Entries in technology (8)


A week with the Apple Watch: Some idiosyncratic thoughts

I've had my Apple Watch for about a week now (42mm space grey Sport model with black band). This isn't meant to be a comprehensive review. Instead, here are some disorganized thoughts from the first few days of wearing/using it. 

  • The space grey watch with black band is pretty discrete. Other than my friend who knew I got the watch and a few other friends who noticed me using it, no one has commented or asked about it (which is good). My guess is the bright blue, green, and pink bands catch more attention. The Sport band is very confortable; no complaints here.
  • I only have one friend (a work colleague) that also has a watch, so I haven't tried any of the especially personal communication features. But I can't see needing to send a doodle or my heartbeat with any regularity.
  • Apple Pay worked the one time I tried it (at an Apple store) however the LevelUp Passbook card did not work on the scanner at my local coffee shop and I had to use my phone like usual. If we were still shopping regularly at Whole Foods or Wegman's, Apple Pay would be fantastic. But the smaller grocery store we've been frequenting recently doesn't seem to take Apple Pay, even though they claim to have NFC on the payment terminals. Once Apple Pay is pervasive, this will be super-convenient.
  • The "activate on wrist raise" feature works well (I've read some reviews that complained about it), but it is triggered while playing Dobro and Hawaiian lap steel guitar. Yes, I know this probably impacts all of maybe three people in the whole world, but sliding one's left hand and raising the tone bar makes the display light up. So I have to remember to turn that feature off when playing to save battery and not get distracted.

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Cool, but I'd never use them...

I'm generally interested in the intersection of technology, academics, and productivity. Here are a couple of things that have caught my attention, but that I'd probably never use them since I'm lucky enough not to have to take a lot of notes at this point in my life. But if I were a student again, I'd probably give one of these a shot:

1. Livescribe 3 - The newest pen from Livescribe is really groovy in that it connects via bluetooth to an iOS device like an iPad or iPhone and brings in hand-written notes in real time. I've read that the app isn't quite up to snuff yet, but the general idea of it is pretty cool.

2. Evernote/Moleskine Smart Notebook - Here's the "low-tech" approach to getting your handwritten notes onto your device that doesn't require any expensive hardware (if you already have a smartphone). As an Evernote user, anything that pipes content into their awesome app is welcomed.


Streaming thoughts

I had a really large CD collection but went digital a few years back (yes, I know that CD are "digital", but you know what I mean; someday I'll reflect on the massive ripping project that consumed my life for a few months). With so many music files, it took me a while to embrace streaming music services. But the convenience of being able to listen most anywhere drew me in.

The service I like most is Concert Vault. It's relatively cheap at under $4 a month, and gives access to a ton of classic rock concerts. Sure, you're not going to find any studio albums here, but if you want to check out Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from Madison Square Gardens circa 1979 on your phone, you got it. Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore in 1968 on your office computer? Done. In addition to streaming, some shows are available for download, and there are concert videos to watch as well. If you like classic rock, this is a must.

I'm also into Spotify. There are several levels, but to get ad-free music on your computer(s) and mobile devices, it cost about $10 a month. What I like about Spotify is that I can check out music that I might not be ready/willing to purchase. Admittedly, I like old music, and there's not a ton of new stuff I want to buy. But for $10 a month I can check out anything I want. The off-line feature is nice, so that one can save songs for a set amount of time on your phone, and then you don't need a pervasive internet collection (i.e., for travel). One thing that is maddening about Spotify, though, is that sometimes only some of the songs on a particular album are available to stream. The mobile app is a bit flakey and prone to crashing too. But overall, it's a nice way to satisfy my musical curiosity.

Although it's not a subscription service, the Amazon Cloud Player is mightly convenient. I haven't purchased a ton of MP3s from Amazon, but those are there to stream. The better part is the "autorip" feature; many of the CDs I've purchased from them also show up automatically in the app, ready to stream. No additional costs, and some of my music collection is there, ready to go.

