Friday, August 28, 2009

Facebook 3.0 for iPhone/iPod Touch

Blog posts that get imported to Facebook get truncated. If you're viewing this in Facebook on your computer, click View Original Post or just go to

Most of us who have iPhones or iPod touches also use the Facebook application for iPhone. Well, yesterday, the folks at Facebook released a totally retooled version of the iPhone app, bringing much more features and improved usability (in my opinion, anyway). I've only used it for about an hour so I'm not sure that I've found all the changes. But here is a list of the changes and feature additions that I've noticed.

Note: Delete the app and reinstall if it doesn't work for you after the update. Don't worry, it's still free.

-Layout of "home" page. There is now a "home" page similar to your "Home" screen on your iPhone/iPod touch. It allows quick access to your nine main features: News feed, Profile, Friends, Inbox, Chat, Requests, Events, Photos, and Notes.
-That's right, you can now read and write Notes from the iPhone app. Text is copyable in notes. You cannot, however, view pictures or comments in notes. Watch out for imported, truncated notes. Notes imported from an external blog, such as this one, get truncated, and unlike the desktop browser version of Facebook, there's no like to "Show Original Post" in the Facebook app.
-Can now view "fan" pages. Access them by touching "Friends" and then tapping the Pages tab at the bottom of the screen.
-Can now "like" things AND view existing likes. The previous version of the app was not designed to support either of these.
-There is now a separate button for adding comments and viewing existing comments, although you can still add a comment while viewing them.
-Friends' info pages now can list their friends, the friends they have in common with you, and the "fan" pages to which they're subscribed.
-For links/photos, you must now touch the link text or actual photo instead of just somewhere in the "box". This is kind of hard to explain - you have to see it to understand.
-Can now pinch-zoom photos like in every other iPhone app.
-Refined News Feed filter. Remember before there was this strange scrolling bar near the top of your news feed to filter it to show only certain entries? Now it's just an unobtrusive button that you press to bring up an iPhone-style menu. Neat.
-Can now add shortcuts to pages in main interface, sort of like the iPhone Home screen.
-All pages but Home now available in landscape mode.
-Typing *seems* less laggy (unconfirmed)
-Now has built in browser for unsupported pages such as Facebook apps (mafia wars, superpoke) or external sites. The option to view in normal Safari is there with the push of a button.

There's probably way more that I missed, but that's all I've got for now. Overall, a very nice update that brings it much closer to the functionality of the full desktop browser version of Facebook. Kudos to them.

Mac or PC?

No preface here. Just going to jump right in. This is in reply to Naomi's question.

Here's an unbiased answer from a Mac user.

It comes down to a few things.

In my personal experience and in the experiences of my friends and relatives, price does not equal value. Yes, the upfront price of a Windows machine is less than than of a Mac, but are you getting more for your money? Macs, especially the current line of Macbook Pro laptops, are more sturdy and well-built than any other computer I've seen. Are you going to get good customer service in case something goes wrong? There are so many configurations of PCs that it's often hard for third-party tech support to help, and good luck getting quality support from the Dells of the world (Please see laptop tech support Showdown, Aug 5, 2009: With a Mac, you know you're going to get help from a local Apple Store because Apple made the thing. I've even heard of Apple replacing things out of warranty if you ask nicely enough.

Speaking of support and problems, when you get a Windows PC, you get immediate access to all the latest and greatest... malware. With the rise in popularity of Macs, I do foresee some bad stuff being written for them just out of spite. But I don't see that happening for some time. Macs have always been more secure, and in my 15+ years of using them, I've never run an antivirus - though I probably should in order not to infect my PC using friends. Now, people will tell you that they've run Windows for years without problems. And I believe them. But sometimes even the most security conscious PC users get bitten sometimes. Do you want to deal with this? If time is money, add the time spent checking for and removing malware to the nominally lower cost of a Windows PC. Better deal? Hmm...

