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July 30,2010 - iPhone UI prototyping

Designing and prototyping is a big part of creating great software applications. Skimping on the design step in hope of shortening the development cycle is a typical rookie-project-manager mistake and a guaranteed way to totally trash a project schedule.

For the past few weeks, we have been working our way through the large collection of videos on iPhone development from past Apple World Wide Developer Conferences. The take-away message from those videos is design, refine, design...before ever consider putting down any code. This we already knew and are not surprised to see it being so strongly emphasized by Apple. Developing for the iPhone is... [more]-iPhone UI prototyping


July 29,2010 - Magic-Pro ProMini Keyboard

After we got our Sony LCD panel mounted, we got some questions about how we planned to control the cursor while lolling on the couch. We had not given the problem much thought as the answer seemed pretty obvious: a wireless keyboard and mouse, of course. Wasn't that the whole point of having a wireless keyboard?

That theory was fine until we realized that most of our interactions with the screen consisted of maneuvering the cursor for selecting a movie on NetFlix or choosing a TV episode on Hulu. Trying to manipulate the cursor with a wireless mouse and a large keyboard from across the room made it clear why readers were asking those questions. After a bit of research, the interns came up with several potential solutions. The first of which is this cool little keyboard from Magic-Pro. The keyboard is sold through their US reseller, Pyramid Distribution. We have... [more]-ProMini Keyboard: FirstLook


July 28,2010 - OtterBox iPad Defender:Installation

Judging by the response to Monday's FirstLook of the OtterBox iPad cases, it appears that readers are really interested in the Defender and the Commuter. We can understand why. They look like something Batman would use to protect his iPad...and they could be right. "Suiting up" the iPad with the Commuter case is simple and we won't need to show it in this installation write-up. Instead, we will focus the remainder of this discussion on the Defender case.

When we tried to slide the iPad into the Defender case, we got halfway in and was met with quite a bit of resistance. If we really wanted to we probably could have jammed it in there (or, maybe not), but we would have had to break the case to get it back out. The reason? The tolerance of these Defender cases is very tight. Having the InvisibleShield on both sides of the iPad made it too thick to fit into the case. The only solution was to... [more]-OtterBox iPad Defender: Installation


July 27,2010 - Visionary Lenses FirstLook...

A few days ago we picked up another pair of Oakley Juliet sunglasses on Craigslist. It was not that we needed another pair, but that we wanted an extra pair so that we could do side-by-side comparisons of replacement lenses from different vendors.

In our search for aftermarket replacement lenses for the Oakleys, we have found a few vendors (ExoVista, Caulfield) with quality products. After reading our write-ups on them, a reader told us about Visionary Lenses and recommended we take a look. We checked out the site, liked what we saw, and decided to get some lenses in house for a closer look.

All of the lenses that Visionary sells are polarized, offer 100% UV protection, and are impact-resistant to ANSI standards. The coating is made with an 8-base cure (same as Oakley's) and transmits 10-16% of the available light. The multi-layering technology used to... [more]-Visionary Lenses FirstLook

July 26,2010 - OtterBox iPad cases...

The OtterBox iPad cases came in last Thursday. We posted a teaser with a few images of both the Defender and the Commuter. Many of you discovered that if you clicked on the "palm" in the palm scanner image, you were told how to gain access to a preview of today's FirstLook images.

Before we go any further, we want to answer the most asked question about these cases: Are the cases waterproof?

Both cases offer some protection against moisture (rain, splashes, small spills) but are definitely not water-resistant in any substantial way. In fact, we have contacted all of the usual waterproof case makers and... [more]-OtterBox iPad cases: FirstLook


July 23,2010 - TruFocal FirstLook...

It has been said that the day you turn 40, your eyes immediately require the aid of "reading glasses." We didn't believe in such things and have been blaming the restaurant's romantic lighting for not being able to read the menu, the low ppi on the monitor for the fuzzy screen, and having too much coffee for not being able to put the thread through the eye of the needle (we stitch up our own wounds here at RainyDayMagazine).

Those excuses worked for a while, but some of the editors had to face the fact that they either had to increase the font size on their screen or get a pair of decent reading glasses and get on with life. Having opted for the latter was a step in the right direction, but it spawned another problem...reading glasses of different prescriptions started multiplying around the office like bunnies. Reading glasses are only good for seeing clearly at... [more]-TruFocals FirstLook


July 22,2010 - OtterBox iPad cases...

The OtterBox iPad cases came yesterday. As we said last Friday, we are going to do one big head-to-head case comparison in August. However, we thought readers would want to get a quick look at the long awaited OtterBox Defender and Commuter cases.

