MacJournal

I have just bought the latest MacHeist nanoBundle2 (after I found that there’s a $2 discount to existing MacHeist members) and MacJournal came as part of the bundle.

I do use DevonThink for most of my information organisation, but MacJournal’s, well, journal feel could be quite interesting. And it, hopefully, can publish to my blog, which is the real purpose for writing these words.

I may post more if the software become more useful. You never know.

[Update: 22/09/10] I don’t use it much, actually. I’ve added MacJournal to my Dock, in the hope I’ll jot down notes that could become posts.

Skype on the Nokia E71

As regular readers know, I use Skype a lot. I have family and friends scattered across the world, and it’s an essential part of keeping in touch with them. When Tehmina stayed in Rome for a two month research trip in 2005 Skype was our lifeline.

[Update] On 10th December 2009 Skype released the beta of an official Skype Symbian client. This is the best solution for serious Skype users on the Symbian S60 platform. Read my quick overview.

3Skypephone

When 3 launched their 3Skypephone at the end of 2007 we were amongst the first to get our hands on one. However, I found it an increasingly frustrating phone to use, mainly because of it’s poor text input capabilities (two separate dictionaries, no T9 word learning in the built-in Skype app, replacing words that were in the phonebook, etc). A few months ago, I replaced it with a Nokia E71, and haven’t looked back. Much.

The one (and in my opinion, only) good feature about the 3Skypephone was that Skype was built-in to the handset. It was always running, and I didn’t have to remember to launch the client. I was logged in to Skype 24/7. The one disadvantage of moving to the E71 has been working out the best strategy of running Skype, and indeed, which client to use.

3’s Symbian Skype Client

I bought my handset from 3, who offer a custom native S60 Skype client developed by iSkoot. Granted, it’s not built in, but it is supported by the network and I’m not charged to make outgoing Skype-to-Skype calls. Recently, 3 made the progressive move to allow international Skype Out calls via their updated client. Amazing. This means that I can select a contact and dial their landline, pay nothing for the network voice call into Skype’s servers, and have the international part of the call charge covered by my Skype subscription.

However, all good things come at a price. 3’s client doesn’t allow SkypeIn calls via my Online Number. And its implementation of chat is cludgy and awful. Yesterday, on a train journey home, I was trying to chat to Tehmina, but while she could receive my messages, I couldn’t see any of her replies. She had to call me and ask if I was receiving them! Other times, chats have come through, but 10 minutes after they were sent. It’s very frustrating. You also have to click a “write message” button every time (which isn’t natural “chat”) and type into a tiny box. It’s a very frustrating experience.

Fring

The other option is to use Fring. Fring can connect to Skype and allows both voice and chat. Fring doesn’t utilise the voice network to complete part of the bridge, and so is a true VOIP system. The downside is that you need a good (preferably 3G or WiFi) signal to use it. Chats come through instantly, there’s no ‘barrier’ for text entry, just a normal text entry field, SkypeIn and Out both work, and it allows attachments (e.g. photos etc) to be sent to the person you’re text chatting with on Skype. It’s rather marvellous.

3 Skype client vs Fring – some issues

However (and isn’t there always a ‘however’!), I’ve found that Fring doesn’t always connect in to the Skype network. Whilst on the train yesterday evening, I ran an experiment. I had both 3’s Skype client and Fring running simultaneously. Fring could not show any of my Skype contacts, only those logged in to Google Talk. It didn’t even show them all as offline, it simply couldn’t retrieve them from Skype’s servers. Granted, most of the time it does load them successfully, but it often incorrectly reports contacts as offline. This is especially true of contacts using a 3Skypephone (who are more often than not, always signed in). Sending them a message anyway often prompts Fring into consequently list them to ‘online’.  But if they’re not listed at all, then there’s not much you can do.

3’s Skype client took about 5 minutes to load in all my contacts (for a while, echo123 was the only contact), but eventually displayed all of the contacts that I expected, including my offline and phone-only contacts (for SkypeOut). However, sending text chats to anyone resulted in the virtual sound of tumbleweed. Replies were all lost in the cold ether of cyberspace.

