Mark Crump

I am a writer. This is my journey.

My Thoughts: What Apple will, and will not speak about tomorrow

Will speak of:

New iPhones

They will announce the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5 C. I think it will have the fingerprint sensor.

People will complain about both releases.

 iOS 7

- GM available, date of release announced

- The “killer” iPhone 5 feature announced. People will complain.

- The icons will stay the same. People will complain

- I’m going to go on a limb and predict the iPad will get iOS 7 the same time as the everyone else. Reason: Universal app updating will be problematic

iTunes

- The new version that works with iTunes Radio will be announced

iPods

- I think the iPod Touch will get the 5c treatment

Will NOT speak of

- iPads: no new iPads

- Mavericks: Little, if any discussion

- The new Mac Pro: Not a word, except maybe to play the movie

- iPads and MacPros will be October (at least iPad) discussions. What I don’t know is if the MacPro and Maverick’s releases will be quiet releases, or Apple will hold an event for them.

 

 

 

 

 

Guitarists that inspire me

I’ve been playing the guitar off and on (ok, more off than on) for almost 30 years. Over those 30 years, I’ve listened to a lot of guitarists, both good and bad, and I thought I’d share with you some of the ones that have influenced me

Billy Gibbons

ZZ-Top_500472The Reverend Willy G (he’s an actual ordained minister) has always been a big influence on me. His lazy Texas blues style coupled with an amazingly cool look in many ways is the picture of what a guitarist should be.

His playing, though, isn’t that simple to mimic. A lot of double-stops and harmonics, and he makes sure to leave some space for Dusty and Frank to be heard. His solo on La Grange is one of my all-time favorite solos. In my post “Guitars as wands” I mentioned that I name my guitars. The guitar that I just got, a nice Honey Burst Les Paul I named Gibbons. I’ve always wanted a replica of Billy’s Pearly Gates Les Paul, but since used they got for $20k, this is as close as I’m going to get.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

???????????????????????????What a terrible, terrible tragedy his death in 1990 was. I remember where I was when I heard the news. I was on Rt 16 on the Natick/Wellesley border on my way to band practice. Needless to say, that days rehearsal was full of Stevie Ray.

Stevie was my Hendrix. Again, another Texan, but this guitarist had fire. He played like he knew his time on Earth was limited, and sadly it was. The helicopter carrying him from a gig crashed into a hill.

Whenever I pick up a Stratocaster, Pride and Joy is one of the first songs I play on it. I have few regrets in life, but not going to see the tour he did with Jeff Beck is one of them.

Jimmy Page

Jimmy PageJames Patrick Page, another Les Paul weilder, is the poster-boy for a guitarist that sold his soul to the devil. In fact, his interest in the occult, coupled with a massive heroin addiction, were blamed for some of the events that lead to Zeppelin’s downfall (Notably, the death of Robert Plant’s son Karac was seen as a price the band paid).

Jimmy got his start as an in-demand studio session, and Led Zeppelin were probably one of the first super-groups in history. Page knew exactly the sound and look he wanted from his bad. That vision made him rich.

What’s funny is, Page in many ways solidified the  image of a Les Paul and Marshalls, but for the first album he used a Telecaster and a Vox amp. On the 3rd US tour, Page was using Hiwatt amps.

What Page did, was show to sound big, you needed to start small. He recorded the first Zeppelin album with a small amp, cranked, and used distance miking to capture the huge sound.

And, man, playing Page’s stuff is hard.  His riffs are intricate, and are also often mimicked my John Paul Jone’s bass.

Steve Vai

Steve VaiI’ve often described Steve’s playing as someone who gives a speech using the biggest words and most complex vocabulary he can. Or more like a fantastic bottle of fine wine. However, songs like Giant Balls of Gold show Steve is capable of writing some damn catchy hooks.

Steve’s playing is so technical, and so many effects go into his sound, he’s almost like the Darth Vader of guitarists: it’s hard to tell where the man stops and the machine begins. Back in the day I was so obsessed with his sound ,I seriously contemplated getting an Eventide Harmonizer to try and get the sounds he used on Passion and Warfare.

