Sunday, December 31, 2006

Podcasting and Blogging with GarageBand and iWeb

Robin Williams is truly the queen of user instruction. She takes the hard concepts and makes them accessible to novices. She's no relation to the actor Robin Williams of course, who has played a queen in the past!

“Podcasting and Blogging with GarageBand and iWeb” is a perfect guide for someone curious about blogging and podcasting. The book requires the reader to have a .Mac account and own iLife 06. Without these two essential components, the book is of almost no use. If you are able to type an email, then you'll be able to blog and podcast after reading this short book.

Unlike a lot of technical books that explain a dizzying array of options, Robin makes the tasks easy and straightforward using the tools most every Mac comes with. This is not a reference guide that gives you tips and tricks. You'll find nothing in this book about using Blogger or Wordpress nor will there be advice on which type of mic to use for a podcast. She uses strictly iLife '06 and .Mac. This is a step by step how to guide for someone who has never used a Mac or blogged before can be up and going within less than an hour.

Typical of Robin William's books, she assumes no prior knowledge of anything but Macintosh basics such as moving the cursor and opening applications. Each step contains a screen shot of exactly what to expect with outstanding layout and flow. Some readers will complain that she doesn't give the reader enough options as to how to create their podcast or blog. However, the goal of the book is to get the reader to create a blog or podcast as quickly and easily as possible. Once the reader feels they want more, then at that point they should buy an intermediate book. If someone has already created a podcast or blog before, then they probably don't need this book.

Overall, a great book for people curious about trying to create their own podcast and/or blog using software that comes with most newer Macs

Pros: Extremely easy to understand, requires no prior knowledge
Cons: Tied to iLife '06 and .Mac, offers few tips if you aren't using those told

Sunday, December 24, 2006

iPod and iTunes: The Missing Manual

You know how there are some actors whom you can trust re part of a great movie. If they are in it, you know it's good. Take Tom Hanks: practically anything he is involved in tends to be a great movie (expect of course for "Joe and the Volcano"). David Pogue and the Missing Manual series are the Tom Hanks of the technical publishing world. Even their mediocre stuff rises head and shoulders among the competition. "iPod & iTunes" is no exception to the long string of quality and informative manuals.

In particular, I was impressed with the flow of the book. Too often new iPod users feel they have to buy music from the iTunes Music Store to use their iPod and directly bypass their legal CD collection. Biersdorefer doesn't introduce the iTunes music store until chapter 7. She logically starts with the iPod itself and the proper care and maintenance thereof, making sure new users can properly use and understand their iPod before they even hook it up to the computer. The book then moves from the iPod hardware to installing the software, adding songs, photos, and videos. After the user understand all that he then introduced the music store along with advanced concepts like using the iPod as an external hard drive. Finally, she introduces basic and advanced troubleshooting. Other books I've read on iPods organize their concepts based on themes such as hardware and software, rather than the actual flow of how a user might use their iPod. While you can easily pick up any chapter and learn something, beginner iPod users would be best serviced starting at, well, the beginning (how's that for straightforward logic?).

Throughout the book, Biersdorefer uses extensive pictures and screen shots to illustrate the concepts described. I'm always impressed when an author does this, because not everyone likes to sit in front of a computer learning something. Good visuals help a reader learn a concept while not sitting at the computer. In addition, her explanations are clear and easily understandable without requiring knowledge of technical jargon.

Biersdorefer also included just about every iPod tip and trick I know such as all the idiosyncrasies of photo formats the iPod can display and how to put DVDs on iPods. I honestly can't think of a single iPod concept the beginner or intermediate iPod user needs to know that isn't covered in this book. While I consider myself an iPod expert, I still learned a thing or two and would recommend this to basic users as a book to read cover to cover to understand how to use an iPod. Intermediate users can use this manual as a reference for tools or procedures they don't often do and don't want to rely on the whim of internet searches. For example, I know I can use my iPod to do iPod presentations but I probably won't remember how to do it until my new presentation. Biersdorefer covers the topic extensively so all I have to do is pick up his book. The only iPod concepts this book doesn't cover is advanced tinkering such as installing Linux or how to boot your Mac off of it.

In general, this is a impressive book for the beginner that wants to know everything their iPod can do and a great reference manual for advanced users.

Pros: Covers it all in straightforward easy to understand language accessible to beginners without talking down to experts.

Cons: iPod not included. Waaah.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is buying online safe?

As we get into the thick of the holiday season, a dilemma facing shoppers is whether to buy gifts online or in person. This year such traditional stores as Wal-mart and Target will be encouraging people to buy online with special discounts and online-only items. Industry experts believe this will be a unique year for online sales as more novice users will be making the internet buying plunge for the very first time.

