Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Midwestern Crawl

More Progress
I had a quick check up at Dr. Su's office on 1 November - nearly 2 weeks postop. The Xray was good, I was told to walk with one crutch while indoors. I used one crutch for the first time right there in the examination room. I was surprised how easy it was. The doc also cleared me to fly out to Detroit for 7 days minimum, and even indicated I could fly back to Japan after that.
I did my last PT at the Joint Mobility Center the next morning before I left for Detroit, and really surprised my therapist with my progress. She didn't see me the day prior, and didn't think I was able to walk on one crutch. My session was a bit rushed, because of the flight time in the afternoon - but everything went well. I got a big smile and a Tshirt from the staff.

Escape from NY
I flew out of Laguardia airport, and had wheel chair service get me to the plane. This was a good idea, as I got through security more quickly and didn't have to stand for long periods in line. I wasn't able to walk through the detector at all with out a crutch, so they frisked me. The TCA guard that did the frisking was very nice, and not pushy at all. I don't think the scanner picked up my implant - but it wasn't a big deal. The worst part was after they delivered me to the gate - no help after that - mostly because I was there an hour in advance. The flight was delayed an hour, and when they let handicaps and 1st class people in - I couldn't get to the front of the line. The gate attendant told me I should have shoved people out of the way. This wasn't really easy with two crutches under one arm and pulling my wheelie carryon with the other.

This was a NWA flight on a 757. They helped me get to my seat, but there wasn't any real space in front of it. When I explained I was supposed to get a bulkhead seat - they claimed this was it. It was a row behind first class and seemed to have a bit more legroom. The worst part of boarding the plane was it took 45 minutes to complete it! This was made worse by the attendants making people stow their carryons in places other than above their seats. In Japan, a plane this size gets boarded in 15 minutes or so. Maybe NYers are slow, but I have a feeling it was the attendents' fault. Unbelievable.

At Detroit airport, the wheelchair service was great, but they had one guy take two of us at the same time. We had to use several elevators, and a train (12 minutes or so) to get to baggage claim. I was surprised that there were no tag checkers of bags in Detroit - but I got my bags. My mother, uncle and aunt were there to meet me - so it was easy after that. Perhaps the strangest thing at that point was traveling in a passenger car not driven by a cabbie.

Slow Life with Benefits
I stayed with my sister in Temperance, Michigan since then with a couple of trips to my home town in NW Ohio, and my brother's place in Cleveland. Both drives were 1-2 hours, but I had no problems. The embolism socks were used, but I feel they aren't necessary. My sister got hold of a stationary bike from a friend, so I was able to use that as part of my PT. It was a normal crank size, and I had no pain at all! Again, a marked point of progress. I've been doing 10-15 minutes biking each day and all my PT stretches using the bench on my sister's wooden deck. This was pretty good, and the weather usually was unseasonably warm. Over the course of the last 10 days, my bridging and all leg lifts have become extraordinarily easy. I even found I could lift my operated leg while lying on my back - and can now raise it 30° up to 11 times in sequence. I could barely lift it at all in NY. I also found that I was rolling over on both sides in the bed with little or no pain, and even slept on my operated side without realizing it. The most stunning change was standing up and walking without the crutch. This began maybe 4 days ago, and I don't do it on purpose. I usually catch myself and get the crutch right away. There isn't any pain at all, so I'm very pleased. I'll be a good boy and use the crutch for the whole 6 weeks post op, like the doctor says.

My right hip seems to be improving visually as well. The bruising is gone, and the incision is fairly clean. I measured it the other day and it seems to be about 8 inches long. This doesn't bother me a bit, though others might not like it. I can feel some of the stitching - they feel like 1 pound test monofilament fishing line. Although they are supposed to disintegrate and dissolve - it seems they are still there. I caught one knotted end on my pants and it yanked out. Ouch! It also itches at times - but it could be worse I suppose.

The only thing I really wish I could change is the diet here. It's too meaty and all available drinks (except water) are sweetened. I bet I've gained a couple pounds here. I also found myself being more sedentary than I liked, except for a long trip to the shopping mall where I walked quite a bit. I thought perhaps this was related to the vicodan - making me drowsy or lazy. However, this isn't likely; I stopped taking it so frequently, down to 3-4 times a day instead of 8.

Back into the Fray
I'd hoped to do a little traveling before returning to NYC, and even toyed with the idea of visiting my friend in upstate New York. But I became a bit apathetic, and also realized I could only go via a one stop flight. This, and the concern I would be imposing on others made me realize I should just stay at my sisters and return to NYC the day before I wanted to return to Japan.

Before I left NYC, I made tentative arrangements to come back to see the Doc one day before flying back to Japan. To accommodate the MD's schedule we scheduled an appointment for 13 November. My week of lethargy in Michigan pretty much made it clear to me that I needed to get back home to my family. Making the flight arrangements back to Japan was a piece of cake, and after waiting for my sister's schedule to gel - I was able to get the the first flight out of Detroit to NYC tomorrow morning. I have to say I'm a bit pensive. I'm eager to get out of here, but not real thrilled to go through another day in NYC.

Hopefully, there will be no complications in my checkup, and I'll be on my way on Wednesday. :-)

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's the little things...

All this fanfare about Apple's new Leopard OS (10.5) has not moved me one iota. I suppose with all the time on my hands I could wrestle with installation on my ancient G4 PB, but I'd rather spend my time writing about other stuff.

Signs of Progress
My last couple of day have been interesting, as I find myself doing things (or trying to do them) that I haven't been able to. I sat up in bed two days ago, without realizing it was the first time without help. I stand on my two feet without a crutch or pushing up with my arms. I turn over on one side in bed, sometimes stopped by pain. I bend over to scratch my lower legs. I've even caught myself trying to take steps without crutches. Although I'm unconsciously pushing my limits, I sort of know I'm not there yet. I've found myself trying things first, then later asking my mother for help if I've failed. But putting on shoes is completely beyond me at this point.

On my own two feet
My reliance upon my mother for things hasn't bothered me much, and she's been good about letting me give things a go first before helping out. We took a nice walk out to the East river yesterday, and I was surprised at my endurance. I took a short video for my daughter, and was pleasantly surprised that I look pretty good.

Unfortunately, I won't have the luxury of her further presence here in NYC. I'm on my own! My grandfather passed away this morning, and mom had to fly back to Ohio to take care of my grandmother and other matters. He was very old, bed-ridden, and not very lucid. But he's in a nursing home and the impression was that he was stable. So my mother felt it would be OK to be here with me, despite complaints from my grandmother that her own needs were ignored. Now I know my mom is dealing with unwarranted guilt issues.

So, I'll continue here in NYC and hope I'm can progress to the point where I can be cleared to leave and attend a funeral. I'm not so close to my grandparents, so the death isn't affecting me as much. I need to focus on my recovery at this point, and if they need me I'll see if I can fly out.

I decided to show myself I can survive, so I somehow got my socks on (woohoo!) and slipped into my open back sandals to get some fresh air. I lumbered about 3 blocks to a deli, got some fruit salad and broccoli chicken, and returned to the Belaire. Folks were very nice about opening doors for me, and I didn't have any major problems. This was a big confidence builder.

OK, leftovers tonight, and PT tomorrow. One step at a time.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Post Op Shop II

Since my last post, things have progressed quite a bit. I remained in the hospital room until yesterday (24 October) noon. This was one day longer than I expected, but mostly due to tiredness.

Crutchety Old Man
On 23 October, the PT person got me out of bed and on crutches for the first time. Crutch use isn't as difficult as you might think, but it takes lots of arm strength - more than I expected. Crutch use mimics the walker - move both crutches forward, then bad leg, and good leg. Though tough at first, I was able to go all the way down the hall to the PT room (~20 meters). Once there, I rested a bit and was then tempted with a short set of stairs (5 steps). I decided to give it a go and was able to go up and down with effort. Up with the good leg, down with the bad leg - that's the mantra for doing stairs. You use only one crutch, and one rail - lots of arm strength again. After stairs, I crutched back down the hall to my room.

