Monday, September 22, 2014

Requiem to the iPod

2006 had been a great adventure for me. The wife went to Princeton University to get her PhD in Astrophysics and I went to the US with her. Also, we had just been married for a month so it really was a transition: living in the Philippines to living in the US; from being engaged to being married...

When we were looking at our Princeton options, on where to live, if we should get a car, on where to buy *real* winter clothes (no, the options then, those that were sold in Metro Manila, were not really meant for freezing and sub-freezing weather...), while looking at those choices, I saw a flier sent by the university. It was a flier that told the wife that part of her scholarship was a laptop of her choice. There were four choices then: a 13- and a 15-inch Dell notebook and a 13-inch MacBook or 15-inch MacBook Pro.

I got intrigued by the prospect of using an Apple notebook...

I goaded the wife to get a MacBook and she agreed. She reasoned that, based on her research, a lot of university students use MacBooks and she really was leaning on getting that.

The move was completed. We went to the US and settled there as a married couple.

And the wife got a  Macbook. And her Astrophysics degree.

And I became a lifelong Apple fan.

I got jealous... The wife was really settling in with her white, polycarbonate MacBook whereas I was using a Linux laptop. I loved the Linux OS but OS X Tiger had its own appeal. Whenever the wife's home, I tried to use the MacBook. I actually loaded all of my music into her computer and we played music from that.

It was in December 2006 that I felt that I couldn't hold out anymore. We were in California, then visiting relatives, when I decided that I needed to have my own Apple device. Back then, I used a harddisk-based MP3 player: an MPIO...

I didn't like it.

Navigation was bad, interface was horrible. And songs are stored in folders. Oh, and there is a limit to the number of songs that can be stored for each folder or else the player will hang. Just imagine wanting to hear a song only to find that it is located in a different folder... And which folder?!? You will have to figure out first where the song is and only then will you be able to play the song.

So, I decided that my entry point to everything Apple was the iPod. That December 2006, I made my first purchase at the Apple online store (it was actually my first online purchase ever!). And I never looked back.

I synced the iPod, the 5.5 generation (the first that could play videos) to the wife's MacBook (the first Intel-powered MacBook) and that was essentially it. All my music went there (less than 20 gigabytes) and it became my constant companion anywhere I went. I took it when I jogged, whenever I walked around Princeton, whenever I took pictures.

The wife and I even attended a party where the "DJ" was one of the graduate students and his iPod. In one of those parties, Public Safety was called because of the loud music; the iPod really was a disruptor both good and, at that instant based on the neighbors' reaction, bad...

And yes, the iPod had been my entry point to the Apple universe, the so-called Halo effect. I eventually got my own 15-inch MacBook Pro, an iPod Nano an iPod Touch, (on the 5th birthday of my MacBook Pro) a 13-inch MacBook Pro, an iPhone 4, an iPad 4th generation, an iPhone 5s. Windows OS now seem alien to me and the Linux OS now is so unfamiliar... (I don't even remember where the "Start" button is...)

But the iPod did not only serve as my gateway to Apple hardware. Because of this nifty gizmo, I also bought iBooks, songs, tv shows and movies on iTunes. Yes, Apple got me hook, line and sinker. Eventually, my media files grew and so I bought an iPod Classic with a 160GB harddrive. Because of this, and a fading battery life, my original iPod has taken a backseat...

When the iPod's battery finally died, the wife bought a desktop alarm that can accommodate the iPod's 30-pin connector. It woke us up and served as the soundtrack of our US lives. We took it from Princeton, NJ to Chicago, IL, where the wife had her postdoc.

Now we're back in the Philippines. The iPod, I brought it back with me. I couldn't seem to part with it. Right now, it is sitting on a mantle in our new apartment and sometimes it is used, well, more often than not, as a paper weight. It sits beside another relic of a different age - my orange iPod Shuffle (that color has also been discontinued along time ago, much to my dismay).

Then, after the September 9, 2014 Apple Keynote, the iPod Classic, the only harddrive-based player, disappeared from the Apple website. Perhaps it is because now the iPhone has a 128GB and maybe, pretty soon, a 256GB one. Or maybe that capacity will never come because Apple will be pushing for streaming media instead of having everything stored on a device. Perhaps because Apple feels that the click wheel has outlived its usefulness and instead people now opt to just pinch, click, drag. Perhaps because people now can no longer fathom the idea of a single-function device.

