iamthekiller

The lights are blinking but I can't see anything.

Affordable Turn-by-Turn iPhone Applications

When it comes to turn-by-turn iPhone applications it seems like there are only a few options; TomTom, Navigon, or the AT&T Navigator which is month to month. This isn’t to say there are others, there are many, but finding a good one can be difficult. If you purchase a crappy turn by turn application and get lost, or just dislike the application in general you can be out quite a bit of money. What’s worse is that the reviews can range from completely useless, sway both ways, or praise the brand and not product.

I was provided with a key to the affordable turn-by-turn application called NDrive [iTunes Link]. At $32.99 this is a fully contained application which weighs in at a hefty 1.48GB. Not only is this application cheaper than the rival companies such as TomTom or Navigon but it uses the same maps (Q3 2009 Navteq). Once you remove the trivial differences such as the UI or voices you’re left with a GPS app that can get you to where you need to go just as well as the heavy hitters.

Immediately you can see that NDrive offers a few features not seen in its competitors. The 3D building feature (available in select cities) is great for down town driving. In most of the driving I do with the assistance of a GPS I only see flat areas so this won’t help me too much. It would have been great to have while driving downtown Cleveland, those streets are a nightmare and seeing landmarks would have helped tremendously.

Performance

So how does NDrive perform compared to say TomTom? They both autocomplete address input and put their own spin on the UI so it’s a toss up. Both of these applications get me to where I need to go and with very little fuss. If you want to save a few bucks then NDrive is the application for you, and I say that without selling out. I’ve tested out all the major GPS turn-by-turn applications for the iPhone and for a cheapass like myself this is the one to get.

The Bad

There are a lot of complains about NDrive and the first seems to be the UI. I don’t care for the UI as much as TomToms but at the end of the day you’ll spend little time looking at it and more time driving. There appears to be a few bugs which I have yet to experience. One of my biggest complaints is that it sometimes will not show you the exit number you need to take while on the expressway. This feature has been promised in an update but the ETA on that I do not know. A lot of people want to be able to hear the next turn spoken instead of just “Left turn ahead” which would be nice but I expect half the time I wouldn’t understand the robotic speaker anyway.

NDrive is not without its flaws and the same can be said for TomTom. Sometimes I want to throw my iPhone out of the window when TomTom takes ages to get a fix on a satellite while NDrive picks me up immediately. Either way there will always be quirks. Currently TomTom is offering their United States only navigation app for $50 which is pretty steep but only $18 away from NDrive. In the end it’s a toss up. If you want to get a windshield mount and a GPS app then grab NDrive.

For as many negative reviews there are people like myself who seem to have no problem using NDrive. You just have to keep in mind the limitations of the iPhone and don’t expect it to perform as fast as a dedicated solution. I’ll tell you one thing, if this application was garbage I wouldn’t be promoting it on my site.

Check out the NDrive for the iPhone on their site here and do some research for yourself. There is a full user guide you can read to get a better feel for the app as well.

Magic Mouse and workflows

It’s not often I get excited about a peripheral but in the case of the Magic Mouse I’m generally intrigued. I was lucky enough to receive one for christmas and I believe the hype is justified. The mouse performs exceptionally well, after some modifications. What Apple has on its hands is a sleeper of a product. Out of the box it’s all smoke and mirrors. Momentum scrolling will make your Windows friend jealous, and the pinch and zoom feature is fun for a little bit. At the end of the day the software is crippled like I have never seen.

Luckily developers picked up where Apple left off and you can customize this mouse to your hearts desire. This is what makes the Magic mouse so powerful, you can mold it to match your workflow style. I wrote about BetterTouchTool a short while ago so it was the first application I tried with my new mouse. After the quick installation I knew it was the only application I would need.

 

BetterTouchTool Gestures Panel

 

 

Above you can see the customs gestures I use. The two finger tap shortcut allows me to play/pause iTunes and the three finger swipes adjust iTunes volume accordingly. This is one less reason I have to take my hand off of my mouse or keyboard to reach for my Powermate or pull up the iTunes window. On the left you can see how to set application specific gestures. This feature is great because I have some gestures for Safari and Finder that let me navigate much faster than using the UI or the keyboard. Keeping one hand on the keyboard, and one on the mouse has proven much more efficient than constantly switching between the two.

 

 

 

In the screenshot above you can see just how slow the Magic Mouse tracking is by default. I had it maxed out in the mouse preference pane, what you see above is how far past maxed out I had to go to get comfortable tracking. From here you can also turn off one finger scrolling, something I enjoy however. Without this application you couldn’t change these settings, stupid.

Describing how I use the Magic Mouse is difficult because of how interpretive it can be, so I decided to record a screencast showing my gestures. You can view the video by clicking the read more link below.