Holy Crap
I was able to repeat the crutch feat later in the afternoon - around 2:40pm. But before that I had an ordeal the likes I had never expected when I had to have my first bowel movement. Often after surgery, you are dehydrated and the cocktail of drugs they give you leaves you constipated. When mother nature paid a visit to me, I had to wait 15 minutes before a nurse could help me to the commode. Then when I got there, the urge to go was great - but so was the pain. I had to make a lot of effort, then was scolded by the floor nurse in the middle of it. They were worried I would pass out. Well, after assuring them I would just 'let it happen', I was able to finish. The pain was excruciating, and I was exhausted. And it was embarrassing to have a nurse tech clean me up after. Aaagh! Perhaps this was worse than catheter removal.

Night to Forget
I had hoped to be discharged on the evening of the 23rd, but the constipation episode wore me out. I felt I could use the extra rest and attention. Unfortunately, the nursing staff was not particularly cooperative or quiet that night. I couldn't get pain pills when I wanted, and they bothered me when I was trying to sleep or nap on several locations. Perhaps this was a sign that they wanted me gone. :-) But more likely that they had a very busy night shift.

Discharge

There was no doubt in my mind I needed to leave when I woke up on the 24th. I was tired of asking nurses to do everything (and impatient), and weary of my surroundings (except the great river view). My mother had already checked into the Belaire (hospital's hotel) and it sounded nice. Perhaps the thing that propelled me most was what I saw in the mirror when I got to the bathroom. After 5 days I desperately needed a shave, and my skin was very red around my beard where my eczema (dermatitis) often flares up.

The PT people came around again to confirm my first outpatient appointment, and even arranged for a sales person to come by with a 'reacher' - a device that helps you grab or pick up objects beyond your range of movement. I had one more PT session at 11am to practice crutches and stairs, then signed the paperwork for discharge. I had to agree to only take the prescribed medications (vicodan and enteric aspirin), and a number of other physician mandated restrictions. Then at noon, I said goodbye to my urine bottle and room, while a nice, tall blonde Russian girl wheeled me to the Belaire.

Reality Bites
Once in our 6 floor 1 bedroom apartment, it became clear that home life was not going to be a piece of cake. This realization came crashing down on me soon after I had entered the room. Although this hotel is run by HSS for families of patients needing extended care, it seems to lack things required by disabled or recovering patients like myself. No elevated toilet seat or chairs, low sofas, and a too soft bed. I can't really complain, as this will get paid for by someone else eventually. But you would think they'd pay more attention to needs of the disabled.

I also found that things are quite different when you aren't flat on your back in a hospital bed. You have to walk to the bathroom, stand while washing, move several meters to bed, chair, couch, etc. on crutches. If you change clothes (or pull up your pants), you have to use the reacher (or get some help). Fortunately, my mother helped me with many things, including going out to get meals, cleaning clothes, pushing chairs, picking up dropped items, reaching hard to reach places, lifting my operated leg, etc. Hell, I can't even get to the phones from the couch or bed in a few seconds.

Wow. If I was alone somewhere, I'd never make it after release from the hospital. Now I understand why hospitals in Japan keep you in a rehab facility for nearly a month for full hip replacement.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Post Op Shop

On the Other Side
My surgery was at about 10:30 AM on Friday (19 Oct), and I woke up after about 1pm. It was a little weird getting my sensations back bit by bit, and I didn't relish the lack of control. However, in a few hours I had all my major senses and not much feeling below the waist.

They kept me in the post op recovery room for 27 hours, because of lack of bed space in the hospital. Everybody wants their recovery on the weekends, maybe. But the nurses in the recovery room were very nice and helpful - pulling me through some confusing times. I was fortunate, in that I had little or no post operative pain. When the PT got me up for walking, I had some pain but was able to take a couple steps with a walker.

Wired
I was struck by how many tubes and wires were attached to my body, to either monitor body functions or deliver some important substance to my body. I had a saline IV in my hand, an antibiotic IV (wrist?), a PCA epidural in my back, sedative drip in my jugular vein (neck), 3 EKG electrodes on my left lower rib cage, a catheter up my schlong, oxygen tubes up my nose (photo), a bag to collect fluids from my surgical incision, and two pressure cuffs on my lower legs to encourage circulation (minimize chance of clots). Maybe I've forgotten something? The only thing left now is the cuffs, which pleasantly squeeze at intermittent times with a 'puff' sound. These cuffs actually brought the first sensations to my lower legs - making my toes tingle, then feet, then ankles, calves etc. Removing most of these things was often painful - as they were taped to my fairly hairy body. Rip!!

Stoned
The cocktail of chemicals and pharmaceuticals in my body was also impressive. I had/have blood thinners, clot busters, pain killers, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, stool softeners, vitamins... I've probably omitted something. The PCA epidural is a machine that delivers pain blockers to space between vertebra in my lumbar region. So, sensation from pain receptors at or below the level of the epidural were minimized. PCA refers to 'patient controlled anaesthesia'; I had a device with a button that I could press to deliver a pulse of meds to the epidural. While in post op, the machine delivered meds at a slow rate, so any pressing I did just upped the dosage temporarily. When I moved to my room, the auto drip was off, so I had to pump to get the drip. At that time, however, they also started giving me Vicodan and eventually weaned me from the pump altogether. I now take Vicodan every 4-6 hours (when I ask) and think I've cut it to one pill instead of 2. However, PT may push my dosage up again.

Room with a View
They moved me to a room at 4pm yesterday. I shared it for one night with an amazing 66 y.o. guy that had two THR (one a revision of a BHR), and was in such great shape he was ambulatory after 3 days. The room is on a remodeled floor (8th), and very spacious. I count eight window panes over looking the East River. Both beds face the river; I have a great view of the lights at night and the sunrise in the morning (below). Some aspects of the layout and equipment are not optimal, but these things could be worked out with little effort. Every morning with breakfast, they bring you a flower that you can stick in a little vase - gives you a sense of how many days you've been in the clink. Rooms are provided with free wireless internet of dubious quality, and you have to pay $8 a day to use the TV. After my roomie left this morning, I've had the room to myself - so I could really enjoy TV at normal volume levels.

I was switched from liquid to solid foods Saturday evening. Speaking of food - the quality is OK (and quantity), but the service is erratic. I remember writing down preferences before surgery (low lactose) - but apparently these have been forgotten. We are given menus with choices to circle. Unfortunately, some mental midgets on the serving staff are unable to remember to give me what I asked for, despite having highlighted my selections and attached it to the meal tray.

Physically Challenged
Today was day three - and my first full day in the hospital room. In the morning PT session, I had some light-headedness, so I didn't walk any. I felt embarrassed and frustrated - and also worried. I think my Vicodan wore off, as the pain was prominent. Or it may have been related to the fact that I didn't sleep well after they removed the catheter on Saturday evening. The sensation was annoying, and I couldn't figure out if things were moving or staying. The threat of replacing the catheter if I couldn't void put a lot of pressure on me to go before midnight. It was like learning how to pee again, but with lots of irritation. And my best friend is a plastic bottle between my legs that I fill up religiously. Maybe this has been the toughest thing to deal with so far, but I'm happy to report that my plumbing is nearly normal at present time. :-)

After an hour's nap and lunch (with more omissions), I felt stronger. When the afternoon PT person came, I rather easily sat up on the bed, stood with the walker, and made it halfway across the room and back. I think the timing of my pain pill around lunch also helped. Later on, after my wife and mother arrived - I sat up on my own, and with some help got to sit up on an elevated chair so that I could watch some TV from that position. Well, that was my hope. But with both gals yakking and fussing, I didn't see much. That's an easy price to pay when someone that is willing to bring you a decent cappuccino and donuts.

They also have taken my bandage off, and I've seen my incision with the help of my digital camera. It's pretty ugly, and seems to be covered with some sort of papery material. I don't quite see stitches or staples, so I'm not sure what keeps it close.

The care here at HSS has been excellent for the most part. I'm a little disappointed with myself that I can't make more physical progress. It will come, but I wish I didn't have to push myself so much to get over the pain or be so reliant on pain meds. My MD told me to try sitting to motivate me to get up more. I think it helps. I really want to be up and about on my own. And with bowel issues coming in the next day or so - I have added motivation. If I have the time or energy, I'll give an update in the next few days.

