R44 iPhone and iPad Power and Mount

What you need to get the job done — and how I did it.

One of the great things about the R44 is the DC power port located rather conveniently between the two front seats facing backwards. At first glance, it seems as if it would be the perfect accessory for charging any number of devices.

Well, it is — but not without jumping through a few hoops. The trouble is, on a Raven II, that port is connected to the 28v DC power system and puts out 24v to 28v of power. Plug the wrong kind of DC accessory into it and you can fry your device.

Seven Years of Struggle

Like most pilots, I can certainly use that power port to charge any number of devices: cameras, phones, and, most recently, an iPad. And since buying my helicopter more than seven years ago — has it really been that long? — I’ve tried numerous devices to make it work.

I should state right here that I’ve had passengers simply plug car chargers for their phones into that port. They did it without asking me — you know how passengers can be — and I never heard about any harm coming to those phones or the chargers. But not only does the label on the port assure me that it’s 28v, but a call to the Robinson factory confirmed it. I was not about to plug any 12v charger or power cable I owned into it without stepping down the power.

To that end, I purchased a little box that supposedly made any conversion I wanted. I dialed in 24v (which is apparently close enough to 28v to make everyone happy) to 12v, plugged in my devices, and it worked.

Until the day I was warming up the engine with two photographers on board and began to smell burning electronics. (I have a very good sense of smell. I once woke up in the middle of the night smelling smoke. In the morning, I learned that a building about a mile away had burned down overnight. But I digress.) I reached back and felt for the box. It was melting. I pulled the plug, glad that I was still on the ground, and later threw it away.

When I got my Moitek Mount, which has three Kenyon KS-8 gyros, I bought Kenyon’s 28v dual inverter to power two of them. (The third is powered by a battery pack.) To date, that’s the only device-specific power supply I’ve found that accepts 28v input.

Bestek MR-C21ANext came “the turtle.” My friend Don recommended it to me and that’s what he called it. It’s actually a Bestek USB Charger, model C21A. It’s a DC to USB charger that has 4 USB ports. It accepts input of 10v to 30v and supposedly outputs up to 2.1 amps. By that time, that’s what I needed — I had an iPad 2 and was beginning to use it for Foreflight. As the manufacturer advised, however, you should only use one port when charging an iPad. What I discovered is that if I used the iPad in flight, even with just one USB device plugged in, I could not maintain a charge on the iPad. Although it said it was charging, the power was still trickling away. Yes, I was able to stretch the iPad’s use out to 12 hours on a very long cross-country flight, but that’s because I kept shutting it off when I didn’t need to consult it. And it irked me that I couldn’t charge my phone at the same time.

I should mention here that I tried a variety of other solutions for DC to USB. I must have more of these damn devices than anyone on the planet. The turtle worked best — but it didn’t work good enough to make me happy. The others mostly didn’t work at all.

When I bought a new iPad, the problem came to a head. The turtle couldn’t provide enough power to even indicate that the iPad was charging. On a recent day-long charter with several off-airport stops and long waits, my iPad went completely dead. Not acceptable.

Mediabridge to the Rescue!

With another very long cross-country flight ahead of me, I decided to stop screwing around and find a solution that worked flawlessly. So I began a search for a DC to USB charger that could charge both my iPad and my iPhone at the same time.

Mediabridge USB ChargerI found the solution on Amazon.com: the Mediabridge High Output Dual USB Car Charger for iPad and iPhone. This device takes input from 12v to 24v and outputs a total of 3.1 amps: 1 amp on one USB port and 2.1 amps on the other USB port.

Long iPhone/iPad CablesI coupled that with a pair of KHOMO Extra Long USB Sync Cables for iPhone/iPad. These cables are 6 feet long. I needed the length to safely run the cables from the middle of the aircraft to the place I’d mounted my devices. More on that in a moment.

This afternoon, I went out to the helicopter, plugged everything in, and flicked the Master Battery switch. Sure enough, my iPhone and iPad both indicated that they were charging.

Total cost of this power solution: $12.99 + $9.99 = $22.98.

Cockpit Management

Empty Mounts
Here are the two RAM mounts, empty, mounted on the Robinson GPS bar. You can see the tray behind the iPad mount.

Mount with iPad & iPhone
Here are the mounts with the iPhone and iPad installed and turned on. No, the glare isn’t much of an issue in flight. (Overheating in direct sunlight is another story, though.) As you can see, the bar does not interfere with my use of the pedals. Remember, the bar is a Robinson component; not something I whipped up and installed myself.

cable ties
Here are the wire tie pieces I use to keep the wires tidy.

