Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chinese character triples having matching Pinyin endings including tones

Not sure if I'll stumble across any others like the following, but I heard this word used on a Taiwan show recently, and found its triple Pinyin "rhyme" interesting:

jìyìlì 記憶力 (faculty of) memory

The Pleco Chinese dictionary app, with its Wild search capability, could perhaps come up with more, but as with my earlier Chinese character pairings having matching Pinyin letters but different tones post, I find these things interesting when I come across them in daily life, rather than through calculated research.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Flashlight apps

Despite not having the blinding power of the iPhone's LED flash, a flashlight app on the iPod effectively illuminates the back panel of a PC CPU unit when I'm crawling on the floor, provides useful spot lighting at night in a car having relatively weak interior lighting, and illuminates enough of a dark room when I don't want to turn on a room light.

I have long used John Haney SW's free Flashlight app, which is currently at version 5.1 (15) 5.2 (as of 2/1/12). When the app cold starts, there is a brief company splash screen, followed briefly by the % brightness indicator, after which you can have a pure white display at maximum brightness (at least the way I've configured mine):

I often set the iPod to sleep shortly after using this app, so until I saw some Apple App Store reviews mentioning it, I had not really noticed how my iPod's normal brightness didn't return after quitting the app. That is to say, Flashlight overrides what is set in Settings > Brightness (Version 5.2 has an option to prevent this override for iOS 5.0 or later; I personally prefer the override.). I normally keep the iPod at about the "B" level of brightness (right around the B in the Brightness heading), which, versus a higher level, lengthens battery charge life:

I often lower the Flashlight app's % brightness to a similar level before quitting the app. The app's instructions point out that you can lock and unlock the device to restore your normal brightness setting (or double-press the Home button, then single-press the Home button), which would be more precise than my manual brightness approximation technique.

I usually keep 3 screen possibilities configured, between pairs of which I can "swipe" sideways to switch:
  • white
  • red (which I believe is the color least disturbing for one's eyes in the dark)
  • black (allowing rapid darkening of the display)
You can explore the additional entertainment-oriented screen options, but the app's utility to me is as a lighting tool. I will mention, however, that a strobe effect is available, which might be useful sometime(?).

Version 5.2 also added a way to show photos, but I had no success with it in a brief period of testing, and I reverted to 5.1, which I felt after a cold start had a slightly shorter delay before the flashlight effect comes on -- I want the app for light, as fast as possible!

I recently also installed the iHandy Flashlight Mini app (currently at version 1.0.3), which has an S.O.S. option.  Unlike John Haney SW's app, this flashlight app does not commandeer the iPod's brightness setting.  If you weren't already using the highest brightness setting on the iPod, you might want to do so before starting this app.

Below is a screenshot of it running an ad for another one of their products, iHandy Flashlight Free, which I tried out months ago but deleted in favor of John Haney SW's app. A review in Apple's App Store correctly points out that the ads are not shown in the preview pictures provided by the company.

The ad at the bottom is still displayed when you are using the flashlight functionality.  That detracts from the feel of the app, even if it has very limited effect on the illumination.  John Haney SW's app runs ads, but not smack-dab in the flashlight functionality.

This app also has a strobe function which functions somewhat differently from that in John Haney SW's app.

The compass function does not seem to be available on the iPod.  That may only operate on an iPhone.

If you have more than one iHandy app (up-to-date versions, that is), e.g., the iHandy level app, the upper right corner's icon allows you to switch directly between them without launching them from the Home Screen.

I continue to prefer John Haney SW's flashlight app, but you never know when you'll need to signal S.O.S....

Interestingly, on 1/4/12, Adam C. Engst commented that "Apple is rejecting flashlight apps because there are too many in the App Store already", which seems both plausible and a good thing for consumers.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gender of spoken pronouns in Chinese

In English there is a clear spoken difference between he and she (and also between him and her), but the sound for both (tā) is the same in Chinese. In Chinese, pronouns also don't change if they are used as subjects or objects, so he=him and she=her.

On one occasion I was talking with a native Chinese speaker, Ms. A (甲小姐; jiǎ xiǎojiě). My understanding was that all of the persons she mentioned were also native Chinese speakers.

Ms. A was telling me about Ms. B (乙小姐; yǐ xiǎojiě), who had been entertaining her friend Ms. C (丙小姐; bǐng xiǎojiě) at home when Mr. D (丁先生; dīng xiānsheng) called. It seemed that Ms. B might have been interested in the possibility of exploring a relationship with Mr. D. However, he seemed to have become less enthusiastic about such a possibility after he learned that Ms. B's friend was there -- someone whose gender could not be determined from what Ms. B said over the phone, because 他 (tā) sounds the same both for a male and for a female (even when the female-only 她 (tā) is used for women -- which is only some of the time, in my experience).

On another occasion I was speaking with a native Chinese speaker with whom I periodically use a mixture of Chinese and English. This person was mentioning a transgendered person, and started with something like, "我不知道應該用 he 還是 she."
("Wǒ bù zhīdào yīnggāi yòng he háishi she."; "I don't know if I should use he or she.")

I said with a smile, "用 tā 吧!"
("Yòng tā ba!"; "Use the-Chinese-pronoun-with-the-sound-tā-from-which-gender-cannot-be-determined!")

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Opera Mini vs iOS 5 Safari

This entry is originally being written to compare Opera Mini 6.5.1 (1/16/12: I upgraded to 6.5.2 and have noticed no problems with it.) with iOS 5.0.1 Safari, primarily on an iPod, although some non-iPod comments may be included.  This entry will likely get updates, either unadvertised or advertised-with-dates, over time.  I mostly read text while browsing the web on my iPod, which is probably one reason why Opera Mini works so well for me.  I have little to say about images and videos in Opera Mini.

My earlier blog entry about Opera Mini 6/6.0.1 vs iOS 4 Safari.

The free Opera Mini web browser is an alternative to Apple's Safari browser, with various pluses and minuses. Wikipedia has a decent article on it:, which also links to the interesting A list of technical specifications can be found at:  Version 6.5.1 was released on 11/14/11, with some fixes for 6.5, which was released a little while earlier.  Version 6.5.2 was released 1/11/12.

Opera Mini has long been my primary browser for my iPod (and later, iPad, too).  An iPod is typically connected to the Internet less often than an iPhone, so some of the following items (e.g., Saved Pages) are more significant for iPod users like myself.