Despite conventional wisdom, online transactions are actually more secure than in person transactions. With in person transactions you actually surrender your credit card to another individual who has a chance to record the numbers. What they do with that credit card number is outside of your control. In reality, a significant number of credit card information is stolen by rank and file employees at places like hotels and restaurants where your credit card is not swiped in your presence. Sometimes a thief will find the credit card number on a receipt you threw away. One of the newest scams is someone behind you in line copying your credit card numbers with their cell phone. In person purchases contain many opportunities where your number can be stolen.

However when buying online, your computer transmits your credit card information directly to another computer. Usually your credit card is never seen or touched by a human: ultimate security. Online purchases have no printed receipts for thieves to find in the trash. Credit card information is stolen not from personal computers, but merchant computers that have millions of transactions recorded. Sometimes the theft is via a savvy hacker, or more likely, a inside job by an employee. Credit card companies find these break ins quickly and protect your credit card before a unauthorized charge can be made.

Ironically, the least common way credit card numbers are stolen is via electronic eavesdropping or viruses. While it does happen, it’s rare. Regardless of your credit rating, your individual information isn’t worth the hassle to steal. Attacking one individual yields just a few credit card numbers, but attacking a merchant system can yield thousands or millions of credit card numbers. It’s always more profitable to rob a bank, because as Willie Sutton said, “That’s where the money is”.

Sometimes an online store is not legitimate and is simply a scam to trick you into giving up your credit card information. Always have an idea of the type of company from which you purchase. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. These companies charge so little because they never deliver on the order. Looking for symbols such as those from e-Trust or the Better Business Bureau is a good idea, but that information can be faked. The best tip to know if the company is legitimate is to look for contact information about the company with a physical street address and phone number in case a problem with quality or delivery arise. When in doubt, call the company and make sure it’s actually their phone number.

Even if you are careful with your information, sometimes your credit card number is stolen, regardless of where you used it. In this case, most credit card companies don’t hold you liable for any unauthorized charges so long as you contact them promptly. They’ll also send you a new card right away regardless of whether the transaction was made on or offline. They just want to get the card back to you as soon as possible so you can do more shopping. If you are still concerned about using your card, some companies have “virtual numbers’ that can be used online without risking your primary card information. The best way to find out if your credit card number has been compromised is occasionally to check your balance online and always read your credit card statements once you receive them.

This season, one of the newest trends is for stores to allow you to shop online, pay online, and pick up the item in the physical store. This not only is convenient, but helps keep the purchase local , which is always helpful to the community. Wherever you may shop this season, rest assured that shopping online is as safe as shopping in person.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'll have a Green Christmas

With blinding speed, companies upgrade their technology products and this holiday season will find lots of consumers with new computers, MP3 players, and printers. The hidden side effect of all this progress is tons of electronic waste. E-Waste consists of working monitors, computers, and printers that get stuck in the closet, basement, or garage until you move or decide to do spring cleaning and drag the item to the curb.

Fortunately in Lawrence, when e-waste is taken to the curb, it tends to disappear before the garbage trucks come to dump it in a landfill. A landfill is about the worst place computing technologies can go. E-waste contains lead, mercury, cadmium and other hazardous materials that affect the water we drink and the land we farm.

Before putting your e-waste to the curb, try to find a place to donate it. Lawrence is both cursed and blessed with a glut of good working computers. In Lawrence, most organizations usually won’t accept computers older than three to five years nor will they accept Macintoshes, though such computers can surf the internet and word process. To be fair, many organizations get many computers and don’t always have the IT resources to utilize donations. If you get “no” the first time, try calling a few weeks later as needs may have changed. Obviously ,reuse is not only a worthy goal but often leads to a tax deduction

If you can’t donate your e-waste, you might contact local, regional ,or national recycling companies. These places range from above board, noble and ethical to the downright sleazy. The sleazy operations charge you a small sum of money, they take what can be used to resell it for a profit and then take the left over and put it in a landfill. Ironically, the landfill might be the safest for the items as the alternative can actually be worse. Some “recyclers” take e-waste and use third-world labor to remove the valuable metals with techniques that are both dangerous to humans and the environment. These operations make sneaker sweatshops look like a walk in the park, pardon the pun. In fact, the Basel Action Network,, found computers from the Kansas Department of Aging in Lagos, Nigeria as well as various confidential data on donated hard drives .

