technology soapbox

A lot has been going on in the technology landscape over the last few weeks and I’ve decided to get on a little soapbox and share my thoughts on them at midnight on a Tuesday night instead of going to sleep so that I can wake up in 7 hours to walk my dog after (hopefully) finding out that she has not pooped all over everything. Instead of trying to make the writing flow, I’m just gonna knock them off one after another.

Apple-Samsung patent case

As you may have read unless you were taking a break from the interwebs for the last month, Apple won a huge patent case against Samsung with regards to smartphone developments and innovations. While I’m not familiar with the nitty gritty details (nor do I have the desire to get familiar with them) I still feel the need to spew some gospel.

From a purely legal perspective (which, in honesty, is what the jurors should have been looking at anyway) I agree that Samsung was guilty of copying Apple’s “innovations”. I think the issue, though, is the fact that such patents exist, anyway. Of the several patents that were successfully defended, it seems there were ones about the shape of the device, the user interface of the operating system and other visual effects (such as the “bouncing” of a scrolling list when you hit the end). Apple zealots (I won’t use the word fanboy since that always evokes negative emotions) have been quick to deride Samsung for stealing Apple’s innovations.

I challenge that these “inventions” are worthy of a patent. Is the world’s self-professed most innovative company really suing people for copying the “bounciness” of their lists? Is that really the level of innovation that we have come to expect from technology companies? The original iPhone was not innovative because the lists were bouncy or because the device was rounded. It was innovative because it was the first truly accessible touch-enabled device. The innovation came by way of the app store (as a former BlackBerry user who was trying to download apps, the iOS store was truly a cool invention).

Filing for and receiving patents for the shape of a device and minor user interface effects and animations is pathetic, more pathetic than suing a company for violating said patents. In my humble opinion, the biggest long-term effect of this litigation and judgment is the filing of frivolous patents by technology companies instead of any actual innovation. Imagine if Alexander Graham Bell had filed a patent on the curliness of the wire connecting the various parts of a phone–that is in essence what these “design patents” amount to.

Nokia Lumia 920 and PureView “Scandal”

This is only really a scandal if you are a tech-geek like myself and follow several tech blogs every day. The “scandal”, if it can be called that, is that Nokia, in an advertisement following their Lumia 920 announcement, presented optical image stabilization (OIS) in a way that suggested that they were using the Lumia 920 for the media in the advertisement. Basically, their ad showed clips of a person on a bike shooting another person on a bike using a Lumia 920 and then cut to how the video would look with OIS on and off. People (including myself) made the incorrect assumption that the video of OIS on was shot on a Lumia 920.

It turns out some super sleuths were able to catch a couple of frames in the video where the magic of reflecting light showed that the OIS on stuff was not shot with a Lumia 920 on a bike but a full camera rig on a van. The internet temporarily exploded into chiding Nokia about incorrectly leading people on. Nokia even issued a public apology and shared actual video shot with the Lumia 920, compared with video not shot on the device.

Seriously, people? Are we now in the business of calling out advertisements for not being 100% accurate? I don’t own an iPhone 4S, but 90% of my friends do and no one has told me that Siri is perfect, or anywhere close to it. I certainly don’t expect to ride on a horse backwards when I buy Old Spice deodorant and I don’t think anyone would allow me to pay them with Orbit gum. It’s an advertisement–it’s supposed to pique interest about the product.

When I watched the original commercial, the fact that Nokia used the “OIS on” and “OIS off” textual overlays in their video made me wonder if one could actually turn the feature on and off on the Lumia 920–which suggests that they weren’t malevolently claiming that the OIS on video was shot on a Lumia 920. If that was the case, they could very easily have replaced the captions with “Lumia 920” and “<insert competitor phone here>”. Yes, there is no arguing that they were trying to “trick” consumers into thinking that the OIS on video was shot on a Lumia 920, but that’s the point of advertising…

Windows Phone 8 + Windows 8 and Microsoft marketing strategies

As much of an MSFT fan as I am, I have always held onto the belief that there are some really dumb people running Microsoft’s PR campaigns. Surely they should be able to find a firm that does the job half as decent as Apple’s marketing team. Thinking back over Apple and Microsoft advertising campaigns, the only reason I remember MSFT ones are because they were utterly SMH-worthy (that’s shaking my head, for the acronym-challenged). Apple, for example, had the the Mac vs. PC campaign, which, although it made me cringe, was memorable and to the point (and very effective in developing the Apple zealotry). Their current campaigns, while not as powerful, are still pretty effective: close-ups of beautiful looking devices with an abundance of hyperbolic adjectives in the background along with some indie music.