Most of my music is in Apple lossless format, and it used to be the case that you couldn't upload files in that format to the Amazon Cloud Player. But it looks like now it will attempt to match those files (i.e., you wouldn't be listening to "your" file, but you stream from Amazon's music collection instead). For $25 a year, you can upload/match up to 250k songs, which would easily accommodate my music library (as opposed to the Apple iTunes match, which is limited to 25k songs and wouldn't "hold" all my tracks). I might have to look into this more as a way to have streaming acccess to the vast majority of my music...

Update 1 (Wednesday night): I just signed-up for Cloud Player Premium and am scanning my music library now. Wonder how long that will take? And once that's done, how long it will take to match/upload?

Update 2 (Thursday morning): I left it scanning and went to bed...By morning it had found 68k songs and was ready to import. We'll see how long that takes. It seems to be importing at a rate of about 1000-1200 an hour, so this will likely take 2-3 days. Hopefully my computer doesn't crash in the meantime.

Update 3 (Thursday night): It's been importing for about 16 hours, and has done about 18k songs (out of 58k). 40k to go...Check back in on Sunday and maybe we'll be done! I did play songs via my iPhone on the Cloud Player app today (from what had already been uploaded) and it worked fine.

Update 4 (Friday morning): 29k down (of 53K). Not sure why the total number of songs keeps dropping. More than halfway there.

Update 5 (Friday late-afternoon): 36k down (of 45k). Hopefully will be done by tomorrow morning.

Update 6 (Saturday morning): Progress bar says 42k of 43k songs imported, but that the time estimated to completion is "0 hours and 0 mintues". It also notes that 32k were 'matched and imported" but 25K songs "couldn't be imported." Note sure why there's a discrepancy between 43k and 34k songs to import, and clearly the importer is buggy, but even if a ton of stuff wasn't available/imported, having streaming access to 35k+ songs is worth the $25 a year. The clould player notes 44k songs available to play, so that seems better than what the import tool is reporting.

Update 7 (August 2014...about 10 months later): I'm finding I never use this service because the upload was so spotty. Some albums are completely there, others only have a few tracks (yes, I still think in terms of albums). This is pretty maddening, so I'm not going to renew. I should still have access to my autoripped and downloaded music for free, so that's good enough for me.

Although it's not streaming music, we also have a Netflix streaming account. Other than binging on a particular show (e.g., Arrested Development, House of Cards, MI5, etc.), this doesn't get used much. The selection of movies is relatively weak. I'm definitely not getting my money's worth with Netflix.



"These are a few of my favorite things" #6 - Fujitsu Scansnap S1500M 

This is another odd one, considering that we ordered this scanner about 18 months and just finally hooked it up last week. But one-touch scanning to PDFs (or into Evernote) is great. It's playing a key role in a project I've been wanting to do for a while, which was just unveiled here on my website :-)

This is going to be great as I transition to a paperless existence.

Update: One of the best uses of this is to share words/chords to songs. When friends come over to play music and have a new song to share, in about 30 seconds I can have it scanned and emailed to everyone.


Migrating email with YippieMove

A few months ago I posted about wanting to move my email to a self-administered Google Apps account after deciding that I shouldn't have everything under the thumb of my employer. This is not because I'm worried that my employer will suddenly cut off my email, but a more general sense of wanting consolidate and control my data and online presence. My work email is also hosted by Google Apps (for education), and you'd figure that there should be a good way to move everything over to another Google Apps account without much fuss. There are tools to do this, but I couldn't get any straight answers on whether (a) my email labels would also be migrated over and (b) if a copy of my mail would be retained in my work email account or if everything would be deleted upon migrating. You'd think that copies of the mail would be retained, but the tool suggested by my work is really intended for graduating seniors to get their mail off of their college accounts, so I was concerned that I'd lose all my archived mail if something when wrong in the migration process. So I basically had not made much headway on using new account since I didn't have all my old mail on the new account, until today when I stumbled upon YippieMove.

