Project iHome Part Two, Home Entertainment

The first thing I wanted to accomplish on my endeavor to create the ideal solution for home entertainment and automation was, quite simply, the entertainment aspect. I had an AppleTV (first generation) that had served me well, but I was recognizing a number of things I wanted to do but could not due to limitations of the device itself (the first generation AppleTV was designed as a front-end for iTunes, and required syncing media to the device or streaming it from an iTunes library).

While researching various media center alternatives, I ran across two applications that I really thought showed promise (in other words, I really like the look of the application and the way in which it would integrate with my existing media library). The first of these was Boxee (link), and the second was Plex (link). In the end I chose to use Plex as my preferred interface, and began constructing a solution around what would or would not work with the application.

Section One, Building Around Plex

Plex was originally derived from XBMC (X-Box Media Center), which was a well-known media center front-end. I looked into XBMC, but at the time I just really disliked the interface (I was testing these on a MacBook Pro, so there is a chance that the bugginess I found and the issues I had were related to relatively new hardware and incomplete support. Regardless, I fell in love with the Plex interface and never second-guessed my decision).

ImgPlexmenu w900(Screenshot From Plex Website)

ImgPlexMovie w900(Screenshot From Plex Website)

There were two things I wanted to ensure I could do that I could not accomplish without building a solution around my app and platform of choice, however. The first of these was to decide how to accomplish using a remote control instead of a keyboard and mouse, or how to restart the system if the need arose. In addition, I wanted the system to be easy enough to use that friends and family could control the system without any real learning curve. To that end I found the following things would be necessary to make it a true home theater/entertainment experience devoid of frustration:

1) “Universal” Remote.

2) Intermediary of some sort that could activate system actions by using the remote.

3) How do I make it as user-friendly as possible without creating a bunch of scripts and labeling a keyboard as a remote?

4) Thinking even more about it, what is the best thing I can do for storage? The Mini certainly can’t handle a growing library, and provides no backup for drive failure.

Section Two, Answering the Questions

As it turned out, these questions were far easier to answer than I could have ever guessed. The answer lies in two very powerful, and yet very easy to use, pieces of software. The first is Remote Buddy (link), which is basically a piece of software that runs on the Mini and “intercepts” signals from a remote control. In turn, a menu will pop up on the display that provides access to any functions that you choose to configure (but don’t think you have to configure anything, I left everything with the default settings, and it works beautifully).

Screen shot 2011 03 16 at 10 45 42 AM

(Screenshot from CNet Website)

Screen shot 2011 03 16 at 10 46 06 AM

(Screenshot from CNet Website)

Screen shot 2011 03 16 at 10 46 22 AM

(Screenshot from CNet Website)

Not only does Remote Buddy provide the perfect answers for questions two and three, it also provided me with the ideal answer to question one: the tiny, unobtrusive, easy-to use remote Apple includes with the AppleTV (or that can be purchased with any computer, or separately). Even better, if I ever decided to use a true universal remote (such as those manufactured by Logitech), I could simply add controls for the remote in the Remote Buddy configuration.

The second piece of software came later, actually, with the release of the iPhone and the development of native applications. At that time I wanted to be able to use my iPhone as a remote in addition to the Apple Remote, that way I could always have a remote within easy reach. The answer to that question was also easy to find by way of an application (with a server component that runs on the Mini) called Rowmote (link). In essence, it turns the iPhone into a virtual Apple Remote, which means that it is just as easy to use as my original setup.

It should be noted here that, recently, the good people who develop Plex have also released an official application that serves as a front-end for controlling Plex in general, and also allows you to stream something you choose to watch over the air (3G or WiFi) to an iOS device. I’ll come back to this in a later section, but wanted to mention it here in case someone is looking to achieve the same results and wants to invest the least amount of money.

This left me with one question unanswered: storage. I have a rather large iTunes library as it is, and wanted that to be accessible to Plex in addition to any content I chose to add to Plex exclusively. Further, I needed a good solution to house all of these files that would not set me back months, or potentially more, if a hardware failure occurred. It was not until recently that I actually implemented a solution I truly like, which I’ll come to in a later segment as well, but I found that using four Western Digital MyBook drives was a good, inexpensive by comparison, beginning. I elected to use four so that I could house my data on two and use the other two to “mirror” the originals. This way I at least had some redundancy if a drive failed, though I knew it to be an inelegant solution.