If I think of Microsoft’s ad campaigns over the last few years, the two that come to my mind are the “Windows 7 Launch Party” and the “WP7: A phone to save you from your phones” campaigns. Both were supremely cringeworthy and didn’t really cast the product in a positive light. What the heck was a Windows 7 launch party? I watched several of these commercials and had no idea what they were trying to portray. The WP7 campaign was an attempted assault on other phones but one that didn’t make any sense–why would I want to spend a bunch of money on a phone that I then didn’t need to use?

Anyhow, that’s all old hat. MSFT is trying a new strategy now, which also sucks, of announcing products 2-3 months before launch. They don’t have the marketing prowess to sustain that hype over such a long period. And, unfortunately, it seems like Nokia is following a similar plan. The Microsoft Surface tablets were announced a while back but in the announcement, there were no information about pricing or availability. The same thing happened with the Windows 8 announcement, the WP8 announcement and the Lumia announcement. Tomorrow, Apple introduces the iPhone. I am absolutely certain they will announce the price, shipping date and will begin preorders as soon as the event ends.

That’s it for now. Time to get a few hours of sleep!

why i love windows phone 7

The internet, in general, hates Windows Phone so I decided to write a quick post to explain why I’m completely smitten by the platform. For background purposes, the Nokia Lumia 900 is my fourth smartphone after a BlackBerry Curve 8310, the iPhone 3GS and, most recently, the HTC HD7S. I’ve been using the Windows Phone platform since about July 2011 (the HD7S) and there’s no looking back, for me. Let’s go into details.

It’s Freaking Beautiful

The UI is absolutely stunning. Yes, the screen resolution doesn’t allow for “retina display” and WP manufacturers have not entered the ongoing pixel arms race, but the actual presentation of the operating system is beautiful. Metro is easily my favorite user experience on any piece of software I’ve used. The large tiles are bold and bright and the sharp edges gives them definition. Compare this with the grid of tiny icons that iOS/stock Android presents you (along with a number-based notification system) and the difference is massive if you allow yourself to believe in it. Of course, iOS and Android are making strides with an improved notification system and widgets, respectively, but I’m a fan of the WP presentation. It’s sexy and utilitarian. If I want to check the weather, I just need to unlock the phone and the live tile tells me the current weather and the next two days. If I want to see if anyone has posted anything on my Facebook or tweeted anything at me, once again, the live tile grabs all this information.

Everything is integrated

When I was using an iPhone, I had:

  • My contact list on my phone
  • My music playing off of Spotify with the Spotify app
  • My Facebook notifications coming through the FB app
  • My Twitter notifications coming through the Twitter app
  • Any synchronization being done through the shitty iTunes interface
  • QR Code/barcode scanning being done through third party apps
  • Pandora for live radio
  • Shazam to do song recognition

And it goes on. I use my phone primarily to keep track of my social networks, to text my friends, to listen to music and occasionally make a call or two. All the above things I mentioned are integrated into the core Windows Phone operating system. When I first set up my phone, I logged into my Windows Live and Facebook accounts. This grabbed all my contacts and even matched them up with the relevant Facebook accounts. I did install the third-party Facebook app but I hardly use it (also, it is extremely buggy).

The Windows Phone search button (a dedicated touch button that can be pressed at any time) allows you to not only search for text but to scan a barcode or QR code or even listen to music. Yup, the Shazam feature is automatically built in. Pandora still needs a third-party app (wpFandora does an excellent job) but more importantly, all my music is tracked through the Music & Videos hub. This means that if I heard a song on Pandora and then listened to other stuff on my phone, I can easily find the track in my music history as if it were being played from the same source.