Well, the lame ALCS game is nearly over, and like the Indians, I'm out of gas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hip to be spared...

This post is a bit nontech, but perhaps many people will be interested in what I am experiencing. I left Tokyo on 14 October for NYC, and will remain in NYC a few weeks. I'm getting my hip joint fixed.

I've always been physically active in my adult life, but had to stop nearly everything 2 years ago because my right hip was giving me problems. This meant the end of biking, running, hiking, basketball, raquetball, and my passion - ultimate frisbee. It was a hard pill to swallow, but the pain and the diagnosis by a Japanese doctor indicated the hip joint was failing. I was told to lose weight and bike or swim to keep in shape, and hope to delay joint replacement until my 50s (I was 41 at the time).

Well, in the two years that followed I couldn't do much exercise because of the excruciating pain. Biking was impossible. Swimming was OK, but the distance I had to walk to do it was often difficult. And with my job standing and lecturing, as well as use of trains for my commute - things deteriorated. Adding a few pounds didn't help either.

In May of this year, the pain was so bad I went to a nearby clinic to see an orthopedist, and he told me the joint was in its 'terminal' phase, and that my left one was not in good shape either. You can see the Xray at right, bad hip is on the left side of the photo.

I started looking for local solutions to my problem - in Japan. I went to a reputable orthopedic hospital in Shinjuku and was told they could do total hip replacement (THR), and use a ceramic joint fitting. Unfortunately, THR is very destructive, basically cutting off the entire top quarter of the femur. And THR's may only last 10-15 years, with revisions requiring more bone destruction. Usual candidates for THR are in their late 50s or 60s, but for someone my age I just couldn't see whacking off so much bone. Unfortunately, this is the only technique readily available and in common practice in Japan.

You can see a THR example below left. This image is from Dr. Edward Prince, M.D.

Fortunately, there are other alternatives to THR, namely a relatively new technique called 'joint resurfacing' that was tried (and failed) in the 1970's, then completely revamped
about 10 years ago. The original successful version of joint resurfacing is the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System (or BHR) developed by Derek McMinn in Birmingham, England. BHR was in use in England from 1997, and was FDA approved for use in the US in May, 2006. There have been other similar systems developed (Cormet, e.g.), but BHR seems to be the most commonly used. The advantage of BHR is very clear for younger patients: less bone loss, more future options, higher potential levels of activity. You can see from the below right BHR photo (from Orthoworks, UK), that the implant size is considerably less - a femoral cap over or replacing the ball and a matching cup inserted into the pelvis. There are reports of many athletes having this surgery, including Floyd Landis, and they are able to continue their activities at similar or higher levels.

Of course, there are potential problems with BHR, and with only 10 years of supporting data - there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. The first of these is longevity. We just don't know the lower or upper limits of lifespan of BHR implants. The other issue is the potential problems from metal on metal joints releasing ions into the bloodstream. BHR uses Chromium Cobalt, and there isn't enough long term info to determine its effect. Another risk involves stress on the femur neck. Therefore, the placement of the implant is critical. The angles must be carefully worked out so that stress doesn't exceed the bone's capacity. This also means that the patient needs to have good bone mass to support this implant, compared to THR.

Fortunately, I meet all the criteria for BHR and am at the young end of the spectrum (average age is 48 years). Unfortunately, I had to look outside of Japan. Yes, there were a few places offering BHR in Japan, but the replicates of BHR performed were very small by those surgeons. Given the importance of positioning the implant correctly, a surgeon's number of BHR surgeries (as well as successes) is critical. BHR is relatively common in Europe, with Dr. Smet in Belgium having the most experience. There are actually two or three UK trained surgeons in India performing BHR (Dr. Bose in Chennai the most senior of these), and the cost of doing that surgery is very low compared to the US. Medical tourism to India is very popular, as a result of such low costs.

Given that US surgeons have only had limited time for BHR, only a few have had much experience, including the trials leading to FDA acceptance. Since my insurance was willing to pay for nearly all expenses, I decided to look for surgeon in the US with experience. When I combined this with a comparison of the best hospitals for orthopedic surgery, I came up with one particular choice: Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City, and Dr. Edwin Su. HSS has the lowest infection rate in the country, as well as the highest ranking by US News and World Report. Dr. Su has nearly 400 BHR cases to his credit, and I liked the fact that he is publishing research papers on his surgical work. Plus, I was able to find and email him directly - and he answered me in short order. So, about 2 months ago I began making arrangements to come to NYC for my surgery. There have been many hurdles, but Dr. Su's office staff made many efforts to help me out. The hardest part for me has been separating from my 11 month old daughter and wife for a few weeks. But after meeting Dr. Su and the hospital staff, I know that I made the right choice. I'm in very good hands. These are quality people.

So, I go under the knife on Oct 19th, and will probably stay in NYC for at least 2 weeks after for rehab. I'll probably post more of my experience in the future. In the mean time, I will try to see some of NYC.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

iPod Touch in Da House

Prologue
A couple days before my pre-ordered 16GB iPod touch was supposed to ship (28 September), Apple Japan sends me an email stating my iPod would now ship on 10-14 October, and arrive 15-19 October. This ticked me off, as I've already heard the Touch was in Apple stores here, and I will be going to the US for 4+ weeks on 14 October. Well, before I could call the English line for Apple Japan and rip them a new one, I got another email saying that the iPod had shipped and was on its way (29 September) and could be expected on the original ETA - 4 October. Whoa! Even got my くろねこ tracking number. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived on 2 October - two days early! Woohoo!

Unboxing the Touch

The shipping box was plain old cardboard, with the packing slip taking up most of the surface. Nothing much to see here, move along. Cracking open the box shows the slick Apple packaging cradled in a tomb of cardboard.


Here is the compact box in shrink wrap. I often wonder if Apple should go back to it's more enviro-friendly plain cardboard packaging, as this seems quite wasteful. After clipping the shrink wrap and peeling it off, I get my first look at my new iPod. Note the generous soft foam padding in the box lid. The box is double-layered dense cardboard. The iPod itself is sitting on a black plastic tray (not shown) which supports it above the contents below. More waste.


The Touch was generously smothered in a layer of plastic film, front and back. In the back view you can see how the film flaps were overlapped. I also got personalized engraving (not sure why I did this now), but it's obscured by the flash. I remember how my 1st gen Nano got scratched easily after I took this off. I was a bit hesitant to remove it, to be honest.


All the instructions (all in Japanese) came in the thin black box (right, above) and there were only two pamphlets (above), with the requisite sheet of Apple stickers, and a small slip of paper with websites with contact info. One of the pamphlets was info on compliance and addresses in various countries for support. The other pamphlet was a small fold out pamphlet with slick color photos and text telling you the general features of the Touch, with very little info on how to use it, and of course the requisite URLs to download the latest iTunes, and the pdf user guide. This was a bit surprising - no full manual at all included. I think it's fine to minimize paper waste, but this slick fold-out is more promotional than practical. Maybe I wouldn't mind the pdf 'only' manual if I could actually refer to it on my iPod Touch whenever I need to.


At left you can see the thin white plastic pack that contains the Touch's accessories. Inside there is the USB cable, Apple earbuds, dock adapter, and a supposed stand.

-The USB cable is crappier than the one I got with my 1st gen Nano. The 30 pin iPod plug is half as tall as the one from my Nano and lacks the side buttons to release it from an iPod. No plastic plug covers either, but let's call that a positive enviro move.

-The dock adapter apparently works with Apple's docks (but not on my 3G iPod dock nor my old Altec-Lansing portable speakers).

-The Apple earbuds I didn't try - they are still in the shrinkwrap. I'm not bothering with those things anymore.

-The stand is a clear plastic thing that has a groove you for the Touch's edge. It's kind of like one of those plastic things used to keep photo frames standing upright. Although I suppose someone will say that its elegance is its simplicity, I would say that Apple could have done much better for the price we paid. The big problem with the stand is that you can't have the Touch plugged in to the USB cable unless it is sitting in landscape mode. Given that the menus and controls are all in portrait orientation, it's kind of stupid. I suppose this allows you to use the Touch as an digital photo frame or table/desktop movie player...

