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Back. For MORE Brains.

Scott and I are back.  We have been away, dining on the brains of the unsuspecting living and trying – often without success – to lumber to the Apple Store and buy the latest gadget that our leader, Steve Jobs, tells us to buy.  We are Apple Zombies, after all.

But, once again, we are mindlessly wandering the streets, munching.  Always munching.

If Scott or I had higher brain function, we would be excited by the greatest underground event to ever surface from the undead depths.  “Z-Day” is just around the corner.  It is on March 12, a Friday, as the living pretend to be us, the brain-loving, rotting community.  They will simply be playing a decomposing game of tag, touching others to have them join our rancid minions.  What a glorious day it will be!

Details can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=216774344947

MacBooks are optional.  I look forward to feasting on your sweet, sweet brains.

Mmmmm… Brains.  Did I mention I like brains?

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For the last year or so, I have been using Bank of America’s “My Portfolio” feature to aggregate bank accounts, retirement accounts, loans and credit cards to generate a snapshot view of my finances.  Boy am I broke!

Setting aside the gloom of seeing how poorly my investments have fared and how much debt I have, I’ve been adequately (but not overwhelmingly) pleased with BofA’s “My Portfolio”:

  • It is easy to add accounts if you can remember all the different user IDs and passwords (though the accounts error FREQUENTLY, which I suspect is the other bank’s fault more times than not).
  • The main page is informative.  The upper left shows your Total Net Worth with the change from one month ago, and on the right is the Net Worth Summary with the name and balance of each account.
  • The Budgeting & Reports section is not as intuitive as the rest of the site, and I stopped using that section after a few tries.

Virginia Heffernan, who writes the New York Times Sunday magazine column and nytimes.com tech culture blog The Medium (which, for mysterious reasons, is about to be folded into the ArtsBeat blog even though the magazine column lives on), introduced me to the free account aggregator Mint.com in her May 21 column on, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Mint.com apparently makes its money off credit card, savings account and other referrals, but is almost lazily non-pushy about it.  The interface is simple, and the welcome screen made it a breeze to enter account information.  There are only five tabs:

  • Overview shows the accounts down the left, an alerts section at top right that picks up due-date info from your accounts and sets them up as bill reminders, and a month-to-date chart that shows you how you’re doing on the major budget categories.
  • Transactions has transactions grouped by day and allows you to easily re-categorize your entries.
  • Trends shows you the current month spending-by-category as a pie graph and allows you to compare to a previous month.  (The chart below that allows you to compare your categorical expenses to people in various cities is almost completely useless — everyone categorizes differently, and the results are not bracketed by income.)
  • Investments needs work.  The main chart defaults to how your portfolio has performed against the S&P 500 — which is nice — but the other charts don’t provide much useful information for showing the diversification and performance of your portfolio.
  • Ways to Save has offers for credit cards, CDs, etc., and shows how much you would save or how much you would earn based on variables like interest rates and the value of rewards programs.  I have not used that feature, but I probably would if I were looking to set up a new account.

My biggest gripes are: (1) the aforementioned underwhelming investment charts, (2) Mint.com’s failure to add a community bank that I suggested more than a month ago and that is available on competitor Quicken.com (which I tried and abandoned for other reasons; it’s not as good as Mint.com by a longshot), and (3) the inability to add manual accounts (like ones that aren’t available online).  All relatively minor and correctable.

Neither BofA nor Mint.com are particularly useful as get-out-of-debt planners, so I’ll continue to use my ridiculously elaborate Excel sheet for that.

I looked forward all day long to getting home and updating the firmware on the two iPhones to iPhone 3.0, and here’s my at-a-glance impression of the install and the handful of features I was most looking forward to testing:

Install. No problems at all.  There were a few installaton horror stories earlier today on AppleInsider — see comments here — but the most common complaint was the download and relaunch time.  I set up the download, took the dogs for a short walk, and it was nearly finished 20 minutes later when I got back inside.  The whole refresh took 25-30 minutes tops from the beginning of the initial download in iTunes 8.2 to the end of the reboot on the first iPhone.

Snappyness. Some people are reporting that apps open and close faster on the iPhone 3G after the update.  I’m not seeing that.  Apps are loading and closing the same as before.