Official Skype Mobile client

The third option that I have explored for Skype on my E71 has been the official Skype mobile client, which is currently in beta. However, the E71 is not listed as a supported handset. I’m not someone to let a minor detail like that stop me, so when I first got my E71, I went ahead and downloaded the Nokia N95 version, hoping that it would just work. While I could install it, the client wasn’t able to recognise the fact that I have a QWERTY keyboard. You had to pretend that you had a numeric keypad, and guess which letter corresponds with each number. Not good. So I uninstalled it and crossed it off the list.

Skype Mobile (version 0.9.26.0) running on a Nokia E71. Apologies about the poor pic - it's just a quick photo!That is until today. While looking through my copious selection of RSS feeds, I spotted a post on the official Skype blog from earlier this month announcing an updated version of the Skype Mobile client (version 0.9.26.0). Included in the list of supported handsets is the Nokia E61, the E71’s predecessor. This phone also has a QWERTY keyboard, so I thought that I would download and install it to see if it worked on my E71. It did.

Now, there are some limitations with this implementation. Receiving Skype to Skype or SkypeIn calls uses up your Skype credit. Essentially this means that if someone calls you on Skype, their server makes a voice call to your mobile, and the relevant cellphone charges are deducted from your Skype credit. If you want to make a Skype to Skype or SkypeOut call, your handset dials a geographic number in your country to route your voice onto the Skype network. If you have inclusive minutes, these are used to make this call (so it could be seen as ‘free’ if you have lots of inclusive minutes in your tariff). If you’re on Pay As You Go, you’ll be charged accordingly. Skype Chat uses up data, so it makes sense to have unlimited data included in your tariff of you’re going to use this regularly.

There’s a full explanation on the Skype for your mobile website.

So how well does it work? Skype chat works well. It connected into the Skype network very quickly, listing all of my contacts. I compared this with the client running on my Mac, and most (but not all) contacts who were online were also listed as online on the handset. Ironically, my colleague who sits behind me, who I wanted to send a test chat to, wasn’t listed online at first. I sent him a message anyway, and lo and behold, his status was changed to “online” straight away. Admittedly, I didn’t give the client any time at all to ‘bed in’ and synchronise all of my contacts’ status.

Messages sent between us were received instantly on the handset, so I’m very pleased with that. But there is still the usual ‘Java’ feel to the app. To type a new chat message you can press the centre nav button and you’re taken through to a blank text entry window that completely covers the Skype app. You then have to click “Send” to submit your message and return to your chat. On the E71, there is a delay of about a second after clicking send, which can make it feel as if it didn’t work. Clicking send a second time results in duplication of your chat entry, which is rather unfortunate. But, like many software niggles in the wider world, you get used to it.

Nimbuzz

It’s been pointed out in the comments that I ought to try out Nimbuzz as another option. And I’m glad that I have. Nimbuzz supports Skype, Google Talk, ICQ, MSN, etc.

Nimbuzz provide a native S60 client that runs nicely on my E71, and provides much the same functionality as Fring. Skype chat works very well indeed, much the same as it does on a desktop app, with no extra ‘text entry’ screens that act as a barrier to the natural flow of a chat. Sending of photos and files is built-in, and uses the Nimbuzz website as an intermediary instead of hooking in to Skype’s file attachment feature.

I was able to hold two chats simultaneously with my wife (on Skype) and my niece (on MSN) and without leaving the Nimbuzz app, take and send a photo. It was quite fun snapping away during a chat while I was out and about, so they could see where I was and what I was doing.

While Nimbuzz has a lovely interface and is very smooth in its operation, I have had some connection problems, which I intend to look into. If I go into a subway, for example, and lose mobile signal, Nimbuzz doesn’t automatically reconnect – instead it silently asks me which connection to use to reconnect, so I don’t notice that I’ve gone offline. Rather annoying, but I will look into the settings and on the Nimbuzz forums to see if I can resolve this. Fring works very well in this regard, relentlessly keeping whatever connection it can find.