-Apple was kind enough to include a 'polishing' cloth. I think it was under the plastic tray, but I can't quite recall. This cloth is supposed to help you control the fingerprints and skin secretions that will make your shiny iPod touch look like a subway train window. Unfortunately, the grain on the cloth is too coarse to actually polish anything. I had to use a damp microfiber cloth instead (came with my PSP).

Using the Touch
I'd like to post in more detail at some point, but will try to be brief here. Without a physical manual to refer to, I've found myself just learning by doing. Yeah, I could read the PDF file on my Mac and fiddle with the Touch at the same time. Unfortunately, I mostly have time to fiddle with the Touch on the train or while I'm falling asleep in bed. So, I probably am missing some things.

Browsing photos and watching videos is a joy. The screen is awesome (no bad screen for me) and the quality of video play is at times stunning. I love being able to zoom up on photos and see the grain. Getting video content on the iPod was not difficult. I had some Frederator video podcasts sitting in my iTunes library, and there is plenty of free video podcast content out there. (National Geographic rocks!) To convert some of my digicam videos, I use the free iSquint. I prefer to save them as TV format (this app was designed for the dinky 5G iPods), and the quality is quite good. Better quality would mean less space on the Touch. Loading photos was not so easy. I wasn't able to use my Pictures folder and choose folders within it to sync picture from. iTunes chokes on this - likely because of the number of photos in that entire folder. So, I'm using a nested folder with copies of photos I really like. Sure, I could sync with iPhoto - but I haven't cataloged all my photos there as yet - and not sure I want to.

The biggest gripe I have with the touch is that when I scroll around through menus (coverflow, music lists, etc) or even around a web page - I somehow inadvertently click on a link or button. This is annoying and I would think there was a way to adjust the touch sensitivity or the 'click' sensitivity. But there isn't. Yeah, some bozo will say that I need to practice using it more - but it's more than that.

The second biggest gripe I have is the one everyone has - no way to control music without taking the damn thing out of my pocket and firing up the screen. This is ridiculous.

The third biggest gripe I have is the inability to open a link into a new web page. Yes, you can open a second web page, but not open a link on a page into a new page. Pain in the ass.

I'd like to say more on using the Touch, but this post is too long already.

I will close by mentioning that I did find a decent pouch for the Touch. Given this product is just released, there isn't Jack for accessories available. I first put it in an old Timbuktu 3G iPod nylon case. But this was too bulky in my shirt pocket, and didn't fit too well. Then on a whim, I poked around the camera section of Yodobashi (after not finding anything in the Mac section). I found this little microfiber cleaning cloth bag made by Hama that just fits my iPod touch and is thin. Only ¥950! I remember seeing self cleaning iPods bags on Waterfield Design's site, but this one is nicer - has a draw string. This product is available outside Japan, and is made by a German company I think. And it works well, self-cleaning the iPod while it's inside. You can see what it looks like here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New iPod Redux

Since the new iPod Nano, Classic, & Touch were announced - there have been quite a few reviews, software updates, unboxings, and so on. The Touch has begun to show up in Apple stores, although Apple has failed to fill the pre-orders first. (What's up with THAT?!)
There are already complaints about quality control issues, including poorly mounted nano screens iPhone code  & uninstalled operating systems running on the Touch, Touch display problems, and iTunes Store snafus

Nano
Reviews have been favorable, with people raving about the screen and ability to see vids. Here is a typical Nano review. The cons seem to be an unpolished UI (user interface) - and a lot of folks think the new size is great. I would have to say that this iPod isn't really Nano anymore, more like a sawed off classic. And I don't find it easy to hold or use for long periods. The best thing I enjoyed about the 1G Nano was its truly Nano size. Apple has lost sight of this, unfortunately. And I really get fed up with MacSheep like MacWorld that think every Apple product has to have minimum of 4 rating. PlayList (MWs iPod site) gave the Nano a 4.5 rating. Ridiculous. Subjective. Nonsense.

Classic
Fanboys think this huge storage tank is great idea, despite the archaic form factor and (still) miscrocopic screen - plus the new 'features'. At least Chris Breen on Playlist hit the Classic with a 3.5 rating (should be 3.0 - but at least he is partially honest). Breen hits on the sluggish UI, useless Coverflow (finally someone at a major Mac media outlet gets it), as well as the lack of compatibility with older iPod games, and the incompatibility of current dock connectors for video out.  Shockingly, AppleInsider gave the Classic a higher rating (4) - mostly overlooking the problems. Fanboys.

Touch
Since I pre-ordered the Touch - I've been interested to hear about it. Unfortunately, what I've read is disappointing. First, WTF is Apple doing putting the Touch in stores before shipping to pre-ordered customers? Unacceptable. The people that went to the trouble of making an order in advance should be rewarded, not penalized. Why reward those that have the time to run down to an Apple store? That being said, perhaps a delay will improve the chances I don't get a dog or defective model.

The things that bother me from the reviews/unboxings are the inferior screens (washed out blacks) and the crippled features - like iCal editting. Jobs said it was the same screen as in the iPhone - but for many of the early touch recipients - this is a lie. Not only is it not the same size, the quality problems are not acceptable. Second, when the iTouch first went up on the Apple store - iCal editing was listed as a feature. Now this has been removed. For WHAT? It makes no sense why Apple would remove this small feature.

Further reports suggest Apple is not giving the touch many features that one would expect in a touch screen device with Wifi. This AppleInsider review takes a stab to explain why the Touch lacks these features, and tries to make the argument that the Touch is not an iPhone , but an iPod. The problem with this is that it really isn't an iPod either. You can't play any iPod games on it (WTF - is a touch interface more limiting that a freaking scroll wheel?!), there doesn't seem to be a way to click to advance your song (or a remote) with no visuals, there is no EQ (apparently), and you can't even make it a storage device. 

Although it's not a phone (and thanks be for that), it has all these interactive features that seem to be underutilized with the current OS. The point of having WiFi seems to be solely centered on selling iTunes content (though not videos). Although having a Safari browser is great - that seems to be the only way to view things like pdf files (you have to store them online somewhere and actually access WiFi to view them). 

Hey Apple, I want my freaking media player to actually display all my media - not just what YOU want to sell me!

Omitting a mail app, text browsing, and any sort of reason to type text (except on iTunes store and web browsing) sort of makes it POINTLESS to have such sophisticated text entry capabilities. What is the point of this? Put a freaking Preview App on this puppy?

I'm also irritated by Steve Jobs stating Apple doesn't want 3rd parties to develop apps (unless they don't involve internet) because internet interactive apps threaten the user experience. WTF. 

Hey Steve, did you ever think that maybe people want to use the internet in ways THEY want to? And if you want developers to focus on non-internet apps, why don't you release a developer kit or way to develop Touch/iPhone Apps that doesn't require Safari? Or better yet, how about a file system that allows us to upload what we want and a way to view text/pdfs without connecting to the goddamn internet?

What's the point of putting OSX on this iPod if it's not actually giving us a real operating system? I don't get it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm really looking forward to getting my Touch, and I'm betting I can overlook some of the issues if the thing works well. But I'm starting to wonder if Apple/Jobs wants to control everything to the point where people feel their choices are too limited.

Maybe this is why my brother feels Apple hardware/software doesn't let you do what you want with it.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Two Great Free Software Goodies

I came across two apps that I'm betting many people will find useful on their Macs: Milkyway and RapidoStart.

Milkyway (MW) is a small program by Launay Software that previews your image files with a pop-up window that you can resize. I tried this out because of a complaint from my wife. My wife was told me the other day that she couldn't easily preview images by selecting them with a large enough window in the finder. She also didn't really want to use iPhoto (because it's sluggish as hell, in part).

So, recently, MW popped up on MacUpdate with a new version. I kind of remember downloading this in the past, but it didn't work right - but my memory is fuzzy. When it's installed and you start the app, it stays out of sight. You can choose to show the icon in the menubar (way cool) and you can choose to have it start on log-in.

