My Apple wishlist – updated

Back in September 2009, I had a rush of blood to the head and wrote a list of all the things I’d like in the Apple world. Nearly two years later I thought it would be interesting to revisit the list to see what has materialized, and what is still just a pipe dream for an Apple customer.

  1. A Logitech webcam with a microphone that supports OS X Speech Recognition – Well it just so happens that the Snow Leopard 10.6 update fixed this problem. The strange thing is, now it works I rarely use it.
  2. A ‘watch folder(s)’ feature in iTunes – Still just a pipe dream.
  3. Better (more intelligent) integration of OS X ‘Spaces’ on dual-monitor setups – Nothing really has changed here unless you want to use 3rd party software.
  4. An iPhone with a user-changeable battery – Was I really that naive?
  5. iPhones available on any UK network – Yes, it’s happened. In the UK you aren’t tied to O2 any more. The downside? Most carriers want an 18 or 24 month lock-in, and the (real) costs are going up.
  6. An AT&T client for OS X – Yep, I’m still dreaming. There’s no sign of this.
  7. A choice of reasonably priced USB/Firewire add-in cards for the Mac Pro – It’s still a lottery as to what’s available and whether it’s compatible.
  8. A second CPU upgrade option for Mac Pro users with (only) one 4-core processor – No way. No how. (Sadly).
  9. A Mac Mini with easily upgradeable RAM and that supports more than 2Gb – Well I guess the latest generation all aluminium Mac Mini answers that one.
  10. A Blu-Ray DVD upgrade for the Mac Pro – Nope, that’s still in the ‘bag of hurt’ category.
  11. An end to the $1 = £1 exchange rate on technology products (OK, maybe I pushed the scope of this list a little bit) – As if that’ll ever end.
  12. Outlook to MobileMe syncing in Windows, WITHOUT having to install iTunes – Silly of me really.
  13. Colour-coded categories in iCal – No sign, but then I have switched to BusyCal which is a far better proposition.
  14. Better control of Time Machine built-in to OS X (I know you can get 3rd party add-ons, but this really should be built-in) – it still does what it mysteriously does. At least it works.
  15. Better login support for mapping SMB shares, not this Login Items bodge – Things haven’t changed, but at least there is a relatively easy Automator solution.
  16. A proper tree view in Finder. (I use Mac Rage, but it’s not ideal) – Hah, as if Apple would ever add this to Finder. Mind you, I now use Path Finder as my default Finder.
  17. A two or even three button mouse made by Apple! – Nope, but I did get my wish for a trackpad, so I’ll shut up.
  18. An Apple wireless keyboard with the same key layout as the wired one – Come on Apple, I’m still waiting. Well actually I’m not, I went and bought a Logitech diNovo for Mac wireless keyboard.
  19. At least one eSATA port on the Mac Pro – Academic now really seeing as a new Mac Pro is waaaaayyyyy out of my budget.
  20. And finally (for now)… an Apple PVR/Blu-Ray DVD Recorder that supports DiVX, mp3, DVBT, FreeSat, has HDMI 1.3a, etc., etc., …and the bank balance to buy such a monster! – There I really was dreaming, but who knows what’s next for Apple TV?

Creating WordPress blog entries with the iPad app

WordPress app Welcome

Welcome, things couldn't be easier! (or could they?)

Can you really just grab your iPad as you walk out the door then happily create WordPress blog entries while you’re on the move? Well that’s my objective. I’m somewhere interesting, camera in one hand, iPad in the other, ready to let the world know with a new blog entry… Well that’s the theory, so how does it work out in practice?

First port of call was the bespoke WordPress app in the app store. Ok a lot of the feedback was none too friendly but I’m always willing to give something a try so I downloaded it and off we went. Set up is easy and promises that you’ll be blogging in seconds, you just enter the details about your blog, provide your credentials and let the app authenticate. At this point you’re presented with a list of your blogs (as you might have more than one) and having selected one, you’re presented with a list of posts relating to that blog, so from a navigation perspective it’s a good start. The list actually shows you all your published posts plus any drafts you’ve created on the web as one combined list. As we’ll see later, only drafts created locally in the iPad app are separated out under their own heading. Anyway, the idea is that you simply choose an existing entry to edit or create a new one by tapping on the pen & paper icon at the top of the list which is what I did.

