Playing with iOS5, Lion and iCloud

Upgraded both my iPhone and my iPad2 to iOS5 yesterday, and my MacBook Pro to Lion. Aside from the infuriating reverse-direction scrolling in Lion (push up to go down and vice-versa — I’m too hardwired), I have to admit that I like the whole experience. I’m assuming that I’ll have to await more iOS apps’ use of the notification system –the only thing appearing there so far with mine is Apple Mail– but it’s a far cry better than the pop-up alerts from before. (Tap tap tap tap –what was that? Oh, dammit — tap tap tap….)

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Syncing a Newton with a Modern Mac

My Newton MessagePad 2100 remains disconnected from my computer and the world at large while I wait for a) a Newton 2100 Serial Adapter Dongle; or b) Andriano’s Newton-USB dongle. Thus I’m taking this time to play around with my Newton eMate 300 and a few of the available sync programs. To tell the truth, I had heard so many intimidating and frustrating things about synchronising a Newton with a modern Intel-based Mac OS X box that I doubted I’d ever bother with it. Sure, I could always go back to my Pismo and OS 9, but my wife has now claimed that machine, and besides, I want to sync with my OS X address book, calendar, and so forth.

So, my current set-up: a 15″ MacBook Pro, a stock eMate 300, an old-school Mac serial cable, and a Keyspan USA-28X serial-to-USB adapter. One end of the serial cable plugs into the eMate, the other end into the Keyspan, and the Keyspan’s USB connector into my MacBook Pro. Keyspan drivers are downloaded and installed.

First, the most basic sync program: NewTen, by Panic Software’s Steven Frank. This is basically a package installer. I choose my Keyspan connect, set the eMate to dock via serial, and drag a Newton package onto the app. After a little while –remember that a serial connection can be rather slow– the eMate has the package installed. A one-trick pony at the moment, perhaps, but it works well.

Second, Simon Bell’s NCX, also known as Newton Connection. This is an impressive little app that looks to replace Apple’s official Newton Connection Utilities (NCU). While it doesn’t yet do full synchronisation, it currently has the ability to:

  • Install packages through a drag and drop;
  • Import and export NewtonWorks “paper” (text) files as RTF and Notes files as text, plus Calendars and Names.
  • Back up and restore the programs, extensions and data files on the Newton.
  • A pass-through keyboard. This is neat. Whatever you type on your computer comes out on the Newton. Drag and drop text on the window to copy it into whatever program is currently open on the Newton, right where you’ve put the cursor.

The latter has proven handy to drop text right into a NewtonWorks or Notes file right from the Mac’s desktop. The export works well too — I’ve written four articles on the eMate thus far (including this one).

The third program I’ve been trying out is NewtSync, also known as nSync. (*cough*) I’ve already used this program to transfer all 200 of my OS X Address Book entries to my eMate, and am now experimenting with its text, outliner, calendar, and newsfeed synchronisation. It’s still an early release, and so I’m attempting each sync with extreme caution, being sure to back up my data often. Thus far, no problems.

I should note that none of these programs were created by Apple, nor are they sponsored by Apple in any way: these are hard-wrought fan projects, pure and simple. There’s something to be said for the dedication needed to program such things, given that the Newton platform was prematurely canceled nearly a decade ago.

More posts later, no doubt, as I learn the ins and outs, strengths and weaknesses, of each of these applications.

YANN – Yet Another Newton Newbie

eMate 300In two articles for DIYPlanner, one about the MessagePad 2100 and another about the eMate, I mentioned how I’ve got the decade-old Apple Newton bug. Given that the site is mostly about paper-based fetishes, there’s only so much I can say there without upsetting the apple cart. (No pun intended.) Here I can say a little more.

It’s a little bizarre: I normally receive a half-dozen email per article, in addition to the 6-12 comments left on the site. These Newton articles not only generated a lot of comments, but some 30 email, and were picked up by The Unofficial Apple Weblog and –giving me a brief and unexpected laugh-out-loud instant in a supermarket check-out line– on the MacBreak Weekly podcast. Most of the email posed the same conundrum: “I’ve always wanted a Newton, too…. Should I buy one on eBay?”

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43 Folders on DEVONthink and Smart Groups

Over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann is rediscovering the wonderful Mac application that is DEVONthink Pro – DEVONthink: An appreciation of “smart groups”

I’ve now had DT Pro v. 1.1.1 in battlefield action for the last few weeks, and have been dutifully feeding it anything I find that seems tangentially interesting or useful; a few custom Quicksilver triggers mean one-click, no-look addition of any data type, from web pages to text selections to photos, full PDFs, and movie files.

DEVONthink Pro is probably my favourite piece of software. Ever. While I use a score of multimedia applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.) on a regular basis, I am –by nature and trade, in the broadest sense– an information worker. I need a digital commonplace book to collect, track and act upon all those things that Merlin mentions, and much more. While DEVONthink Personal proved an excellent application for doing this, the introduction of DT Pro and its subsequent updates have left me continually astounded. (See my earlier detailed review of DT for more information.)

Merlin goes on to mention the “smart groups” –basically, agents to collect items automatically based upon their content or properties– but I’ve always found that its real power starts to show with things like concordance (estimations of related items — see Berlin’s article), offline archiving of web pages (very useful for changing sites like the NYT), sheets and records (think about a database), Dashboard widgets for quick access, and a teeming horde of AppleScripts. Those starting off with the software might not appreciate all these functions, but I can assure you that they all come in very handy, very soon. And the fact that DT/Pro gets “smarter” as you feed more information into it translates into a more powerful application every day.

Those needing to dig up knowledge on a constant basis can take the application a step further, though: I’m just now exploring DEVONagent, an “intelligent research assistant.” For a long while, I resisted: I’m definitely a Google power-user, and it seemed to do everything I needed it to do. Or so I thought. It turns out that DA has increased my research abilities many-fold. It scours not only the web in general, but also specific online databases to collect and collate information, compiling a useful text-only preview of all those tidbits it thinks I might like to know. With one click I can view the full pages in an integrated (tabbed) browser, or add the information into DTP. The new version also adds an interesting “visualiser” to see how other words and topics relate to your current item. The application takes a little getting used to, but it really pays off after a week or two.

So much information, so little time. At least with the DEVON gear, I can generally make the most of it.