And maybe your question isn't whether you want to deal with Windows security issues or not. The next question is what you're going to do with the computer. Unless you're using some specialized program (or games), Windows or Mac OSX will both be fine. Things like MS Office are on both, though I'm beginning to realize that I really didn't need Office all these years just to write essays, as there are free alternatives (Wordpad on Windows and TextEdit on Mac; OpenOffice on both). For gamers, there's no question Windows is the way to go. Some financial applications and business apps require Windows. If you're just going to use the computer casually, there's no reason you "need" Windows, but then again there's no reason you "need" Mac OSX either. Also take a look at what software would come on your PC laptop and what comes on a Macbook Pro that you'd have to pay extra for on a PC - a DVD playing application, things like iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, Garageband, etc. These things may or may not matter to you, and I realize that there are alternatives on Windows - but it's just so much easier to have them integrated.

You'll notice that I have actually gotten into the usability comparison between OSX and Windows. I'm not going to go into that because while I find OSX much more intuitive to me, it's really a matter of what you're used to and what you're willing to learn. I've found that Windows users sometimes have a bit of a learning curve learning OSX because they're use to doing things a certain way, though your mileage may vary. Go to an Apple Store or your local student store to check out the Macs (hardware and software wise) to get a feel for whether you like it or not. Go to a Best Buy or a friend's house to see if they have Windows 7 installed. You know Windows 7 is coming out, but many don't know that Apple just today released their newest OS as well, 10.6 Snow Leopard (they name them after big cats, you see). I've heard very good things about Windows 7. Technology guru Leo Laporte, whom I really respect, says Windows 7 is the best release of Windows... ever. Funny thing is, Windows 7, like Snow Leopard, is simply a tune-up of the previous version rather than a traditional full, hundreds-of-new-features update. In other words, Vista Reloaded! Not that this is a bad thing. Vista was a good idea with bad execution and the current version (Service Pack 2) isn't so bad (I actually use it.. more on that below).

The other value of getting a Mac is that you can run both operating systems... even at the same time. Apple provides a utility called Boot Camp so you can boot into Windows, providing you the best (or worst) of both worlds on one computer. This is a good choice if you like Apple's hardware/want to use Mac OSX but still want to use Windows for some things. You can also run Windows in, well, a window on your desktop using Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion (both $80) or VirtualBox (Free) + the cost of Windows.

I have an iMac which I bought myself a few months ago. I run Windows Vista on it under Boot Camp just for games and of course OSX for everything else. I've had no problems with Vista, except for some incompatibilities with certain games - but as a software developer myself, I know that you can't support everything. Vista is not as horrible as others have made it out to be, especially now. It's just different from what people were used to with XP. And just like in society, people hate things that are different - Ugh, I hate that.

Well, there's a (not-so) quick overview of what to look out for. Some things I mentioned are an oversimplification, so others can feel free to add to it, ask questions, or give their side of the story. I could go on forever discussing the merits of each side. Is Windows 7 better or worse than Snow Leopard? Depends how you use it and what you like in a computer.

Hope this helps. Make the right choice for yourself.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Classy Yelp

So I was just checking out the Yelp application for iPhone/iPod Touch on my iPod. I typically don't use it, because without a persistent internet connection while on the go, it's really of no use to me. But I was bored while waiting for something, so I checked out reviews for restaurants near me.

One neat feature of this Yelp app is that it has a button on the business' page to call them from within the app. Well, being on an iPod Touch, I wanted to see what would happen if I pressed that button.

I gotta say, they were really classy about it. If I were the dev, I probably would've said something snarky like "No, you moron. Why are you trying to make a phone call with an iPod?"

But then again, people very often ask me to do things with my iPod touch that only the iPhone can do, assuming it's an iPhone... like when we're on the road, "look up the map to see where we are" or "Can I borrow your phone?" while pointing to my iPod. Yeah, I wish I could do those things, but I can't. So stop asking and making me feel bad.

Yes, the Yelp app told me what I already knew, but I think it was a nice touch. That dialog box is better than, say, doing nothing at all. The only thing that would've made it better would be if it pretended to make a call and then say "Haha, just kidding."

Bizarre Holidays! Part 4!

Because today is "Just Because Day," here's another installment of Bizarre Holidays!

Today, August 27th, is Global Forgiveness Day. As in, forgive me for writing another one of these blog posts.

Tomorrow, August 28th, is Crackers over the keyboard Day. Why the 29th is not Clean Your Keyboard Day is beyond me. But at least we have the 30th, which is National Marshmallow Toasting Day. Man, I haven't done that in quite a while.

