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Ups and downs of the iPad

So I got an iPad. Again. I had the iPad 1 not too long after it came out and started to explore the technical possibilities of paperless paper-reading, commenting and synchronizing. With Dropbox, which is really one of the best “cloud” services around, this worked pretty well. However, the iPad 1 was heavy and slow and so scrolling through papers was not a very enjoyable task and after a while you simply wanted to have a rest for your arms.

This has changed with the iPad 3. It is fast, it is only slightly lighter, but the great display makes you want to hold it maybe a little longer. So for paper reading (with GoodReader) and synchronizing (still with Dropbox) this is really great. Also watching movies or reading newspapers (the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich has a really good app for their newspaper) is fun, although the glossy screen limits the use of the iPad to really dark locations.

Right now, I am at a conference and I thought I try using the iPad as a conference notepad. Tomorrow I will switch back to my MacBook Air that I also brought with me. Writing on the iPad is just too error-prone. I tried it digitally by using the built-in keyboard in its various variants (fullsize, split, movable), but it is just not the same if you don’t have feedback from the keys that you press. This is not just an aesthetic difference, but I think it is the main reason why the texts I write on the iPad sometimes look like they’ve been written by a monkey. When I write on a real keyboard I don’t have to use the backspace key very often and can type much faster than on the iPad. I think the reason for this is mainly that my fingers’ positions get re-adjusted (unconsciously) to the correct position of the keys after each letter whereas this feedback is missing for the electronic keyboard of the iPad. For this reason it is also nearly impossible to type on the iPad and not look at the screen (like I often do to follow a conference talk) because you would probably write so many typos that it would be hard to recognize what you’ve written. The built-in auto-correct function also doesn’t really help in this respect as it over-corrects at least in an astronomy setting where it cannot know about most abbreviations and names. It corrected a slightly mis-spelled “unobscured” (as in unobscured quasar) into “uninsured” (which is even slightly funny) and of course it dressed up a blazar into a blazer. Nevertheless it helps a bit to correct some mis-spellings if you follow closely what you write to notice any wrong corrections.

Apart from that I also find it hard to navigate in the text using my fingers: When I just want to move the cursor to the beginning of the line it always selects the first word and I have to point again with my finger to deselect the text.

I also tried with an iPad pen (a cheap, but highly rated one) for hand-written notes, although I believe that notes should be digital so that they can be searched. But irrespective of hand-written notes being “analog”, it is also not very convenient or fast to write them.

And last but not least, the support for international characters is missing if you’re not an English-only writer. While it helps that you can input ä, ö, ü, ß in a fast way by just sliding over the letters a, o, u, s, respectively, it is annoying that you cannot choose your keyboard layout independent of the auto-correct language. For an English text, I of course want to have the English auto-correction dictionary, but I don’t want to give up my German keyboard layout for that since I am used to it.

The iPhone in Germany: What happened to Apple’s user friendliness?

As an Apple user from the very first click, I am delighted to see that Apple products have become increasingly popular over the past couple of years. I often considered using a Linux machine instead of my Apple computers for their open source-ness, but never did so because a Mac was just easier to use by far (and still is!). One other main reason of sticking to Apple was that Apple did not treat their user as a criminal by not requiring ‘product activation keys’ (like Microsoft started with XP) or other make-life-difficult techniques.

Apparently with the iPhone Apple has changed its policy and patronizes users in Germany by not allowing them to buy an iPhone and use it as they want but bundling it with an expensive two-year T-Mobile contract.

There are alternatives though: In Italy the iPhone is sold freely via the Apple Store (599 € / 699 € for the iPhone 3 GS 16/32 GB). Apple also offers a “Protection Plan” to extend warranty services to 3 years and this is normally valid worldwide for portable devices which is of course great when you’re travelling. Also, you can buy a Mac abroad and the Protection Plan at home and you have all the benefits of the plan as if you bought the Mac at home as well.

This is not valid for the iPhone. As I was told by the Apple Care hotline just now, the worldwide warranty is not applicable to the iPhone. That is, if I buy an iPhone in Italy and something gets damaged, I need to send it to Apple Italy.

What happened to user friendliness, Apple?