Mail. I got an error message on initial launch, but it straightened itself out with the Exchange Server back at the office and my emails came up just fine.  The folders did have to re-download from Exchange Server, but that was quick and painless.

I suspect landscape view will turn out to be the killer feature in iPhone 3.0.  Landscape is available in every window of Mail — folder list, email list, reading individual emails, and writing individual emails — so you don’t have to go back and forth from landscape to upright.  It is going to take some getting used to, but it won’t be nearly as steep a learning curve as typing on an iPhone for the first time.

The visual difference while typing is more than I expected.  Your eyes have more territory to cover than before, so you may need to hold the iPhone a little further away while typing.  Reaching the letters in the center of the phone is a little awkward, but it beats having to pinch the side of the phone to thumb-type the letters near the sides.  It may take a couple of days to find your rhythm, but I have a feeling typing in landscape is going to be a major improvement over iPhone 2.2.

Peter is our chief zombie correspondent, but I couldn’t resist this one:

It sounds like something out of science fiction: zombie fire ants. But it’s all too real.

Fire ants wander aimlessly away from the mound.

Eventually their heads fall off, and they die.

continued…

kindle dx

After seeing all the buzz last week about the Kindle DX, I kinda sorta want one, but the functionality and price do not quite match yet.  Amazon is marketing the new, bigger Kindle as as a reader for books, textbooks, newspapers, magazines and to a lesser extent for blogs and PDFs.  I would love it for all of those things — but not for $489.

Amazon introduced an an iPhone app in March that allowed iPhone and iPod touch users to view (but not actually purchase) Kindle books on an iPhone or iPod touch, and introduced an update today that allows you to purchase books.  (It’s just a web site with an icon and not as good as the Amazon app, so I assume this is a transitional step.)  I’m not going to read books on a 2.5-inch screen, so I’m not terribly excited about the app.

The New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post later this summer are going to offer readers the Kindle DX at a reduced price with a monthly subscription.  That would be a great idea if the subscriptions were less than $9.99 a month — and $13.99 a month for the New York Times? — and/or if you couldn’t get the same content online for free.  The $1.49-$2.99 a month pricing for numerous magazines titles seems more reasonable even accounting for the fact that the content is free online.

I’ll wait for the rumored 10-inch Apple tablet.  A $499-$699 Apple tablet would presumably compete with netbooks (Safari), book readers (Kindle app), and MP3/portable video players (iTunes Store).  If this is Apple’s answer to the Kindle — basically a 10-inch iPod touch — sign me up.

Until about a year ago, I had searched the Internet far and wide for a free, uncomplicated service that would let me keep a folder on my home Mac completely synced with an identical folder on my work PC and backed up online.  I found SugarSync, which allowed me to do just that for $2.49 a month.

And now it’s free.  (Actually, up to 2 GB is free.  SugarSync makes its money on packages ranging from 30 GB to 250 GB of storage.)

You can also access your files on a mobile browser or with an iPhone app.

UPDATE: I’m now using Dropbox.

You’re counting the days, ain’t ‘ya?  In just a few short weeks, you’ll have that shiny new iPhone, all tricked out with the latest 3G technology.  Oh, yes… you’ll be blazing through the Internet at screaming near-broadband speed.  Or will you?

I was cruising through the AT&T website, and stumbled across the 3G vs. Edge Network coverage map, and one thing jumps out – if you’re not in an upper-tier market, that new iPhone may not be running any faster, because 3G may not be available.

AT&T tells us they are rolling out 3G at breakneck speed.  I’m sure that’s true.  But, on July 11th, some fairly large markets will still be waiting.  A quick look shows towns like Omaha, Savannah, Wichita, Shreveport, and even artsy Santa Fe are 3G-less.  Similarly, if you’re anywhere in Iowa, Vermont, Wyoming, or Alaska, you’re out in the cold.  And, the website gives no real idea when all that is going to change.

So, if you’re planning to feed on the faster Internet that the new iPhone promises, and you’re going to pay for it, it would be smart to make sure that you are getting serviced.  For a short time, anyway, if you can see cows anywhere near where you live, 3G is still in your future.

I live in Memphis.  I’m good.  But, I’m buying the new BlackBerry.  And, that’s another post, entirely.