The MW pop up previews can be resized considerably, and you can also move the window wherever you like on your screen for future pop-ups. It also has this 3D glass effect - nice touch - that you can choose to disable if it's annoying. Give MW a try! I like it, and it's just unobtrusive enough to like.

The other free app I think many of you will like is RapidoStart, by App4Mac - makers of some other free apps with the "Rapido" prefix, like "RapidoWrite". [Note - I sort of recall that this RapidoWrite was shareware at one point - got a note from the developer once. Maybe it didn't sell well.] App4Mac also makes other apps in the shareware or commercial category as well.

RapidoStart (RS) was updated recently and caught my eye in a discussion about uses with QuickSilver. RS is essentially a supplemental dock you can call up when you need it by clicking on a small green tab in the corner - or with a key-command. The pop-up dock is customizable; you can add what ever apps or files you want and even make several sets of things for different purposes (e.g., image manipulation apps, PDF apps, research project docs). For those that don't like the non-visual nature of QuickSilver, it provides a visual way to get at apps you don't have room for on the doc. And if you are someone like me, with many apps I use for different purposes (and you can't remember the names) - RS seems like a great way to get to these apps. Unlike Quicksilver, which learns your patterns and sets up the keyboard shortcuts, you'll have to customize RS your self for the files you want to access.

The pop-up window is gorgeous - well rendered, and the app is very solid. Give it a shot and see if it helps your work flow.

Nano and Classic - Inferior?

A friend of mine took some time to look over the new iPod Classic and iPod Nano at Bic Camera in Shinjuku today. His comments were a bit surprising, but not unexpected.

He sent me a phone message saying that the new iPods were very sluggish, with a 1 second delay when trying to browse via coverflow. I sort of expected this new UI would tax any processor, but assumed Apple would use the appropriate components to avoid this. I asked him for clarifications on sluggishness with Coverflow turned off and this is part of the email he sent me. Keep in mind that this was someone who was set to buy a high capacity classic after seeing the product introductions on the 5th.

"Now that I've had a day for the new releases to sink in and actually touched 2 of the 3 new releases, I think this was a very poor, if not terrible set of updates. The nano is pretty much unusable, especially with my man-sized hands. The scroll wheel is very narrow, and slick, and unresponsive, then add in the frequent delays even in non-graphical menus like settings, never mind when you are looking at album art and other stuff, and you get a very poor user experience. Cover flow is just one option once you click on Music, along with the usual albums, artists, songs, etc. The edges on the nano are razor sharp as well, not something you want to hold and fondle in your hand like the 4g iPod and all earlier versions."

Wow! I don't think he will be the only one to have this impression on the UI and reponsiveness. If this is the case, Apple has made a huge boo-boo. Perhaps some of this can be addressed via an update to iPod firmware.

I'm also surprised about the click wheel. I don't have big hands, but fairly thick fingers and I can use my 1G Nano's click wheel easily. Did Apple use a smaller click wheel on this fatter Nano? He goes on about the edges on the Nano and the Classic.

"I read an article online by some guy who said one of the big subconscious reasons why people wanted an iPod so much was that it was so comfortable and sexy to hold with it's totally round and smooth edges. I love that feature of my 4G iPod and that was one big reason why I was unmotivated to buy a 5G, sharp edges.

The silver classic looks great, like a true Powerbook accessory, but again, has rough edges. And the UI is possibly even slower on the classic than the nano, also the clickwheel is very unresponsive and slick, but at least its a decent size.

I put hands on both classics on display, both sluggish UI's, and one nano, also sluggish..."

I kind of like the shape of my 3G iPod too, but I never had a 5G or used a 5G long enough to have an opinion about the edges. My 1G Nano has sharp edges and I sort of like that form factor more than the 2G Nanos. I'm very surprised to hear that the Classics may be more sluggish than the Nanos. You have to wonder what Apple has done here. Maybe these new hard drives' access speeds are not all that great?

He goes on to disparage what others did about the 3G Nano even before they were released - the shape.

"The nano fatty just looks bad. In person it looks like a horrible square. In hand it feels cumbersome. The rectangle is the ideal shape for an iPod. They've screwed themselves now with the nano. It has a silver metal back as usual, I read somewhere it was all aluminum like the 2G nano and mini, but that's not true, highly scratchable steel on back as always."

If someone like him (a Mac guy) dislikes these new iPods, I can't help but wonder if others feel the same way. Combined with what I feel are awful colors, maybe Apple has lost its aesthetic edge.

If others have seen these units in person - let me know.

Update:
I had a chance to look at new Nano and Classic at an electronics retailer in Machida. I have to second the comments above. UI is sluggish with both iPods, worse for the Classic. And the edges are definitely uncool, unpleasant even. You won't want to hold these for long. The problem is the bevel on the front - the corner is just awful. It gives these iPods a cheap, unfinished, poorly designed feel. I can't understand why Apple would do this. I'm hoping that the Touch has a nicer feel to it.

I also spoke with my brother (Windoze User / Mac Hater) about the Touch to get his impressions. He didn't pay attention to the event or even bother to look into these units. When I explained a few details about the Touch, he sounded impressed with the screen but was very disappointed about the storage limitation. He wanted to know why Apple couldn't at least make the thing upgradeable with flash memory cards or something like that. You see this in plenty of phones these days, and some mp3 players had slots for this. I can see his thinking - but wonder if compatibility issues with flash cards (like I have with my SD card) are one reason for omitting these slots.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New iPods - Oh My


Greetings from Typhoon Central! We are taking a direct hit from typhoon #9 (they are numbered in Japan) in a few hours. Since I'm inland, it won't be so bad.

Stayed up last night to watch the product intros. Most of you probably know the basic details. So, I'll give you my take.

iTunes Ringtones for iPhone
Apple is making it possible for folks to use parts of or make their own ring tones from their purchased iTunes audio content. $0.99 per pop.

The Good

Apparently, this price is cheaper than usual ringtones. (I wouldn't know, as I wouldn't pay much for something like that).

The Bad
Wait a minute - don't we already own these songs?

The Ugly
Profiteering at it's worst. First, they want us to pay for the songs TWICE. Second, isn't the whole purpose of a music phone to be able to use your own music however you like on the phone? It's inconceivable Apple would hose its customers as such. My bet is that ringtones sales are lack luster.

3G Nano "phatty"
Stubby design with wider screen (2"), can now play vids. Kinda like a sawed off 5G iPod. Curves of the nano and the new iPod classic remind me of those old Airstream metallic trailers.

The Good
Can play vids, comes with 3 free games, same price points. Coverflow (if you like that nonsense).

The Bad
Screen horribly small for vids, same size options.

The Ugly
The stubby wide design is fugly to some. The new colors for nano and shuffles are gawd awful over all.

iPod Classic
5G design goes to higher capacities and 'Airstream' stylings.

The Good
180Gb upper size option! Thinner than predecessors. Coverflow. Relatively cheap.

The Bad
Lack of imagination in this design. Apple sticks with the old form factor that was successful, but horribly out of date at present day.

The Ugly
Can't justify the purchase of this for video viewing. The old classic was too small for viewing vids and this one is no different. This design should have been flushed in favor of migrating entire line to iPod Touch (see below).

iPod Touch
New iPod based on iPhone with multi-touch screen interface, but lacking phone functions.

The Good
Gorgeous styling, thin and relatively light weight, has WiFi that can be used with a Safari browser, iTunes store, and Starbucks iTunes store. 20 hour audio play time, 5 hour video time. PDA-like functions, 3.5 inch screen which shifts into landscape mode when you turn the phone. Only real iPod option for viewing movies. We've waited too long for this, Apple.

The Bad
8 & 16Gb only! For the perfect movie iPod, one would expect more storage so we can cram more vid content. Even without video, 16Gb is way to small for many people's audio collection, forcing us to choose between the piss-poor screen Classic and the piss-poor storage Touch. Perhaps the cost and availability of flash memory is the reason for this. Or perhaps the added size from a real hard drive would make it less sexy. Price is a bit steep at $400

The Ugly
Nothing really ugly here. I've pre-ordered mine already, and expect it the first week of October. :-)

I do have questions about whether you can see flash and java content via the browser, as well as pdf files. And doing webmail (gmail!) would rock, but wonder if that will fly.

iPhone Price Changes
Apple decreases 8Gb phone $200 and 4Gb phone drops off the map.