It definitely shows promise!

Conclusion

The 3 Skype client is hands-down the best approach for Skype voice calls on the E71. Skype Mobile is the most reliable way of having a text chat. Fring is the best all-round compromise. There is no “holy grail” solution which works perfectly.

So which approach will I be using for my day-to-day mobile Skype use? Unfortunately I’m going to have to choose different clients depending on what I want to do. When I’m out and about, reliable Skype chat (and presence) has to be my priority. It’s an ideal alternative to SMS if chats are delivered in real-time. If I want to make a Skype call, I shall switch to the 3 Skype client. If I’m somewhere where there is excellent 3G coverage or Wifi, I will switch over to Fring.

I think that the Skype Mobile client will be what I will run most of the time. Most people I know will send me a message asking if it’s OK to call, allowing me to quickly switch clients (to avoid call charges) to 3’s client. In my current personal scenario, I think this will work, and given the relative low use of Skype voice calls when I’m mobile, a relatively low inconvenience.

If I find that mobile voice (especially via my Online Number) and chat gain equal importance, I would probably hope that Fring have sorted out any network interconnection issues or that 3 concentrate on making chat work properly on their client and allow SkypeIn (I would pay a small monthly fee for this feature – maybe a dedicated 3+Skype contract?).

Given that these are early days for VOIP services such as Skype entering the mobile market, I think that it’s reasonable to assume that many improvements are on the cards. Progressive mobile networks such as 3 are important drivers in this field. So let’s hope that this sector strengthens in the coming year, and smartphone users are offered a more complete Skype experience.

Life with the Nokia E71

I’ve had my E71 for about 6 weeks now, and I thought that I’d write a few words here to let people know how I’m getting along. Would I recommend the E71 to anyone who is looking for a smartphone? Absolutely. Would I recommend it over the iPhone? That depends. If battery life is important to you, then certainly. If productivity software such as word processing, spreadsheets, etc, then yes again. I’d even say that the camera on the E71 is better than that of the iPhone (based on shots that I’ve seen on Flickr).

However, I have found the breadth of software available for S60 series smartphones to be somewhat lacking. I’ve spent ages looking for a native Twitter client (not J2ME) and I’ve only found one (WirelessIRC + Twitter), which is an add-on to an IRC client. The iPhone has lots of clients, many with their own twists on user interface. [Update: As of May 2009, there are a few more options, one of which, Gravity, is superb!]

Without going in to great detail of packages that I have tried and disliked, I do have an iPod Touch with which I can compare some apps. Generally, apps on the Touch are much nicer in terms of user interface. But I do know that battery life and a lacklustre camera on an iPhone would annoy me too.

However, I have a nice core of software on my phone that do most things that I would want to do whilst mobile. I have a phone whose battery lasts me 3 days of normal use (web browsing, Twittering, some music, some photos, updating the calendar, email) and I can coax more days out of it with less use.

So on the whole, I’m a happy E71 user, and hope that the phone lasts me a good 18 months or so before the next best thing is released!

Salling Clicker and the 3 Skypephone

If you have a 3 Skypephone and use the excellent Salling Clicker remote control software, you may be aware that your fancy Skypephone isn’t in the Clicker’s list of supported devices.

Fear not. Simply tell Salling Clicker that you have a Nokia 6280, and to copy the installation files to your desktop. Copy the file SallingClicker.jar over to your Skypephone via Bluetooth, and away you go.

Video on the BBC website / Installing Real Player on OSX


Warning – this one is a bit of a rant. With pictures.

I’ve just tried to watch a video on the BBC website on a new(ish) MacBook running the latest version of the Mac operating system (Leopard). But of course, I’d forgotten, you need Real Player or Windows Media Player to watch their video:

No Real Player

Grrr. Please use Flash video, as you’re using on the iPlayer, not clunky old RealPlayer. Anyway, I’ll download the wretched software and install it for the future. Or will I?