I cancelled my Spotify subscription in favor of the Microsoft Zune Pass, which is the same price. The advantages? I don’t have to use iTunes again, ever. I can’t put into words how huge this advantage is for me. I absolutely detest iTunes. Zune is a more than worthy replacement and is about 1,452,530 sexier than iTunes. You know how OS X has been building up all these “full screen, immersive apps” the last few months? Well Zune has been doing that since… well, a long time. Another positive of Zune Pass is that it is essentially iTunes, Spotify, Spotify Mobile and Pandora rolled into one. I can listen to any song on Zune through subscription, and I can download it to my phone and play it offline. Of course, if I haven’t downloaded a song, I can look it up and play it from the marketplace section on the phone and even download it and save it to a playlist. Without having to buy it. Without having to download Spotify. The Pandora equivalent is “Smart DJ”. You can search for any artist and click “Smart DJ” and it will start playing related songs. Sure, their algorithm is probably not as good as Pandora’s, but you can get started with it immediately.

The hardware and software are unique… “different”

I find it most hilarious that I’m using Microsoft software and being “different”. It seems like only yesterday when Apple was forcing “think different” down everyone’s throats. For those not in the know, Nokia is using the slogan “beautifully different” to drive Lumia sales. And it’s ironic, but Microsoft’s product offering here is really unique and different. The iPhone is now the go-to smartphone for most users and the marketing advantage that Apple had with Macs of having “something cooler than yours” has not carried forward to their phone product line. Everyone has an iPhone. Except those people who have Android, which, in my opinion, basically means that you want (/need) to tinker with your OS to customize it to your needs or you are just to cheap to buy an iPhone. Or you hate the fact that Apple makes minor improvements to their product every year and then sells it as if it’s the greatest new thing. Android buyers have the latest technology available at a low price now, instead of next year. Alas, it comes at the cost of a fragmented marketplace that is struggling to deal with all the different versions of the operating system on their hardware, now.

Windows Phone has a minuscule market share and one that Microsoft, I think, should increase only enough to become the Mac of the smartphone market. The Lumia 900 is a fine hero device because it’s not just Android hardware with the WP software on it, but a device built from scratch to match the sexiness of the WP7 operating system. Of course, MS has historically operated on volume so they are trying to give the device away for free to try and get it in people’s hands. I suppose this works, but at some point I think MS should try to make Windows Phone a luxury device, rather than the Dell of smartphones.

And finally, the negatives…

Of coures, there are several negatives with the platform. The two that have been brought up the most are (1) “there are no apps” and (2) “this is last year’s hardware”. Yes, the app offering is fractional compared to the iTunes App Store and the Google Marketplace (or whatever its name is, right now). And the bigger problem, in my opinion, is that most big-name developers don’t even consider developing for WP. Which is mindblowing to me, as a developer, because Microsoft’s developer suite (Visual Studio) is heads and shoulders above iOS’ (XCode or Mono Touch) or Android’s (Eclipse or whatever Java editor you choose to use). .NET technology has been around for ages and most developers already know how to code in it. One would expect there to be a lot more Windows Phone developers, but I guess they are driven by market needs.

But going back to the crux of the issue, yes, there is an app problem. Any Windows Phone user who tries to tell you otherwise is just lying to himself or herself. I want to play Draw Something on my Lumia. I want to be with the “in” crowd of whatever game ends up being the next viral craze. This is a work in progress and it’s only going to change if there is a sufficient shift in market share for Windows Phone. All that said, the apps for WP are legitimate in themselves. There are several really nice apps that take advantage of the Metro UX and understand Microsoft’s vision with the operating system.

The second negative is, in my opinion, mostly just FUD. Yes, current generation Windows Phones are babies compared to the technical specifications of Android. Isn’t there an Android phone out there which is going to be quad-core? And really, the first thing that comes to my mind is, “why the hell do you need four cores on your phone?” It sounds like either the developer SDK is not efficient or that the developers are dumb. Windows Phone works like a dream with a single core. Everything is snappy and I have encountered little to no lag. That said, I do think that a few of the software requirements/implementations could use improvement. For example, I’d like to have higher resolution graphics and better camera software. I’m hoping Apollo will change some of this. And if Apollo does include dual-core support, I can’t imagine how awesome the platform would be. If WP’s performance is already comparable with iOS/Android with a fraction of the cores, a multi-core experience is only going to be better (especially given that MS has software pedigree in developing successful multi-core operating systems).

Alright, I’m gonna step off my soap box, now, since this was a fair bit longer than I expected. Keep in mind that these conclusions are drawn based off of my Lumia 900. A few of my opinions would be very different if I had been writing this article whilst using the HD7S, which is essentially just an Android phone with the Microsoft OS on it.