Perhaps because, as the market has dictated, anything smaller than a 4-inch screen just won't cut it.


But here in the Philippines, where wifi is painfully slow and 4G/LTE is not readily available anyway, media needs to be stored in the device. The cloud is not really that accessible here especially when one is on the move… So your music, movies, files, they need to be stored locally. A big storage is needed for this. With the bigger capacity iPhone 6/6+, most people’s need for storage, including those of Filipinos', because of the lack of fast internet, will be met. Maybe. And in October, when Apple outs new iPads and iPod Touches, (and I assume the new iPod Touches will have the same screen sizes as the iPhone 6/6+), you will not even need a cellphone network provider to enjoy the higher capacity, the bigger screen, and the multitouch functions. So, the classic iPod would really be a sore sticking point in Apple’s line up (though, with this reasoning, I am wondering why Apple’s keeping the iPod Shuffle at all…).

But, the iPod Classic will always have a big place in my heart. The iPod 5.5 Gen, the Classic's forebear, will have the enviable position as the device that strung me to the Apple ecosystem, that made me succumb, most of the time, to Apple's RDF, that made me mourn when Steve passed away... And as I type this piece on an iPad (the 4th generation), I can't help but feel that, when the iPod 5th Gen & Classic die on me, I will definitely feel the pain of a great loss...


All photos made with the iPhone 5s/iPod Touch and the iOS app Hipstamatic.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rain Design's mStand360 Review

These days, most laptops can do what, just a few years ago, can only be done on desktop computers. Things like editing photos with Photoshop or rendering videos. But now, laptops being produced are powerful enough that you only need one computer for processor-intensive events and for simple web browsing and tweeting.

Whenever I work, I try to make working as pleasurable as possible. However, laptops, by their very nature are not designed for extended hours of work. The small screen and the low display make for one achy back and stiff neck... There's nothing that can be done with the small screen outside of using an external monitor, but something can be done about the height of the computer. When it comes to computers, I prefer that my laptop is at eye-level so that I won't have to stoop.

To my surprise, the idea of a laptop elevator has not reached the Philippines yet. There are a lot of cooling pads available and there are also a lot of work-from-bed laptop trays in stores, but there are no elevators yet. The problems that crop up when you put your laptop on a table are the cooling pads are relatively low while the laptop trays are relatively high. 

And both cannot be swivelled...

So, when a friend from Pennsylvania visited the Philippines, I asked her to buy a Rain Design mStand360. This is Rain Design's variation on the original mStand. This time however, the stand can swivel 360 degrees, hence the name.

I am a fan of Rain Design's products, like the iLap, because of their beautiful designs. The mStand360 is not an exception. It is as if Jony Ive himself designed the products. The swivel rotates smoothly and repositioning your laptop is a breeze. The mStand360 can accommodate all MacBooks and laptops that has a maximum width of 10.4 inches.

The only problem that I can see with this product is when your laptop is connected to wired peripherals. Say you have a USB-connected hard drive, then swiveling the stand may be a bit of a challenge. The same is true if your notebook is connected to an external monitor...

Oh, and of course you need an external keyboard and mouse.

But all-in-all, the benefits you get from using the mStand outweighs the slight limitation of the gadget. With the use of this device, your eyes, neck and back will be really thankful.

The Shy Photographer loves it and highly recommends it!

Now, if only it will be available in the Philippines... Paging RainDesign... 


All photos made with the iPhone 5s and the iOS app Hipstamatic.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Olloclip Telephoto Lens and Polarizing Lens Review

Want an interchangeable-lens iPhone? With the Olloclip it is a possibility!

The Olloclip is a lens system that you slide onto an uncased iPhone. You slide it over the iPhone camera and this changes how the camera lens behaves.

(For this review, I'll be focusing on the Olloclip zoom lens. If you want to check out the wide angle/fish-eye/macro lens system, check out my review in this post.)

You see, the iPhone has a 35mm-equivalent lens. This moderately-wide angle lens is perfect for group shots and street photography but is not good for distant subjects and especially in portraiture photography.

