Friday, December 21, 2007

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC): First Impression Review

one laptop per childWhen I first heard about the $100 laptop project I was really excited at the concept. I thought "This will empower all individuals in a society to have access to information and to participate in the global economy." Denizens of poor nations may not have factories in their countries, or natural resources, but each individual has a mind. Whether that person be in Nebraska or Nigeria, they both have the potential to be the next Warren Buffett. It's about the opportunities and barriers presented to them. Giving children a laptop, when they barely have enough food, clothing and shelter seems foolish and rings or a warped South Park cartoon.

In reality, though, these children have the same intellectual potential as any child in the US. Empowering this generation with knowledge is the single greatest tools to stop the cycle of problems. Yes, we all know that it's better to teach someone to fish rather than give them fish. The OLPC project goes beyond that and not only teaches them how to fish, but how to design the fishing pole and raise the fish to maximize yield and minimize impact on the environment.

When I found out *I* could buy one of these laptops and be a part of the project, I raced to participate. I was up at 5am to make sure I could keep refreshing my browser to get the first one. I believed I was part of something that could have as much impact on society as the Gutenberg press. Sure, I'm an idealist, but so is Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

When my OLPC laptop arrived I opened it so fast I sliced my finger open. Honestly and truly. I was disappointed there was no documentation (and no T-Mobile free access information). A letter said to go to the web for more information. Of course, the website was down...or rather just extremely overloaded as the page kept timing out.

The first problem I had was how to open it. It wasn't intuitive. There was no handle or clasp indicating how to open the device. In my struggles I did get to examine the seams on the plastic. They were sturdy, and none "gave" indicating where I could open it. I decided to flip the rabbit ears and then it opened. No big deal, but couldn't they have put a symbol indicating how to open it? Just a simple arrow?

I then gave it a name and choose my colors. Limited choice, but that's ok. Why couldn't they integrate some fun kid functions like on the Wii and let you design the colors you wanted instead of picking from preselected designs? Next I was faced with a bunch of circles with my avatar in the middle. It reminded me heavily of Bezerk or Robotron 2084. I eventually realized this was a list of networks. I found my SSID and clicked to connect and put in my WPA password. Didn't work. I then used my main computer to go the OLPC web site and found out that WPA isn't fully yet implemented. Arrrgh. So I reset my router to WEP and got on. I still don't know what the "mesh networks" listed are or what the colors mean, if anything.

When these are given to children who have never used a computer before, the system should be very easy to figure out. Granted, I grew up with computers all my life, so I don't know what it's like to see your first computer. Like a child, I started pressing buttons and found out what things did. I found the browser and surfing was actually quite good. However it was horribly slow and my cell phone is significantly faster. Nonetheless my Gmail loaded, as did Google documents and spreadsheets meaning that I had access to a MS compatible word processor and spreadsheet.

Typing on the laptop was a challenge. I realize these are designed for kids' hands, but I think any child who would have the manually dexterity to type properly would probably find the keys too small. It wasn't any worse than the portable bluetooth keyboard I have for my cell phone. In addition, the keys were spaced well part and I rarely found myself double typing like I do on other devices.

I then went to Youtube...videos didn't play because in the effort to be 100% open source, they don't have an Adobe Flash player but an open source equivalent.

I then tried the "eBook" type function by moving the screen and hiding the keyboard and touchpad. The screen has navigational controls on the side and even let's you change the orientation of the screen in 90 degree angles. I was able to page up and down on the page and move it left to right. Only problem is I had no way of clicking on the page. Arrrgh. That isn't very useful. What's the point of the eBook if you can't go to the next page. I'm a reasonably smart guy, but I couldn't figure out the bookmark function or if you can have tabbed browsing.

I gave up and went to the RSS newsreader. No dice. Couldn't get any of my feeds to work. Even the included feeds didn't work. Well, that's a bust. Speaking of bust, by this time, I had been using it two hours and the fully charged battery died. This was supposed to energy efficient for long treks in the desert?