The first screen you see when creating a new blog post lets you give your post a title, add some tags, and give it a category. In addition along the top right of the screen are three icons for other actions. The first is the Settings icon where you can choose a publish date/time, set a password and also choose whether or not photos are resized. The next icon is for attaching photos to your new blog post, and you simply use the ‘+’ gadget to add photos from Photo Albums on your iPad. (It’s worth noting here that you don’t seem able to enter the URL of existing photos on the web, or choose from photos you may have previously uploaded to WordPress). Picking photos from your iPad is easy so I added a couple to my post. The last icon lets you see a quick Preview of what your post will look like. It’s a bit basic but it gives you an idea, although I was greeted with a message telling me the theme for my blog could not be retrieved so I was being shown a ‘simple preview’. Didn’t sound too serious, so time to create!

WordPress iPad app 2I now had an entry in my posts under ‘Local Drafts’ so a quick tap of the Edit button was all that was needed. What appeared next was perhaps a little confusing as I was taken back to the previous screen where I set the title, tags, etc., but I then twigged that with the cursor sitting in a blank white area under the blog details, this is where is was supposed to start laying down the text of my new blog post. Well fair enough, but then the penny dropped. This was going to be no work of art with inline photos, rich text, links and the like. No, basically what you can do is enter a stream of plain text and then any pictures you chose via the Photos gadget are included at the bottom of the post. Now the more geeky amongst you will say “Ahh, but if you know HTML tags then you can add rich text” and you’d be right, but in this day and age and with a bespoke WordPress blogging app, should you have to? What’s more it’s a pain because tags are denoted by angled brackets which means a lot of keystrokes – bear with me on this. To make something bold you press the ‘.?123’ key, then  the ‘#+=’ key, followed by the ‘<‘ key, then the ‘ABC’ key to get back to the letter keys where you then type the tag name (in this case the word ‘strong’), then the ‘.?123’ key again, then  the ‘#+=’ key again and finally another ‘<‘, then the ‘#+=’ key again so that you can then enter the ‘/’ character, then the ‘ABC’ key again, and so on … Now if that was confusing and a lot of effort to read, just imagine having to do it every time you want to use rich text! Sorry but it’s much too long-winded, and of course it assumes the user actually knows the codes for all the tags they want to use because there’s no help within the app itself to tell you what commonly used tags are. The one exception to the HTML tag ‘pain’ is hypertext or links. If you type the letters ‘http:’ the editor assumes you want to enter a link and helpfully pops up a dialogue where you can specify the text to be linked and the link URL, but that’s the only help you’ll get. For bold, italic, underlined text. font colours, styles, etc., you’re on your own!

WordPress iPad app 3So, at this point I’ve settled on a rather simple blog post of some plain text which includes a couple of photos at the bottom. A bit like a glorified electronic postcard if you like. I dutifully tap the Save button, then have a quick look using the Preview button, before…. Hmmm, where is that Publish button? Save is now greyed out as everything is, well… saved. I can still use the Settings, Photos and Preview buttons, but rather unhelpfully the only other button says Cancel. Well if that’s all I can tap… at which point I’m returned to my list of blog posts with my new entry showing under Local Drafts. Has it been published? Who knows. Can I go back and edit it? Well at this point I can’t, and this looks like a bug. There’s a list of posts down the left of the screen, but the right hand portion of the screen is blank (see pic below). Tapping an entry on the left does nothing, you can’t seem to edit it in any way, and tapping the pen & paper icon simply creates a new post. At this point I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do next, the application actually had me stumped! In the end I quit the app and relaunched it and was then able to edit existing posts.

WordPress iPad app 4

One of the bugs I encountered

To ascertain whether or not my new entry had been published, I resorted to using my Mac and the web interface via Firefox to go to the dashboard on the WordPress site. Sure enough there’s no sign of the post I just created on the iPad, either published or as a draft. I relaunched the WordPress app a second time but received a message saying there was a ‘Communication Error’, strange seeing as I’m at home, have a strong WiFi signal and my internet connection seems fine. All that’s left to do is to ‘Ok’ the error message. Hey presto! With my recently created draft selected in the blog posts list on the left, I can now see the message on the right (where it was previously blank – a bug perhaps?)… and there’s an Edit button! Tapping it takes me back to the familiar editing screen where I can Save and/or Cancel, but no obvious way to publish my creation. Back to the WordPress dashboard on my Mac, but it’s still not showing up there? Maybe that earlier error message meant it can’t upload it? So I relaunch the iPad app a third time and while I don’t see the ‘Communication Error’ message again, there’s still no sign of the post on the blog anywhere. I double-check the Publish Date in the app and it says Friday, 30 July 2010> although tapping this field doesn’t let me see the time it’s supposed to be published (another bug?).

