Yesterday iLounge ran a well-deserved condemnation of wasteful plastic packaging. So many items we buy these days are encased in a tough plastic casing intended for dangling on point-of-sale displays. Not only is the packaging often far too large, it is downright dangerous. Last year I wrote to Belkin to complain that one of their impenetrable plastic devices had cut my hand. It's quite feasible, I imagine, for the inattentive to slit their wrists with one of these sharp-edged monstrosities.
In my mind, any product that comes wrapped in such a plastic case is devalued. It looks nasty, if not cheap, and gets my goat. Plaudits, then, to those companies that stick to good old-fashioned cardboard boxes that are no larger than they need to be. Take this exemplary packaging for the new iPhone 4 dock from Apple: Barely bigger than the dock itself, the little box is neat and exudes quality. It almost (but not quite) justifies the £25 price tag.
Such packaging is typical of the entire Apple product line. A great deal of care goes into the design and production of the boxes and the result actually enhances Apple's premium imagine. Presumably, too, these cardboard boxes are far more environmentally beneficial than the plastic stuff, but that's not the main point. Buy any expensive item, whether it be a Jeager Le Coultre wrist watch or a premium digital camera, and it comes in a proper, tailored box.
Suppliers (and, more to the point, retailers) of plastic-encased tat should take note before they get a class-action for slit wrists on their legal agenda.
Ruminating on the absence of a print connection on the iPad, I got to wondering why we really need printers at all. They take up a lot of space - which is my main objection - and need constant attention and fettling. We're so accustomed to electronic devices that need absolutely no fiddling that it comes as a shock to have to mollycoddle a piece of equipment that demands replenishing with paper and has an appetite for ever-greater numbers of minute ink cartridges: "Your puce cartridge is nearly empty, do you wish to proceed?"
Furthermore, any device that handles paper is prone to misfeeds and frequent constipation. That is, with the honourable exception of the brilliant Fujitsu ScanSnap range of scanners; they do seem to have got it right. But the majority of domestic ink-jet printers are a pain. They churn and clunk and click through a prolonged start-up routine every time you wish to print a page. And invariably one of the multitude of cartridges is near expiry and dire warnings are posted before you press OK to continue.
So why do we need printers? The answer, as far as I am concerned, is not for much. I print the occasional boarding pass or letter to a financial institution that insists on snail-mail confirmation. I certainly don't feel the need to print out drafts for correction and, as the proud inhabitant of an paper-almost-less office, I most certainly never print stuff to file.
My all-singing-dancing printer never sings, seldom dances. It sits there, occupying a useful chunk of my office, and I would dearly love to be able to wave it goodbye. Unfortunately, for those occasional essential documents, I don't know of a better solution. At the moment, however, I am seriously thinking of consigning it to a cupboard or, even, the loft, where it can churn out the odd print without inconveniencing me for the rest of the month.
Back to the iPad and its lack of printing. I acknowledge it is a problem for anyone who is planning to make Apple's new pad their only computing device. In fact, there are two problems to face: the iPad cannot be connected directly to a printer and, of course, it needs a mother ship for registration and synchronisation. But anyone who has access to that mother-ship computer, whether belonging family, friend or neighbour, could also beg the occasional sheet of printed paper from the same source. The iPad, with its intuitive ease of use and no-computer-knowledge-necessary interface, is ideally placed to serve people who aren't interested in computers and who want to explore the net and deal with emails without hassle.
TechCrunch has waded into the controversy over News International’s decision to stop free viewing of The Times and The Sunday Times news sites. My article (King Cnut: £1 a day to see his news site) offered the right advice on March 26 when the announcement was made: Goodbye, Rupert. Now TechCrunch says that “moving its content behind a pay-wall be the death of The Times; one of the world’s most respected newspapers and a British national treasure. Even with a relatively modest subscription cost of £1 a day or £2 for the whole week, it has been shown time and time again that the hassle factor of making even a small payment to access a website will result in a haemorrhaging of readers.”
WE HAVE LONG been admirers of Apple's diminutive iPod/iPhone power US power adaptor with its minimal volume and folding prongs. Michael even bought a couple on his recent visit to Washington and has equipped them with euro-plug adaptors. Even with this add-on, they are smaller than the normal adaptor.