Tidy Wires
I attached the wire ties to the side of the instrument panel with the adhesive pieces. I looped the ties wide enough to pass the end of a USB plug through.

more tidy wires
I did the same along the side of the pilot seat. This keeps the wires from getting tangled in the collective, which would be a serious problem.

Of course, my solution isn’t limited to just the power accessories discussed above. I’m a strong believer in having a tidy cockpit — especially when flying solo or flying long distances. I already have mounts for my iPhone and iPad that keep them within reach without blocking my view of any instrument or what’s outside the cockpit bubble.

My solution has multiple components:

  • A customized version of the GPS mounting bar Robinson offers. Mine was installed by the folks at Helicopters Northwest at Boeing Field in Seattle. It includes the bar and a semi-useful tray that I clip duty sheets onto when I fly. (Before I got the iPad and Foreflight, I used it to display charts or lists of airport frequencies.)
  • A RAM mount for iPad with glare shield clamp. I clamp it to the base of the tray on the bar.
  • A RAM mount for iPhone with U-Bolt Rail mount. A friend of mine customized the U-Bolt mount to remove the U-Bolt and add a plate he made in his shop. A pair of straight bolts attaches it to the bar.
  • A number of adhesive wire tie holders with wire ties. I found these gems in a great little hardware store in Chelan, WA and bought a ton of them.

Let me take a moment to talk about RAM mounts. I love RAM mounts. It’s a component system, so you can mix and match parts. What works for you today might not work for you tomorrow in a different aircraft or with a different device. But RAM has you covered. You just get the pieces you need and use them with other pieces you already have. For example, I already had the custom U-bolt thing for another purpose; I just repurposed it with the iPhone mount. Ditto for the iPad mount; it came with a kneeboard. Mix and match. Well made stuff, too.

So if you think you need to enlighten me on how RAM mounts suck and how what you’re using is so much better, save it. I have a sizable investment in RAM equipment and will not switch now or anytime in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, I’m not saying that my solution, as outlined here, is “the best.” It’s the best (so far) for me. But it all hinges on the availability of that Robinson GPS bar. It’s not easy to get; for a long time, Robinson wouldn’t sell them. I’m not sure if they’re selling them now. But it’s a great add-on for any Robinson. Rock solid, bolts onto the frame, great platform for any equipment you need handy but out of the way.

I do, however recommend mounting your devices with sturdy but easily removable mounting components affixed to something that won’t vibrate like crazy, is within arm’s reach, and doesn’t block your view of anything.

I ran the wires — including an audio cable so I could listen to music in flight — through the loops I made in the wire ties and made sure they were tight. (I’m thinking of braiding them to keep them all together but haven’t decided if that’s a good idea yet.) I wrapped any excess around the bar over my feet. I can then plug in the devices on both ends.

It’s a temporary solution that is extremely effective in keeping everything neat without any modification to the aircraft.

Works for me.

Retina Display Updates for Computers that Don’t Support Retina Displays?

Really, Apple?

Fellow author Jeff Carlson recently commented on Twitter:

The Retina Display is a new feature of certain Macintosh computers announced the other day at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). While it’s nice to know that my next Macs will have a better display, there’s really nothing wrong with the displays on my current Macs: a 27″ iMac, a 11″ MacBook Air, and a 13″ MacBook Pro. The oldest of these computers (the MacBook Pro) is only about two years old and I have no plans to buy a new Mac for at least a year. Indeed, my desktop Mac, which is less than a year old, probably won’t be replaced for at least 2 years.

Unfortunately, in order for the folks who buy these new Macs to take advantage of their hot new displays, Mac OS applications have to be rewritten to support them. Apple, of course, is leading the pack by updating its apps. Jeff, who writes about iMovie, was pointing out the size difference between the old and new versions of that app.

Wow is a pretty good way to sum up the 179% increase in the app’s size.

Software Update Woes
Great! Now I can use iMovie in Thai!

I wondered whether the update would be pushed through to all Macs, regardless of whether they supported the new Retina Display. My answer came this morning, when I ran Software Update. If I wanted to update the Mac OS apps on my iMac with the software announced at WWDC, I’d need to download almost 2 GB of updates — most of which would not benefit me in the least.

Really, Apple?

This is the best way you can come up with to roll out updates for new hardware features? You can’t create an “HD” version of your apps and let the folks with new machines upgrade to that version? You can’t have Software Update distinguish between computer models and roll out the updates specific to that model?

