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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

After one week out, MacBook goes back in for surgery

I don't really know what I do to my MacBook to cause it so much damage. It's already had 2 new displays, a new keyboard, new bottom case, new dvd drive, a new hard drive and a new fan - the last repair having been completed last week.

Tonight the DVD drive that was replaced last spring packed up (just as I was about to install iLife09, grrrr!), so tomorrow lunchtime it's off to Apple once again to drop it off.

At least I'm getting the most out of my extended warranty...

[Update]

I made a mad dash to the Apple Store (Shibuya) at lunchtime, and was assured that the drive would be replaced by 7pm - which it was. iLife09 now installing :-)

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Breaking news: Apple launches laptop with no keyboard

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yet another iPhone post

(if you're not interested in it or Apple customer service, look away).

Two nights ago my iPhone suddenly had an emergency breakdown. Somehow the OS became corrupted, and the only way to fix it was to connect it to my mac and let iTunes try its best counselling skills.

The only problem was, iTunes couldn't connect with it - just kept on asking me to enter the phone's passcode ...which I couldn't do as the phone wouldn't let me do anything except make emergency calls. Catch 22.

(For google reference, the error message read:

"iTunes could not connect to the iPhone "*" because it is locked with a passcode. You must enter your passcode on the iPhone before it can be used with iTunes"



This all happened when I was actually in the Apple Store on unrelated business (looking at new macbooks!), but they were so busy I had no chance of seeing the Geniuses (they're the people who fix stuff), and the sales staff didn't know what to do. I made an appointment for the following night, and using their in-store wifi started scouring the Apple forums.

Eventually I found out how to force the iPhone into recovery mode (connect to computer, open iTunes, press both buttons until Apple logo appears, then only release the top button, hole the bottom one until iTunes recognises it as being in recovery mode and restores it to factory settings). However, after it rebooted it just came up with another error, "The iPhone "*" cannot be used with iTunes because the information required for activation could not be obtained from the iPhone". There was nothing I could do but wait until the following night's appointment.



This being Japan, I was kind of expecting it to take a long time to sort out. Everything here seems to involve endless form-filling - you even have to provide a notarised copy of your birth certificate in order to buy a loaf of bread. (OK, slight exaggeration, maybe.) One problem I saw was the fact that the phone is registered to *Twinkle*, and she was unable to come to the store.

What happened then really surprised me. The chap listened to my story, quickly tested the SIM card in another iPhone (it was fine) ...and then reached into the drawer behind him, pulled out a brand new iPhone and handed it to me.

"Is that OK?" he asked.

"Erm, yes!" I said, with a big grin on my face.

"Oh, if you could just sign this receipt to say that Apple will pay that'll be it".

And that was it.

Having left the store, it was simply a case of plugging the new phone into my Macbook and leaving it for 30 mins as it restored all my settings (and 15GB of emails, contacts, photos music and apps), resulting in a brand new phone that was identical in content & settings to my old one.

Now THAT is what customer service of the future should be like. It was even accompanied by the happiest music one could hope to hear, wafting up the stairs from the live concert on the ground floor.

Of course, there are reasons why this all happened so quickly and without any fuss. For a start, they were incredibly busy, and the guy was desperate to get through the queue. For a second thing, they already had all my details to hand, as when I made my appointment I'd logged in with my Apple ID.

Still, I thought it was all bloomin marvellous, Yet another excuse to give my money to Apple.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Using an iPhone in Japan - where it falls down

If you're not interested in the iPhone, don't bother read this - just click here instead.

I got my iPhone 3G about four hours after arriving in Japan. Being gadget boy, I'd wanted it since launch day, but it would have been a bit daft to get it on a two year contract in the UK. Also, they don't come cheap, and I couldn't justify getting one just because I wanted one.

But here I am starting a new life in Japan, and in need of a phone.

Buying the iPhone in Japan

The initial rush seems to have subsided, although stocks are still limited: we called our local Softbank store (having first phoned the Apple store in vain), and checked availability. They had 1 available, 16GB black.

The sign up process is pretty lengthy. You have to read through a few pages of Apple's terms and conditions, then donate a kidney. It can be difficult for foreigners to get them as there's a credit check, and a two year contract (they don't want you skipping the country before paying all the monthly instalments). We decided that *Twinkle* would buy mine - far simpler :-) If you don't have someone willing to buy one for you, credit card is the way to go.

The plans cost anything between about 5000 yen and 9000 yen a month, + phone calls: this pays for the device itself and the data plan. I don't like making phone calls (especially not at 20 yen a minute, which I discovered after a total of 3 hours on the phone) so that's fine for me, I'm just in it for the data. Calls to other Softbank / Vodafone users are free at certain times.

You are given a Softbank (IMAP) email address. Personally, I like to use my own domain email address (...[at]tamegoeswild.com) so I've configured Google Apps to forward a copy of incoming mobile mail to Softbank (who then send an alert to the phone), and manually set the outgoing server to Gmail SMTP.

