Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Current Blog Assignments and Postings

With some changes in contracts and intellectual property, I'm not pushing out my articles here as often.  I'm now publishing articles every week.  I'll try to post a synopsis every month of what I've been writing across the web.

You can find my articles at:

GigaOM (now inactive)
Guiding Tech
Lifehacker (a division of Gawker)

As well as some occasional guest posts at places like Backblaze and Indie Fit

Monday, January 20, 2014

Software Review: Stellar Phoenix Mac Data Recovery 6.0

Some things get better with age such as cheese and wine, and some things just rot and start to stink and that’s what I think of this version of Stellar Phoenix Data Recovery.

Previous version of this program were great and I’m a big fan but this version seems like one to skip!  While the program has more of a Mac look and feel than previous versions, it’s still contains spelling errors and grammatical nonsense that interferes with your ability to understand the functions. 

For testing, I took a drive that version 4.1 was able to recover successfully without locking up and took that same drive in version 6.0 and the program locked up or simply gave up on recovery.  Reran 4.1 on the same machine and the same drive no problems so this version clearly had problems.  Even before the program attempted recovery, it took sometimes a minute or more to load while previous versions and competitors only took a few seconds on the same machine.  Clearly version 6.0  is a step backwards not just in recovery but overall program function.  The “quick scan” it offers was significantly longer than previous versions and seemed to recover less data though it locked up quite often while doing recovery.  

When I ran into problems with the program during my tests I called the “24 hour tech support” and support  was about as functional as the program.  Language barriers made it very difficult to understand and instead of solving the problems or giving me advice, they asked me to install TeamViewer and leave it running all night since tier 2 only works during 9am to 4pm India Standard time.  Talk about a security risk!  I don’t like someone I don’t know messing around in my computer without my ability to monitor them.

Even the simplest of questions took at least 24 hours for a reply and often the answers were undecipherable and it took over a month for them to agree to even answer my questions without remoting in after hours.  Questions would go back and forth and I couldn’t get it escalated.  Almost two months to the day of opening my case, and waiting at least 24 business hours between replies I was told the program doesn’t work on a corrupt drive.  I can’t make this up!

Therefore, if you are looking for a recovery program try to get an old version of Stellar Phoenix or use a competitor’s program.  This program is slow, unreliable and the support is atrocious.

Pros:  More Mac-like interface
Cons:  Terrible support, program locks up on problem drives, slow to load

Two out of Five 

Hardware Review: Mobile Home

The Mobile Home has a very specific market:  your need a car that has built in Bluetooth that is compatible with Siri.  If you can press your home button and interact with Siri in your car, this is the product for you.  Basically it takes that home button function and turns it into a wireless device you can place in a safer position.

It’s about the size of a small garage door opener and it works best clipped onto your visor, but you can put it other places such as your steering wheel.  Pair it with your phone and when you press the Mobile Home button, Siri activates as if you were pressing the home button on your phone.

This is a safety device as it allows you to interact with your phone without having to fumble around.  When I first got it I thought “$80 for a home button” but after I had it I found myself using Siri more and picking up my phone less.  My hands stayed close to the wheel and moreover, I wasn’t tempted to look at my phone when I picked it up.  It was safer for me to press the Mobile Home button than it was to adjust my radio or my AC.

Since it’s a Bluetooth device, it must establish a connection with your phone each time you go in the car.  The problem is it has no way of knowing you are in the car, so the first time you press the button when entering in your car the Mobile Home “wakes up” and establishes its Bluetooth connection.  This is kinda annoying as it’s not immediately available to you.  What I’ve learned to do is if I’m going to be going on a moderate drive, I’m sure to wake up Mobile Home first.

This is really a brilliant device and the price is steep, but if you use your phone often in the car, this is a much safer way of doing it

Pros:  Easy access to Siri
Cons:  Delay in pairing, price

4 out of 5

Hardware Review: The Curb

The CURB is a great little device to carry along with your laptop or your tablet.  It’s a wedge of plastic that comes in a variety of colors and angles your device to keep it cool and to put it at an ergonomically comfortable angle of about 15 degrees. It even has a space for a charging cord.

