Archive for category Software

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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“Slingshot” games for the iPhone

I know everyone else is talking about iPads, but since I live in Canada, I don’t have one yet. However, I would still like to revive my Apple blog by talking about something cool — iPhone games!

Do you remember when games first started coming out for the iPhone and iPod touch? A lot of them tried to make use of the accelerometer (since it was one of the cool new things about the hardware) and we got lots of games like Monkeyball, Dizzy Bee and Labyrinth that made us tilt our phones a lot. Now I noticed another trend: slingshot games. What I mean is that the game’s central element is that you have to pull some kind of virtual elastic and shoot your character forward like a slingshot. I recently discovered these three slingshot games which are similar but different. After wiling away subway hour upon subway hour with them, I’d like to share my review (and my addiction) with you all.

Parachute Ninja

Basically this one is the slingshot version of a platform game (i.e. the Mario Brothers genre). Your character is a little yellow ball. But no ordinary yellow ball — you are a ninja, but no ordinary ninja — you have an umbrella that can pop out of the top of your head (yes, it’s weird but incredibly cute and fun). You start from a elastic green string and slingshot yourself up or sideways depending on the level, avoiding falling into the water below. To help you are other strings along the way (you can rest on the string and then shoot yourself further), fans (they give you lift when you open your umbrella), and bouncy platforms. Unfortunately there are also challenges in the form of spikes that zap, and hovering monsters. This game is very well designed and the levels are challenging (so you have to think about the physics and plan ahead) but not too difficult that you can’t keep going forward. Who’d have thought that being an umbrella ninja yellow ball would be so fun?

Angry Birds

Did you know that there’s a war being waged between the birds and the green pigs? Well there is one in this game. On one side the birds are armed with a big slingshot and various abilities. On the other side, the green pigs build shelters out of wood, bricks, glass and metal. The object of the game is to finish each level by squishing all the green pigs. You are the birds and you slingshot yourselves kamikaze-style at the green pigs in their shelters. Not only is it fun to figure out all the right tactics for taking out the pigs, but what makes this game addictively fun is that each species of bird has special abilities. Little blue birds will split into three birds in mid-flight. Yellow birds gain a sudden burst of power. White birds drop explosive eggs, and black birds are themselves destructive bombs. You probably have to play it to get how enjoyable this game is, but I encourage you to take up arms in this conflict. The Angry Birds need YOU!

Must.Eat.Birds.

Instead of being on the side of the birds, now we use our slingshot to defend ourselves from the birds. In this game we are little round monsters with big mouths and apparently the birds are parachuting onto our picnic and once four birds sit in our four plates, the picnic is over. I know this sounds bizarre (all these games probably do) but this one seems to be a Japanese translation, so it’s probably even more wacky. The way to stop the birds (basically the only thing you do) is slingshot yourself into the air and gobble the birds in mid-drop. The special defence of us orange monsters is that we can shoot out and gobble multiple copies of ourselves. Each time we do, we double in size until we become a large, massive orange monster. But that’s still not the best part! The best part comes when you eat a whole bunch of birds in quick succession a large cake rises up in behind you and someone yells out “Maximum bake” in a strong Japanese accent. At that point, you bounce around the screen like crazy, and your points just go up exponentially — it’s the wildest monster cake picnic ever!

I know all these games probably sound insane and weird, but that is what will get you hooked. Maybe it’s something about slingshots that just cries out for something a little bizarre, but I promise you won’t notice that by your umpteenth hour with them. Just watch out for repetitive sling injuries.

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My Favourite Free iPod/iPhone apps

When you get to the point of having many screens of iPod/iPhone apps (I’ve got eight pages going right now), you really know the important ones because they’re the ones on your homepage. They’re the ones that you use on a regular basis, maybe even day-to-day. Surprisingly for me, most of these are actually free on the App store. They’re not all new or recent, but they are definitely my go-to apps. Here are a few of my favorites:

ShapeWriterWriting Pad a.k.a. ShapeWriter

Surprisingly I think my favorite free app is one that does something that the iPod already does out of the box — type notes and e-mails. The twist with ShapeWriter is that you move your finger around the keypad to spell out your word. For me this is much better and more efficient than the tapping of the virtual keypad on the native iPod mail or note app. It’s actually even kind of fun. Sometimes there is a possibility of multiple words so ShapeWriter gives you a few choices to select from. When you’re done typing, or rather sliding, words you can either save the note or you can export it as an e-mail to the Mail application (which is a weird kind of loophole in the “No cut and paste” problem with iPhone/iPods, anyway). I find this very handy and I use it for all my typing on the iPod where possible.

