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Why the iPad buzz doesn’t matter

A lot of people are saying a lot of things about the iPad. It’s revolutionary! It’s too compromised to be useful! It lacks important features like a phone, multitasking, camera, Flash support, etc. What’s certain to me is that the reactions—pro and con—are pretty much meaningless right now. I was trying to think last night about previous Apple product launches and how I felt about them. As I recall, there have been two Apple products in the past ten years that, when introduced, immediately prompted me to say, I want that! One was the Titanium PowerBook in at MacWorld in 2001 and the other was the iPod with video in 2005. Both products were updates to existing product lines. In the case of the PowerBook, it added a design unlike any other that I had seen before. In the case of the iPod, I thought that video would be a great feature that was worth waiting for. (Everyone knew it was coming once Apple had introduced the iPod Photo.) But here’s the thing, I’ve ended up not using the video feature at all during the past four years, really. I watched one movie on a plane once, and that was it. It wasn’t until I got an iPod Touch with a larger screen and better battery life that I really bothered to use an iPod to watch video.

The greater point here is that no one disputes that the iPod and iPhone were both game-changers—products that people now love and that redefined Apple as a company and a brand. I can safely say that when they launched, I didn’t want either one. I didn’t have anywhere close to enough of my music in MP3 format to make the iPod useful, and it was expensive too! The iPhone was even more expensive when it launched, and I remember thinking that there was no way I would get one because it would never handle email as well as my BlackBerry did. Of course, I did eventually get one, and it still doesn’t handle email as well as my five-year-old BlackBerry. But I don’t care because it does so many other things that I value. I can read the newspaper—several newspapers—in formats that are actually useable! I can listen to Internet radio. I can listen to live baseball games. I can listen to NPR on demand. I can browse the web. I can read stories from the web that I started reading on my laptop. In short, I can do a lot of things that I either didn’t know I wanted to do or whose value wasn’t properly contextualized for me until I actually had and lived with the device for a while.

I’m not saying that the iPad will succeed, but I am suggesting that the factors by which people are predicting its success or failure are, more than likely, incorrect because they are captive to our previous experiences. Who knows that developers will come up with for the device? Who knows what features a second or third generation update might add? Who even knows what it’s like to live with an iPad in your bag or on your desk for even a week? If anyone can take a product for which I feel I had no need and make it desirable, it’s Steve Jobs and Apple. As usual, I’ll be rooting for them. More

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My favorite things of 2009

Here’s a list of things from 2009 that I particularly liked. The list has no order to it. And so:

Leica M9 — A full-frame camera that not only is not an intimidating SLR but also comes from the greatest line of cameras—the Leica M series—but is also a gorgeous rangefinder, but also gives you access to the best glass in the world. In short, it’s my dream camera—the one that leaves me short of breath and utterly destroys my syntax when I attempt to write about it.

New York Yankees — There’s something about this team that I really liked more than any Yankee team since the 2001 group that lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks. Teixera, Sabathia, Damon, Matsui, Melky, Burnett, a beautiful new stadium, and the Core Four! What fun they made October and November.

Albert Stash — A laptop bag with a handle that you can actually use to carry it for long periods of time—score!

A Gate at the Stairs — Lorrie Moore’s first novel in I don’t know how long is ambitious and acutely observed and flawed and wonderful. It made me relive, for the first time in years, one of the most intensely felt periods of my life. It reminded me what it felt like then. Can I ask any more of a novel, of a work of art?

Changing My Mind — Many of the essays in this collection by Zadie Smith have appeared in the New York Review, the Guardian, and the New Yorker, but reading them in sequence gives you a greater appreciation for the intellect and wit behind them. Smith’s new essay on David Foster Wallace alone is worth the price of admission.

Too Big to Fail — Andrew Ross Sorkin set out to write a book structured like the film Crash and as thrilling as the business classic Barbarians at the Gate. I haven’t seen Crash, but his book is every bit as thrilling as Barbarians and full of choice quotes and anecdotes from the people at the top of the financial world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at Gagosian Gallery — I walked across town in nine inches of snow to see this show. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Sag Harbor — Colson Whitehead’s latest novel should be read on summer evenings on Long Island. Funny and nostalgic with language that is full of vitality and of the 1980s, its effect on me was similar to that of Lorrie Moore’s book, but the world it gave me access to was entirely imaginary—Whitehead’s not mine—and altogether enjoyable. Dag!

Lamy Noto — Okay, so this pen really came out in 2008, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the U.S. until the summer of 2009. A well-designed Lamy for $10? Yes, please.

Dehumanized — Mark Slouka’s essay in the September issue of Harper’s was, perhaps, the most refreshing thing I read all year—someone standing up, for all the right reasons, to the wrongheaded bias toward math and science (and away from the humanities) that has come to pervade everyplace from the university to the corporation to the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Ellipse — Imogen Heap’s first album in four years is awesome and her live show is even more awesome. The leadoff track on Ellipse, “First Train Home,” was my favorite song of the year, and I challenge you to not like it.

iPhone 3GS — I’m still using the original 2g version of the iPhone, but this year’s update brings more storage, video capability, and faster speeds. It’s great to have a product that delivers both Apple’s design sense and a large library of applications. (The Macs I’ve used for the past 15 years have always delivered the former but never the latter.) Listening to baseball games wherever I am? Check. NPR shows on demand? Check. The New York Times in a format that’s easier to browse than NYTimes.com? Double check. Now, if only it was available on a network other than AT&T.

Panasonic GF-1 — It’s no M9, but it’s sort of a poor man’s, i.e. my, rangefinder. When paired with Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, it’s the closest thing to a great compact camera that I’ve ever used. See sample photos from others here.

Unibody MacBook Pros — These things look solid!

Range — Was this San Francisco restaurant new in 2009? I don’t know, but it’s good.

The President — Our country got a new one in January, and it was a glorious moment. The man can play basketball and speak and write in complete sentences, and he seems to have a genuine intellect and conscience and sense of ambivalence.

San Francisco Panorama — A very well-done one-time newspaper for a city that has no good regular publication.

Economic Recovery — The Dow and I are both lower than we once were, but we’re certainly better off than we were a year ago.

Cape Cod — I had never been before this year and now I hope that there won’t be a year when I don’t go there.

Empire State of Mind — Maybe this isn’t a new anthem for New York but Jay-Z’s new single is certainly fun. Sinatra needs a break now and then, anyway.

Some things that I haven’t yet gotten around to that came out this year but that I think I might like when I do: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Wild Things by Dave Eggers and Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson’s film adaptation of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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How to read large PDFs—books, articles, etc.—on your iPhone

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In the past, I’ve tried emailing large PDFs to myself to read using the iPhone’s native PDF viewer. Unfortunately, it’s extremely slow with any sort of large file, so reading books is out of the question. I also tried importing PDFs of books into Stanza. However, the files tend to lose all formatting and line breaks, giving you large continuous paragraphs of text with page numbers and headers embedded in the text of the work itself. One of the reasons why I would like a Kindle DX is to read PDFs of books and journal/magazine articles. However, there are also several reasons why I don’t want a Kindle. More

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