Outstreched arm

Saturday, June 30, 2007

iDay impressions

The week before June 29, my planned time of arrival at downtown Portland's Apple Store kept changing to earlier and earlier hours. Last week I figured showing up at 5 pm would be fine; yesterday morning, I woke up at 6 am and readied a backpack filled with entertainment, food, and seating accessories. The line meet-up buzz was psyching me out, and I had visions of arriving at Pioneer Place at 9 am to find an endless line snaking around several corners.

That didn't happen until, oh, noon or so.

I was the 15th person in line at 9, standing next to an initially cool, but eventually pre-hypertensic sixteen-year old; a 6'4" nightclub bouncer; two developer dudes who in another life could've passed for yours truly; and Cabel Sasser of Panic. And you thought we line-standers would all be crusty-panted losers.

A lot of things happened. I can't believe I brought a book, expecting long periods of dullness. In reality, I could hardly keep up with all the interesting conversations going around. I think I networked (oooh, big word) more than ever. Met some great people. Shared fresh cherries with the crowd. Counted down from ten before the doors opened. Went in in a psychedelic haze of black, white, wood, steel, and glass, being cheered on by the incredibly friendly staff (who had been distributing free coffee and bottled water earlier). I think I stepped in at 7:01 and stepped out at 7:03.

I drove home on a cloud, thinking to myself, now, be careful, don't get into an accident; you can't afford that with your iPhone in the passenger seat.


(I'll post a video of my unboxing later. It needs some quick editing, and I suck at video and I suck at YouTube.) I played myself a previously-prepared iPhone unboxing playlist at full blast:

1. Richard Strauss - Also Sprach Zarathustra
2. Richard Wagner - Flight of the Valkyrie
3. Carl Orff - O Fortuna
4. Godspeed You Black Emperor - Storm

Update: Here's the unboxing video. Be kind and understanding.

I feel bad for people who had activation issues. I timed the following steps during my setup process:

- Filled out the new customer form (30 seconds)
- Waited for approval and new phone number (15 seconds)
- Waited for activation (15 seconds - honest!)
- Synced (12 minutes)

It was easier than setting up my iPod or AppleTV. It was the best early product experience I've ever had. It was art.

We'll see how I really like it six weeks from now. I won't attempt an in-depth review of the device today; I'm still high on multi-touch candy. You'll get enough poorly written reviews this week, and whatever you hear, it won't be accurate in any real sense until you hold the little bugger in your hand. Which you will, sooner or later. And then you'll buy one. Yes, you.

Friday, June 22, 2007

What happens when you thicken the stew too soon?

I'm not very knowledgeable about food preparation but I do love the art (and science) of it. I can put together a good dinner, though I may not always know exactly what my cooking methods do and how. I'd like to know, though. This is an account of an accidental experiment I performed yesterday.

I was making gumbo, and I prefer to thicken mine with filé rather than okra. It's an herbal thickener - a green, flavorful cornstarch, if you will. Traditionally, it's added at the table or once the stew is off the heat. However, in my rush to add the spices to the time-sensitive mix of brown roux and vegetables, I threw in the filé about forty minutes before its time.

So I wondered: what happens when you add thickener too early?

I had made gumbo a week before using the same exact ingredients, so I figured it would have turned out pretty much the same if it weren't for this slip of the measuring spoon. Any difference in taste or behavior could be reasonably attributed to the filé.

Here are my notes:

- After a few minutes, a light, white foam topped the stew (excess starch?) It was easily stirred back into the mix.
- Oddly enough, the stew seemed to thicken more slowly this time; I'm talking about the forty-minute-simmer thickening.
- I added a little more filé at the end and let it rest for ten minutes - It seemed to have no effect on the stew!
- ... so I added a little more at the table - still no additional thickening.

In fact, by the end of the night, I had added about three times the amount of filé called for, and the stew had rested for several hours. It was still soupier than the properly filé-ed one.

The gumbo still tasted delicious, though; I tried to compensate by making slightly starchier, harder rice to serve it over. It soaked up the excess water and the finished meal was very well received.

