Robert’s Ramblings

Robert Alonso’s Thoughts on Technology and More…

Archive for July, 2008

July-30-08

WordPress for iPod

Posted by Robert Alonso under Software

WordPress released new open source software for the iPhone and iPod touch. It allows you to blog from your mobile device. As a test, I am writing and posting this with the software. I think it works well, but it is very difficult to write long posts.

Robert Alonso

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July-27-08

The Drunkard’s Walk

Posted by Robert Alonso under Books, Opinions

Leonard Mlodinow’s new book, “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives” is hard to categorize. It is a scientific book that describes and explains many of the ways that mathematics affects the human condition. It is also a motivational book because it encourages the reader not to allow negative events to shape their world view. You could even call it a business book since it can inspire a reader to succeed and even encourages behavior that does lead to business success.

One thing can be conclusively said about the book; it is brilliant. It shows that a brilliant person can mix good writing, historical context, scientific fact and inspirational advice in one very readable text. Mr. Mlodinow is not a novice at the enterprise of writing. He has written books with Stephen Hawkings (“A Briefer History of Time”) and has written books about Feynman and Euclid–both notable scientist in different fields.

The Drunkard’s Walkeffectively discusses the hidden role of chance in everyday situations. It also discusses the history of the study of probability and the stories of the people that moved it forward. Some of the names are well known and others not at all. I was personally amused by the story of Gerolamo Cardano who was born by accident and who was so frail that no one believed he would survive. He faced the Black Death plague and though his nurse and brothers died, he survived with some facial disfigurements. Against his father’s wishes he decided to study medicine. He had to support himself and chose to so with games of chance. This decision led to his writing, “Book on Games of Chance” which Mlodinow says covers card games, dice, backgammon and astragali. According to him, this book represented a beachhead on “the human quest to understand the nature of uncertainty.” Without repeating all of Cardano’s accomplishments or the significance of these here, I can tell you that the most amusing part of the story is that Cardano did not want his book published lest his competition in games of chance learn his many secrets.

Mlodinow teaches you probability and statistics and many other scientific facts and theories through stories that present a human dimension to the facts. It is this that makes the book fun to read and easy to recommend. What made the book extremely worthwhile to me as someone who runs a small business is a quote from the last chapter in the book: “What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor to success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success.”

You can get your copy at Amazonor other book stores everywhere.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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July-26-08

Syncplicity

Posted by Robert Alonso under Opinions, Service

If you are like me, you have probably arrived at a destination, laptop in hand, thinking you were going to work on that flashy presentation or important document. You get there and discover that you forgot the file on the office or home computer and have no way of getting to it. Relief for this type of situation is now available with a service called, “Syncplicity.”

The name of this service almost says it all. It is a web-based service that enables you to easily synchronize files from one computer to another and to store copies on the Syncplicity servers. This service is free for now, but will have a fee structure associated with it soon.

You use the service by downloading and installing a small application that integrates with Explorer. During the setup of the application, you tell it which folders you want to keep synchronized and it begins to upload the content of those folders to the Syncplicity site. Once the process is completed, you can view your documents from the site, you can download them, you can share them with others or you can synchronize them with another PC. The service is so versatile that it even has an iPhone interface at http://m.simplicity.com.

I have uploaded some pictures that I took on a recent trip. These are now available for me to share with others or to synchronize with my other computers. This is my way of testing the system. I am still not comfortable placing confidential data on their servers. You may not be either. Synchronizing encrypted documents, however, should be alright.  You can read more about it or even watch a video of how it works at http://www.syncplicity.com.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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July-24-08

Apple’s Airport Express

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions, Software

I must admit Apple is winning me over with its excellent software. The iPod Touch 2.0 upgrade is just unbelievable. As I mentioned on a previous blog entry, you can install applications on it and use them to do a multitude of useful and not so useful, but fun things. One such application is called, "Remote." With it, you can remotely control and iTunes installation. You have remote access to all your music and playlists from your iPod Touch or iPhone 3G. If you have your computer connected to a stereo or to very good speakers, you have the makings of an excellent juke box.

Airport Express The Airport Express takes this a step further. This inexpensive device lets you stream music from any iTunes installation to a distant location in your home wirelessly. You can set these up in your living room and family room and iTunes will recognize them and allow you to send music to one or more of the devices. But the best part is that you can control the music from Remote on your iPod or iPhone.

