Archive by Author

Quick and easy Character Counts

14 Apr

The text replacement feature of iOS (find it under Settings/General/Keyboards) is a useful tool to speed up typing, especially as a way to quickly post repetitive things like Instagram hashtags.

However, there’s a limit of 128 characters, and it’s not always easy to figure out how close you might be to that limit when you’re creating your text replacement shortcuts.

Here’s a great online tool that quickly checks anything that you cut and paste into it. I use it often.

https://www.lettercount.com/

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Have You Heard Of Ingress?

4 Jul

Ingress is a game/app for Android and iOS devices. It is technically an AUGMENTED REALITY MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER ONLINE ROLE PLAYING LOCATION-BASED game (which is a real mouthful!)

Developed by Niantic Labs, a start-up within Google, it uses Google Maps as the basis of the game. It has a big, multi-layered plot that has been developing over the last few years.

The gameplay consists of establishing “portals” at places of cultural significance, such as public art, landmarks, monuments, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular “control fields” over geographical areas. Progress in the game is measured by the number of “mind units” (MUs) captured via such control fields, i.e. people nominally controlled by each faction (as illustrated on the Intel Map).

The necessary links between portals may range from yards to miles or even hundreds of miles and teams of people across the entire world work together to complete control fields (for their side) or to block or disrupt control fields belonging to the opposing team.

Events take place where hundreds of players will gather together, representing both teams, and these are often tied in with charitable events or other sponsored activities. There is a definite community that has been built up around this game, which is taking place “invisibly” around us at all times.

https://www.ingress.com/

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Have You Tried Audible?

20 Jun


I have been a member of Audible for over eight years, which is a long time as these things go. I remember hearing Robin Williams talking about it on NPR one day in early 2001, and I investigated and signed up. I had a Handspring visor organizer in those days, and Audible sold a small plug in device that allowed you to listen to download audio books and listen to them. The first iPod hasn’t even been released at that point.

I do like it a lot, as I’ve never let my membership drop over those eight plus years. I used to have a “middle” level of membership, where I get a couple of books a month, but I let that drop to a basic level, with one book “credit” a month, and I usually let it build up over a couple of months. I have two credits right now, for example. Then, before a long trip, I pop in and see what’s new, and download a couple of books. You can also get plays and radio shows – the BBC has a lot of radio shows (comedy, drama, etc) and even the audio tracks from tv shows s4uch as BlackAdder and Doctor Who, so I enjoy those as well.

For less than $16 a month, it’s a good deal. Most audiobooks cost more than that, individually.

Have you tried Audible?

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iPhone 2.1 software update

15 Sep

On Friday, the latest iPhone software was released. This updates all iPhones, both the original models and the newer 3G models to the 2.1 version of the software.

Previously, there had been a number of complaints regarding software crashes when using 3rd party applications, and many users had been having problems with 3G reception in some areas. The new software also speeds up access to contacts and is meant to improve battery life.

It’s interesting to think that when you purchase a product like the iPhone, you aren’t really going to end up with the same product you bought. With continuous software updates and improvements, the device keeps evolving as you own it.

Imagine purchasing a TV or car that came with ongoing upgrades. Would you pay extra for such a device knowing that every few months there would be a new “software” patch to fix bugs or improve performance?

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Movie Review: Iron Man & The Incredible Hulk

14 Jun

This summer seems to be shaping up quite nicely for decent movies, especially if you’re a comic book fan. With the recent release of the excellent Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk this weekend, Marvel’s new studio is off and running with two great movies.

It’s appropriate to review these movies together, as they are part of a greater whole. Iron Man and The Hulk are members of one the classic superhero teams, The Avengers, and it’s no accident that there’s a cameo from a character from Iron Man in The Hulk. In fact, there’s lots of little touches throughout both movies that tie their backgrounds together in a most satisfactory way that will make more sense over the next few years, and finally, when The Avengers movie comes in in a couple of years time, everything will click.

First, Iron Man is probably the best super-hero movie this writer has seen in a very long time. It’s certainly better than Spiderman 2 and 3, and gives movies like Batman Begins and Spiderman a run for their money. It does everything right, and has the right balance of action, humor and sheer spectacle. The final battle is a bit of a let down compared to everything that went before, but that’s a minor issue, as it’s still quite impressive. It’s pretty violent, and I’d keep younger children away from it, but for 8+ it’s going to be okay.

The Incredible Hulk is also an excellent movie, and a much better version compared to Ang Lee’s attempt of a few years ago. It feels a little like the TV show from time to time (and the credit sequence “origin story” is brilliantly done, and is shot-for-shot from the TV show at times, in all the best ways). The Hulk is a tricky character to care about, of course, but they’ve managed it here. It’s much more violent than Iron Man however, with a higher body count, and I think it might be a trickier movie for younger children. However, the Hulk is still a good guy in the end, and the very final moments of the movie will have any comic book fan grinning like an idiot.