Section Three, Wrapping It Up

This was how my Home Theater setup began. In the next post I’ll go over how these items changed to become what I use today, which isn’t really a large change from where it began honestly. I’ll include screenshots of my setup instead of the defaults, as well as explaining how some additional applications (like the new Plex Remote application for iOS devices) have made this a very robust, and very nice, full setup. In the section after that I’ll go into the home automation side, and why I chose to include it in my Home Theater setup instead of doing something else entirely.

 

 

Project iHome Part One, The Idea

Many people I have spoken with over the past few years have expressed interest in some of the things I have done surrounding my home theater/home automation setup, so I decided it was time to sit down and write up the concept from original idea (at least as I can recall it) through initial inception and into current iteration. This is part one, wherein I go over the thought processes that guided me in the direction I finally settled on taking. Subsequent parts will delve into why I chose the specific applications I use, as well as some of the neat features that made these choices ideal for my needs and desires. Pull up a chair and relax, this is going to be a fun journey!

Section One, Brainstorming

The first question I asked myself was simple: “what do I want my solution to do?” Unfortunately, that answer went through multiple stages as I researched different options and found new questions and different concepts that I liked from different solutions. The following mind map illustrates a lot of the thoughts I had during my original brainstorming session, which we’ll come back to throughout this series:

Solution hosted by Ember

Some of the key things that ran through my mind were, in a somewhat correct order, as follows:

  • I would like to be able to watch my digital content on the TV instead of the computer.
  • I want the solution I settle on to be stable and reliable.
  • I would love to be able to control the entire living room/entertainment experience centrally, which would include my floor lamp.
  • Hrm… why stop at just controlling the lamp? Why not go ahead and control lights in general?
  • Now that I think about it, why not go ahead and include environmental controls?
  • I definitely need a robust storage solution. I definitely do not want to lose hours worth of work in digitizing my library just to have to start over.
  • I wonder if I could set up a security system that is integrated into this solution as well?
  • If I am going to create a solution that meets the above I also need to plan on being able to expand as technology changes.
  • Can I do all of this with one computer, or do I need to look into a client/server environment in order to really make this work?
  • I almost forgot, I need a TV Tuner/DVR solution included in all of this!
  • Ok, I have a bunch of questions, time to start using Google to search for information. Topics to read about: home theater pc, home automation, do-it-yourself security system… did I miss anything?

Section Two, Narrowing It Down

During my initial brainstorming the original Apple TV was announced, and I decided to give it a shot while I was planning out how to modify my PC to handle everything else while still being accessible for playing games. Initially it worked well for my primary need, which was getting my digital content onto my television. It became evident, however, that the Apple TV would handle some of what I wanted, but it definitely wasn’t the ideal solution. I started looking seriously at the Mac Mini as an alternative, because it fit well with my desire for an aesthetically pleasing solution and because I had decided that Indigo was the solution I wanted to utilize for the home automation component. When the Mini received an update to the Core 2 Duo processor with nVidia graphics I knew what direction I was going to take, and my initial brainstorming layout started to take the following shape:

Mac Mini Solution hosted by Ember

Section Three, Putting Together The Solution

I finally had a direction to pursue to manage everything I knew I wanted, and I had a plan that I could execute that would allow me to expand as technology evolved. Below is a summarized list of the items I chose with brief notes on why I chose those components, and I’ll delve into each component in depth in the ensuing parts:

  • Mac Mini, 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM. Chosen for the reliability of OSX and the aesthetically pleasing design.
  • Indigo by Perceptive Automation for controlling the Home Automation aspect, in which I settled on using INSTEON and X10 products purchased through machomestore.com.
  • PLEX Media Center for the Home Theater “hub.”
  • Elgato’s EyeTV for integrating cable and a DVR solution.
  • Remote Buddy by IOSpirit for controlling everything with just the Apple Remote (also works with Rowmote Pro for using my iPhone as the remote).
  • Western Digital MyBook external hard drives for storage until I could implement a cost effective raid storage solution (eventually these became Western Digital ShareSpace network attached raid arrays).
  • Netflix for obvious reasons.

