Strictly Commercial

January 20, 2009

Apple Peripherals: What’s wrong with this picture? (And what’s right.)

Filed under: Commercial, Random Musing, Technology — castlewriter @ 9:51 am

I own three Apple peripherals, but we’ll keep things simple by talking about only two of them with only a minor note on the third, since some of their deficits (and strengths) are shared.

Apple Keyboard:

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We’ll start with the obvious weakness here: The keys. The white plastic doesn’t hold up to the natural oils of human skin. Discoloration happens quite easily and requires constant vigilance to minimize. In addition to this rather obvious deficit, the keyboard takes some getting accustomed to due to its exceptionally thin profile.

How can it be fixed? One minor modification: Change the keys’ material to black plastic.

Other modifications that would increase the appeal of Apple’s keyboards:

-Incorporate the backlighting present on the high-end MacBook keyboards.
-For the wired model, integrate a glass MacBook/MB Pro trackpad.
-For the wireless model, to compensate for the additional power requirement of the illumination system, develop a MacBook Pro style rechargeable battery.

The Apple keyboard line does have some outstanding strengths, however, and anyone who owns one knows them well already. For those who aren’t already enjoying an Apple keyboard, here they are:

-Large, comfortably spaced keys, even on the incredibly compact and thin wireless model. I’m typing this, in fact, on a wireless Apple Keyboard, and my large hands are well accomodated.
–Excellent depth of travel and tactile feedback on the keys.
-The wired model incorporates two USB 2.0 ports. The one on the right, in fact, is ideal for connecting your mouse.
-The wireless model has excellent power consumption and power management features, including what I suppose I’d describe as a “sleep” mode where, if the keys are untouched, the board goes into a low power mode. Additionally, there is a ‘Power’ button on the right side to shut the keyboard down completely in the event the user expects not to use the board for a significant length of time.

Apple Mighty Mouse:

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Again, we’ll begin with the obvious weakness, and it’s the same one. That glossy white plastic looks fantastic fresh out of the box, but it doesn’t stay that way without constant inspection and maintenance. Not ordinarily a big gripe, except that when you buy a computer because it just works (and it does, really well) one of the things that should not be included is the need to spend between 10-20% of your computer hours polishing the thing. Another significant weakness, oft-mentioned yet still unaddressed by Apple, is the unseemly behavior of the far-too-delicate scroll ball, which likewise begins to demand constant attention after between two and four months of full time use. And finally, although not as offensive as the “puck” mouse that shipped with the iMac, Apple’s Mighty Mouse still displays an astonishing lack of consideration for ergonomics.

The fixes with the Mighty Mouse are similarly, and similarly easy and low-cost to implement:

-A change to matte black plastic trimmed in aluminum, both to minimize the need for time-consuming cosmetic maintenance and for superior aesthetics when coupled with Apple’s current desktops, laptops and the proposed Apple Keyboard family refresh.
-Replace the mechanical trackball (and really, what legitimate place does a mechanical trackball have on any piece of consumer electronics in 2009, anyway?) with a solid, touch-sensitive sphere or dome in the same location.
-Sculpted shape for greater comfort and control. The rationale behind the current design, aside from form overriding function, appears to be to accommodate ambidextrous use of the mouse. This can simply be addressed by offering the device in right-handed or left-handed models.

One other feature notably lacking but now a standard feature on mice from competitors such as Microsoft and Logitech are “Back” and “Forward” controls. With a new, sculpted shape, these could easily be integrated, allowing for greater functionality and comfort.

How about it, Apple?

January 18, 2009

Why Mac Mini Must Return…

Filed under: Commercial, Technology — castlewriter @ 10:08 pm

There are a number of reasons why the Mac Mini plays a pivotal role at Apple. Price is chief among them, but even the lower price of the Mini (currently in the $500-700 range) compared to the rest of Apple’s computing lineup is actually of secondary importance to Apple, or should be.

It’s not enough for Apple to compel users to switch from Microsoft-centric home and office solutions using the enormously successful iPod portable media player family, unless Apple wants to have itself relegated to focusing on being a portable media player company. That’ll move many millions more units, but at lower price points than the company needs in order to survive, let alone thrive, as the 21st century burns on.