So I head off to www.real.com to download the latest version. I click the big shiny “Download FREE RealPlayer” button. And a Windows .exe begins to download. Hello? I’m on a Mac! So the download is cancelled. I spot under the button in tiny writing “Other versions / languages”. It seems like the much touted version 11 of RealPlayer isn’t available for OSX, so I’ll have to use version 10 instead. Stupidly, I click the first link for OSX, and the download is offered in Spanish…

So I return to the previous page, and find the English version at the bottom. Most websites these days are able to tell your OS and your language automatically – can’t Real do that? Anyway, I select the rather old-fashioned link to the copy hosted by Demon Internet which downloads rather swiftly (Demon are my ISP).

The RealPlayer icon extracts itself from a dmg (disk image) into my downloads folder. Great! I can just drag it into my Applications folder like a normal Mac program!

Real Player icon

…well actually that’s not how it’s done, as I find out by double-clicking the icon…

RealPlayer setup

Another dialogue between me and the video (it’s just the weather forecast for heaven’s sake!). So I follow the necessary steps, agree to sell my soul by agreeing to the license without reading it, save this draft, let it close my browser, and (cue fanfare):

RealPlayer10Gold for the Mac

So I eagerly open my Safari web browser, and head off to the BBC Weather homepage to watch that all-important weather forecast (snow tomorrow, apparently, and we don’t get it that often here).

The fanfare rapidly turns into a parping sound:

No Real Player

I give up.

Please BBC, please fix your videos to use Flash video or something that will work with a modern slimline, cross-platform plugin.

This is now 2008. The process I’ve just been through feels like 1998, and I have deja vu…

Postscript

After posting this, I had another close look and it seemed that the BBC site had decided that I chose Windows Media Player as my preference (which I hadn’t).

BBC video preferences

Just clicking on OK set my preference to RealPlayer, and lo, the holy Weather Forecast was watched:

BBC Weather forecast

Amen…

iMovie ’08 on a 1.8GHz single processor G5


According to the system requirements for Apple’s newest incarnation of iLife (iLife ’08), iMovie ’08 shouldn’t work on my machine (an ‘original’ 2003 1.8GHz SP G5 with 1GB RAM).

The installer runs a system check before it installs iLife (as it did on my G4 laptop) to see if your system meets the minimum requirements (a dual 2GHz G5 PowerMac or a 1.9GHz iMac). If you don’t meet them, it won’t install iMovie, and you’re stuck with the old (but oddly, better featured) iMovie HD.

That is, unless you own on the of the original 1.8GHz single processor G5s from 2003. I installed iLife ’08 last week, just for the upgrades to Garageband and iPhoto, but miraculously, iMovie ’08 installed as well.

And it works rather well. Playback is smooth enough for me, scrubbing through frames works well, as do the transitions and titles. And I didn’t even need to perform any of the dodgy hacks that have been going round to make it work on my system.

Since my system was only around for a few months before being discontinued back in 2003, maybe they’ve forgotten to put it in the ‘exclude’ list, who knows?

Testing Ecto 3 alpha

Way back in the dim and distant past, before my other blog, Past Thinking, began to focus solely upon heritage matters, I reviewed Ecto 2. Now, 2 years later, I’m writing this with the alpha version of Ecto 3.

This isn’t a full review – this is really just a test drive of the alpha version, and a quick account as I go along.

I once decried the rich text editor of Ecto 2, wishing for a WYSIWYG editor, and it seems as if at long last my wish has been answered. Everything you do in the editor is actually displayed as you expect it to, rather than the strange highlights and awkwardness that went before (which I did get used to).

Ecto 3, although not yet finished, has a much more ‘Mac’ look and feel to it, although perhaps I still find the multiple windows to be slightly annoying – I’d prefer a more unified or tabbed GUI. Still, you can close the windows that you’re not currently using.