Conclusion? Add the thickener when you're supposed to, but if you don't, not all is lost. If anyone out there has a more academic explanation of what happened, let me know.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Find Address Book contacts without pictures

My post about cleaning up and prettying up your OS X Address Book in preparation for iPhone sparked the following question: is there a way to create a Smart Group of contacts who don't have pictures?

Not a Smart Group, no - but here's a quick bit of AppleScript to do the same:

tell application "Address Book"

 set theGroup to make new group with properties {name:"No Pictures"}

 repeat with x from 1 to the count of people
  set thePerson to person x
  if not (the image of thePerson exists) then
   add thePerson to theGroup
  end if
 end repeat

 save addressbook

end tell

P.S. Of course, since this is not a Smart Group, you'll have to remove people from it as you add their pictures. Actually, just delete the whole group and start over whenever you run this - otherwise you'll have multiple "No Pictures" groups.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Prepare your computer for iPhone

Before I got my first iPod, I made sure I was familiar with iTunes. I imported all my music and organized it to some extent. I knew I didn't want "Track 01" on my iPod.

Before I got my current PowerBook, I first bought a case for it. I didn't want to risk any damage to it, so I got a (sturdy but ugly) Samsonite case.

Before I bought my last car, I first bought a detailing kit. No, seriously.

Little steps like that make you feel like you already own the product, and the utility is sometimes important as well (my friend Larry just got a MacBook Pro and dropped it in the first few days of ownership.) With that in mind, here are some steps you might want to take to make sure your iPhone comes to a welcoming home on June 29th (or whenever mortals can get their hands on one).

Clean up that Address Book. Remove old and bogus contacts. Add those you have on your phone (or in your organizer) but not in Address Book. Don't be afraid to add info beyond just people's digits - birthdays and mailing addresses come in handy. Dig through your photos and find some nice 256 x 256 px pictures to use (actually, use any large image - you can scale and crop in Address Book). If you don't have any, that's ok - you'll be able to take them with iPhone.

Create some Address Book groups if you have a lot of contacts. My groups include: Work, Family, Biz (local businesses - I call the pizza place a lot), Mac users (in case I'm sending something Mac-specific), Croatians (I'm from Croatia and sometimes I want to notify everyone of something in Croatian).

Use iCal. Maybe you already do - even so, clean it up and think about what all events and appointments it would be helpful to have on your phone. Don't be afraid to add events far off in the future to your calendar - I've added events for 2010. When I read about a movie I might be interested in, I add its release date to my iCal.

Make an iPhoto Smart Album for iPhone. Even with 8 GB of storage, chances are you won't want to carry all your digital pics on your iPhone. Do what you might be doing with your iPod or AppleTV already - make a Smart Album (in the File menu) of your photos from the last 30 days (or less, or more, depending on how much of a shutterbug you are).

Which brings us to...

Make some good iTunes Smart Playlists. Smart Playlists are absolutely beautiful. If you have one of them fancy 80 GB iPods, you may thumb your nose at them, but... you shouldn't. Here, for instance, is what I sync to my 4 GB Nano:

- 2 GB of songs not rated 1 or 2 stars, last played more than 5 days ago, not skipped in the last 7 days, selected randomly
- 500 MB of songs rated 4 or 5 stars, not played in the last 30 days, selected randomly ("Old friends")
- 200 MB of songs not rated 1 star, added in the last 30 days, selected by date added ("Recents")
- 100 MB of songs, selected by rating ("All-time faves")
- All unheard podcasts

There are some other factors there (I don't include certain genres, like Experimental, and I filter out videos and podcasts) but overall, it's a nice mix of random, kick-ass, good-but-not-overplayed, and recent songs. This same thing will go on my iPhone, leaving room (hopefully) for all the other iPhone stuff.

Clean up your Safari bookmarks. Make some bookmark groups. Mine are Business, Local, News, Research, Mac, Nerd. Remove things you once bookmarked only temporarily, add things you visit often, but always type in. Shorten gigantic bookmark names. Order bookmarks within groups.

Nothing new, right? These are all good habits to get into on any computer, but I think you'll find that when you combine iPhone's miniature form factor and sweet features, you'll want to include things you've probably ignored so far (Address Book pictures, I bet) and de-clutter things you've thrown all over your desktop because you have ample storage and screen space (bookmarks, iTunes).

Your iPhone will thank you.