What Apple has, right now, is a relatively low-cost computer which tempts those who pick up an iPod to try “a little more Apple.” For only $600, users can pick up a small but powerful Mac desktop that lets Apple show off where it really shines — its end-to-end hardware and software integration via its absolutely brilliant OS X operating system, lifestyle application suite iLife and professional suite iWork.

The problem is… that small but powerful desktop isn’t exactly powerful anymore. The upstart “netbook” class of ultraportable computers now pack nearly the same performance profile the Mac Mini does, for equal or less cash.

The Mini’s Achilles’ Heel is its aging — and to be frank, not precisely spectacular even at inception — Intel GMA 950 graphics system, coupled with what is now a comparatively scant 1-2Gb of system memory and 80-120Gb hard drive.

Taken together, these now relatively paltry specs mean that the Mini is no longer a compelling or even mildly interesting offering for customers who see the potential in switching to a Mac, or even for those who see the value in establishing a dual-platform computing solution for home or small business.

What can be done? Plenty.

The internal arsenal of the Mini — like all of Apple’s computers with the exception of the Mac Pro — is essentially that of a laptop, specifically the MacBook. So here’s the idea:

A new “Unibody” Mac Mini following the exterior design cues of the MacBook line and incorporating the higher-end model’s internals:
2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
2Gb of memory, standard, upgradeable to 4Gb
Graphics: nVidia GeForce 9400m (256Mb memory)
250Gb 7200rpm hard drive or 128Gb SSD
Mini DisplayPort (VGA and DVI adapters sold separately)

That would be the Mac Mini. Price: $600. But for those who need even more guts in an only moderately larger footprint:

Mac Mini Pro:
2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
4Gb of memory, standard, upgradeable to 8Gb
Graphics: nVidia 9600m GT (512Mb memory)
320Gb 7200rpm hard drive or 128Gb SSD (256Gb SSD may be an option soon)

In addition to the Apple 24“ LED display, two more peripherals would be announced to coincide with the launch of the new Mini and Mini Pro:

Apple Studio Keyboard: The new Studio Keyboard, in wired and wireless incarnations, features illuminated black keys to maximize productivity in the low-light conditions of studios as well as maintain a clean, professional appearance.

Apple Phantom Mouse: The mouse is redesigned for greater ergonomic comfort, featuring an indentation for the thumb. The scroll ball of the Mighty Mouse is replaced with a small touch sensitive dome which is identical in function but far more durable and reliable. Left-handed and right-handed models are available as well as wired and wireless models.

Are you listening, Apple?

August 16, 2008

Of Mice And Menus

Filed under: Commercial, Technology — castlewriter @ 10:26 pm

Today, children, I?m going to tell you a story about two very, very good mice and two very, very bad mice.

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I bought the Logitech VX Nano back in March of 2008 for use under Windows XP. It?s a fantastic mouse, with crisp, precise tracking, solid build, excellent tactile response from every button and comfortable handling despite its small size.

Bonuses:

*The notchless scroll feature makes whizzing through pages and documents a breeze. It works exactly as advertised, and that?s all too rare with any product.
*The One Touch Search button, like all the buttons on this mouse, is programmable. Don?t have much use for one touch searching? Set it to activate Flip3D in Windows Vista, Alt+Tab in Windows XP or Spaces in OS X Leopard.

The down side? A few things — switching the scroll wheel from notched to notchless scrolling is accomplished by ?clicking? the wheel into or out of the notched (traditional) scrolling mechanism. What that means is that you have no ?middle mouse button.? True — as just mentioned, you can assign that function to the One Touch Search — but that would eliminate a feature that would otherwise raise this mouse above the pack.

Then we get to the major downside of this mouse, and the reason I switched: Not a problem with the hardware, but with Logitech?s ?LCC? or Logitech Control Center, the Macintosh counterpart to the excellent SetPoint control platform on Windows. To keep it short: LCC sucks. It sucks balls. For me, the shameless ball-sucking took the form of a glitch in which a single left click was interpreted — when it was interpreted at all — as multiple clicks. With toggled menu items, this was infuriating. I had to reassign the left click function to a different button, the closest being the ?Navigate Forward? button several degrees to the left and far forward of my right index finger?s normal position, which made the VX Nano literally painful to use.

After awhile, it was simply time to switch.

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But where are the buttons?!