I could care less about this, however, as we aren't gonna see this phone here in Japan for a while. The Touch is the best we can get. It would suck if you bought the 8 gigger at $600 - but you probably have the money to throw away anyway if you bought that.

No Beatles Catalog on iTunes
To be honest, I could care even less about this. The Mac media have spent too much time fretting and fanning the fires over this. We can get Beatles content from other places, ya know. And the iTunes store has survived long enough without it.


Summary
I would give Apple an overall grade of B- for this event. Improving nanos is fine, though I question the utility of such a small screen. Boosting the 5G iPods (iPod Classic) without changing the form factor is a horrible mistake. This old horse should have been put to pasture long ago. The shining star of the announcement is the iPod Touch, which makes up for much of the other iPod line. Let's hope that capacities for this increase substantially in the next year.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Conjure - Check it out!


Conjure is a very interesting app. Here you have a virtual pasteboard on your desktop that you can add text or links to any app or folder, graphics or even movies (or screen shots from your iSight).

It's kind of like a 'roll your own' desktop and launcher.

Neat! Maybe a good app for kids learning a computer or even just a way to keep track of various things during your time on the computer.

The app is still a bit rough around the edges, and people trying this out should keep this in mind. I would also think that the price ($35.00) might be a bit steep for now.

If Conjure could be set to your desktop background - or even pop up as a screen saver - that would add some functionality.

I also wondered whether this interface would be great on a mobile phone or even a PDA (or the new OSX iPods?).

I would encourage anyone interested to give this app a try and email the developer with your feedback. He is very responsive to questions and suggestions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jing-a-Ling

Jing is a free (for now) application on both Windoze and Mac that allows you to capture images or even video from you screen. This is being touted as a way you can do tech support for your friends, relatives, etc. without having to be in the same place. Jing saves its content as .swf files (flash animations) and there is a way to share your Jing content on their server - Screencasts.com. 
The Screencast service is free for now for use with Jing, and run by the same people (TechSmith). Apparently, TechSmith is assessing usage patterns to decide where they want to go with Jing and Screencasts. But for now, you can use both for free. And you can always save things to your desktop for later use.
I gave the Mac client for Jing a spin and it seems to work OK. There doesn't seem to be any detailed documentation for the app, just a demo movie on the Jing site and FAQs. The app starts out in 'sun mode' on the Mac - which means you can find the program icon after you start the app. The sun mode icon lives in the upper right hand side of your screen, under the Spotlight icon. Mousing there makes the sun icon pop up along with three options (capture, history, more) which have their own little pop-up balloons. The "more" option gives you several settings to choose from, including preferences to use a menubar item instead. I highly recommend this. If you choose capture, you get some sort of crosshairs to select the part of the screen you want to capture. I found this a bit difficult to use, as it often would only select the program window, but not its menus. Furthermore any active app you work in will sort of move from the active window, requiring you to select it manually as your first move.
After selection you choose from Image, Movie, Redo, or cancel. Movie records screen actions within the area selected. Image takes a screen shot. After you've recorded your shot/movie, you can save it or 'share it' which uploads it to your Screencasts account. After sharing and uploading, the url for the content is saved to the clipboard. So, you can paste it into your chat window or email. However, it would be nice if you had a list of shared content URLs to easily access. The History option of the main menu shows the vids/shots you've recorded thus far - but apparenly not the URLs.
I found the app easy to use, but a bit quirky. You can view a screencast file I did here for saving to PDF files on a Mac.
There are other options out there for recording screen actions on Macs. The most popular seem to be iShowU and Snapz Pro X. Both of these are $20 and $29, respectively. As Jing is free, it's gotten many more downloads on MacUpdate. If your are interested in making screen movies, give Jing a try. The developers seem very open to input on improving the app.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chumby - interesting

Caught this on Engadget a few days ago. There is a new internet hardware product called the Chumby, a fat little blob that sits on your desk, table, or wherever, and displays various internet content. It has some sort of touch screen, and you can choose the internet content from the Chumby website

Kinda interesting... Sort of...

New Mac Stuff - No Ultraportable Again :-(

Well, last Tuesday, you probably all know, Apple had a press event and released all kinds of goodies. I somehow stayed awake for most of the blog feeds, despite lengthy feature demos with little or no running commentary. MacNN and Engadget had the best live feeds, with Engadget's photos giving it the crown. MacNN's started well and updated more frequently initially, but it pooped out halfway and had to be manually refreshed at one point. For whatever reason, MacRumors didn't do a live blog this time. I'll review what was announced, and give you my take:

1. New iMacs
The good - Thinner screens, new keyboards, more ecofriendly glass front and aluminum covers, new slim keyboards, same price.
The bad - No info on whether these use less electricity, wireless versions of keyboards are MORE EXPENSIVE ($79 vs $49) and smaller because they LACK A NUMBER PAD. WTF. The 17" iMac is now gone (bad for some folks), and the new low end iMac is more expensive. Also, I read on TUAW that the Apple remote no longer clings to the side of the iMac.
The ugly - I'm sorry, but the new black border around the screen is butt-ugly. It makes the screen appear smaller for some reason. Plus, these iMacs still retain the wasted space below the screen with the Apple logo, whose only purpose seems to be for the attachment of postit notes.

2. iLife 08
The good - Highly anticipated update to the package, enhanced .Mac integration (along with .Mac giving you a whole 10GB now) enhanced iWeb features, completely revamped iMovie that is much more user friendly, improved iPhoto.
The bad - New iMovie lacks much of the advanced features of iMovie HD 06. It is so late in coming that the package has to be renamed '08 instead of '07.
The ugly - They are still trying to use iLife to justify the existence of .Mac.

3. iWork 08
The good -  Pages gets reworked and becomes more modular to separate word processing from page layouts, NEW NUMBERS spreadsheet (!!!) actually justifies the 'work' part of the application name, can import the new Windoze Office 07 .docx and other lame MS formats, improved Keynote, still very affordable at $79, smaller install size than iWork 06.
The bad - Numbers has problems importing many Excel files, in part because it lacks a third of Excel's advanced functions, no HTML export from any of the iWork apps.
The ugly - Not confirmed, but the delay of the new version of MS Office for Mac announced a few days prior is suspicious. It begs the question of whether MS will ever finish development of it.

4. .Mac
The good -  More space (10x more at 10Gb), better interaction and more functions with iLife.
The bad - 10Gb is still very small and free services give you a better value.
The ugly - not enough of a refresh for the service, still too tied to iLife for my tastes.

5. New MacMinis
The good - kept the same price points but bumped up the processors to 1.83 and 2.0 Ghz Core 2 Duo, plus bumped up base RAM to 1 Gb (woohoo!), sticks it in the face of those morons anticipating the Mini's demise.
The bad - kept the same enclosure, while a nice form factor it is a bitch to open.
The ugly - Steve didn't have the balls to mention this during the actual presentation, only during the Q&A session after. Lame Steve, lame.

6. Overall Presentation
The good - Apple hasn't forgotten its Mac side and seems to be continuing development of new technologies and style.
The bad - the emphasis on integration with the iPhone is pathetic, given it's only available in the US and will only be available there for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, not everyone wants a freaking iPhone. Steve perpetuates sales problems in Japan (it's bad here again), by not giving us a freaking real portable MacBook. FIVE POUNDS doesn't cut it here, Steve!
The ugly - The continued lack of a replacement for the 12" PowerBook is pathetic. The "rest of us" here in the world's second biggest consumer market deserve better.  

Monday, July 30, 2007

Time Bandits! Err... TimeDrawer

If you want a taste of some of the functionality of Time Machine, the back up system in Leopard, check out TimeDrawer from our friend at OneRiver Software, Masatoshi Nishikata. OneRiver developed the interesting Edgies app I reported some time ago. Edgies allows you lots of drawers and pull out postits on your desktop. 

TimeDrawer logs changes you make to documents, and their history over time. You select the type of document you want to keep track of, then TimeDrawer will save different versions of them for future comparisons. You can watch TimeDrawer do its stuff as you save documents. And you can access the history of a document by selecting it and accessing the contextual menu (right mouse click, or the cog in finder windows) and selecting TimeDrawer. 