Feel free to comment with your opinion! I completely understand that my love of the MS offering is highly subjective. As with taste in music and preference for beer styles, I respect the fact that people like different things.

apple and flash

Steve Jobs posted an open letter today about why Flash is not and will not be supported on the Apple mobile platform. You can follow the link to read the full article, but basically he gave 6 reasons. Let me look at each of these one-by-one. And before I do, I would like to remind everyone that I’m not really a big proponent of Flash. Back when I was web-developer, Flash was the one platform I detested and never took the time to learn. I think web-design through Flash is a poor design choice except if it is being done for some sort of portfolio or niche-website. Anyhow, with that out of the way, let’s look at Jobs’ six reasons.

First, there’s “Open”.

Jobs’ claim here is basically a fact. Flash is a proprietary system. Not only do you need to buy expensive software from Adobe to be able to create professional-grade Flash applications, but you also need to download a third-party plug-in from them any time you want to view it. There’s no complaints I have about this statement except that it reminds me of, you know, pot-kettle-black.

Apple is possibly the most proprietary technology developer out there right now. Not only is the iPhone OS system completely closed and regulated, but even going back to the OS X operating system, you legally need a Mac to run that. It sounds highly hypocritical of a CEO of such a proprietary company using “openness” to attack Adobe. To Jobs’ credit, he accepts that Apple is proprietary, but he wants the web to be open. How benevolent of him to allow us this luxury!

Second, there’s the “full web”.

Adobe has counter-claimed Apple’s claim that the iPad is the best way to experience the web, by suggesting that those users do not have access to the full web. Jobs’ counter-argument to this is that Apple supports HTML5, CSS and the modern H.264 format for viewing video. He also rattles off a list of 16 sites that supposedly support video on the iPhone OS (although at least one of them–Facebook–at least check, does not).

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I hate it when a website has used Flash for the purpose of web-design (especially when they haven’t offered an HTML alternative). So from that standpoint, I’m happy that Apple has gone ahead and blocked those websites. However, when it comes to videos, Apple is just ignoring the problem. Sure… they support these 18 sites that now allow HTML5-based streaming. But about the 1000 other websites that people actually visit? How can you advertise a device as being the best way to browse the web when it falls annoyingly short in multimedia presentation? Companies have paid millions of dollars implementing their current content delivery platforms–not everyone has the financial resources that YouTube, for example, has, to begin supporting H.264 video overnight.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.

I have heard several anecdotes about how Flash causes Macs to barf. Jobs labels Flash as the number one reason for Mac crashes. Obviously Adobe has a part to play here, since they are the ones that are writing the actual plug-ins. But I don’t buy the whole “reliability, security, performance” argument for the iPhone OS. Just like I don’t buy the justification that Apple fanboys give for keeping the App platform closed or for keeping OS X locked down to Mac hardware–to preserve the quality of the system. How dumb do they think consumers are? The App Store is already plush full of useless applications (I believe Fart Apps deserve their own category going by volume, right?). In fact, I can count the number of apps I use regularly on my iPhone on one hand.

This destroys the perception that it is impossible to create low-quality applications staying within Apple’s development platform and regulation. The theory that it is impossible to create a quality application outside of the Apple-allowed platform is similarly debunked by the “black market” that is Apple jailbroken apps. There are several quality applications developed there that would deserve their place in the App Store if Apple had put it’s draconian policies aside. Not to mention that they’ve actually supported the novel (not really) idea of evaluation software. Instead of Apple allowing evaluation periods, they decided to go with “Lite Apps” (there’s actually a section in the Apple Developer Center that recommends releasing a Lite app, with stripped out functionality). There have been countless times that I have been partially interested in an iPhone App only to find that is not free and the “Lite” version doesn’t allow me to actually test what I want to. Some developers, like Remember the Milk, have gone about their own methods of providing a trial period enforced by a web-service.

Fourth, there’s battery life.

Jobs claims that on an iPhone, an H.264-encoded video will play up to 10 hours whereas a software-decoded video will play only up to 5 hours. This may well be true, but I don’t think Apple is in any position to preach about battery life. I have had to charge my iPhone, without fail, every night. If I don’t, I’ll get into the red midway through the next day. I don’t make that many calls, either (if I could exchange my rollover balance for cash value, I’d be a rich man), so it’s not like I’m using my phone all that much. In fact, I check in to Twitter about 3-4 times a day, the same with Facebook and occasionally I play Racing Live for about 5 minutes (this is not a graphics-intensive game, btw, it is more of a “simulation”-type game). Yet, my battery is toasted by the time I reach home. I can’t imagine how life is going to be when multi-tasking is supported.