Update 14 Oct 2009

Apart from the problems with tethering mentioned above, there appear to be more restrictions by Apple that are discomforting. One I noticed just recently is that the iPhone cannot be synced wirelessly with a Mac but only with the USB cable. While wireless syncing is supported through “Mobile Me” (which costs extra), one gets the impression that this feature has been deliberately disabled for “normal” iPhone users to advertise Mobile Me.

Update 3 Feb 2010

With the iPhone OS 3.1.3 update tethering now works again (for free iPhones). Thank you, Apple.


Keywurl is a great tool for Safari that adds the capability to quickly access almost any search engine from the URL field. You probably no longer surf to Google to just search for something but enter it in the “search box” in the upper right hand corner. With Keywurl you can do exactly this also for a number of other search engines, e.g. imdb.com, amazon.de, Wikipedia, … you name it. It’s even possible to add more than just one search parameter, e.g. to search for all articles by someone between year X and year Y on ADS. And this is the only part that got me stuck on this otherwise great piece of open-source software (version 1.4 beta 6 for Safari 4): When you want to define more than one search parameter you have to substitute the first search parameter as ‘query word 2’, the second as ‘query word 3’ etc.

Festplatte formattieren

Beim Formattieren einer von Haus aus DOS (FAT) formattierten externen 750 GB LaCie Festplatte trat unter Mac OS X Leopard in verschiendsten Variationen ein Fehler auf, wenn ich versucht habe, die Festplatte mit einem moderneren Mac-Dateisystem zu formattieren. Das Formattieren funktionierte, wenn man es im DOS-System versuchte. Leider half die Fehlermeldung wenig weiter: “Formattieren fehlgeschlagen”.

Der Fehler tritt auf, wenn man unter Mac OS X mit dem Festplatten-Dienstprogramm eine mit Partitionsschema “Master Boot Record” versehene Festplatte mit einem Mac-Dateisystem (Mac OS Extended in verschiedensten Varianten) formattieren will. Die Lösung des Problems, wie in diesem Beitrag beschrieben, ist den Tab “Partitionieren” auswählen, dort unter Optionen als Partitionsschema “GUID” auswählen (oder Apple-Partitionsschema, falls von der Platte gebootet werden soll) und die Platte mit einer oder mehr Partitionen im gewünschten Dateisystem zu formattieren. Dann klappt’s.

Mobile Internet with a Mac and a SonyEricsson K750i

Nowadays prices for mobile internet are getting reasonable. With e.g. Simyo you get your mobile Megabyte for 24 Euro-Cent. This is okay for e-mail messaging and even for some moderate web-browsing. Of course all this makes more fun if done from a decent computer, say a MacBook, and not using some tiny mobile phone’s keypad. So I was looking for a way to go online using my MacBook running MacOS X 10.4.10 and a SonyEricsson K750i mobile phone (which is a great mobile phone except for two things: The keypad is almost unresponsive after two years of moderate use and the general key response is a bit tardy for my opinion). Unfortunately Apple does not supply the necessary Modem Scripts for this phone but a nice fella, Ross Barkman, has created them and offers them for free download from his website. He provides several scripts: For me, the first one, GPRS CID 1, already worked fine. All the settings you need to care about are described in detail in his ReadMe file and some provider specific data for Germany can be found at teltarif.de. Happy mobile surfing!

Update (Feb 3 2008): In Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) appropriate scripts are bundled with the OS.

The iPhone

Now it’s coming (in the U.S….)

English dinat.bst

If for some reason you would like to use the BibTeX style dinat for your English LaTeX document you have to change some abbreviations which are defined in dinat.bst if you want to cite like “Jones et al.” or “Jones and Coppi” instead of the respective German abbreviations.

The lines you should be looking for and some possible replacements are

%% push standard text items on top of the stack
FUNCTION {push.bd} { “Volume” }
FUNCTION {push.diplom} { “Master thesis” }
FUNCTION {push.disser} { “Ph.D. thesis” }
FUNCTION {push.forschung} { “Research Report” }
FUNCTION {push.hrsg} { “Editor” }
FUNCTION {push.in} { “In:” }
FUNCTION {push.isbn} { “ISBN” }
FUNCTION {push.issn} { “ISSN” }
FUNCTION {push.kap} { “Chap.” }
FUNCTION {push.nr} { “Nr.” }
FUNCTION {push.sn} { “p” }
FUNCTION {push.s} { “p.” }
FUNCTION {push.siehe} { “see” }
FUNCTION {push.ua} { “et\,al” }
FUNCTION {push.und} { “and” }
FUNCTION {push.url.name} { “URL” }
FUNCTION {push.veranst} { “event” }
FUNCTION {push.von} { “by” }
FUNCTION {push.zugriff} { “date visited” }