To make sure your recycled computers end up in the right place, Bob Akers, Marketing Director of Surplus Exchange,, recommends asking five questions: 1)What happens to the items turned in to recycle?, 2)Are any retired electronics sent overseas?, 3)Can the recycling center offer a certificate of destruction?, 4) Do you have a reuse program? If so, how is it structured? 5) Are you approved by the EPA or KDHE? - Do you have letters of support on file? Non-profit recycling organizations like The Surplus Exchange are able to give you a potential tax deduction if they are able to use the equipment you donate. Given their civic mentality, they realize the value of older equipment and use older equipment to help non-profit organizations.

Even though manufacturers push consumers to buy new computers, they often ignore the impact to the environment. States such as California, Arkansas, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota have e-waste laws on the books and Washington currently has pending legislation. Seeing the trend of moving to reduce e waste, companies like Dell and Apple will take your old computer back at no charge (HP charges a fee), hopefully to be recycled. On the manufacturing side, organizations like Greenpeace are campaigning to reduce the hazardous materials used in electronics. In fact, Greenpeace has created an Apple parody site at to encourage Apple to be more “green”.

If you have trouble ecologically disposing of your computing technology don’t rule out simply giving it away on online forums such as Larryville’s swapmeet (, free classified ads online ( and in print (, and Freecycle ( Free computers go quickly on these forums, working or not. Computer hobbyists love to take a crack at fixing computers.

However you choose to get rid of your e-waste, be careful of any data that is contained on the system. Items such as hard drives, PDAs, and cell phones need to be completely erased of data. If you can’t securely erase the item, work with a recycler that will. If your computer won’t boot and thus you can’t erase the hard drive, remove the hard drive and save it as a backup or have a friend completely destroy it.

Whether you decide to donate your compute, recycle, or simply give it away, you can help prevent e-waste from piling up and damaging the environment.

So the next time you look at that stack of computers in the basement or in the office closet, think about the environmental impact of those units and what you can do to make sure the e-waste doesn’t end up back in our drinking water.

Monday, November 27, 2006

VoIP: Cheaper phone calls

Gone are the days of Lili Tomlin and her sketch as Ernsetine, the AT&T operator who would say. "We don't care, we don't have to, we're the phone company.” Not only do we have a choice of phone companies today, but we can ditch the whole idea of having a phone line.

Technology called Voice over IP (VoIP) allows you to use your high speed internet connection to make and receive phone calls. Because VoIP uses your existing Internet connection, costs are significantly less expensive than traditional phone lines and cell phones.

The best known VoIP phone company is Vonage. Vonage allows you to use existing phones for VoIP. Setup is about as difficult as hooking up an answering machine and takes about five minutes. Your computer doesn’t have to be running to use VoIP from Vonage. Unfortunately Vonage doesn’t provide phone numbers in the 785 area code as of this writing. However, one neat feature about VoIP is you can get a phone number in any area code serviced by the phone company. This is great for businesses who want a presence in distant cities or parents who to call their children at school while avoiding long distance.

To set up VoIP, all you do is an one end of an adapter to your Internet line and the other end to your existing phone. Most VoIP companies let you transfer your existing landline or cell phone number if they have service in your area. The quality of the phone calls I tested with Vonage was outstanding and virtually indistinguishable from traditional phone lines. When doing heavy downloads, I did notice some reduction in voice quality, but it was still better than the average cell phone.

Unfortunately, VoIP hasn’t quite figured out all of the 911 features. When you call 911 in most areas, you are automatically directed to a dispatcher near you and they have the location from where you are calling. Because a VoIP phone is Internet based, full 911 service may not always be available. Also, if you have a power or internet outage, you loose phone service. It’s always good to have a cell phone or traditional phone line as backup if you use VoIP.

Software-based VoIP allows you to try the technology without replacing your existing phone line. Skype, owned by e-Bay, has a few different components that allow you to chat from your computer. First, Skype allows voice chat for free between Skype users anywhere in the world. Until the end of the year, SkypeOut allows you to call any phone in the US or Canada for free, and the rest of the world at heavily discounted rates. SkypeIn gives you an actual phone number that anyone can use to call you at your computer for $39 per year. I’ve personally used it to give myself an easy extra phone number without having to pay a monthly charge to the phone company. You can also buy attachments for your computer that lets you use Skype with a traditional phone handset such as the Logitech Internet Cordless Headset.

Even if you don’t sign up with Vonage or Skype, VoIP technology can still save you money. Jajah,, allows free or discounted calls using VoIP technology without installing any additional hardware of software. Another service,, uses VoIP technology to avoid phone trees when calling customer service at various companies. Just type in your phone number and will call you when they’ve reached an operator. 

