Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mailbox for iOS

Note: There's an update to this at the end, where it says "Addendum."

It sounds almost like a joke.

  1. Promise people a "killer app."
  2. Get it approved (somehow) by Apple for the App Store.
  3. Have everybody download your "killer app."
  4. Show everybody how popular your app is by showing how many people signed up before you, and how many people signed up after you.
  5. Let them know that when the people ahead of you gets down to zero, you will (finally) be able to actually run the app.
  6. Decrease the count by one VERY S..L...O....W......L.........Y.
  7. When you get to zero, do nothing.
Yes. After literally DAYS of waiting for the iOS app to actually get to the point where it is supposed to work, it does absolutely nothing.

Well, that big "0" in the middle of the screen sometimes actually changes. It shows a negative number (!!!) and then quickly shifts back to the big "0."

The program hasn't done anything else other than show this remarkably useless screen.

Looking at the app reviews for the product, roughly half of the people that rated the app gave it a "1" (I hate it) review, mostly wondering why other people were giving an app that does nothing five stars. It also doesn't explain why iTunes give the app a 3-star rating.

I'm not really sure where to go from here. I cannot review an app that doesn't do anything. I mean, it shows a couple of interesting numbers, but it does nothing like what the app description says it is supposed to do.

To be fair, I sent off an email to the company explaining the issue I was having, and the response I received was, (and I quote), "Thanks so much for contacting Mailbox! The response has been incredible. We would love to get back to everyone right away, but due to high volume, our response time will be delayed. Thank you for your patience and understanding!

Well, patience isn't one of my best virtues, and as a software developer, I can understand a few glitches, but the reason they said they were using this "delayed roll out" was so that they could offer better service. I quote from their web page:

Mailbox relies on servers in the cloud to do things like send push notifications, make downloading email as fast as possible, and handle snoozed messages. Software that is server-based is susceptible to being overloaded and we want to keep this from happening. This is email, after all, and it needs to work reliably.
We’ve designed the Mailbox service to scale indefinitely, and have done as much load testing as we can. But we don’t know what we don’t know, so we’re using reservations to add people gradually.
I contend that what they've written on their web site contradicts what they sent me in their response to my emailed query. After all, the roll out was supposed to be SLOW in order to provide better response, but their response is that they're overwhelmed.

I don't have too much pity on a company that seems to have:

  • Gone out of its way to make its customers restless, and then
  • Delivers an app totally unusable for the express purpose for which it was designed.
Apple has been famous for frivolously rejecting apps for the most menial reasons, but it's also known for removing apps that are misleading as well. Isn't it time for Apple to step in and say, "Hey, wait! This isn't the iOS App experience we've been promising our users!" and give these developers and their app the boot?
Addendum

Since I originally posted my blog entry, the Mailbox support staff have replied. They asked for additional information, including my reservation number, confirmation code, and email address. I did so, and they told me to re-enter my credentials and validation code again. I did, and was allowed into the program. So, they apparently managed to fix the problem on their end.

While that is all well and good, it's possible the problem I had wasn't unique, and my experience was indeed my experience, so I'm leaving up the original blog entry. However, I'd like to point out the following:

  • This is an iPhone-only app. This cannot be stressed enough. In this day and age after the iPad was introduced in 2010, I'm surprised that there are still new apps that are iPhone-only. I don't like running apps on my iPad that don't run at iPad resolution. I tried to give my reservation number and validation code on my iPhone, but was told the number that worked on my iPad can not be found. My only choice, if I want to run this on my phone, is to sign up for another spot on the line, which is hundreds of thousands (millions by now?) long. The original wait for spot 87,474 was long enough. I'm not waiting for a million people ahead of me!
  • I do most of my email on my iPad, not my iPhone. For me, the iPhone is useful mostly for quick one-liners for email (and even then, I prefer iMessage due to its better interface for such small messages). That's my opinion, of course, but Apple's tools make it quite easy to adapt an app that was designed on one platform to the other; I've done this myself as a developer!
  • I haven't used this program much due to the above limitations. I was less apt to give it a shake, even if I was willing to use my iPhone as my mail platform (which makes little to no sense to me, since I have an iPad quite able to do the trick). I may return to the program to give it a full on review, and may even like it, but as it stands now, I'm not likely to do so.

As I said, things are working now, but not because I broke something, as far as I know. My original post is still valid; I did have the issues that I wrote about.

lar3ry

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Radio Margaritaville on your iPad

One of my favorite Internet radio stations is Jimmy Bufffett's Radio Margaritaville. It is available on Sirius/XM and also streamed from thie web site at radiomargaritaville.com. It's the "music" that plays in every Margaritaville Cafe restaurant, by the way, and it's streamed live from Orlando's Margaritaville Cafe at Universal Studios. (It also live streams all of Jimmy Buffett's concerts... it's a great resource just for that!)

