Photos by Richard Sanderson
You’ve probably seen news photos of computer scientists with funky helmets, and a caption that says the scientists have developed “wearable computers.” There are also goggles you can wear that blind you to everything but a miniature computer monitor, allowing you to be totally immersed in E-mail, or a spreadsheet, or (more likely) a video game.
Wearable computers do exist, but they don’t require funky helmets or goggles. Millions of people already have them: the iPhone and the iPod touch. Though touted as, respectively, a phone and a music player, the iPhone and the iPod touch are, in fact, full-fledged computers, and the September meeting explored this brave new world. But first, there was a bumper crop of questions and answers.
What is a smart mailbox? Aside from being another curious artifact of Apple’s marketing (do you want a mailbox to be smart?), this is essentially a folder in Apple Mail that collects messages based on user-defined criteria. You can set up a mailbox to direct all incoming messages addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org to a particular folder, or all messages from email@example.com to another folder. You can create a folder that will automatically funnel any new message sent from before 2008 to a “possible spam” folder (many spammers have computers with dead batteries, so the date and time are bogus). Combined with “Rules” (found under Mail > Preferences), you can set up all kinds of elaborate E-mail filtering to automatically slice and dice your correspondence.
How do you secure your Mac? This is not a question that can be covered adequately in a Q&A session, but the Pi Web site has a three part series on the subject at: http://www.wap.org/journal/security/
Can you use a surge suppressor with a UPS? No. Never. Nor can you plug one UPS into another. You can plug an extension cord into a UPS, and use a dumb old power strip with a UPS, but the voltage regulation circuitry in a UPS and in a surge suppressor will argue with one another, and either short each other out or damage your equipment, or both.
What does “too many redirects” mean? If you see this in your Web browser, it either means, literally, that a Web page was moved multiple times and now can’t be found, or that your Web browser thinks something fishy is going on and won’t follow the redirect because it presents a security issue.
What does it mean when you get a message that the startup disk is almost full? This is a non-trivial message, so the proper response is: stop what you are doing and fix the problem. You can corrupt your hard drive if the problem is not fixed. If you get this message and you think you still have room on your drive, make sure you are looking at the startup drive; having room on a data drive doesn’t help, as your Mac uses the startup drive for caching information, creating virtual memory, paging memory, and other topics that would each require an article unto themselves. If you are convinced that the message is bogus, seek technical assistance; your Mac thinks something is wrong, and it needs to be checked.
My workplace only allows use of Internet Explorer; is there any way to view Apple’s MobileMe pages? MobileMe does allow use of Internet Explorer 7 and 8; it doesn’t work with Internet Explorer 6. Look closely at the warning box (Figure 1). If you press the Continue button, you can use Internet Explorer 7 and 8, though this is slower than Firefox or Safari, and some things may not display correctly.
This warning box doesn’t absolutely prohibit the use of Internet Explorer 7 or 8: note the dark Continue button at lower right.
How can I tell what is running on my Mac? Inside your Utilities folder, find and launch Activity Monitor. You’ll be amazed at what is running.
My new Mac has a Mighty Mouse, and it moves the cursor all over. Is there anything I can do about it? The most common problem with optical mice: dust on the bottom lens. These mice are also sensitive to the surface you are using; glass and mirror surfaces are not good choices, nor are dusty surfaces.
Are there external iPhone batteries? Yes, there are, with more on the way. These batteries plug into the data connector on the bottom of the iPhone.
Can you really get E-mail on a phone in the middle of a swamp? You can, but only if there is a cell tower somewhere within a mile or three. Only the most modern swamps have such service.
Pi President Bob Jarecke then took a few minutes to talk about Pi business. The Pi office is moving. The address will stay (almost) the same, but the office is moving one story up in the current building, into a space less serpentine than the current one. Related to this move, the Tuesday Night Clinic and Reclamation Program are going into hiatus, as the volunteers who run these programs don’t think visitors will want to deal with stairs. The Pi leadership is actively looking for a better space for these programs.
Bob also announced that, while the Pi does plan to move to an electronic Journal, the exact details are being reconsidered, and no set timetable has been laid down. Additional details on the office move, the Tuesday Night Clinic and Reclamation Program, and the electronic Journal will be announced on the Pi Web site when available.
Lawrence Charters then demonstrated how the iPod touch is more than just a music player. Since the iPod touch screen is just 3.5 inches across, Travis Good rigged up a video camera on a tripod, and plugged it into a data projector so the audience could see the iPod touch screen. This worked reasonably well, though Lawrence’s hands or fingers, or both, often blocked the view. Next time, we’ll make sure to drink an Invisible Man potion before starting the demo.
