My New iPhone

I've posted about the Apple iPhone before, and most of you probably knew it was only a matter of time. About 14 months ago I decided that the iPhone wasn't good enough yet and so I purchased a Palm Treo. Well, I guess that was not the best idea, because the phone started giving me problems just after the year warranty. A number of the many buttons on the Treo, including letters such as "N", "R" and "U" were not working well, such that I had to press them a couple times to even a dozen times to get them to register. Towards the end of my use of it, even the power on and off button was wearing out and I couldn't turn on my phone for a minute or two the week before. While talking to Sprint representatives seeing what they could do to get the phone fixed, I found that it would be about $200 to get it fixed (because the 1-year warranty had expired) or $200 to leave my Sprint contract.

To be honest, I was kinda glad this happened. A number of my coworkers had purchased iPhones in the last couple months since the iPhone 3G was released, and I was envious of the abilities of their phone. Primarily, my phone really had only close to text-only web browsing, and the ability to view things in full layouts and full graphics was something I really wanted. Plus, the Palm OS is nice, had many applications written for it, and is pretty stable, but the applications being written for the iPhone are so much cooler and are written for today's computing world, not the world of yesteryear. Let's just say I was ready to upgrade, and this non-working phone was my push to get it.

So, last Friday, I walked into the Mall of America Apple Store and picked up an iPhone. And, well, I definitely like it. It's going to be great to only have one electronic device in my pocket - no PDA phone and iPod as well. Plus, on the way home from work today, I watched a number of video podcasts on it's beautiful 3.5-inch screen. It was totally fun. Here's a couple things I've enjoyed since I got ot:

  • The podcast area not only keeps track of whether you've viewed a podcast episode, but the podcast browsing page lists how long the episode is and how much time you have left. Also, it has an icon saying it's half-viewed.
  • When I plugged it into the Mac, it didn't sync my e-mail content (at least I don't think so), but it did transfer my e-mail account information from Mail to my iPhone so I didn't have to even muck around in Mail settings for the iPhone.
  • I haven't used it much yet, but Visual Voicemail may actually be the killer app of the iPhone. (In case you don't know, this makes your voicemail act more like an e-mail Inbox, where you can select a message from a list onscreen and then it just plays that one.)
  • One of my favorite apps is the Remote app that Apple is giving away for free on the App Store. I have a desktop computer set up in the study, and if I'm across the room or even in the kitchen, I can control the music and even select new music to play right on the iPhone.
  • So far, I've not been annoyed at all by AT&T's phone service. Almost every time I've looked at the phone I've had the full bars and the 3G data service. Well, outside of the major metro areas may not be as fun, but I'm not out there very often.

I will keep playing with it and I'm sure that more blog posts about functionality and cool apps that I find will be forthcoming. If you see me in the next couple weeks, feel free to ask me and I'll give you a demo.


Apple's Updated iPods

Yesterday, Apple announced some updated music-related items. They announced updated versions of all the iPods, plus some purported improvements to their iTunes software. But, even after hearing about all the announcement from all the news sources, I'm still not sure it's at all exciting. Here's the rundown:

First, there's the iPod nano. The nano is apparently thinner and more colorful than ever. The two-inch widescreen display is better than ever for viewing your music and video. The iPod nano also includes a sensor that tells if you're holding it up straight or on its side and will react to that with its updated software. Plus, with nine different, bright color options, I think these may be a hit this fall. 8GB comes at $149 and 16GB at $199. The iPod shuffle was also updated to include half of the vibrant colors introduced on the nano as well.

The iPod classic was updated to a 120GB model for $249 and the 80GB and 160GB versions are discontinued. Unfortunately for those like me that like a lot of storage space for their library, this further signals that Apple may be considering the iPod classic to be even closer to dead. I still like to carry around all my music and the iPod classic is the only one I can do that on, so I hope they don't discontinue it too soon. It's also a bit odd, in my opinion, that they did not bring the features of the iPod nano software to the iPod classic, though.