Unfortunately, they don't offer iPhone/iPad compatible streams on that web site.

Apple's iTunes has Internet radio stations, though. And Radio Margaritaville is one of them.

Although iTunes doesn't sync radio with iOS devices, it's still possible to get Radio Margaritaville onto your iPhone/iPad from iTunes, and here's how...

  1. On your Mac/PC, run iTunes and find the station in iTunes (Radio Margaritaville can be found under "Reggae").
  2. Use "Get Info" to display the station information. You are interested in the first tab, by the way.
  3. Right click (CTRL-click if you have a one-button mouse on your Mac), and select "Copy URL." This will put the URL of the station into the cut/copy buffer.
  4. Get that URL onto your iDevice (email works wonderfully... just paste into the body of an email message)
  5. On your iDevice, get the URL (from your email, for instance). Tap it to open the URL in Safari
  6. You should be listening to your favorite laid-back island singer. If you turn your iDevice off, it will play in the background. This is great if you have some good stereo speakers hooked up to your device.
  7. Before you close the Safari tab, you'll probably want to save the link by using the "action" button on Safari's toolbar and selecting "Add Bookmark" or "Add to Home Screen."
Voila!

Since Mobile Safari is quite capable of playing Internet Radio, it's a wonder why Apple still chooses to not sync Radio Stations with their iDevices.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Year in Beer, NH Edition

I consider myself lucky that New Hampshire is fertile ground for local breweries and, of course, the festivals that celebrate the area's finest beers.

We have brew pubs like...

In addition, we have actual breweries as well, from the tiny...To the pretty good sized...
  • Red Hook Portsmouth Brewery in Portsmouth, NH, which has a national presence so you can try some of their concoctions even if you aren't in New England!

To the rather big...
  • Anheuser-Busch Inc. in Merrimack, NH--winter home of the Clydesdales!

(Note: This list isn't meant to be exhaustive, but includes most of the places I've visited or beers I've had the pleasure of trying.)

There were a quite a few nice beer festivals this year, although I didn't get to go to every one--it's not really feasible, unless your life is devoted to sampling beer all the time!

This year, I had the pleasure of attending the following brew fests:
  • American Craft Beer Fest (ACBF), in Boston last June. This was the biggest of them all, with thousands of people attending at Boston's Seaport World Trade Center.
  • Southern NH Brewers Festival, held at the White Birch Brewing company in Hookset last July. This event was outside during one of the heat waves we had in NH this year, and--unusual for a beer festival!--they provided giant electric fans placed all around the tents, large buckets of bottled water on ice (very popular!), and free food as well. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of the free stuff--it was very much appreciated by this attendee.
  • NH Brew Fest, held at Red Hook Brewing in Portsmouth, and presented as part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival last weekend.

My tastes in beer currently lean toward the "hoppier" beers--the more hops, usually, the better, depending on the hops. That means that I tend to gravitate toward the India Pale Ales (IPAs), and American Pale Ales, although I'm willing to try others, especially at the festivals.

Sandra, who doesn't really drink beer all that often, usually finds a few brews that meet her particular tastes. These usually include the "fruity" beers--ciders, blackberry or blueberry wheat beers, and some pumpkin beers as well. At the NH Brew Fest, she found a barley wine that she liked as well.

The festivals weren't just attended by local breweries; there were many breweries from all over the country, from states like Colorado, California, and even Hawaii!

The NH Brew Fest last weekend was probably the last fest I'll be attending this year, but I'm quite looking forward to them all again next year.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Apples

It's autumn in New England. In the northern areas of NH, the trees are starting to show their wonderful colors, and pretty soon those colors will be making their appearance here as well. The weather is getting cooler, and the apple orchards are open for business, selling varieties such as Cortland, Gala, McIntosh, and my family's favorite, Honey Crisp.

As much as this blog is mostly about food, the Apple I'm thinking about this cool autumn day is a company. Its founder, Steve Jobs, passed away yesterday. My thoughts are with his family and friends as well as the employees of Apple. He will be missed by many people. I'll leave it to the pundits and others ponder how his passing will affect the company he so loved, as well as Disney, where he was the largest single shareholder.

With autumn the season where we gather the harvest for the year, it's interesting the Steve passed during Apple season.

I'd like to quote something Steve said in 2005, at the commencement ceremonies at Stanford University:


Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.


I cannot think of anything better to say than what this intriguing man said about the subject.