THE DIMINUTIVE Belkin Media Reader-Writer, reviewed earlier today, came in the usual enormous tough-plastic display packaging. This colossus measures 29 x 16 x 7cm. The bulky bit containing the card, manual and lots of cardboard, has an internal volume of 1,000 cubic centimeters (same as the cylinders of a small car or a superbike). The card itself has a volume of approximately 10 cc. So the packaging is 100 times larger than it ought to be. This monstrous confection was difficult to carry home and took up far too much space in my bag. And, of course, it is ridiculously wasteful and difficult to recycle. We are being charged for supermarket bags, so why do we get such packaging foisted on us for free?
By Michael Evans
RESTORING my 3G to factory settings the other day, I was again struck by the lack of backup for the popular Bloomberg app. This is an excellent news and information application for the investor and it effectively tracks an investment portfolio with lots of available data. However, when disaster strikes and you have to restore (or buy a new phone) there is no way of recovering all the painstakingly entered portfolio details. Re-entering means searching for company names, entering quantity of holding and purchase price. Having learned by previous mistakes, I now keep all this information in a Numbers spreadsheet so I can enter it again with relative ease.
"We also agree with both of your points and the solution to both problems are planned and are somewhat related. The first issue regarding the portfolio total returns is somewhat complicated because our applicaiton supports equity securities from all of the world's major exchanges, denominated in a wide range of securities. As a result, a straight sum of the values is not sufficient to provide an accurate result. To perform return calculations, it is necessary to know the user's base currency and the dates on which the securities were purchased and the exchange rates in effect on those dates. It is vastly simpler if all of the securities are denominated in the same currency. This may be the most common case and we may show the total if it is true, we just have not done that yet.
One solution that we have planned that would solve the problem above as well as the storage issue, is to link the list of securities on the MyStocks, to the securities in the Portfolio Tracker on our Bloomberg website. The portfolio tracker is a free widget which performs many of the calculations described above and it could serve as a central repository for the securities which would then be stored so that they would be backed up in the event that your device fails and is initialized.
Hope this helps."
LISTENING to Leo Laporte's Tech Guy netcast today, I was reminded of a long-standing gripe when applications save data to places other than the Documents folder. Leo was talking about Windows at the time and he mentioned that there were still some badly behaved programs which save data to the Program folder. In Macspeak this would be the Applications folder and I have not come across any apps which insist on doing this.
New to the MacOldie household is Virgin's 50 megabit cable broadband. Up to now I've had their 20 mbps offering so I was keen to take advantage of the new high-speed service available in many parts of the country, including my area of west London. Installation meant a new modem (the previous model was at least 10 years old, so about time). Speed tests during the day show that I am getting near enough to 50 mpbs but this slows down to around 25 mbps at peak times, presumably when neighbours are home from work and using bandwidth. So far so good. A big advantage for me (see my post on Carbonite) is the 1.6 mbps upload speed. This is really useful when a typical hard-drive backup to a cloud can take many days. With the new connection I'm achieving 10GB a day, which is pretty fast.
It is just so easy to download iPhone applications that most owners have page after page of apps, many of them seeking to do the same job. I see there are now over 10,000 applications to choose from. Many are free (which surprises me, given the amount of work that has been done) but the majority are cheap (under £5).
- Omni Focus, a superb task manager and GTD (Getting Thing Done) application that synchronises seamlessly with OF Desktop on any number of Macs. This is by far the best GTD system for iPhone and Mac users.
- Evernote: This is without a doubt the best note-taking system which can be synchronised (via the web) with Macs and PCs or can be accessed on Evernote's web site.
- iBlueSky: Simply the best mind-mapping app for the iPhone. Maps can be exported into PC or Mac systems such as MindJet Mind Manager.
- Bloomberg: An essential free app if you want to keep up with financial information or check your portfolio during the day.
- NetNewsWire brings together all your RSS feeds and is a quick way of browsing all news sources.
- Splash Money: I have been a long-time user of the Splash Wallet suite on Palm and Windows Mobile devices, so it's good to find Splash Money, Splash ID and Splash Shopper available for the iPhone. All synchronise with desktop applications. I use Splash Money daily to enter cash transactions. At the end of every month I transfer the totals for each category of expense to my main accounts system on the Mac (MoneyDance).
- Mental Case: A quirky one here. Mental Case is a fantiastic flashcard application for studying anything. I'm currently using it for improving my Greek and have downloaded a large number of flashcards from the Flashcard Exchange.
- Typing Genius: No doubt, this is the best typing tutor for the iPhone keyboard. I've increased my two-thumb typing speeds and accuracy dramatically in the last two weeks.