The biggest deal they wanted to make, though, was the iPod touch. The touch is slightly thinner and a curved back like the iPhone 3G, plus it has a couple minor new features. There's a speaker included inside the iPod touch's innards, although early reports say it is not as good as the iPhone speaker. Still, it's nice to have a speaker for casual gaming or sampling songs for your friends, although dedicated speakers would be much prefered for serious listening. Also, the Nike+iPod system, which allows you to track your workouts if you buy a sensor to put in your shoe, is included. Some persons have already taken the iPod touch apart and found what looks to be a Bluetooth chip in there, so besides a working Nike+iPod it's possible that Apple will open usage of Bluetooth for more on this later.

The prices and storage capacities of the iPod touch have been updated, of course. There is an 8GB model for $229, a 16GB for $299 and a 32GB for $399. Apple, more than ever, touted the App Store with its hundreds and hundreds of applications for the iPod touch, and especially showed it off as a gaming device, which is a rather uncharacteristic move for Apple. It's well-known that Steve Jobs does not play games, really, and in the past Apple has been very lackluster in promoting their products as a gaming platform, but this presentation showed a possible new effort to push the iPod touch and iPhone as a gaming platform. Only time will tell.

The only major software feature seems cool, but in my opinion it's just snake oil. Apple's new "Genius" feature is displayed with a little atom icon just like their in-store Genius Bars and offers recommendations of related songs. First, iTunes anonymously uploads your library's data, and then you start getting Genius features. The Genius sidebar in the right side gives you songs, artists, or albums based on the songs or artists you currently have selected, and since it knows your library information, it does not list items already in your library. Also, select a song and press the Genius button on the bottom right of the screen and you get a playlist of songs from your library that are supposedly "similar" to that song. In my opinion, the Genius system doesn't really seem to be that smart, but it may get smarter. This seems to be just the same as the iTunes Store's "People who bought this also bought" database, which isn't really anything groundbreaking, but I guess it's cool to have that extended directly into your iTunes library. If you sync an iPod or iPhone with a library that has Genius enabled, the iPod or iPhone can also create Genius playlists on the fly as well.

These announcements were mostly what expected, and after finding out all there was to hear, I was a bit disappointed. The iPod nanos do look amazing mostly because of their bright colors. Nothing else was very exciting, and it makes me wonder why Apple was touting this as such a big thing. To be fair, Apple's financial people were trying to tell investors that it was nothing to get excited about, but on the other hand, Apple's PR team was saying it was going to be amazing. (I guess the investors are more the realists.)

After all these announcements, Mr. Slow and Boring himself, Jack Johnson, took the stage to lull us to sleep. After Steve Jobs woke us from our slumber to say, "Thanks for coming," we all thought this was the coolest and most amazing new products ever. Yeah, right.


The Switchfoot Tour Shirt

Today's shirt is the Switchfoot tour shirt:

It's a pretty nice shirt.  I don't usually buy those shirts with all the tour dates on them, because it severely dates the shirt.  However, this one was a bit better because it just lists the cities and not the dates, plus it had the coolest front of any of their shirts.

I got this shirt at last fall's St. Paul, MN stop of the Appetite for Construction tour.  I remember enjoying this show alot because Relient K played for a good hour or more and it was so good that I almost forgot that I still had Switchfoot left to go.  Of course, Switchfoot brought just as much excitement, variety, and rock 'n' roll as Relient K, if not more.  It was a great tour and a great pairing of some of my favorite bands.

Also, it became another meetup of one of my friends, Kim, who works a lot on the website.  Kim started helping out at what was then in 2001 by doing our first interview with Switchfoot, and she's been doing interviews ever since.  She was in town to visit family last fall when the Appetite for Construction tour came through, so she joined me for the concert.  It was fun to hang out and enjoy some live music again, something we hadn't done since we finally met in person in April 2006.  Without Kim's constant help, there definitely wouldn't be a website.

Kim also encouraged me to get a really cool book of photos taken by one of Switchfoot's roadies, and she even introduced me to the photographer and we got it signed by them.  Then, after that, i decided to go through the signing line after I found this hilarious poster and absolutely needed to get it signed:

For those who have not seen Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, this photo is a parody of a photo of the characters from that movie.  Throughout the photo, each member of Switchfoot is represented one or more times.  It's hilarious!