With the holidays upon us and lots of phone calls to friends and family with warm wishes for the holidays, now is a great time to explore the lower cost phone option of VoIP.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups

by Joe Kissell

Since I have used OS X from day, I was very anxious to analyze this book and see how it compares to my actual experience. While I don’t agree with everything the author wrote, the advice is solid, well explained, and very reliable. Every Mac should ship with this book.

Unlike other books written for the IT crowd, this “Real World” book omits the boring details about why you should do certain tasks, and gives readers specific instructions on what to do daily, weekly, and yearly basis. You can open up the book and immediately start keeping your Mac in tip top shape.

There were certain aspects of the advice I, and many other Mac professionals, would disagree with. The advice isn’t incorrect, just not Universal (pun intended!). There is not one solution that fits all situations. Kissell acknowledges other opinions on these subjects. He actually quotes a variety of experts who disagree with his advice. In this industry, it’s pretty rare for a expert to admit there are other perfectly valid, and polar opposite, opinions. I really appreciated Kissell’s lack of ego. Again, this is “Real World” and in the real world two doctors can both be excellent and, yet have very different opinions.

For example, some experts believe repairing permissions is absolutely critical while Kissell indicates this procedure has no redeeming value. His panel of experts gave different opinions allowing the reader to dras their own conclusion. (Personally, I recommend repairing permissions before any Apple update and any time you have problems), This book is his opinion and suggestions on proper maintenance. Unless you have a logical and justified reason not to follow his outstanding advice, treat his advice as gospel and follow it to the letter.

In spite of the great maintenance advice Kissel gives, his advice on backups is second to none and should be required reading for anyone who has anything of value on their Mac. Why can’t Apple explain it this easy (oh, that’s right, they want you to upgrade to Leopard with built-in rudimentary backups)? He is going to save readers thousands of dollars in emergency data recovery costs. I suspect Kissel will be getting cookies baked for him, invitations to weddings, and wedding proposals himself. With Kissel’s help, data loss can be eliminated in our generation! Seriously though, Kisssel realizes that people won’t do everything he suggests, and he acknowledges that fact and creates good/better/best type scenarios for backups. People get intimidated by backups, and just ignore it—the same reason people don’t go to the dentist. In the last chapter of the book, Kissel take the most popular backup program out there, Retrospect, and takes you step by step through proper backup and restoration. Even the least technical among us can easily follow his advice and not wake up in the middle of the night in fear of data loss.

This book is one of the best organized I have seen. This is not a technical reference to be used only when you have a question, but a practical how-to guide with all the information you need at your fingertips. Not only does Kissel refer to shareware programs with eact download to download them in context of the chapters, but Appendix B summarizes all the programs mentioned in the book, the program features, and where to get them. Wow—why don’t more books do that. The last page of the book summarizes everything you need to do to maintain your Mac. Most Mac users should rip out that page and keep it near their computer—taunting them to actually do the things they learned in the book.

This book is probably going to win some major awards and should be given as a gift to any Mac user who cares about their data. Every small business should follow his advice to the letter. Too often, people think because Macs are so realiable, they won’t fail. While they tend to have less problems than Windows computers, Macs need Maintenance and Backups too!

Pros; Hands down the BEST book on backups and specifically Retrospect. Great maintenance advice given in a straightforward easy to follow manner.

Cons: This book will put lots of technicians out of business. He’ll also kill the entire data recovery business, as well as a good share of therapists who counsel people after data loss. Good for consumers, bad for professionals like myself J. Just kidding….maybe.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger

by Dave Taylor

I had really high hopes for this book. I consider myself a pretty smart Mac tech, but Unix was the one thing that really scared me about OS X. To fix some esoteric problem, I’d have to follow some Unix recipe and it always annoyed me I didn’t understand what I was typing. O’Relly books are well known not just for the animals on the cover, but excellent explanations of very technical concepts.

After reading Taylor’s book, I felt better, but not by much. Most readers can easily understand the basic Unix file structure commands, but towards the middle of the book he inaccurately assumed that his readers could also quickly understand some of the advanced concepts. Towards the end of the book I was left scratching my head. We went from move a file here and there to commands that were taking up multiple lines. Arrrgh!

The critical flaw in the book was a lack of exercises and real world examples. When I want to learn something, I don’t just want to be told. Involve me and test my knowledge. Some of the more difficult concepts covered in the book would have been enhanced with numerous real world examples, each building on the other. Things moved way too fast and made it easy to get lost.