I really liked this simple device to carry in my laptop bag.  While at a coffee shop my laptop was more comfortable to type with, stayed cool, and stayed away from the crumbs on the table.

At $16.99 it’s nice price for such a handy device.

Pros:  protects you and your laptop

Cons:  none

Five out of Five

Software Review: Reflector

Ever wanted to share your iPhone or iPad screen with someone else on a desktop or laptop instead of an AppleTV--as they say, there is an app for that.  Actually that capability is already built into iOS via AIrplay.  Reflector is a program you run on either your Mac or a PC that turns the computer into an Airplay device.  This allows you to mirror your iPhone or iPad display onto a computer running Mac OS X or Windows.  Moreover, multiple people can present at the same time.

This allows you to mirror what’s showing on your iPhone without having to use an AppleTV making it ideal for presentations.  We’ve used in our user group numerous times to allow participants to explain a problem they are having or to be shown how to do something -- and in particular the program has profound educational opportunities. 

The Mac version is extremely easy:  start it up and it shows up as a AirPlay device on any iOS device.  You can choose the background colors, screen size and, if you wish, password protect connections.  The Windows version is a bit trickier due to firewall issues, but that’s true of many Windows programs. On either platform, once you connect your iOS device your screen magically appears on your computer.  Just an FYI, you’ll be very tempted to try to control your iOS device from your computer until you remember only the screen is mirrored, you will still have to touch the iOS device to control.

One more thing, it also allows you to record these AirPlay sessions making it great for tutorials!  Whether you are demoing for sales or doing a tutorial walk through, Reflector makes it super easy.

The best feature though is the price:  $12.99.  This is really a bargain for an application that does so much.  They offer multipacks of the programs so it can be used by multiple users.  

If you’ve ever presented from an iPhone or iPad this is the app for you.  Easy to use, reliable and best of all you can record the sessions.

Pros:  AirPlay universality, screen recording price

Cons: You’ll be tempted to touch your Mac screen to control your Phone.

Five out of Five

Software Review: CollageIt Pro

This program has one purpose that’s obvious from the title: grouping photos into a collage.  You can arrange them via a variety of templates or go free form if you wish.  You can put up to 200 photos within a collage, though obviously they won’t scale well.  There are two versions of this program which is confusing and somewhat deceiving.  The free version only lets you create a collage while the pro version also allows you to crop the pictures as well as put text in them. The program provides essentially the same functionally as the Projects from within iPhoto but with slightly more options and you don’t need to buy a print after creating it.

Within the program you can import photos from iPhoto as well as drag and drop directly into the gallery.  Once you’ve got the pictures in the program you can arrange them on the page in a free form mode or using different templates provided such as mosaic, grid, center and pile.  After you know where the pictures should be placed on the collage you can then create a background and (in the pro version) add text and crop the photos.  You’ve got quite a bit of options here as to how things should look.  Additional customizations as far as number of rows, columns and spacing in between pictures are included.  The options can be a bit overwhelming, but the default settings do a good job.

Once you create your collage you can print it or export it as a picture file in a variety of file formats as well as directly as a desktop image, email, or into iPhoto or Facebook.  Once you’ve got it into iPhoto you then have all the great print options available within that program. The online help walks you through all the steps rather nicely

Although this is a one trick pony, the function it provides is really nice.  I dislike the two different program options as it’s confusing and the $29.99 price for the pro version is a bit steep, but if you’ve got photos that you want to arrange in a unique and interesting way and you want to extend it beyond iPhoto, Collage (Pro) is for you

Pros:  Great tool for making a picture out of pictures

Cons:  Price

Four out of Five

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

GigaOM: Windows Phone 8 and the Mac: Surprisingly compatible

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I look at how to make a Windows Phone 8 sync with a Mac

Software Review: Vitamin R-2

Trouble focusing on your work?  This is the program for you!