Section Four, Conclusion

I hope this has peaked interest for all of you, and I hope you look forward to the next installments! I had a lot of fun putting together a solution in which I could manage everything I wanted, and I learned a lot of lessons along the way. My current setup still includes all of the above, but it has matured over the past few years as I’ve found exciting ways to use the technology to achieve a setup that, at least in my opinion, can accommodate anything I want to do or add as time progresses.

General Updates

In no particular order and written in a purely “stream of consciousness” style:

  • Having a couple of weeks between semesters was a much needed break. Full time work and full time school do not mix very well, and I was definitely feeling the burnout from a lack of free time. This coming semester will, hopefully, be a little better (one less class, and I’m accustomed to full time work and school together after this past semester).
  • Writing has been… difficult. I have some topics in mind but cannot seem to commit anything more than a sentence or two to virtual paper. I certainly wish I could be more productive here, but I think the combination of writing so much for classes and having been removed from the habit of writing regularly here is simply draining me when I attempt to write. My goal is to work on remedying this unfortunate happenstance as quickly as possible this year.
  • On a more positive note, I finally managed to reread Ender’s Game, Ender in Exile, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Ender’s Shadow. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to continue at this pace and finish out the remaining books by Orson Scott Card (the second series, following the story of Bean, otherwise known as the “Shadow” books, at least by me). I also finished an excellent book entitled The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld (link to the companion site here). I highly recommend this book, especially if you have an interest in mystery/psychological thriller stories.
  • I truly need to focus on my photography work again, and that is another goal to focus on this year. It has been a few months since I really did any type of photo shoot, even something as simple as walking outside and seeing what I am able to come up with. I’m tempted to use this site as a place to post some of those images and be spurred on by comments/suggestions, but then that means you guys have to come back and talk again… think we can work on that?
  • I have returned to World of Warcraft in a limited fashion. For those who would like to join me (and I sincerely would like for some to come on over and at least socialize if nothing else) I created a Worgen Druid (Mactire) on Hellscream (US) and formed  a guild (Diabolical Minds). My time is limited, but I sincerely want the guild to grow and become successful. The framework has already been set (you can see the basics here), and I make certain I am online at least a couple of times a week, even if only for an hour or so. Seriously, come join. Maybe you just want to escape your main for a little while, or you want to just socialize with someone, or you just want to level an alt and have no interest in anything more than the occasional battleground ot dungeon. Yes, I want you to come join. There is only one requirement: you have to be a Worgen ;)
  • I still play Bad Company 2 on occasion as well, and even decided to try out the Medal of Honor series. If you have Steam feel free to add me there, my tag is Jeseth.
  • I miss conversations with a lot of those who used to read articles here, and I’m sorry my back and forth between writing and not writing ended up causing us to lose that dialogue. I’m here to rebuild it, and though my responses may not be as quick as they used to be (remember, full time school and full time work, at least give me a little bit of a break on time getting back to you!) I truly want to get back to that point. The blog is here to stay, and I’ll be working to find a more solid focus where I can provide a semi-consistent posting schedule. No promises on how fast I get back to that point until I can get past this writer’s block though!

A Guild Is Born

The General information

I would love to see some people come on over and join who are interested in just having fun; whether it is occasional play, simply socialization, leveling an alt, leveling a new main, interested in just running around the world, interested in dungeon crawling, or even potentially interested in some end-game content. We are a small group of people who are more interested in having fun in the game than in choosing any specific course of action. My goal is to see us grow to a large group with the same idea in mind: have fun and, in the course of doing so, be creative.

For some this may seem too relaxed, too “unstructured.” For others this is exactly the type of environment they would like to see. If nothing else you can always log in and chat a little, and maybe gain a level or two doing something insanely ridiculous in the process.

In the meantime, meet the GM and Guild:

Meet Mactire

Worgen Druid, Alpha Male of Diabolical Minds

WoWScrnShot_120710_215148 hosted by Ember

Meet Diabolical Minds

Casual, Friendly, Fun-Loving Guild on Hellscream (US)

Guild Organization hosted by Ember

An Interesting Idea

There’s something intrinsically interesting in the concept of an all Worgen guild to me. Much like a pack of wolves that run together, the thought of a pack of Worgen running together is compelling from both the role-playing aspect and the sheer appearance (seriously, think of how interesting it would be to see an entire team comprised of Worgen in a battleground).

So here’s the idea: I’ll be creating an all-Worgen guild with the launch of Cataclysm. I don’t have a lot of time to play, so the overall design is simply to have fun and be social. If that doesn’t interest you that’s fine, but if that does interest you then here are the pertinent details:

1) The server will be Hellscream (US).