  • Opera Mini does not automatically reload a page when you tap the back arrow to return to it, at least if you return within "some" period of time (about whose duration I cannot be more specific).  Thus, if you are reading a page which has multiple links to other pages, e.g., Google News, then tap to read an article, returning to the original page will often not invoke (frequently pointless and time-wasting) reloading, unlike in Safari. Also, if you load pages into different tabs while you have Internet access, but later lose that access, you can sometimes still read those pages, even without having stored them as Saved Pages. If you switch back to or restart Opera Mini, it does not attempt to reload pages fresh from the Internet; if it still "remembers" them (which apparently is not always), it gives you back what it last had for their content. Interestingly, Google News now seems to reload on rare occasions, which I do not remember happening previously; that could be because of changes in Opera Mini and/or at Google News.  Available RAM issues mentioned below may still be applicable.
  • Unlike in Safari, you don't have to switch away from the current tab to open new pages, because you can open links in background tabs (tap-hold, then tap on "Open in New Tab"). This is helpful while, e.g., reading through all headlines in Google News, allowing you to open all stories you'd like to read in background tabs. Available RAM issues mentioned below may still be applicable.
  • Unlike Safari, Opera Mini allows saving of static copies of web pages on the iPod, letting you read or reread them later even without wireless Internet access. That can be useful to save pages for recipes, technical reference, humorous articles, or for any other reason, e.g., because you don't have time to read them right away.  Safari's Reading List saves URLs (across all iOS devices sharing the same Apple ID), but still requires an Internet connection to view those pages.
  • At least 15 (someone else can test for the maximum number...) tabs are possible in Opera Mini, exceeding Safari's limit of 8. RAM constrains the total number of tabs effectively usable. "The page has been cleared to save memory." message is what you are left with content-wise on a tab when you run low on available RAM.
  • Using Single Column View ensures that, because of its size, text will be pleasantly readable in portrait mode, at least for me. is a chess blog which I often read. In Safari, I normally need to "spread" or switch to landscape mode to make the text more legible, but the text has always been fine to read right away in portrait mode in Opera Mini.
  • If you make an account on Opera's servers, you can use Opera Link to determine at what frequency to save both your (up to 9) Speed Dial targets and your bookmarks there, for future restore (e.g., in case of a serious crash) or for sharing on another device(s), including on a pc.  Automatic syncing is possible, but I prefer to sync bookmarks manually, which avoids attempts to connect to Opera's servers when you know (or perhaps, even when you don't know) that you lack wireless Internet access.  Opera Link can also be used at any time on any Opera Mini instance device, so it is not linked inextricably to an Apple ID like iOS 5 Safari's Reading List. Although I didn't test this, it appears that if you use desktop Opera, there is supposedly an Opera Mini folder for bookmarks, which is the extent of the bookmarks that get synced with Opera Link.
  • The location box now has a star which is a shortcut to bookmark a URL; this portion of the star's functionality is actually only achieving parity with Safari.  You can also still bookmark a URL the older, slower, but more functional way as well.  The star's bonus is that if you are viewing a previously-bookmarked page, the star is yellow, indicating its already-bookmarked status.  This can help you avoid unintentional duplicate bookmarks, though maybe you'd want to bookmark a URL in more than one bookmark folder. A drawback of using the star shortcut to bookmark a URL is that you do not have the option of using something other than the web page's HTML title as the bookmark's title.  One news site that I frequently use often doesn't include useful page titles, so I would want to edit in something useful if I were to bookmark such a page.  Since bookmark names are limited to less than the width of the iPod screen, I also might want to edit out words with no real identifying value from some page titles when creating a Bookmarks -- I need to be able to identify each by the short text.
  • After being forcibly ejected from RAM (by the user), Opera Mini starts up with the page data it previously had.  This does mean, however, that you cannot close multiple tabs at once, which I consider a favorable trade in functionality.
  • Opera Mini's x cancel button is bigger than Safari's, and is spaced farther away from other things you wouldn't want to hit. Better for those times when you've inadvertently tapped on a link which is still loading, but in whose content you actually have no interest.
  • Opera Mini does not provide end-to-end encryption. If you want to avoid putting your sensitive data in their company's hands, don't use Opera Mini for anything requiring credentials or anything to which you're concerned about them having potential access. (I blogged this using Safari on my iPad, and made subsequent small edits using Safari on my iPod.)
  • There is a short startup delay as it makes the connection to the Opera proxy servers ("calls home"), and apparently also retrieves your local settings.
  • Presumably because of the Opera proxy server, has extreme difficulties using effectively; I strongly advise using Safari for that. Even Safari cannot yield copyable text, though.
  • On rare occasions, my initial attempt to bring up a page doesn't succeed, which I imagine is an Opera proxy server issue.
  • Opera's proxy servers may lead to this side effect:
    Going to, e.g.:
    prompts you with:
    It looks like you are from outside the U.S. Would you like to make International your default edition? Yes | No Close
    which I chose to simply ignore.
  • Records of chess games using figurine notation in ChessBase website articles like are not, for all practical purposes, readable in Opera Mini, which does not render figurine notation properly.  For this particular game, Alejandro Ramirez the annotator apparently used (non-figurine) algebraic notation for his handwritten notes, but copied and pasted in figurine notation from complementary analysis generated by a computer chess program.
  • Only Safari can Add to Home Screen, using apple-touch-icon.png  when available (not favicon.ico, as it turns out; according to  Opera Mini's Speed Dial is a substitute, which I actually find more helpful because all 9 are in the same place.  If you were to bookmark multiple pages in Safari, that would create additional icons on your Home Screen which are less likely to all be in the same location.
  • When using Single Column View, some items which might typically (as viewed, e.g., while not using Single Column View, or in Safari) be unobstrusive on the side of a web page may appear, sometimes as a large clump, at the top or bottom. I have gotten used to that, and simply swipe to get past the clump, if it's at the top, to get to the real content, e.g., on This conveniently means that I typically don't even have to see any advertising which ends up in a bottom clump.
  • Find in Page: The Done button means done with searching; search happens as you type. Can search repeatedly in a page. Safari can find in page also, although it's probably somewhat less intuitive; see, e.g.:
  • If a tab's pages started from the Start Page, you can return directly to the Start Page (the first page viewed in that tab) by tapping the O ("Opera") button, then tapping Start Page. If a tab's pages never included the Start Page (because the tab was created with "Open in New Tab"), there is no access to it within that tab.
  • 9/4/11: Power-User settings are available by going to config: in the location bar, as described further on, which I just discovered. Changes likely survive Opera Mini crashes. For my own usage, I turned off the Phonenumber detection, which I suspect is probably only of use if (a) you have an iPhone (which I don't), and want to call such a number immediately, or (b) you normally use iOS assistance to add new contacts (which I don't, for reasons mentioned here).
  • On an iPad under iOS 5.0.1, I updated Opera Mini 6.0.1 to 6.5.1 on two separate occasions (I reverted to 6.0.1 after the first time), but could no longer save pages.  In between those two attempts, I was surprised to see 6.5.1 successfully save pages on an iPod running iOS 5.0.1.  I decided to sacrifice my iPad's Opera Mini saved pages, delete the 6.0.1 entirely, and download a fresh Opera Mini 6.5.1 (3rd installation), which allowed me to save pages.
  • Opera Mini's Single Column View trumps Safari's Reader, in my opinion.  Particularly on the iPod, why wait to have something drawn (or partially drawn) before you can activate Reader, when all the while you can see that the text will be too small to read (without the Reader enhancement)?  Just go directly to the readable version, all the time, with Opera Mini's Single Column View.  I once saw a page with ads in the middle of the article and the Reader rendition ended at the ad.  I can't reproduce that now with the same page, but regardless, I prefer to maximize my chances of getting all the text the first time, legibly, as fast as possible.  Safari's Reader remains helpful any time you are in Safari and are confronted with too-small-to-read text, e.g., when clicking on a link in e-mail, which will open in Safari (unless you have jail broken your iPod to configure a different default browser, which I think is possible).
  • When using tap-hold ("Long-click" in the Opera Mini help) to select text, Opera Mini selects the word closest to your position and displays a beginning and end marker, each of which you can drag to change the text selected.  When done, you tap Select and choose from Copy/Search/Search With...(and Go to Address... if the selection is a single word).  As far as I have been able to tell, Safari does the same kind of initial selection in mobile sites, but the choice (no need to tap an additional Select) is Copy (and Define if the selection is a single word).  For non-mobile sites, Safari selects the paragraph closest to your position and displays 4 markers (top, bottom, left, right) which you can drag to change the text selected.  I'm not sure if I've ever needed to do anything but Copy after selecting text; if I do, I'll try to add that detail.  Opera Mini may also behave differently when not using Single Column View, but that is left as an exercise for the reader; I always use Single Column View.
  • The Single Column View option no longer exists under Settings on the iPad, if it was actually there in earlier versions, which I can no longer remember.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gender of nouns in French and Spanish

In French and Spanish, nouns (I'm excluding pronouns here), including inanimate objects, have a gender associated with them, unlike in English.  In English one does not say that the chair is feminine or that the pencil is masculine, but one does so in French (la chaise; le crayon) and in Spanish (la silla; el lápiz).

In a French class years ago, one English sentence assigned for translation into French included "casbah".  That word had become rather more well-known from the Rock the Casbah song by The Clash.  That being pre-World Wide Web times, we students rummaged through assorted paper dictionaries, and it seems that I, along with every other student, came up with nothing.  It further seemed that we all followed our instincts (which in retrospect seem to have had no logical underlying rationale), and gave it a masculine gender ("le casbah"), only to all simultaneously groan while correcting each others' translations as the professor told us (with a wry smile of satisfaction?) that it was la casbah (feminine).

In French some word endings normally indicate a particular gender.  Words ending in -ette, for instance, are almost always feminine.  However, I will never forget that le squelette (skeleton) is masculine, having read in Harper's Grammar of French (a very nice book!) years ago that it is one of the rare exceptions.

In French some nouns have different meanings in a masculine versus a feminine form.  Tour can be masculine or feminine.  One meaning of le tour is turn; one meaning of la tour is tower.  I'm not sure if there are similar such words in Spanish, though I think I will ask a native speaker soon....

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Update an app but retain option to revert to older version

Data you save for an app might not be able to be restored (it really depends on how the app stores data) if you restore the app using this technique.  If that data is valuable enough, you may be obliged to never revert from the update of such an app.  Your need to continue using your already-saved data may force you to accept any changes in behavior of an app's new version, even if you could revert the app itself.

The following steps using PC iTunes over USB cable enabled me to revert to Opera Mini browser 6.0.1 after a quick, disappointing test of 6.5.1 on an iPad running iOS 5.0.1, and should work the same way on an iPod.

The following presumes the iOS device is normally using iCloud backup, and also that Opera Link was previously used to save bookmarks and Speed Dial targets.  Other apps may have other customization steps akin to Opera Link.
  • Disable backup to iCloud on device (I overlooked this precautionary step in my test).
  • Disable backup to iCloud on device within PC iTunes (if needed).
  • Backup device via USB cable to PC iTunes.
  • Update app on iOS device over wireless.
  • Test updated app on iOS device.
    12/7/11:  If you are going to test the app for an extended time, DO NOT leave the app on the device when syncing the device with PC iTunes before completing testing, because the sync will wipe out your old version of the app in PC iTunes.  If you are saving any data with the new version of the app, you're going to have to give it all up should you need to delete the app for this scenario.  I overlooked this when I was testing 6.5.1 on my iPod, so I lost my 6.0.1 version in PC iTunes, but fortunately 6.5.1 turned out to be a superior replacement.
  • If you prefer the older version of your app, delete the updated app from iOS device, then manually copy the older version back to the iOS device within PC iTunes.
  • Use Opera Link to restore bookmarks and Speed Dial targets (the latter will get up-to-date page images).
  • Disable Opera Link (unless you normally keep it enabled).
  • Move the (restored) Opera Mini icon to your desired Home Screen location.
  • Re-enable backup to iCloud on device.
  • Re-enable backup to iCloud on device within PC iTunes if needed.