Obviously, anyone who?s seen the advertising knows this — but a lot of people haven?t seen the advertising. The entire shell of the Mighty Mouse is the button(s), with the exception of two buttons on the sides which, when squeezed together, form a third/fourth button. ?But Mr. Commercial!? you exclaim, ?What do you mean by ?third/fourth??! Golly!? Watch your fucking language.

What I mean by ?third/fourth button? is very simple — Apple?s been mucking about with touch-sensitive technology for quite awhile; the iPhone, iPod Touch and multi-touch trackpads of the MacBooks Air and Pro have received quite a bit of limelight, but the Mighty Mouse benefits from touch-sensing (though not multi-touch sensing) technology as well. There are actually two ?buttons? — touch sensitive areas — on the Mighty Mouse, with the ?right mouse button? area configurable to duplicate the left. Thus, Windows-to-Mac converts like myself can have our familiar right-clicks while Mac purists can stick with their single-button mousing habits.

The bonusus: Beyond the elegant and easy-to-customize touch-sensing mouse surface, this baby just feels good in the hand. It?s got the right size for the large hands of us manly men, but is smooooooooooooth like a 19 year old cheerleader?s bottom (What?! ?like a baby?s bottom? is somehow LESS disturbing?!) for the ladies. (And then it got even more disturbing, dinnit?!)

It also features, rather than a scroll wheel, a scroll ball, enabling not merely vertical, not merely vertical and horizontal, but 360 degree scrolling — nifty for things such as the PicLens extension for Firefox 3 (and we?ll talk more about those in upcoming entries, ladies and kids) and the Second Life metaverse.

The Downside: A few here, too. Whereas the Mighty Mouse?s smooth shape sans physical buttons is friendly, it isn?t nearly as ergonomic as the Logitech?s textured and sculpted form, with a comfy resting places for thumb as well as palm and fingers. And that scroll ball — as amazing as it is — is also amazingly easy to gunk up with the natural oils produced by human skin, eventually resulting in a scroll wheel that, well, just don?t wanna scroll. For an inexperienced user unaccustomed to scroll wheels, that means Panic Time(tm). But not to worry, because friendly Mr. Commercial has:

The Fix: Anyone who?s owned one of the later models of BlackBerry has experienced this headache — your teeny-weenie, itsy-cutesy little scroll wheel has surrendered to the vagaries of the human thumb and its daily outpouring of sweaty, oily lurve. Now it don?t wanna play no mo?. Aw… Well, here?s the solution we all figured out, and it?ll work just as sweetly with your Mighty Mouse, too: Rather than go out and buy yourself a new mouse and then go home and sit in the dark and cry like a teenaged girl, go out and buy yourself a spray bottle of non-alcohol-based LCD cleaner instead. This handy solution usually comes packaged with a soft cleaning cloth, but that won?t do for your problem, you need traction. Get a fresh, never-been-used sponge and spray it down with the LCD cleaner. Then turn your Mighty Mouse upside-down and scrollllllll that stubborn little scroll ball all over that sucker for a good 5 minutes — 2 1/2 minutes just going balls to the wall crazy in all directions to dislodge the gunk, then another 2 1/2 minutes scrolling just in the direction it stopped working in before you finally got your lazy butt up from the computer and went out to the store to fix it.

There ya go, good as new! And for my next trick, I?ll tell you what women are really thinking!

Um… okay, that one?s gonna take awhile. Howzabout we talk about Firefox 3 next. ?kay, then.

August 11, 2008

MobileMe: What’s The Big Idea?

Filed under: Commercial, Technology — castlewriter @ 10:10 pm

As a new Mac user back in April, I was delighted by the .mac web service. I had Mail, Contacts, Photos, iDisk online storage, iWeb for web site hosting, Groups where i could connect to my friends in an intimately secured way, and iCards I could use to send loved ones a beautifully composed reminder that I?m thinking of them whenever the mood rolled over me. All was well with my online services.

Then, in late June, an announcement rolled out of Cupertino that .mac would receive a substantial upgrade — no, make that a complete overhaul for the end user — and become MobileMe. The booming voice out of Silicon Valley (which some say sounds like Charleton Heston?s Moses and others insist sounds a great deal more like James Earl Jones as Darth Vader) promised things like push email, push contacts, push calendaring, a la RiM?s Blackberry functionality. Push, push, push. Then we discovered that, oh, yeah, that push thing? Mmmm, not so much.