2) I’ll pick up the charter and establish the guild as quickly as I can with Synil (currently created to hold the name).

3) Even if it is only playing an hour or two a month I think it will still be fun, and so this is an open invitation to those who think it could be interesting.

4) You can send me a message here or in-game (though I’m not in-game a whole lot, so here may be the better choice for a quick response).

Recreating Byaghro in Fiction, An Analysis

The lovely Windsoar, from Jaded Alt, agreed to write about a question that came to my mind when thinking of topics that we could write about and see the various responses that came from thinking of ourselves and how we would analyze and recreate ourselves if we were the basis for a fictional character. At the time of this posting I do not have the direct link to her post, so I will update this post accordingly with the link later today (and if anyone else would like to take this question and post their thoughts please let me know, and I’ll add those links too).

The Question:

If you were to recreate yourself as a fictional character, what would that character be? Things to consider are such things as primary character trait(s), “fatal flaw” of the character, and a personality description.

The Answer:

Imagine a place where honor and chivalry exist to some degree (at least in the way we remember them), such medieval/Renaissance Europe, feudal Japan, the American West, or a post-apocalyptic future. Regardless of setting, the idea of a “code of honor” would certainly be paramount. Keep this concept in mind as you read a short description of Byaghro, otherwise known as… “that guy… over there… yeah, him…”

Dossier

Name: Byaghro

Occupation: Unknown

Physical Description: Not quite six feet tall, average build and weight. Not muscular, but not scrawny. Fit. Blends in well with the general population. Piercing green eyes and a mixture of dark and light brown hair.

Personality: Sarcastic, calm, reserved, spontaneous.

Strengths: Analyzes situations quickly and adapts to changes easily. Intelligent and objective.

Weaknesses: Prone to not trusting others, guided by an internal “code” instead of societal constraints, will often observe instead of acting.

Fatal Flaw: Love

An Introduction By Story

The wind whipped through us as though it were a lash of ice, burning our lungs and turning our faces a bright pink. It seemed only a few weeks ago we were a part of a great, marvelous, and technologically advanced civilization, yet looking upon our current state one would wonder if we ever even had electricity. The Earth no longer looked upon us as friendly inhabitants, but viewed us a plague worthy of extinction.

My name is unimportant; it creates an emotional tie to something that no longer exists. I am, for the moment at least, a survivor of the world’s second catastrophic climate shift, and this is my story…

I awoke on the morning of July 4th expecting to continue my normal routine. The weather was fairly typical, though slightly hotter than previous records. I made my way toward work as usual, stopping to get a much needed cup of coffee. It was there, while waiting in line, that my world was forever changed. A tornado suddenly appeared and obliterated a three mile swath of buildings and highways full of morning commuters, and a torrential downpour began to create flash floods within moments.

The story was the same all over the world. The oceans rose and hammered the life from coastal communities and towns. Temperatures began dropping, reaching record-shattering lows by the end of the day. Within a twenty-four hour period I was searching for warmth in negative thirty degree temperatures.

I was stunned. I watched as people were overcome by hysteria, abandoning all sense of reason in an effort to save some attachment to their suddenly destroyed world. Men, women, children… the sight was enough to make me believe this was actually the best thing for the human race given how quickly they would turn upon one another.

And then I met them.

Originally I barricaded myself in an older home located out away from everyone else. While I knew I would not survive indefinitely, it certainly would allow me to escape the magnitude of death and destruction my race was bringing upon itself in its panic and desperation. When they came I watched, unsure whether to reveal my presence or wait for them to leave. I suppose what brought me to take the chance and trust these people was oddly emotional and irrational, and yet my solitude was surely a path to depression and self-destruction. I could not help but feel that a group that was taking care of a cat, in addition to themselves, might be worth trusting.

Since then we’ve wandered, in short spurts, from the former southeastern United States to the former midwest and back south, picking up one or two more people here and there along the way. We now number two hundred and thirteen, including roughly a dozen children and five or six household pets. It is the hope of most that we will find at least one place left that is hospitable enough to attempt to farm, though the temperatures are still cold enough that I believe our hope is ill-fated.