Really?

I’m on the road this summer. I get all my Internet access for my desktop Mac through a hotspot connection to my New iPad. It’s 3G here and I pay roughly $10 per gigabyte of data. That means these “free” updates — which will not benefit me at all — will cost me $20.

Ouch.

And if I don’t update, I won’t be able to take advantage of new features in those apps as they’re rolled out.

I’m fortunate that I can take my two laptops to a nearby coffee shop for updates. At least the $20 I’ll spend there will buy me lunch. Still, a portion of the limited disk space on my MacBook Air will be gobbled up with assets I don’t need.

Thanks, Apple. You might not have as many updates as Microsoft does for Windows, but yours certainly hurt more.

Mind Boggling

One definition.

Today, while sitting at my desk in an RV parked in the middle of Central Washington State farmland, I watched a live, full-color feed from outer space on my phone of the historic docking of a privately developed commercial spacecraft to the multi-government built International Space Station. Here’s a screen capture from my phone:

Dragon Docks with ISS

I am old enough to remember when the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon. It was 1969 and I was almost 8 years old. (Aw, come on, don’t do the math.) My mother made us stay up to watch it on the family TV — a big TV console that stood on the floor and required you to get up to change the channels because there was no remote control. The picture we saw of that historic moment looked like this:

Apollo 11 First Step

Do I even need to point out that my phone has more computing power than NASA had when it launched Apollo 11?

We’ve come a long, long way.

I call that mind-boggling.

Why I Bought a New iPad

No, I really didn’t need it. (Who does?)

I’ll admit that when I first heard the features of the new iPad, I was unimpressed. Although a lot of people made a big deal over the new retina display, that didn’t really interest me at all. After all, I don’t really use my iPad for graphics, movies, or anything else that really takes advantage of the display. But there were two features that really interested me:

  • MiFi
    Smaller than a pack of cards, this MiFi connects me to the Internet just about anywhere I go.

    4G connectivity with hotspot capabilities. I do a lot of traveling and have a MiFi unit that I take with me on the road. In fact, because I travel so much, I actually turned off Internet access at my house and use the MiFi there as well. I could imagine replacing my life I with the new iPad and transferring my MiFi data plan over to my new iPad and then using that as my hotspot. Not only would save me $20 a month, but it would give me 4G access instead of 3G wherever 4G was available. It would also reduce the equipment I need to take with me on the road — I would no longer need to take the MiFi and its power adapter.

  • The dictation feature. As a writer, one of the things that frustrates me about using my iPad is the keyboard. On a computer keyboard, I’m a very quick and accurate typist. I think it’s safe to say that I can type faster than I can write by hand. But that speed is completely lost on an iPad. I make too many errors that slow me down too much to use an iPad as a serious writing tool. That means that even on trips where packing light is very important, I still need to bring a laptop if I plan to do any writing. The dictation feature, however, changes all that. If it works well, I should be able to use it for some of my writing.

Because the feature set, as a whole, didn’t really impress me, I had no plans to buy a new iPad in the near future. Part of that was because my iPad 2 had been dropped when it was new and had a dent in one corner. Although it worked perfectly fine and the screen was not damaged, I knew that I would have trouble selling it. And without getting a few hundred dollars for it I just couldn’t justify the purchase of a new iPad to replace it.

All that changed the other day. Fellow author, Jeff Carlson, mentioned that Amazon buys back used iPads. I checked out the Amazon Trade-In Store, and learned that even if classified as “acceptable” (i.e., lowest acceptable) condition, I could still get $342 for my dented iPad 2. So I sold it to Amazon, went to the Apple Store, and bought a new iPad with Verizon 4G and 32 GB of storage space.

(And no, I didn’t have to wait on line. Those of you who know me should know how I feel about that.)

Getting my new iPad ready for use was very easy. I merely backed up the old one to iCloud and then restored the new one from iCloud. A few passwords and photos weren’t carried over properly and I lost a few free samples in my Kindle app, but everything was easily replaced. The new iPad was completely ready to use less than an hour after powering it up for the first time.

I had a $20 per month month-to-month data plan on my iPad 2 and, since I’d just paid for the current month period, I figured I’d switch that over to the iPad 3. It automatically utilizes 4G in areas where 4G is available. Before I leave to go to Washington for the summer, I’ll turn that plan off permanently and switch the 5 GB data plan on my MiFi I to my new iPad. Then I’ll be able to use that for all my 3G/4G wireless needs on a go forward basis, wherever I go.

