Sunday, July 31, 2011

IMDb (Internet Movie Database) app

Like many folks, I have often used Google to search for a bunch of different things, including movies. In some such movie searches I thought (not sure if I can reproduce this now) that the first screen of search results only showed the remaining show times for that day.  In any case, I'm not always looking for just a given day's possibilities -- I might be looking for a show time in the coming days.

It's not always clear that it is worth installing an app for something which is already eminently usable through a web browser. Aside from the space/clutter issue that comes with each additional app, if the app later gets updated (a frequent enough occurrence), you will get the minor nag notification to do that update. That's not such a big deal, but since I don't always want to choose the Update All option, I need to login with my Apple ID for each app's update, and it's kind of annoying to see, e.g., "7 updates" notification. I've been refusing to do a particular app's update for over a month because the update's only listed "improvement" bring ads.

There should be some significant added value in an app over what could be done in a browser, and I was pleasantly surprised that the IMDb app delivers. It does list all show times, but it also (if you gave it a geographical location to search) quite prominently shows movies from local "artsy" and at least some college/university theaters. I don't go out to movie theaters extremely often, but I might just be lured out a tiny bit more by IMDb's app.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Protecting the iPod screen

Many people use cases and/or clear screen protectors to protect their iPods or iPhones. I prefer my iPod to be as thin as possible, so I use only a clear screen protector. The one from Pure Gear that I use doesn't seem to have meaningfully diminished the touch screen sensitivity.

Over time, some shallow scratches have appeared on the screen protector, but are only a cosmetic issue. It's possible that those scratches wouldn't even have made any mark on an unprotected iPod's glass screen. One time, before I had put the screen protector on, the iPod fell out of my pocket onto the tar and landed screen down. The screen suffered only a minor scratch, but that put an end to my procrastinating about putting a screen protector on!

After my first iPod failed, I got a replacement iPod. This time, I put the screen protector on a day before dropping it glass-down on the tar. Later, I noticed some scrapes on one of the iPod's metal corners, and some small chipped glass, which can sometimes catch a bit on fabric, but those are very slight annoyances. If such would bother you, you may prefer to also get a full size case that would prevent such damage to the iPod itself.
(3/21/12: Here is a video + text transcript of some extreme testing of the glass on a cellphone when it's covered by a screen protector, versus when it's not so covered. Given the chipped glass I saw in my own unintentional test, I am not surprised by the result of the drop-from-high-up test.)

Another minor issue with using a screen protector instead of a full size case is that when pulling the iPod out of a tight squeeze (e.g., tight pants pockets), the edge of the screen protector may get caught on something and peel away, potentially weakening its power to adhere to the iPod.

Friday, July 22, 2011

White noise app

10/28/13: I'm not planning to upgrade beyond 5.4.2; subsequent versions may exhibit behavior that diverges further from what I wrote here.

After trying several free "noise-making" apps to mask external noises and allow me to sleep more easily, I bought the appropriately named White Noise app from TMSOFT ($1.99 when I installed it).

I first tested the free White Noise Lite version, which has ads and reduced options, for a while. After several uses, it displayed a nag screen to encourage purchase of a full-functionality version (I do not begrudge the company that nagging, though). It periodically also displayed an error message ("WhiteNoiseEngine Error AVAudioSession activation error: Error..."), but continued to be usable.

I initially liked the "Oscillating Fan" sound, which stays at a fairly consistently loud level. That was also available in the free version's smaller selection of sounds, so I was able to do truly practical testing before buying the app. The "Air Conditioner" sound is not bad, either.

I like being able to set multiple timer choices (e.g., 8 hours, 3 hours, 1 hour), any one of which you can choose when playing a sound. That ensures that the sound ends before your alarm rings (will your alarm wake you if the sound is still playing?). That's not an option if you are, e.g., running a mechanical white noise device all night. If you wake up an hour and a half before your alarm, but want to sleep longer, you could play a sound for 1 hour.

It's inadvisable to download anything (e.g., an app or podcast) in the background while playing a White Noise sound, because when a download finishes, the White Noise sound will stop playing. The same thing applies when playing a podcast, according to my recollection of trying to listen to consecutive podcasts while washing dishes, and finding the podcasts ending unexpectedly.

White Noise has multiple alarm capabilities, which I find quite useful.

If you sleep on your side, and if White Noise can help you sleep even with only one earphone in (i.e., the pillow muffling noise for your other ear), that might improve your chances of hearing your alarm, a fire alarm, or any other noise by which you would really want to be awakened.

When running White Noise, if you don't set the iPod to Sleep, the display will change after 1-2 minutes to be a digital clock, with simulated LEDs, down to the amusing very weakly lit LED segments that are "off" (A numeral 8 has all seven possible segments lit. A numeral 0 has only six of the seven lit; the middle segment is very weakly lit.).  I learned from ricosgirl's Apple App Store review that setting the iPod to Sleep is a convenient way to keep the iPod screen on continuously, displaying the clock time -- great for me, since I don't have a clock in the car.

If you wanted your iPod to have more battery power when you get up (presuming you don't sleep with it while it's charging), you would do better to activate Airplane Mode so it won't waste energy doing anything with WiFi (as mentioned by Apple here), and also set it to sleep. Hey, it might as well "sleep" while you sleep.

After I had already bought White Noise, I read various, mostly positive, reviews at the Apple App Store. Some people apparently use the app to help them sleep on planes and in military zones.

TMSOFT also makes a White Noise Pro app which only works on the iPad. If the White Noise app, which works on both the iPod and iPad, did what you needed, and the White Noise Pro app didn't have any compelling additional features, it's difficult to see why you would buy that over White Noise, which could be loaded onto multiple iOS devices at no additional cost.

I've known for some time that additional sounds could be downloaded into the app, and finally got around to downloading some that I might use. In the app (version 5.2.3), tapping the Web button takes you to several choices, one of which is White Noise Market. Tapping that will launch the Safari browser onto a web page with a limited list of new sound choices, but multiple additional screens' worth of choices can be loaded. In Safari, tap "Load more entries..." enough times to load the entire list.

If you then just tap directly on a choice, it will open in the same Safari page, and when you return to the list using Safari's back button, you will almost certainly need to reload the complete list repeatedly (presuming you seek to work through all the new sounds). Instead, use Long-Press, selecting "Open in New Page", to open each choice in a new Safari page. As long as you go back to the list page within some reasonably short timeframe, you should not need to load the entire list of new sounds more than once.

If there is no "Open in WhiteNoise" button after you subsequently tap to download a new sound, Use "Open in..." to select the WhiteNoise app, which should then make such a button available going forward.

The titles of sounds in the list do not always match the titles shown in the White Noise app. The "Rain on Deck" entry in the list offers two downloadable sounds (different intensities of rain), so the "Open in New Page" technique can help save time there as well, if you want them both.

7/1/13: "Passenger Train" (posted in the White Noise Market on 1/28/13 by trey) is my current favorite additional downloadable sound to fall asleep to -- highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fortune cookie Chinese

In a rare twist of...fortune, I just got a fortune cookie fortune that had a Chinese vocabulary expression that was new to me and seems potentially useful to know:

美妙的 (měimiàode; beautiful, wonderful, splendid)