s still early days. I love Apple products, but they’ve given me their share of problems as well. Still, I am cautiously optimistic. For now I will keep enjoying my new iPad Pro while I wait patiently for the Pencil to arrive (hopefully before the holidays).

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Angry Birds: The Next Generation

Angry Birds Space – Game Review

First they were merely slinging birds at green pigs, then they were doing it over various holiday seasons, then they were doing it in Rio (with some monkeys around), but now the Angry Birds have taken their war with the green pigs (who I’ve always suspected of being aliens anyway) into outer space. In typical Angry Birds tradition, there is a loose storyline surrounding the game, and in the latest sequel, the pigs have taken an entire egg planetoid from the birds and they’re not happy. As far as the game goes, it’s a variation on the basic mechanics of the other three (i.e. slingshot the birds at the pigs). I am truly glad they didn’t try to take the birds and put them into spaceships and create a totally different kind of game using the same characters. That being said, there are a number of fresh elements to Angry Birds Space that make it a refreshing new instalment.

The biggest change is that now rather than having the birds on one side, targeting the pigs on the other side of a single horizon, often we are dealing with entire planetoids. What that means is that there is gravity to deal with. What used to be a simple arc trajectory for the birds is now curved even more according to planetary gravity (I’m no physics expert, but I’m trying … ). In some cases, you can even shoot your bird past the planetoid and the gravity will cause the bird to “slingshot” back and orbit the planet for a second shot at the pigs (it’s way cooler than I’m describing it). Also, since it’s space, there’s atmosphere and atmospheric gravity to deal with. Sometimes the pigs are floating in bubbles. If you pop their bubbles, they will die in the vaccuum of space (I know, it sounds terribly cruel, but it’s still a cartoony game — suffocation is all in fun). Also, when your birds lose momentum, they float through space very slowly without gravity until they reach the atmosphere, then wham, straight down to the planet! I love these kinds of clever rules of physics that have been added to this fresh, new variant on the Angry Birds basics. The game makers have clearly given thought into how to continue the tradition of fun gameplay that they’ve already established.

If you’re wondering what new birds there are, most of our familiar feathered friends have joined the space program, but now they have funky cool space capes and goggles. Red bird is still our main guy, blue bird still splits in three, bomb bird still blows up. However, yellow bird has been replaced with purple bird who not only speeds across the screen when you tap, but actually follows the location of your finger for a target. After a few screens, you will also be rewarded with three free Space Eagles. Similar to the eagle from the original game, the Space Eagle basically finishes the screen for you if you get stuck.

The game play is still fun and simple; with the same broad appeal that the rest of the series had. I hope that Rovio will keep coming with the updates like they have for the others (that’s definitely part of what makes the games appealing). Even after very little time, I’ve already finished two thirds of the first set of screens (albeit not all with three stars), so it won’t be long before I’m looking for more. If you’re already a fan of the birds, this is more of the same with a twist. If you’ve never slung a bird at a pig, you’re probably better off with the original game as a starter — more bang for your buck. But you’ll soon be ready for the space birds, and I’m sure they will be waiting. (4.5 out of 5)

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My bumpy road to iOS5

It’s funny when you get an error message and you start to Google it and see the undercurrent of comments and posts about how other people have been having similar errors. It’s almost like an underground movement of fellow victims, trying to help each other out. Anyway, when I tried to update my iPhone 3GS and iPad (v.1) to iOS5, I quickly encountered an error during the backup step of the upgrade (when iTunes backs up all your info and media so that it can restore it after it’s wiped out your device and put on the new OS).

An error occured while backing up this iPad (-5000).  Would you like to continue to update this iPad? Continuing will result in the loss of all contents on this iPad.

Don’t you just love those scary parts at the end? “Oh, BTW, you can click continue if you like, but you’ll mostly likely be screwed if you do. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” So, I didn’t click. I started to Google instead. Apparently this problem has been around for a while, going back to several updates, and has happened with iPhones, iPod Touch, etc. Since it was happening with both my devices, I figured that it wasn’t my device’s fault, but something more general.

The help on the boards was not great. There were people who found that retrying the process did the trick (but others tried it over 30 times with no joy). Some people said that turning off their Microsoft antivirus did the trick (which was useless for me, as I had no Microsoft anything). There was also some suggestion that just using the Restore to factory default would give you iOS5 as well and you could just use one of your backups to restore the rest afterward. Some people found that to be the solution, however there was a whole conversation string devoted to people complaining how backup errors wipe out your previous backups so there is no way to restore once you encounter the backup error.