I guess Apple does have a claim to make here, they’re prepared to do anything if it increases battery life.

Fifth, there’s Touch.

A side-note, I wonder if Apple has actually trademarked the word “Touch”. Why else would it appear capitalized? Anyhow, Jobs’ claim here is that Flash was designed for mouse-based input whereas the iPhone OS introduces a completely new touch-based interface. The point is well-taken. I’m not aware if Adobe has made any forays into touch input, but my feeling is they would have, if they were expecting to release the Flash CS5 Deploy to iPhone App feature. Which leads nicely into Jobs’ final point, the most important one, supposedly.

Sixth, the most important reason.

Besides the fact that Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch based devices, there is an even more important reason we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. We have discussed the downsides of using Flash to play video and interactive content from websites, but Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on our mobile devices.

This is referring to the Deploy to iPhone App feature that I talked about in the previous point. Basically, Adobe is planning to release, in Flash CS5, the ability for a user to deploy a Flash animation as an iPhone App. Flash does all the heavy-lifting of converting the ActionScript code into the archaic Objective C format, compiling it as required by the App Store, etc. However, a few weeks ago, Apple modified their developer contract to state that creators of iPhone Apps must have originally created that code in Objective C. This basically makes any app that was generated by Flash CS5 in violation of the developer agreement. The same is the case for apps developed using MonoTouch–the commercially available tool that allows .NET developers on Macs to create iPhone Apps–as they are also not originally Objective C.

Jobs then goes as far as to suggest that developers won’t have access to the newest features when they become available, etc. I have a huge pain-point with this. In my previous discussions about Apple and it’s products, I always bow out of the discussion when someone brings up the point that Apple is not targeted primarily towards technical consumers. What this means is that I can go and build a computer for less than it costs to buy a Mac–that’s why Macs aren’t targeted towards me, specifically. I can understand and accept that–Apple does a good job in marketing a product and keeping their profit margins wide. However, Jobs, in this case, actually is trying to run the same argument by, except targeting them towards the actual technical users.

He hypothesizes that if Apple were to allow third-party code to be converted into Objective C, developers would become clueless about how to take advantage of the newest features released in an Apple SDK. That’s not only extremely inaccurate, but it is extremely insulting to many parties.

It is insulting to developers because we have to be ahead of the technology curve (for example, the iPhone OS 4 SDK is already out for iPhone developers, but not for end users) and have to have an understanding of how a system actually works.

It is insulting to consumers because it suggests that they will not be able to tell the difference between a good app and a bad app. As I’ve said earlier, it is a fallacy that all apps created within the Apple-permitted spectrum are good and all apps created outside that spectrum are bad. Why not let the user decide what is a good app?

Finally, it is insulting to the actual Apple staff involved in the app review committee. Jobs is basically suggesting that they will not be able to adequately test an application to determine whether it is good or bad, without knowing if it was originally Objective C or not. This basically throws hot water on the whole app review process, because it claims that the process will not be able to test an app’s usability independent of the development platform.

As a whole, I understand why Steve Jobs does not want Flash on the iPhone OS and I have no problems with it. I’m not a major Flash proponent and there are only a handful of websites I visit on an iPhone anyway. I would have a problem with it if I owned an iPad, but that, and several other reasons, have contributed to me not being even a bit interested in owning one. I do have issues with the lock-down of the development process, though, for no reason whatsoever. iPhone developers still have to purchase a Mac to develop their software on, because iPhone apps use a bunch of frameworks that don’t have cross-platform ports. So it is not as if Apple is losing a revenue stream there. It is not as if Apple is losing the developer account revenue stream either–since the developers of those apps would still have to pay their annual fee to be able to sell on the App Store.

