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25 08 2010
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Test post

25 08 2010




Cutting out the distractions when driving

8 03 2010

Distracted driving has been in the news quite a bit lately as legislators look to ban texting and other cell phone activities while you’re on the road. Washington has banned cell phones and texting while driving; however, it’s a secondary offense here (meaning you can’t be pulled over just for texting, but you can be cited for it if you’re stopped for another offense).

My new phone has me thinking more about my own distracted driving habits. Texting while driving or even making a call was a lot easier with my QWERTY keyboard phone. I knew where all the buttons were and could text or call someone very quickly. The Nexus One requires much more attention. I like the voice input feature, but it’s often not accurate enough to replace the need to type. Plus, that’s just as distracting. Having your hands free doesn’t solve the real problem. If you’re paying attention to your phone, you’re paying less attention to the road.

So I’ve decided to take a pledge that I won’t use my phone while driving (except in an emergency, of course). This requires two main steps:

Step 1. I’m going to buy a car dock for the Nexus One. That way, when I’m using the phone for GPS and turn-by-turn directions, it’s in the proper place to view it and to hear the instructions. I can set it up before I leave and hopefully won’t need to touch it until I arrive at my destination. Right now, I don’t have a safe spot to put the phone while using the navigation feature.

Step 2. No texting or checking my email at stoplights. If I really need to do something with my phone, I’ll pull over.

Fortunately, I walk or take the bus most places. But when I do drive, I’m going to do my best not to be distracted.





Photo-A-Day Project: My month with the Nexus One camera

1 03 2010

Well, it’s March 1, and my February photo-a-day project has come to a close. I still have plenty to learn and try out, but I feel much more knowledgeable about the capabilities of the Nexus One camera, Android photo apps and Posterous. I created a video slideshow with the 30 photos from the project (I couldn’t resist posting two photos on two of the days).

View larger video.

The Project

I’ve found myself comparing the 5-megapixel Nexus One camera to my first digital camera, a 5-megapixel, AA-battery-eating device I bought in 2004. That camera was slow, bulky and could store about 100 photos. My Nexus One is with me at all times, does countless other awesome things and allows me to instantly share information, photos and videos with the world. Have I mentioned I really love having a camera with me at all times?

This project forced me to venture beyond my normal schedule and routine (otherwise you might see 28 pictures of my neighborhood grocery store or coffee shop). So when I was in Fremont, I took a nice stroll over the bridge and shot this photo.

Day 25

When I went for a walk around Green Lake, I kept an eye out for pretty views and interesting lighting and ended up capturing one of my favorite photos of the project. I like projects that get me outside, enjoying beautiful weather and exploring the city. I also took tons of other photos throughout the month, so February 2010 is one of the most well-documented periods of my life — and it was relatively uneventful.

Day 6

On the other hand, a fun daily project can also take a backseat when you’re busy. Hence, the photo of my new colorful coasters. (Though my calendar helped keep me on track by popping up with a reminder every morning for 28 days.)

Day 17

The Camera

Overall, the camera is very easy to use, but I have one big complaint about the phone’s design. When trying to shoot a photo, it can be easy to fumble and hit the back or search buttons. It’s frustrating to frame a nice shot and then have the camera suddenly switch to search mode. One way to avoid this is to use the trackball to take the photo rather than the on-screen button. Using the trackball button also feels much more natural.

This project led me to read up on the Nexus One camera and figure out how to turn off the annoying and slightly embarrassing shutter sound. You have to have the ringer on, then enter the camera app, then turn the ringer off (using the button on the side).

I didn’t use the flash that often, but I love having it. The camera also has quite a few built-in settings for color effect and white balance. Here is a self-portrait using the Posterize color effect.

Day 22

As you might expect, I got the best shots in bright outdoor settings – and the beautiful spring weather certainly helped. The camera also did surprisingly well with close-up shots. I was really impressed with the camera’s ability to focus on the flowers in the foreground and place the building out of focus.