The delirious? Soccer Jersey

OK, so I'm already breaking one of my rules for the T-shirt blog posts.  I'm not currently wearing this shirt.  But, this is one of my more rarely worn shirts, the delirious? jersey:

Just in case it's not immediately apparent, this is an actual soccer jersey made by a company in Brazil.  (This is one reason why I don't wear it often, because that type of fabric feels weird to me.)  It has a UK logo and a red stripe on the front as well as the "delirious?" and "d:" logos, plus a "DELIRIOUS?" and "5" on the back.  This is one of my most prized shirts, partially because I bought it directly from the UK webstore for a bit more money than I usually spend on a shirt, and partially because it's my all-time favorite band.  (I also don't wear it much because it's a bit small for me, to which one of my roommates remarked, "Dan, most of your shirts are a bit too small for you.")

I mostly wear this shirts to concerts, mostly because those are special events.  I wore it last week to the Music Builds tour in Chicago, where Switchfoot, Third Day, Jars of Clay and Robert Randolph & The Family Band rocked the ampitheater.  (Incidentally, I also got another shirt which looks like it'll be rather tight on me, my first T-shirt ever from Jars of Clay, who are one of my favorite bands as well, but that's another blog post.)  The show was great, and I got to spend the weekend with my two youngest sisters.

However, today, August 30th, is also an important day on the delirious? calendar.  Here's a clip from their biography on h2g2:
The next major event, although horrific, shaped the history and gave us Delirious? as they are today. On August 30, 1995, Martin was driving his wife Anna, and Jon (Anna's youngest brother) home from a late night gig. They'd almost reached Littlehampton when they had an accident - as a result of tiredness from the long journey, Martin fell asleep and drove the car straight into a wall just around the corner from his house. Jon and Anna escaped with minor injuries but it took the rescue workers a few hours to get Martin out of the car, and it took a couple of months for Martin to rehabilitate in hospital as he had suffered a broken leg. During this period he spent a lot of time on his own thinking things through. He also read Bill Flannagan's U2 at the End of the World, and this inspired him into a decision, to which the others agreed. They found a bassist - Martin's brother-in-law Jon (In fact, he's Tim and Stew's brother-in-law as well. Confused yet?) - and on April 1, 1996, Delirious?, and their own independent record label Furious? Records, was born.

A song based on this part of the delirious? history is the song "August 30th" and is on their King of Fools album.  It is a rather terrible event to remember, but it's likely that without that experience the band would probably never have became a full-time band and would have just stayed a church worship band.


Bus and Rail Directions via Google Maps

I just noticed that, a week or two ago, MetroTransit announced that route and trip information for their buses and trains throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is now available via Google Maps.  The program, dubbed Google Transit, has been active for a year or two in such major markets as Portland and Chicago, among many others.  Here's a trip I just queued up:

On the right side of your trip, you have a map that shows the transfer points and the routes taken, as well as any parts that need to include walking.  On the left side, there are three options of similar trips leaving at the time, but notice that only the first one (which is selected) uses the light rail - the others route you down University Ave. and down Snelling Ave.  Below the trip you've selected it gives you details of each leg of the trip as well and most locations even include a Street View of the corner.

Why use Google Transit? First of all, with MetroTransit's website, you had to look up the address and then route it.  Google Maps is smart enough to figure out the address for you so that saves a step.  The map details are much better and gives you a road view as well as a sattelite view, which gives you much more data about where you are going.  And many say that MetroTransit's website is terrible, but after visiting some other sites for other services, I've found it to be fairly competent.  Still, though, the Google Maps interface for the exact same data gives you all of the route information that you can get at MetroTransit and a bit more in an easier-to-use package.