On the whole, that move by Apple just seems like a reaction without provocation.

psyched about iPhone OS 4

Apple held their iPhone OS 4 event today and I must say, I’m pretty psyched by the features that they are rolling out. Some of them are things that should have been part of the OS from day 1, in my opinion, others are pretty good innovations. All in all, I can’t wait to see how they turn out come this summer. Let’s take a look at the features I’m most interested in…


Whooooohoooo! Multitasking has *finally* come to the iPhone. This is a feature that users have been asking for years now, and Apple has finally delivered. Their method of delivery is kind of interesting, though, in that they are not allowing for full-featured, automatic multitasking. Effectively, if you want to add multitasking to your app, you’re going to have to do a bit of work. Multitasking is exposed via 7 different APIs that allow you to plug-in to different things from background audio to VoIP. This is different from the standard computer paradigm of multitasking, wherein you save whats in memory and all your valuable stack pointers, load something else into memory and then set up your new pointers correctly. Whether this is a smart way to implement it, only time will tell, but it’s likely to decrease the latency in switching between applications and actually using the foreground app, with all that bookkeeping not being relevant any more.


Of late, I’ve been suffering from an inability to organize my apps as I want them because there are too many/too little of a certain type. I tried to be as categorical as I could from the beginning–organizing by things such as games, social network, etc. However, the issue is that if I want to reorganize a category, or if a category overflows to another page, I’m pretty much screwed. Or not screwed, but in a situation where I spend a bunch of time moving apps around. Folders have been part and parcel of the BlackBerry OS for ages and they are one feature that I used extensively when I still used my Curve 8310. This is a welcome addition to the organizational freaks such as myself.

Game Center

This is the last thing that seems like it could be useful–it’s basically XBox Live for the iPhone. Meaning that you can create match-ups, track leaderboards, etc. Many games currently do this through manual leaderboards driven through web-service calls–this would obviously be an improvement since there would be a standardized API to be able to handle all that stuff, and also the more stable Apple servers running it.

Amongst the other features mentioned, there was better mail management, better enterprise integration, etc. I didn’t really find much of that relevant, but I’m sure there are people who are elated by that news. Amongst the announcements that I didn’t like was their iAd offering. This is basically an effort to counter the in-app ads that are currently being pulled in by many apps (through AdMob and the like, I suppose). While the framework allows ad developers to basically create a lightweight app (one that in many ways will be like a pre-OS 4 app), I think it will be detrimental to current apps. We may see a bunch of apps being rejected/removed because they don’t embrace the iAd platform. While the idea of having these app-like ads may seem novel, I wonder how many people seriously click on an ad. Then again, given that Google built its empire on ads, maybe I’m just a minority.

That’s all for now!

taxes and technology

I don’t think I’ve griped about my iPod Touch potentially dying last week. Apparently my iPod freaked out when I plugged it into my entertainment center last weekend to play some Ke$ha (yes, this was probably my mistake). The iPod was unsyncable through iTunes for some reason and since we had people over and I didn’t really feel like troubleshooting, I let YouTube and my collection of music on the hard disk take over. Later last week I took my iPod into work to listen to some music. Unfortunately, it would play only one song. I repeat, only one song. At the end of the song, I’d hear approximately 0.83 seconds of the next song and then the music app quit.

Any other app I opened did not work either. Just boot up and shut down immediately. I did a reboot on the system a couple of times and there was no improvement. Finally, I got the chance this weekend to try and figure out what the problem was. When I plugged the iPod in, it told me I needed to update my software. When trying to update my software, it said that it could not backup my profile. I had all my music on my computer and all my apps are on my iPhone now so I thought, what the hell, let’s just do a full-scale restore operation. Restore failed. A couple of times.

Luckily I was watching TV at the time (I think Modern Family or The Office or maybe even an NBA game or something) so I had the patience to keep trying. Finally, the restore went through. However, it then promptly hung when I tried to name my iPod (configuring it as a brand new device). I quit iTunes forcefully and upon restarting, it gave me the “Cannot Sync” message, forcing me to restore it again. I had to do about 2-3 clean restores before I was finally able to configure the device to work (I think). Once I finally managed to name my iPod (going with the generic sohum’s iPod instead of something as exciting as sohummm or maybe even iSohum) I decided that I had had enough of iTunes.