There are a host of other programs included and I tried them all. Most are examples like a video recorder, calculator and a "turtle" that is a modern implementation of LOGO. I approached them like a child would: press buttons and see what happens. Nothing did. Kids museums are based on the fact that children like to touch things and see an effect. I'd press a button, a program would load, but then nothing would move. Arrrgh. That's as bad as telling a youngster "Look...but don't touch"

To an extent, I can understand that this is a proof of concept device. The hardware works and I was even able to hook up a external mouse. Alas, it did not have the SD card reader promised, but that's ok. The keyboard, while small, was well sealed. I'm not going to test it under the elements...but I wouldn't be afraid of using it in harsh conditions. I wouldn't leave my laptop in the car all day, but I'd feel comfortable with this. I wouldn't worry about a case for it. I think it could take some abuse.

The failure of the software functions to work right is annoying, but not insurmountable. I've used beta software before and this unit is clearly a beta. The beauty of open source is that these problems will be fixed by the user community. Instead of relying on a group of programmers in a corporate office, this device will rely on the world's brain trust to make it better. Why are there like a zillion plug-ins for firefox....same concept!

My greatest concern is the interface. It just doesn't make sense. They call it "Sugar" but it's pretty sour to me. Again, I've never lived without computers and I can't guess how a child in Africa might view how a computer works. In reality though, they won't be drop shipping these laptops. People in the US will be trained to train people in Africa to train people in the villages. OK...how are those teachers going to figure out this unit? It has to be based on concepts that teachers would recognize. If I'm a tech and I can't quickly figure this stuff out, how is a third grade teacher going to teach a teacher in Africa these concepts?

I'm disappointed, but hopeful. This is so much more than a laptop, it's a tool for change. The founding principle is “It's an education project, not a laptop project." The laptop is actually pretty good, but the project is failing. I simply can't see this interface being usable without a significant overhaul. In addition , the failure to have proper documentation is a significant hindrance to adoption by decision makers. How is a world leader going to be able to figure out how to use it? I wouldn't buy these for my school even if it were $25. The laptops just don't make sense. Without the education project behind it, these will be used to send out some more phishing attempts of 419 scams.


I'm sure the idea was to get this laptop in as many hands of influential people as possible. They'll then provide the buzz to keep the project alive and get open source programmers on the bandwagon. OLPC is facing stiff competition from Intel and Asus: both are coming out with $200 laptops that could run more familiar operating systems like windowed linux, or even a scaled back version of Windows. While OLPC is a non-profit, these other companies are for profit and can take a loss in order to push OLPC out of the market. OLPC was smart to get these laptops in the hands of as many people as possible in order to create and "installed base" to protect themselves from being crushed by Asus and Intel. OLPC is already successful in it's mission because whether it's a OLPC or a Asus eee PC in the hands of these children, they *will* be getting laptops. If OLPC however fades away, then Asus and Intel can quickly raise prices going back to their old practices of focusing on profit instead of social change.


Will the OLPC be recorded as the next major technology in the advanced of civilization? Will the OLPC be the equivalent of a Gutenberg bible or the Magna Carta? That depends on the open source community. As it stands right now, the OLPC is less powerful and harder to figure out than your average $49-after-rebate cell phone. If it stays in that stage, it will be a crying shame. However, I'm an idealist, and the more people talking about OLPC, the more people showing up at coffee shops with it and airports with it, the more likely programmers will get on board and make the laptop even better. When I saw these laptops were going for $400 on ebay, I seriously thought about selling mine. But $400 is too cheap to sell your dream of making the world a better place: one laptop at a time.