The book was an excellent overview of Unix for the Macintosh and perfect for someone to decide whether to pursue further learning. “Introduction to Unix” instead of “Learning Unix” would have been a better title. After reading the book, I was reminded of speed dating where you meet 20 people for five minutes each and decide whether you want to go out with them or not. After reading the book I have enough familiarity with Unix that I can understand basic commands and how they relate to each other. I clearly want to go out on another date but any type of wedding bells are way in the distance.

PROS: Excellent overview of Unix for the Macintosh
CONS: Doesn’t leave you with enough practical understanding

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mac Design out of the box by Andrew Shalat

I consider myself a pretty darn good computer technician, but when it comes to design, I’m like a bull in a china shop. I can fix Illustrator or Photoshop crashes, but I don’t know the first thing about a path or a bleed (is that what that knife is for--to bleed?). I was excited to learn some basic design principles from this book. More importantly, I wanted to learn them without having to buy expensive software like Quark or InDesign.

Andrew Shalat deserves quite a bit of credit for tweaking lots of performance out of the basic applications that come with most Macs. Who would of thought you could do basic design in TextEdit? He earns the title of MacGyver of the Mac Design world. While I found his writing rather cheesy (he pretends the reader is stranded on a desert island and then starts a fruit import/export business), he teaches the reader how to make basic flyers, business cards, web pages, movies , soundtracks and DVDs. The target audience for this book is the Grandma or little league coach who wants to make some basic yet professional publicity materials for their organization.

This is not a tutorial about iLIie or iWork, this book is strictly project focused. MacDesign out of the box requires no previous knowledge of any of these programs. Statler walks you through the principles step by step with great screen pictures of any confusing steps. He also explains the design principles of what you are doing, so you can apply them to your individual projects. After reading the book, I feel much more comfortable using the basic Mac software to create a nice identity for any organization--however all my designer friends will still have a job for sure.

Pros: Excellent explanation on how to use the iLife and iWork suite to create flyers, business cards, web pages, and movies. Great book for someone delegated publicity duties for any organizations.
Cons: A bit cutesy. I’d prefer a straightforward explanation than an over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek approach. Not everyone has iWork preinstalled on their Mac

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fire the Phone Company by Dave Field

The title sounds pretty enticing…how to fire the phone company. The book is about Voice Over IP, or VoIP, which is a technology that allows voice chat over the Internet. Even though the book is copyright 2006, it really felt dated. That’s probably because this is such a fast moving field. No mention was made of some of the more innovative products out today such as the usb flash based phone from Vonage nor any info about Skype being bought by ebay. Unfortunately, the book also completely ignored Apple’s very high quality entry into VoIP—iChat AV.

The book’s subtitle is “A Handy Guide to Voice Over IP.” Not to nitpick, but I wouldn’t call it a guide, rather a overview. The book gave the reader a brief yet complex overview of the history of VoIP communications. The book took a simple straightforward subject and overwhelmed the reader with hundreds of acronyms (I actually started counting). Most of the acronyms, while interesting, are completely impractical as a guide. These acronyms have little usage for the average person wanting to dump the phone company. In addition, I think the book unnecessarily scared readers away from using VoIP. Too much time was spent on technical details such as home wiring or firewalls. In reality, this stuff generally works out of the box with little configuration from the user.

Based on the cover and title, I expected more of a guide on what options for VoIP were out there and which company would be right for me. Field did provide a chapter on how to compare VoIP companies, but left all the research to the reader. While I respect that if he included recommendations, they might change by presstime, but too often in the book instead of offering practical advice, he simply suggested that readers use Google to do their own research.

Personally, ever time I’ve used VoIP solutions, they work! I didn’t have to configure firewalls, check the wiring in my house, it worked like a charm. Same for any customer I’ve worked with. I almost wondered…does he work for the phone company…and is he being paid to scare readers. I don’t think he researched his subject very well, and he based all his recommendations on personal experience. Again, this stuff isn’t rocket science. I can confidentially say it’s harder to secure a wireless router than to chat with someone over the internet

Field did do a decent job of giving readers who want to switch to VoIP descriptions of realistic problems and how to handle them, most notably how to establish 911 access and how to switch your land line number to your VoIP number.

Buy this book if you need a historical overview of VoIP for your computer classes, but as a guide for someone wanting to switch to making phone calls over the Internet—avoid this book because it will needlessly scare you.