Remember that PC iTunes can save (specific versions of) apps even if they later get removed from the App Store.  Some apps are removed because they are replaced by a newer version, and some get totally removed (often enough without explanation).  I haven't tested, but something like the above likely works from iCloud backup, except perhaps for apps removed from the App Store.

6/25/12: The following (or something close to it) is behavior I observed a while back during testing, which is quite logical but caught me by surprise:
If you have multiple iOS devices syncing with the same PC's iTunes, be careful with any app which is a Universal Binary (same app runs on both iPod/iPhone and iPad size screens, making full usage of the two respective screen sizes) which you use on all devices. If you update it on one device and sync that device with the PC's iTunes, the other device(s) will also get that app updated to the newer version when it syncs with that PC's iTunes.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

iOS third party apps you may not wish to update

(Last updated, in whole or in part, on 10/28/13, when I was using iOS 5.1.1. Intended to be updated over time.)

Newer versions of apps sometimes function worse than their predecessors. Sometimes existing functionality is taken away or is changed in an undesirable way (sometimes breaking entirely).

Below are apps for which I consider or have reason (e.g., App Store reviews) to suspect that a non-current version(s) worked better. Having been burned in the past, in the App Store app's Updates section I long ago stopped using the Update All button in favor of updating apps individually. If this list grows too large for me to remember easily, it will be handy for me to check against when updating apps, to reduce the chance of updating an app for which I prefer an older version.

If an older version of an app works well, and there is no compelling or interesting new functionality offered in its newer version(s), I would not likely bother with much testing of newer versions. If someone using a newer version of any app listed below finds my comments about functionality to be incorrect, I would welcome a comment to that effect, which could prompt me to do additional testing and potentially revise this list.

If you made a backup of the iOS device to PC iTunes before updating an app on the iOS device, deleting the new version of the app (e.g., if you don't like it) from the iOS device, then using PC iTunes you should be able to get the older version back via either direct copy or sync (my Opera Mini 6.5.1 test on an iPad). If you don't take such precautions, you could be locked into the new version.  (10/28/13: has good information, and you can do a Google search for "recover old ios app .ipa", which is how I found that web page.)

I haven't investigated to what degree iCloud backup can be similarly helpful (as PC iTunes) for such things, but my understanding is that if the App Store no longer has an app, you will not be able to get it back from there. I have several free apps which are no longer in the App Store, but which I can still restore to my iOS devices from PC iTunes, including:
  • CEDictionary 1.0 (Chinese English dictionary which speaks pronunciation)
  • Go To There 1.1 (retrieves and formats public transportation information)

iOS 5:
  • Convert Units for Free - #1 Unit Conversion App 4.0. Version 4.1 was released 2/28/12, and the 5 "Most Helpful" reviews are all 1 star out of 5. Based on the content of those reviews, ads have proliferated wildly in the app. 14 of the 31 ratings are 1-star, outgunning the 11 that are 5-star. If those reviews are on the mark, its advertised "#1 Unit Conversion App" status is likely in jeopardy (if that was accurate in the first place, of course).
  • Flashlight (my blog entry) 5.1 This is the app from John Haney Software, which became Apps from Outer Space when 5.2 was released. 5.2 seems to have a slightly longer delay before the flashlight effect, which is a net negative since I want bright light as soon as possible. I expect I'd still choose 5.2 over other flashlight apps, but I plan to stick with my 5.1.
  • Google Search 2.5.2 Version 3.0.0, released 4/29/13, "[n]ow turns on Location Services. Even though the icon stays on, the app has minimal battery impact." While the calmer reviews in the Apple App Store seem to agree, the ones decrying the truth of that make me a bit leery of upgrading.
  • How to Tie a Tie Free 4.0 Some App Store reviews suggest that version 4.1 may now hammer you frequently to rate it, and provides a pre-written 5-star review for you to approve. No, I haven't rated it, but I also haven't truly used it to tie a tie, either, despite having loaded it quite some months ago, and only ever knowing one lame-looking knot. I don't need to be browbeaten to rate this app.
  • Mercury Web Browser Lite (my blog entry) 5.1 didn't show ads on the iPod.
    5.2 does show ads, though not continuously. I would probably not have upgraded, but I was dealing with a version problem with a different app when I synced with PC iTunes, and I hadn't paid enough attention to this app, which I use relatively rarely.
    5.2.1: The company's write-up in the App Store says "Remove ads for iPhone version". A review claims that 5.2.1 also took away User Agent spoofing, which can be pretty useful.
    I bought the paid version, which still has the User Agent spoofing. The developers have done good work, certainly worth 99 cents!
  • Mercury Web Browser Pro (my related blog entry) 6.0.1 preserves the last used brightness setting into the next session. A review claims that 7.0 starts up at full brightness, which night readers are likely to find undesirable.
  • Notespark 1.3.2 Version 1.4 (AND/OR possible changes on their server?) caused loss of data when I synced (I only sync manually) on at least half a dozen occasions in fewer than two months of daily (or practically daily) usage. I count myself very fortunate to have been able to revert back to 1.3.2, and will be watching to see whether I encounter similar loss of data now -- the syncing was virtually flawless for years before I (temporarily) upgraded to 1.4. (10/28/13: Notespark has been removed by the developers from the Apple App Store.)
  • ShuBook 1.4.2 appears to be markedly preferable to later versions. Some App Store reviews slammed version 2.0.
  • (my blog entry) 2.1.1 Some App Store reviews for 2.1.2 and 2.1.3 have made me leery of updating. The app works fine for me already, and supposedly there are some new legal agreement issues. Also, the 11/24/11 App Store review of 2.1.3 from joekul claimed that the history (of WiFi speed test results) feature went missing. I don't have specific plans to verify that; 2.1.1 still has that history, which is of some value to me.
  • The Weather Channel (my blog entry) 4.1.1 Some App Store reviews for the subsequent version have made me leery of updating. It sounds as if the ads have gotten more and more in your face (flashing, it seems) without meaningful gains in functionality.
  • Weather+ Free 1.6 includes forecasting of humidity levels for the coming days (accuracy not guaranteed, of course!). Version 2.0 (updated 6/21/12) no longer has that functionality. That functionality also seems to have disappeared in the paid version 2.02 (also updated 6/21/12), based on what I see in Apple's App Store.
  • White Noise 5.4.2 The 5.5.1 update introduced a bug which prevents the alarm from sounding if you are using the Music Alarm Event (through which you select Music from your device's Songs collection to which to wake up). Also, I prefer the fake big LED clock digits of 5.4.2 over the slim digits of 5.5.1. With 5.4.2, I already have all the functionality I need from this app, so there's really no significant utility in updating further (indeed, there is risk, as I discovered with 5.5.1).
  • Yahoo! 2.3.8 At least two Apple App Store reviews suggest that in 3.0 (released 4/22/13), they removed Mail from the menu, which I use to mark messages as spam. The Yahoo! Mail app, which they suggest you use instead, requires iOS 6. I'm staying with iOS 5 as long as possible for multiple reasons, one of which is because the accompanying text for podcasts is truncated in iOS 6 (and was initially truncated from the Podcasts app in iOS 5).
    They had previously removed Mail from the menu in version 2.3.7, but with 2.3.8 (released 3/22/13), they restored it due to "popular demand" ("popular outrage" might be more accurate). Given the history, I can't muster any enthusiasm to even bother trying version 3.0.

iOS 4 (I'm only listing a couple of apps and am unlikely to add more, since I'm in the iOS 5 world now):
  • OverDrive Media Console (my blog entry) 2.3.2 Version 2.3.3 apparently introduced a bug that prevents download of e-books to the iPod under iOS 4.3.5. It may even wipe out existing e-books, but I cannot confirm that.
    (Version 2.3.3 can, however, download e-books to the iPod under iOS 5.)
  • Stanza (my blog entry) 3.1 Version 3.2 of Stanza doesn't work under iOS 4.
    (Version 3.2 is needed under iOS 5, which would not run 3.1.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Google Music

Google has launched its cloud-based service for music streaming. You can download their free Music Manager software (I used version to your computer, then use a (free) Google account to upload your computer's existing library of music to their servers, up to 20,000 songs.