Travis Good operates the video camera (patched through a digital projector) while Lawrence Charters operates his iPod touch. (Photo by Richard Sanderson)
When originally released, the iPod touch could play music, it could play
videos, it could display photos, and, using the WiFi feature, could let you
surf the Web with Safari. Lawrence showed a special Apple Composite
AV Cable that even allows you to attach an iPhone or iPod touch to a TV and
display movies and photos on your TV.
Later updates added E-mail, Address Book, and some other tweaks, greatly expanding the capabilities of the iPod touch without requiring new hardware. But with the release of the iPhone 2.0 software (a version of this software came out for the iPod touch, too), that same original iPod touch can now do almost anything, and has gone beyond being a music player to being a wearable computer.
Thanks to Apple’s iTunes Store and its App Store component, you can now download thousands of games, books and book readers, social networking applications, reference applications, finance and business applications, education aids, music applications, photography applications, news readers and other items that are somewhat harder to classify. That portable computer in your pocket not only plays music and videos, but also can be used for:
iPint, an application that “fills” your iPod touch with frothy beer, which you can then “drink” by tilting the iPod touch and watching the beer drain away;
Gengou, an application that matches Japanese reign eras to Western calendar years;
Cannon Challenge (best viewed sideways unless you are real, real good)
Cannon Challenge, an application (created by Discovery Channel) that allows you to modify the velocity and angle of elevation of a cannon to blow up non-line-of-sight targets, especially when waiting for a tardy spouse;
The Bible, available in multiple languages and multiple translations;
Constitution and Declaration
Constitution and Declaration, two applications that have the complete texts of, respectively, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence;
Birds, a photo guide to North American birds, complete with a sightings journal and (in the most recent version) audio samples for many birds;
Currency, an application that downloads the latest information on the value of the U.S. dollar compared to the Canadian dollar, Euro, British pound, Japanese yen, Australian dollar and Chinese yuan;
Epocrates, a drug information guide that gives characteristics and interactions of various drugs, and even shows photos of pills so you can identify those mysterious things you have in your medicine cabinet;
Cube Runner, a game that allows you to “fly” through a landscape populated with cubes, steering by tilting the iPod touch;
File Magnet, one of the best-selling paid applications on the App store, that allows you to store and view Word, PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, RTF, text and Web files;
Koi Pond, another App Store bestseller, is a Japanese koi (carp) pond, complete with rocks, lily pads, and water ripples. You can feed the fish if you shake the iPod touch; hold your finger in place and the fish will come over to nibble it;
Labyrinth Lite, a maze game in which you tilt the iPod touch in order to roll a ball through a wooden maze. You can also use it as a bubble level;
iWant, an application that shows you the location of nearby bars, restaurants, coffee shops, drug stores, dry cleaners, movie theaters, hotels, department stores, and other things you might need to find when visiting a new neighborhood or city;
Air Sharing, another application that allows you to wirelessly mount your iPod touch on your Mac’s desktop and store and view a wide variety of documents;
Molecules, an educational tool that allows you to visually manipulate 3D models of molecules such as DNA, insulin, TNT and any others you care to download and add;
Shakespeare, the complete works of William Shakespeare in your pocket;
Vegas Pool Sharks Lite
Vegas Pool Sharks Lite, a pool table in your pocket (a paid version offers many more options);
Lightsaber Unleashed, by Lucasfilm, allows you to pick your color of light saber and theme music, and then have a nice sword fight by swinging the iPod touch around.
There are several things worth mentioning: (1) none of these applications was available on the original iPod touch, but all of them work on that same device today; (2) all these applications work on an iPhone as well as an iPod touch; (3) several of these applications require a wireless network connection to download updates, connect to computers, find your location, or do other tasks; (4) several of these have sound and require earbuds, headphones or speakers, unless you have a second-generation iPod touch or an iPhone, both of which have built-in speakers; (5) several of these take advantage of the accelerometers in the iPod touch and iPhone, and use tilting, twisting, shaking or some other movement to perform some action.
For iPod touch users, the world has changed drastically in just one year.
Travis Good also has an iPod touch, so we had to resort to alternate technology to talk about the iPhone. Fortunately, Keynote (part of iWork) was up to the task. Travis showed a series of slides that highlighted the physical differences between the latest iPhone 3G and the recently-released iPod touch 2G.
An iPhone is slightly longer, slightly thicker and slightly heavier than an iPod touch, but not dramatically so. The new iPod touch has a chrome metal back, while the iPhone 3G has a black or white back. The iPhone camera lens also adds a noticeable difference to the back.
In terms of capability, the iPhone 3G does several things an iPod touch does not besides, obviously, function as a mobile phone. It has Bluetooth, so you can pair it with a headset, or even some cars. It has a built-in microphone. It has high-speed wireless access to the Internet, without using WiFi (but, like the iPod touch, it also has WiFi). It has Geospatial Positioning System (GPS) hardware, so you can see where you are, provided you are outside. It has a digital camera. It supports SMS (Short Message Service), otherwise known as text messaging.