WordPress iPad app 5

Uh oh...

At the end of the day there’s only so much time you can waste spend trying to get something to work, or to figure it out. It’s now three hours after I initially created the blog post on the iPad and it’s nowhere to be seen on the web. If I were an average user who had no interest in how Macs, iPads etc. work, then I’d probably have given up with this a while ago. What is frustrating is that given this is a dedicated WordPress blogging app, its primary function must be to let you post new entries to your blog, from your iPad. There must be something somewhere that uploads and publishes your new posts but it has escaped me.

As a final little diversion, I thought I would see what the app lets me do with comments on the blog. Tapping the Comments icon shows you a list of all comments down the left of the screen, and selecting a comment will show you its details over on the right. The details are just plain text, so you can’t follow links to check for spam etc., but you can Approve/Unapprove comments, mark them as spam or edit them. Marking a comment as spam doesn’t appear to do anything immediately, you don’t get any acknowledgment of your action, you don’t see a pop-up telling you the comment has been marked as spam, you’re simply taken back to the comment itself which is exactly as it was before. You have no idea if what you just did actually resulted in anything – the message is still sitting there. Just so happens that after about 3 minutes the comment I had flagged as spam did actually disappear from the list of comments. I’m guessing the app did a refresh with the server, or it just got around to removing the comment locally – who knows, and if you’re out and about with no internet connection, this could get all the more  confusing.

So what have I learned from my little excursion with the WordPress app for the iPad? Is it the route to publishing on the move with or without an internet connection? Well I will summarize it like this:

  • The interface is sparse and a little un-intuitive at the best of times.
  • Entering rich text is a right royal pain. You need to know all the tags and be very patient.
  • Adding photos is only available as ‘end of post’ gallery style, you can’t locate pictures within your text.
  • Publishing draft entries is confusing, the mechanism is far from obvious.
  • You can moderate comments from within the app if you need to, although again it’s not terribly intuitive.
  • There are a few bugs and the app did crash on me several times.

I can easily see how people who aren’t technically inclined would lose patience with this app quite quickly. I stuck with it for longer but only because I wanted to give it a fair chance for writing about it. In the end I found the whole thing frustrating and a bit of a let down, and ultimately my inability to actually get a draft post created on the iPad to actually appear (anywhere) on this blog means that I wouldn’t recommend it, even if it is free.

The obvious question is – if you’re out and about and you do have an internet connection, would you be better off pointing mobile Safari at your WordPress blog and trying to do things via the web interface? Well there are limitations to that approach too and it does require a little more planning, but if you don’t want to do anything ‘clever’ (rich text, in-line photos, etc.), then it is actually possible. I have given it a go and will try and write another blog post to compare the experience. It wasn’t a great experience although it did work in the end, but it did demonstrate the need for a solid WordPress app for the iPad that’s a little more intuitive and a lot more reliable.

iOS 4.x = sloPhone 3G


iOS 4.x on the iPhone 3G

Every so often I have one of those dreams… you know the ones. You’re somewhere and you’re running, but for some reason you’re getting nowhere. It’s like you’re running in slow-motion or you’re waist-deep in treacle and hardly moving. You feel helpless. Eventually you wake up and if you remembered the dream you breathe a sigh of relief that everything is back to normal… until you go to use your recently ‘upgraded’ iPhone 3G that is.

You see I read about iOS 4.0 and all it’s neat new features and thought… well it can’t hurt to upgrade my two year old iPhone 3G. I mean Apple are really on top of their game when it comes to hardware and the operating system so what’s the worst that could happen?

Well, iOS 4.0 was duly installed and now my iPhone 3G is living that dream! It has made the phone so slow it’s no longer pleasant to use. Everything about it is slower, some things by a significant amount, for example:

  1. The phone now takes at least three minutes to power on.
  2. The whole interface ‘stutters’ when flicking from screen to screen, or re-arranging icons.
  3. Tapping on the ‘Messages’ icon now results in a blank white screen for around ten seconds before the list of SMS conversations appears. (Previously it was instant).
  4. Text input is much less responsive with about one in eight characters not even registering. The result is a lot of blank spaces which you then have to go back and correct (this never happened before).
  5. Most applications take two or three times as long to load, and when tapping on the camera icon it’s a good ten seconds before the ‘virtual shutter’ opens.
  6. Sometimes when taking a photo, the ‘shutter’ closes and then reopens but the photo isn’t saved.