His signature Ibanez Jem guitar is one of the few signature guitars I’d like to own. I do have an Ibazed RG570 that has the same body as the Jems (without the monkey grip handle, though) and I recently had it renovated and his signature Gravity Storm pickups put in it. That’s about as close as I’ll get.

Joe Satriani

SatrianiIf Vai is like a fine wine, Satch is like a good craft beer. Satriani is Vai’s former guitar teacher, and I can’t help but think those were some fun lessons.

I’ve always thought Satch’s playing was much more more lyrical than Vai’s. I’m not saying Vai is a passionateness player, but Satch just seems more so. His song, Flying in a Blue Dream, is one of my favorite songs of all time.

As amazing as his solo career has been, I really think he his stride when he formed Chickenfoot with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. Go ahead and watch this Chickenfoot cover of Highway Star. I’ll wait.

Amazing, wasn’t it?

Neal Vitullo

_IGP0687A couple years ago, I walked into a small club in Taunton and had my life changed. Neal was playing, and for the next three hours, he made that guitar his bitch.

Virtuosity is often over-used, but in Neal’s case, he’s one of the finest guitar players I’ve ever seen, large stage or small. I’ve seen him countless times over the years, and its getting near time for my “Neal fix” Seeing Neal that first time, I could imagine what it was like walking into a club and seeing Stevie Ray play.

The best part, of all the guitarists I’ve listed, Neal is the only one I’ve taken lessons from. I took lessons from him for over a year, and can still his voice guiding me as I play.

Check out his website and go see him.

Guitars as wands

Dan Amrich wrote in this blog post, “I sound a bit like the classic California nutjob when I say this, but I believe guitars are like Harry Potter wands, and even though I chose the Mira, it simply didn’t choose me back.” Since he wrote that, the words have been resonating with me.  Usually, for the same reason he mentioned: a guitar that seems like it would be perfect for me, ends up not being perfect.

When I’m at Guitar Center there’s usually someone practicing bad licks on expensive guitars someone playing the same guitar for a long while. I’ve always held to the belief that you’ll know in the first 5 minutes of playing a guitar if it chose you. And sometimes the guitar really chooses you. In 1990, I was at Daddy’s Shrewsbury when I spotted a nice sunburst Ibanez RG570. I played it for 5 minutes, bought it on the spot, and 23-odd years later it’s still  the guitar I reach for most often. It recently got a little renovation with some coil taps and new pickups, and it’s a very happy little guitar.

A few years ago, I bought a silverburst Epiphone Les Paul that chose me. When I went to the store, I was actually intending to buy a different used Les Paul, but after playing Silver, I knew that guitar had chosen me (it did take me a while to get used to the silverburst paint job though). Trish got me pickups designed by one of my favorite guitar players (Billy Gibbons), and it’s been one of my main guitars.

Sometime last year I swapped guitars with my friend Jeff. I got from him a very nice Epiphone Les Paul Royale in black. On paper, it was perfect for me. I like my Les Pauls big and weighty, and this was a heavy summbitch with a thick neck. I never cottoned to it, though. Simply put, the guitar didn’t chose me. I still used it, but it was the guitar I brought in case something happened to Silver, or if I needed to tune down for a song.

Circumstances this week opened up another trade and Black went back to Jeff, and I got a different Les Paul from Jeff.

When I got home tonight I played it for 5 minutes. It had chosen me.

My predictions for the October 4, 2011 Apple event

My predictions:

New iPhone

  • Teardrop shape
  • slightly larger screen
  • Same processor as iPad 2
  • not announced, but 1GB of ram
  • 32 and 64 GB models
  • Released third week of October

iOS 5

  • Release Candidate released day of event
  • Public release two days before new iPhone launches
  • Nuance voice capture and Siri integrated

Steve Jobs

  • No Steve Jobs

Why I left Dropbox

It wasn’t the whole TOS fiasco. Generally speaking, I’m not concerned about what happens to files I have online*. I understand most online encryption systems have backdoors that will yield to a subpoena. I’m not too worried about getting caught into a net of subpoenas.