OtterBox did not deliver a case for the iPad until now because they wanted to take their time, leverage their strengths, and create the kind of case their customers have come to expect from them: a case that acts like a... [more]-OtterBox iPad cases

July 21,2010 - Water water everywhere...

Most folks in the US don't think about the quality of the water they get when they turn on the tap. Drinkable water from the faucet is expected. Earlier this Spring, a huge pipe which brings clean water into Boston burst and plunged the city into a water emergency. For a few days, residents had to pay a little more attention to their water. As it turned out, the water supply was fine and no one was really at risk during that period. However, we did field a bunch of questions about water filtration and the like. As the weather now hovers in the 90's more often than not, we thought it timely to talk a little about proper hydration and water-related topics.

While the water from the tap is usually very clean, it might not be very tasty. Sometimes it is because the pipes are rusty. Other times it may be due to the clorination or other processing residues. None of it is particularly harmful, but it can alter the "character" of the water. For great tasting water, running it through activated charcoal will usually take out any odor or odd taste. One convenient way to... [more]-Water water everywhere...


July 20,2010 - OmniMount Power55 Installation...

When we started looking at wall mounts for our Sony LCD panel, we thought a low profile one would be best because we wanted the TV to be close to the wall. The more we thought about it, the clearer it became that we needed an adjustable one. A manually adjustable mount would work, but constantly having to loosen and tighten the knobs would be a problem. We then came upon the OmniMount Power55. The Power55 has all of the angle, tilt, and extension adjustments we wanted, plus all of those can be made via a remote control.

We took a FirstLook at the Power55 earlier in the month. Our goal was to have it installed in time for the Finals of the FIFA World Cup. A few weather-related events (95º and no air conditioning) made it questionable whether we would get it up on the wall before the big game. Thanks to an intern's suggestion that we do the installation after... [more]- OmniMount Power55 Installation


July 19,2010 - CarMD v3.0 FirstLook...

The check engine light (CEL) on our Porsche Boxster comes on periodically. This light is supposed to "help" the car owner by telling them that there is an issue with the car and should be brought in for service. The fact that the light can indicate anything from a loose gas cap to the engine about to explode means the CEL is about as helpful as someone telling their doctor "Doc, I don't feel right." As currently implemented, the CEL is one of the worse user-interface decisions ever. At the absolute minimum, there should be a RESET button: if the light keeps coming back on, then there would be more of a reason to bring it in for service. Car makers don't call them "idiot lights" because they think the lights are stupid. What they are really saying is, "Look, you won't understand the problem so we are not even going to bother trying to explain it, just let your mechanic deal with it." We find the attitude more than condescending, we find it lazy. How difficult would it be for car makers to give the driver some actionable info? With all of the LCD displays in today's car, a meaningful CEL message would put an end to the guessing. It is amazing that we all just put up with this kind of crap from car makers.

Well, the CarMD folks have a different attitude. They are saying..."You know what? Most folks are fairly intelligent. They want to know what the problem is even if they don't know how to fix it. Let's tell them what the sensors are saying." To do that, the CarMD folks have created an On-Board-Diagnostic (OBD II) code reader that ANYONE can use. Just plug it into the... [more]- CarMD v3.0 FirstLook


July 16,2010 - More iPad cases...

Since the launch of the Apple iPad in April, an avalanche of protective covers, cases, and folios for the iPad has hit the market. Sorting through them all has kept us quite busy. We wanted to find great-looking cases which were functional and well-made. We also kept and eye out for ones with an innovative design or unique features.

After three months of research, we narrowed our list to six different makers. Each of these manufacturers have covers/cases/folios with unique features which we thought were worthy of further consideration:

  • Vaja - iVolution
  • Piel Frama - Leather folio w/ magnetic closure
  • Sena - Leather folio w/ snap closure
  • XGear - Carbon Fiber Shadow, Carbon Fiber Folio
  • OtterBox - Defender, Commuter
  • modulR iPad case/mount system

We picked the Vaja and Piel Frama covers because of their reputation for high quality leather iPod cases. We were not disappointed. We chose the Sena folio because of the interesting design of their integrated stand. XGear is on our list because they use carbon fiber for their covers. OtterBox made the cut because their cases typically offer the best physical protection possible. The unknown in the group is... [more]- More iPad cases


July 15,2010 - RDG update ...

The weather in Boston at the end of June and the beginning of July was brutally hot. There wasn't any rain for two weeks and things were starting to droop. We resisted watering the vegetable garden for as long as we could, but finally gave in on the long July 4th holiday weekend.