Tensions are high as we enter what used to be Texas. The shock of trudging through mountains of snow in the middle of August is still difficult to move beyond. I have been watching as those frustrations are sometimes misdirected and people verbally lash out at one another. Once a man hit another during one such altercation… I sincerely doubt he made it out of his bonds, back in what used to be Virginia, before the weather silenced his angry screams.

For now we live. For now we attempt to find some way to atone for the destruction we caused upon ourselves. For now we live in relative peace in spite of being on the brink of death.

What happens when the weather is no longer our enemy?

Update:

Windsoar’s Post - http://www.jadedalt.com/2010/09/15/creating-a-character/

Ethnicity, Gender, and Privilege

Apparently there is a “hot topic” in the blogosphere relating to gender issues, specifically in World of Warcraft. While I have not seen the articles specifically (what can I say, I’ve been busy enough I haven’t even looked at my feed reader in a couple of weeks), I’ve noticed a few comments that prompted the decision to write this post. Note that I have not read the other posts, so there is a chance that a lot of what I state here has been stated already. The purpose of this post, though, is to highlight one of the most common fallacies we commit as a society with regards to understanding other people, regardless of gender, lifestyle, cultural background, color of skin, hair color, eye color, religious practices, sexual orientation, or just clothing choice (and obviously the list is not exhaustive, but you should get the idea). That fallacy, stated somewhat simply, is this:

Once a distinction has been made during a discussion some form of bias is introduced, rendering the discussion no longer productive or objective. In essence, creating a policy or promoting action that specifically targets a group of people based on a physical distinction is, in and of itself, rooted in bias.

Note that I am not saying we live in a time of perfect equality. Far from it. Instead, I’m emphasizing that every time we discuss an issue we immediately bias the discussion by saying “x group” or “y group” or “z group.” While our discussions focus on any particular group we only perpetuate the cycle. Let’s take a classic example:

The Fifteenth Amendment states that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Nineteenth Amendment states that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. While both of these serve valuable purposes (granting the right to vote to all citizens), both are horrifically flawed in their implementation. Instead of singling out any group, the changes should have been approached as a statement specifically geared toward treating all people as just that, people. The change should have been along the lines of the following:

The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged to any citizen of the United States who has reached the legal age of majority.

Once a condition (in this case race or gender) is singled out instead of treating all people equally we are automatically creating an atmosphere where discrimination is easily introduced into the discussion. The focus becomes the group being discussed instead of the issue.

This concept is not new. When Affirmative Action was first introduced there were a few who understood the very nature of the program was counterintuitive, and the same concept applies to every discussion, to the very foundation of this country: we cannot achieve equality while focusing on segments of the population instead of the population as a whole (paraphrased1).

I wholeheartedly support the exploration of individual concerns and experiences, but to draw sweeping conclusions and apply those experiences to the population at large is also a fallacy. Stereotypes create discriminatory bias in people’s perceptions, just as individual experiences create bias in perception. It’s natural, but that doesn’t mean we should blind ourselves by stating “women generally do this” or “men generally do this.”

This long-winded explanation is meant to serve as a reminder that we, in general, do not think or speak in terms of equality. We almost always speak in terms of personal experience and personal perception. Until we can strip away the use of gender, skin color, or other factors that differentiate individual people from each other and focus on all of us as one diverse group, that group being human, we will always create some form of discriminatory environment (directly or indirectly). Whether you like it or not, everyone is discriminated against in some fashion until such a change in thinking occurs.

Footnotes:

1 William Bennet and Terry Eastland, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Article Link, Original Quote is “To count by race, to use the means of numerical equality to achieve the end of moral equality, is counterproductive, for to count by race is to deny the end by virtue of the means. The means of race counting will not, cannot, issue in an end where race does not matter.”

Synergistic Workflow

I’ve been spending some time streamlining my workflow, trying out different things to both make my life easier and to create a much more synergistic experience between my “desktop” and “mobile” computing. I decided to share some insight into what I use, how I use it, and why I have chosen Apple for my preferred platform. In addition, I’m hoping that some of you may have ideas on ways to improve things even more, or perhaps make some recommendations for things that I may not know about or haven’t seen that could enhance the experience. This post is broken into sections based on use (i.e., task management, finances, writing, etc.).