After giving it a lot of thought, it was the glitch where they removed the password authentication from logins for four hours. At this point, the only thing remaining in my Dropbox folder is my encrypted 1Password file. Was I affected by it? Nope. Did I have some data I’d rather not fall into prying hands? Yeah, a few things. I’d even likely treat it differently if they had gotten had hacked.

The reason is, the fact that error wasn’t caught in QA told me all I need to know about their QA levels. A corporation that makes those types of errors will create future errors (or, may have created errors that we never found out about).

In the end, I cut my losses. I think Dropbox is having a ton of growing pains as mobile becomes heavilly used.

I just didn’t trust them to fuck up like this again.

* Except photos.

My questions & observations following the Keynote

  1. How will Docs in the Cloud sync back to the desktop? Tom Reestman and I have been a lively discussion about this on Twitter, and the best we seem to have is assumptions. Jobs said it’ll “work on PCs and Macs” but the details are fuzzy. Will it go back to the Documents folder, or what?
  2. Will Applications be limited to their own area in Docs in the Cloud, or will we have true data sharing between apps? Can I access the same PDF in both iBooks and GoodReader?
  3. With WiFi syncing, how will iTunes file transfers work? Call it a hunch, the Apps tab will go away. I hope not, because it’s a great way to get docs onto your iOS device without a network connection.
  4. Can I tell it to not download iPhone-only apps to my iPad via “automatic downloads?” God I hope so.
And my observations:
Lion will be the last Apple OS with a filesystem. Jobs stuck a fork in that one today. I also believe that the next OS will be OS XI, not OS X. OS XI will be as close to a unification of iOS and OS X as possible. I think the Mac App Store will be the only way to install apps.
I think this is the only way to combat a lot of malware, and by then we simply won’t care about that final loss of control. We’ll have iCloud, our Time Machine backups and what have you. App Store rules will be lessened somewhat for apps like 1Password, or Apple will simply build that into OS XI.
From what I’ve seen in Lion, I welcome the bits of iOS coming in. It looks like the Dock will function as the Springboard in iOS. Crucial, day-to-day apps will go there. My second-tier apps will go into the Launchpad.

Remembering Dad

Photo Courtesy Gateway Camera Club

When Steve Jobs took his second medical leave early this year, there was much wailing and screaming from people that Jobs needed full disclosure on the issues and ignoring his request for privacy. As a tech writer, it was easy for me to honor his request for privacy. I simply said, “What if this were my dad? Would I want details of his illness treated with all the decency and honor the National Enquirer treats celebrity marriages?”

The question was not rhetorical. Like Jobs, my dad had pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, my dad lost his battle February 26th. I didn’t think I’d be able to hold it together to give a eulogy, so this is what I would have said.

My dad fought cancer with pride, dignity, faith, and a healthy amount of German stubbornness. The statistics for pancreatic cancer are grim: most die in the first six months, only five percent survive past five years. Dad made two, and arguably they were the best years of his life.

Our family was never great at staying in touch. Months would go by without as much as a phone call. Dinners were few and usually around holidays. That changed when he got sick. Almost every Sunday I’d go to their house for dinner. Dad and I took a road trip of the type we’d often talk about and never do. We spent nearly a week on the road, going to Steamtown in PA, a train convention in lower NY state, and then up to see his sister in Syracuse. I think he needed to get away from being a cancer patient for a bit. He and I made a deal: I wouldn’t fuss over him, but he had to be honest on how he was feeling. That was a moot point. He had more energy than I did. Doing all the driving wiped me out and he’d be up, ready to go. We had made plans to go to Altoona to see trains at Horseshoe Curve, but, sadly, the chemo kicked the crap out of him and he just wasn’t up for it.

I’m going to remember a lot of laughs and good times for years. He and I devouring about 15 racks of baby ribs. His love of spicy chili and Mom’s hating it. We had more patience with each other than we normally would. Dad and I had horrid tempers, and not long after his diagnosis we accidentally dropped an air conditioner out the window. Normally, this would cause an eruption; instead he and I laughed our asses off. My dad had a most unusual obsession with the Wegman’s food chain; a store he had only been in twice. He’d bring his Wegman’s bag to his local supermarket just to piss them off.