With Internet access, you can then play your songs from a browser on a computer, on selected Android devices (which likely provide the best experience), or from a browser on an iOS 4 or higher device:

Under iOS 5.0.1, I use Safari, which worked best in my testing, and I bookmarked the site in Safari's Reading List, to be shared across any iOS device having my Apple ID.  Using Camera Roll on a 4th generation iPod, which includes the possibility of playing video (which includes an audio component, which would naturally compete), stops music that is playing.  Some other apps like Mail, which don't have native, primary audio components, could be used without interrupting the music.

I tried two browsers I rarely use, Late Browser Mobile (1.0) and Sleipnir Mobile (1.4.8), to see if they might be repurposed as music-playing apps.  They were apparently limited to playing a single song once (continuous play would not work), and unlike Safari, they stopped playing music as soon as you tried to switch to another app (with a double press of the Home button).

With no Passcode set on an iOS device, you can set Auto-Lock to never, which is optimal for using Google Music.

However, if you have a Passcode set on your iPod, the Auto-Lock can be set for at most 5 minutes, severely limiting your options for using Google Music. The maximum analogous iPad option is 15 minutes.

Apparently, Safari must be open in the foreground and the iPod active (i.e., not in sleep mode) for much or all of the time that you are using Google Music in order to play multiple tracks continuously. If the iPod goes to sleep mode, it still loads the next track, but you must wake the iPod to play the track.

If you want to replay the same track continuously, Safari need not be in the foreground, and the track will keep playing even if the iPod goes into sleep mode. Perhaps only folks like me, who years ago recorded the same song continuously on both sides of a cassette tape to play on auto-reverse tape decks, can really enjoy Google Music on an iPod (A version of 茉莉花, plus The Art of Noise's Moments in Love from The Best of the Art of Noise, inspired me to make such tapes.).

I had previously ripped my CDs at 320 kbps (highest quality) onto my PC, primarily for use with my Microsoft Zune. The Zune provided a very helpful introduction to podcasts and mp3 usage, but I use it less and less over time. The ripping process for those CDs was long and laborious. Not particularly needing music on my iPod, I never felt like repeating it for PC iTunes, or cared enough to look into how to make those mp3 files usable in PC iTunes (particularly if such required making another copy of each song for PC iTunes). Google's Music Manager allows me to leverage my existing mp3 library with a bulk upload operation for use with my iOS devices.  With my slow Internet access, it took me about two weeks (mostly overnight) to upload around 3200 songs and podcasts.

If you lost all the media (e.g., iOS device, personal computer, CDs) on which you have your music collection (e.g., because of a natural disaster), your Google Music backup should still be available.  The rules (as of 12/5/11, anyway) allow you to download 320 kbps mp3 files of your music:  I load only some of my songs onto my iPod, but upload all of them to Google Music as a remote backup, and for occasional web browser listening.

The iPod speaker can be fairly tinny sounding, but I am not a serious connoisseur of audio quality. I generally don't like wearing earbuds, so any time I can reasonably listen to stuff without them is good with me.

My slow Internet access could be a significant factor for some of the following symptoms which I experienced on an iPod or on an iPad:
  • There is a delay before each streamed track begins.
  • A track might not initially start playing.  Hitting pause and/or play sometimes starts it playing.
  • A track might abruptly stop playing.  Sometimes it will restart by itself.
  • When playing multiple tracks, a track might abruptly stop playing, and the next track might start.
  • If you switch from playing one track to playing another (in my experience, switching between tracks of different artists), the album artwork display may get updated before the streamed track, such that hitting play for the second track actually plays the first track. Hitting pause, then play, corrected that.
When I checked, Google Music was offering some freebies (you must provide a valid credit card, though), so I grabbed Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me, Five for Fighting's Superman (It's not Easy), and Men At Work's Who Can It Be Now?, all of which I've liked for some time. The Dave Matthews Band's Live On Lakeside album was also free, so I thought I'd give that a whirl as well.

Even with better wireless Internet access than I normally have, it's really seemed like if you want to hear one song play all the way through on an iPod, you have a decent but not 100% guaranteed shot at that, and your chances get worse if you want more than that. Google Music is okay with me since I rarely have a particular need to listen to music on my iPod, but it may not be worth the effort for many folks. (Soon after writing this blog entry, I was obliged to get a new iPod, one whose port actually worked normally. I quickly enough discovered how nice it was to listen to music stored locally on the iPod, and Google Music became rather less significant to my iPod use.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Differing functionality of in-ear headphones (earbuds)

Regarding iPod audio playback capabilities, I have primarily used earbuds for listening to podcasts, and almost never for music. Only now have I actually looked more closely at the capabilities of several different earbuds. I will comment only lightly on the Voice Control functionality, at least until such time as I actually start using that.

The earbuds included with the 3rd generation iPod have a remote microphone and controls for:

  • Volume (+/-)
  • Pause/Play (press the depressed area between + and - once)
  • Next Track (press that depressed area twice)
  • Previous Track (press that depressed area thrice)
  • Voice Control (press and hold that depressed area)

The Next/Previous Track options allow you to move between consecutive (previously downloaded) episodes of a podcast series.

Voice Control for podcasts appears to have no particular utility. Most of the options that glide by on the screen are for music (e.g., play album, shuffle, etc.), although iOS devices with a camera can invoke FaceTime as well.

I recently upgraded to a 4th generation iPod (a blog entry is forthcoming). Its earbuds lack the remote microphone and controls (the lack of a 3rd white band on the jack is an indicator of this); those are available on the iPod itself, although they are less convenient to use. This is the first iPod to have a built-in microphone. Volume can be controlled by the iPod's physical volume buttons. iOS 5 added the ability to press the Home button twice to access Pause/Play, Next track and Previous Track buttons on the touchscreen.

The model of Skullcandy Smokin' Buds earbuds that came with my 4th generation iPod duplicate the functionality of 3rd generation iPod earbuds, except for Volume.

Kindle app can download free English(-English), French-French, and Spanish-Spanish dictionaries

The free Amazon Kindle app can download free English(-English), French-French, and Spanish-Spanish dictionaries.  While the intention was clearly to enhance the reading experience, you can open the Kindle app, select a word, then click on Full Definition to make general use of any of your downloaded dictionaries as an e-book itself.

The Kindle app is apparently aware of the primary language associated with an e-book; it's likely mandatory, or at least highly advisable, that producers of e-books include that piece of information.  If you select a word and have previously downloaded the dictionary matching the e-book's primary language, the Kindle app will show the definition in a pop-up window.  It will offer you the chance to download the dictionary if such doesn't exist on your device; click on the i in a circle icon to select from the different dictionaries.

From Amazon, I downloaded the free Voyage au Centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth) as a French language e-book when writing this entry.  Perhaps I will even attempt to read it some day (I loved that Saturday morning cartoon), but it can at least serve as an e-book through which to get directly to the French-French dictionary.

I had used my usual Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar to select a Spanish word when writing this entry, but that e-book's primary language is actually English.  My Spanish being far less complete than my French, I would need to select some basic Spanish e-book to sustain even a glimmer of a chance that I might someday read it, although any Spanish language e-book would serve to get directly to the Spanish-Spanish dictionary.

As of 11/24/11, the other language dictionaries are:
  • Deutsch
  • English (UK)
  • Italiano
  • Português

Friday, November 18, 2011

Crash landing on iOS 5.0.1

I had not been planning to upgrade my 3rd generation iPod from iOS 4.3.5 to iOS 5, having been happy with its capabilities as is.  I had also learned of, and/or experienced, a number of problems associated with iOS 5.  Typically, iOS 5 either broke an existing app, or an app's functionality worsened when the developers updated it to accommodate iOS 5.

I've mentioned on multiple occasions how my iPod has a hardware port problem. Aligning its cord properly to charge can take a few minutes of fiddling, and properly aligning it for a PC iTunes connection is even more demanding.  In those delicate alignment attempts, "Charging is not supported with this accessory" is a message I've periodically seen for more than two months.  That message came up again yesterday as I was trying to get it to charge, and when I tried to lower the brightness...bam, it was totally hosed.  The screen displayed only the iTunes icon and a picture of a USB cord, as shows up when you activate a pre-iOS 5 iPod, which requires a wired connection to Mac/PC iTunes.

After several hours of work, including numerous error messages and laborious re-seating of the cable at multiple junctures, my iPod is now at iOS 5.0.1.  I mistakenly thought that I would be able to restore from my less than two week old PC iTunes backup and remain on iOS 4.3.5.  However, it seems that PC iTunes only allows loading of the most recent iOS version that works for your device -- not unreasonable.  At least I was able to get back my 102 apps from PC iTunes in a single operation.

Backing up to iCloud should reduce my cable alignment problems to only recharging the iPod, since I should be able to restore over wireless from now on.

I was surprised to discover there was no way to mass-reload my hundreds of French language instruction podcasts, but I have started rebuilding my collection manually.  (2/9/11:  Actually, I could have used PC iTunes to copy over all that I had previously synced.)

I was also surprised that my small number of not-particularly-important photos did not come back.  I have seen a few web articles suggesting ways to get them back, and I may yet pursue that.  If I do, I will try to report the result here later.