YippieMove.com is a service that allows migrating of mail between many common email platforms. Importantly, it very specifically stated (the their FAQs) that it would do the two things I mentioned above. The downside is that it costs a one-time fee of $15 to do the migration, but that seems very worthwhile if the process is reliable and fast. So now I'm in the midst of moving the 74,811 107,876 messages that represent my entire email correspondence (at least since I started grad school in 1996) over to my own Google Apps email. 5,392 messages down and sixty-nine thousand and change to go (one hundred and two thousand to go)! So far, things look good; the migrated messages are showing up with their proper labels in my new account. At this pace, things should be done by tomorrow morning.

By the way, the cost involved in this process (in case you want to host your own email):

  • $10 a year for the domain name (although this is something I was already paying for to secure the domain for my "professional" website).
  • $50 a year for the Google Apps account, which comes with (if I'm recalling correctly) 30GB of storage across the various apps.
  • a one-time cost of $15 for the YippieMove migration.*

*Another option I considered was moving all of those messages over to the new account via a mail client on my computer. In theory, I could have both the old and new accounts piped into Apple Mail (or Thunderbird or your client of choice), and manually copy/drag all of the mail from my work account to the new account. Not sure if this would have left a copy on my work email though...But this seemed like a pain in the ass compared to the relatively cheap $15 for YippieMail.

UPDATE (7/8/13): I ran into a few snags with some messages that had "weird" labels (I had created some labels that started with odd symbols) not transfering. YippieMove support was very helpful and we quickly got things squared away and now everything is fully transfered. Thumbs up for YippieMove.com!


"These are a few of my favorite things" #4 - Apple's iMessage app

This is an odd one to have on the list since I don't text very much and because I just upgraded to Mountain Lion a couple of months ago, but this is one of my new favorites. I love how when someone with an iPhone/iPad sends me a message, it pops up on my computer as well (and that I can send "text messages" to iPhones/iPads from my computer). More than half of the people I'd want to text with are on Apple mobile devices, so this is really convenient as a way for me to avoid texting from my phone!


Why are colleges still in the email business?

This might be news to those of you born after 1985: once upon a time, the only way to get an email account was through your university or work. I got my first email address in 1992 when I was a freshman in college (remember Pine?), and until services like AOL and CompuServe became widely available and adopted, work or school was the source of your email account. I've had a .edu account ever since then, although with the rise of Hotmail, Yahoo!, and now the king of them all, Gmail, clearly email is accessible to everyone. So why is it that colleges still give students email accounts when they arrive on campus? They all already have accounts on their preferred platforms. Why not follow Boston College's lead and stop hosting email? Instead, @bc.edu email address simply forward to students' existing accounts. This simpifies students' lives since there's one less account to check (how many students are simply forwarding their college email to their other accounts already?) and gets colleges out of the business of administering email accounts.

I'm also ready to be in control of my own data; I don't want to trust a school or employer with my email any more. After learning that a friend lost all of his achived email after he was unexpectedly terminated by his employer (they shut off his email just as they were delivering his pink slip, so he never had a chance to recover his data; how uncool is that? This is actually the second time I've heard about this happening in the last couple of months at different institutions), I want to be the keeper of my own email. Not that I'm planning on getting canned anytime soon, but I suppose stranger things have happened. I'll let you know how my migration to a Google Apps account goes...

Update: see here...


Almond extended joy

We moved into a huge house in the fall, and one unforeseen downside to a big house is that our wifi signal doesn't make it from one side to another, upstairs to where we have our home offices. Yesterday I read David Pogue's review of the Almond router and wifi extender and thought that this might be a solution to our problem. Two minutes after opening up the box the Almond was configued and broadcasting our extended signal. So far, so good. Hopefully this will fix our problem...Stay tuned!

We also have an increasing number of wireless devices in the house pulling from the signal: three laptops (and only one is mine!), a Mac Mini media center, an Apple TV, three iPhones (one is my old one that is basically functioning as an iPod touch and bedside alarm clock), an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy Note. I wonder if we need more bandwidth too? First world problem!