Hilariously, there are often people on these boards who have too much time on their hands and like to deride others with real problems. One guy complained at having lost all his years of tweaking and customization done to his iPhone. I totally get that as my number one priority was not to lose my Angry Birds progress! So another guy responded to the first post by expressing disbelief at the amount of tweaking the first guy had done, suggesting that he’s just being a whiner. Have some sympathy, man! Don’t kick us when we’re down. We have the right to have all our tweaks (no matter how trivial) preserved if they can be.

Finally, after weeks without any luck (even waited for 5.0.1 to see if that version was any better), my plan was to do normal backups (which I could do for some reason) and copy the backups out of the backup folder (\Library\Application Support\MobileSync\Backups) into another folder. Then when the upgrade process wiped out my backup I could still copy them back after I clicked the Continue button to install iOS5, wiping out my device. Then I could restore my files and tweaks from a backup of the backup. However, in the process of backing up the backups, I discovered that the backup folders were protected (at least for me). I could only copy them, not move. And even after copying, I had to log in as administrator to rename them. This turned a light on in my brain. [Cue flashback dissolve effect] When I got my new MBP and restored my folders from Carbonite online backup, I unwittingly changed the name of my admin account from my previous iMac and so the folders that I copied over were protected in this odd way. I needed to log in to make changes to them.

Realizing the problem, I didn’t need this backup of my backup anymore. I decided to try an experiment and I renamed the original backup folders in the original location, and made a new folder called “Backups” in the same location (new folders are not protected in the same way as the other ones were). Then I went to run the update in iTunes, and voila! It worked!

Now I am happily using Notifications, enjoying the multi-touch gestures on my iPad, and trying to manage the confusion that is iCloud. Plus, ironically, I’ll be able to do future updates through the cloud, and avoid these same problems. (I wrote this post not because it’s likely that any casual reader would be having this problem, but since I found no one out there posting this exact same solution to their -5000 problem, I wanted to put my story into the ether and hopefully in future if someone else does, they will Google my blog and find this solution. Here’s to you, future backup error sufferers!)

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Where’s the logic, Apple?

If you’ve been following my little saga, you’ll know that my new MacBook Pro is around three months old. You’d expect that it should be humming along perfectly, right? Me too. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I was plugging in my old 7 port USB hub for the first time on this computer when it quickly started to smell like something was burning. The computer itself had a hard time waking up from sleep (I later learned that a white frosted-over screen with little white markers at the bottom counting up the boot up progress is actually the computer waking from deeper than normal sleep).

Anyway, when I shut down and unplugged everything and retried, I found that my USB ports were no longer functioning. In a typical error-induced panic, I proceeded to back up my data files to my Drobo. Then I quickly made an appointment online to have my computer looked at by the local Apple store genius bar.

Genius Appointment Day arrives

A few days later, when I got to the store for my appointment, the place was packed! It was like there was a sale on or something (btw, this was before the back to school sale had begun). It was hot in the store and they had multiple mega-fans blowing around the Genius Bar area at the back of the store. I went up to the greeter-genius and told him of my appointment. He told me that while shifting my status to “late” (I was less than five minutes over my appointment time) he had accidentally deleted my appointment. So he reinstated me and told me that there would be a 15 minute wait.

Cut to me 45 minutes later, feeling a bit ticked that I’m still waiting for my appointment in the steam room that is the Genius Bar. Ahead of me was a humorous pair of buttheads who wanted to exchange their busted iPods. I was very impressed by the patience of the Genius, who nicely informed one of the guys that he would have to buy a new iPod as his had no screen and clearly looked like it had been run over by a car. (Some companies just don’t stand behind their products, eh?)

Anyway, the dramatic moment came when I finally got my audience with the Genius, and I have to say that they make you wait for it, but the geniuses definitely deliver. He was friendly, patient, and clearly knew his stuff. He quickly ran all kinds of diagnostics on my computer. It wasn’t hard for him to tell that the USB port wasn’t working.