Download [BetterTouchTool]

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iPhone rant

Well it’s christmas eve and I’m pissed. I’ve tried to hold out from ranting about the iPhone but now that I’ve got all the time in the world, having graduated college, I crawled back to my iPhone. I switched to a cheap piece of crap motorola phone, ironically enough it was the first phone to feature iTunes, because I got tired of paying AT&T an extra $30 a month to have spotty 3G service.

Now that I’m back on the “Jesus Phone” my complaints are still justified. Even after updating to 3.1.2, iTunes 9.whatever, it’s still an infuriating experience. Syncing this phone is the worst thing you could possibly imagine. We’re talking 15 minutes to update a couple of albums and an application or two. I would rather pay Apple $5 a sync if it was instant compared to this. It’s really that bad.

Then there is the application install process. If you’re on the phone and install a game that is say ~500MB that means it has to download all of the application at 500MB, then use that to install. A 500MB application can require a gigabyte of free space to install without complaining. And on the slow as molasses memory inside the phone that can mean a 20 minute install. Give me a break.

Calls get dropped or never completed constantly. Now a lot of you will throw a fit saying that’s AT&T’s fault (if you’re in America), but I wonder if it’s a combination of the phone + AT&T. The very first phone call I made when I got the iPhone 3G on launch day was dropped. That really increased my trust in AT&T.

I don’t know if this bullshit is present on any Android phones but if it is then we’re just fucked when it comes to smart phones of the future. A phone shouldn’t require you to babysit it while it tries to sync your applications and music, especially a “smart phone“. Sure, my iPhone does things I never imagined I would be doing while on the go, but beyond that the upkeep is excruciating. For every whiz-bang feature there’s a crack in the paint that makes you want to smash the device on the ground. I especially like how even after light use I have to recharge the battery halfway into a day, that just brings my piss to a boil.

As much as I dislike AT&T for their spotty network, I think Apple has a phone that could use some polish. At least with AT&T my dropped calls are a temporary annoyance, and 3G coverage sucks, but I spend so much time waiting for my iPhone to do something I begin to wonder why I got it in the first place. Apple doesn’t get the abuse it should for the iPhone, and I think it’s time people start to look at them for the iPhone’s shitty usability.

KisMAC update

The wireless stumbling and WEP cracking application KisMAC got a much needed update the other day. Unfortunately it’s shifting to Snow Leopard only so PowerPC users will be left in the dust. Some major bug fixes have been added like better support for stock AirPort cards which is pretty huge. The front page for Kismac-ng.org also got a refresh thanks to my friend L. Preston Sego III.

Be sure to check out my article for KisMAC if you’ve never used it before and want to get your hands dirty.

Spoof your MAC address with Services

*Edit 1/25* Check out my updated post with a link to a better spoofer.

I was playing around with Automator the other day and wanted to be able to spoof my Airport’s MAC address on the fly. It took me a little bit to figure out some variable trouble but I finally got it where I wanted. You can download the service and watch the video after the read more link.

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Intel X25 Firmware Update

/*Update 12/03*/

I can confirm that this iso still does not boot on my Mac. I will see if I can add some padding to the iso and get it to boot correctly.

Not long ago I wrote about the Intel X25 firmware update no working on my Mac. Intel has released a new firmware update the supposedly stops Windows 7 users from experiencing bricked drives. I’ll give this one a try on my Mac and see if it can boot unlike the last one. If it doesn’t boot my theory holds true, the disc is just too small and the disc drives are having trouble reading the data so they just give up. If this is the case I’ll throw some garbage on the disc, space out the data, and see where we can go from there.

So far I’ve tried 3 separate DVD drives on my Mac, all of which are supported under OSX, and each one failed to boot the last firmware upgrade disc. I’ll update this post tonight when I try the disc.

The firmware can be seen here.

Snow Leopard Services screencast

I decided to record a quick screencast on how to use Snow Leopard’s Services on a very basic level. This is just to get you started if you haven’t played with Services yet and it can be a great alternative to QuickSilver’s Triggers. I use Services now for just about all of my automation needs and it can be very powerful if you know what you’re doing. The video can be seen on the full post.

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Add more gestures to your Magic Mouse

magicmouseApple’s newest mouse seems to be a pretty big hit compared to the design flawed Mighty Mouse. Multitouch is all the rage these days and being able to use it on current Macs seems like a no brainer. As always Apple left out some core features of this mouse, like being able to make custom gestures for example. Luckily there is a third party menu item you can run to restore plenty of custom gestures you’d expect to see out of the box. The list is pretty impressive.

  • zoom in and zoom out (pinching)
  • tip tap (left / right)
  • two finger swipe up/down/left/right
  • three finger swipe up/down/left/right
  • single finger tap (can be used for tap2click)
  • single finger tap left
  • single finger tap right
  • two finger tap
  • two finger click
  • three finger tap
  • three finger click

You can check out BetterTouchTool and play with the custom gestures. It even works for newer Macbook trackpads.

Magic Mouse logo property of Apple Inc.


