Monday, June 21, 2010

Churchill Speeches Audiobook

The older I get the more I'm intrigued by history.  The Churchill Speeches Audiobook for iPad app recently caught my eye and the 99-cent price was irresistible.

The app is what it sounds like: a collection of audio recordings from many of Winston Churchill's speeches during World War II.  There's nothing remarkable about this as an iPad app though.  In fact, I'm kind of surprised the developers didn't first release it as an iPhone app and just make it available for use on the iPad.  They went the opposite route though as this one is only available as an iPad app.  Odd.

So what do you do when your app is really about audio and you have that nice, large iPad app screen at your disposal?  You offer some totally unrelated, cheesey background images.  Listeners can opt for one of five different backgrounds including my personal favorite, the video loop of someone's fireplace.

Don't let the goofy video chase you away from this one though.  I've only listened to a few of the speeches so far and I love it, although I do wish I could use it on my iPhone.  I'd also like to see them release similar apps with the amazing speeches from people like FDR, JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


The Pulse newsreader app is terrific.  Or I should say, was terrific.  The New York Times apparently thought it was a bit too good and recently arranged to have Apple remove it from iTunes.  Apple and the NY Times need to reconsider this decision.  And if the Times feels Pulse was stealing too many of their eyeballs, well, maybe they ought to introduce an iPad app of their own!  Please don't tell me they already have with that limited Editor's Choice app; I'm ready to pay for a full Times subscription on my iPad and these knuckleheads still don't have anything to offer!

OK, I'll stop ranting and tell you why I like the Pulse app and why, if you didn't buy it before it was removed, you should hope it's reinstated as well.  Pulse is nothing more than a tool that lets you work with RSS feeds visually rather than just a bunch of text.

One of the biggest complaints about it is that it only supports up to 20 feeds.  I considered that a strength.  Why?  Because I long ago abandoned my RSS reader due to the fact that every time I opened it I was staring at hundreds and hundreds of unread items.  It just became too depressing to sift through.  So by only having access to 20 feeds I'm forced to pick the best of the best.  And in the short time I've had Pulse, I've dropped a few feeds to make room for others.  Would I prefer they lift the ceiling to, say, 50 feeds?  Sure, but I can live with 20.  I find I'm keeping up with my limited number of feeds now, much more so than when they were buried in the several hundred I had in Google Reader.

One final point about Pulse that I've discovered: It's most effective for those feeds that feature graphical elements.  Text-only feeds look pretty dull in it.

It's too bad that the Times and Apple had to intervene with this one.  It's a great app and one that is well-suited for the iPad.  As one commenter noted in that Wired article linked to above, "don't worry -- the old people in charge who don't understand the internet will slowly die off and then we'll be good to go."  (Be sure to read all the comments on that article...there are some gems!)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Homemade iPad Stylus

After watching this video last week I decided to create my own iPad stylus (finished results are pictured on the left).  It looked pretty easy, the parts seemed simple to find and I've been looking to put that Penultimate app to work that I bought recently (it's just not that useful to me without a stylus).

I first set out to find a suitable drafting pencil, or, as they call them in the art world, a "lead holder."  You can't just use a simple mechanical pencil because you need a large enough opening to accommodate the diameter of a Qtip stem.  Staples was my first stop, but they don't carry them in the store (you have to order them online).  I next tried a local art supply store but they were out.  They recommended another one and I finally found one for about $8.

If you watch that video I linked to earlier you'll see the only other items you need are glue, Qtips and conductive foam.  Huh?  What's conductive foam?  As the video shows, it's the stuff you usually find computer chips shipped on.  I didn't have any of that stuff handy so I headed over to my local Fry's.  They sell one-foot square pieces for $7.99.  Trust me when I tell you that a square foot of this is a lifetime supply for iPad stylus construction.

The Qtips used in that video have plastic blue hollow stems.  I opted for the solid (cardboard) stemmed ones though and I'm glad I did.  After cutting the heads off a few Qtips, I cut small pieces of the conductive foam and started playing around with creating holes in the foam wide and deep enough to insert the stem of the Qtip into.  This was a bit of trial and error but I quickly discovered it's best to use a tiny screwdriver and create openings in the foam, not force the Qtip stems in.

The foam fit so snugly around the stems that I didn't bother gluing.  I just trimmed some of the foam away to make the type of stylus head I wanted.  I made a half dozen of them and tried each one out.  Writing with one of these takes some getting used to, mostly because you're pressing squishy foam against the iPad screen.  I'm very happy with the results though and I plan to carry a few of these with me everywhere I go.

So it's goodbye to my Moleskine notebooks and hello to the Penultimate app with stylus.  If Moleskine were smart, they'd create an app like Penultimate but with their own branding and other touches to remain relevant in the iPad world.  The image in the bottom left corner of this post was made using my new stylus, btw; the lousy handwriting is all mine, so don't blame that on the stylus!