Surprisingly, he also listened to me talk about all kinds of other quirks about my computer booting slow, or running hot. We even hooked it up to the network for another set of tests only to find out that the only thing wrong was the logic board. Its failure had caused my USB ports to fail and it needed to be replaced. (When he told me that, I laughed a bit in my own mind because if you read my posts from a few years ago you’ll notice that my only other Apple computer — the beloved white iMac — also had to have the logic board replaced!) What’s up with that, Apple?

Anyway, the evening at the Apple Store concluded with my leaving the computer behind for them to send off for repairs. I left the store with an empty MacBook Pro box in hand and, humorously, another clueless greeter perked up as I exited, congratulating me on my “new” computer: “Yay!” she ignorantly proclaimed. (O, the irony!)

Cut to me…

Cut again to a week later and I get a call that they are ordering the parts (and warn me in a voicemail that it may take up to 3 more weeks to fix. I call back to double-check, and it turns out to be more like a week.) Cut once more to another week later, and I’m again in the same mega-fan cooled Apple Store waiting to receive my newly-repaired computer. A different genius than the guy who first helped me brings out my computer, and I sign some papers. However, I want to check that it works before I leave the store.

As I turn it on, I get the white screen with the spinning ring of dots that keeps spinning and spinning. The lady genius who helped me has long moved on to another customer, but I finally flag someone else down to tell him that it’s not booting up. He takes the computer to the back room to have someone else look at it. A few minutes later he comes out and asks me if I’ve backed up my hard drive. That’s not the kind of thing a computer owner wants to hear, buddy! I stammer out that most of my files are backed up, but I want to know why he’s asking. He tells me that the technician wants to reformat my hard drive. I am extremely flustered now. Then he reassures me that they will try to reinstall the operating system first. Slightly relieved, I respond more pleasantly when he tells me to return in 45 minutes. Happy endings in 45 when I leave the store with a fully working MacBook Pro. Phew! That wasn’t easy was it?

Cut to me a couple weeks later when I discover that there’s a permanent white line across my screen. I’ve decided to wait a bit before taking my computer in for another hospital visit. Ironically, I am starting another night school program (which I was also doing the last time I had to get my Mac logic board replaced) and I may need my computer for a while. Sigh! I still love you, Apple, but you really testing that love, aren’t you?

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Help, I’m frozen in Carbonite!

As I’ve said already, for the last while, my venerable white iMac had been acting up. Fearing the inevitable, I decided to listen to all that advice out there about backing up my data. One of the solutions I chose was to sign up for Carbonite. Carbonite is a backup service that I’d heard about on the Macbreak Weekly podcast with Leo Laporte. You pay a fee (a relatively reasonable one at that) and download the software onto your computer (Mac or PC) and Carbonite goes to work backing up essentially your entire computer (minus apps and videos). It sounds like a great idea, right? Yes. It’s probably still a good idea, but I want to share a few lessons from my experience so far that they don’t tell you about on the podcasts.

A long long time (… ago, in a galaxy far far away)

If you’re anything like me, with a modern computer and modern computer needs, over time you gather more than your fair share of files. After several years, you end up with a nest egg of more than just a few itty bitty text files. I didn’t really realize how much stuff I had on my computer until I started my initial backup. It was going to take days and days to upload these files to Carbonite’s servers. Thankfully, one of the features of the software is that you can make exceptions, to choose which folders (the ones with large, expendable files) you could leave out of the backup. So I started cutting out large folders, especially stuff that I had backed up elsewhere. Eventually, I shaved the upload time down a bit, but it was still no blink of an eye. Just so you know, in the end I had a total of 60GB of files — so I’m not blaming Carbonite for taking its sweet time, but it’s not how I thought things would go.

Do, or do not. There is no try.

So since I was slightly selective about my backup, I fully expected to be selective about my restoration now that I’ve got my new computer. Carbonite is also equipped with a feature allowing you to browse through your backup files and folders. You can choose what you want to restore: keep one file and discard another. At first I intended to do that very thing, but do you have any idea how many files there are in 60GB? Over 315,000 in my case. Not about to spend my 40s going through that huge haystack, I decided to use the automatic restore mode on Carbonite, where all I had to do was match the user account on my backup against a user account on my computer and Carbonite would take care of the rest.

A long time ago (the sequel)

I have now been waiting on my restoration for 4 whole days. The computer and the software have not stopped running in that time. I am just glad I have unlimited Internet access!