The Traditional Chinese handwriting recognition seems tangibly slower, both on a 3rd generation and on a 4th generation iPod, than it was on a 3rd generation iPod running iOS 4.3.5.
(12/2/14: When only a single app [Notespark, as a device-local-only scratchpad] is in RAM, the speed of recognition is quite good, possibly similar to the speed under iOS 4.3.5. I'm surprised that I didn't think of testing this approach previously. Of course, it's inconvenient to eject all the other apps from RAM, but in some cases it's worth doing; when I'm done handwriting the Chinese text, I can Select All and copy it elsewhere as desired.)

As I worked to recreate groups of apps and reassemble my desired first Home Screen ("springboard"), I seem to have moved some app icons so quickly that the iOS became confused.  For a while the icons of some random apps (no more than one per screen, I think) became invisible, although their titles remained visible.  With all the icons jiggling and me swiping screens left to right and right to left, the app which was invisible would sometimes change (i.e., an invisible one would become visible, but a different app on the same screen would become invisible instead).  I found it was possible to drag an invisible app onto a visible one to create a group, but not vice versa.  That invisibility problem eventually cleared up, so everything is visible now.

Although Apple tried to disallow moving the new Newsstand app into a folder and off of the first Home Screen, folks have found out how to do that.  I moved it into a folder with Messages and Reminders, two other new apps for which I have no particular need, then moved the folder off the first Home Screen.  A Google search for "ios 5 move newsstand to folder" should find assorted pages with the technique, which does require a certain quickness of action.

Below is a list of some of the functionality which I wanted to recover, and commentary on what was involved.  I tend not to give my location to apps to use, normally entering that manually when I want (e.g., in The Weather Channel app).

  1. Calendar (iOS 5.0.1):  I use a Google account for Calendar, so it was simple to add that account to the iPod.  Although the Day and Month views showed my events, the List view was empty at first, so I feared I would have to create another calendar from scratch (ugh) to restore that functionality.  However, the next day the List view showed events normally.
  2. Contacts (iOS 5.0.1):  I use a Google account for Contacts, so again, it was simple to add that account to the iPod.
  3. Notespark (1.3.2):  All my data is already on Metaspark's webserver, so all I had to do was login and tweak a few settings (e.g., font size, etc.), and I was back to pre-crash functionality.
  4. iCED (3.2.3):  I had previously made a Murage account and it was straightforward to download my paid Add-ons again.  I made a few tweaks to settings (e.g., maximize History).
  5. tChess Pro (1.7.1):  Much like Notespark, I just had to tweak a few settings to get it to look and behave the way I like it.  I normally e-mail myself the pgn of individual games that I play through using tChess Pro, so I can easily reload those.  I have also kept files on my PC of pgn collections of games, which I can similarly e-mail myself to reload.  (This is one of my most-used apps, so a blog entry on it should eventually appear.)
  6. Opera Mini (6.0.1 - pointedly not the latest version, which is 6.5.1, which for now I'm holding off on upgrading to):  Initially I started recreating my Speed Dial locations manually, and had 8 of the total 9 set up -- I didn't know the 9th one's URL.  Then I used Opera Link to restore my (generally-rarely-changed) bookmarks from the last time I saved them, and it loaded the missing 9th Speed Dial location.  Apparently I wasted my time loading the first 8 manually.
  7. Safari (iOS 5.0.1):  I was pleased to discover that Apple was apparently already saving bookmarks, so they all came back automatically.  I still prefer Opera Mini, though.  I tend to use Safari only when Opera Mini can't do the job.
    After first writing this Safari blurb, I checked out Safari's new Reader feature, which can render some web pages in a more readable way (hiding ads, too!). In my limited testing, Wikipedia article pages work well with Reader (though not so well), as does this eminently readable article about iOS 5 improvements, which is what led me to really test the new Reader and Reading List features. This wiki article about "Kindle Myths and Partial Truths" (some content of which is relevant to iOS devices using the Kindle app) has part of its content cut off on the sides in the Reader view.  I have observed that an advertisement embedded within a column of text on a web page can render Reader results incomplete (on one occasion, none of the article text actually came through in Reader).
    To compensate for the small screen of the iPod, I have long used Opera Mini's Single column view to transform the elements on a web page, including the font(s), into a presentation I find easier to read. Reader fulfills the same function with more polish, but can transform far fewer web pages than Opera Mini.  Without these transformations, text can sometimes be difficult to read without "spreading" pages with your fingers (to enlarge the image), after which you might additionally still need to move the display back and forth to see different parts of the whole text.
    Reading List saves bookmarks to iCloud and shares them in Safari across iOS devices (and Macs, supposedly, too, but I have a PC). The Reading List bookmarks didn't show on my other iOS device in either "direction", initially, and multiple web pages, some from as recently as October 2011, suggested that it didn't work. Perhaps from iOS 5 this syncing was fixed in 5.0.1, because eventually the same Reading List bookmarks showed up on both my iPod and iPad.
    Reading List's syncing seems to be forced among iOS devices sharing an Apple ID. Opera Link's similar syncing of bookmarks is optional, and can be done manually or automatically among Opera Mini instances within which you have logged into Opera Link.
  8. Kindle (2.8.5):  Login, all my books were under Archived, and it was simple to download 15 of them into Home.  (2 were expired library loans.)  Select a word in any book, then download the dictionary to make it available going forward regardless of Internet access.
  9. iBooks (iOS 5.0.1):  Login, go to Store, Purchased, and download each of the 14 (all freebies) again.  Maybe I was doing something in a non-optimal way, but it seemed to be an extremely clunky and user-hostile interface.  I could only download the top 3 books, then had to Swipe to the right to be able to Hide each of them in turn so that I could access the next 3 lower books on the screen.  I had to repeat that procedure to get through all 14.
  10. The Weather Channel (4.1.1):  Add my location to Favorites under Bookmarks and get rid of whatever is already there.
  11. Dropbox (1.4.6):  Login, mark as Favorites the documents I want saved locally so they're available without wireless Internet access.  Set Local Storage to maximum reasonable for device's capacity.
  12. OverDrive (2.3.3):  Although the iPod didn't need an Adobe ID to authorize usage under iOS 4, it requires one under iOS 5.  Download my usual Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar to confirm download of public domain ebooks, then test other types (e.g., Adobe ePub from the library) as desired.  (I wrote in another blog entry about how to view Kindle books on library websites using an iPod.)
I am updating this entry with additional items and comments, and am also revising earlier entries accordingly, as time permits.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I had read Sonny Hung's My Apple Newton (PDA) blog, which he introduces as:
This blog records my Apple Newton experiences, as well as comparisons with other PDAs, Smartphones and Mobile Devices. It is also a repository for storing complex set up procedures for future reference.
I thought I might enjoy doing something similar for the iPod since I found it to be an extremely useful PDA.  Based on the web searches that brought people here, this blog may have been helpful to some other folks, but in any case, it has certainly proven useful to me after this crash.  Given how my iPod seems to be living on borrowed time, my blog will likely serve me well again similarly in the future.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Word Magic Compact English-Spanish Dictionary app

Parent blog entry:

3/17/14: Somewhere along the line to its current version 5.4.1, this app switched from being free to being paid. That probably explains why, for an app that I got for free, it's so good.

This free app (version 2.0.2) has a limited subset of the material in the paid version (Word Magic English-Spanish Reference Dictionary, which has a healthy 4.5 / 5 stars from 82 ratings on 10/30/11), and may be adequate for occasional look up of common words. If you need a more complete dictionary, you may need to upgrade to the paid version (which the app makes sure you know is an option!), or find another more complete app. For someone like me, who occasionally listens to Claudia Fernandez' basic Spanish podcasts, it can be helpful as is.

Ads run in the free app.

Search pops up a row of the full range of possible accented letters (áéíóúüñ). iOS natively allows those accented letters to be entered, so that is not necessary, but it can speed up entry of words.
The x at the end of the row is to cease text entry in Search, but it looks quite weird, since it's just another letter, in the same font and size appearance as the other accented ones!

All these accented letter possibilities are enumerated, with useful usage details, in the old but free and still useful Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar, which I mentioned here.

4/2/11 was the last day of a promotional 25% off sale for their $7.99 General Reference product. I think they have run sales more than just that once.

11/26/11: For a free Spanish-Spanish dictionary, see this blog entry.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

iOS 4 vs iOS 5: podcasts

What was named the iPod app under iOS 4 on the iPad was split into a Music app and a Videos app under iOS 5 on the iPad.  The Music app functionality in iOS 5 on an iPad is SIGNIFICANTLY different from, and inferior to, its former functionality, at least with respect to podcasts.