The only iPod touch 2G capabilities not found on the iPhone 3G are: support for Nike+ (a wireless system that tracks your walking or running with select Nike shoes, and also works with other shoes if you fake it) and capacity up to 32 GB (the iPhone presently comes in either 8 GB or 16 GB).
Obviously, the mobile phone capability is the most significant difference. Because of this, you can have Internet access virtually anywhere; you don’t have to be within 50 feet of a WiFi hotspot as with the iPod touch. If you are in a new town and want to find out about the local restaurants, you are just a button or two from getting that information. Want to check out stock prices in that swamp mentioned in the Q&A session? You can do that. Want to check your E-mail while grocery shopping? You can do that, too. Oh, yeah: you can also make phone calls.
Audience members with iPhones also said that the built-in camera is surprisingly handy. While it can’t compare with a high-end digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera, the fact that it is instantly available, and you can instantly E-mail the photos, makes it perfect for taking notes of things you saw in the store, or where you parked your car, or taking care of any number of other little chores that you wouldn’t normally think involved a camera.
Travis noted another major difference between the iPod touch and the iPhone: y ou can use an iPod touch for free, once you buy it; an iPhone comes with monthly fees ranging from $69.99 to as much as $139.99, not including various taxes and random charges that appear on phone bills. Several in the audience said that this, too, can be minimized, usually by eliminating a landline phone service or cutting back to just a basic landline phone service.
Travis showed some maps of AT&T’s 3G (high speed) data service and their older, slower 2G service, and it is clear that the iPhone is not designed for use in Alaska, Montana or Wyoming. 3G service, in particular, is concentrated in areas around major cities; sheep herders and cattle drivers will have trouble getting any kind of service at all.
One of the most controversial aspects of the iPhone 3G introduction was the simultaneous transition of Apple’s online .mac service to MobileMe. After a few teething issues, MobileMe has turned into a virtually seamless way to keep your calendar, E-mail, and address book in sync between your Mac and the iPhone (or iPod touch). iPhone users also report that you can sometimes get E-mail even when phone service is, at best, iffy.
Apple’s ability to make the Web-based equivalents of Mail, Address Book, and iCal look and work pretty much the same way they do on the iPhone or a Mac is also a plus.
Travis also talked about some features of MobileMe not directly related to the iPod touch or iPhone, chiefly the Web photo gallery capabilities and iDisk, which provides 20 GB of online storage. Taken as an integrated package, MobileMe and Apple’s pocket computers, as the company’s advertising suggests, “changes everything.”
Travis’ slides are on the Pi Web site, http://www.wap.org/events/sept2008/
If you were one of the four score who attended the meeting, you know that we had coffee, water, donuts and pizza, the latter for lunch. There was also a drawing for an iPod touch, and Mindy Nash was absolutely shocked to find she’d won.
Three groups broke up into Special Interest Groups (SIGs) following lunch, one for iLife, one for Genealogy, and one for Beginners. Travis also held an informal “meet up” in the hallway for those who might be interested in further explor ing the iPhone and the iPod touch. This group attracted about eight people, some of whom had never owned either device and some of whom had multiple iPod touches.
After the General Meeting, Travis Good hosted a “meet up” in the hallway for those interested in further exploring the iPhone and the iPod touch. (Photo by Richard Sanderson)
In short: we haven’t heard the last from these wearable, pocket-sized computers. They may be the biggest things Apple has come up with in years.
Dive headlong into the world of Apple’s smallest computers: the iPhone and iPod touch. Rounding out the trifecta: a look at Apple’s innovative, controversial mobileme service. Finally, to top off a great program, we will be raffling off an iPod touch! You don’t want to miss this one!
As usual, we will start with the Pi’s legendary Question and Answer session. A short session of Pi business follows and then Kitty’s Koffee Klatch will get everyone out of their chairs and juiced for the main presentations. Lawrence Charters and Travis Good will then show you why the iPhone and the iPod touch, combined with the iPhone 2.0 operating system and the iTune App Store, have shaken the telecommunications industry. And finally, the raffle for a real live 8GB iPod touch — bring lots of cash!
We will be serving the usual fare for lunch, thanks to a nearby Papa John’s Pizza. Immediately thereafter, the Beginners, iLife, and Genealogy SIGs will hold their respective sessions.
With summer over, this Pi event will be a great opportunity to get back into learning more about your Mac and its ultra cool cousins, the iPhone and iPod touch. Come early, stay late!
Questions: Contact the WAP office at (301) 984-0300.
The meeting, open to the public, starts at 9:30 a.m.