Sublime Sounds


Wouldn’t it be great if you could have ringtones that are simple and relaxing, instead of the jarring sounds found on most mobile phones?

I’ve been searching for the ideal ringtones and audio notifications for my cell phone and tablet — and I think my search may be over. Imagine a bell-like ringtone that is both short and pleasant. Or a notification that’s a high-quality recording of an unobtrusive chime. Sound good? These are just two of the inspired aural creations at

The Cleartone site currently offers two sets of ringtones and notifications. The first set (titled Cleartones Classic) features tones, dings, and chirps that are likely to be the least annoying synthetic sounds you’ve ever heard on an electronic device. The second set (titled Cleartones Organic) is similar in approach, but was created entirely with acoustic instruments. The instruments include metal bells, chimes, glass bowls, woodblocks, and marimba.

Of course, you can mix and match the sets within your phone or tablet. You might have one slightly more aggressive configuration for use when traveling and another more soothing configuration when relaxing at home.

The prices are quite reasonable given the number and variety of sounds. The sets include audio files that are compatible with both iOS and Android devices. You can also preview some of the tones to determine if they might be a good fit.

Next to leaving your phone on vibrate, Cleartones are the closest thing to silence. Highly recommended.

Posted in Audio, Cellphones | Leave a comment

Be Aware

Awareness App

You like to listen to music while on the go. But there’s this problem. You can’t hear the world around you with the ear buds blocking your ears. You could place the ear buds loosely in your ears, but then you can’t really hear the music. So what do you do?

If you use an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad to listen to your music (or any audio material), you should check out Awareness! The Headphone App. It turns on the built-in microphone to measure the sound around you. It then uses that same microphone to let you hear the outside world whenever the external sound rises above the ambient noise.

If you’re waiting at an airport gate, you’ll be able to hear the announcement about your flight change. You’ll be able to hear a nearby car horn when you’re jogging. And you won’t be startled when the waitress brings your food.

The Awareness app works well and has some nice features. You can manually set the threshold where the microphone will turn on (you may want the threshold to be higher or lower for different situations). You can override the cutoff to temporarily hear everything around you (just in case). And you can have the app automatically lower the music when the microphone is triggered (otherwise, the volume level is unaffected).

This has become my favorite app when traveling. I often use my iPad to watch movies on a plane. Previously, I would pause the movie and pull out my ear buds in order to hear any inflight announcements. Now when an announcement is made, I can choose to listen or not, without any disruption.

Posted in Audio, Cellphones, iPad | Leave a comment

Dial-In Comfort

Nest Thermostat

It’s a hot, new product that’s completely sold out for several months. The man who conceived the product was largely responsible for the design of the iPod. And just about every review of the product has been wildly positive.

Sounds great… except it’s a thermostat. That’s right. One of the most innovative of the current crop of consumer products is a rethink of the lowly wall-mounted thermostat.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is the brainchild of Tony Fadell, who created the iPod and spearheaded the original iPhone through its production process. With a team of former iPod and iPhone engineers, he has developed an intelligent thermostat that learns which temperatures you prefer and at what times you prefer to change them.

Modeled after the iconic Honeywell circular thermostat, the Nest is simple to operate. Turn the ring clockwise to lower the temperature. Or turn it counterclockwise to raise the temperature. Yet behind the familiar circular shell is a sophisticated array of sensors that measure temperature, humidity, light, and activity.

You connect to the Nest’s features over Wi-Fi using your computer, phone, or tablet. It’s designed to learn your habits automatically, so you can save money on your energy bills. If you turn the temperature down two nights in a row, the Nest will turn itself down for you on the third night. And when you’re away from your home, it will switch over to a more energy-efficient setting. It even tracks your energy consumption so that you can see how much money you’ve saved.

I haven’t had a chance to install a Nest in my home, but I hope to give it a try as soon as possible.

Posted in Gadgets, Wireless | Leave a comment

This Season, Plant a Snapseed


I’m a big fan of Nik Software’s plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom. In fact, I use Silver Efex Pro 2.0 for most of my black-and-white conversions. When the company announced it was releasing a $4.99 photo-editing app for the iPad, my first reaction was: How good can it be, if it’s only $4.99?

Well, Snapseed for the iPad is very good. Most importantly, it’s intuitive enough for almost anyone who wants to edit, crop, or spruce up photos. With many of the effects, you simply swipe your finger across the photo to see variations in how the effect would be applied. The effects are non-destructive, so you can easily back out of an effect and revert to the original image.