The St. Thomas Shirt, Take 1

Today, I'm starting off a new feature. Every couple days (or whenever) I will post a T-shirt that I currently own and am actually currently wearing. (The picture may have been pre-recorded, though, on account of not carrying around a good camera at all hours of my life.) I'll post a couple comments on the shirt and then give you a little background on where it came from. And just to make sure I can outdo myself, I'm going to do one of my most boring shirts first! Without further ado, here's the first one:

Yes, this shirt was purchased at my alma mater, the University of St. Thomas. Shortly before graduating, I received a gift certificate from my work-study employer for the UST Bookstore, so I figured I should by some UST merch (besides my uber-cool, limited-edition UST hat). Therefore, I purchased a couple T-shirts that just say "University St. Thomas" in big letter on the front. I usually wear these on pretty boring, low-key days because I'm not that huge of a fan of my alma mater, although I made the best of it.


Pixar and Nintendo Saving the World? Heck Yes!

Since I have nothing exciting to post at the moment, why not just copy stuff from someone else's blog? Here's some from a great post by my friend, Joe:
Because that’s what this movie is about: WALL-E is the protector of EVE and the life she carries inside of her. It’s one of the most beautiful — and perhaps unexpected — metaphors for life, and the role of a husband to protect his wife and family, that I’ve ever seen.

This is just a tiny bit of a great article, so go read it already. Also, check out Joe's blog for more great stuff about gaming, life, and cool movies. Who knows, you might even find Joe and I doing some sort of discussion podcast sometime in the future. I know, that sounds scary. I'd probably get bored listening to it myself.


Strong Bad's Quest for the Ultimate Game

Most of my readers are aware of my love for the website, which is an animated internet cartoon.  Over eight years ago, two brothers started posting their animations online, and now they work full-time creating new content based on their own world of characters.  These cartoons are not always safe for the kids, in my opinion, but then again, they're probably better than most of what's on TV for kids these days.  Feel free to head over to their website to get an idea of the days of fun that await you, and one of my favorites is the "First Time Here?" link in the top right of the main menu.  But this post isn't really about that, it's about games.

Strong Bad, one of the main characters on the site, is an avid fan of games.  Like, old school.  The cartoons are filled with old game references, from the floppy disk labels on Strong Bad's desk to this whole e-mail episode about how he'd make a game.  Of course, it's even more apparent that the creators of the site are fans of old games, from silly arcade games like Trogdor to adventure games such as Thy Dungeonman and Peasant's Quest.  But it isn't about these old games that run via Flash and look like you could run them on your 386, this is about the new hotness coming later this summer!

I'll be honest.  I've played very few computer games in the last couple years, partly because I haven't had time to do so, and partly because not many games have stood out to me as worth my time.  I have kept up a bit with franchises I've frequented over the years, looking at if Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 or 3 was worth buying and continuing to get games in the Myst series.  I got SimCity 3000 a while back, but why get SimCity 4 if I can't even get anywhere in SimCity 3000?  A friend got me a couple Grand Theft Auto games a year or two ago. I've only played them for a couple hours because I really don't have the time, but just driving around and exploring can keep me entertained for hours in those games, which is why I like them.  Also, because I play games very little (mostly when I'm not connected to the Internet), there's little incentive to pay for a game that costs more than $10, or at least that's the price I hold myself to.  (The other benefit is that $10 games usually work on your not-so-new computer.)

The other reason I've not played games is that they rarely make games of of the kind they used to these days.  (Or, at least, I don't hear about them.)  Another set of games I loved to play back in the day were kinda like Myst games, except generally more silly and more interaction with other characters.  I enjoyed playing through King's Quest 7, the demo of Space Quest 6 numerous times, as well as even an old text adventure game called Humbug.  Joe Bowar also got me into some LucasArts games like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and from there I got Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, another point-and-click game where Indy asks the right questions and pick up random items to get him out of scrapes and solve the ancient mysteries.  During college, I got into the Monkey Island series, where wannabe-pirate Guybrush Threepwood goes on cartoonish, blundering voyages through the Carribean.  Somewhat sadly, these games are no longer made anymore, or I might be playing them.