Pros: Great if you own stock in AT&T/SBC, as people will be afraid to fire the phone company
Cons: Endless fear mongering and complexity inaccurately portrays the ease in which you can fire the phone company

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Leo Laporte's Guide to Mac OS X Tiger

Leo Laporte's Guide to Mac OS X Tiger

by by Leo Laporte, Todd Stauffer

Celebrity endorsements can be both good and bad. When it’s a grill, an endorsement by George Foreman tends to work out. When OJ Simpson endorses you’re car rental service it’s bad. Given the general high quality of Leo Laporte’s podcast and TV shows, I had high hopes for this book. I was woefully disappointed. Same thing happened when I bought sneakers endorsed by a basketball star and my game didn’t improve at all. The book was really writeen by Todd Stauffer based on the screen shots of his Mac. Apparently Leo didn’t have too much involvement, just like that famous basketball player probably had little to say about the shoes with his name on it.

First, the book was very difficult to read from a design perspective. Looking at a page it was nearly impossible to find what you want. Anyone ever heard of the tab function or indentation. These tips are from Design 101..use your margins and indentations to emphasise certain points and organize them on the page. In addition, the table of contents and flow of the book was very confusing. A good intro book takes it for the User’s Experience perspective: start with the beginning when you turn on the mac and setup up a user account, and then setup email, and so on. Leo’s book starts with the essoteric aspects of the Finder. If you are a new user, that’s not very helpful until you understand more about your Mac and if you are an intermediate user, you already know this stuff. Finally, the book didn’t include enough screen pictures, and the screen pictures that were included were not very helpful. I wish I could tell you what pattern was used to determine what was pictures worthy and what wasn’t. Including pictures in a book help break up long text areas and the pictures get associated somehow with the topic being discussed. In this book, the pictures were not used to help balance the text nor did the layout effective use the pictures to illustrate the text being dicussed.

From a technical perspective, the book did a mediocare job of explaining Mac topics. Typical of many technical books, the book explained topics in a way that novice users wouldn’t understand and intermediate users would be insulted by. Granted, it’s a thin line to walk: explain it straightforward enough that a novice will understand it but insightful enough that an intermediate user would appreciate and learn from it. At least Todd and Leo aren’t alone in their failures. A great example is multihoming. Multihoming is an advanced way of using mutliple network connections. A novice would unlikely care about it and a intermediate user wasn’t given an explanation of how to set up multihoming--only that it exists.

Worst of all, this book is just plain wrong in some area. In the troubleshooting chapter, Todd recommends running Norton Utilities when you have problems. What? Norton Utilities is not compatible with Tiger. That’s been known since Tiger came out. He also indicates that hardware problems with kernel panics are usually related to drivers and never considers that hardware may be bad or incompatible. Those are some serious errors. Granted it’s only a few errors, but errors bad enough that a computer could be rendered unusable after taking some of his advise.

Generally, this is a below average introduction to Mac OS X Tiger.

Pros: Not terribly expensive, a quick read
Cons: Hard to read and understand. Technical errors and inconsistent topic depth

Been on Vacation!

With the Jewish High Holiday season coming to a close, I’m back to writing. Hope everyone has a great 5767.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The iPod Playlist Book

by Clif Colby

This review is short, because this book is short. The one redeeming quality of this book is there is no doubts what it is about: a book of playlists. No iPod tips or tricks, no troubleshooting guides, not even history about the songs. The playlists aren’t from famous people. This is simply a cute book of sample playlists for different events such as “Songs for Crying in your Beer” or “Martini Time.”

This is one of those fun little gifts you see at a the mini book that has 6 pages and is 2 inches tall that has different ways to say I love you. This is a good stocking stuffer to elicit a smile or great book for a waiting room at a doctor’s office.

The book is cute, and that’s about it. Sometimes the world needs a few more smiles

Pros: Makes you smile and chuckle
Cons: Serves no useful purpose besides making you smile. Nothing particularly iPod related

2 out of 5 dogs cows

Monday, September 18, 2006


by Mariner Software

Every OS X user has certain programs that they have run at startup: those programs that are so indespnsible they want to have it immediately available.

MacJournal is one of those programs , at least for me. I absolutely cannot live without it! On average I’d say I use it at least every hour I’m in front of the computer. MacJournal is obviously designed for someone wjp keeps a journal or diary, but it’s really so much more than that! Don’t be limited by its name Think of it like a thousand sticky notes properly organized. You can set journals for anything. I have a nearly endless list of journals: a to-do journal, a journal of business ideas, a journal of books to read, a journal of recipes. Each journal can have mutiple entries in it that can show either the date, text or title of the entry (or all of them combined). For example, in my Review journal I can say “ MacJournal”. Then I click that entry and can type the reviews.

