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As stated many times by many people, Apple isn’t just a hardware company; they are artisans. There are numerous ways their products stand out from competitors, from the engineering of the Magsafe power adaptors to the attention paid to graphic design of such simple things as screen icons. They strive to not only make a high-end product, they provide a certain special cleverness to aspects that one just wouldn’t expect. 

That being said, even the best miss on some things. Sometimes it’s a big deal, like the antenna placement on the iPhone 4 (and the deserved blasting Steve Jobs got for the ‘you’re holding it wrong’ defense). Sometimes, as in the case of my iMacs, it’s something small yet annoying. 

I’m writing this post via my second iMac. Both it and its predecessor are great all-in-one desktops; slim, powerful, uncluttered, and more than capable of doing anything I’d ask a desktop PC to do (including gaming). I’ve loved the almost cordless experience they provide as compared to the self-made gaming PCs I’ve built. While I’d happily recommend an iMac to anyone looking for a desktop, there is one significant design flaw- the location of the USB ports. 

My 2010 iMac seemed to be a razor thin machine when I first picked it up. After my covetousness of the new 27 inch models became to great to ignore I happily upgraded to the even-thinner model and have been more than pleased with the results. Yet both sport the same curious design choice of sporting all ports on the lower rear panel of the monitor. While they aren’t completely unreachable, anyone that’s tried to plug in a USB cord without seeing the port can attest to how maddening this can be. The iMac’s aluminum unibody is super durable, but it makes the ports a bit harder to access when blindly fumbling, and even moreso when you finally realize you have the USB jack backwards (where oh where is that reversible USB cable Apple filed a patent for?)

Unlike the ethernet and Thunderbolt ports, USB was made for hot swapping. The iMac only has four ports, so if you have multiple accessories it makes switching cables a necessity if you haven’t sprung for a USB hub (and even then it may not be the best option as unpowered hubs may not charge your various devices). Furthermore, adding a hub breaks the clean aesthetic of the iMac as well- I know, First World Problem; but it bothers me. 

So after fiddling with a Lightning cable for the umpteenth time I decided to see there was a palatable solution. My search didn’t take long, as Bluelounge had exactly what I was looking for. While they have many intriguing products (in particular their Soba line of cord and cable management) the simple yet elegant Jimi was exactly what I was looking for. 

The device is simply a USB port extender, but in the spirit of Apple’s engineering it answers the problem of the out-of-sight placement of those iMac ports in an elegant way. The device plugs into the port, with the other end of the extender clipping to the bottom edge of the iMac providing a secure and fully-powered front-facing port. The device is very low profile from the front of the iMac, with little more than the USB port visible. 

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The handy device is compatible with both 21 and 27 inch variants of the most recent iMac (older iMacs sadly are too thick), and several can be used together if more than one front-facing port is needed (the smaller iMac can support one in each USB port, the larger iMac in three of the four). It has made swapping between my Lighting cable and the specialized cable for my iPod Shuffle so much easier. While the iMac’s thinness can only be completely appreciated when viewing it from the side, having to turn it every time you need to swap a cable tends to put a damper on my appreciation for the design. 

I’ve admitted before I’m a sucker for something clever, and the Jimi definitely fits the description. It’s a fine example of a product that tends to be scorned for being so simple, yet to date no one else seems to have thought of anything else like it.

Just about anyone that’s used an iPhone has run afoul of its autocorrect- that well-meaning yet often inexplicably wrong means of dealing with the inevitable typos brought on by touch screen typing. Add in dictating via Siri and you’ve got a potential disaster or hilarity just a send button away. 

Sharing that embarrassing humor makes it a bit more tolerable- check out one of the best collections of autocorrect humor at Damn You Autocorrect.  From unintentional corrections to the joys of dealing with parental technology use, it makes for a great time waster. 