Vitamin R-2 is a unique program that allows you to get things done on your computer using something similar to the pomodoro method in which you do work in short intervals and then take breaks. Pomodoro timers are a plenty on the Mac but Vitamin R-2 has the flexibility and options to adapt it to your needs.

On the base level, it’s a timer.  You mark how long of a time slice you want to take and the project you are working on.  The program then counts down and offers you a time and open ended break.  That’s just the beginning though.

Within the program are lots of features to optimize your productivity and reduce distractions.  When creating a “time slice” you can force select (or all programs) to minimize in order to reduce distractions.  While working if you think of something and must write it down, you can quickly open up the app’s “Now and Later” board to write down your thoughts for now, later, objectives, or simply a scratch pad.  This quickly gets you back to work. During your work you can also have a variety of sounds playing in the background such as white noise or a variety of ticking time clocks.  Occasionally the program will tell you how much time you have left.

When a time slice is complete, you can leave yourself notes on where to pick up from.   The program logs time spent on tasks and tasks can be tagged and categorized.

On first glance the program is intimidating and the manual focuses, pardon the pun, on the science of focus more than how to use the program.  After continued usage I was able to incorporate more of the features to improve my workflow.  By using the tools to plan the work and then to pick up when I shifted task, I really did get more done in the given day and be able to ask answer the question “Where did the time go?”

Pros:  Great productivity encouragement with the flexibility to adapt to individual workflows
Cons:  Can be a bit intimidating with the options and features

Four out of Five Dogcows

Software Review: MacBreakZ

Like many computer users, I tend to sit hours at a time working on projects without taking healthy breaks.  If an interruption occurs that’s about the only time I remember to stop typing, look away or simply take a break.  MacBreakZ is a welcome product to make sure I don’t suffer injury.

First, MacBreakZ watches your computer usage via keyboard and mouse/trackpad usage and suggests microbreaks after a certain amount of activity (this can be adjusted).  It also gives you a timer and a color code in the menu bar to know when your next break is needed and how excessive your usage is.  Typing really fast for a long period of time?  Take a microbreak.  If you are staring and watching a video, it’s more likely to leave you alone (it will bother you though so best to turn it off during a presentation or a video)

Let me say this:  the product is terribly annoying but that’s a good thing.  I’ll be working right along at a project and “in the zone” and that stupid window pops up asking me to take a deep breath and look away.  I’m way to busy for that- but in reality that’s the point.  I don’t want to feel exhausted, I need to take breaks so that way my hands don’t cramp up or my eyes start bothering me.  Once I accept the importance of taking breaks I really do feel more productive.  The Microbreak shows up as a transparent windows so it can be ignored if you want to, but I warn you it will start annoying you more the more you ignore it.  It’s bothersome without being intrusive.  It nags but doesn’t pester.

Besides the Microbreaks, MacBreakZ also offers tips for stretches throughout the day for various body parts that tend to get fatigued after extended computer usage.

Initially I balked at the price of $25 for a program that simply told me to take a break, but this is really so much more as it adapts to your usage and offers direct suggestions of how to take a break to prevent repetitive stress injury.

If you use your computer for an extended period of time and don’t have the discipline to take a break and stretch, this program is a lifesaver

Pros:  tells you how and when to take a break
Confs: pricing may seem a bit high

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: Raspberry Pi Cookbook

I'll admit that I've always wondered about the Raspberry Pi: the tiny little computer that can do so many things. I wasn't sure where to start since I’ve never used one before.This book was heavy on the ideas and specific ways of utilizing device in a high level technical format.The book jumps right in and ignores the handholding and step by steps I often find in other books and goes right into Python and using GPIO. This isn't a complaint, but these recipes were a bit intimidating.

The middle section of the book was the most interesting:what can you actually do with a PI such as setup a webcam or a game emulator.I would have liked more expansion in this area rather than the heavy programming and hardware interfaces (dip switches and jumpers scare me!)

If you are programer wanting to get into Pi then this is a great book for you, but if you are a hobbyist wanting to simply play with a Pi and see what it can do for you, this may not be the best book

Four out of Five

Sunday, October 20, 2013