Along with the effects, Snapseed has a generous selection of editing tools, including an auto correct option (which works surprisingly well); crop, straighten, and rotate tools (no, you can’t rotate the iPad to control the photo-edit rotation); a center focus tool (varying the midpoint and size of the focus); and a selection of “organic frames” (you can cycle through frames with smooth or rough edges and adjust both the frame width and frame offset).

With many of the effects and tools, you can select specific areas of the image using the same U Point technology that’s found in Nik Software’s higher-priced plug-ins. Placing a U Point onto an iPad image couldn’t be simpler. Just press the spot with your finger.

My only complaint — and it’s a minor one — is that there’s no way to zoom-in to your image to see how the changes would look at the pixel level. It could great if you could toggle the image to a full 100-percent view, to examine what you’ve done more closely, before you commit to the alteration.

Snapseed shows that there could be a bright future for touch-based photo-editing apps. It’s powerful and fun to use. And did I mention it costs only $4.99?

Posted in Digital Cameras, iPad | Leave a comment

Oh, So Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan escalator

CES The Cosmopolitan has finally opened on the Las Vegas strip.

The project was supposed to open in August 2008 at a cost of $2 billion. As it turned out, the Cosmopolitan is now opening in sections after possibly costing as much as $3.9 billion.

I had a chance to walk through the Cosmopolitan during CES and was very impressed with the design. My photo above shows one of the escalators as it approaches a brilliantly illuminated ceiling. There are places you can sit and talk far away from the gambling, which is unusual for Vegas. Despite its well-publicized financial difficulties and last-minute technical snafus, this mega hotel-casino is well worth a visit.

The project was begun by Ian Bruce Eichner, who I interviewed almost five years ago for three of the airline magazines. He was excited about the overall scale of the construction, floor-to-ceiling windows, wraparound balconies, and innovative placement of the facilities directly over the sidewalk.

He mentioned he had just been speaking with the MGM about possibly building a double overhead bridge over Las Vegas Boulevard. The two bridges would crisscross all four corners of the intersection to connect the abridging properties. Heady stuff.

Looking through the interview transcription, I found Eichner’s insightful views on the Cosmopolitan’s vertical design:

“The overwhelming preponderance of projects on the strip is, for lack of a better phrase, a horizontal development. In Vegas, land wasn’t an issue. So everything is built like a suburban development. It’s suburban sprawl. You walk distances. The parking garage is to the left. The casino is completely detached from same. The retail is over there. And that is completely different from going to a city.

“What’s the key feature of something that’s urban? It’s vertical, because land is at a premium. In a place like New York, you have huge developments on relatively small sites. If you look at the most recent developments, such as the Time Warner thing, you’ve got quadruple mixed use. You’ve got a garage. You’ve got retail. You’ve got hotel. You’ve got condo. You’ve got office. They’re all stacked one on top of another. The more you have limitations on land, the more you see the evolution of these mixed-used projects.

“So the first thing that distinguishes this project is that it’s a classic urban development.”

Sounds like he had his finger on where construction along Las Vegas Boulevard will inevitably have to go.

Posted in Architecture | Leave a comment

Clear the Clutter

Beacon Universal Remote Control

CES You’ve got umpteen remote controls in your living room, and you always seem to lose the one you need. Sound familiar?

We have this problem at our house, and while there are many solutions available that can consolidate your remote control codes into a single remote control, Griffin Technology showed a product at CES that may be the best so far. It works with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

The product is called the Beacon Universal Remote Control System. Yes, it’s a mouthful. And no, it doesn’t make a decent acronym — BURCS. It is, however, a well thought-through product.

Other remote control solutions attach directly to your iPhone, which makes the iPhone much heavier. And you have to remember to attach it each time. Or possibly even find it, like one of your remote controls.

The Beacon is an intermediary device that translates the signals between your iOS device and your various other devices. The intermediary device uses the customary IR (Infrared) technology to send the commands to the other devices, but uses Bluetooth to receive the commands from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

You install Dijit’s Universal Remote app, a free download from the App Store, and use it to select the manufacturer-specific codes for your devices. Once that task is complete, you can configure control layouts for different functions, such as listening to music, playing a DVD, or watching a television channel.

One potential issue could be the placement of the Beacon. In theory, it would need to have a line-of-sight to all your IR-based devices. A coffee table in the middle of the room would be ideal.

I asked a Griffin rep how critical placement would be if you couldn’t place the Beacon into the middle of the room. I was told that the light signals tend to bounce off walls, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I wasn’t able to test the viability of the bouncing light waves in the CES booth, but suspect that placement may still be important for this type of product.

Posted in iPad, Peripherals, Wireless | Leave a comment