Oh, it’s that blessed time again- the beginning of (real, not kickball) football season. That wonderful end of summer where the sweltering heat of August almost imperceptibly shifts to the cooler air of September, heralding the return of America’s greatest sport.
The actual NFL season doesn’t begin for a couple more weeks, but the preseason is in full swing. Unlike some fans, I enjoy the preseason- seeing how vaunted draft picks play around a higher level of competition, what unheralded free agents or lower draft picks become gems, and a general indication of the condition of my favorite team. Due to my longtime cord cutter status I lack some of the outlets I used to rely on- ESPN and the NFL network in particular. I get good digital reception via antenna for local broadcasts of my hometown’s team, but I do like watching more than what the local channels have approval to bring me.
The internet provides some relief; my various feeds and some official websites provide some video and information, but it’s not quite the same. In a quest to get more content than the NFL Now app on my Apple TV can provide I opted for the NFL’s Preseason app in the iTunes App Store. The $20 subscription fee allows you to watch streaming of all preseason games- most live, some blackout (i.e. carried by ESPN) are watchable the next day. Games you’ve missed are readily available in two forms- the complete game as it aired, and a ‘compressed’ game with all breaks, huddle time, and other downtime removed leaving just the action (reducing the watching time to about 1/4 of the broadcast time).
The service has been remarkably good. Video quality is as good as I’ve seen via a streaming service (especially one covering a live sporting even with plenty of motion, hampering video compression efforts) and the app is well made, allowing easy switching between games and providing up to the date scores and warnings of when a team has reached scoring position (Red Zone alerts). The ability to check out older games after they’ve finished has been more enjoyable than I had originally thought it would be; should a game I missed be the topic of discussion at work or on sports radio I can easily catch up on what I missed in its entirety, no programming of a DVR needed. The only caveat has been that the NFL has apparently locked down AirPlay; I can’t push content from my iPad to my Apple TV for a better (larger screen and better sound) experience. 

All this brings me to one inescapable conclusion- the cord cutter’s dream is not only possible, it’s easily doable. Live sports can be provided to internet subscribers, losing no quality but gaining quite a bit of functionality. Think of the additional information the NFL (or any other sport) could offer via official viewing portals or apps; up to the minute stats, fantasy league information, and so on. I’d gladly pay for a Season Ticket-style subscription via the same sort of app I’m using for the NFL preseason. I’m unsure if it’s loyalty to traditional media or just money talking (I’m sure traditional outlets like Fox and ESPN can pony up serious cash to keep their monopoly on broadcasting rights of certain games) but it would be a great start for the NFL to expand their NFL Now app to provide all the content the NFL Network does. It chafed me greatly when non-cable or satellite providers lost the ability to watch Monday Night Football when it was absorbed by ESPN. 

Make this happen, sports leagues. We have access to MLB, MBA, and NHL season tickets via the Apple TV. It’s time for the NFL and NCAA to step up as well. I’ve seen that it’s not only possible, it can be outstanding. 

Even the most user friendly device will eventually have a learning curve as it evolves and improves. The iPhone’s ease of use is one of its attractions, but its interface isn’t completely transparent. Even long time users will pick up on a handy trick now and then. Case in point- I get a lot of texts during my workday; texting has long since replaced pagers in healthcare as the go-to method of simple communication. In the past I’ve had to swipe the unlock stripe to access the message and respond (if necessary) or prevent the second reminder chime. If there are multiple messages from different senders I’d have to go into Messages and select the conversation I wanted. There’s a quick and simple workaround though that I’m surprised I hadn’t picked up on yet- simply swipe the message you’d like to reply to instead of the unlock message at the bottom of the screen. Messages will open to the conversation you’ve swiped!

While there are plenty of handy tips articles and posts out there, I prefer to go to the primary source when possible. If you’d like some additional info and tips on the use of your iPhone 5s (although some tips apply to any iPhone) device here’s a handy page courtesy of Apple: https://www.apple.com/iphone-5s/tips/

Happy iOS-ing!

Timing is everything

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about my Apple purchases has been the overall high quality and durability of the devices. My original Mac Mini lasted several years until it was finally sold on eBay; still functioning as well that day as when I first plugged it into my TV as a media center. All of my iPhones have been sold when they were replaced with a  newer model, and I’m still running my several year old Time Capsule router. The ability to recoup money from the sale of older devices has offset the inability to modify or upgrade to the extent that I was able to with other devices. In days long past I could cannibalize various parts from my PC to be used in a newer build if I wasn’t satisfied with upgrading the processor, graphics card, or hard drive; now my still sound but older Macs and iOS devices find additional life with someone else and offset the price of the new device.

While this system has worked well for me, the other key to the plan has been timing. I opted to buy my current iPhone 5c out of pocket a couple of months ago when my iPhone 5 was stolen rather than spend my carrier upgrade discount and miss out on the iPhone 6 that’s about to be released. Who wouldn’t be disappointed in purchasing a new iPad or Mac only to discover that the newer/more powerful/more feature-packed/all around shiner product was coming out just a month later? Many Apple product releases have followed a routine product update schedule: the iPhone for one has been upgraded around September of every year like clockwork. The higher end devices like the Macbook and iMac haven’t  been upgraded so regularly. So what’s an Apple aficionado to do when they are ready to ante up for bigger and better?