BOTTOM LINE: A great concept worthy of continuing, but don't be fooled for a second that this is ready for implementation. Buy it to share in the dream, not for a useful computing device

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Laptop Bag Review: Papa's got a brand new bag

Papa's got a brand new bag!
laptop bag reivew

If industry expert predictions hold true, laptops will outpace desktop sales again this holiday season. Unfortunately people pay thousands of dollars for a laptop , yet protect it with something that is stylish, but offers little more protection than a ziplock bag. If you give or get a laptop this holiday season, please protect it. Screen cracking can be eliminated in our lifetime, but only if we work together!


You really can't blame some people for not protecting their laptop properly. Most bags are ugly. Butt-ugly. Black behemoths that scream "I have a laptop and you should steal me". College students opt for the stylish laptop sleeves, because, well they want dates and don't want to look stupid. Function over form comes later in life. Older people buy Volvos, younger people buy Minis or Hummers. Don't buy your college student a laptop bag unless you are sure they will use it. Those ubiquitous black bags simply won't fill the bill.

Review: The Missing Sync for Palm OS 6.0.1

Missing Sync for Palm OS review

Palm’s treatment of the Mac reminds me of that girl in high school who suddenly showed interest in me the time choosing lab partners came around...and then dumped me at the end of science class. Palm’s market share grew because of loyal Mac users. We were dedicated to the Palm and shunned it’s pale imitation: Windows CE and then Windows Mobile. However, Palm later joined the dark side, began making Windows Mobile devices and left us in the dust. Development of Palm software for the Mac stalled out and Palm left it to Apple to pick up the slack. Just like I was left stood up the week after science class was over. Whatever.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Book Review: Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard by Robin Williams

Leopard book

Robin Williams seems to have a uncanny clairvoyance that not only helps her figure out that William Shakespeare's works were possibly written by Mary Sidney, but also helped her get a Leopard guide in the Apple stores the same day Leopard came out. Ok, she had some help from Apple by getting an advance copy. Maybe she used the Time Machine feature to go back to the days of Romeo and Juliet. It's a pretty powerful feature of Leopard.

Obviously Apple trusted her enough to provide her with a pre-release copy of Leopard as well as make her the featured Leopard book in the store. In the Mac publishing world, she's about as well known and well respected as ol' Bill Shakespeare himself--and written almost as many works. Unlike Bill, reading her books are easy and straightforward arming non-technical users with the skills and understanding to attack Leopard head on.

In particular, Robin's style is to expertly use page layout and screenshots to explain the features of an operating system in small bites everyone can digest. I enjoy the fact she doesn't talk down to her readers. She expects a basic understanding of how to use a mouse and keyboard. This book is designed for a Mac or even a PC user making the transition to Leopard, either via upgrade or by the fact it came with the Mac. She walks the reader through all the features of the Leopard operating system. She apologizes for not covering the iLife or iWork suites, but clearly points out this is a book on Leopard. I'm sure she realizes that if the book were too big, readers would be intimidated. While it's over 450 pages, she uses a great table of contents and index to allow the reader to hone in on just the info they are interested in. Want to know how to do screen sharing..no problem? First, she marks it in a "Tech Stuff" section so novice or intimidated users can avoid it. Then she puts it in a logical chapter of "Get connected and share files." Then a nice screen sharing section appears. Can't find it there? Check the index either under iChat or Screen Sharing. She clearly spent lots of time making sure her book was extremely user friendly, just like the operating systems she covers.

Not only does she cover practically all the "300" new features of Leopard, but includes great troubleshooting advice for when things go wrong. The advice she gives is as good or better than what you'll get on the phone calling tech support or stopping by the "bar". If her troubleshooting section doesn't cover it, you'll need a technician to come out!

My one complaint is she should have marked those features new or different in Leopard. That would allow a upgrader to focus on just those new items of difference in Leopard. Knowing her though, she did a careful analysis and determined there wouldn't be enough white space on the page and left it out.

This book is not intended for intermediate or advanced users. You won't find out which port to open for screen sharing or it's inner workings--just how to initiate it. I contrast her books to more "manual" like books that cover every feature in depth. This book is designed to hold the readers hand through the steps or learning.