Task Management

I looked at a number of programs in this category, trying to decide if simple “To-Do’s” or notes synced between my MacBook Pro and my iPhone would do the job. Eventually I settled on Things by Cultured Code on my notebook, and when the iPhone application was released I immediately became hooked. I originally used it as more of a quick note-taking application while I was on the go, using the desktop version as a place for storing snippets of text that I wanted to go back and look at closer at a later date. Eventually I migrated to using it as a true task management application, and recently cleaned up the database in order to actually keep track of classwork, personal tasks, and projects. Below is a screenshot of the way in which things are organized for me at the moment (and for those unfamiliar with the way it works, Areas contain Tasks and Projects, and Projects also contain Tasks):

Things.png

Things on the iPhone is almost identical to Things on the desktop, making it simple to keep track of tasks (and to continue to use it as a note-taking application while on the go). Syncing is handled wirelessly, and after the initial setup the only requirement is to have the application open on both devices. Further, using Dropbox (more on it in a moment), I can store the Things library and open the exact same information on my Mac Mini as well (it is my “backup machine” and the centerpiece of my home theater setup, so being able to move from my MacBook Pro to the MIni, or the other way around, is simply “icing on the cake” so-to-speak).

Things does not store files within its database, but an excellent compliment to Things is Things Folders. Things Folders basically copies the structure of Things (screenshot below) into a specified folder in the Finder, and adds a link to the associated project or task in Things (allowing the automated ability to store files related to a task or project in a folder that is already linked to the task in Things, keeping items organized).

Things Folders.png

Logins, Passwords, Account Information, and Secure Notes

I’m not sure I could live without 1Password by Agile Web Solutions anymore. Having an application to manage the hundreds of web logins I have, to keep my software licenses in, to provide a repository for secure notes, and to keep my account numbers handy, yet secure for quick reference, has made my life much, much easier. 1Password syncs wirelessly over the local network or using Dropbox (you can start to see why there will be a separate section for me to talk about Dropbox, can’t you?), so I am able to keep my desktop and iPhone in perfect, harmonious sync.

1Password 2.png

Where 1Password really shines, however, is in the inclusion of a strong password generator and the ability to click a button, enter a master password, and have the application fill the login information for the current website (or account information if it is stored in the application).

Safari.png

“Checkbook” and Finances

Moneywell by No Thirst Software is, without a doubt, one of the best applications out there for keeping track of your finances on the Mac. I’ve never liked Quicken due to software bloat and sluggishness, and the other application I used prior was purchased by Intuit, so finding a solid option with both OSX and iOS clients has been a challenge. While there are some aspects of Moneywell that I don’t necessarily like (having tried so many applications in this sector has exposed me to features that I never knew were available but now want in every application, so it’s mostly personal preference and not a limitation of the software itself), the simple and clean interface, and the simplicity of the sync between the iPhone and the Desktop version, make this another one of those “indispensable” applications for me. Sorry, no screenshots of this one because I’d have to show personal info, but take a look at the website if you’re in the market for an alternative to Quicken.

News, Articles, Twitter, and Google Reader

Let me start by saying this up front: I absolutely despise using Google Reader for anything other than keeping my read/unread items in sync. I used NetNewsWire for a long time, but the redesigned/rewritten version (the one that changed to using Google for feed syncing) has had issues for me. As a result I embarked upon a long journey trying to find something that would work well, and the lack of complimentary desktop/mobile applications by the same developer(s) made finding a solution difficult. On the iPhone I use Mobile RSS Pro (there is a free version as well that pretty much does everything one could want), and on the desktop I use Gruml. Previously I used Socialite by Realmac Software, and while I like the application it felt sluggish (not to mention there was no way to sync read/unread items on Twitter accounts with my iPhone).  Going back to using two separate apps on the desktop has allowed me to keep what I have and have not read on Twitter in sync also, utilizing the desktop and iPhone versions of Echofon.

Files and More

Dropbox is, by far, the most useful program/cloud sync solution for items that I have ever used. (And a shameless plug, if you sign up using this referral link then we both get an extra 250MB of storage in addition to the basic 2GB storage!)

With Dropbox and the use of symbolic links (Wikipedia article for those not familiar with symlinks is here) I have a number of applications storing their database “in the cloud” so that I can pull the exact same information up on any computer I use (which is extremely beneficial for writing blog posts by the way). In addition, I have specific files and information that I want accessible anywhere stored in Dropbox as well, which has clients for all major platforms (‘nix-based operating systems, OSX, Windows, iOS, Android, and even a Blackberry client coming soon).