Obviously you can type plain text items within MacJournal, but you can also create numbered listings,checkboxes for to do lists, or plain bulleted lists. That’s why I keep my general to do list in MacJournal, I can print it out and check things as I go. Heck, you can even leave voice memos--yet another reason why I have it constantly running

Sometimes journals can keep private information, so you can password protect your MacJournal entries. You can also email them or export them to text documents. You can even take a MacJournal entry and directly publish it to blogging sites. Talk about versatile!!! How very cool!

Being a Simpson’s fan, one of my favorite features is the “Taco”. What’s the taco? Click on it and you get a random Simpsons quote. So when you are writing the next chapter of the Great American Novel in MacJournal and want a brief distraction, click on the Taco and be presented with such famous quotes as: “You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is ‘never try’.” or “There’s a 4:30 in the morning now?”

MacJournal won an Apple Design Award in 2002 and it shows in the excellent interface and functionality of the program. The overall program design is similar to the Mail interface. A drawer contains your journals and you can open and close journals via the disclosure triangle. The title bar is completely customizable with drag and drop buttons and most menu functions can be included on that title bar. Alternatively, most of the text functions can be accessed from the “Action” menu (the menu with the gear icon) located in the Journal drawer.

Two other very similar programs to MacJournal I’ve seen are StickyBrain and Yojimbo, both reviwed previously. StickyBrain also lets you store information and create lists, but I find to be somewhat disorganized because it allows free-from entries. Before I received a review copy of MacJournal, StickyBrain was my program of choice for tracking daily thoughts. Yojimbo is great for storing passwords, but for general information entries, MacJournal is simply better if you want to store a greater variety of information.

My only complaint is I’d like some way to bring it up with a keyboard command. Both StickyBrain and Yojimbo allow you to press a key combination to bring their program to the forefront. It’s really a feature request rather than a complaint really, but it nonetheless would still be useful

Download MacJournal for the basic blogging, but keep it for the advanced interface and functions!

Pros: Perfect memory upgrade for your brain
Cons: Needs a systemwide keyboard command

5 out of 5 dogcows

Learning Unix for Mac OS X Tiger

by Dave Taylor

I had really high hopes for this book. I consider myself a pretty smart Mac tech, but Unix was the one thing that really scared me about OS X. To fix some esoteric problem, I’d have to follow some Unix recipe and it always annoyed me I didn’t understand what I was typing. O’Relly books are well known not just for the animals on the cover, but excellent explanations of very technical concepts.

After reading Taylor’s book, I felt better, but not by much. Most readers can easily understand the basic unix file structure commands, but towards the middle of the book he inaccurately assumed that his readers could also quickly understand some of the advanced concepts. Towards the end of the book I was left scratching my head. We went from move a file here and there to commands that were taking up multiple lines. Arrrgh!

The critical flaw in the book was a lack of exercises and real world examples. When I want to learn something, I don’t just want to be told. Involve me and test my knowledge. Some of the more difficult concepts covered in the book would have been enhanced with numerous real world examples, each building on the other. Things moved way too fast and made it easy to get lost.

The book was an excellent overview of Unix for the Macintosh and perfect for someone to decide whether to pursue further learning. “Introduction to Unix” instead of “Learning Unix” would have been a better title. After reading the book, I was reminded of speed dating where you meet 20 people for five minutes each and decide whether you want to go out with them or not. After reading the book I have enough familiarity with Unix that I can understand basic commands and how they relate to each other. I clearly want to go out on another date but any type of wedding bells are way in the distance.

PROS: Excellent overview of Unix for the Macintosh
CONS: Doesn’t leave you with enough practical understanding

Monday, September 04, 2006

earPod: your earbuds best friend

Continuing along with my recent theme of great iPod accessories, my handiest unexpectedly brilliant iPod accessory is the earPod.

I love my Etymotic Research, Inc. - ER•6i Isolator Earphones. However, like most iPod users, I hate the way my cord constantly gets tangles and develops damaging knots. I’ve tried all sorts of methods of properly storing them. The earPod is the only one I’ve seen that fixes this.

The earPod is approximately one inch think and three inches across. It reminds me of a mini “moon pie”. . earPods are made out of a hard plastic and in my experience are virtually indestructible. I’ve thrown mine at the bottom of luggage and stepped on it countless times with zero damage. After a year of using my earPod, I’ve had no cracks or damage to the plastic. With some earbud style headphones costing as much as $500, protection like this is a must. Those little “pouches” expensive headphones come in are a joke.

To use the earPod to store your earbuds, you slip the top of the case off its hinge. The process is extremely easy once you get the hang of it and can easily be done with one hand. Inside the earPod is a think foam that cushions your earpod and collects some of the wax that invariably develops on the earbuds.