I avoided Shakespeare in high school, relying solely on those ubiquitous yellow and black "notes." Hey, her book is kinda the same thing. Avoids all the fluff and gets down to the nitty gritty of what you need to know. Will future generations attribute her expert writings to a man? I don't know, but I'm sure glad our generation has such an expert artist of words and pictures to teach us how to use our Macs.

Pros: Outstanding layout and organization. Excellent descriptions for novice Mac users. Enthusiastically recommend it to all new Leopard and Mac Users. Use this book as a starting point in your learning!
Cons: Not for intermediate users, no clear distinction of Leopard features

Five of Five dogcows.

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

Review: Dockstar

Dockstar
Dockstar
Oftentimes, a software product comes along that is so simple, yet so powerful, you simultaneously congratulate the software writer and curse Apple for not including this feature to begin with.

Granted, Dockstar’s paltry price of $9.95 is well worth it and then some. Don’t you hate it when software developers charge too much for the product! This product is definitely right-priced.

So what does Dockstar do? It changes to the Mail icon scheme to allow for specialty “badges”to let you know which email accounts have new messages. So instead of the red seal indicating how many new messages Mail has retrieved, you can have a purple star for one account, and pink heart for another. Instantly you can see which account has a new message. I think if they added green clovers, then they’d have to name the product Lucky Charms --and that pot of gold will be suppled by the Nigerian prince who died and needs to transfer money to your account. Oh, then they'd get sued for copyright violation, so Dockstar might be a good name after all.

Short review for a simple product that does one thing and does it very well

Pros: Use the Mail app icon to instantly determine which accounts have new messages
Cons: No Blue Moons or Purple Horseshoes.

Five out of Five dogcows

dogcowdogcowdogcowdogcowdogcow

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

Monday, September 17, 2007

Review: Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Server Essentials

book

Review: Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Server Essentials

Peachpit's "Apple Training Series" is generally an outstanding product line. However, there are two distinct branches to the line: knowledge and certification. This book isn't designed as much to teach you about OS X Server (Tiger edition) as it is to prepare you for a certification exam. Nothing wrong with that, it just not terribly practical for real world operations. While I haven't taken the certifcation exam, I suspect this book prepares you well for the exam since it's the "offical" curriculum of the Apple Training and Cetification program.

Similiar to other test prep books, there are goals and reviews. In particular, the book breaks down the learning into chapters with time estimates, which is helpful in preparing your learning process. The included CD has sample files to go along with the detailed and expanded exercises. The book takes you through the basics of setting up a server start to finish along with giving an overview of the rich feature set found in OS X Server.

Unfortunately, simliar to other test prep books, the book doesn't arm you with the skills necessary to properly maintain and configure a Tiger server in the real world. There is no troubleshooting guide nor much practical advice on do's and don'ts of server setup. After reading this book, I'm relatively confident I could pass the exam, but I do not feel confident I could configure or maintain a Tiger server. Nonetheless, this book is a good first step in learning OS X server. You need no prior knowledge to start using this book and to at least get a test server set up.

Overall this is a good book for beginners and/or persons trying to get certified on OS X server. The book level from Peachpit says "Intermediate/Advanced". I disagree; this is strictly for new users. If you will be maintaining a OS X server, look elsewhere for a support guide. Anyone who's setup a OS X server will be annoyed by this book.

Pros: Clear examples and easy to follow guide for beginners
Cons: No troubleshooting nor practical guidance after initial setup

Two out of five dogcows
dogcow
dogcow

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Review: Open letter to onlymyemail.com

Dear Onlymyemail.com

I am writing, obviously to cancel my account with your company and wish you delete any and all information you have on file about me. As you know, I ran into problems with too much spam, which is ironic, since people who sign up with your company have too much spam to begin with. You threatened to shut off all my email for receiving too much spam (over 400 a day) and when I asked for help you blamed the fact I had a business domain--though that wasn't the domain having the most spam problems. My emails asking for clarifications were responded to with trite and unhelpful boilerplate responses.