His love of photography presented a challenge getting photographs together for his wake. As the dedicated photographer, there weren’t a heck of a lot of photos of him. Instead, however, looking through several thousand slides and prints, I was able to view the world through his eyes. I was able to see his love of family (and see my baby pictures for the first time), his love of nature, and his love of auto races.

Dad was the single-most influential person in my life. Every hobby I have, came from him. My love of reading, photography, trains, and technology came from him. He bought me a Commodore 64, and then my first Macintosh. We were both involved in the printing business; even worked at the same company at one time.

Jim fought the disease with everything he had. He fought it with everything I had, and he fought it with everything Mom had. While dad was truly blessed with amazing medial care, it was Mom who enabled him to be as successful as he was. She made sure he got everything he wanted and needed to be win his battle, but more importantly, she made sure he got everything he didn’t want, but needed to win. Thank you, Mom. You made a difference.

I feel his presence every day. Every picture I take with his camera, I feel like he’s looking through the lens with me — and Dad, I hoped you liked the view in that bar in CT. Photography is coming very easy to me this time. Before, I fought with the technical aspects. Now, I feel like he’s whispering in my ear the things I should be doing. It hits me he’s gone when I think, “this photo came out well; I wish I could show Dad.” But, in a way, I know he’s seeing them.

The last dream I had about him, he was in my Mom’s car, pulling away from the house waving good be. I like to think that means he knows we’re going to be ok and he’s moved on to his next stage. I said this on your deathbed, and I’m going to say it again: Thank you, Dad. You were the best friend I had, and the best Dad I could have hoped for. Thank you for everything.

Hands-on: Scrivener 2.0

The iPad forced Scrivener, a great Mac writing app, out of my workflow. I’ve been using various writing tools for the iPad pretty much exclusively, and there wasn’t a need for Scrivener in the process. Now, new features introduced in version 2.0 have earned Scrivener its place back.

Big Feature Number 1: Sync with External Folder

This feature alone was worth the $25 upgrade fee. As you’d expect, it lets you, well, sync with an external folder. The intent here is for you to use a service like Dropbox as your sync folder, although you don’t have to. When you sync a Scrivener project it creates subfolders with the bits that make up a project — a Scrivener project isn’t a single file like a Word (s msft) document; instead it’s a package made up of  files — be it text files as part of the manuscript, or images or PDFs for your research.

When you set this project to sync, it’ll create subfolders for all those nested bits, and you can edit them on any computer that has access to that folder and can edit the text files. This is a fantastic feature for use with iPad editing tools. I’ll export all my current projects to Dropbox. When I edit the project on the iPad, it’ll auto-sync when I open the project up in Scrivener. Also, text files created in the sync folder will auto import. All my TAB stuff goes into one project, so if I create a new article on the iPad, it’ll get imported. This feature is also very handy if you’re collaborating on a project with another Scrivener user.

Big Feature Number 2: Create E-books

Creating an e-book from your work has been somewhat challenging up until now. Open-source tools like Sigil can create e-books, but my experiences with it showed me it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s probably not something the average writer is likely to want to deal with. When Apple recently introduced ePub exporting in Pages, I felt it was the first e-book creation tool average users can work with. Now, Scrivener can create both ePub and Mobi-formatted books.

I haven’t played with this feature much other than to export a project and view it on my iPad and Stanza (s amzn) in OS X, but, it worked, and looked quite good. I did notice the iPad was a little more font-sensitive than Stanza (it didn’t see all the font overrides I set in Scrivener). Using the supplied novel template I also noticed that the table of contents were auto created.

I haven’t tried to send a compiled e-book off to one of the self-publishing services, so I have no idea how well that aspect works.

Not-so-big Features

Better Academic Usage

My experiences using Scrivener for academic work were frustrating. While it was great at storing research, getting Scrivener to bend to MLA formatting just wasn’t worth the hassle. Now, Scrivener includes templates for MLA and other academic standards. There are also now presets for things like block quoting that really help alleviate some of the frustration of formatting.