This brings me to this summer's excitement.  The folks at independent game developer Telltale Games, which is founded by a number of ex-LucasArts employees, have teamed with Strong Bad and all the folks at to release a game based on the online cartoon.  It's called Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and it's fully 3-D, but it retains a simple point-and-click system.  Throughout the gameplay previews that I've seen, Strong Bad and characters, all voiced by the characters in the cartoon, continue to make hilarious little quips.  In most cases, it seems you control Strong Bad, who gets "missions" to do via e-mails, just like the cartoon.  The game looks amazing and brings the 2-D animation to life in beautiful 3-D.  I'm sure it's tons of silly shenanigans - for proof, just look at this infomercial-style teaser:

Another great deal is the price. I don't know exactly how long these games really are, but the game is distributed in "episodes" that take at least a couple hours to play through each. Each episode goes for about $9, and the entire 5-episode series will most likely go for only $30 or $35, if not less. In this day and age where game content is a bit slim and prices are high, I think these prices are aggressive and benefit from being a small, independent company who distributes primarily via the Internet, while still keeping the gaming experience exciting.

And, finally, I have to hand it to The Brothers Chaps, who created the Homestar Runner cartoons, for keeping true to their roots and staying independent. I've heard they've been offered the ability to be on Cartoon Network or get sweet placement elsewhere, but they did not want to change their style and compromise their product just to make a buck. In the same way, I'm glad they chose the able hands at Telltale Games to make their game instead of going for the big money by licensing an arcade game for EA. Also, it's great to have them so involved that they're doing all the voices and most likely contributing ideas for the game.

In conclusion, mostly because I've been a fan of Strong Bad, Homestar, and even Homsar for years, I'll probably get into SBCG4AP. I'm also going to have to check out more Telltale Games products, too, because I see they just announced some episodic games starring Wallace & Gromit, another set of hilarious characters I love (although it looks rendered instead of claymation, which is understandable due to cost but a bit disappointing). Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People's first episode will debut sometime in August, unless they push the date back even further.


Lightning, Red Bull, and Big Red

On a more personal note, we had a really fun night last night.  After dinner, we wanted to head down to the Store Arch Bridge to see the Red Bull Illume exhibit.  We saw a large storm coming, but we decided we'd risk it.  When we got to the exhibit, we found that the photos didn't start projecting until sundown about 9:30pm, so we decided to wait it out.  But there was a huge wall cloud coming from the northeast, so we decided to take shelter in the Guthrie Theater building.  The new Guthrie is a spaced-aged design that is tons of fun to explore and includes many great overlooks of the Saint Anthony Falls area, so it was an ideal place to watch the store blow over.

First we stood out on the Endless Bridge, which is a cantilever stuck 178 feet out of the side of the building and puts you right above the center of the beautiful downtown river area.  We watched a huge wall cloud move across the sky and even withstood 70mph winds for a minute or two.  Then, of course, the rain started pouring, so we went into the indoor part of the Endless Bridge.

After hanging out in there for a bit, we went up to the Dowling Studio space, also known as the "Yellow Box".  This was an even higher overlook of the river area, but all the windows were colored a bright yellow.  I'd never been in this space, but it was really fun to watch the sun set and lightning flash through the sky in this alternate yellow world.  After the rain fully subsided, we went back to the Endless Bridge to see the lightining flash through the sky in its real bright purple hue.  It was amazing to see because you could see lightning for miles around in all directions.

Towards the end of that, we watched the huge lit-up photos from the Red Bull Illume exhibit turn on and it looked amazing.  (You can see a photo taken from the same spot on the home page of the Red Bull Illume site if you browse the photos at the bottom a bit.)  We then went down there and found some amazing photos, most of extreme sports of all kinds.  They were amazing, and if you have time some evening to come down in the next week, you really should do it.  The exhibit seems to be open pretty late, because the photos were still lit up at midnight when Isaac and I left the theater as well.