As far as I can see, TimeDrawer works best with text documents, allowing you to compare content of different version. And it looks something like the Time Machine previews show. I installed beta 6, and recently version 1.0 of TimeDrawer a couple of days ago. So, I don't have much in the way of long term document evolution to track yet. However, the app seems to be fast, unobtrusive, and seems not to be a resource hog. Hopefully, I'll feel the same way in a week or two of testing.

Give it a try, and post your opinion here if you like. And, BTW, I found this via MacDevCenter.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New Canon DigiCam

I got sick of my 7.2MP Casio EX Z750 point and shoot, because the lens kept giving me errors when turning on and the damn thing didn't autofocus correctly. I lost too many good shots, because of the autofocus and decided enough was enough. Yes, I installed new firmware on the Casio, but no dice.

So, I started looking into what kind of comparable cameras there were out there. The Casio was 2 years old, so I wanted something with better resolution, anti-shake tech, and an underwater housing option. I also wanted something small and easy for my wife to use. One of the challenges in Japan is coming up with English reviews on the models available here, as often different names are used for the same gear elsewhere or sometimes completely different camera lines. Fortunately, all the major companies' cameras can be switched to English menus. I also found great reviews and information on digital cameras at the Digital Camera Resource Page

After my initial foray to Yodobashi, and coming home with a pile of brochures - I settled on a set of cameras: Fujifilm F40fd, Canon IXY 810 IS, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33. 

I shied away from Casio cameras - I couldn't bear to get another lemon, and I wasn't thrilled by the options for UW housings. I also shied away from Olympus. Their µ (Stylus) series cameras look awful, and the controls felt awkward. Plus the options for housings limited, as most of their point and shoots are waterproof to 3 meters. Oh, and Sony was no-go. Too expensive and I'm not doing the MagicStick thing again.

My decision wasn't easy. I favored the Fuji F40fd's controls and handling the most. Unfortunately, it lacks any image stabilization. [Its new replacement, the F50fd, apparently does have it... oh well.] The Panasonic TZ-3 has an awesome zoom (10X) but only 7MP resolution and too big for the point/shoot category. The Panasonic FX33 looked very nice, and came in several colors. Panasonic's image stabilization tech is rated very high too. However, they don't come with any Mac software AFAIK and the options on the menus left something to be desired. Furthermore, both cameras have USB 1.0 NOT 2.0! Unbelievable. That was the killer for me. Furthermore, you had to use a hard switch to access macro-mode - limiting your options (auto vs. manual).

So, I decided to go with the Canon. Considering I have a digivideo camcorder and a new multifunction printer from them - I felt fairly confident.

The IXY 810 is also known as the IXUS 950 IS and the PowerShot SD850 IS Digital Elph; I believe the latter is the model name in the US. It was announced in May of this year, and is an 8.0MP camera with 4X optical zoom. From the moment I popped in the battery after charging it - I was fairly impressed. 

Some points to ponder:
  • I had thought the controls were a bit awkward - but after a bit I found I was incorrect. Basic controls can be accessed by slightly flexing a ring in the direction of the icon you want, and these expand a bit on the LCD screen. Nice touch! 
  • You change shooting modes (play, auto, manual, scene, & movie) by using a partly exposed knurled dial. This seems a bit flimsy, compared to other models I saw. There also doesn't seem to be an audio recording mode (though I never used this on my Casio). The 810 IS also has an optical viewfinder, which I thought was important on the Casio - but I never used it.
  • Taking photos is easy and quick (get a fast SD card), and the camera makes a satisfying clunk sound when you take the shot. This audio feedback is really useful, for those of us who used film cameras in the past. Probably other cameras have this, but I don't recall it on my two previous digital cameras. 
  • The face recognition is fantastic. I was aiming my camera at my daughter today, and she kept moving around bouncing her head up and down. The white face square followed her head across the screen. 
  • Image stabilization works well too, though without a flash it has a tough time in low light levels. I played with the manual setting and cranked up the ISO to the max - 1600. It took photos in very limited light, but the image was quite grainy. I think this is to be expected, though. I'll have to play with manual mode more to see its limits.
  • Movie mode is nice (640x480) and allows me to zoom while shooting. (Many cameras don't let you zoom movies...). Also, images stayed relatively in focus upon zooming. This wasn't true for my Casio. However, I'm not sure I prefer the .avi format over the .mp4 format in my Casio.
  • The IXY 810 IS uses a rechargeable battery, but it doesn't seem to be chargeable in the camera itself. You have to pull it out and pop it into the included battery charger. This means that when your camera runs out of battery, you can't plug it in to keep power in it.
  • Another issue I had was with the 2Gb Panasonic Class 6 SD card I used for storage. This SD card won't mount on my Macs via a card reader after formatting on teh IXY 810 IS. In fact, you can't even reformat it via Disk Utility. So, the only way I can move content to my computers is via the USB connector and the Canon Camera Transfer software. This means you have to have a working battery to transfer photos. This is annoying, but I wonder if it is truly an issue for the Canon or for the card. I don't recall having these issues with the same card on my Casio - but my memory's a bit hazy.
  • The third problem I have is with the macro and flash. If you use macro mode, the lens barrel actually blocks part of the flash! So you get this shadow over one corner of the image. Maybe I shouldn't be using flash anyway with macro mode. However, I imagine flash will be useful for underwater macro shots. Lets hope the flash diffuser helps with this.

MacPak a Waste of Time

Around July 3rd, I purchased a $5 MacPak 5 bundle, as I thought there might be some interesting apps. I received the requisite messages stating that my payment was received (and made by PayPal). And I even received a message stating that the serial numbers were forthcoming.

Unfortunately, when the serial number email was delivered - the message wasn't displayed in Eudora. Apparently, the material was flagged by Eudora's spam scanner. And I couldn't figure out how to display the message. [I don't usually use Eudora these days, but the email my PayPal account uses is archived there.] I redirected the message to other accounts (that I access with Entourage or Gmail) - but no dice. One license (Photostickies) was sent to me separately by the software vendor (DevonTech).

I sent a message to the MacPak CEO (Mark Howson: mark@namenetwork.info ) and after a couple of days he told me he would send a new message with serials in a couple of days. This message never came, but I did get a huge load of spam mail from MacPack including a survey. None of my subsequent messages were answered and no serial numbers were sent. 

Today I decided to view the message without encoding, and after wading through shitloads of html I found a license for CastCount and a link for a direct download to a game (Chaos Machine) embedded in the message. Unfortunately, the CastCount license doesn't work with any permutation of my name (including MacPak registered name). Hopefully, the CastCount people will come through with one soon.

I can't understand why Howson would tell me he would personally send the serials in a couple days, then do nothing (three weeks past). I also can't understand why MacPak would send emails that can't be opened.

I was considering a complaint to PayPal, and sending similar comments to the vendors of software sold by MacPak. However, for $5, this is a waste of my time perhaps. So instead, I'll bitch here and hope the message gets out.

DON'T BUY ANYTHING FROM MACPAK, BECAUSE THE OWNER (MARK HOWSON) CANNOT LIVE UP TO HIS COMMITMENTS WITH CUSTOMERS.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Apple Japan Uses Old Web Site Style

This is odd. Apple Japan's website uses the pre-iPhone design - tabbed style. I wonder if this is related to the lack of iPhone's abroad or perhaps the lack of resources being put into Apple Japan.

Is Apple ignoring its foreign markets, because they are all iPhone or nothing right now?

After all, Apple's Japan sales are still anemic and will stay there until Apple releases a product of real interest to Japanese - such as an ultraportable laptop.

I'll have to check other foreign Apple sites to be sure.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

iPhone Stupidity

Although I suppose we should be happy that sites like Engadget and TUAW are giving iPhone free feeds... The shit they do cover is really pathetic.

Who 
Gives

Rat's
Ass
About...

the stupid crap going on in the lines for the iPhones!!!

Absolute nonsense. Why hype this crap any more than it needs to be? 

I can understand live-blogging a keynote. But live-blogging the lines for the iPhone? WTF?

