Thursday, October 22, 2009

Logitech TrackMan Wheel Review

In my constant quest for the perfect combination of equipment to alleviate the pain, and to set me further on the path of actually becoming a robot (able to sit in front of a computer for 16+ hours a day), I've tried all kinds of different input devices.

I've been using the ZeroTension Mouse for quite some time, and while it has all but eliminated my ulnar nerve strain and the pain in my wrist and elbow (by allowing me to rotate my hand to a vertical position where it should be, vs. flat like most mice require), the sheer size of the device forces me to hold my arm too far out to the side of my keyboard, and thus the pain in my shoulder has increased.

I've finally decided to give a trackball a shot.

So far, I love it. I went with the Logitech TrackMan Wheel (corded... the cordless version seemed a waste, and the wireless dongle that plugs into your computer is huge). You have to clean the ball bearings that "float" the track ball every week or so (extremely easy), but the precision is great (though I still use a tablet for drawing and extreme precision), and I love not having to move the device around (it's stationary and the ball moves).

It took about an hour to get used to (I kept trying to move the whole thing [blush]), but now it's fantastic. I love how little desk real estate is quires.

I was also a little worried about pain in my thumb joints from the constant, repetitive motion, but I've been using it for a little over three weeks, and I haven't noticed any pain there at all.

It took me a while to decide between the devices that utilize the thumb and the devices that utilize finger movement. From back in my "regular mouse" days, I remember the excruciating pain in my hand from constantly turning a scroll wheel with my middle finger. I assume the trackballs that utilize finger movement would produce a similar effect, so I went with the thumb ball. Even now, I feel the growing pain from using a scroll wheel with my middle finger again, and I have to be diligent about actually clicking the scroll wheel down like a button to activate using the ball to scroll (I wish I could disable the wheel's ability to scroll, and use it ONLY as a button, but that doesn't seem to be an option).

My one gripe is that the device still positions my hand too flat (thus creating that ulnar nerve strain again). There is some slope to the device, that places your hand a little less flat, but it's still too much. Thus, I've been working on a solution to tip the device up to get it more vertical (so that the ball is almost directly on top, with the buttons on the side and the side of your hand resting on the table, like the crappy picture to the left).

I tried a couple of different wedges fashioned out of Sculpy, but they were pretty garish. I also tried a giant wad of Silly Putty, and while it's the best thing so far, it tends to flatten out over time. I even thought about cutting off the right edge of the TrackMan Wheel to create a new planar surface (though not enough surface), but I think the best solution is probably going to be creating a wedge out of a block of wood and then maybe trying to integrate it into the side of my keyboard somehow (after I cut the number pad off so my arm isn't stretched out so far).

All of this nonsense could be easily eliminated if Logitech simply built the thing correctly in the first place, with the ball on top and the buttons on the side. Your hand would be in a zero tension position, and all would be right with the world.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Streamlining "Back to Normal" from a Hard Reset

So I'm really getting the "back to normal" from a hard reset down to a science.

A couple of days ago I spent three hours on the phone with Verizon trying to figure out why my phone hadn't been able to receive data for three days. I finally gave up on them and did a hard reset. This always means starting from ground zero and having to reinstall everything, so I decided to make some changes to streamline the process. ***As an aside, I'm wondering if the reason I lost data transmission/receive capability was a conflict between the WiFi tethering software and the new Omnia ROM.

I now have a folder on my "My Storage" that contains the cabs of everything I reinstall when I do a hard reset (SPB Mobile Shell, Total Commander, Torch Button, Google Maps and Audio Notes Touch). Since a hard reset doesn't wipe the My Storage (or SD Card), those files are always there and ready when I need to start over. I also realized that the new Omnia i910 ROM already contains Windows Live, so there's no need to install that in order to sync my contacts (very nice).

I don't have this perfected yet, but there are some good programs like CERegEditor that will not only allow you to edit your registry via your computer, but they will also allow you to save your changes in configuration files and thus simply click a button to make all the saved changes (disable Keyboard auto deploy, make the vertical scroll bar wider).

If only there was some way to have the phone automatically:
  1. re-associate all the photos and ringtones for my contacts
  2. change the thread_sms.htm file so that the Text Composition area has a reasonable amount of space
  3. set up my exchange server to sync Google Calendars (7 of them) using
  4. Reload all my RSS feeds and Podcasts
  5. Change setting for phone dial lock to off

Increase SMS Text Composition Area

For some reason, WinMo's default SMS composition area is only two lines high. That means you can't see what you're typing, and it's incredibly frustrating.