Why even tonight I downloaded and installed iOS 4.0.1 in the vain hope it might make a difference, but all it has done is knock a couple of bars off my signal strength indicator so now I see just one bar on the O2 network in my house (where I previously used to see four or five bars).

So what about the benefits of iOS 4.x for us 3G users? Surely there are some plus points to offset this lardy performance? Well:

  1. I’ve discovered that folders are a ‘nice to have’ but hardly essential. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a huge number of applications anyway, so the benefit is limited.
  2. Unified inbox – now that is worthwhile. I can now check my mail in one place instead of four, but it’s not worth the trade-off in speed.
  3. The camera zoom facility is more of a novelty that anything else. Given that it’s digital zoom, I don’t see the benefit of zooming when the photo is taken, rather than zooming in with a gesture when you’re looking at it afterwards?

Beyond that I haven’t really seen much benefit in going with the 4th generation iOS software on the iPhone 3G. What’s more this isn’t my phone being old and cranky or getting ‘full’, seeing as immediately prior to the first iOS 4.0 upgrade it was still pretty sprightly. Furthermore, friends of mine who also own the 3G and who have upgraded, have also complained about subsequent lack-lustre performance. Of course it would be nice to be able to downgrade the phone back to iOS 3.1.3 but apparently this isn’t a supported option according to Apple, and while Apple Store staff and even tech support acknowledge the problem, there is no ‘official’ line from Apple on these problems.

So what can one do? Well as it happens… not a lot. If you search the web for solutions there are a few, but these seem to require jail-breaking the phone and there’s no guarantee you won’t just brick your phone for good! You could ring tech support but all you’ll get is a shoulder to cry on and perhaps a bit of sympathy. But there is one glimmer of hope. I am assured that Apple do read the feedback they’re sent, so I have posted this missive to them over at:

…here’s hoping that they are taking notice and will do something about it quickly. If you’re having similar problems and your iPhone 3G is in the ‘slo-mo’ dream, then help the cause by leaving your feedback at the above link.

And if by some chance you haven’t upgraded your iPhone 3G to iOS 4.0 or 4.01. yet, then my recommendations is…. DON’T !!

Apple - iPhone - Feedback - Thank You

Here's hoping...

I’m being tempted away from my Mac…

XP desktopMy step-mother has a Sony Vaio laptop that has to be about 5 or 6 years old and runs Windows XP. Her needs are simple, but she comes from a generation that really doesn’t get computers. She refers to the hourglass timer as a ‘christmas cracker’ and has no idea that Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are entirely different animals. When I built the laptop for her I loaded it with all the necessary security software, but for someone who doesn’t have the intuition about what one should or shouldn’t do (or rather click on), then it’s a recipe for disaster (aka repeated ‘support’ calls).

Every so often I completely rebuild the laptop, but it’s only a stay of execution and it’s becoming obvious that she needs something a bit more modern, a bit more simple and a bit more robust. So I’m thinking about an iMac, a Mac Mini or perhaps even an iPad. Email, a very small amount of web browsing and online shopping, being able to look at photos and the odd brief document are all she needs and it seems that any one of these devices will serve her well. To this end I picked up an iPad for her, the thinking being that it was the one device that would do all of the above, be intuitive to use and free her up from locking herself away in a room (much to my dad’s dismay) when she needs to ‘compute’.

It’s a 32Gb WiFi model and I’ve been using it to see what it can do before offering it as her new computing partner (of course she’ll still need a PC/Mac running iTunes plus a wireless router, but that’s another story). I have to say that having had no intention of buying one myself, as I already have my Mac Pro and iPhone 3G, I am now rapidly changing my mind. Firstly, I read a lot of RSS news feeds using Vienna on the Mac. I do occasionally use Google Reader but Vienna gives me the clean interface I want and if you want a free (and ad-free) news reader for OS X then this would be my recommendation. But then there’s NewsRack on the iPad. I can laze on the sofa in the lounge and flick through my RSS feeds so easily, browsing in detail the articles I’m more interested in, or adding them to InstaPaper for later. Yes there are other news readers for the iPad, but NewsRack has a clean and intuitive interface that just seems really natural when you’re coming from an OS X (or even Windows) based reader. What’s more it does this whole Google Reader sync thing if you feel the need to read news feeds on multiple devices, plus has many other features besides.

Then there’s the mail app on the iPad. It works exactly the way you think it should and I find I can process 95% of my mail here, just resorting to the Mac where I need to do something a little more complicated. The result is that I can now go for days without using the Mac to do these routine things. There’s other things too… Weather Pro HD gives me detailed weather forecasts rather than having to use WeatherDock on the Mac. Osfoora HD on the iPad is now my preferred way of monitoring Twitter, while Nambu is my choice when on the Mac, and if I want to read a PDF I’ll generally be doing it in GoodReader on the iPad rather than in Preview on the Mac.