Firstly, I want to thank you for teaching me some valuable lessons about consumerism that I apparently forgot, otherwise I wouldn't have signed up for your “service”. I'd like to review them, if only for myself and others on the Internet to learn not just to stay away from your company (I do wish I knew who “you” were), but to remember these valuable lessons. Every experience, no matter how horrible, can be learned from. That's why I'm posting it to my professional blog.

Overall, thanks for letting everyone know that poor quality and customer service doesn't just happen overseas, but happens right here in the good US of A. Some say we invented rudeness, and despite your location in the Midwest, you failed to learn ol' fashioned Midwest politeness and values...

Lesson 1: Rudeness is Universal

I knew I was in trouble from the start. Never purchase something in haste. I was getting “joe jobbed” on one of my domains and my spam software was getting overwhelmed. Research indicated you won awards…but that was two years ago and there was little critical review of your company since. That's a sign of trouble. Good products continue to win awards.

Lesson 2: Stale awards scream “what have you done for me lately”

Your website showed some “key” markers of trouble ahead. When I went to the contact section, no toll free number was listed. Not a deal-breaker, but seems strange. No fax number listed. That does seem strange in 2007! What should have told me to browse away was the fact that nowhere on the website is a person listed. No owner, no message from the CEO. Heck, even your media contacts were unsigned, and media people are known to be self-promoters.

Lesson 3: The less names and methods of contact, the more likely you'll have trouble later on

During the sign up process, I made some assumptions. Your terms “Personal accounts are intended for use by individuals who receive a modest amount of daily email and have a download/filter quota of 400 emails from each external account per day” When I ran into problems with too much spam, I made the assumption that this “filter quota” only applied to good email and not spam. It's logical that a company that you pay to remove spam wouldn't charge you for too much spam! Isn't the whole purpose of signing up for a spam blocking service is because you…well.. have too much spam? Then “support” told me that your product didn't work well for business domains. In spite of the fact that my business account only received 15-30 legitimate emails a day and my personal account received much more (mother in law sends me way too much information!), you considered it a business account and suggested your expensive corporate solution. More importantly, you didn't state the consequences of having too much spam. You'd shut off my email for 24 hours! Ouch. Why didn't I ask “what would happen if I ran over the quota?” Stupid stupid stupid. The ambiguity of this term should have told me to walk away…but alas, I did not…and in the end that's my fault not yours. I didn't even check your BBB rating! But really, a spam service that penalizes you for too much spam? Am I on Candid Camera or what?

Lesson 4: Ambiguous terms and terms that don't state the consequences should be deal breakers.

But again, I signed up. First few days during the trial period your web site repeatedly went down. I was told this is rare, but got a quick response from “support.” Hmmm…rare…I already missed three alarms, so why stop here I guess. Not only that, the emails were unsigned. Even if it's signed with Americanized foreign names, rarely do you get emails from a support team that don't even mention a first name. Failed to learn this in Lesson 3 and continued on.

Lesson 5: Unsigned responses from service professionals is a clear sign of trouble.

My problems continued. Spam emails kept slipping through your filters. “Support” 's response was to contact my ISP. When I tried that and told you they couldn't assist, you blamed them and then you again blamed me for using it your service for work purposes. So my spam service wasn't working and I was constantly under the threat of being shut off.

Lesson 6: Blaming the customer or other vendors should be endgame for a business relationship.

After close to a month of back and forth via your company over email (each hurting my quota), I started asking about the ambiguity in the terms of service and your response was to simply link to the terms again. No text explanation, just a link to the FAQ. Throughout the process there were warning signs. It wasn't until you annoyed me with the flippant responses (ya know, at least those guys overseas aren't usually sarcastic), that I decided to cancel the service

Lesson 7: Don't beat a dead horse. If it isn't working out, move on.