Having upgraded my iPod to iOS 5, for the
most part I have not noticed any loss of podcast functionality compared to iOS 4.  I think the following is a new iOS 5 improvement:  when playing a podcast while a Passcode Locked iPod is in sleep mode, press the Home button twice to bring up selected touchscreen controls which can be used without unlocking the iPod.  Back, Pause, Forward, and Volume are available.  Back and Forward allow you to move between consecutive (previously downloaded) episodes of a podcast series
, although according to my recollection, under certain circumstances (related to the actual podcast?), Back would start the same podcast over from the beginning.  The iPod's physical volume buttons, which are always active, are often still easier to use than the touchscreen volume slider, at least when starting from sleep mode.

2/8/12: I just stumbled upon what I think is another favorable change in iOS 5.0.1 from iOS 4.  If you have 2 or more podcasts from a single series saved, when the last one is finished playing, the first one starts playing.  According to my recollection, under iOS 4, the podcasts would stop playing after the last one in a series.  This new(?) behavior may not be everyone's preference, but since I mostly listen to podcasts repeatedly for French language instruction, I'm glad for such podcasts to play in an infinite loop.

7/8/12: My blog entry about the iOS 5.1 Podcasts app. Usage of that app may make some of what I've written here obsolete, but I'm not planning to revise this blog entry any further related to that.

If you manually subscribe to podcasts strictly over-the-air (i.e., you don't use pc-based iTunes for any part of such subscribing), getting those podcasts can be more hassle in iOS 5 on an iPad than on any of:
  • iOS 4 iPad
  • iOS 4 iPod
  • iOS 5 iPod
For the 3 (French language instruction) podcasts I follow, I manually download each episode directly over WiFi to my iPod, typically once a week, downloading all 3 podcasts' new episodes at the same time. I keep each episode forever, and have listened to a number of them more than once -- repetition is helpful for learning languages. I suppose I can count myself lucky that I'm manually subscribing to only 3 podcasts on my iPod, and not more, otherwise I'd have more manual downloading work.

Under iOS 4 on an iPod/iPad or under iOS 5 on an iPod:

If you have many episodes of a podcast series within the iPod's Music app (or the iPod app on an iOS 4 iPad), an effective way to get directly to the bottom of the list is to go back to all podcasts (tap the left-pointing Podcasts button), then select the desired podcast. If the list is long, this is faster than repeatedly swiping down a long list of episodes. Make mental note of the last episode's title and/or date; one of those should be sufficient to identify on the upcoming iTunes app screen what the next episode will be. Tap the Get More Episodes... link underneath the list, which will take you directly to the podcast within iTunes, then get your desired episodes.
12/31/11: Under iOS 5.0.1 on an iPod, this technique has worked less consistently than under iOS 4. Doing my usual weekly consecutive loading of episodes from 3 different podcast series, I have periodically needed to explicitly eject the iTunes app from RAM before it will do what I want when I tap the Get More Episodes... link. On one occasion, while downloading the second podcast series' (half-hour) episode, the iTunes app crashed when I simultaneously tried to have it display the new podcasts from the third podcast series. My iPod's total podcast episodes (including some outside my primary 3 podcast series) number around 500 now, but I don't believe that should really have impacted the robustness of this technique.

As usual, you can press the time display (hh:mm) in the top middle of the iPod to go directly to the top of the list.

Under iOS 5 on an iPad:

There seems to be no way to go directly from a podcast within the Music app to its matching section of the iTunes app (the better, perhaps, for Apple to expose you to whatever is being prominently advertised on the "front page" of iTunes). You have to go to the Podcasts section, then type in the name of the podcast for which you're looking, rather a drag compared to what you could do previously.

The visual presentation and handling of podcasts have changed, worse in basically every way:

  • There is no way to see the text that the podcast creator has included! The full text of the One thing in a French Day podcast is included and is visible in the Music app (see my image here) on an iPod (the iPod app in some non-iPod environments), but it's not visible in iOS 5.0 on an iPad!! (Yes, IF you are connected to the Internet, you could go to her website for the text, but why should you have to, when she already included it with the podcast?)
  • There are no options to change the speed to 1/2 or twice normal (6/2/12: This capability was restored in iOS 5.1.). The speaker for one particular (English language) podcast I downloaded speaks very slowly, and doubling his speed was a distinct and totally intelligible improvement.
  • There is no button to rewind 30 seconds (6/2/12: This capability was restored in iOS 5.1.). I rarely used that, but there's always a chance it might have been handy.
  • Tap-hold on the new rewind and fast forward buttons does not seem to work very smoothly. Ah, I later saw that those buttons were there under iOS 4, and I never noticed them. They apparently work similarly under iOS 4 and iOS 5: tap-hold on either one for a longer time and you will skip backward or forward, respectively, by a larger and larger amount the longer you hold.
  • Although I never noticed it before working on this blog entry, iOS 4 also provides an additional, vertically compact (one line per episode), list view of the episodes alphabetized by title (not necessarily the same order as in the vertically less compact view showing the "album art"), showing what # each one is in the list, showing the total time, and allowing you to assign 1-5 stars to an episode. This additional list view is gone in iOS 5. In iOS 5, tap the small album art to the right of the fast forward button, tap on the now-big album art, and the list icon button can be accessed.

In iOS 5.0 on the iPad, Apple is incorrectly recording video storage under the Music app, instead of under the Videos app where it belongs.  I have 23 video podcasts saved according to Settings > General > About, but Settings > General > Usage > Video (spelling is inconsistent with the VideoS name of the app, but icon is the same) shows "No Data", which is incorrect.

An interesting article and subsequent comments about iOS 5 and podcasts:
And a similarly interesting follow-up:

The most exhaustive detail (article and comments) I have seen about the worsened functionality in the iOS 5 Music app on the iPad:

I saw mention there of more lost functionality, which I subsequently experienced myself:
  • You can no longer play episodes of the same podcast continuously.  I used to be able to play multiple episodes of Car Talk or Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me continuously, typically while doing household tasks.  Now I have to start playing each episode separately.  At least those shows are hour-long ones.  Separately starting each of my 3-5 minute French language instruction podcast episodes would be intolerable; fortunately, I normally listen to those on my iPod, which can still play them continuously.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 Mobile Speed Test

Check broadband speed with this free native iOS app. I had previously used Ookla's website from a PC browser to do the same thing, but checking broadband speed can often more conveniently be done on a mobile computing device. Their app stores results of your broadband speed tests, which you can export to CSV and e-mail.

My broadband speed is regrettably often erratic (both regrettably often erratic and regrettably often erratic), with recent high and low download speeds differing by more than a factor of 12. The Mobile Speed Test app will help me keep an eye on my provider, who won't be my provider for long if they revisit that low end of broadband speed with any frequency.

You can get additional perspective by using the app to test broadband speed of any wireless Internet access to which you have access.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Difficulties in subtitling foreign language material

In the French language movie Queen To Play (2009), there is a sequence where characters recite chess moves.  One of those moves is Black's bishop to the g4 square, which is mistakenly subtitled "Bishop...j4", an impossible move.

To me that's a strong indication that the person doing the subtitles was not a native French speaker, and also did not know the algebraic notation of chess.  The sound of the French letter g is somewhat like the sound of the English letter j, so someone who was more used to English than French could easily have mistakenly chosen j, particularly if they didn't know that the algebraic notation letters for a square on the chessboard range only between a and h.  A native French speaker, however, is unlikely to write j if they have heard g, even if they knew nothing about chess algebraic notation.

In the French language movie Amélie (2001), one character is directing another character over the phone to a certain page in a book. The spoken French is "Page 51.", but the subtitle says "Page St.". That error seems like someone misread handwriting for 51 as St. I see now that this error (and others) are cited for this film at IMDB, under Goofs > Audio/visual unsynchronized, although my interest is more about the aspects of language underlying such errors, not the errors per se.

Subtitles in pirated works probably take even more of a beating.

In the movie Tape (2001), one character responds to another's question about what time it is with "It's quarter of.", without specifying the hour (i.e., quarter of what). The subtitle is "十五分" (15 minutes). There is no Chinese translation for "quarter of" if the hour is not specified, so this inaccurate subtitle is no surprise.

In Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), a character says "They went down the ventilation shaft!". According to my memory, a pirated Chinese version used the subtitle "他们出去了" (simplified Chinese for "They went out!"), which lacks the flavor of the original sentence.

11/15/12: Translators rendering subtitles are always under text length limitations, and may be forced to make compromises. For example, not all languages have a single word for "siblings", as English does, and the character count is clearly higher for "brothers and sisters".

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Three characters differentiated by the direction of a stroke

子 (zǐ, and also frequently zi [neutral tone]) is a very common character, whose final sideways stroke is horizontal.

孑孓 (jiéjué; mosquito larva) shows that the final sideways stroke can be made both tilting slightly upward from left to right, and also tilting slightly downward from left to right, each change resulting in a different character.

I had long ago seen 孑 (jié) as the left half of characters like 孫 (sūn; grandson) and 孔 (kǒng; hole), but had incorrectly imagined that it was simply a variant of 子 (zǐ) when 子 served as a component part of another character, similar to things I touched on here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Thank you, Steve.

