Hi! This is Woz

So, I was sick yesterday and this is one of the messages I got at the office voice-mail:

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Playing with an iPad

Playing with an iPad

First impressions: it’s heavy! Unlike the Kindle, you won’t be able to use it comfortably with one hand. Also, it’s annoying you need iTunes to set it up, you’d like to see a more independent device. Apart from that, this guy is spectacular. The screen is outstanding, not so much the speakers. I’d like to see a better integration with Google services (for me it’s a must) although Gmail’s interface is great. The keyboard from which I write does the job for short texts. It’s fast, very fast.

To iPhone or not to iPhone

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I spent the last week in the US and, as the dollar is so cheap now, I decided it was a good moment to buy some electronics. The thing is that I was particularly interested in the new iPhone interface so the Apple Store at the 5th Avenue was kind of an ‘obliged’ destination.

I was happily playing with one of the iPhones they have there when an ‘Apple Specialist’ –that’s how they call the shop assistants– approached me. This is the conversation we had (approximated transcription):

  • Specialist: Any questions regarding the iPhone?
  • Zeta: Yes, I’d like to know if it’s gonna be available in Belgium.

[He got the iPhone to browse the apple.be website and gather all the information I wanted (it is gonna be available, and operated by Mobistar)]

  • S: Anything else?
  • Z: Yes, I’m a developer and I wonder if there’s a SDK for the iPhone.
  • S: Sure, you can download it from the Apple website.
  • Z: Cool. How it works? I develop the software with the SDK and I do the tests it in my iPhone, right?
  • S: Oh, no, you cannot install the software in the iPhone directly, you use the emulator included in the SDK instead.
  • Z: Oh, really? Why can’t I install the software I’m developing on my own iPhone?
  • S: Because we want to ensure that the applications are good enough and don’t break the iPhone. They have to be submitted to Apple before.
  • Z: So you don’t trust your developers.

[The specialist points at the crowded store and continues…]

  • S: Oh, no, no… we do not actually trust… the users. You haven’t dealt with the people coming here. They don’t know how to use a computer; they just come here to check their e-mails.
  • Z: Are you telling me you don’t trust your users? I thought this was an Apple store, not Microsoft’s.

[The guy increases the red tonality of his face]

  • S: What I mean is that you’re part of the one percent of people who understand. We’d like to give you the opportunity of installing software, but then everybody could do it, and this is bad.
  • Z: I see a problem of consistency here. If I buy an Apple laptop you “trust” me as a user because I can download whatever I want and install it. However, you don’t “trust” me if it’s an iPhone.
  • S: Because a phone is more important than a laptop, it can save your life! And to fix a computer you don’t need another computer, but to fix an iPhone you need a computer.

Then, I left the shop, and bought a nice Canon point&shot camera somewhere else.

Useful gadgets: Creative Zen

A couple of weeks ago my old an reliable MP3 player… disappeared.

I was planning to buy the same player again, when I discovered that for almost the same price (70€), Creative was selling a new Zen model which seemed to have all I wanted (and more): 2GB, audio, radio, video, photos, micro, rechargeable battery… and expandable memory with external cards. I doubted for about five seconds before buying it.

Since then I’ve been using it in a daily basis and all I have to say is that it’s a very good player. The audio/video quality is fine, the battery works, the radio tunes without difficulties, and the interface is intuitive. The accompanying software is simple and useful, thanks to it I’m rediscovering podcasts (specially vodcasts) .

The problem

It doesn’t work in GNU/Linux. Or to be more precise: I haven’t found a comfortable way of using it in GNU/Linux. Creative, shame on you! It’s not recognized as an external drive. I’ve also tried KZenExplorer and Gnomad2 and I’ve got many problems. I’ll check the Ubuntu bugs database, and I’ll manually update to the latest versions. Let’s keep the fingers crossed.

The tip

The player supports several audio and video formats, but I have my media in a myriad of formats. Therefore I needed a simple way of converting any audio/video file into a format supported by Zen. This is the way to do it (in GNU/Linux):

$ mencoder [input.*] -oac mp3lame -ovc xvid -xvidencopts bitrate=-1 -vf scale -zoom -xy 320 -o [output.avi]

[It will convert any MPlayer supported format into a XviD video, with MP3 quality audio (the bitrate is calculated automatically, and the video is scaled to the size of the Zen screen to save disk space). Of course, you need to have mencoder installed. Creative provides a small tool for doing the same in a graphical way, but it’s slower, gets a poorer compression rate, and doesn’t support as many format as MPlayer.]

You can see some results below. For example, a video downloaded from Youtube:

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A long P2P video (originally DivX):

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And a .mov video downloaded from the Apple website ;-)

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They all play smoothly.

All in all, I cannot be more satisfied with this gadget, specially taking into account what it costs. If you’re thinking about buying a player, I strongly recommend you to have a look at it. Apple, you have to do it much better.

Update: gnomad2 2.8.12, in Ubuntu 8.04, is detecting the player!