Fortunately for me, I had stumbled upon an article a couple of weeks ago about how an iPod user wanted to divorce iTunes. If you recall my “iTunes kills the iPhone experience” blog, you will note that I was in much the same position (except that I would never be able to overlook iTunes’ many flaws to ever marry it in the first place). One of the alternatives was MediaMonkey, which I promptly downloaded, installed and fired up. While the interface isn’t as clean-cut as iTunes, it is infinitely more performant. It took me about 25-30 minutes to set up my sync list and then I clicked one button and it was ready to go, quietly doing its stuff in the background. The last time I tried to use iTunes to set up a new iPod with my music (my iPhone, in that case), I had to live through about 2 hours of iTunes trying to figure out whether each song in my library should be included on the “gapless” playback list before my computer was usable.

I don’t change my music all that often–just add new tunes here and there, so it seems MediaMonkey is the perfect hands-off tool for me to sync my iPod without having to deal with the crapware that is iTunes. I’m not interested in buying crippled, low bitrate music from iTunes and even if I did, I would do it directly through my iPod (if that’s possible).

Anyways, that’s the technology part of this blog. Tomorrow will be a test of whether my iPod is truly fixed or whether it was just pretending to do so.

The other thing I wanted to touch upon was taxes. Yep, tax season is coming up! While at Rice, the international student office kindly set us up with a license of the CINTAX (hilarious name, yes?) software to help us crunch the numbers. It had always seemed like such a painful and tedious process? Doing it on my own this year showed that it is actually not that complicated, especially if you have a simple financial situation, as I do. First of all, since I’m still technically a non-resident (in fact, an NR student, to be precise) I don’t really qualify for any extra deductions/exemptions. The tax treaty with India (Article 21(2) to be exact) allows me to get the standard deduction ($5,700) and my lowly income allows me to get the standard exemption ($3,650). However, this may be the final year that I will have such a simple process since next year I will be in H-1B status for part of the year, meaning that I may need to split my taxes or do something exciting like that. I will probably need to consult professional help at that point in time, but for now I am rejoicing in having solved one of those annoying life problems. 😛

Anyways, I got a lot of information from a website called, if any of you are international students and have stumbled upon this blog because of tax season. Here are a few more keywords to hook you into this blog (is this unethical?): 1040NR, 1040NR-EZ, Form 8843. Grin. 🙂

C’est tout!

iTunes kills the iPhone Experience

This Black Friday I made the jump to purchasing an iPhone. AT&T had a pretty awesome deal going on which allowed me to snag a refurbished version of the 3G-S 16GB for a mere $49+$18 upgrade fees+some taxes. Total price was around $70, the condition being a 2-year contract, which I’m not too worried about since I’ll probably be staying with AT&T anyways. I was already paying for a BB data plan, which is equal to the iPhone one, so no extra charges there.

The phone itself is beautiful. Of course, having used the iPod Touch for nearly a year now, I knew what I was getting myself into. I was able to activate after a few issues and copied over all my apps from my iPod Touch using iTunes. So far so good. Next, I found a tutorial on the web that essentially used iTunes to create ringtones. Splendid, right? So I created a couple. Then, I thought, “Oh, I might as well get all my music into my iTunes.” This was possible now finally that I have my Windows 7 Homegroup set up properly. So I went ahead and added the music folder to iTunes and went and did my P90X workout and showered.

Once I came back, I was ready to crank out some ringtones manually. Not. iTunes was busy “Determining Gapless Playback Information”. A feature that I really don’t care for. And one that is programmed badly enough that it ends up using all of iTunes’ resources, rendering the program unusable. Now, iTunes wasn’t a fantastic program to begin with, being slow and clunky, so imagine how the end user experience is when your mouse events are delayed by 5-10 seconds. Ridiculous. Luckily, there was an “X” right next to the message, and I clicked it and decided to hunt around in the Preferences for a way to disable it.

Midway through my search of the first Preferences tab, I noticed my mouse events slowed down again. “What?” I thought to myself. After about half a minute more I was out of the preferences dialog and to my disgust I found that iTunes had decided once again to “Determine Gapless Playback Information”. Annoyed, I clicked “X” again and sure enough, about 5 seconds later, it was back! Not only that, but it started from the first track every time! Looking around on the internet for a few fixes, I found a couple that should have worked but didn’t. I realized that now that I have bought my first “real” Apple product, I will have to enter that realm where I sacrifice a few of my rights as the owner of a device to do what Apple wants me to do. In this case, this means that I will have to let it run for the 30-60 minutes it must take to set up this feature which I don’t care about, anyway, and come back to do my ringtone-making tomorrow.

And they complain Windows 7 takes a minute to boot up…