That's right, Isaac and I actually had to hurry past the Red Bull exhibit because we wanted to catch this weekend's blockbuster film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.  In usual St. Anthony Main theater fashion, we walked in 3 or 4 minutes late for the start of the film due to 10 minutes of ticketing lines, but the rest of the experience was positive.  The second installment of Guillermo Del Toro's Dark Horse Comics adaptation almost matches the first one, although most of the "character development" revolved around a romance of some sort for almost every major character.  It was nice to see more of Doug Jones's Abe Sapien character, although he rarely kicks butt.  Del Toro goes a bit overboard, in my opinion, with the sets and otherworldly characters, making some look too much like Pan's Labrynth, which brought me a bit out of the Dark Horse Comics characters, I think.  Ron Perlman continued to do a great job as the reluctant but prideful superhero, Hellboy, while I felt Selma Blair's character continues just to be an emotional wreck.  The theater was pretty packed, but who knows if the series will warrant another installment or if Guillermo Del Toro will be doing it after the next four years or so on the Hobbit projects.  All in all, it was an entertaiing film, but definitely not one I'm gonna run out and buy on DVD (just like the last one).


iPhone Day at the Mall of America

Yesterday was the launch of Apple's updated iPhone 3G, and since I work just across the street from the Mal of America, one of the largest malls in the country, I had a pretty prime spot for the retail madness that was the updated iPhone.  So here's what yesterday looked like for me.

First, I had a meeting before work at Starbucks, so we passed by the Mall of America Apple Store, where there was about 70 people in line at 7am.  The store opened at 8am, a couple hours earlier than usual, in order to take care of the demand, so the folks in line didn't have too much longer to wait.  About 5 minutes before 8am, we went by again and the amount of persons in line had actually doubled.  Then I went to work.

During the morning, a couple co-workers were trying to get an iPhone.  Pete took the morning off and got to a local AT&T Store at 7am, but was told that the store only had 20 iPhones and the line was already there to get those.  I think he went to another AT&T store and was there for a couple more hours working to get an iPhone, but in the end, only the 8GB iPhones were still left.  He was working to see if he could trade up later as he was told that some AT&T stores were getting more stock that afternoon.  Josh only started looking at about 7:30am, and after seeing the line at the MOA Apple Store, he thought he'd check the AT&T store.  He still had to be at work around 8am, so he decided not to wait in that shorter line either.

Sometime around 7:30am (CDT) nationwide the iPhone activation servers started to get flaky from the overwhelming traffic.  Like I said, Pete got an iPhone, but the activation process was not working, so neither his old phone nor his iPhone now worked until he could get it activated.  Also, because of the cheaper price being subsidized by AT&T, they were doing all the signing up and getting it activated in the stores, which made the lines long because it took 15-20 minutes or more per person to get signed up.

Over the lunch hour, Josh and I walked around the mall seeing if we could get an iPhone.  We walked into an empty AT&T store and were quickly told that the had completely sold out of the 140 iPhones they had.  At the Apple Store around 12:15pm, we found about 60 people in line, and we knew that it'd take an hour or two that we didn't have to get through the line, so we went back to work again.

Mid-afternoon, David came by and showed us a brand-new, working iPhone 3G that he got after over three hours at an Edina Apple Store.  It was fun to play around with it a bit, but of course the best part of the new iPhone is the downloadable applications, and I was not about to fill David's phone with applications he didn't want.  (I hope one of the co-workers will buy Super Monkey Ball because I really want to play it.)

After work at 5:15pm, I walked past the MOA Apple Store again and found about 50 people in the line outside the store.  I asked one of the guys at the front how long he'd been in line, and he told me about an hour.  I also tried to check up at a downtown Minneapolis AT&T store on my way home, but that part of downtown is a ghost town by 6pm, so I couldn't even get into the building, and the skyway store was probably closed anyways.

As far as the iPhone goes, I'm glad that the iPhone App Store is finally here so that other developers can fill in the functionality gaps for me and entertain me with innovative games.  However, AT&T's updated monthly rates are, as my friends say, "hella expensive," such that whenever I get an iPhone I'd be paying $25-$30 more per month - and that's a hefty price to pay.  Therefore, I'm still in no hurry to upgrade to an iPhone over the Palm Treo I currently have, but once I get an iPhone, I will enjoy the enhanced experienced delivered from my mobile phone.  And, who knows, by then, they'll probably have the newer and better one out.