In a perfect world, you’d take a whole afternoon, and see Iron Man first, and then go see The Incredible Hulk as a double-bill. I can’t think of a better cinema-going experience, given how well these movies work together. Plus, you might see one particular character in both movies…

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iPhone Unlocking – What does it mean?

26 Oct

You may have heard some news about the iPhone recently, and how recent upgrades to the operating system has caused some phones to malfunction. What’s happening is that some users “unlocked” their phones, allowing them in theory to be used with any mobile phone network (though some features unique to AT&T, such as the visual voicemail, wouldn’t work). This phone unlocking isn’t new, and it’s pretty much a standard deal in Europe.

Recent software updates to the iPhone causes these unlocked phones to stop functioning almost entirely – with some work, basic features such as WIFI web browsing and the iPod functionality can be restored, but the device cannot be used as a phone again.

AT&T has hinted that once an iPhone user has completed their two year contract, they will be able to unlock their phone and use it with whatever carrier they wish.

There are some twisted and complex rules and regulations here, and I’ve really just scratched the surface – and if I’ve glossed over some of the complexities, you’ll understand why. What do you think of all this strict control over the use of the iPhone, and mobile phones in general? Should things be more open, as they appear to be in Europe? Or are phone manufacturers and carriers within their rights to make money in this way?

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iPhone Update

27 Sep

Apple recently started enabling customized ringtones for their iPhone. For the price of 99 cents (on top of the 99 cents already paid for a song via iTunes) iPhone users can create a custom ringtone from a limited selection of music.

This service has annoyed some, as many feel that other phones are capable of having custom ringtones at no extra charge. Indeed, my previous phone could have any mp3 file as a ringtone (though it did take a bit of work to make it happen).

Others say that with some phone companies charging as much as $3.50 or more for downloadable ringtones, Apple’s version really isn’t that bad.

For expert Mac users (and for some brave PC users too) there are some unofficial programs available that allow users to create their own iPhone ringtones anyway, and Apple are releasing updates to iTunes to combat this.

What are you thoughts on this? Is the inability to freely create ringtones a barrier to buying the iPhone? Has the recent $200 price drop made a difference in your opinion, or is it still just so much hype?

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UK Report 2007

7 Apr

One of our contributing editors, Stephen Herron, is currently on vacation in Northern Ireland. Here is his report directly from the United Kingdom.

Since moving to the United States in 2000, I’ve made a few trips back to Northern Ireland, and each time I’ve kept my eyes open for the major technological trends, especially as they relate to mobile phone, entertainment, and personal technology.

Previous trips drove home the gap between the UK and the US in several areas, especially in the use and ubiquity of cell phone technology. Although in the last couple of years, I’ve seen the US catch up significantly, there’s still some differences.

I’ve not seen many people using the Blackberry-type of cell phone device, nor have I seen a lot of the PDA/phone merging. This might be because the UK has moved past it already, but I suspect that the vast gulf of five years ago is now down to a year or less. However, people routinely use text messages for a variety of purposes, including remotely programming their Digital Video Recorders! Such innovations as using cell phones as a kind of digital wallet (which has been tested in Japan for making purchases from vending machines) will most likely see some kind of limited testing in the UK in the next few years.

Many companies are offering a 3-in-1 deal for cell phone service, which is combined with broadband internet, and satellite/cable tv service and a land-line phone connection. This is quite similar to things I’ve seen in the US recently, another sign that the two countries are catching up with each other.

Bluetooth technology is commonplace, and has been for several years. It appears that the US has also caught up in this area.

Satellite television still offers some intriguing features that I’ve not seen in the US. First, the sheer “bandwidth” of digital television in the UK offers viewers multiple channels to watch a single show: for example, if you subscribe to a premium sports package, you can watch soccer games across multiple channels, where each channel is actually a different camera angle on the same game. You can swap between cameras at your convenience, which offers a degree of interactivity that is quite exciting.

Another type of interactivity is found when watching certain channels – both TV shows and commercials trigger a small icon on the top right of the screen – pressing the ‘red button’ on your remote brings up related information on the product, service or subject currently on screen.

One popular TV science fiction show, Doctor Who, offered an interactive game on Christmas Day 2005. Viewers would be presented with a situation on screen, and could then make a choice of what to do next – in fact, the ‘choice’ switched them to a second TV channel which showed the result of the choice, and moved the plot line along. Although only limited choices were offered, this kind of true interaction is intriguing, and will eventually see its way to US TV screens as digital television technology becomes more widespread.

These are just a few of my observations from the United Kingdom this trip. I’ll be returning here in November – what kind of things would you like me to look out for, or check into? What kind of expectations do you have of technology in another country? Are you surprised by any of the differences I’ve listed above? Am I wrong about any of them, or do you know of any innovations I missed?

Leading Hands would like to hear from you if you have any comments!

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