Dragon Dictate
I wrote this book last year. Learn more.

In all honesty, I had forgotten all about the new iPad’s dictation feature. But the other day, after struggling to type a tweet early in the morning, I remembered it and decided to give it a try. This was actually very easy for me — last autumn I’d written a book about Dragon Dictate for Peachpit Press and the dictation features in the new iPad work very much the same way. The key is to speak slowly and clearly, and if you need to include punctuation you need to say the punctuation.

So I began using the dictation feature of my new iPad whenever I remembered to: for tweets, Facebook updates, and even e-mail messages. I discovered that as long as I spoke slowly and clearly, what I was saying would be pretty accurately transcribed by my iPad. Although I occasionally needed to make a few corrections to what was typed, even correcting that text was quicker than trying to type it on the iPad keyboard myself.

What’s good about this is it it has also reminded me to make more use of Dragon Dictate on my Mac. Dragon Dictate is an amazing software program, but there is a learning curve — the best way to tackle that curve is to use the software as often as possible. Once you get the knack of dictating what you want to write, it comes naturally. So when I decided to write this blog post about my new iPad and my desire to use the dictation features, it seemed natural to do this with Dragon Dictate.

While this blog post talks mostly about my new iPad, why I bought one, and how I’m starting to use its dictation features, I’ve also written a how-to post for the Maria’s Guides website where I explain how to use the dictation feature on an iPad. I’ve also included a link to a new video that shows exactly how this works.

Did you just buy a new iPad? If so why? If not, why not? I’m curious about what people are doing, especially people who already owned an iPad. (I’m almost embarrassed to admit that this is my 3rd iPad — I usually keep my electronic devices at least two years before replacing them, but circumstances have encouraged me to replace my iPads more frequently.)

I’m also curious to know how many people who purchased a new iPad are using it for dictation and what their results are. If you have something to say about this, I hope you’ll use the comments link or form to share them with the rest of us.

Is iBooks Author the Right Tool for Publishing Your Ebook?

Answer: It depends.

iBooks Author IconI’ve been working a lot with iBooks Author lately. Not only did I write and publish a 242-page book about it within 2 weeks of the software’s release, but I’m now deep in the process of converting that book into an iBooks Author file. The result will be a special iBooks 2 interactive edition that includes all the bells and whistles I can cram into it: images, interactive images, galleries, videos, tables, sounds, links — you name it. If I could figure out a way to use the 3D image widget to show something meaningful in the book, I would.

The Limitations of iBooks Author-Generated EBooks

Lots of folks wondered why I didn’t just create the original edition of my iBooks Author book with iBooks Author. Indeed, one reviewer on Apple’s iBookstore had the nerve to [unfairly] bash the book because it wasn’t created in that format. (As if I should write my Excel books with Excel or my Mac OS books with TextEdit. But I digress.)

Some people might think the reason is Apple’s “evil” EULA, which prohibits sale of an iBooks Author-generated ebook in any outlet other than the iBookstore. That’s not the reason at all. After all, if I wanted to sell to iBooks 2 users, where else would I sell it?

The reason I didn’t create the original edition of the book in iBooks Author is flexibility.

You see, if I created and published a book about iBooks Author using iBooks Author as my creation and publishing tool, the resulting ebook could only be read by people who meet the following criteria:

  • Have an Apple iTunes account.
  • Are willing to buy from the Apple iBookstore.
  • Have an iPad.
  • Are running iBooks 2 on their iPad.

What percentage of the population do you really think that is?

It’s All about Reaching the Biggest Audience

While I’ll be the first to admit that my book’s target audience is likely to be made up primarily of people who meet this criteria — after all, who wants to develop for a device when they can’t even test it on that device? — by publishing for just that audience, I automatically exclude all the people who want to read it on a Kindle or NOOK or the Kindle/NOOK apps that work on their desktop and laptop computers or other mobile devices.

I see the sales numbers. For this title, about 1/3 of all sales are being made to Kindle and NOOK readers. Do you really think I’d want to cut my sales by 1/3?

In addition, by using iBooks Author to create and publish, I’d exclude the people who might want to read it the old fashioned way: in print. The print edition is available on Amazon.com, BN.com, and at a wide variety of other online booksellers. Because I use a print-on-demand printer that handles all sales and fulfillment for me, I make money on every single copy sold. No, I don’t expect to sell 10,000 copies in print, but heck, even 100 copies is money in the bank. (And yes, I am doing this for money; I earn my living as a writer.)