Your company's insanely great products ignited mine and many others' enthusiasm.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two characters mapped to a single representation

In Chinese, the character for meat/flesh 肉 (ròu) and the character for month/moon 月 (yuè) are both mapped to the same radical, which can be combined with selected other components to make other characters. That radical is visually a thinner version of 月. Here it is on the left side of 臉 (liǎn; face) and on the right side of 期 (qí [pronounced qī in China]; a period of time).

Despite the radicals being the same visually, the nature of the character of which it is part makes it clear which of the two original characters (meat/flesh or month/moon) is being represented. Face (臉) is more related to flesh (肉) than to month/moon (月). A period of time (期) is more related to month (月) than to meat/flesh (肉). At least in my own usage, the radical appears far more often in its flesh/meat guise.

In a quasi-similar vein, some old typewriters (well, I guess all typewriters are old these days) didn't have a key for the numeral 1 -- you hit the key for the letter l (ell) instead.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Multiple ways to say "For example" in Chinese

In my relatively early years of learning Chinese, I attended a free, somewhat less formal class in which, at unpredictable times (unpredictable by me, anyway), the teacher kept using a phrase which I could not understand. When I asked her what it was, she was unable to remember having said anything of consequence. Many of my fellow students were native Cantonese speakers who didn't seem to bat an eye when the teacher spoke the mystery phrase. Perhaps they were already familiar with the phrase in Cantonese, and the Mandarin equivalent was easily understandable.

Outside of class I asked my mainland Chinese roommate for assistance, but my pitifully incomplete description of the sounds didn't give him much to go on, and, not surprisingly, he couldn't figure it out.

Eventually I learned that the teacher had been saying 譬如說 (pì rú shūo; "For example"), which explained why she couldn't tell what I was referring to from her lecturing -- it was only a helper phrase, never a major, or even minor, lesson point. By that stage of my Chinese studies, I think I had actually already heard elsewhere some different ways of saying "For example", but couldn't make the connection.

Here are other common ways of saying "For example" (capital F because this phrase is always used at the beginning of a sentence, never at the end). I've personally heard native Chinese speakers use all of them:
  • 比方說 (bǐ fāng shuō)
  • 比如說 (bǐ rú shuō)
  • 好比說 (hǎo bǐ shuō)
  • 舉例來說 (jǔ lì lái shuō)
  • 例如說 (lì rú shuō)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

2+ iOS international keyboards

If you have two or more international keyboards configured, you can tap-hold the world globe key and then directly select one of the others. That's available in iOS 4.3.5, and may have been available in earlier versions. Tap by itself immediately takes you to the next keyboard.

I normally always have the Chinese (traditional) Handwriting keyboard configured. When I'm including bits of Chinese among English words, as opposed to writing longer text in Chinese, I normally use the English period instead of the Chinese period (。). The Chinese period takes up more space, presumably because within the Chinese context each character or punctuation mark should occupy the same amount of space as any other.

When I temporarily additionally configured the French keyboard, the order of keyboards was English-Chinese-French. I was mildly annoyed that I would have to tap twice to switch from Chinese to English, particularly because I'd be switching back and forth between the two languages frequently. Nice to learn that this is no longer an issue.
1/7/12: Even moreso since I recently added a fourth keyboard, Pinyin for simplified Chinese characters. I haven't devoted a great deal of time learning handwriting for simplified characters, so the Pinyin version of the keyboard for same is quite helpful.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

iOS international keyboards for Latin alphabet languages other than English

Earlier I had noted that, for occasional inclusion of accented characters in, e.g., French or Spanish, there was no need to add the respective iOS virtual international keyboard.

Recently, I was typing in a longer sentence in French. At that time I realized that, for extended writing in a Latin alphabet language other than English, one greatly benefits from switching to the appropriate international keyboard, in order to get proper suggestions for auto-correction, replacement suggestions, etc.

A French teacher long ago had written the following famous phrase on a piece of paper for me:

Ce qui se conçoit bien
s'énonce clairement,
et les mots pour le dire
viennent aisément.

which I subsequently misplaced. The second line eluded my memory for many years, but I recently remembered it, then searched for background on the complete phrase on the mighty Internet.

French Wikipedia says the original is from Nicolas Boileau:

De L'Art poétique (1674)
Ce que l'on conçoit bien s'énonce clairement,
Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément. (Chant I)
(bold emphasis is mine -- see below)

I find it a tad odd that multiple people have rendered his original phrase with slightly different words, even, e.g., on a mousepad.

The meaning of the French phrase hasn't changed in any of the slightly-different renditions I've seen, including in the one I got from my French teacher. On the other hand, the Gettysburg Address certainly wouldn't sound the same if someone started reciting it with "87 years ago...".

English translations of this French phrase feel quite awkward to me compared to the original, and I'm not including one here. Interested readers can copy the text and search on the mighty Internet themselves.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Clarifying last names in spoken Chinese

When calling in a take-out order in Chinese, it is common to be asked "你貴姓?" (Nǐ guìxìng?; What's your last name?). The normal response is "我姓...." (Wǒ xìng...; My last name is....), clarifying the character of your last name if needed. A small number of last names have two characters, but I won't get into those here.

Some last name characters are typically clarified in terms of some or all of their component parts (e.g., radicals). These descriptions can be pretty precise, where a component part(s) is/are only visibly "squeezed", or, e.g., an existing line(s) is/are lengthened, shortened, or moved "a little bit". Some such descriptions take a few more liberties.

I think the first time I was exposed to this clarification of last names was years ago, when I was talking on the phone to a native Chinese speaker, a guy who I had never met. He told me his last name was 張 (Zhāng). Then he added, 弓長張 (gōng cháng Zhāng).

Now, not having known about this common style of clarification of last names, and also not knowing the 弓 (gōng) character, I was pretty confused. Mentally imposing (quite incorrectly) a Western style first-middle-last (e.g., Franklin Delano Roosevelt) structure onto what he had just told me, I asked him if his full name was 張弓長 (Zhāng Gōng Cháng).

If anyone actually is named 張弓長 (Zhāng Gōng Cháng), that would be pretty weird -- it's kind of like someone being named Roose Velt Roosevelt. I think at that point in our conversation, this guy realized I didn't know as much Chinese as he thought I might. When we later met, he may have explained this style of clarification of Chinese characters, but in any case I eventually learned about it.

Both component parts combined without meaningful change:
  • 古月胡 gǔ yuè Hú
  • 木子李 mù zǐ Lǐ
  • 言午許 yán wǔ Xǔ

Both component parts combined with mild changes:
  • 耳東陳 ěr dōng Chén (The 耳 character changes this way, but it doesn't always change this way when it's a component of a more complex character.)
  • 人可何 rén kě Hé (The 人 character changes this way.)
  • 口天吳 kǒu tiān Wú (The 天 character grows "arms".)
  • 木易楊 mù yì Yáng (The 易 character gets an additional horizontal line.)

Some characters are identified purely by just specifying a portion of their parts. Within the context of last names, that is sufficient to identify them.
  • 草頭黃 cǎo tóu Huáng (The Huáng character that has the 草頭 radical.)
  • 雙人徐 shuāng rén Xú (The Xú character that has the 雙人 [double person] radical.)

Somewhere there may be a far more exhaustive compilation of such last name character clarifications. From my own experience, the above are many of the commonly used ones for relatively common last names. Note that last names are simply a subset of characters which can be clarified in this manner.

Some last names are so well-known and common, and other last names having the exact same sound are so rare, that it's unlikely anyone would ask for clarification. A good analogue in English might be Brown. If he calls for take-out, my favorite singer Jackson Browne doesn't likely get asked, "Is that Brown with an e on the end?"

I don't recall ever hearing of this type of clarification for any of:
  • 劉 Liú
  • 馬 Mǎ
  • 王 Wáng (三橫一豎王 sān héng yī shù Wáng, the Wáng character having 3 horizontal strokes and 1 vertical stroke, provided by Yitrun -- thanks!)
林 Lín is also in this well-known and common last name category, but it happens to have an "obvious" clarification, 雙木林 shuāng mù Lín (The Lín character that has a pair of trees in it).

The old question, "What's in a name?", has quite a different answer in Chinese!

Mercury Web Browser Lite app

For some months, the free Mercury Web Browser Lite was my favored "night browser", a browser that allows a significantly dimmer screen than normal for browsing in the dark.  Although I'm an Opera Mini browser guy (most of the time during the day, anyway), in 2012 I bought Mercury Web Browser Pro, so probably won't be updating this entry much, if at all, going forward.

The Lite version limits you to two tabs, which was actually acceptable for my usage. That was one tab more than my original night browser, Late Mobile Browser, which I wrote about here.

The paid version is more full-featured and seems to have quite a following. Still, Mercury Web Browser Lite already has quite a few features, and may still be of use to you.

