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January 1 reflections on my favorite things

Mel Martin

January 1 is always a little strange. A quiet time after a night out, a time to take the tree down and deal with all the green light cords that started out so neatly applied and wind up a tangled maze of complexity. Time to get rid of all the holiday wrappings and hope the trash pickup is soon.

It is also a time to reflect on all things Apple and how the ecosystem of products has changed our lives in ways we sometimes forget or are barely aware of.

This morning I was in a melancholy mood and needed some music to match. I thought a good idea was for some music by Eric Ewazen, [iTunes link] who writes some pretty deep and mystical compositions. I had already bought some of his tracks from the Apple Store. In the old days, waking up on a holiday and craving some music you don't have was a lost cause.

Now I can get what is admittedly an obscure album of music, download it to my computer, put it on my Sonos system with a few clicks and sync it to my iPhone for my morning jog. Basking in the early morning Arizona light I loved hearing Ewazen's 'Hymn for the Lost and the Living' while contemplating a new year with new challenges. Apple enabled much of what I was able to do, and we take it for granted, but when you stand back from it all you can see how changed our lives are.

Some of my other favorite things from this year include MacSpeech Dictate, software that allows me to reliably dictate my emails, some longer reports, and even some of my TUAW posts. It's truly science fiction in the here and now (or is it 'hear' and now?) and some updates in 2009 made it easier to use and far more accurate.

I've also enjoyed using Photomatix Pro, software that combines photos shot at different shutter speeds into High Dynamic Range images. You can't use this software for everything, but used wisely it can really make landscape images quite spectacular.

The updated iPhone 3GS has had a positive impact in my life as well. The little astronomy app Distant Suns has been updated to use the compass on the iPhone, and I can point my phone at the sky and see exactly what I am looking at, properly identified and accompanied by all sorts of background information about the planets, nebula and galaxies it reveals.

iCam [iTunes link] lets me keep an eye on the house, and for 5 dollars coupled with a web cam it features motion detection and recording. It gives me some inexpensive security and peace of mind while keeping an eye on the family pet. Again, another treat enabled by Apple tech and some creative developers.

Find my iPhone was a great idea, and almost made a MobileMe subscription worth it. I've already used it a couple of times to find the iPhone around the house. It will really come in handy if it's stolen, and I can wipe my data.

I can't forget about iChat. It didn't have any major upgrades this year, but it certainly got used a lot. I do some Photoshop tutoring, and being able to help someone across the ocean with no charge for the connecting tech is too good to be true. Apple didn't invent video conferencing, but they made it easy and reliable. Coupled with desktop sharing it's a great tool and allows you to work in ways that make me feel like George Jetson.

Those are a few of my favorite things (apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein). Did Apple change your life in 2009? We all have our 'favorite things' list. Share your thoughts with us, and Happy 2010 from all of us at TUAW.

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