I reasoned all this out before I began writing. And then I wrote the way I usually do: in InDesign CS5.5, creating a printer-ready document that could also be exported in a matter of minutes to formats for publication in the iBookstore, Kindle store, and NOOK store.

And Speed

Remember, my goal was to get this book done quickly and make sure it was available to readers as soon as possible. That means before my competition did the same.

I’ve learned over more than 20 years of experience as a computer how-to book author that the first book out on a new software product has a competitive edge that sells books. After all, if someone wants a book to teach them how to use software and there’s only one book available, what book do you think they’ll buy?

How do you think my first Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide sold out at Macworld Expo and reached sales rank of #11 (for a short time) on Amazon.com back in 1997? I had a three month jump on the competition.

And I think that’s what bothered me most about the idiotic reviewer on the iBookstore. His comment said something like “why not take a few extra minutes to do it in iBooks Author?” A few extra minutes? This guy has obviously never actually worked with iBooks Author and is a victim of the Apple’s video magic in showing off software features.

The truth of the matter is that iBooks Author is not a quick way to publish a book. Sure, you can throw some text in there and get it out to the public without a lot of effort. But that’s not what iBooks Author is for.

What iBooks Author is Really For

iBooks Author is a tool for creating interactive, multi-media books. Using it for anything less is just plain silly.

Think about it. If you wanted to share just text and images with other readers, why would you use iBooks Author and limit your book’s audience?

Yes, you can argue that the layout features of iBooks Author make it a great tool for fixed-layout designs that can make design-centric books so amazing to browse. But are most books so focused on design that they must have a fixed layout? And aren’t such fixed layouts possible with other electronic book formats that can be read on all platforms? Like maybe PDF?

iBooks Author includes tools for creating interactive elements that can change the meaning of the phrase reading experience. Reading isn’t the important word anymore. Experience is.

Page 4
Page 14
Two pages from my iBooks Author “special edition” ebook in progress. The top page shows an interactive image; the bottom shows an embedded video clip.

iBooks Author’s tools help you communicate your message in ways that are simply not possible with other ebook publishing tools. I’m talking about interactive graphics that zoom and pan when the user touches a label. I’m talking about video and audio that can show how a task is done or provide additional information that no text on a page can convey. I’m talking about photo galleries that save space on the book’s page but can be zoomed out and enjoyed on command in a full-screen view at the reader’s own pace.

And these are just the tools I use in my work. If you’re writing about science or architecture, why not include some 3D views? If you’re an educator, why not include some fully-illustrated review questions? If you’re a corporate communicator, why not include your latest Keynote presentation?

This is what iBooks Author is for: creating multimedia, interactive electronic publications. It isn’t for distributing text and a handful of pictures in a pretty format that only a small percentage of readers can access.

And believe me, it’s not a matter of “taking a few minutes” to whip one of these ebooks up.

You Need Content

Apple’s videos make it look so easy. Sure — all you need to do is drag and drop a 3D image on a widget, set a few options, and publish so the reader can manipulate it with multi-touch gestures. Very cool. But what Apple fails to mention is that someone has to actually create that 3D image in the right format for use in iBooks Author. And that takes more than “a few minutes.”

Right now, I’m faced with the daunting task of creating approximately 75 screencast videos for my book. I spent several hours just setting up and testing my computer and recording software/microphone. Then another hour or two figuring out how I’d edit and save the files. Then it was time to script the videos and record them. And edit them.

Sure, once all that is done, it takes less than a minute to insert each video in an iBooks Author media widget and place it on a page. But it takes a good 30 minutes to create, edit, and save each video.

But the content has to be created before it can be inserted.

(By the way, I’d be recording videos right now if it wasn’t for the fact that my neighbor hired a work crew to remove most of the trees in his yard. Do you think my readers would enjoy listening to chainsaws in the background audio of the videos in my book? No, I don’t think so either. So I’ll be up tonight doing the work I should have been able to do today.)

I Love iBooks Author

Don’t get me wrong. I love iBooks Author. I love the power it gives me to communicate. I love the fact that it makes it easy for me — a words person who couldn’t design her way out of a paper bag — to create beautiful looking publications.

But I haven’t swallowed the Apple Kool-Aid on this one. iBooks Author isn’t the best solution for my publishing needs. After all, I need to earn a living. I need my work to reach the most potential buyers possible. And that means publishing with a tool that enables me to create for the most reader platforms.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t use iBooks Author to create “special editions” of my books — when I have the content to share that makes it worth the effort.