Saturday, September 29, 2012

The New Apple Maps

I loved the old Maps program, based on the Google database, but I love the new one so much more.  At the time I'm writing this, I'm on the road, visiting book stores and doing book signings half-way across the country from home.  I downloaded the IOS 6 update with motel wifi and updated my phone and iPad when it came out.  Almost before the update completed, there were a flood of articles bad-mouthing the new Maps.  I even made the bookmark to the Google maps web-app, like people suggested.

However, once I started using the Apple Maps, I never was even tempted to use the Google link, or the Navigon full featured app that I spent good money for a long time ago.  The Apple Maps is just too easy to use.

I've used Navigon once -- just to try it out.  It works fine, but choosing a destination was difficult.  I never bothered.  On the Maps app, I can say "Route me to Chamberlain, South Dakota" and I can have spoken turn by turn directions with no other input.  Or I can scroll through the maps and type "Books" in the search field to have pins pop up for all the bookstores.  I select one of the pins and tap the crooked arrow icon to get my directions.  This is how I hop-scotched up the coast from California to Seattle, stopping at any bookstores I could find.

Most of the gripes about the app are with the database of locations driving it.  Yes, I saw a couple of errors.  Usually one location and a duplicate from the Yelp database for the same store.  If I'd have been on top of things I should have tapped the "Report a Problem" button to flag the bad ones to improve the database, but I didn't notice that option.

But the thing is, ALL maps have errors.  Even the glorified Google Maps.  Up until a few weeks ago, Google insisted that My House was a retail bookstore.  I received any number of phone calls by people calling me, looking for books.  I had to go report the issue and get the bad listing scrubbed.  That has to happen with all databases.

So, aware there might be errors, I happily continue my trip, using Apple Maps, because no other app works as well.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Backing up Beartooth

I almost wrote "Backing up Bluetooth" which would have been an entirely different article.

In preparation for this cross country trip, iOS 6 compatibility and the opportunity to give my son-in-law my workhorse original iPad, I upgraded to the new iPad. The question at the moment of purchase was whether to go with AT&T or Verizon.

I wanted the Personal Hotspot feature that wasn't available on my unlimited AT&T data plans, and I finally chose Verizon. This gave me an iPhone 4S on AT&T and the new device on Verizon. I'd be traveling in areas with limited coverage, so if one service failed, hopefully the other one would be available.

Today, I'm one week into the trip and I have been disappointed in the Verizon coverage. Traveling up to Yellowstone, and spending the night in Santa Clara NM and Pinedale WY, not to mention various gas stations on the way, the iPad showed no coverage. Certainly AT&T is light as well, but if there is any signal to be had it'll be on my 4S.

Here in Yellowstone, cell coverage is limited to about four towers in the whole park. As I type this in Canyon Village, I have 4 bars of 4G on the iPhone and one bar intermittently of Verizon 3G on the iPad. It was fairly solid at Mammoth Hot Springs, but in general AT&T wins here.

This morning, realizing we needed to make a phone call in Silver Gate Montana, we drove up the Beartooth Highway, searching for a remembered signal from previous years. Outside of Cook City, there was a flicker of signal and as I watched a deer grazing beside the road, Mary Ann had me turn around, and then back up on the Beartooth Highway, hoping to pick up something usable, but it wasn't to be had on any device. This is the area none of the cell companies bother with.

I expressed my disappointment on twitter and quite soon got this response from Verizon: @HenryMelton We want to make sure that you have reliable service. Where did you travel? Are you still there? I can check on coverage. ^LA

I replied giving details. I was in Yellowstone.

They replied: @HenryMelton Ahh I see! There are certain areas that do not have coverage. Go to to view coverage. ^LA

Thanks Verizon. Yes, I know there is limited coverage here, my post was comparing the two services, where AT&T was a clear winner.

I have often thought that the tech journalist coverage of AT&T vs Verizon was based purely on the San Francisco cell service area where those reporters all live and gave AT&T a bad rep that it can't seem to shake.

Who knows? The trip has just begun and the situation may well reverse when I'm on the west coast. We'll see.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dreams, Lucid and Otherwise

One of my most useful writing tools is the lucid dream. It's a halfway state between wakefulness and random dreaming, where I can set the stage, place the characters in motion, and even stop and rewind the action. It's great for working through scenes and seeing how the characters will act, all before touching the keyboard.

This happens for me before finally drifting off into snore mode at night, in the dawn light of the morning, and occasionally in those in between times between deep sleep and wakefulness.

I'm having trouble using lucid dreaming at all this week. We're in Yellowstone National Park for a week of touring the great loop and watching animals. Mary Ann is a nature photographer, and so our typical day is up at five to be at the wolf observation sites before dawn, then tour the park, stopping for buffalo, elk, coyotes, and bear. Come sunset, we will be in a photogenic location for her sunset shots. Of course, at that time, we are halfway across the huge park from out room in Cook City on the far eastern edge of the park. So, I drive (I do all the driving) back that direction, until we stop for another photo shoot of star trails or the milky way.

Eventually, we drag in near midnight and collapse, with the clock set for five again just a few short hours away.
Now, I do dream under these conditions, but it's hardly the leisurely set up and monitoring useful for my writing. It's the random mis-mash of people and events I can barely remember when waking, and forget soon after. It's the processing type of dream scientists think is necessary maintenance to memory development.

I can't gripe too much about the lack of dream-writing time, not when it's just part of being in Yellowstone. But the same dynamic probably happens with other dawn to midnight days when I'm trying to get a lot of activity done in too few hours. Lucid dreaming, for me, takes time. Time to drift off to sleep, not just crash. (Oops. I had to go run take a picture of a wolf watching us. Now where was I?) Time to wake up gently, rather than jumping up to silence the alarm.

It all takes time, doesn't it? Time to plot, time to compose, time to edit, and lots not even speak of the time it takes to market. It's all a trade off. And sometimes we just have to take some extra time to live.