To finish off the month, we have Love Litigating Lawyers Day on the 31st. This is also known to no one as "L-literation Day."

Well, folks, that's all I have for today. Tune in next time, whenever that is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gone Phishing

I don't know how many of you use MSN Messenger... most people who correspond with people in different countries use it (if they're not using Skype) but people here in the US mostly use AIM.

Anyway, I just got an IM from one of my MSN buddies, but she was offline at the time, and judging by the link and the text of the IM, I know she wasn't actually the one who sent it. I can only imagine that it was a phishing attempt, though I don't know by whom.

So I just wanted to remind all two of you who reads this: if you receive IMs from your buddies that have links in them, be cautious about clicking them. It could be a phishing scheme (asking you for your personal info for seemingly legit but actually bogus reasons) or could give you a virus.

I found this link to a thread on Yahoo! Answers where someone else had a similar experience.

Have fun, and always remember to surf safely.

Post #100!

Well, since it's very, very likely that no one is as excited about this as I am, for good reason, I'm not going to dwell on the fact that this is my 100th post on this blog.

I'm really here to write a little about creative uses of the iPhone I came across. For a while now, musicians have been putting out apps to promote their music. They've had interesting ideas too.

Death Cab for Cutie, for example, has a Death Cab app that provides in-app music and video streaming, including 9 songs that you can listen to (when you have an internet connection). Lyrics, album art, tour dates, and photos are also included. For sure, this stuff is mostly for people who are already fans, but it's nice of them to give these freebies out.

The band Nine Inch Nails has an app called "nin: access," which has a rather interesting community aspect to it. From the app description:

- Engage in location-based conversation and share photos with other NIN fans around the world.
- Access the latest NIN news and blog updates.

- Listen to a variety of streaming NIN music, including exclusive playlists and thousands of fan-created remixes.

- View, save, and share images and videos from’s vast fan-supported media archive.

- Get exclusive free wallpaper images formatted for iPhone & iPod Touch.
- Access to’s thriving forums.

- Login with your free account, or create a new one directly from the app.

- Send & receive private messages and view user profiles.

True, this stuff is mainly for marketing purposes but I think it's a fantastic way to keep the fans more involved while on the go. It provides a level of interactivity I haven't seen before in the realm of cell phone and fandom. I'm not a fan of NIN, but if I were, I'd probably love this app.

Finally, the oddest one I've seen is the Coldplay app, designed around their new single Strawberry Swing. Like the other apps, it requires an internet connection even to open the app, and once in, requires a connection to receive ads (hey, how else do you think this thing is free?), stream the Strawberry Swing music video, and submit your high scores.

That's right, there's a game. But not just one game: three games. Marketing at its craziest. See, in the video, the main guy (presumably frontman Chris Martin) is some kind of Superman-esque superhero, flying through the sky, swimming through dangerous waters, and walking through the clouds to rescue the "Princess" from the diabolical Squirrel King. It's really a really neat, artsy video, and I'd recommend checking it out if you haven't. Well, that cartoony edge to the video really lends itself to cheap promotional video game creation.

All three games are locked when you first get the app. Once you watch the music video, the first game is unlocked. Playing through the first game once unlocks the second game, and one playthrough of the second game unlocks the third. The first game is a clone of just about every game that came out when the iPhone app store first opened: you tilt your device left or right to move the guy, flying through the air, avoiding biplanes and collecting stars and umbrellas. At the end of the stage, you have to dodge the Squirrel King's arrows.

In the second game you're swimming under water. Once again you tilt the device to move him up, down, left, or right, collecting stars and keys (same as umbrellas, to be honest) and avoiding junk that has fallen into the ocean, like hat racks and dressers (yeah, hat racks).

The third game is a side scrolling platformer where you (yup, you guessed it) collect stars. But also there are skeletons. You jump on their heads and they fall apart, allowing you to pick up the skull to use as a weapon on the next skeleton that comes along.

The app is free, but if you believe that Time is Money, then the time I spent playing these cheap promo tricks is probably worth more to me than the "nothing" that I paid for this app. In other words, try it out if you're curious, but all the while keep in mind that you're not really supposed to be having fun while playing. Instead, you're supposed to be wanting to buy the music video on iTunes, or better yet, buy the album that Strawberry Swing is on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Don't stay the same.