Day 27

I was really happy with some of the shots (especially the flowers), but 5 megapixels can only go so far. Compare these ice skating photos. On the left is a Nexus One shot. On the right is a shot from the 12-megapixel camera I just bought Adam. (Though I’m pretty sure I didn’t use the flash in the Nexus One photo and that accounts for some of the difference.)

Day 14

And as with many point-and-shoot cameras, landscape shots didn’t turn out great. Simple cameras just don’t do justice to breathtaking mountain scenes. I like this photo from the waterfront, but it’d be better if you could really see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance.

Day 15

Also, for those interested in a side-by-side comparison of the Nexus One and iPhone cameras, check out this CNET review. It’s an interesting review, but it seems pretty obvious that 5 megapixels would be better than 3.

The Apps

The Adobe Photoshop.com Mobile app offers quite a few photo editing functions – crop, straighten, rotate, flip; exposure, saturation, tint, black and white; soft focus – and works great. When you’re happy with your edits, you can save the new version in your camera’s photo gallery. You can also set up a photoshop.com account and upload photos to it. Given all my other photo-storage accounts, I haven’t seen the need yet to use this.

I mostly used the crop and straighten tools in the Photoshop app. It’s difficult to gauge things like color saturation on such a small screen, but it’s pretty easy to crop an image. I do wish the Photoshop app had some sort of “auto enhance” feature (like those that you find on most new digital cameras) that would automatically touch up photos.

I’ve been searching for Android camera and photo apps (if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments section). I liked the FXCamera app, which gives you fun settings like “Polandroid” and the “Warholizer.” Unless you really have a need for a pop art image, these photos are pretty much destined to become Facebook profile pics.

Posterous

Posterous works really well for mobile blogging, especially photo blogging. Most blogging platforms have a “post by email” feature, but Posterous is geared specifically toward email posting. You snap the photo, select “share” and select “Gmail.” Enter the blog title as the subject of the email and the caption in the body of the email. It’s published immediately and you receive a confirmation email with a link to the post. I often found myself emailing in posts and visiting the website later to edit it further. You can also set up Posterous to instantly autopost to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Tumblr, WordPress, etc. (By the way, WordPress offers tons of features for emailing in posts.)

At first, I thought it was kind of silly to email in content when there are so many apps that could do the same thing, but Posterous is definitely simpler and autoposting to other platforms could save you quite a few steps.

If you’re traveling, a Posterous blog connected to Twitter and Facebook would be a great way to share photos and quick updates. I wish I had the Nexus One on our road trip across the country last year, but I did plenty of tweeting via SMS with my dumb phone and took plenty of photos with my digital camera.

Coming next: Video!

My next project will involve testing out the Nexus One video camera, video apps such as Qik, publishing videos to Posterous – and playing with my newest toy, Final Cut Express.





Study of Mobile App Stores

22 02 2010

Given my recent obsession with the Android Market, I was interested to read about Distimo‘s findings about the six largest mobile app stores: the iTunes App Store, BlackBerry App World, Google Android Market, Nokia Ovi Store, Palm App Catalog and Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Distimo presented these results at the recent Mobile World Congress.

According to the report, Android has the highest number of free apps (57% of its apps). According to Read Write Web, this is due to:

  • the open-source operating system, which attracts developers who may be more likely to give away their work
  • the open approval process, which makes it easier for “casual developers” to get the app in the market
  • anecdotally, developers’ dissatisfaction with the Google Checkout payment method for purchase

Additionally, with close to 20,000 apps, Android now has the second-largest app store, though it’s still far behind iTunes’ 150,000 apps. All the other app stores trail far behind.

“Apple is also the fastest growing store with a shocking 13,865 new applications added per month. Android’s growth is picking up too – they now have 3,005 new apps per month (15%). Relative to the number of apps housed, Android is actually the fastest growing store.”

For more on Distimo’s findings, check out its slideshow:





AIR and Flash Support Coming to Android

15 02 2010

I know much of the excitement coming out of the Mobile World Congress is surrounding the announcement of Windows Phone 7, but I am, of course, excited about the Android-related announcement. Adobe announced that Android users will be able to use Adobe AIR apps and will have Flash 10.1 support for Android before the end of the first half of 2010. I want Flash support ASAP so I can watch Vimeo and Hulu videos and view Flash graphics when browsing the Web. And I’m intrigued by the potential of the AIR app platform.