5.1 Surround Sound output in iTunes

Getting 5.1 Surround Sound output in iTunes can be difficult. There are some hoops you need to jump through to get it to work. This guide is solely for the Mac as I don’t use iTunes on Windows. This guide basically assumes you have video converted for the AppleTV but you could theoretically convert any video into the m4v container with an AC3 audio track. I have no experimented with that however.

Things you need.

  • Surround Sound Receiver
  • Digital Audio Connection
  • AppleTV converted video
  • Perian Installed

First things first. You have to be connected to a receiver with a digital optical cable. Your receiver has to support surround sound as well. You can’t expect surround sound output from a stereo movie sadly.

Now open Terminal and type “defaults write com.cod3r.a52codec attemptPassthrough 1”

Ok so you meet the requirements above then it’s time to check your settings. Open the Audio MIDI Setup application located in ~/Applications/Utilities. You want to change the format to 48000.0Hz and 24-bit if it is different. It’s confusing but you do want 2-channel.

Audio MIDI Settings

The next step is to start playing the movie you want. If encoded properly the movie will have two audio tracks. Make sure the volume is at 100% otherwise you will get horrible static. Press play and then hover over the HUD menu in the video. Change the volume track like in the screenshot below.

HUD

That’s it, if you meet the requirements you should be hearing multichannel sound right in iTunes. A word of caution, you need to have the volume of iTunes pegged at 100% like I mentioned above. If you forget this you’ll get static and depending on how loud your receiver is it could scare the crap out of you.

I have not played with any other types of video on iTunes besides that converted for the AppleTV so your mileage may vary if you try something else. Hopefully this helps if you’re trying to get surround sound output on iTunes. I don’t have a clue on how to get it to work on Front Row just yet.

Something you have to keep in mind, you need to turn off SRS iWOW if you want surround sound output to work. In my testing that plugin seemed to kill the output.

The current AppleTV is here to stay

Ok I have to blow off some steam. I have been back and forth on why I like the AppleTV and even why I loath it. This post is going to explain why the neat little device doesn’t output your 1080P MKVs you illegally downloaded from the internet, or why it doesn’t do X while doing Y in the background. I’ve tried to be an AppleTV evangelist but it seems like every point I make gets knocked down with another complaint. Hopefully this changes the perspective on potential buyers, people who want more features, or anyone who flat out dislikes the device.

What is the main function of the AppleTV?

Take a little bit and think about it. The main purpose is not playing video, music, or slideshows. The purpose is not to serve as an AirTunes device. YouTube or internet radio sure as hell isn’t it. The main purpose of the AppleTV is to get your credit card onto your television.

Apple makes a neat little box that hooks up to your nice TV in your living room that can do all sorts of things but the best trick in the book is the ability to rent or purchase movies with a tiny remote. At least that’s what Apple thinks the AppleTV is best at. Sure, putting your own music, videos, pictures, ect on the device is nice and all, but that’s not what the box is intended for.

So how effective is the AppleTV at getting you to rent or even buy movies on impulse? Well it’s pretty damn hard to resist renting a movie for pretty cheap and not having to get in the car or sign up for some expensive Netflix account. The first thing the AppleTV does is latch itself into your iTunes account so it has immediate access to your credit card to suck the money right out of you with a push of a button.

The biggest complaint I get is “I have to convert my video for the AppleTV, and even then it isn’t 1080P, the AppleTV sucks”. Well you’re correct, you have to reconvert your video. You weren’t expecting Apple to make it easy to get your own content onto the device and stop purchasing media from iTunes were you? And you want 1080P eh? The last time I checked iTunes doesn’t offer anything in 1080P let alone high bit rate 720P. Lets see you rent a movie in 1080P without ludicrous wait times, that is without the fattest pipes in town.

If you want to play your 1080P MKVs then get a Popcorn Hour or WDTV Live. Those companies can afford to profit from just selling hardware but Apple wants a much higher slice of the pie. And while we’re at it do those devices pass the girlfriend test? The girlfriend test or mom test is using a piece of hardware a non technical person can understand. I’ve looked into both of the devices mentioned above and I know they would fail the test. With the AppleTV you can get a user interface that isn’t cluttered, confusing, or outright ugly.

The next argument is that the AppleTV can barely play 720P video as it stands. I agree, the little box needs the bit rate cut down otherwise it chugs but this brings up an important debate. Can you tell the difference between a high bit rate 720P video and one that is converted for the AppleTV? Below are two screenshots. You tell me which one is the 12MBps+ original and which one is formatted for the AppleTV.

DarkKnight1DarkKnight2

Can you tell the difference? Didn’t think so. I promise these aren’t from the same video. The original video is over 8GB, the remastered is 3.72GB.

The AppleTV is not for everyone and I understand that, I just have the patience to convert video for the box. Everyone hoping Apple makes a newer model that outputs 1080P and adds more whiz bang features better not hold their breath.