Also greatly improved is footnoting. Footnotes (and comments) now appear in the Inspector rather than in-line. The combination of these two improvements makes Scrivener a more appealing tool for student use.

Better Outlining

Most of my work doesn’t involve outlining. That said, there are some impressive new additions to outlining in Scrivener. The biggest one for me is custom columns. I live or die by word counts, and now the outline view can show the word count for all my drafts. I can also add columns for progress to a target word count, modified date, etc. This is especially handy for files like my TAB binder, which can become very congested.

Collections

This is going to be the feature I’m glad was included later, even though I don’t currently use it. Basically, collections let you grab scrivenings without changing their place in the overall structure. If you’re working on a large manuscript and you’ve identified scrivenings that are to be the focus of the day’s editing, you can drag those into a collection and not screw up their position. I haven’t figured if there’s a way to create a smart collection based on keywords. I can easily see using this as a to-do list.

Conclusion

Scrivener 2.0 was one of my most-anticipated upgrades this year. It hasn’t disappointed me. The folder sync feature is a boon to us iPad users and lets me use Scrivener as the Grand Central Terminal for my writing. The upgrade is $25 and the full version is $45. It’s a tremendous bargain for such an awesome writing tool.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Review

Azeroth is sundered! A dormant dragon awakens. A colony of dwarves lose their ancestral home and need a hobbit to get it back — oh wait, sorry, wrong fantasy series. While Cataclysm ($39.99) is World of Warcraft’s third expansion, the overall changes to the world make this more like WoW 2.0, or, at the least WoW 1.5. What’s nice is a lot of the changes will be available to all current subscribers, even if you don’t buy the expansion.

What You Get For Free

As part of the — wait for it — Cataclysmic event that sundered Azeroth, almost every area in the game has seen its geography change; the only unchanged areas are the ones from the previous two expansions. An ancient dragon, Deathwing, has risen from within the world, and his hatching effected something similar to the movie 2012, only with better acting.

Blizzard has also learned from past mistakes and greatly streamlined leveling your character. Previous quests involved a gigantic amount of running around for little reward; now the quest hubs are gathered closer together and the game does a much better job at guiding you along your path.

New Starting Areas

Blizzard has introduced two new races: the Worgen (a lyncanthropic race) and the Goblins (short little green men with a love of explosives). Each race receives their own new starting area for new characters, complete with new and improved beginner quest mechanics. Each starting area takes about 5-6 hours to complete before you can enter the main game.

Of the two new areas, I enjoyed the Goblin one the best. Blizzard does well when it lets its irreverence and sense of humor shine, and the Goblin area is lighthearted, fun, and full of explosives. The Worgen area is much more serious. You’re cursed to become a lycan and during the starting experience you’re fighting to take back your city. Which would you rather do: watch the game fight a huge battle for you (your involvement in this epic event is limited), or roast zombies on a pair of rocket boots? I’m going with rocket boots, every time.

The Worgen area also shows an odd lack of polish by Blizzard’s standards.  Usually when there’s an epic battle at the end of a quest line, the game shows a “next battle in 10 minutes” popup so you know you should hang around for a few, or maybe see what the baby has been crying about all this time. There isn’t one in the last battle for the Worgens, and it’s easy to get thoroughly confused about what you need to do.

Raised Level Cap and New High-Level Areas

Cataclysm raises the level cap from 80 to 85, and it’s a much shorter journey to max level than in previous expansions. We were seeing “server first” announcements for level 85s less than 24 hours into the expansion launch, and even with my slow-paced leveling my character was 85 in less than a week. Previous expansions took me several months to reach max level. Frankly, I wasn’t upset at how quickly it happened. I enjoy the game more without the need to grind out levels, and taking new characters through the revamped zones is keeping me occupied.

There are roughly seven new zones in Cataclysm, a slight reduction in the number of new areas usually included in a new expansion. I found two particularly notable: Vashj’ir is an entirely underwater area, and Uldum is basically the plot of the three Indiana Jones movies rolled into one quest line. In Uldum, Blizzard again shows its sense of humor, and it’s my favorite of the new areas.