IMG_0013It’s not that the apps on the Mac aren’t any good, in fact they’re the best ones I’ve found in my years of Mac usage. It’s just that I don’t have to go and sit upstairs in front of the Mac to dip my toe into the computer world. What’s more, I’ll often find that when I start using the Mac just to do a quick email for example, I’ll often get sidetracked and then ‘waste’ an hour or two doing something I hadn’t intended to. With the iPad I pick it up, do the email or read the news then put it down. Having said that, the games on the iPad are pretty distracting!

Now don’t get me wrong, the Mac Pro is still great, and for content creation the iPad doesn’t come close. For starters, the WordPress app for the iPad is a bit of a lame duck if you ask me, and I’d far rather use the WordPress dashboard on the Mac to create or edit blog posts. Similarly, for photo editing and processing, long documents, spreadsheets, downloading, listening to music (even though SnowTape and Spotify can run on the iPad), and for many other more involved tasks, the Mac is still king.

So, when my step-mother takes this iPad off my hands will I be tempted to spend the money on getting one myself? Do bears sh*t in the woods?! Hell yeah…  Of course I could just recommend she gets a cheap Windows 7 laptop for her needs and keep this one, but I suspect the whole Windows support cycle thing will just start afresh, and I’m not sure my nerves could take it. Besides, if she has the iPad then there’s always AppleCare to ease my burden 😉

By the way, in case you’re interested here’s a few of my favourite iPad apps (note, clicking on links may prompt you to open iTunes):

  • WeatherPro HD – detailed weather for your location for the next seven days.
  • Pages – I’m just a sucker for being able to write stuff wherever I am, and as a Pages user on the Mac…
  • Life Browser – iPad Safari is good, but in many ways I prefer this.
  • Instapaper – great way to save web pages for later consumption.
  • NewsRack – elegant and intuitive RSS reader with all the right features.
  • Evernote – wouldn’t be without it, whatever device I’m using. (I think my brain is backed up to Evernote!).
  • DropBox & SugarSync – love ’em both and can’t decide which I prefer.
  • Osfoora HD – does all a Twitter client needs to do for me on the iPad (and lots more besides).
  • Magic Piano – I’m no impresario but this makes me sound like one!
  • GoodReader – is to PDFs what FireFox is to the web.
  • IMDb – how cool to watch a film and be able to learn more about it as you watch?
  • eyeTV – let’s me wirelessly stream recordings on the Mac to my, ahem… the iPad. It can do live TV too, but I’ve got a TV for that. (Note, you need eyeTV on your Mac for it to work).
  • tChess Pro – attractive and challenging chess game with all the features I need to remind me I’m rubbish at chess!
  • Angry Birds HD – ok you have to catapault various types of birds into pigs. Sounds daft, but it’s very entertaining and the sound effects are just lovely.
  • Words with Friends HD – sort of a multi-player (across the web) Scrabble clone. (Multi-player as in my friends can mock me with their prowess!).
  • Real Racing HD – first person racing game with incredible graphics and gameplay.
  • Hexius – a bit like Bejewelled but perhaps more challenging and complex… and with multi-player capabilities.
  • Soosiz HD – a platform game where gravity isn’t always what you’d expect. Good fun.
  • Monkey Island 2: SE – Monkey Island meets the iPad, this game is entertaining, funny and looks fantastic.
  • Osmosis for iPad – mesmerizing, challenging, addictive, relaxing, a must if you have an iPad.

IMG_0012And one final word on usability. The father of a friend of mine has Parkinson’s disease and finds it extremely difficult to interact with the world around him. Trying to show him photos on a laptop and to let him feel he has any sort of control was frustrating for him, and printed 4×6 shots were just too fiddly (let alone time consuming to create). It was great to put an iPad on his lap and to see him smile and enjoy the photos in a way in which he can be in control.

PS – Both iPad wallpapers are from VladStudio, a talented artist whom I heartily support.

QuickBitz – Facebook snooping on me?

Love it or loathe it, Facebook is a phenomenon that’s here to stay it seems and of course this is in spite of numerous privacy concerns that are being raised. I applaud the concept of Facebook in bringing people together and letting those people share their lives more, but as with many things in this world, it seems that the Facebook ‘experience’ is gradually being poised by the corporate desire to profit.