Once the earbuds are inside you slip the top of the case back and lock it in place. You then simply wrap the cord around the earPod and then just slip the headphone jack within the wrapped cord. It’s quick and easy to load and unload. It even includes a beltclip.

Pros: Perfectly protects your earbud style headphones.
Cons: Absolutely none!

Click on the word earPod for more information at Amazon's website.

Friday, August 18, 2006

ezSkin iPod Protector

This item has been sitting in the review “vault” for a while. The reason is simple: the skin is for a 5th generation iPod...and my iPod was only a 3rd generation. My 3G iPod had a basic silicone case I bought from some no-name store online. While it gets the job done, it wasn’t anything to write home about. Then the MacPro came out with a iPod rebate deal, so I finally have a 5th generation iPod and can find out what this whole “Lost” phenomenon is all about.

Upon first using the ezSkin, I immediately noticed the quality of the plastic. The case has a very tactile feel and even with sweaty hands, the case was still easy to grip. Unlike other cases I have tested, the iPod click wheel remains extremely responsive and makes “scrubbing” quite easy.. I was able to play breakout quite well! Actually, I found the ezSkin to be an improvement over the original click wheel design because of the matte finish. Ever notice that your laptop trackpad has a matte finish? There’s a reason a matte finish is better! Such quality does cost more though. Retail for an ezSkin is about $30.00.

Unlike it's cheaper competitors, the ezSkin includes a hard plastic cover for the display thus providing 360 degrees of protection. It even has the belt clip and belt clip attachment. While I don’t know if IÂ’d trust my iPod to this clip, it makes it easier to store in the car on my dash.

Note that silicon style cases such as the ezSkin are great for protecting against scratches but are not impact resistant, thus if you drop your iPod while in an ezSkin, you’ll only be slightly better off than if you dropped it naked. If you think you might be rough on your iPod, always carry it in a impact resistant case (stay tuned for reviews!)

Overall, I am extremely impressed with this case and consider it hands down the best silicone case for protecting your iPod.

To purchase go to :

Pros: Great protective case that doesn't interrupt general usage
Cons: Not impact resistant

Mac OS X Tiger Pocket Guide (Pocket References)

by Chuck Toporek

This is not a beginners book. If you are looking for a book that explains how to double click or what an icon is, look elsewhere. The primary audience for this book is someone who is familiar with the Mac and wants to learn all the tips, tricks, and idiosyncricies of Tiger. This is the type of book someone working in a computer lab or at a help desk would turn to when you need a quick answer to a question. Every IT department should have a copy of this book available.

One of the greatest aspects of the book is Toporek’s tables of keyboard shortcuts in every section. I generally like keeping my hands on the keyboard and every time I move to the mouse, time is wasted. If there is a way to do something, anything on the keyboard in Tiger, Toporek tells you. I found myself writing little post-it notes of shortcuts I never knew and now can’t live without.

The book is extremely comprehensive, not just covering the Finder, but also applications and utilities, Unix, networking, and troubleshooting.

If I had to pick one book to be stranded on a dessert island with (of course that island would need wireless internet and electricity) it would be this book. I can’t think of a real world question this book couldn’t answer. Many of the sections were in a “How do I ” style like “Change password for User Account?” or “Share a USB Printer over an Ethernet Network.” Being a real world Tiger user, I can’t think of a single question this book doesn’t answer. I also found it handy when there were things I heard about in Tiger, but couldn’t remember where they were or how to use them. For example, I know there’s a program that will take pictures of the screen, but can’t remember where it is. I can’t search help if I don’t know what I’m looking for. A quick flip through the Applications and Utilities section in the book helped me find what I was looking for.

This is not a tutorial book. Toporek states the “how to” do something without actually walking you through it and doesn’t explain why he’s telling you to do something. I like to think of this as a recipe book for using Tiger. Follow the recipe exactly and you’ll be fine, but don’t expect to be told why you must preheat the oven or make sure to temper the eggs when making custard.

I highly recommend this book for a intermediate Mac user who would rather look something up in a book then search for the answers in Google or call their tech savvy friends. I went out and bought one personally for myself I liked it so much!

Pros: Efficient and straightforward guide on how to use Tiger efficiently and effectively.
Cons: Not for the intro user, if you are looking for a bunch of pretty pictures and hand-holding--go elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Greetings and Salutations

Thanks for checking out my website and blog. I'll be republishing some past columns on this website as well as preview some of the stories I'm working on (dependent on my agreement with the particular publication I'm working worth)

In the meantime, you can check out my columns at the publications to the right.