And the final lesson. While I was in the process of moving my emails back to my servers, your company actually spammed me about its “kid friendly” email! Now this is personal, figuratively and literally. How dare you spam me about your services…when I'm paying you to block the spam! Forget Candid Camera, this has gotta to be Americans Funniest Home Videos. I felt just like the guys that got hit in the groin. Ouch.

So in sum, I'm canceling the service, ending the relationship, and warning others. While your service is terrible in every respect, it's my fault for not seeing the warning signs. As they say “It's me, not you.” Continue doing what you do, if someone is foolish enough to continue with your service after all these warning signs that any good consumer should recognize, it's their fault not yours. Thank you for the refresher course in staying away from Internet scammers. Or maybe this was all a big joke. Only my credit card bill will know for sure.

Dave Greenbaum

Monday, September 10, 2007

Review: Newertech Universal Drive Adapter

drive adapter

One of the latest gee whiz inventions in the past few years are the flurry of USB to IDE/SATA adapters. While technicians like me find them indispensable, other "mere mortals" can find some real handy uses for these gems. Storage leader Newertech has constructed one of the best USB bridges out there: the Newertech Universal Drive Adapter. While Newertech's name is familiar to Mac enthusiasts and historians (including going bankrupt and leaving some rather upset customers), it's only connection with that past company is the name and hopefully tradition of quality. So far the newer Newertech is carrying the torch well. Newertech and Otherworld Computing are sister companies, so OWC is the main place to buy the "new" newertech stuff.

The Universal Drive Adapter allows practically any hard drive (or optical drive) to be attachable to your current Mac via USB. Because the hard drive isn't protected in a case, this is not a long term solution. If you want to use a internal hard drive via usb (or firewire) over a extended period of time, purchase a quality external case.

I've gone through quite a few of these usb bridges. Beware and be aware of awfully cheap USB bridges. They too often break due to inferior plastic and one I owned actually started smoking (didn't exactly give the customer a great sense of confidence): in other words, awful. Cheap and trusting data often don't go along well in the same sentence. I'm impressed with the quality of this Newertech device. It's well constructed and has withstood months of heavy use by me. Other World Computing is great about standing behind their products, so I wouldn't trust my hard drive to anyone else.

USB bridges are primarily used by technicians to temporarily attach a hard drive or dvd drive to another computer for backup or data transfer. So you aren't a tech? No problem. I suspect there isn't a reader out there that doesn't have at least one old computer or hard drive lying around. You probably left it in the closet because you know that you have personal data on it and didn't want to just throw it in the trash or you are simply afraid you might need the data "at some point". Now you can simply pull the hard drive out (OWC has great videos on their website on hard drive removal) and use it on your current Mac. A backup of your old computer is easily accessible should the need arise. By the way, you can easily use hard drives from Windows machines on your Mac...or even use this on a Windows machine. Perfect for switchers....pull the hard drive out of your PC and attach it to a Mac.

What I think is the best use of those old hard drives, however, is backups. Take an old ten or twenty gig hard drive and hook it up to your Mac and backup your current Mac. Often that hard drive will hold more data than a USB flash drive and DVD combined. . If you have a Intel based Mac, you can even boot off a USB drive. If you rely on your Mac, you owe it to yourself to have some way to boot your Mac in an emergency. Since you only need it in emergency, you can save yourself a few bucks by buying a cheap IDE drive and keep this close at hand.

Every IT department should have one of these (I do!). Actually, they probably do, but not made by Newertech. When your existing one breaks for the fourth time this year, spend a bit more and get a quality one. However, small office/home office users with older computers lying around can save space and put that valuable storage space to good use.