When you want to, say, shoot a head-shot, your tendency is to move the iPhone closer to get that shot from the top of the head to, say, your subject's shoulders. But the act of moving a wide-angle lens closer will distort your subject's face: what you get is a wider nose and stretched-back ears.

This is not a very flattering portrait.

But with a "long" lens, like 70mm or longer, the face is compressed resulting in a more flattering portrait.

With the Olloclip zoom lens, you get 2x-zoom. This will convert the iPhone lens to a 70mm-equivalent lens, just exactly what you need! This moderate zoom, albeit still short, would be very good for portraiture. 

(I said it's still short because you would still need to move closer to your subject. The perfect portrait lens is one that ranges from 100-200mm, though that would look ridiculous on a mobile phone).

And also, having a longer lens is always a great thing to have: with the Olloclip with 2x zoom, you can get closer to your subject without needing to walk as much to get the shot.

This 2x zoom is also perfect for street photography and when you want to be inconspicuous.

The thing I've noticed about the zoom lens is, with it, I got brighter photos. Maybe the light reaching the sensor is cut by the lens so the iPhone compensates by opening up the camera aperture or by increasing the ISO... I've always gotten a brighter photograph with the lens whether I use the native camera app or if I use one of the third party camera apps I have installed on my phone.

Also, because of the longer reach provided by the lens, camera movement is magnified. So, with the zoom lens attached, you should make it a point to stabilize your hands. 

This phenomenon is also true with DSLR zoom and telephoto lenses.

Next, if you turn the lens around, what you get is a circular polarizing filter. 

And the polarizing filter can actually be detached from the iPhone mount. If you do so, then you will be able to, with the included adapter, use the filter on the wide-angle and fish-eye lenses. How neat is that?!?

With the polarizing filter, you can cut off some light if you are in a very bright location, cut off reflections and glare, create bluer skies and create more vibrant photos.

Check out the photos of the wife below. The first one was shot without the polarizing filter, while the second one was shot with the filter attached. Notice that the reflection on the glass on the upper right corner of the photo was cut off in the second photo.

Next check out the two beach photos below, the first one is with the polarizing filter, while the second one is without the lens. In the first photo, the sky is a much nicer blue and you can see more details in the clouds and in the water. And the water is made more vibrant too!

And finally, there is an included adapter so you can use the lens on the 5th generation iPod Touch.

So, with the 2x telephoto and polarizing filter lenses, plus the wide, fish-eye and macro lenses, the Olloclip system essentially converted my iPhone to an interchangeable-lens camera that can make calls, send out texts, browse the internet, tweet, and a lot more! The Olloclip system essentially made my point-and-shoot camera obsolete as an everyday camera!

If only I can use it with a waterproof case... And with a battery pack...

The Olloclip Telephoto and Polarizing filter is Highly Recommended!

All photos were made either with the native iPhone camera app or with my most favorite iPhone photography app Hipstamatic.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My Data Consumption in the Philippines and the Smart LTE

As the months progress, I'm beginning to learn more and more about the Philippines. Though I was born and raised here, being away for almost 8 years contributed to my ignorance and unfamiliarity of some of the things that are, to some, considered common sense.

One of the things I am beginning to understand is the amount of cellular data that I consume. In the US, I could get away with a data limit of 500mb, though there was a time when I consumed more than 700mb of data. This usually happened when I did a fair amount of driving and when the wife and I did some traveling. Whenever these things happen, I had to rely on my network, AT&T, to get connected to twitter, Facebook, and more.

But on a regular basis, I barely reach 500mb. This is because the places I usually go to have decent wifi so I didn't see the need to depend on my cellular network for connectivity.

What were the different places that I frequented?

As the spouse of a graduate student in Princeton University and a postdoc at the University of Chicago, I got some spousal benefits. Things like my own university ID enabling me to enter the university library and borrow books, access to the university network and even attend some university lectures. Because of my ability to access the university network, I don't need to rely on my cellular network as much.

(Here, I couldn't even enter the campus where the wife is a university faculty and researcher without giving up an ID in the university gate - much less the university library - a problem if ever I need to exit through a different gate...) 

The same is true for the public libraries in Princeton and Chicago. In both places, wifi is fast and I was able to download movies from iTunes in any of those locations (Chicago, being a big city, has several public libraries in the downtown area alone!) Here, I have yet to visit a public library... I don't even know the police station nearest our apartment is...