I should tell you about my first experiences with Carbonite. There’s a little progress bar, and a countdown telling you how many files (out of the total) have been restored. Sometimes the numbers don’t move. When I woke up the next morning to check my progress I was amazed that several thousand files had been restored. However the count seemed to have stopped. I thought the software had frozen (oh me of little faith!) and I restarted the preference pane. When the preference pane started up, the progress bar was all swirly and the message indicated that it was still calculating the file count. This went on for at least 15 minutes, at which point I gave up and hit cancel. Y’see, I was under the false impression that once I restarted the restoration, progress would continue from where it left off. When I saw it start from the beginning again, my jaw dropped. There’s one day of solid computing that I won’t get back.

Next time round I did not hit the cancel button no matter how much I doubted the progress. My faith was rewarded as the numbers slowly crept towards the finish line. I even had a Carbonite miracle when I woke one morning to find that almost 100,000 files had been restored overnight. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a tease as the pace has now slowed down to parity with a dying snail. Now I just hope that I can get this done by the end of the week, so my computer can move on with its new life.

As for me, I still don’t doubt that it’s a good service, and it’s not as if another service can really do any better, but this has been an eye-opening ordeal. Now that I’m in the home stretch I just hope that nothing bad happens to disrupt the process before it’s done. If that happens, just look at Han Solo’s expression in the image above to know how happy I will be about that!

Update: A New Hope

After almost a week of solid restoring, I got home from work and found that the Carbonite pref pane was not displaying anymore on my screen, replaced with a pop up warning message about how Carbonite encountered some errors restoring some of my files. There was, unfortunately, no confirmation that my long restoration was complete. I looked at some of my folders and found that they appeared to be full of restored files. It took me a while to find the error log, but it was actually just sitting on my desktop. I opened the file, much to my shock, there were hundreds of files listed, which couldn’t be restored. I panicked a bit and immediately clicked on the button for Carbonite Support that was on the pref pane. I submitted an email form with my problems and clicked submit, but never really felt like the message actually got through.

There was also an option to go with live chat support. There was even the status message saying that there was someone available to receive my chat, so I clicked the link. A friendly support guy came up on the other end of the chat window and I asked about whether my restoration was complete, and what the error log meant. He was very helpful to confirm that the process had completed, but he wasn’t quite clear about the error log. He asked me a few questions about it, and eventually I uploaded the log to him. He recommended seeing the files on my computer by taking remote control. I have always been wary of situations where support folks have to take control of your computer. I feel kind of powerless, but I’d done it before at work, so I figured it’d be OK. Eventually he was combing through the folders on my computer, looking to see if the error log files were indeed restored. They weren’t, but as I looked through the log as well, I saw that the missing files were simply non-essential files, or files that I had already backed up to my Drobo drive. I quickly told the support guy that we could stop the remote control process because I didn’t need the files restored. He also told me that if I needed those files back, I could always come back to my backup and manually transfer them to my computer.

In the end, he wasn’t super helpful, but at least he was very nice about it. Carbonite’s support seems pretty good, but I think it would have been preferable if the software and web site were built with more newbies in mind, who may not know everything that’s going on. Plus, when someone loses their computer, it’s a very stressful time and people are very attached to their files, so there should be a whole lot more handholding within the restoration process.

All in all, I can’t say that I’d recommend Carbonite as a backup solution, but it’s alright. There may be better, more user-friendly ones out there. Hopefully there are also some quicker ones out there.

In the end, between my Drobo drive and Carbonite, I think I’ve got everything back that I needed, so I guess that was the point all along.

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Mac is dead, long live Mac!

So it finally happened. After months of long startup times, of not knowing when it might shut itself down with little warning, and of my Address Book menus mysteriously appearing in Danish (yes, that really happened), my iMac finally faded to white (it was mid-startup when it would not go beyond the white screen — oddly symbolic, actually) and gave up the ghost.

At first I was just waiting out the refresh on the iMacs and that came. The new iMacs got upgraded to Sandy Bridge processors and to Thunderbolt for peripherals. However, after my brother and my friends all got MacBook Pros, I started to think about getting one instead.