Most of the plants in the GrowBed are doing great. The herbs have established themselves nicely. The basils seem to have something going on with the leaves. We are not sure what it is, but it does not appear to be... [more]- RDG July update


July 14,2010 - iPhone programming books...

"What do I need to get started?" This is the question we get most often from readers regarding iPhone development. The answer is pretty simple: an Intel-based Mac computer (PowerPC CPU is not supported by the SDK), the iPhone development environment (FREE from Apple), and a few good "introduction to iPhone programming" books. We have looked at a few programming books in the past, some of which were written before Apple had released the iPhone SDK. These were useful when there was no "official" development platform from Cupertino and you had to jailbreak the iPhone to do any programming for it. With the release of the official iPhone SDK, though, these older books are out-of-date, but can still be illuminating. We thumb through them every once in a while to remind ourselves how much easier it is programming with Xcode and the iPhone SDK!

When we think "programming books," the name O'Reilly usually comes to mind. This may be because O'Reilly has been a publisher of technology-related books for as long as we can remember. It may also be because of the iconic covers of their books. Whatever the reason, we find most of the iPhone programming books in our collection are from O'Reilly. The basic ones (Allan, Hockenberry) cover the fundamentals of how to get started, from setting up the Xcode development enviroment to applying for admission to Apple's App Store. However, by necessity, none of the books can... [more] - iPhone programming books


July 13,2010 - CRKT:Lumabiner, ZillaTool jr...

When we go out on location, we bring a lot of gear. We might forget to bring a cable, extra batteries, something...but we never forget to pack a multi-tool. There are quite a few to choose from in the equipment locker, but the two we take most often are the CRKT Lumabiner and the ZillaTool Jr.

We take the Lumabiner because it is easy to hook onto just about anything: belt loop, car keys, bag handle. The ZillaTool Jr. gets the nod because it fits perfectly on the strap of our favorite photo bag. We take them so often that they rarely see the inside of the equipment drawer. Other multi-tools may have more functions, but because these two are so... [more] -CRTK (Lumabiner, ZillaTool jr ) FirstLook


July 12,2010 - Watching the World Cup ...

This was the first year that we'd ever watched the FIFA World Cup, and we wouldn't have watched so many matches if it hadn't been for the Internet. We only have basic cable for the office and none of the extra sports packages, so if we wanted to watch anything that we couldn't pull off the air, we had to find it online. Fortunately for us, all of the matches were available live on ESPN3.com! The matches were not some cheesy broadcast like those of local cable channels with a single camera angle, low production values, and awful sound. The ESPN web broadcasts and commentaries rivaled those of the major networks on prime time.

Watching a sports event on the computer is OK, but it does not compare with watching it on a big screen. The ideal situation would be to take the game being streamed to our computer and display it on the 46" LCD screen. When TVs were analog, this was a cumbersome digital to analog conversion process involving A/D boards and various cables. Since the digital TV conversion, all of the new TVs can directly handle video output from a computer. All we have to do now to see the game on a larger screen is to connect the "video out" from a laptop to our LCD TV using a DVI cable. The images we see on the big TV screen are every bit as crisp and sharp as that of the laptop, just really really BIG :-) Since our Apple laptop supports dual screens, we could still... [more] -Watching the World Cup 2010


July 9,2010 - OmniMount Power55 ...

The RainyDayInterns have done a lot of research over the past three months on the different types of LCD TV mounts. They have looked at basic mounts, low profile mounts, mounts that can be angled, and even mounts with variable positioning. All of them will work well for their specific mounting situations. After our FirstLook review of the articulated mount, we got some comments that if an LCD panel was placed above a fireplace, higher on the wall, or in front of other pieces of furniture, it would be difficult or inconvenient to have to manually move the TV into position in order to watch it. A remote-controlled, motorized LCD TV mount would be better for these types of applications.

We gave this some thought and agreed. Today, we are going to take a FirstLook at the OmniMount Power55. This mount incorporates many of the features (tilt, angle, etc...) of the mounts we have looked at previously but with the added convenience of being... [more] -OmniMount Power55 FirstLook


July 8,2010 - TapWorthy Apps:Emerald Sequoia...

The App Store has a huge collection of timer apps, clock apps, and apps which count down in every imaginable way. We use them all the time, but we usually don't launch them just to look at them, until now. When it was suggested that we should check out Emerald Sequoia, we have to admit that we did not put that suggestion on the top of the "do-it-now" pile. Then we heard that Emerald Sequoia released an amazing app for the iPad. Still, we didn't get it. What could be so fascinating about another clock application on the iPhone? Then we actually took a look at their apps.