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Weather Eye

This one is just a replacement for your standard Weather app that comes with the iPod. It comes from the Canadian Weather Network and I think it looks better and has more information than the standard Weather app. I don’t know if it covers all of the US cities or other cities around the world, but does a good job with Canada. It’s free, so you can compare it for yourself.

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Check Please

People make fun of tip calculator programs as if they were the losers of the App store. While I wouldn’t pay serious money for them, since this one is free I find it actually very useful. Sure, you could just use your Calculator app to figure out the amount of tip and how much each person at your table owes, but this one does it all for you in a nice-looking, easy-to-use package. I’ve tried a couple of other free tip calculators, but I think this one is the best. There’s a banner ad loaded (actually a few of these free apps have banner ads) but you can still use it if you don’t have an Internet connection, and I don’t think it too distracting.

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Flixster Movies

I’ve tried a number of different movie apps (the kind that give you listings and showtimes), even some that I’ve paid for, and I’ll probably do a comparison post of all of them at some point. The one on my homepage comes from Flixster (the movie-rating social networking site), and you have to actually be connected to the Internet to look at your information (which is a negative) but otherwise I find this one to be the best of them all. Not only is the information very accurate, you can set your favorite theaters, you have Rotten Tomatoes of Flixster ratings, and you can see recent or upcoming DVD releases as well. I think it’s the best designed movie app by far, what it really needs for its next update is an off-line mode for us iPod users.

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NetNewsWire

NetNewsWire is already one of the more popular RSS reader applications on the Mac, and it was one of the first to come out on the iPod as well. You need to set up an online account, where you register all your RSS feeds, but after that it does a very good job of updating and downloading all the latest headlines and even caches parts or all of the articles for off-line reading. It’s easy to use and I find it great for taking my RSS reading onto the subway.

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Instapaper

It may not look like much, but this app is very useful if you browse the web and find a lot of things that you want to read but just don’t have time. Coupled with a web bookmarklet for your browser, you just click on the Read Later link in your toolbar and Instapaper saves the page for off-line reading later. You don’t get any of the graphics or other bells and whistles, so if it’s a lot of fancy pages that you tend to go to, this might not work for you. But if it’s just posts and other kinds of text information, then this is great for saving articles. Just sync-and-go to take those pages with you anywhere. It’s the perfect companion to NetNewsWire.

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MacSpeech Dictate – Software Review

Have any of you noticed the huge gap in the dates of my blog posts? Before my previous post, I had not posted anything since last May. So why am I suddenly posting two articles in a row? Well, the answer is simple: I don’t have to type them anymore. Thanks to the magic of MacSpeech Dictate, all I have to do is say my posts and they appear. (While it’s not that easy, it might as well be.)

It all started with the review on GeekBrief.tv. I didn’t really think that I needed dictation software. I wasn’t physically challenged, nor was I a two-finger typist. However, when I saw the really good review, I began to think about how I might actually use dictation software to write more. I realized that I was getting tired of typing and that made me post less on my blogs.

Like many others, I have not had much success with the speech recognition that came with the Mac OS. Repeating something five times each word did not seem to help improve the efficiency. However, I took a chance on MacSpeech Dictate because it seems to be much more accurate. I read about how MacSpeech licensed the Dragon Naturally Speaking engine that was very popular in the Windows environment and brought it over to the Mac OS. Now I’m a believer.

For those of you who are interested, I’ll include an unedited transcript produced solely by MacSpeech Dictate, so you can compare the accuracy for yourself.

One of the other great things about MacSpeech Dictate is that it works with existing programs that you run. I use Textmate to type my blog posts and Thunderbird for my e-mail. I have used MacSpeech Dictate to type, or rather dictate, in both of those programs so far. (Did I mention that I’ve only had this program for one day?)

Some have complained about the lack of spelling feature. In the latest update they have added that feature as well. In only one day, I’ve definitely not exercised all the features of the application. There are many reviews out there with more detail. However, I want to get out my opinion and my feedback about how wonderful this program is and how much it’s already changed my computing experience.

It’s not the cheapest thing on the market, but it works. Also, it comes with (i.e. you have to buy) a headset mic in order for it to work. It doesn’t seem to work with the built-in mic on my iMac (not that I’ve tried).

If you are at all into writing and don’t like the labor of typing, I definitely encourage you to look into MacSpeech Dictate. It has made things so much better for me and I’m sure it will help you as well.

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