On one hand, the iMac has that huge, gorgeous screen. Every time I go to Best Buy or the Apple Store to try it out, I am mesmerized by that screen. On the other hand, I live in a tiny condo and for years I have given up my dining table to my iMac (content to eat on the coffee table in front of the tv instead). Also, I’ve long been eyeing the Boxee Box because I want to enjoy its fun little interface on my big tv. When I had my iMac I could run Boxee there, but it was always on my immovable desktop. It felt ridiculous to watch tv on my computer when I was only a few feet away from the tv. With the laptop, I can simply hook up my computer to the tv and get the best of both worlds.

Finally, there’s much to be said for portability. I think it still hasn’t sunk in for me yet, but it’s hard for me to really fathom that my whole, powerful computer will be able to travel with me wherever I go rather than having to sit down at home before I can do some serious computing.

My new Mac arrived the day before my birthday, and I’ve enjoyed it so far. I think my favourite thing is the nice hi-res screen. I hardly feel the loss of inches (it’s as if my iMac were just a bit further away). Plus, the keyboard that I wasn’t sure I’d like (y’see I loved the old white iMac keyboards a lot!) is actually pretty comfortable. Who knows? I think I still might pick up a nice big monitor (maybe not from Apple, since the beautiful 27″ cinema display still costs a pretty penny), but it’s definitely nice to have the flexibility.

So so long, iMac. We’ve been through a lot together, but I’m a MacBook Pro guy now. It’s all good so long as we keep it in the family, right Steve Jobs?

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Qwiki, Hitpad, Zite & Flipboard: The next generation of iPad info apps

In only one short year, the iPad has changed the way we consume internet information. Wikipedia, RSS, Twitter, and other online sources of info and input are not new, but who isn’t sick of scanning through endless streams of text headlines? The iPad provides a great platform for users to get this kind of info in a media-rich way, and the latest batch of apps (all free!) makes that experience even more enjoyable and exciting.

Qwiki is a brand new app which makes interacting with Wikipedia much more lively. While Wikipedia takes the traditional paper-bound encyclopedia and adds not only the mass-authoring dimension, but also the online searchability of the information provided. Qwiki takes a leap forward by making Wikipedia more like a tv/video program. It takes the various images associated with a topic and shifts focus from one image to the next all the while a pleasant computer voice reads out the summary text from the Wikipedia entry itself. For most of us raised on TV and other kinds of active media, this is a lot more engaging than having to read each entry for ourselves. It even makes me want to browse around Wikipedia even more than before. For those who are interested in more detail, there are links to the actual Wikipedia page as well as other relevant sources at the end of the readout, so people can click to open those within the browser.

Hitpad a slickly-designed aggregator of info from a few different sources. Across the screen it displays columns for News, Twitter, Videos, Web and Photos. Each column pulls from various sources to collect different types of info and media about the topic in question. On the left there is a trending topics bar which allows users to discover topics which are popular on the internet at the time (according to Hitpad, anyway). Once you click on one of those topics, the columns all repaint with info and media relevant to the topic you’ve selected. While the trending topics are mildly interesting, I often prefer to look up other topics, so the search bar allows me to enter my own. Hitpad will pull together info and media from across the internet for topics that I query as well. So far I don’t find Hitpad as useful as the other apps simply because the limited number of topics (or the additional steps required to enter my own topics) make it slower to get info that is of interest to me. However, Hitpad brings back all kinds of media results which the other apps don’t, and the interface is extremely well made and fun to use.

Zite and Flipboard are similar apps that aggregate from your RSS feeds (specifically whatever you’ve subscribed to using Google Reader). Both apps use the iPad’s touch interface to allow you to swipe the screen to flip pages and tap on articles arranged in grids in order to read more. They both take images and fill the grid with them in order to increase visual appeal, and they both make use of the folders you’ve set up in Google Reader to organize feeds by topics. The one main difference is that Zite will also seed articles from other feeds that you haven’t subscribed to or selected (which got them in a bit of trouble from some publishers of those feeds/sites). Nevertheless, this feature is both a plus and a minus in my books for using Zite over Flipboard. When I run out of new posts on Flipboard, I’ll probably fire up Zite to find more posts to read. However, I prefer Flipboard on a regular basis because it’s less cluttered by feeds that I didn’t actually subscribe to. (I know it’s a bit of Catch-22, but that’s how I feel, OK?) Regardless, both are very nice to use and make reading RSS feeds much more of a pleasure than NetNewsWire and other similar apps ever did.

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