I could write a lot on the application, but really understanding its benefits is difficult to see without trying it out for yourself.

Writing

I use a few different applications depending on purpose here, so I’ll simply list them for reference:

Blogging – MarsEdit by Red Sweater Software – MarsEdit allows me to manage multiple blogs offline, and allows editing in a WYSIWYG or HTML environment (allowing easy swapping between the two). And yes, I have it set up to store the database in Dropbox as well so that I can open up and edit posts, or look through older posts, on my notebook or desktop.

Story Writing – Scrivener by Litterature and Latte – Scrivener is, in my opinion, the absolute best story writing application available. If you are looking for something a little more robust than using a word processor then do yourself a favor and look into Scrivener. Guess what? I have the folder setup with a symbolic link to store all of my projects/works in Dropbox (see how useful it can be?)!

Everything Else – iWork by Apple predominantly, but I do keep Microsoft Office available in case I need it for compatibility (or, with school at least, Office is often seen as a requirement).

Summary of Application Links

Personal Notes

While this was just a high level overview, my goal was mostly to provide a starting point for anyone looking to streamline their workflow and have a lot of their most used information accessible on the go. I should probably mention Evernote here as well, since it is useful for keeping quick notes (which can include files) in sync, but I honestly don’t use it much to consider it an integral part of my normal routine.

A number of the applications above are only available on the Apple platform, and having fallen in love with the applications (and the synergy/ease of keeping things organized between machines) it is easy to understand why I have become, for all intents and purposes, a purely Apple user. The number of well designed, aesthetically pleasing, independently developed applications on the Mac side of the fence is, quite simply, amazing in comparison to what I have been exposed to on the Windows side of the fence. Everyone has their preference, however, and while I prefer OSX (and now iOS) over Windows or Linux based environments, I don’t expect everyone to agree on a single platform.

It’s Been A Good Run…

Ever get the feeling that you’re completely overwhelmed, really should get some posts written, and lack any inspiration for writing?

Yeah… multiply that by ten and you’d get how I currently feel.

I’m sure this doesn’t surprise most of you, since there really hasn’t been much in the way of WoW-related posts here in a while anyway, but my account has been cancelled for a while and the remaining game time expired a couple of weeks ago. I’m just not interested in the game like I used to be. I’m not excited about Cataclysm, and I really don’t care for the overall direction the game is headed. There really isn’t a single reason, the game just isn’t fun for me anymore.

That’s really tough to say, but sometimes reality can be a bitch.

I’ve had my account since launch. I’ve taken breaks, sure, but I’ve grown attached to my characters. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy in their development over the years, and I always found the game enjoyable (although, in all honesty, most of that was playing with a large group of friends… most of whom have since moved on as well).

And now… well, now I just don’t care anymore. It’s painful, really, because I’m extremely attached to Byaghro (my Druid, and second character I created).

So, where do I take the blog from here? Thankfully I already made the migration to a site that was not game-specific, so I’ll basically continue what I’ve been doing the past few months. I am, however, going to be very sporadic in posting for a while. I’m about to be working full-time again in addition to taking a full class load, and, to be brutally honest, I’m not sure how much time I’ll really have to dedicate to anything beyond work and school for a little bit.

I’m not going anywhere, though. At least not yet (though it is starting to get kind of lonely over here… )

In the meantime I’m playing around with Starcraft 2 (and enjoying it) on a completely rebuilt machine (and let me tell you, Core i7 plus 6 GB RAM plus Dual SLI Geforce 250s make for an awesome gaming machine), and I’m thinking about going back and playing the entire God of War series again.

And A Request

I’d still like to get some guest authors posting. I had no responses to the previous request, but if you are interested (whether you are a blog author already or have never written anything online before doesn’t matter) please let me know. The topic is pretty much open to anything you are interested in, so if there is something you have been wanting to write about but did not think it fit well somewhere else, feel free to bring it here!

Now to go figure out whether I’ve lost my mind accepting a full-time position and taking six classes in the Fall…

The iPhone 4

While people will always latch onto statements that tend to support their view on a product, a lot of information that has been disseminated throughout the web is based upon here-say, a dislike for a particular product or brand, or simply from the standpoint of being accustomed to a particular product or brand and applying the workflow and capabilities of that device to another. This post is, quite simply, an attempt at explaining why I choose Apple products (in particular the iPhone) over most others as a way of trying to provide some understanding of why a lot of the “issues” that have been widely publicized are not indicative of the “normal” experience. I am not attempting to address each issue, but merely to provide first-hand experience with the iPhone, and why I feel it is an excellent device.