Mercury Web Browser Lite 5.1 and 5.2 could identify itself (masquerade) as a different browser, as shown below (version 5.1), but that capability was taken away in 5.2.1 according to an App Store review.  That masquerading ability can sometimes be helpful, as I wrote about here, but if you didn't get a version before 5.2.1, you are likely too late, unless the company restores it in the future.  You could of course buy the Pro version to get that, and other additional features as well.

Ads on the iPod:
  • 5.1 did not show them.
  • 5.2 showed them (which led to many negative App Store reviews), though not continuously.
  • 5.2.1 no longer shows ads according to the company's version notes in the App Store.

Chinese vocabulary for today's world

Ordered by Pinyin syllables. I'll likely add notable other ones I come across going forward.

  • 部落格 (bùluògé): blog
  • 更新 (gēngxīn; first, not fourth, tone on gēng): update (e.g., an app)
  • 聯想 (liánxiǎng): auto-complete (which I mentioned previously here)
  • 下載 (xiàzǎi): to download
  • 消歧義 (xiāoqíyì): disambiguation (in Wikipedia when the object of the search could mean different things)
  • 在雲端 (zài yúnduān): in the cloud (referring to data)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

OverDrive Media Console & other e-book reader apps

11/1/11 WARNING: The 2.3.3 version of OverDrive Media Console apparently introduced a bug that prevents download of e-books to the iPod under iOS 4.3.5 (possibly under all earlier iOS versions as well). It may even wipe out existing e-books, but I cannot confirm that. Stay with version 2.3.2, or hope for a future fix. I ended up upgrading my iPod to iOS 5, and OverDrive 2.3.3 can again download e-books.

11/11/11 WARNING: Version 3.2 of Stanza, available 11/10/11, doesn't work under iOS 4 (according to multiple App Store reviews), although it is needed under iOS 5, which would not run the previous version, 3.1.

The free Overdrive Media Console app allows wireless downloading of assorted electronic media, e.g., books and audiobooks. You can check out such materials from libraries if you have a valid library card. The materials automatically expire at the end of the check out period, "returning" themselves. Beyond the choice of materials at my library, I imagine I could also check such materials out from other libraries in the network, but have yet to investigate.  As of December 2011, I haven't downloaded any audiobooks, so cannot comment on them.  OverDrive also has personal computer based software as well, which I think you can use to get additional material onto iOS devices, but I have not used it -- the iOS app meets my needs well as is.

In September 2011, OverDrive added Kindle compatibility to libraries in its network, broadening the e-book selection and also increasing the appeal of the Kindle app. I tried it out from my iPad, downloading material both wirelessly and wired, and was interested to see that Amazon later sent me e-mail (first warning that the e-book would expire in 3 days, later to say that the e-book had indeed expired) noting that if I purchase the e-book "from the Kindle Store or borrow it again from [my] local library, all of [my] notes and highlights will be preserved." (see also That seems to be a win for consumers, Amazon, OverDrive, and libraries, and a loss for Amazon competitors and privacy advocates.

12/8/11: After noticing that in Safari, Kindle books were showing on library websites only on an iPad and not on an iPod through this process, I contacted a librarian, who subsequently conveyed to me this information from OverDrive:
Please note that Kindle devices, Smartphones, and other small screen devices that operate a mobile versus a standard browser are not currently supported for direct checkout and download for Kindle Books. At this time, Kindle Books can only be delivered to a Kindle or free Kindle apps from a PC, Mac, or tablet. We hope to expand mobile access in the future.

Please ask your patron to contact Amazon to find out when they will be adding this capability. Amazon can be contacted by clicking on the 'Contact Us' button at the following link:
Mercury Web Browser Lite (version 5.1 and 5.2, but not 5.2.1) and Mercury Web Browser Pro can identify themselves to websites as other browsers. OverDrive starts up Safari, but you can copy the URL, paste it into Mercury, set Mercury to identify itself as Mobile Safari(iPad), refresh the browser if needed, and you will be able to access the Kindle e-books on an iPod (at least I could through my local library).  (6/2012:  For one Adobe EPUB format e-book, I could not download directly through Mercury Web Browser Pro, but could through Safari.  I usually get Kindle format e-books, so maybe this has always been the case but I have only discovered it now.)

Some of the following e-book commentary is directed toward public domain material, which is typically formatted rather roughly. Commercial e-books, such as those for sale on Amazon, are normally formatted nicely, so some of the following comments would not apply to them.

There are also older public domain materials which are freely downloadable and which don't expire; my library helps direct you to those as well. While the selection is of course rather "historical", from a quick look I found two eBooks which are sufficiently "timeless" and can be of use for my efforts at strengthening my Spanish:
  • Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar by C.A. Toledano (1917). Basic grammar rules presumably haven't changed much, if at all. I like to learn/relearn this stuff, although many would find it tedious and boring, e.g., how to conjugate regular verbs or spelling rules like "The diaresis [two dots] is placed over u in 'güe' and 'güi' when the u is to be sounded.", as a friend and I had similarly discussed some months ago, touching on the Spanish word for penguin, pingüino.
  • An Elementary Spanish Reader by Earl Stanley Harrison (1912).
It appears that material that originally used chart-style formatting visibly suffers in these presentations (e.g., the list of vocabulary equivalents in Spanish and English starting at the bottom of page 13 of Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar), but it's still usable.

I also downloaded Chess Fundamentals by J.R. Capablanca, of which I long ago bought a printed copy. However, the chess diagrams are squeezed very thin, so it's necessary to turn the iPod screen to landscape to see them properly. (My blog entry about this e-book under iOS 5)

Probably pure text, with minimal or no diagrams/charts, works best with OverDrive Media Console.

For normal reading, you can choose a sepia background, which I find more pleasant on the eyes, instead of white. OverDrive Media Console also has a Night Mode, to flip text to be white on a black background, plus a brightness control.

9/11/11: Public domain e-books are available through multiple iOS apps, not just OverDrive.  For example, Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar mentioned above is additionally available in all of:
An app's combination of features, including its access to material, may appeal to you enough for you to use it for all of your reading, or you might use different apps in different circumstances. For instance, in my own usage of Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar, I prefer direct access to the Table of Contents, so Kindle would not be my choice for that. iBooks has a brightness control, good for night reading. Kindle requires you to login (register the device) any time you cold-start the app, and while it is registered it will check for a sync when you start it, and maybe at other times (presumably part of how Amazon invokes security, e.g., as in the 2009 remote wiping of George Orwell's 1984 from Kindles). Stanza has a variety of themes (visual appearance of the text and background) for reading both in the day and at night -- first app I've noticed to have had such; vertical direction swipes also alter the brightness (up = brighter, down = dimmer). iBooks, Kindle, and Stanza all hide controls and informational notes (e.g. page x/y, plus the standard iPod top info bar which shows time, etc.) when reading, giving more space (at a premium on an iPod!) to the actual material.  If remaining battery power is ever a concern, any "night mode" which has white text and a black background should make the battery last longer, since less energy should be needed to illuminate the screen.

11/27/11:  Syncing across multiple iOS devices:
Kindle features the best syncing, including for Kindle e-books borrowed from the library.  iBooks cannot be used for borrowing library e-books, but otherwise may be close -- I cannot remember if I synced my small library across iPod and iPad manually, but my iPod has Winnie-the-Pooh, which came free at one point (probably when the iBooks app was released), but is currently not free in the iBooks Store, and was not on my iPad until I copied it there manually from PC iTunes as a result of writing this additional note.  OverDrive and Stanza e-book access is device-based; you must download each e-book from scratch onto each device.
12/10/11: With OverDrive, log in to your library account on each device onto which you want to download the e-book.  For any iOS device after the first, you should be able to (again) download materials that are checked out to your account (I was able to from my local library, anyway).

As a result of this investigation, Stanza is my preferred app for Pitman's Commercial Spanish Grammar.  Kindle is my favorite for reading library e-books, but sometimes a book I want to read is only available in epub format, for which I would happily use OverDrive.

12/12/11:  Currently Amazon runs a Kindle Daily Deal, where they have a very favorable discount on a different e-book each day.  You may wish to follow that by checking their website each day and/or by signing up for e-mail or Twitter notifications.  I learned about this special pricing the day after having sadly missed the chance to get the wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell e-book for $1.99.
1/3/12: As I write, Amazon is offering the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell e-book for $2.99! It's great to have a digital copy for convenience of reading, but the charming (or perhaps annoying, depending on the reader) print footnotes have been turned into endnotes. The print version generally (maybe always) has the explanation of a footnote (or at least the start of it) on the same page as the footnote appears. This difference in footnote presentation between print and digital copies would likely be more significant the first time you read the book, but this is my second (or third?) time through. Time will tell how often I turn to the now-endnotes.
Ah, I see Barnes and Noble is also selling the Nook Book version for $2.99. Both companies list the digital version's regular price as $3.99 ("suggested retail price set by the publisher" -Amazon), which I think is a significant drop from mid-December 2011. Competition may have truly been responsible for bringing consumers a lower price on digital copies of this book.