Once you have the device, be prepared to fall in love. As Steve would say, it is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, really, it is the most beautiful piece of technology I have ever had the privilege to take care of. And the best thing of all? It Just Works. It's incredibly easy to use - I've not yet had to refer to the manual. It's simple enough for even a four-year-old to understand - yesterday my little nephew was able to figure out how to switch between applications in a couple of minutes.

If you are an existing Mac user setting up your phone couldn't be simpler - just plug it in. iTunes will sync all your contacts, email accounts, calendars, to do lists, photos, music, videos, just like that. It may be a little more complex for Windows users but they should be used to frustration anyway.

In the past I've always found it a pain to put data on mobile phones, and was also afraid that if I lost the phone, I'd lose my data. Here, all the data is safely stored on your computer / in the cloud, then synched to your iPhone either over the Internet or when you plug it in.

Applications

I won't go through all my apps because I'd be here all day. Just to mention one of my Japanese favourites - Ekitan: the entire national train timetable, live updates on delays, a cache so you can refer to searches when there's no signal, history of previous searches (for repeat journeys). And all with a lovely user-freindly interface. Yes, other phones can do this too - but not whilst oozing sex appeal.

Other favourite apps are Safari, Google maps, Twitterrific, Air Sharing, Koi Pond (the fish eat your finger), the classic iPint (beer on tap - a good party trick), midomi (sing to your iPhone or let it listen to a song being played in a bar etc and it will tell you what the song is, with a link to buy it), NetNewsWire (RSS feeds), MyDelicious, Cro-mag, Facebook, Evernote.

The GPS really is very handy. I use it to find places in Tokyo - watch myself on the screen as a little blue dot walking down the road. Also, my to-do list uses it so that I can tell my iPhone to put tasks in order of their distance from me (write to bank = 0m, buy eggs = 0.5km, buy ink = 4km, get post office book from *Twinkle*s parents' house = 32km). This is handy when one has a very long to-do list! (and is very nerdy).

The web browser, Safari, is fantastic. Unlike most phones in Japan you're not restricted to made-for-mobile sites, with this you can view any website online (er, provided they're not flash-based!). I've used this countless times over the past week when on the move. There's so much information out there - it's great to be able to access it when I need it and not have to wait until I get home.


I also like the fact that it has decent built-in speakers - I use it to listen to audiobooks just before I go to bed.

Where the iPhone falls down in Japan

Rather than just go on about how good the iPhone is (there's plenty of sites dedicated to doing so already), I thought I'd point out some features - or lack of features - that are specific to Japan.
  • My biggest gripe comes as the result of the iPhone being designed for a country that uses SMS, not email, for texting. Japan does use SMS, but it will only work with people who are on the same carrier as you. Here, email is dominant. Apple have tried to address this by having Softbank send an alert when you get new mail, but this is only a message on the screen - no vibrate and no sound. I hope they rectify this soon.

  • The mail program doesn't support eMoji, those little pictures people love to put in their texts. They just get scrambled. If the picture is core to the meaning of the message this can be a problem - you can read the message in Safari at the touch of a button, but it's a bit of a drag. 

  • The packages are way too expensive.

  • Visual voicemail doesn't come as standard. I think it's another 300 yen a month.

  • Battery life. Ok, so that's not limited to Japan, but it is still the iPhone's biggest 'issue'.

  • The camera is probably the most pants camera to have been mass-marketed this year. Emergency use only.
It's early days though, with it only having been launched here last month. What a lot of users are doing is using it as a secondary device - with all my family here on AU (not Softbank) I'll probably go that way myself.

At least the 3G network is reliable - it really is super fast. You rarely find yourself waiting excessively for it to load. I also love the fact that it has Wifi - at home (or at friends' houses, or where's there's public wifi) it automatically switches from 3G to the wireless broadband connection, thus not costing a penny in data transfer.

he introduction of 'Genius' with the latest version of iTunes is very welcome, and over the past couple of days I've been delighted to find some 'new' music that I never knew I had. Great stuff.

I find it really exciting to be able to use these new devices, and also to think where they might go in the future. I won't be buying any more gadgets for a long time - perhaps next year I'll get a Nikon DSLR with video function and in-built GPS (in the D700 line).

Incidentally, a good side-effect of my having an iPhone is that I spend a lot less time in front of my Mac. Being able to deal with emails on the road when I have a spare few minutes here and there means I don't come home to a pile of stuff to wade through, and consequently don't get distracted by browsing the internet - so the iPhone is pretty good for our relationship too! 

Anyway, it's just flashed up a reminder that I need to go to the toilet. According to the GPS system, the loo is located about 4 metres south-west of this cushion, and I have a date to be there by 12.34pm. Best be off.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Launch of iPhone 3G (and the non-launch of MobileMe)

Wow. A historic day in the gadget world. The iPhone 3G is out (released in New Zealand a few hours back, comes out here in the morning), MobileMe was launched, and then disappeared (and remains unavailable), and the Apps Store went live.