Uploading images is a breeze – the screenshot below was captured in Skitch and dragged from Skitch right into Ecto, where it was automatically resized. Very nice. I then had the option to upload the image there and then (which I forgot to screen grab).

Ecto 3 (alpha) screenshot)

And, since the WYSIWYG editor uses WebKit, it looks like it’s doing a fairly accurate job.

As you can see from the screenshot, there’s a “Keywords” box below title. It’ll be interesting to see if these hook into Ultimate Tag Warrior, or appear as html meta tags (does anything still use them these days?). In the alpha version, there is no help file (it’s still being written) so I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

All in all, writing this little ditty was a pleasure in Ecto, and if you are reading this, it successfully connected to my blog and posted this.

When Ecto 3 is finished, I’ll post a comprehensive review here. You can read Adriaan’s announcement over at Infinite Sushi.

(ahh – so that’s what the ‘Keywords’ does!)

On NewsFire an other feed readers

My feedreader of choice is, and has been for some 2 years, the excellent NetNewsWire Lite on a Mac. It handles my 244 feeds very well, and they’re all nicely categorised into groups.

But I’ve had a bit of trouble recently in that NetNewsWire Lite has begun to randomly jumble up individual posts. Rather than sorting them by arrival order, it’s just mixing them together. I’ve checked “View > Sort By > Arrival Order” and it’s checked. I’ve clicked everything and double-checked settings, and it should all be OK.

Just out of curiosity, I thought that I would try out NewsFireRSS. Its interface looks very clean, and I do actually have a license bought through the recent MacHeist promotion (I bought the MacHeist bundle primarily for Delicious Library and Rapidweaver). So I thought that I would give it a whirl.

NetNewsWire allows you to export your RSS subscriptions to an OPML file with two options: first, as a flat file, and second, preserving your subscription groups. I opted for the second option, as I’ve got them all nicely grouped, and it would takes ages to sort them again by hand.

Sadly, when I imported the OPML file into NewsFire, none of the groups were preserved. I had one huge list of subscriptions. Not good!

Just to test the exported OPML file, I imported it into the open source feed reader, Vienna. My groups were preserved, thankfully, so the OPML file did export correctly from NetNewsWire. It seems that NewsFire just can’t cope with OPML groups – a big shame! I might have to relent and re-group by hand – or just stick with NNW or Vienna.

Google Metaverse?

GigaOM reports that more evidence is turning up that Google are developing their own metaverse, i.e. a virtual 3D world like Second Life.

Google themselves have said nothing about it themselves, so this is pure rumour/wishful thinking.

What with Google’s acquisition of SketchUp and Keyhole which demonstrates their keenness in 3D, it wouldn’t surprise me if a Metaverse is up their sleeves. We shall have to wait, watch, and see…

Pzizz – software that helps you relax?

I received an email today from Pzizz, which reminded me that I was going to blog about it ages ago.

I first heard of Pzizz back in July 2006, from Chris Messina‘s blog. The thought of software that helps you nap, relax or sleep sounded rather dubious to me. So I downloaded a demo to see what it was all about, and my, was I pleasantly surprised.

What the software does, is create a ‘guided meditation’ for want of a better term. You can get two versions – one for a short ‘energizer’ nap, and one to help you go to sleep. Suffice to say, I now have both versions.

A voice guides you into relaxation, whilst a nice soundscape is built up in really wide stereo. It’s astonishingly relaxing, and a number of techniques are applied to help you have a nice daytime nap, or slip off to sleep:

pzizz is a remarkable invention that combines several different proven techniques to help keep you feeling energized throughout the day. It combines Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques along with especially composed music, sound effects and a binaural beat to induce a wonderfully relaxed state, similar to that of the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.

You can generate naps to put on an mp3 player as well, which is a handy feature if you don’t want to have a computer switched on while you relax.

What a marvelous invention!

Link: Pzizz (Disclaimer: affiliate link!)