Give us a break MacSheep blogs and provide some useful news about something else - OK?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

iPhone Smarminess

This is very funny - from the Onion. Picked it up from TUAW.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Printer Predicament Over

This is a follow-up I didn't get around to until a couple folks asked me about what I bought. I was trying to choose between the HP5180 and the Canon MP600 multifunction printers.

I chose the MP600, mostly for the reasons I indicated here. My wife picked up the printer for me from Yodobashi Camera, a major electronics retailer in Japan that sells much more than just cameras. They had a 'points' campaign and were giving 20% value in points for various printers. [Usually it is 5-10%. With 20%, I get ¥4000 I can use towards a future purchase or this one.] I was surprised when she called me from the shop and asked if I sure I wanted the Pixus and not the Pixma. This confused me, as I thought I had told her the wrong printer. The sales person told her that the Japanese version is Pixus (export model is Pixma), apparently because they use a different kind of ink. So, I have to buy all my ink from Japanese retailers - no biggie. Apparently there aren't any other differences between the Pixma/Pixus MP-600, at least functionally. The only differences I could see was that they did include the CDROM tray, for printing on CDROM disks, as well as a USB cable. My understanding is that both of these are absent from export models of the MP-600. The other difference is that the bundled OCR software only has Japanese menus (no other install options). Otherwise, the print drivers are in English, and you can use English on the LED menu.

Set up was fairly easy, thought the MP-600 has a rather large footprint. You can put paper in two different feeders: the vertical sheet feeder and the horizontal paper cassette. You can switch between the two with the click of a button on the printer itself. Or you can select from within the print dialog box. This is handy, as we need to print in both US Letter and A4 size paper. However, my guess is that most folks will put some sort of photo paper in the cassette. Scanner function works well, and calls up an app called "MP-Navigator" which saves it to file on your hard drive or opens it, depending on the option you choose.

Print speed is actually so-so. It takes a few seconds to wake up the printer, so if its your first print in a while - this slows the process down. You can choose 'duplex' mode from the print dialog box. I like this, but duplex printing is even slower. Quality of printed pages is good, though I didn't make a lot of comparisons. Although I can easily connect the printer to my AirPort Express, you can only print via airport and cannot use the other functions like scanning to the computer, or downloading photos from a memory card. With an airport connection, you also cannot access the printer utility from your computer. However, these functions can be accessed easily from the printer's LED menu itself.

We had a bit of a scare when printing our first photograph on photo paper. I loaded the cassette with some Epson 4x6 glossy photo paper and gave it a shot. [Loading the cassette was a bitch, so I may try by feeder next time.] The first photo we printed looked.... awful. I began to wonder if ignoring the directions to use only Canon paper broke my printer. My wife noticed that I had printed on the wrong side, and began to berate me. I wondered how this could be, and we discovered that you had to load the cassette with the printing side of your media face down. WTF! That seems bass-ackwards to me. However, once we printed on the correct side of the paper - we were both very impressed with the results. [And Epson paper works just fine...].

Another nicety we noticed is that if the front door from the printer is up, the printer will open the door automatically so that the output has some place to go. Nice touch! We also like that we can close the LED flap to save space, and that the printer puts the LED and other functions into a sleep mode. I'll take the trade-off for warm up time if we can save energy.

I haven't had the chance to try photocopy function, card slots, pict bridge, or even direct download from camera yet. My guess is that we won't use these much - but we will see.

In any case, we are quite happy with the new printer. Having everything networkable would be great, but the slow file transfer speeds via ethernet (or heaven forbid airport) would be a drag. Now I have to figure out if I have an open USB port on my iMac or whether I should just leave it as an Airport printer.

So, the Canon MP-600 gets a MacKenchi "Thumbs Up" for now. Let's see if it stands the test of time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

WWDC 07 Keynote - more detailed comments

Like many, I was very disappointed in Jobs keynote address, and not surprised that Apple's stock prices dropped. The lack of hardware was depressing.

But Jobs did introduce many 'amazing' features for Leopard, and announced a competing browser for Windoze users. I'll briefly comment on what he presented.

Leopard Overall
I have to say that most of what was demo'd was visually appealing, but not particularly practical. It gave me the impression that Leopard will be the OS for people "who don't care about getting things done". I also suspect much of the animations in folders, docks, and file sorting will mean alot of demand on your processor, RAM, and maybe HD space. It wouldn't surprise me at all if you had to have an Intel Mac to use Leopard. Waiting until October makes this more digestible for Mac users. By that time, the number of Intel machines used by consumers may exceed PowerPCs in use. Furthermore, PowerPC Macs may have started to reach their EOL by that time.

New Desktop
Meh. I don't use the dock much. It stays hidden. So all of these tricks and gimmicks on the dock seem like wasted processor cycles. I look forward to minimizing my mouse use in my computer experience, not increasing it. 

And, I actually like brushed metal looks.

Stacks
These are sets of files you make for certain tasks. I like the idea of putting all my image processing apps in one stack, and molecular biology apps in another stack. This seem better than trying to remember the name of little used apps or what you have available. The problem I have with the Stacks concept is the need to use a mouse to browse them. Maybe Quicksilver can be integrated with this. But maybe QS can already do this.

Network View/Back to My Mac
I'm all for making my files available to me everywhere and having fast network browsing. But I have two problems with this idea. First, you need to keep your freaking machines ON all the time to take advantage of this. Maybe you can't even let them sleep. What a waste of electricity! The second problem is that it seems you'll need a .Mac account to make use of it. Is this a way for Apple to push its much maligned internet service? I think we need to get away from .Mac, not become more dependent on it.

Coverflow for File Browsing
Yuck! I don't use coverflow now with iTunes. Seeing an Album's cover doesn't make me want to play a song from it. So why would I want to use coverflow with the finder? Flipping through file icons or previews isn't really an efficient way to get at my files. Sure, their may be times I want to browse stuff, but mostly I know what I want.

Quick Look
Sounds like a nice way to browse the content of files you browse with coverflow. And certainly for images it could be very useful if you don't want to look through a host of thumbnails. But I would bet not all apps will be adequately supported for QuickLook.

64 Bit
So... will this work on all Macs? I somehow think you'll need a fast Intel machine to really take advantage of it. We'll have to see how it actually works.

iChat
C'mon Steve. The rest of the world (>93%) is using either Skype or MSN for chatting, particularly video chats. That's a lot of 'heartwarming' opportunity lost by iChat users. This means despite how nice iChat is, I can't use it to do vid chats with my Mom or most of my family. So, despite the holograms and so forth - the focus needs to be on true interoperability - not features.

WebClip and Dashboard
Again, I rarely use Dashboard. It's a memory hog and doesn't sit on my desktop unless I install some doodad that lets me do so. In fact the most common Widget I use is "Stop Dashboard".
How about fixing the problems with processor load before bloating this feature? The ability to clip part of a web page and have it dynamically update as a widget sounds nice. But I can't imagine it would be useful to me during the work day.

Boot Camp
Wow - having Boot Camp built in sounds nice. But I didn't really understand the part about how Parallels and vmWare are both excellent alternatives. Seems like Apple's move puts them in a spot. What we really need is a BootCamp for Windows laptops so I can use MacOS on them.

Hmmm....

TimeMachine
We saw this the last time, and it looks very useful. I still question the HD and RAM assets you'll need to have available to use it effectively.

Spaces
Also saw this last time - a 'Virtual Desktops' ability for OSX. If you didn't use the shareware/freeware versions of this now, you won't use Spaces later.

Safari on Windows
Ummm... why? Apple can't even make Safari work effectively on a Mac. I mean, I can't blog on Blogger with Safari now, or use our university's online content services (e.g., Moodle, WebTycho). Why would porting this experience to Windows users be a selling point? This kind of pisses me off, as Apple hasn't taken care of its own flock yet. Yes, Safari is great for many things and has fantastic feature. I really like the way it handles RSS feeds. But if it can't handle secure access points now,  I don't want to see Apple waste time on making it available for Windows users. Pointless exercise.

OK - there's my slant. Hopefully I've spurred folks to look differently at Steve's reality distortion event.