The apps store (available in iTunes) has got some really sweet software. This iPhone is going to change the mobile scene Big Stylee. For the first time, virtually anyone can develop apps for mobiles and market them for next to nothing to a global user base. I don't like mobile phones at all and haven't upgraded mine in years ...but the iphone is something else.

I mean, come on, how can you resist when you can use it as a remote control for your music library on your computer.

And what about this one: listening to a piece of music and want to know what it is? Let your phone listen to it for 5 seconds and it will tell you what the song is (and provide you with a link to buy it).

And then there's Exposure: it's Flickr in your pocket. But check this out - you can tap on a button and using the iPhone's GPS and Flickrs metadata it will show you a bunch of photos taken near where you're standing! (good for people who are so addicted to looking at their iPhone they miss the surrounding scenery.

Other apps I downloaded (despite not having an iPhone or iPod Touch) included Twitterific, a groovy calendar-converter for Japanese years, the evernote app and ...Facebook. A totally pointless exercise, but they bring me closer to the iPhone (which I'll pick up in September).

And that remote control app for iTunes. I know it is just silly to get so excited about turning your phone into a remote control, but I don't know, there's something about it that just gets me.

It seems Apple is experiencing major issues with MobileMe though. Let's just hope they get it sorted soon though so I too can wake up to Exchange for the rest of us :-)

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another step towards openness

Being an Apple fan boy, I am very excited about picking up my iPhone in September. I've been finding myself in various situations thinking, "ah, if only I had an iPhone now I could... I know it's not for everyone, but for someone who rarely goes anywhere without a Macbook, well, an iPhone would mean freedom.

A lot of my work is macbook-based. Also, I use it to communicate with *Twinkle*, like a (large, somewhat inconvenient) mobile phone.

The combination of the iPhone and MobileMe (due to launch in 81 minutes) is very powerful. The idea that I can have access to ALL of my data (only excluding my 500 home videos) from anywhere really excites me. I get such a thrill when someone asks me a question and I'm able to find the information they need within seconds - that's one reason why I love being *Twinkle*s secretary.

Anyway, thinking about the iPhone got me thinking about what email address I'll use with it. I want something 'permanent', not some transitory address that I'd only be able to use with that one carrier in Japan (the same thinking is behind my decision to buy three phone numbers for life from Skype - one for UK callers, one for Japan-based callers and one for my US contacts). We've long been dependent upon these companies for our contact-identities, but technological developments and the relative generosity of companies like Google (in providing Google Apps) means that we can now use our own personally-selected identities with virtually any communications device.

So if I wasn't going to be josephtame@softbank.ne.jp, what was I going to be?

Hmm, maybe I could take the next step with my 'experiment'.

One part of my 'life experiment' was to start to be very open on my mumble about my thoughts and feelings. To not devalue or disregard my own ideas in the face of the opinions of others, to try and live in the flow.

The second stage of this process was to put a link to my blog in my email signature. However, I was still a bit uncomfortable with this and so I'd often delete the signature before sending, not wanting those people to know about it.

And I do continue to find myself reacting with discomfort when a colleague or friend tells me that they've read my blog ...and I really don't like to see TDM displayed on someone else's monitor. But paradoxically, I also embrace those situations. It's another opportunity to let go. I am Joseph. I do not have to be what others want me to be. If I act out of love for others and in harmony with my core values, it's ok. I do not need their subjective approval. Their opinions are just their opinions. There is no hierarchy, we are all together in this grand adventure called life. We can learn from one another. Someone criticising me is doing me a great favour - they are providing me with a far greater opportunity to grow than someone agreeing wholeheartedly with what I'm saying.

So back to this email thing then.

How about I adopt one of my web-domains as my email server? That would mean that I would effectively be advertising my online presence to anyone and everyone I sent an email to. How would that feel? It would be like inviting strangers into my heart to have a look around. That feels kind of uncomfortable. Surely there's a limit to how open one 'should' be.

I thought about this for a long time. It was a difficult decision to make. Changing my email address so that it pointed at thousands of pages of stuff about me would make for a big step out of my comfort zone, and one that runs counter to prevailing popular trends (in that most people are doing all they can to protect their privacy).

After a day or so I decided that yes, I will take this step. It is uncomfortable, but I feel it is the right thing to do. I'm not sure why, but I think I'll find out in due course.

This documenting my life online has come to be a big part of me, and I feel I have been given some incredible opportunities as a direct result of it. It's not always easy, and I have to try hard to ensure that it doesn't impact upon those that I love who are not so enamoured by the idea of being so open with the world.

The transfer of just over 22,000 emails from my old email account to my new one took three days (via POP3). It's all sorted, and my new iPhone email is all ready for it's new sexy host come September.

(Emails sent to my old email address will continue to be delivered.)

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

MacBook AirCraft

I see apple have responded to the complaints...

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