The guys (Bill and Steve) of Emerald Sequoia are old Mac programmers that have taken what they have learned from their years of software development and used it to create one of the most visually satisfying iPhone apps we have seen in a while. If you love wristwatches, we don't have to explain this app any further. If wristwatches don't do it for you, we won't bother trying to convince you. However, because we were talking about how to create "tapworthy" iPhone apps yesterday, we felt it appropriate to discuss the... [more] -TapWorthy apps: Emerald Sequoia


July 7,2010 - TapWorthy ...

It was 1994 and the world had just been introduced to the Newton MessagePad. The Newton was a handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) which was supposed to help you manage your email, to-dos, and other bits and pieces of your day. Some of us had the opportunity to work on mobile apps for the Newton in those early days. We remember spending many a night arguing back and forth over what kinds of applications would make sense to offer for the MessagePad. We debated passionately on whether we should be making applications more powerful or simpler (and easier) to use, and whether to add that "awesome advanced feature" or to "keep it pure." We also had intense discussions regarding how to make the best use of the smaller screen.

In the ensuing sixteen years, mobile device designers have tried a lot of things, learned a lot of lessons, and have created many successors to the Newton MessagePad (Palm, PocketPC, Blackberry, et cetera). The latest winner is clearly Apple's iPhone, with its high resolution multi-touch screen, long battery life, and video-conferencing cameras. What we find interesting as software designers is... [more] -TapWorthy


July 6,2010 - Flip UltraHD ...

Summer: beach, barbeque, swimming. These are activities in which many of us will be partaking over the next few months. Capturing the fun in pictures and videos have just been made easier by Flip with their new UltraHD camcorder and underwater case.

We were one of the first reviewers of PureDigital's One Time Use camcorder back in 2006. The One-Time-Use concept was an interesting business idea. The concern at the time was, would the average consumer be savvy enough to deal with digital video on their computer? As it turns out, the answer was a huge "YES." So, Pure Digital started making more sophisticated models and selling direct to the end-user. The Flip was their break-through product and a winner for... [more] -Flip UltraHD


July 5,2010 - Flag dessert ...

One of the things we like to do for July 4th is to head over to Castle Island (05,07,09) to watch the annual turning of the USS Constitution. This year, the weather was so hot that fighting the crowd for a spot on Castle Island was not all that appealing. Instead, we decided to invite a few I-am-not-driving-to-the-Cape-in-this-traffic folks and a couple of There-is-no-way-I'm-going-to-try-and-get-a-place-on-the-Charles-for-the-fireworks people over for an impromptu cookout.

We had everything we needed for a nice meal except dessert. The RainyDayKitchen folks came to the rescue by coming up with up a refreshing Stars and Stripes Pie for the occassion! The pie was not only delicious, gluten-free, and vegan, but... [more] -Flag Pie


July 2,2010 - Free WiFi ...

Starbucks announced that starting on July 1st, WiFi will be available at all of its stores free of charge. Businesses such McDonald's and various bookstores have been providing free WiFi for a while now. However, unlike a coffee shop, they are not really comfortable places to hangout. We stopped by our favorite Starbucks to see if this deal was for real. We like this Starbucks because we can get there in a few minutes on our Vespa, there is always a table available, and they have one of those new Clover coffee makers.  Another plus for this location is there aren't a lot of folks using it as their office, so going there does not feel like we are going to work. However, this free WiFi thing may change that.

To test the free WiFi, we brought with us the iPod Touch and the iPad. Both machines had no problems logging on and establishing a WiFi connection. We were connected and online in less than four minutes (including taking the time to document the effort)! The whole process was... [more] -Free WiFi


July 1,2010 - Finished Chapter 6...

It has been a while since we updated our progress with the HeadFirst iPhone Development guide. We have been working through the examples from Chapter 4 through Chapter 6. The going was a lot slower due to the constant "Would you review this? Should we review that?" interruptions. The Holiday weekend will give us some "quiet time" to focus and to consolidate some of the work we have done so far. However, here a quick summary of where we are.

We have completed Chapter 4-6. These chapters were interesting from several perspectives. It finally felt like we had learned enough to build something that might actually be useful. OK, minimally useful, but still, it was a hopeful sign. We learned a bit more about debugging in the iPhone environment: how to set breakpoint, look at variable, step through code. We also got more exposure to... [more] -Finished with Chapter 6


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