Aside from keeping your finger on the pulse of Apple punditry, one of the best tools I’ve found has been MacRumor’s product upgrade guide. The guide offers an easy to navigate layout that provides valuable insight into the timing of your pending purchase. The guide covers three areas: iOS devices, Macs, and an ‘everything else’ category currently populated by the Apple TV and Apple Thunderbolt display. Each product is given a color coded purchase rating of buy now, caution, or don’t buy based on the length of time the product has been in its current model and various information available on product updates.

Those wanting more information can click on the product in question for a more detailed story of the device’s current status and factors that influenced the given grade. I’ve been considering upgrading my aging 2010 iMac (while it still runs well I covet the larger 27 inch screen and would love to have the faster boot times afforded by a hybrid SSD/HD Fusion drive) but have decided to delay the switch until later in the year in hopes that Yosemite might bring newer Broadwell-powered systems. Even if you’re not in the market for the newest and best knowledge of upcoming upgrades can be valuable. The release of a new model can signify a price drop in older models or less money from the sale of your current device.

Patience was never my strongest trait when it came to a new gadget, but making wise choices has always been paramount. Knowing when to buy can be almost as important as knowing what to buy; and a little patience can be worth a lot of cash.

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Let’s face it- we’ve been spoiled by empowerment. I can personally attest to the fact that my attention span is measured in seconds rather than minutes now thanks to the wealth of distraction my iOS devices afford me. Stuck in an elevator for a minute? No worries- check Facebook. Got to work a bit early? Hey- why not clean out your inbox? Downtime during lunch? Time to tear through a few more pages of Game of Thrones in iBooks. This doesn’t even touch on the siren song of gaming, other social media, the various forms of chat (including iMessage), all of the various forms of video entertainment, and so on. With Reddit alone I could probably waste a good portion of every day.

All of this ready entertainment/infotainment is heady stuff- even when I don’t really have the time to spare I’ve found ways of wringing a few moments out of a down time to shift back into an electronic world that is so much more engaging that the real one typically is. There’s the rub: when does this desire to communicate and be entertained run afoul of proper etiquette. I’m not one to criticize others for checking their phone while eating or during a social outing; I’m all too guilty of it myself. Like most ventures, it only strikes me as truly objectionable when it begins to infringe on others.

That’s not to say favoring your device over the actual humans around you isn’t rude. It’s no different from ignoring someone completely to converse with another. No, it’s not rudeness that drives me into a pseudo-murderous rage, it’s the rampant self-indulgence of personal electronics use that interferes with those around you.

Case in point: at a recent concert smartphone use was more than rampant, at times it was almost as blinding as the spotlights of the stage. The offenses were various; social networking, texting, gaming (if Words With Friends is more interesting than the concert maybe you should have reconsidered that ticket purchase), and the most egregious offense of all, piracy. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, but isn’t it both incredibly disrespectful AND overoptimistic of the capabilities of your handset to try to record video of a concert? The sound would be utterly distorted, the shaky video practically unwatchable, but the disregard for the performer would remain intact.

I understand the need to relay information and communicate at times with others. Maybe you were trying to meet up with friends. Maybe a teenager was checking in with a protective parent. These and other instances are understandable, but when the device stays in your hands for a half an hour while you furiously tap away it makes the user seem like an imbecile. Have smartphones become so integral to our daily lives that we can’t set them aside to experience something outside of that tiny screen? The concert I attended was a very good one, but the enjoyment was definitely hampered by the glare of so many tiny bright screens distracting from the performers.

As annoying as that may have been it pales in comparison to those that refuse to follow the advice of the PSA at movie theaters to keep their phones in their pockets. A live concert is a cacophonous event- lights, sound, kinetic energy; something that is to be experienced with more than one sense. While smartphones lit up around you can be distracting, it can’t being to compete with the annoyance of someone whipping out their device during a movie. It still amazes me how bright those little screens can be in a darkened theater. Again, I understand that there are exceptions to every rule, but etiquette is more than a pretty word. When I’ve needed to access my phone (I do chance a movie when on call for my hospital on occasion) I take it out of the theater out of consideration for both other moviegoers and the person trying to communicate with me (those digital speakers in a theater get pretty loud).

So by all means enjoy the fantastic devices we all seem to be sporting now. Smartphones are amazing devices; almost unthinkably powerful and versatile. To paraphrase Spider Man, with that great power comes a greater need for responsible use. It’s not enough to refrain from texting while driving (although it’s amazing how many times I still see that happening), you should be respectful for those that aren’t a part of your smartphone experience too.

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