Another of my haunts is Starbucks. Of course...

In the US, all Starbucks stores provide free wifi. Here in the Philippines, they do not. I do not know the rationale for this, though my theory is, they don't want people lingering extended hours in their stores. Wait a minute... They still do! So maybe the primary reason why Starbucks does not put up wifi hotspots is they are trying to save money.

In some coffee places in the US, wifi pass codes are provided whenever you purchase anything from the store. Usually, the wifi access is good for two hours, a fair-enough compromise I believe. In my other favorite coffee shop here in the Philippines, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, you will need to buy a rewards card first (yes, you buy rewards cards here in the Philippines). Then, if you purchase anything from the store, you present your rewards card and then you ask for the password. I wish they would disregard the rewards card altogether and just give the wifi password to patrons.

On our second year in Chicago, the city started providing wifi hotspots in public places, like parks. So, if you are relaxing on one of the park benches one autumn afternoon, you can read your book and still be able to connect to the web.

In Metro Manila, I still have to spend more than 10 minutes on a public park. There are not a lot of outdoor places here, maybe because of the heat, and what we have instead are shopping malls. Lots of shopping malls...

Well, at least there are free wifi hotspots in shopping malls, though one mall in particular asks to sign in with your Facebook account. I dreaded doing that... And yes, the speed at malls is serviceable at best. Don't hold your breath downloading a movie much less a 35mb app update.

The proliferation of wifi hotspots in the US is the primary reason why I was able to resist the iPhone for so long. (My only other iPhone was the iPhone 4, though I had three iPod Touches since the 2nd iteration.)

The lack of free wifi hotspots here in the Philippines even forced the wife to get her own iPhone: now she is a proud owner of an iPhone 5c with data plan of course.

And how much data do I use here in the Philippines?

I measured my data usage on a per day basis. It turn out that I can consume up to 2 gigabytes of data on any given month! Even my tweetbot usage amounts to 80mb per day! This is all because of the lack of free wifi hotspots here in public places.

And this is where Smart LTE comes in.

With the network, I can enjoy unlimited LTE at speeds that goes to as high as 13mbps! And I am greatly in luck because I get close to at least half the top speed where I usually frequent. And being on an unlimited prepaid plan, I don't need to worry that my speed will be throttled, nor would I need to be conscious that my money load will suddenly go to zero.

So, despite the lack of free wifi hotspots, I am able to enjoy tweeting, watching streaming videos, uploading photos, instagraming, and more because of my unlimited LTE, albeit at a cost.

Well, it is something that I am willing to pay just to be always connected.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

.@Reina_Reyes and #TheShyPhotographer at the First Pacific LeadershipAcademy (FPLA) Executive Talks

The wife was invited to be a panelist at the FPLA Executive Talks and I tagged along as her plus 1. It was an event to celebrate the birthday of one of the biggest name in the Philippines, Manny V. Pangilinan.

The first part of the program was the Conversations on Thought Leadership, hosted by the lovely couple Patricia and Vince Hizon. 

The participants for this segment were the solo artist Ryan Sy, the soprano Rachelle Gerodias, the voice artist Pocholo Gonzales, an ER doctor Dan Luchangco, the conductor Olivier Ochanine, the astrophysicist (the wife) Reinabelle Reyes, and the pianist Cecile Licad.

The talk consisted of the speakers' roots, how their choices evolved and their outlooks in life, among others. They even talked about how they keep their bodies healthy for each of the professions that they practice.

Getting insights from the experiences of the speakers can prove to be invaluable life lessons especially to the younger members of the crowd.

After the intermission, the attendees were treated to some world-class music ranging from pop to classical to operatic music. Performers were the pop artist Ryan Sy, the classical string quintet the Quintetto Felix, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, an opera performance by Rachelle Gerodias and a piano performance by Cecile Licad.

Needless to say I, and I am sure the rest of the crowd also, was transported to another dimension because of the sublime music.

It was a great opportunity to listen to the experiences of the panelists, to listen to wonderful musical performances, and to meet such wonderful people.

Photos made with the Canon Powershot G15 (Reviews Part 1 and Part 2) and iPhone 5s.

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