“The capabilities come at a time when the “Open Screen Project” a consortium of more than 70 companies have worked to bring the companies capabilities to mobile platforms ranging from cell phones and netbooks to tablets and other portable devices.

When completed developers will be able to create one application or game that will work across various platforms that support the technology, a leap forward from current multiple version setups required by developers.

The technology will also mean that web-centric applications can quickly be ported to mobile devices, while adding new features such as geo-caching and other location based services.”

Here is a video demo. (Ironically, I first read about this on my Nexus One and was not able to watch the video.)





Nexus One, Week Five

8 02 2010

As you might expect, my perspective as a mobile user has completely changed since getting the Nexus One – and taking the mobile media and communications class. I’m now watching the growth of mobile platforms and examining mobile content through the lens of someone constantly seeking Android apps. My views used to be pretty iPhone-centric. I assumed an iPhone app would suffice and satisfy a content owner’s needs for a mobile application. But as the marketplace becomes more fragmented and new platforms emerge, this is obviously not the case. RIM’s Blackberry remains the most popular smartphone platform in the United States, but Android doubled its market share from 2.5% in September 2009 to 5.2% in December, according to comScore. Palm, meanwhile, lost some of its market share. As more carriers release Android phones, Google’s market share will continue to grow.

Here’s an update on my experience with the Nexus One:

System update. There are so many  great features on the phone that I didn’t care very much about the lack of multi-touch. But once I heard that multi-touch was coming in a system update, I kept checking my phone, waiting for an alert. After a couple days, I finally received the update and have been pleased with the ability to pinch zoom in and out.

Navigation. I continue to be wowed by the Google Maps Navigation feature. Using the turn-by-turn voice directions, I successfully arrived at a meeting in Capitol Hill (among many other locations). When I reached my destination, the map view on the phone automatically switched to a street view of the building. I love that this is built into the system. Now if they could just release an update that would change the robotic navigation voice.

Camera. I’m on Day 8 of my Photo-A-Day Project, using the Nexus One camera, Photoshop app and Posterous. I’ve been enjoying my small mission and learning more about what the camera can and can’t do.

I finally figured out how to turn off the annoying shutter sound that the camera makes every time you snap a photo. When I searched for solutions, various forums said turning off the ringer will silence the camera. I typically have the ringer off, but I’ve discovered that I have to turn the ringer on, enter the camera mode, then turn the ringer off. THEN there’s no creepy shutter sound. (Yes, I know the sound actually exists to prevent creepiness.)

Apps. The UrbanSpoon app is now available for Android. This is a welcome addition to my phone. So is the WordPress app. I also downloaded the PDANet app, which allows you to use your phone as a wifi router. I haven’t set it up yet, nor do I really have any need for it right now, but some day this could be very valuable (say, on long car or train trips). There is a PDANet app for the iPhone, but you have to jail break your phone to use it. (Things like that make me happy I’m supporting the open Android system.)

Walking on campus

I’ve been trying out the CardioTrainer app, which uses GPS to track your runs, walks, bike rides, etc. It seems pretty accurate. It also has an indoor setting that works as a pedometer, so if you’re on a track or treadmill, you can still record your workout. I just got an armband for the Nexus One, so I’ll be trying out the app on a treadmill to see if it accurately counts my steps.

Accessories. I’m less pleased with the armband. The Amazon listing claimed that the armband was for the Nexus One and the G1. I was skeptical that it would fit the Nexus One, but for $12, I was willing to try it. I probably should have listened to my skepticism. The phone fits fine in the case, but the hole for the headphone jack doesn’t line up to the phone and there’s no access to the power button at the top, which you use to turn the screen on. I’ve been using the armband, but not putting the top flap over the phone. It’s still pretty secure, but not ideal. Fortunately, the touchscreen works pretty well through the plastic.

Lesson learned: As more and more companies create Nexus One accessories, buyer beware.

Lastly. I’ve been enjoying Google’s series of short videos about the making of the Nexus One.