As a matter of fact, for many users, not only did email not push — it kinda got pushed, for awhile there. Pushed clean into the ether, to be specific. But let?s not get off on a tangent about the how?s of the transition. The big question here is the why:

What?s the big idea, Apple? Why drag long-time (and newly) loyal customers through the muck of Development Hell in a services transition that was very clearly not ready for prime time? MobileMe?s implementation was still so deep in growing pains it was practically sweating and whimpering in its first week of life. What was the rush? Well, here?s the short answer:

iPhone 3G.

The long list:

iPhone 3G
iPod Touch
A threadbare WWDC
Reaching out to multi-platform users who have a hybrid office of Macs and PCs, or have one at home and the other at work

First, iPhone 3G was touted as a revolutionary step in the company?s already-legendary handset, and from the available reviews, it seems that, premature as the fanfare is, it won?t be off the mark once the firmware catches up to the hype.

Next, iPod Touch on the 2.0.x iPhone firmware narrows the gap between iPod and iPhone even further, making a unified system of information exchange between devices even more powerful. That system needed to be there.

Skipping to hybrid households and offices, the Intel-powered, Unix-fueled (OS X 10.5 ?Leopard? is a Unix distribution now, after all) modern Mac lineup leaps and bounds more appealing to traditionally PC-exclusive market segments such as small businesses and even major corporations. After all, if Macs are good enough for IBM?s Research and Development suits, they?re good enough for John Q. Macs aren?t just for the 21st century Neo-Beatnik anymore. That system of information exchange suddenly needs to work beyond Apple?s hardware and reach into the Windows world.

Finally… this past World Wide Developer?s Conference. Not much was really happening there. The iPhone 3G was, in fact, almost flying solo. You could see it in Steve Jobs?s posture as he walked the stage this year: A little less peppy. A little less strut in his stride. There just wasn?t a lot to pony up and boast on. Besides the iPhone?s newest incarnation, we had… what? OS X 10.6 ?Snow Leopard?: One very small step for the OS, one giant yawn for Mac User-kind. This year?s WWDC was really just a very long event embracing one very significant but comparably small product announcement.

Something had to be polished off and readied for the lights — but fast. That something was MobileMe. A fine idea that needed a lot more time in the gym before it hit the stage. A month on and it?s getting smoother, but it still more sow?s ear than silk on some days. Oh, it?ll get there, and we?ll bear with it, because as Mac users, that?s what we do. Come to think of it, that?s what all computer users do, and Apple?s done more to fix it, faster and with more accountability, than — Ahem! — its largest competitor.

So how?s your Vista?

August 4, 2008

Energy Drinks, Round 2: Son Of Panic

Filed under: Commercial — castlewriter @ 11:10 pm

Did I mention I?m a caffeine addict? I think I did. Well, here comes Round 2.

Besides the roundup of ?fruit-flavored? energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Amp and Rock Star, however, there has arisen a crop of energy drinks that take the whole caffeination experience in a full (if twisted) circle: Coffee-flavored energy drinks.

  • These started with the Starbuck?s Double-Shot:

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This was my first coffee-inspired energy drink, probably everyone else?s as well. As with the more usual suspects, there quickly arose an armada of generic imitators, which invariably tasted like home-brewed ass. Then the Big Boys of the energy drink game came to the table, notably Rock Star and then Monster Energy, producing:

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There are actually four in the Rock Star Roasted lineup, all quite tasty — Coffee (not pictured), Vanilla, Latte and Mocha. These all became instant favorites. My preference for most things is quality over quantity, and the flavors took a little getting used to after the pure, unalloyed deliciousness of Starbuck?s premiere entry. On the other hand, when these hit store shelves, the Double Shot was still in the relatively trifling Red Bull size can, and when you?re slamming energy drinks, you want the slam to last a little longer than just a… well, just a double shot. So I reluctantly said goodbye to the Bux except as a quick treat and made the Roasted lineup my mainstay.

But then…

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My mainstream energy drink, Monster Energy, hit the coffee/energy brew scene, and hit it BIG. Aside from Nut Up (Hazelnut) Chai Hai (self-explanatory, more or less) Lo-Ball (Huh?) Russian (no idea) and Irish (Cream) Blend, there?s also Mocha Loca, Mean Bean (Vanilla) and… one other one I don?t even remember the name of. That would probably be the strength and weakness of Monster?s ?Java Monster? lineup — it?s a huge lineup, with names that aren?t entirely clear as to what you?re going to taste when you crack the can.