There’s a mentality in many corporations today that says … “Let’s trick the customer into giving us something, before we give them anything in return”. So corporations will default any setting to what benefits them first, and the customer second – and the internet is full of it. How often have to seen statements like:

  • Tick the box if you do not want to receive information from our partners

Or even the old tricky double negatives to bamboozle you, like:

  • Untick the box if you do not want us to not share your details with our business partners.
What’s more, it’s usually in a tiny font and is light grey to make it as difficult as possible to see!

But I digress, yes Facebook is doing it TO its customers – sharing their information with all and sundry unless they are very well informed and choose to laboriously opt out of this monetization of their private lives. Yes I have a Facebook page, but I must have logged into it once in the last six months simply to opt out of everything I could when I read the news about the latest privacy issues. At least I thought I had…

You see as I was browsing a website the other day, up popped a file dialogue in Firefox asking me if I wanted to open or save a file called ‘like.php’. What on earth? I hadn’t clicked on any link on the page, it was just spontaneous, and I promptly clicked the cancel button as I had no interest in this file, but it was not before I noticed where the file was coming from –

A week passes and I’m browsing a page on TechCrunch and just a few seconds after Firefox opens the page, up pops another dialogue window. This time I had the wits to capture it before dismissing it, and here it is…

Facebook Opening login_status.php-1

Facebook spying on me? Surely not...

So Facebook is tracking me. Any website that I visit that has the new Facebook ‘Like’ button, will register my presence and presumably report back to Facebook towers (without me even clicking on the Facebook ‘like’ button). The premise is that if I’m logged on to Facebook at the time, then Facebook can capture information about what websites I’m visiting, for whatever nefarious purposes they have (well I say nefarious, but they will argue some tosh about ‘serving our customers better’). Trouble is, I wasn’t logged in to Facebook at the time and I checked this by going to Facebook where I was prompted to login.

So what is going on? Well something obviously, and whether it’s scripts on pages that run automatically (all the more reason to install NoScript) or 3rd party cookies being examined, who knows. One thing is for certain though – if you have a presence on Facebook, then regardless of what you might think your privacy settings are, information about you WILL leak out, so as a good rule of thumb, don’t put anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want the whole world to know (including people who may not have your best interests at heart). What’s more, if you are logged in to Facebook, then don’t visit any other websites that you wouldn’t want your friends and family to know about. Imagine your best friend getting a notice saying “Hey, your friend Jim visited our website to check out our Super Strength Bottom Itch Cream, so here’s a special offer…”!

Of course it’s not just Facebook who are interested in who you are and what you do, it’s just that Facebook is privy to more of your private data that many other companies. You should think of surfing the internet rather like walking down the high street of your local town. Now imagine that there are high resolution CCTV cameras outside every shop that can see your every move and hear your every word. All that information is then gathered up and processed and used to try and sell you more products and services (or in the case of Facebook, to sell you and your friends more products and services).

Of course if thy did this on the high street (which in the UK isn’t so far off the mark), then you’d object. But on the internet…

iPad – Little known difference between UK and US…

Since I started using an iPad, one thing has been bugging me – the calendar. More specifically, what is shown as the first day of the week when you have the calendar in week or month view. Being brought up in the UK, for some reason I was always told that Sunday was the first day of the week. So, when I got my shiny new iPad and spotted that the week and month views start on a Monday, I set about trying to find how to change it.

Maybe it’s linked to the fact that my iPad calendar syncs with the one on my Mac via MobileMe? Ok, well in the iCal preferences on the Mac it shows Sunday as the start of the week.

iCal Settings

On the Mac, the first day of the week can be set as Sunday

Ok then, well maybe because the sync goes via MobileMe then it’s something to do with the settings on my MobileMe calendar?

MobileMe Calendar settings

MobileMe also lets you start the week on a Sunday

Nope, the settings in MobileMe also show the week as starting on a Sunday. Ok, let’s have a look at the settings on the iPad itself…

iPad Calendar settings

No obvious preference setting for the start of the week on the iPad

Ah right, while I was expecting to see an option for setting which day is displayed as the start of the week, but there’s…. nothing. How strange, does Apple let you configure this on other platforms but not on the iPad? Surely not. Well in fact you can configure which day is displayed as the first day of the week in the iPad’s week and month calendar views, but you’ll never guess how it’s done. Give up yet?

Well you have to go into Settings, then select General, then scroll down to International, then finally select Region Format. Next you have to change it from United Kingdom to United States….