Luckily there's an easy fix. Using your Reg. Editor (I use Total Commander), navigate to the Windows directory on your mobile device and find the file called thread_sms.htm. You will need to edit this file (clicking on it will only cause your device to try and open it in your browser; make sure to select the edit icon in your Reg. Editor to alter the file).

Scroll down and find the line that looks like this:
< Inbox:content id="COMPOSESUBJECT" width="98%" height=35 spell focus count links noclearonbackpresshold limit=0 autocap inserttab scroll / >

Change that "height=35" to something larger. I've got mine at "60" and that seems to work pretty well.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Adobe Help and Support

I have honestly never encountered a "support" site as worthless as Adobe's. I have always thought this. It's unbelievable that a company who makes such fantastic products could make such a mind-bogglingly awful website.

It's INCREDIBLY slow, it takes like 20 or 30 seconds before the "comments" portion of the page in the help/manual section even shows up (you have to just sit on the page and wait), often when you post something it's dubbed a "question" and removed (hilarious), and the site or various elements thereof is often down for maintenance (right now the site has a notice saying customer help won't be available from Friday, Oct. 9th to Wed., Oct. 14th --that's a LONG freaking time).

My problem today is that I have a sequence in Premiere Pro CS4 who's clips are not associated with any files in the Project Window (bins). This is problematic (not to mention it shouldn't even be possible), as I do not know where the files being referenced by the sequence are located (so I can edit RED file color, temperature, tint, etc. using "Source Settings"). I know where they are on my hard drive, but I have no way of clicking on them from within Premiere to make adjustments to the files.

There is no information regarding this issue on the website or in the forums. I posted the problem as a comment in the "help/manual" portion of the site, and I received an e-mail stating the comment had been removed because it's a question. Well... I'm betting this happens to other people, and I'm betting it would be extremely helpful to have the issue documented on the page that they will go to to try and find a solution to their problem (especially since there is no other page referencing the problem).

So WTF, Adobe?


Thursday, October 8, 2009

SPB Mobile Shell for Windows Mobile

The one thing that prevents the Omnia i910 from completely obliterating the iPhone is the user interface. I'm not sure why you'd make such a fantastic phone that's so difficult to use (read: navigation is atrocious). You can spend all kinds of time editing the registry, installing cab files, and basically hacking the hell out of the phone, or...

You can simply install SPB Mobile Shell. As mentioned before, I've always balked at the price of this download, but after having used it for a couple of weeks, I'm sold.

My initial download was version 3.0 just a couple weeks ago, but yesterday as I was getting ready to purchase a registration number, I saw they had upgraded to 3.5, so I went ahead and upgraded to the latest and greatest.

There are some great updates in 3.5 (3D e-mail and text views, the 3D carousel, additional widget pages, integrated Facebook and Twitter functionality, etc.), but with these updates come a few bugs.

3D Text and E-mail views don't work with the icon that brings in all three communication options (phone log, texts, e-mails). In order to get 3D text and e-mail to open when you tap the icon, you'll need to use the individual widgets (you can't use the combined 3 icon widget). You will also need to set the default view by holding down each icon, selecting "default action," and selecting "open 3D viewer."

Another significant bug (SPB is promising to fix soon) is that the "reply" and "reply to all" buttons don't populate the "to" field in your texting program unless "threaded/conversation" view is switched off. Again, "reply" and "reply to all" WILL WORK from the 3D view, but you must disable threaded SMS for now ("conversation view" on the Omnia).

The super cool (but otherwise useless) 3D Carousel (see photo above) doesn't work on the Omnia, because Omnia doesn't have a Graphics Accelerator --Omnia II has a processor fast enough to use software acceleration that will work well. You can see it working here.

Rather than completely reinvent the wheel, here is a great review on ZDnet (with video presentation) of SPB Mobile Shell. The review shows what's new in 3.5, and then takes a little time to go over the features of the whole program. It's a great way to familiarize yourself with what SPB Mobile Shell is all about.

Just FYI, a couple of my favorite things about SPB Mobile Shell are being able to install shortcuts to any app on pretty much any screen (it's so much easier to access your phone's programs), the superior contacts management, the superior calendar functionality, and being able to add photos for contacts from Facebook (seems trite, but I love this feature).