Rest in peace, Steve.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Braciole

One of the great things about being married is marrying into the cuisine of the family of the person you are marrying. I can tell you from experience that I have learned quite a lot about Italian cooking from my wife and her family.

One of the nicest surprises was when I had spaghetti and meatballs at my in-laws' house before I got married. It seems that everybody has their own take on Italian sauce, and I remember hearing an interview with somebody that grew up in Brooklyn or Queens that on a Sunday evening, he could walk around his Italian neighborhood and just from smelling the "Sunday Gravy" cooking at each house, he could tell what part of Italy the family came from... one family might add a bit of cinnamon, one family might add some other special spice, etc. Sandra's mother's sauce was different than the one I made. It was tasty and delicious (not to take away from my own recipe, now...!), and a couple of things were noticeably different. First, she cooked her meatballs directly in the sauce, whereas I would sauté them first. Second, where I would sometimes throw a bit of beef into my sauce, Sandra's mom would have this special kind of stringy meat that was incorporated with egg and some other stuff. She called it "braciole," which is the title of this blog entry.

For nearly a dozen years or so, my only experience with braciole was when Sandra or her mom would make it. Sandra's technique is to take a thin slice of flank steak, added sliced hard-boiled eggs, some spices, and Parmesan cheese. Next, she'd roll the steak (like a jelly roll), and secure the meat with toothpicks. She would put the entire roll of meat into her tomato sauce for it to cook with her meatballs. Before serving, she would remove the toothpicks, and slice the roll, putting the disks onto a platter and adding a bit of sauce on top. This would be a separate dish from the meatballs and sausages.

My first time having braciole outside of Sandra's family was at a restaurant (which won't be named). I saw braciole on the menu, and realized for the first time that this was how it was spelled. Knowing that I loved Sandra's version, I ordered it. What I received surprised me. It contained bread crumbs. There were no eggs. It was kind of bland, actually. I was disappointed, but I always had Sandra's to fall back on.

Another time I ordered braciole at a restaurant was a different experience. I was at Kitty's restaurant, a place in North Reading, Massachusetts that's been in business for almost 65 years. I'll probably write about this restaurant in another column, but I must say that this place has some very, very good Italian food, and their portions are huge. Anyway, I noticed braciole on the menu, and figured I would give it a try. This was much closer to the braciole that Sandra and her mother made with one very noticeable exception: garlic. Not just "garlic," but "garlic to the extreme." At Kitty's, the braciole is chewy and garlicky, and very, very good. (It has since become the one thing I order there.)

Other restaurants had braciole, I started to notice. Some used pork tenderloin, some used beef. I've found I like a few different types, but Kitty's is probably my favorite from a restaurant.

So, after having the braciole at Kitty's, guess what I do? I try to "improve" Sandra's braciole, of course.

Now, anybody that is married will know that one of the big no-nos in a marriage is to try to improve something that your partner is proud of. I knew it in my heart, but I was just thinking, "if we could just add a bit more garlic..." I'm still married, and I didn't sustain any injury, and to her credit, Sandra did let me add more garlic to her recipe. The end result was a slight improvement (to me), and a slight deterioration in its taste ("Too much garlic," she decided). The end result is that when she makes it, she makes it her way, and when I make it, I make it her way, with a bit more garlic on one of the bracioles, and let her have one with the "right" amount of garlic for her own consumption.

Taking a bit of a detour here, I'm also a fan of barbecue. I saw this gigantic book in a bookstore about ten years ago called, "The Barbecue Bible." In it were some recipes that I noticed were very similar to braciole. It was flank steak with different cheeses, rolled, and then tied up (using butcher's twine instead of using Sandra's toothpicks). It was grilled, and wasn't served with tomato sauce. I tried making some of these, and Sandra wasn't particularly fond of any of them, but the ideas they contained were useful.

When I make my own version of braciole nowadays, I have Sandra butterfly the flank steak for me (she does this very nicely). I also use Sandra's standard ingredients, except for some extra garlic on one of the rolls. I also sometimes "jazz" it up using things that Sandra and I agree on up front. For example, we sometimes use slices of Parmesan or shaved Parmesan instead of graded or shredded cheese. Another thing we agree on is occasionally using uncut leaves of basil. I've tried precooking the meat by sautéing it in a bit of oil before adding it to the sauce, but I didn't taste any great improvement, and Sandra thought it tasted worse, so we just throw the raw meat into the sauce and take it out cooked after an hour or so. We always slice it and serve it with the meal, separated from the meatballs and sausages.

So... at our house, when I'm cooking, it's "compromise braciole," which is about 98% Sandra's (and her mother's) recipe, and about 2% my "improvements" (garlic, and other minor changes). See how a happy marriage works?

Bon appetit!