The second most popular sentiment I used to find in my middle school and high school yearbooks, aside from the decidedly uncreative "have a nice summer, see you next year" was "Don't ever change."

At the time, my reaction to people writing this to me probably ranged from satisfied to ambivalent. I figured it meant that they liked me just the way I was. And that was good, especially for a kid who, at the time, had just started to build his self-confidence.

But the thing was, most of that confidence was in the realm of the classroom. I was always one of the smart kids. I was never one to brag to anyone, but everyone knew what kinds of grades I got. Those A's were what kept me going - in life, really - not just in the classroom. They were what kept me motivated to keep doing my very best in everything at school.

But because that was my focus, it just so happened that my performance in class was inversely proportional to my social life. Inverse means that when one aspect is high, the other is the opposite - low. Sure, I had my friends and all my school club activities. But even though there were those people I really appreciate being around, I never opened up to them. We rarely hung out outside of some school functions. I never really got close to anyone, and there was no single person or group of people that I could call my bed friends.

Unlike for most people, ironically, high school for me was for getting an education, with the social interactions being somewhat of a side benefit.

Looking back I would have done many things differently, but that's not my point here. I've recently given some thought to the numerous messages of "Don't ever change" I'd gotten over the years, many from people I only barely knew, to whom I'd scarcely said more than three words in my life.

I came to the conclusion that those people were not, in fact, implying that they really liked me the way I was. They knew me simply by reputation. They figured "nice" and "smart" was fine, and I was never threatening or annoying to them. They probably assumed I was pretty cool, being in honors classes and numerous school clubs. But a single "conversation" with me would have ruined that image pretty quickly. Let's put it this way: right now, if I were to be the same person I was 6, 7, 8 years ago in high school, I'd be much, much worse off.

Back then I was really socially awkward, afraid to change things up and be spontaneous, narrow-minded and judgmental, unobservant, and totally unable to voice my opinions when it mattered. My sense of humor was limited. And I was a bit stubborn and selfish.

Thank goodness I changed. Thank goodness I ignored all my classmates' advice and let myself grow and improve.

Did you ever get that message in your yearbook? Did you change?

Monday, August 17, 2009


So I woke up this morning to the most unexpected sound.. and sight. Not the usual birds chirping, dogs barking, or train tooting its horn. These were savage, confrontational sounds. I couldn't place them, so naturally I opened my Venetian blinds about a foot to see what the din was.

On top of the wooden gazebo-like structure in my backyard was a very angry squirrel, belching out high-pitched "RAB RAB RAB! RAB RAB RAB!" at about 60 miles an hour. Apparently it didn't really appreciate the looks the dirty, mangy cat sitting on the brick wall was casting in its direction.

That's right, I woke up to a standoff between a squirrel and a cat.

I would love to have stuck around for the fight, but I had to go to work. Maybe I should've called in sick... at least for an hour.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quick Time Waster

Paper Toss, Free (App Store,

As amazingly detailed and in-depth iPhone/iPod touch games have become these days, the fact remains that it is still a mobile platform. And when people have a lot of time to spend playing a game, they're probably going to be spending it on their computer or on whatever version of Playstation, XBox, or Nintendo system they have. Therefore, the best model for an iPhone/iPod touch game is one that is simple and one that you can pick up real quickly and put down at a moment's notice. Many in-depth games (like Zombieville USA and Virtual Villagers) have the nice autosave-on-exit feature so you can pick up right where you left off.

Paper Toss is not the kind of game that really needs that, because its premise is as simple as it gets. You have a metric buttload of crumpled papers, which you presumably created while bored at work. The objective is simple: throw the crumpled paper balls into the trash can by flicking your finger upwards on the screen. The one catch is that a fan is randomly blowing left or right, affecting the trajectory of your paper projectile. So you need to compensate for this.

That's it! The game keeps track of your current score and latest high score and there are three difficulty levels. The game takes place in some kind of office, and there's a bonus Easy level located at an airport, in honor of the release of their paid "sequel," Paper Toss World Tour.

If you have a few minutes (or even seconds) where you're waiting for a printout or something, download Paper Toss (again, it's free) and dispose of some hapless papers.

And yes, that guy on the Backflip Studios logo is creepy for some reason...