Hang on a minute, run that by me again. Set the Region Format on my iPad to United States?? Yup, that’s right. Unfortunately when you do that then lots of other things take on US defaults such as contact details (States, ZIP Codes, a default country of United States), also telephone number and date formats in apps etc. So despite their world class expertise in usability, it looks like Apple have dropped the ball here, and I’ll be hoping that they’ll correct this ‘feature’ in a later release of iOS.

Dear O2… Why should I stay?

o2_logoDear O2, I have been a loyal iPhone 3G customer of yours since August 2008. I paid for the handset and dutifully paid £35 a month to you for an 18 month contract, and indeed I’m still paying. For my £35 I was given an allowance of 600 minutes, 500 text messages and unlimited mobile data. Even though reception was not always that good (there are many parts of Sussex and Kent where I can’t even get a signal, let alone 3G) for the most part I was able to use the phone as I wanted.

Now the shiny new iPhone 4 is out and no doubt Mr O2 you would like to keep me as a customer. Why then are you pushing me away by making life more expensive for me? Surely if you want to keep me as a customer then you would at least offer me a deal which is comparable to the one I’ve got? But I’ve had a look at your tariffs and this is what I’ll now get for my £35 a month:

Inclusive minutes – well you will REDUCE my inclusive minute by 50%. That’s right. Instead of getting 600 inclusive minutes a month, I will now only get 300. I guess you figure it’s not good to talk.

Inclusive texts – well my previous tariff that got me an allowance of 500 text messages a month. On the new iPhone 4 tariff that changes to ‘unlimited’ text messages a month. But wait a minute, I know for a fact that handling text messages costs you ABSOLUTELY NOTHING already (yes there’s a reason why text messages are limited to 160 characters in length). So you’re giving me something which is essentially free to you already and you’re just passing it on. Pardon me if I feel underwhelmed.

Unlimited mobile data – well here’s an interesting one. You’d plan to move me from unlimited mobile data (subject to fair usage) a month to a 500Mb cap. Yes I know you plan to move existing users off unlimited data too (probably because of the strain it puts on your network), but it’s hardly improving matters is it. Ok I’ll call it quits on that one but only because I doubt I’d exceed 500Mb of data a month anyway.

Picture messages (MMS) – now here’s the real sting in the tail. With my current £35 a month plan, any picture messages I send come out of my monthly allowance of 500 text messages. Ok, you apply a ratio of 1 picture message equals 4 text messages, but it still means I could send 125 picture messages a month… for free. Now you propose to charge me 20 pence per picture message. No allowance. No nothing! In the past I have sent as many as 60 picture messages in a month (for free) but with your new tariff that will cost me an extra £12 in a month. Not nice.

Visual Voicemail – well it’s a service you provide (most of the time), and calls to voicemail under the new tariff are still free so no change there.

WiFi – unlimited free WiFi at various hotspots and that continues with the new tariff, so again no improvement there.

International Traveller Service – I have to admit I’m not a great one for travelling, however with my current £35 a month for 18 month iPhone 3G plan, you provide this service to me for free. But… you take that away with the iPhone 4 unless I increase my payments to £40 a month?!

So Mr O2, in case you were getting lost in all these figures, let me summarize for you. For the same £35 a month, 18 month tariff with an iPhone 4 you are:

  • Reducing my inclusive minutes by 50%
  • Giving me ‘unlimited’ text messages
  • Capping my mobile data at 500Mb
  • Charging me 20 pence per picture message
  • Keeping Visual Voicemail the same
  • Keeping WiFi the same
  • Taking away my International Traveller service.

To make it really easy, I have colour-coded the services. The ones in red are worse than I am getting now, the ones in green are better, and the ones in black are the same.

Now I appreciate times are hard, but they’re just as hard for me as they are for you. What’s more, the iPhone 4 is now unlocked and available on any network, so for the first time you have competition in the iPhone segment in the UK. Strikes me that you really aren’t that interested in keeping me as a customer seeing as you aren’t offering to at least match deals from other providers. Heck I’d even be happy if you let me buy an iPhone 4 but kept me on the same tariff/allowances as I currently have.

But… I am but one customer among tens of thousands (who may also be considering leaving O2 for a better deal). Shame – you had the opportunity to come up with a cracking deal but you didn’t seem to want to.

So all that’s left is for me seems to be to get in touch with you to obtain my PAC code…

UPDATE – I did contact O2 and raised the above with them. Their response was to send me a link to the iPhone 4 tariffs and to say basically ‘take it or leave it‘, and to be honest I didn’t really expect anything else. It’s a shame that companies are so complacent these days that they really aren’t that interested in retaining customers. I guess they also rely on a good percentage of customers being complacent too and not bothering to switch carriers.

