Lawyers Trump Common Sense

Lawyers Trump Common Sense…yeah, nothing new there. But here’s a recent example at work.

Another engineer had spent a few months working on technical data and information for a legal case my agency is involved in. Last week the Chief called me in…the other guy was no longer involved and I needed to do the work. And by the way, his work could not be used by the attorneys though if I wanted to look at it I could. Oh, and don’t use emails to discuss the work…best just to talk person-to-person.

What The Eff?

Did the first guy really screw up or what? Chief didn’t want to say much. But reading between the lines, I figured out that the first engineer had prepared his work in a finalized package, a report that summarized his work. This apparently made his work and himself subject to subpoena or whatever the legal term is…he could be called to testify and all his work available to the plaintiffs. Whereas if an engineer new to the case–me–worked on it without making any work final or pretty, that person wouldn’t be discovered. The whole thing smells of attorney nonsense and distinct incompetence, but whatever. On we go, wasting time and money.

iPhone experience

Soon after I got my iPhone I realized it could change the way I organized my on-line life. I didn’t want everything in the iPhone, but did want everything accessible from it as well as from my Windows 7 and Ubuntu home and work computers. That meant many things had to be shifted to the “cloud” (on-line servers):

  • Email: I kept my existing Yahoo and Google accounts but changed my desktop POP accounts for them to IMAP. This way when a message is read or deleted on any machine, its status is reflected on all others.
  • Calendar, to-do lists, contacts: There are many of these, I finally decided on Google for these. Not the prettiest or most powerful interface on either desktop or iPhone, but the most universal supplier on the Internet. On the iPhone I use CalenGoo for the Google calendar, GeeTasks for Google tasks, and the basic iPhone contacts for Google contacts. NOTE: for the latter to work you have to set up your iPhone’s gmail account using these instructions (very non-obvious):
  • File, photo, notes, etc. sharing between devices: got free accounts for Dropbox and Evernote and their corresponding free iPhone apps.
  • Passwords: For some years I’ve used Passpack to safely create random passwords for every on-line account and store them in an encrypted pack on the Internet. The passwords are accessible through a web browser and they have a decent mobile web page for the iPhone. Similar features may be had through LastPass or less conveniently through mSecure.

That takes care of cloud-like apps. Others:

  • GPS: GPS Drive from MotionX has great voice directions, including streets, for just $20/year. A free voice direction GPS is MapQuest.
  • Beatthetraffic for good traffic congestion reports and displays.
  • Google Maps app for easy lookup of bus times…and for Davisites, DavisTrans and UCD Mobile for Unitrans bus schedules and actual bus locations.
  • Shopping: RedLaser for scanning bar codes in stores and getting on-line prices. Yelp and Urbanspoon for store/eatery recommendations on the fly. Newegg, eBay, Amazon, etc all have their own apps.
  • Tunes: TuneIn Radio for Internet radio stations. Pandora and Slacker for genre music. Shazam and Soundhound listen to a tune and tells you what it is.
  • Photos: The only app I use consistently is HDR Fusion, which provides true High Dynamic Range, better than the fake HDR of the iPhone 4.
  • Communication: TeamViewer works surprisingly well on the iPhone (remote login). Skype and the various messenger apps work well. Speed Test will test the speed of your connection, WiFi or 3G.
  • Reference: Wolfram|Alpha has an app. Howjsay for word pronunciation. Dictionary has definitions, thesaurus, rhyming. Wapedia and other apps for Wikipedia. Google Earth has an app. USPS and UPS have their apps or there are tracking apps that combine several mail services.
  • Handwritten notes and sketches: Note Taker by Dan Bricklin is nice but Touchwriter works with Evernote. There are lots of these on the App Store, I’m looking for a “better” one.
  • Geek stuff: All-In Pedometer counts your steps and distance. Sheet2 for a powerful spreadsheet, Excel compatible. SPL Meter for sound levels. RTA Lite for sound frequency spectrum. Clinometer for a level.

The iPad and Doing Stuff

I got an iPhone 4 almost 2 years ago when it came out. It was the first Apple device I had owned, and it really changed the way I did day-to-day things. I put my calendar, to-do list, odds-n-ends bucket, pretty much everything in the “cloud” so I could access everything on the iPhone, Windows, and Ubuntu computers. I almost got an iPad 2 when it came out but wanted better resolution…so waited until the new iPad arrived, with 4 times the pixel density as the prior models.

There’s nothing wrong with the new iPad, least of all its screen. But after all of 2 days using it, I’m rather let down. I expected it would completely replace my Acer netbook and reduce the amount I used my desktop computer…but I don’t think it will. The reason is simple: if you’re trying to do something more than tapping around the web viewing sites or using apps, the iPad is hard to use.

Here’s why. First, it doesn’t have a keyboard of course. It turns out that those who touch-type–or have acquired speed in two-finger typing–need a real keyboard. Full-size is best but even my slightly reduced netbook keyboard is OK. It’s simply too frustrating tapping virtual keys on the screen for more than about one sentence.

Yes, I could get a Bluetooth keyboard but there are other problems.

A big one for me is the difference in web browser capability between iOS and other systems (Windows and Ubuntu for me, but also MacOS). On other OSs you have full-featured browsers, and I’ve setup ad blocking, do-not-track, Evernote clipping, powerful tab handling, and so forth. iOS browsers (I’ve tried a few) allow a small fraction of those capabilities. Even something simple like opening a like in a webpage in a new tab is awkward in iOS, trivial in other platforms. This really slows down my use of the web.

Then there’s the iDev paradigm of no tiling. That made sense with the small iPhone screens, but not now on the iPads. C’mon Apple, it’s last-century to permit the user to see and use only one app at a time on the screen. And some apps annoyingly lose track of what they were doing when you put them away and bring up another app…it’s hardly true multitasking. An aviation app I have, for instance, periodically has to download a few hundred megabytes of maps, and it cannot do this in the background.

All-in-all, the iPad is really, really nice for a shiny toy. But it’s simply not something to be productive with.