SPB Mobile Shell is a vast improvement over any interface I've seen for Windows Mobile touch phones, and is the last piece of the puzzle to make the Omnia i910 the ultimate iPhone killer.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Find Your MAC Address On Your Windows Mobile Device

Evidently your MAC address is a big, giant secret, because it's nearly impossible to find on your WinMo phone (it's not under any of the device settings).

However, here's the trick:

On Windows Mobile 6.1 and higher, dial #43574357* (I know a lot of these "dial codes" don't work on the Omnia i910, but I can verify that this one does). This code will launch a screen that shows all your device information, including PDA Version, Phone Version, Browser Info, Language, Battery, Bluetooth Version, Bluetooth MAC, Wi-Fi Version, Wi-Fi MAC, Phone Number, MEID, System ID, Channel, ESN, PRL/ERI, Technology, Network, and Capabilities.

On Windows Mobile 6.0, it's just #4357* (I don't know why they decided to duplicate the number with higher versions).


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sync iTunes to Windows Mobile Device (Omnia i910)

Let's face it, Windows Media sucks. Really bad. It's an awful program to use.

And while iTunes has it's fair share of problems, it's still infinitely better than Windows Media.

The biggest problems iTunes faces are the same problems all Mac devices face: Mac keeps an iron grip on EVERYTHING. But as usually, people have figured out ways to pry open Apple's greedy little fingers.

I had been manually moving tunes back and forth from my computer to my Omnia. Playlists are simply XML files, and all the songs are just MP3's. It seemed like it would be easy enough to write a program to automate generating/converting/moving files... and sure enough, somebody's done it (sort of)!

There are a couple of pay programs, but me, being the cheap bastard that I am, found a great free one called iTunes Sync (creative, no?) from Binary Fortress (these guys also make a really great multi-monitor display program called Display Fusion).

I installed and set up iTuneSync according to the very simple instructions on the BinaryFortress website. I created a folder in iTunes called "Omnia Storage Card" and filled it with other play lists. I changed my USB connection for my Omnia from ActiveSync to Mass Storage Device. I clicked "Synchronize MP3 Player" in iTunes Sync, and voila! Everything in the "Omnia Storage Card" folder was synced to my Omnia.

Oh, glorious day!

One caveat I've realized after actually spending some time with this... the program only syncs the files... no playlists are transferred to your device, so you still have to manually sync (see problems below) or create playlists from within Windows Media Player Mobile. The developer of iTunes Sync is promising multiple playlist syncing in the next version, but he is not promising any specific release date for the new version.

So for now, this solution is only good for syncing the songs that you have in playlists. You will still have to manually create the play lists themselves. A workaround would be a program that could convert iTunes XML play lists to .ASX, which is the format Media Player Mobile uses.

Eric Daugherty created a program that will convert iTunes XML playlists to m3u, ext, wpl, or zpl (it will also transfer the actual MP3 files used by the playlist, which is GREAT), but apparently Windows Media Mobile will not play any of these formats (go figure). So what I need is a program that will convert the iTunes XML files to .ASX (which is used by the Windows Media Mobile player).

There are plenty of players for Windows Mobile that will play M3u, so I guess I'll just be using a different media player for now (pay attention Microsoft).

[Oct. 4, 2009 - UPDATE] While Windows Media Player mobile can't use .WPL files, Window Media Player 11 does... so the solution is to use Eric Daugherty's export program to create a playlist from iTunes for Windows Media, and then simply use Windows Media (via Active Sync) to place the iTunes playlist (and files) on your Windows Mobile device. If you have Eric's program set to generate the WPL file and place it in your Windows Media Music directory, it will simply appear under playlists in Windows Media, and you can sync with your device from there.

Woo-hoo! Not as elegant as I'd like (you have to use three programs), but it works perfectly!

[ANOTHER SOLUTION] Music Bridge will sync iTunes and Windows Media libraries. It's a pretty robust program with many options as to what you can sync (see the download page for a description). After running music bridge, you can then sync your device using Windows Media/ActiveSync as above. When I tried this method, it didn't seem like the sync was working (the iTunes lists didn't show up under playlists in WinMedia). However, under the sync settings in Windows Media, all the iTunes playlists were available for syncing with my device. Weird, but it works!

So hopefully one of the above solutions will work for you!