One drawback to the new areas, though, is how Blizzard has phased the zones. In Wrath of the Lich King, the previous expansion, Blizzard introduced phasing as a way of having your adventure area change as you completed quests. A town might be intact during one part, but destroyed later on in the story.With Wrath, the phasing was limited to a couple of high-end zones. In Cataclysm, it’s much more prevalent. Unfortunately, if you’re not on the exact same point in the story as a friend, you won’t be able to play with them. A friend of mine and I were “out of phase” and it was simply because I had accepted two more quests than she had. As a result, Cataclysm is likely to feel a lot more like a single-player game than an MMO at times.

Playing Well With the Mac

Blizzard has always released its products simultaneously for Mac (s aapl) and Windows(s msft), and Cataclysm is no different. Since it’s a native build and not a port using Cider, it runs very well on the Mac. I played through the entire expansion using a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Nvidia (s nvda) 9400M chip, and even with that anemic graphics processor it ran very well. I experienced no crashes or unusual hangups, although the main cities can drag your frame rates down.

Verdict

I like that rather than tack on more “previously undiscovered” zones to the game, Cataclysm focuses on the continents that launched six years ago. Other MMOs (I’m looking at you, EverQuest) have added so many new areas, that it becomes a little ridiculous. The hard mode in Cataclysm dungeons, called Heroics, are indeed fairly hard and require more player skill to complete than players will be used to — Wrath’s Heroics were fairly tame and a lot of us got lazy.

Highs: Big changes to the WoW game world, for all players.

Lows: Phasing takes quite a bit of the multiplayer out of this MMO.

If you’ve got a character that can take advantage of the new high-level zones, Cataclysm is a lot of fun. But even if you’re not a current subscriber, this is one of the best times to start playing. With the revamped low-level requiring only an active subscription, and with lots of old players creating new characters, there’s a ton of new people running around to play with, which is the point after all.

Impressions of iOS 4.2

So, iOS 4.2 is finally here. This version finally brings all iDevices to the same version and feature level. I hope this parity continues with iOS 5. While iOS 4.2 is an update to every iOS device, I think it’s fair to say this update is more of an iPad than an iPhone update.

Since iOS4′s release this summer, iPads have been stuck running iOS 3.x. So, no multitasking, no folders, no fast app switching. On a device one hopes to use a mobile computing platform, this was a hinderance — especially the multitasking and fast app switching. Now, the iPad can do those things. Sure, it’s not the same multitasking, but it’s a big update.

On a daily basis, my iPad gets tons more use than my iPhone. I use it for e-mail triage, surfing, reference,  video watching, ebook reading and it’s my preferred way of reading RSS. I’ve never quite adopted the multiple display workflow, but my iPad is usually next to my MacBook doing something. Without fast app switching or multitasking, my iPad would often be stuck finishing one task while I wanted to do another.

Take Evernote, for example. My Evernote library is huge, and the main reason I spring for the Premium service is for offline storage on my iPad. I’m in the middle of a few projects where I’m storing research notes into Evernote. I recently dumped about 100mb of PDFs up in there. The subsequent download to Evernote for the iPad was painful. Now, with iOS 4.2, that sync would happen in the background. We’ve been seeing a slew of apps updated for iOS 4.2, so most of my apps now support the new features. I’m thrilled with the update. My iPad feels a ton snappier. I love that folders condensed five screens of apps to two rows.

Game Center, AirPlay and AirPrint I’m less thrilled about. I have never wanted or needed to print from iPad. Even when I’ve travelled, I haven’t had to print out a document since I was in England in 1999.

A while back I stated that almost everything I write in some way passes through the iPad. Recently, that’s changed from “almost everything” to “most things.” I’m writing more how-to instructions and their heavy reliance on screenshots pretty much leaves the iPad out of the running. I do have hopes some day of just grabbing my iPad and a keyboard and heading to Starbucks to see just how an iPad would hold up to a day of writing.

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