O2 Advisor: Click here to check tariffs for iPhone 4.

Me: Yes, my iPhone 3G 18 month tariff gave me 600 minutes for £35, but that’s been halved to 300 minutes on the same  tariff with the iPhone 4 by the looks of things. I’d either have to increase my monthly fee to £40, or sign up for a two year contract.

Me: So it looks like I’m getting a worse deal with the new phone?

O2 Advisor: These are the deals available for iPhone 4 at the moment.

Getting ADSL to your Airport Extreme

Apple is famed for it’s “it just works” technology, and for the most part that’s true. However, when it comes to the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, it’s lack of a built-in DSL modem means you have a little figuring out to do if you want to use the Airport Extreme as part of an ‘internet connected’ network.

When my Netgear DGN2000 DSL wireless router expired a short time ago I decided to replace it with a Linksys WAG120N DSL wireless router. Great little device (so far) but it’s one drawback is that unlike the Airport Express which has three Gigabit Ethernet ports (1,000Mbps), the Linksys only has Fast Ethernet ports (100Mbps). Now I do large backups every day to two Synology NAS devices and they, like my Mac Pro are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet ports. Connecting them via the Linksys alone would just create a bottleneck and slow down my data transfers ten fold! Enter the Airport Extreme – the objective is to use the Airport Extreme as the centre of my wired network, but to also have internet access at the same time. Sure, I’m lucky enough to have two ethernet ports on the Mac Pro so I could connect one to the Airport Extreme and the other to the Linksys, but that’s messy plus not all Macs have two network ports. At it’s simplest, what I wanted was this…

AE Config 00

Basic Network Configuration

The first step is to set up the Linksys DSL router as normal, so connect the Mac to it via a cable and log in to it as per the manufacturers instructions. Give the DSL router your ISP details and configure it with an IP address of and a subnet mask of Next it’s a case of configuring the network settings on your Mac to talk directly to the DSL router, so enter System Preferences, choose Network and make sure that your Mac has an IP address (e.g. on the same subnet as the DSL router, and tell it that the router it should talk to is at address At this point you should have a simple network of your Mac and the DSL router and you should be able to surf the internet. Next I connected an ethernet cable to one of the Linksys routers four ports with the other end going to the ‘WAN” port on the Airport Extreme. Now it was a case of firing up the Airport Utility and manually configuring the Airport Extreme.

AE Config 05

Connect your Airport to your modem/router

In the Airport Utility, once it finds your Airport Extreme Base Station, highlight it and click on the Manual Setup button. Now click on the Ethernet tab at the top ans select Internet Connection. You should set Connect Using to Ethernet, and Connection Sharing to Off (Bridge Mode).

AE Config 01

Internet Connection settings

Now click on the TCP/IP button and choose to configure IPv4 Manually. Now it’s time to gve the Airport Extreme an IP address and tell it how to talk to the outside world.

Give the Airport Extreme an IP address of and a subnet mask of (same as the Linksys). For the Router entry, enter the address of the Linksys, i.e., and for the DNS Server(s) do the same. Here you are telling the Airport Extreme that any traffic that is not for something on your home/local network (e.g. internet traffic), send it to the Linksys router.

AE Config 02

TCP/IP settings

At this point you should be able to save the settings and apply them to your Airport Extreme. The next step is to disconnect the network cable from your Mac to the DSL router, and instead connect the Mac directly to one of the ethernet ports on your Airport Extreme. Now you should find that you can still surf the web but your Mac is only connected to your Airport Extreme. You can then add devices (in my case the two NAS boxes) directly to the Airport Extreme so that they can talk to your Mac at gigabit speeds, rather than just the ‘fast’ speeds of the DSL router.

If you want to use a service like OpenDNS then there’s no reason why you can’t and it’s simply a case of adding the IP addresses of the two OpenDNS servers to your Network settings on your Mac, like so:

AE Config 03

OpenDNS settings on the Mac

I have since extended this setup with wireless and I currently have an XBox 360, a PS 3 Slim, a Nintendo Wii, a Mac Mini, an iPad WiFi and iPhone 3G, plus my Panasonic Viera TV all talking to the internet via this little network. The Linksys DSL router is currently providing the (802.11n) wireless service, but I’m looking at ways to use the Airport Extreme’s ability to provide 5Ghz wirelss to enhance this setup (i.e. avoid interference from my neighbours on the 2.4Ghz band).

More on that in another post…