Antennagate

I cannot write an article without at least touching on this subject simply due to the publicity it has garnered. First and foremost, I have been unable to reproduce the publicized “death grip” issue in my normal usage. If I try really hard to hold the phone in a way that is abnormal and uncomfortable for me, and subsequently squeeze really hard, then I can get the signal to drop by a small amount. Now, this is not to say that the issue is nonexistent. This is just to say that I do not have this issue at all. Given the number of iPhones that have been sold versus the number of support calls and people I have actually heard of having the issue, I really do not believe it to be nearly as big an issue as people are trying to make it out to be. I have better reception that I had with my iPhone or iPhone 3Gs, and have been able to get coverage in a couple of places where I could not before. The moral of the story: try it yourself and see if it is an issue for you.

The “Closed Platform”

This one gets publicized a lot. People still say that the concept of the Application Store and requiring Apple’s approval for applications is a bad thing, even in light of the success it has seen. I still see complaints publicized about the lack of Flash support on the device. To be perfectly honest, I like the current system for my iPhone. I use my device for practically everything I do on a daily basis, and move to my MacBook Pro when I need to write articles, work with documents, or want to browse the web on a larger screen. That’s pretty much it. I browse the web a lot on my iPhone anyway, simply out of convenience. I have never wanted to look at something and been foiled due to lack of Flash support.

I suppose I should add that I have never been a fan of Flash, and would be more than happy to see it die. I do understand, however, that a lot of people find some reasons to proclaim it a wonderful technology.

Having applications go through Apple for approval can be frustrating, I have no doubt. However, given the number of really ugly applications I have seen (both on Mac OSX and on Windows), I like to think the approval process helps regulate the quality of the applications to some degree. Statistically I have no idea if this is true, and since I do not own an Android device to be able to look through and compare application quality I really cannot compare the two. I will say, however, that I do not stumble upon many applications that are absolutely horrible on the iPhone.

“There’s an App for That…”

The mantra has become a meme to an extent, but the statement is fairly accurate. I love the fact that I can find an application that does something I never even thought of doing with my iPhone. It opens up a new world of interaction with a mobile device and the environment. In addition, a lot of the things I needed to carry a laptop for can now be done with my iPhone alone. Supporting computer systems remotely without having to carry a laptop on a vacation/trip is wonderful, plain and simple.

Personal Note and Some Fun

In the end, the business model and design contribute to create the experience, and that is the focus of Apple’s strategy. If the device is enjoyable to use then the user wants to use it, and this should be done without requiring the user to understand any of the underlying technologies needed to accomplish the task. The iPhone does exceptionally well in this area, and is one of the reasons it is so successful. Even I will admit that there are some other devices on the market now that really challenge the iPhone, but I won’t proclaim that any platform is superior to any other without first-hand experience on each. It is for that reason alone that I will only proclaim that the iPhone is an absolute joy to use, and I have yet to encounter something that makes me think “gee, I wish it could do this because [x other device] does…”

If you aren’t interested in the iPhone that’s perfectly fine. I have always stated that an Apple computer is not perfect for everyone, so I would certainly not proclaim that an iPhone is perfect for everyone. What I dislike, though, is hearing the same rhetoric over and over again without justification. My challenge to you is simple: if you dislike a product provide a reason that applies directly to you, not a generalization based upon conjecture or the media.

Ok, rant over. It’s simply gotten old seeing complaints about the iPhone from people that have not even tried using one :) The only complaint I have is not with the iPhone directly, but with AT&T, and that is the ridiculous change away from an unlimited plan being touted as a positive change for the customer and the requirement of paying an additional fee to tether the device. Tethering is a capability of the phone, and whether I choose to use that data on the phone directly or while attaching the phone to a computer should not be something AT&T has any say over whatsoever. I pay for the data I use, regardless of how I use it. This is the one thing that absolutely needs to change.

And, just to add some fun to the post, here are a few pictures from the iPhone 4 (one of the reasons I chose to upgrade, incidentally, was the better camera):

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