FUNCTION {push.cite} { “\citep” }

You might also want to change

%% required macros for abbr. names of month
MACRO {jan} {“january”}

MACRO {feb} {“february”}

MACRO {mar} {“march”}

MACRO {apr} {“april”}

MACRO {may} {“may”}

MACRO {jun} {“june”}

MACRO {jul} {“july”}

MACRO {aug} {“august”}

MACRO {sep} {“september”}

MACRO {oct} {“october”}

MACRO {nov} {“november”}

MACRO {dec} {“december”}

If you find any further passages in dinat.bst that need to be changed please leave a comment.

If you are using the MacTeX distribution for MacOS X dinat.bst is in


GPS navigation for your bike

Since about one month I’m proud owner of a Garmin GPS 60 handheld and so far I used it most times together with my bike. Receiving 6 satellites and with EGNOS support you can locate your current position with a precision of down to 2m with this device. While I have by far not tried all possible things one could do with a GPS I still want to give a short collection of links I found useful and notes you might find useful.

  • I put my first track on gpsies.com GPSies - Steinbachtal-Höchberg-Runde
  • Also having a classical bike computer on my bike I compared the measured distances of my GPS with that of the bike computer. They agree to better than about one percent on two different routes (both about 20 km).
  • Good GPS website with technical information about GPS in English and in German.
  • Mac-GPS-Software I used so far and found useful are
    • LoadMyTracks to transfer tracks between yor Mac and the GPS handheld (Freeware).
    • GPSPhotoLinker to geotag pictures you took on your track, provided your camera’s clock is accurate or at least that you know the offset of your camera’s clock (Freeware).
    • GPSBabel — a great open source tool for transferring and especially for converting GPS data.
    • A good (German) Mac Geotagging Howto can be found at gpsmedien.de: Part 1, Part 2

How to record the past with EyeTV

A few minutes ago I was watching a show about German comedy (“Komisches Deutschland”) on ARD, the first German TV channel. When watching TV, which doesn’t happen too often, I mostly use my Mac with a Terratec T2 DVB-T USB 2.0-receiver powered by Elgato’s excellent EyeTV software. EyeTV makes your Mac to a full-fletched digital video recorder with all its benefits. However, one option is missing.

After watching “Komisches Deutschland” for several minutes I decided that I wanted to record it but also realized that there is no option in EyeTV to include the past of the currently broadcasted show into the recording that starts when pressing the Record button. This past is normally buffered in EyeTV’s Live TV Buffer.eyetv package inside the EyeTV Archive directory and is used for jumping back in time in the “live stream”. So the data is there, just the software doesn’t allow you to get it.

So if you want to record a show but realize it only when it has already started it is best not to click the Record button (as this ends your Live TV Buffer.eyetv recording and also introduces a break of a couple of seconds) but just let it be recorded into the Live TV Buffer.eyetv. When the show is finished you must not quit EyeTV.app as Live TV Buffer.eyetv is deleted on quit. Instead just close your TV window go to your EyeTV Archive (which is the one that you specify in the preferences as the directory where EyeTV saves its recordings), locate the Live TV Buffer.eyetv and copy it to some place outside EyeTV Archive. The whole show can now be found as the .mpg file inside the Live TV Buffer.eyetv package.

And if you want to edit that show…? Well… That’s a bit more difficult as EyeTV doesn’t recognize .eyetv packages inside EyeTV Archive unless they are described in the EyeTV Archive.xml file in the same directory. But naively editing EyeTV Archive.xml unfortunately isn’t the easy solution as EyeTV will just ignore incorrect entries in the XML file and delete those lines when the application is quit. I’m trying to find out how to persuade EyeTV to accept such a package until the weekend sometime, but if anyone has any tips please feel free to comment on this post…

Update (24.09.2007): “Recording the past” is now possible with the latest EyeTV 2.5 upgrade (free for EyeTV 2 owners)!

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