Granted, they?re all delicious, it?s just damn hard, with some of them, to identify exactly what you should expect it to taste like. And in the 21st century, with upward of 99% of any given beverage?s flavor being a matter of suggestion rather than sensation, being able to guess what you?re supposed to taste is a tragic yet very firm reality. Try me if you think I?m wrong on that — pour a Vanilla Coke into a glass, hand it to a friend without telling them what it is — odds are, they?ll still ask you what they?re drinking after they take a sip. (And what?s more scary — the fact that they don?t know? Or the fact that they took a drink of something they couldn?t identify?)

After some fearless experimentation with Monster?s contenders, I decided that, although they own my taste buds in the non-coffee-themed energy drink market, with Amp coming in a close second, I could really take or leave their Java Monster incarnations, same as with Rock Star Roasted.

But then, Starbuck?s came through. Odd that it took them so long, but here we have:

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Ah, yes — my old favorite now in 15 competitive ounces! Coffee, Mocha, Vanilla — delicious, easy to select and now in a good, hefty can just right for a serious caffeine upload process!

Gonna have me one now — or… hmm. Well, I?ll let you know how many it takes to hit overload. 😉

August 1, 2008

How To Make A Yellowjacket

Filed under: Commercial, Random Musing, Uncategorized — castlewriter @ 10:20 pm

What is a Yellowjacket? It’s drinkahol! Boozitation of the Purest Ray Serene! And something I’m about to have my second HUGE glass of! That’s right! Friends don’t let friends blog drunk – they ENCOURAGE them to!

So how do you make a Yellowjacket?

Start with 1/2 a glass — doesn’t matter what size glass, that’s up to your stomach and your best judgement — of Smirnoff Citrus.

Then add 1/2 a glass of unsweetened white grapefruit juice — I’m using Ocean Spray White Grapefruit juice for the purposes of this experiment.

Stir vigorously and enjoy!

Um… as always, drink responsibly — as in, don’t drink and drive. Or drink and shove rabid badgers down your underpants. Unless, you know, you really, really enjoy rabid badgers. Which would make you a freaky… freak.

 

Freak.

Energy Drinks: Please Panic Responsibly

Filed under: Commercial — castlewriter @ 4:55 pm

I?m a huge consumer of energy drinks. Hmm. No… that’s not quite accurate. Let’s try again:

Hi! My name is Daniel, and I’m an addict! Do I have a caffeine problem? Hell, no, I’ve got it licked! (And slurped and gulped and guzzled and slammed… even sipped if I?m feelin? sentimental…)
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See those? I can down both of them in less than an hour. And then come back for one of these:

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Yes, you read the bottom right corner correctly — 32 glorious freakin’ fluid ounces of RAW POWAH. Next up: How to make a Yellowjacket. Soon as my hands stop shaking.

July 31, 2008

Have You No Shame?! or: I Am A Whore With A Keyboard.

Filed under: blogging, Commercial, sponsorship — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — castlewriter @ 9:05 am

Nope! Sure don’t! Got plenty of other stuff, though, including:

  • Reviews of products
  • Reviews of reviews of products
  • Reviews of reviewers of products
  • A piece of bacon on my desk
  • Random humor
  • Bills to pay

And I’ve gathered all these things — less the bacon, I just ate that, yummy! — into this blog. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll… probably actually just laugh, and that’s okay! There are worse ways to spend 3 and a half minutes. (Your wife sure isn’t very discreet!)

The first thing I’d like to review is WordPress, since I’m already here and don’t really have a better idea at the moment.

Initial impressions? Way more confusing than Blogger! But to someone like me, who doesn’t spend his entire waking moment blogging, that’s probably actually a good thing in disguise. Because what really confuses me about WordPress is the wide array of advanced user options. WordPress, to my untrained eye, is for professionals. The flexibility to building your blog just the way you want it is frankly daunting to a beginner — but for professional bloggers, who grind out post after post, then monetize their blog to turn each word into pennies, dimes or dollars — that flexibility and professionalism are absolutely critical.

So here’s to WordPress: leading me down the dark road to hack-hood! Cheers!

Blog at WordPress.com.