I purchased two of these after I saw how useful the Remote application was. I did not have high expectations for the devices since I know how imperfect a wireless connection can be. I was pleasantly surprised. The devices are incredibly easy to set up. You plug one into the wall and you see that an LED flashes yellow. You insert the Apple CD into your wireless notebook and it automatically finds the device. You then tell the software wether you are setting up a new wireless network or integrating the device into an existing one. If it is an existing one, it allows you to pick which one from a list and to then enter the password for it. After this step is completed, you name the device. In my case, I called one, "Living Room" and the other one, "Family Room." The configuration is saved to the device and the LED begins to flash green. That’s it. You are done. You can now unplug it and put in the desired location and plug an audio cable from it to your stereo. iTunes will find the Airport Express and display it as a viable speaker set. You can also see it from Remote.

I wish all software and hardware combinations were this easy. It is truly remarkable.You can buy one hereat Amazon.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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July-15-08

New iPhone and iPod Touch Functionality

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Software

The new iPhone 3G and iPod Touch with the 2.0 software upgrade include much new functionality. You can now run embedded YouTube videos from Safari. When you are browsing a web site that has an embedded video and click on it to play it, the video is passed to the YouTube player on the device. This is a welcome improvement.

Another improvement is that when you are entering a URL like: http://www.alonso.com into the Safari browser, you can now enter the “.com” or other extensions like “.net” and “.edu” by pressing and holding down the “.com” button at the bottom of the on screen keyboard. It will present you with a menu that allows you to make the correct selection. This is an improvement over the previous software that only had the “.com” shortcut. I consider this a great time saver.

You can now save pictures that you see on a web site by touching the picture and holding your finger on it. An option for saving the picture is displayed. If you press it, the picture is saved to a folder called, “Saved Photos.” You can later copy it from the device when you connect to your PC using a USB cable. Your computer will now treat your iPhone or iPod Touch as a hard drive. Unfortunately, Apple does not allow two way copies. You cannot write to the drive with the photos–only read from it and copy the pictures to your PC.

You may also find the ability to take screen shots of the device useful. Let’s say you are on a web site with some graph or news that you want to capture. You can do so by pressing the “Home” key followed by the “Sleep/Wake” button on the top of the screen. This will save an image of the screen to the “Saved Pictures” folder.

This is great software. Enjoy!

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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July-12-08

iPod Touch 2.0

Posted by Robert Alonso under Hardware, Opinions, Software

On Friday, July 11th, I dutifully upgraded my iPod Touch to version 2.0. This new version includes almost all the software functionality that is found in the new iPhone 3G. The only missing items are the phone, camera and the new GPS hardware. I was primarily interested in the Exchange Server technology. If you have read this blog before, you know that I think that Windows Mobile 6.x software is lame. I have been looking for a better solution that synchronizes as e-mail is delivered, contacts changed or appointments made. The new iPod Touch software delivers exceptionally and it does so for a $9.95 upgrade price.

I have only used it for a day, so there will be more detailed posts in the future. My testing so far has revealed that the software synchronizes with an Exchange Server remarkably well. It can use the push or fetch method for getting your information. When you get e-mails, the mail icon on the home page of your device tells you how many messages you have received. You click on the icon with your finger and start reading your e-mails by clicking on a mail item with your finger and navigating through the message with finger motions. All e-mail messages are displayed in their full HTML. You can magnify a message if it looks too small by using two fingers to expand away from a center point. The converse motion, shrinks the message. It is easy, beautiful and intuitive–the way software should work. (Are you listening Microsoft?)

Your calendar is also synchronized and displays pending appointments on the startup screen you see when you turn on your iPod. You can also browse through your calendar by using finger motions. For example, if you want to see tomorrow’s appointments, you simply drag your finger across the screen towards the right and they are displayed.

You can browse through contacts from multiple contact folders in your Exchange Server and also from contacts that are discovered and not necessarily entered into a contacts folder. I am not sure how this works yet, but it appears to scan e-mail addresses of people that you have communicated with. You can select which group of contacts to display or you can select to see them all at once.

Another interesting feature in the new software is that you can now save images that you see on web pages in Safari. These images can then be synchronized to your desktop when you connect the iPod. They appear as an imager folder would when you are using a camera. I love how this works.

The App Store is a feature that Apple likes to talk about. The reason is obvious–they will make money off the purchases made. I have tried the App Store directly from the iPod and can tell you that it is elegant. You can browse by category of applications and download and install them with two clicks and your iTunes password. I installed a few free applications. These were the New York Times, Paypal, Bank of America, Facebook and Remote applications. The names are self explanatory, except for the Remote application. It allows you to use your iPod as remote control application for your iTunes library. You can access all of your music and pick songs to play on your computer from anywhere that you have a wireless connection. If you have your computer connected to stereo equipment you have the makings of an unbelievable jukebox. The Remote software is free.

So far, my experience has been so magical that I am considering getting an iPhone so that I can use all the functionality while out of range of my WiFi signal.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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