Bluetooth Model Train Control

OK train people, I haven’t written much about model trains recently, but this Kickstarter project is very interesting. Basically, this small board which would be added into the model locomotive would enable you to control your trains via a Bluetooth device such as an Apple or Android phone.

BlueTooth Control

As much as other hobbies have advanced over the years, model trains have gotten a bit stuck. Or maybe we should say “derailed”? Anyway, the trains are still, for the most part, controlled via power and signals over the track. This is often called driving the track instead of driving the train. While DCC helps with that, it still relies on the track for the power and the computer signal to reach the train. The goal everyone would like to get to would be for the track to be support only, as they are in real life, with power and controls coming from the locomotive itself.

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A Choice of Simple Tools

My primary requirement for a tool is that it stay out of my way. Ok, so maybe that is requirement number two, right after the requirement of the tool fulfilling its purpose. But honestly, if a tool can perform its required function then the next most important characteristic for me is that it be as non-obtrusive as possible. This applies to simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers as well as more complex tools such as computers and their software.

Simplicity ToolsWhen I pick up a hammer I expect it to be able to drive a nail into a board. I do not need it to have a compass to guide the way or a light to illuminate the path. Such things would only add needless complexity to the device and would thus get in my way. It is the simplicity of the device that makes it both useful and appropriate. The same goes for a screwdriver. Multiple attachments, lights in the body, and fancy sheathing may sound attractive at first, but when I am trying to get a job done those added complexities could actually make the job more difficult. The beauty of simplicity is that it represents just enough. Just enough to accomplish the work – not too little so that you require more time or tools, and not too much so that extra effort is expended.

This simplicity is also how I choose software. I am an Apple fan; there is no doubt about that. But I am an Apple fan for a reason. I will not deny, not in the least, that Windows and Linux may be immensely more configurable than Mac OSX. But that configurability adds a level of complexity that I find in no way necessary. That configurability actually gets in my way. I feel the same way about the Android mobile operating system versus IOS.
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Nexus 7 Tablet Six Month Review

I have had my Google Nexus 7 Android tablet for a little more than six months now. You can see my early impressions of it back when I talked about using it as a mobile computer. I feel that I have been using it long enough to take a good look at it and summarize my feelings. My summary – I really don’t like it. Sorry, I just don’t.

Google Nexus 7 TabletThe most obvious problem with the Nexus 7, and actually the problem that bothers me the least, is that it is just too small. This is really a personal preference. I know quite a few people who prefer the smaller seven inch form factor to the nine or ten inch tablets. I am not one of them. It is great that I can slip the tablet into my pants pocket or easily hold it without any arm fatigue, yes. On the other hand I find myself zooming in far too often. Often enough that I notice it; it interrupts my experience, and makes me switch over to my laptop. On quite a few occasions as I have been lying in bed using the Nexus 7 I have found myself setting it aside to get up and retrieve my laptop. That boils down to the tablet just not working for me. And when I have wanted to do simple book reading I still prefer the non-backlit basic Kindle or … horrors … a real book!

Ok, other than the size we could talk about apps. Google Play, the Android app store, has come a long way. I have to say that there is almost no app that I want that I can’t find. Play can be a bit cluttered and hard to pick through at times – kind of like searching for a gem in a flea market – but in the end I do find what I need. The good apps are free or reasonably priced, and I have never had any complaints with what I have found. I stopped using alternatives, like Amazon’s app store, simply because I didn’t need them and I didn’t like have to go to multiple sources for updates or searches. My summary of the app experience – great. Not an issue at all. Oh, and I love Chrome. Best mobile and desktop browser there is. Continue reading “Nexus 7 Tablet Six Month Review”

Working with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iTunes

Just a quick pointer to those of you using the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iTunes. And for those of you who know and / or care, I ordered my iPhone today from AT&T! The rep at the store, who was very friendly and helpful, said that they are told to tell people 14 to 21 days to come in, but that he expects it to be more like 5 to 10 days. Total price with tax and such was just over $213. And now I wait…

But anyway, for those of you who store your music and videos in iTunes and want to know how to back it all up, Apple has posted an article on just how to do so. iTunes 7 offers a new way to back up your iTunes library, playlists, and iTunes Store purchases (including Applications purchased from the App Store) for safekeeping. The Back Up to Disc feature saves your media to a blank disc (CD or DVD) and once backed up, iTunes can use your backup disc(s) to automatically restore your iTunes library. If you have iTunes 5 or 6, click here. Note that this is for both Windows and Mac computers.

I don’t need to tell you that you should be backing up your entire computer and all of your documents, but if you want to know just how to backup iTunes, this is a great article. But please, backup everything. External hard drives are quite inexpensive these days and make backing up quick, easy, and painless. For a few examples of them, look here or here.

The other article for you Apple users out there is one on how to synchronize Microsoft Entourage, Mac Office’s Outlook counterpart, with your iPhone or iPod Touch. I have posted that full article on my site at MacDeveloper website. So, if you are using Entourage and want to sync up, be sure to check that one out.

Find that pesky song

You know that song that keeps going through your mind? No you don’t do you? That is the problem, the tune or words keep going through your mind, but you just don’t know the name of the song. In my case it is a song that I keep hearing on the radio but the annoying DJs never tell me who performed the music or what the title of the track is. Now there is a solution.

midomi music finding serviceI just stumbled across a Midomi. It is so simple that it is amazing that it works. You simply go to the site, click on the button and then sing some of the song that you know or hum the tune. Midomi will then search its database and tell you what the song is. Of course, so that they can provide this service and earn some money, they will then off your the opportunity to buy the song, videos, and such by linking directly to the iTunes music store.

Now honestly I had mixed results with the service. Obviously it works better the clearer your singing or humming and the longer you can do it for. At least 10 seconds is required for any kind of read at all. I also found that the more popular the tune you are searching for the more likely the service is to find it. Whether this is a factor of the accuracy of their database or due to the linking to iTunes, I have no idea.

The coolest thing though, at least in my mind, is that the service can be used from the new iPhone – if, unlike me, you are lucky enough to have gotten one. That being the case, you can just pull Midomi up on your iPhone, hold it up to the radio for a short while, and then have it tell you what the song is that is playing. Now that is cool.

So, if you want to get that song out of your head and on to your iPod or MP3 player, give Midomi a shot. Then please come back here and let us know how it worked for you. Tell me, did it find your music?