Pros: Sturdy, reliable way of adding practically any hard drive to your Mac
Cons: A bit pricey, but you get what you pay for often. This device, like all USB bridges, are for temporary use only. It would be nice if it had firewire

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

Review: Radtech NeoCase Laptop Protector

Neocase

In the Matrix, the character Neo represented a slick confidence that somehow made him master of everything in the quasi-reality construct the movie series is named after. Of course, it's also named after the substance the case is made of: neoprene. Yes, I'm obsessed with keeping my Macbook is tip top shape. It's the first new laptop I've ever bought. I've tried hard shells and fabric sleeves. Each have their advantages. Hard shells work well to protect the computer, but aren't always that pretty. They also can get scratched up over time. Mine after about 9 months began to look like one of those Nanos everyone sued Apple about. I then used a fabric sleeve. I liked them, and I continue use them on occasion. The problem with a fabric sleeve is you forget to put them back in. The NeoCase, just like the character, seems to be the missing element that combines them both. The fashion sense and durability of a fabric sleeve, combined with the protection of hard shell. It is the one that will bring balance to the force. Oops, wrong movie!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

iPhone: Fake it, until you can make it

Iphone

So you didn't get an iPhone? Sorry. Maybe it was the cost. Maybe it was your cell phone contract. Maybe it's AT&T's coverage where you live. Or maybe you just don't like buying a 1.0 version of anything. For me, it's all the above.

However, with all those smug people walking around with their $600 Newton 3.0's you can one-up them. What you have right now can be better than an iPhone. Yes I said it--you're better than they are. At least my therapist is telling me to deal with my jealously by saying this.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Marware Protection Pack Plus

Marware

Marware's Protection Pack Plus really fills the bill. Like Microsoft Office, the pack has three useful and unique products in the box. First is the cloth sleeve that protects and helps clean the outside of your Macbook. This should not be a primary form of protection like the typical padded notebook sleeves. It is designed only to protect the cosmetics of the computer. That's fine with me because it easily coordinates with almost any other protection strategy. Oddly and not surprising, the more I used it, the cleaner the exterior of my Macbook got. When I'd pull it out, it would gently polish the exterior of my Macbook. Also, don't forget Macs are about style. I did feel like some kind of celebrity pulling out my Macbook from it's secondary protective sleeve, as if it were the Hope Diamond or the prized knife of a Food Network star (I have one of those knives, but that's a whole other story).

Sunday, August 05, 2007

MacBackup by MacXware

MacBackup

MacBackup is one of the backup programs sold at most Apple stores in spite of the fact it competes with Apple's own Backup software. Even though Retrospect was the industry leader, it's showing it's age since it was bought by EMC and never made the transition to the Intel Platform. Ironically, though, neither did MacBackup. It still runs in Rosetta, which concerns me regarding its long term viability on the Mac platform. A backup is only as good as your ability to restore it. If you can't read your backups, then they are no good. That happened to me with my old FastBack backups!

Unfortunately, MacBackup uses a proprietary backup format. In my book, that automatically marks it down one peg. If my computer dies, I don't want to have to use any particular software program to do the restore. I want it to be software independent! However, most backup programs do that, so let's not single out MacBackup.

MacBackup is extremely easy for non-technical people. The Easy Backup function lets you choose from Photos or Music and Movies. That's a bit too easy. Advanced includes the Address Book, Mail and Settings, Documents, Folders and Files, System Settings, and Other Items. For it to recognize your mail, it must be either Entourage or Apple Mail. It didn't pick up the fact I used Eudora, but hey who uses Eudora today? The searching for Photos, Music and Movies was very slow, as it had to search my entire hard drive. An option just to backup iPhoto would have made more sense, but some users don't always store things in the proper places, so that's both a bug and a feature in my book. One of the unique features of MacBackup is it's ability to backup to an FTP server. This is great for someone who might have a server at another location, or even use space on their ISP's server. FTP allows easy offsite backups which is always a good thing. Like all good backup programs, you can schedule backups on a repeating schedule.

Restoring files was just as easy as backing them up. Straightfoward, easy and generally worked. The Advanced function allowed you to choose which files to restore and where. That's important, because as stated earlier, if you can't restore, you are out of luck. If you do use MacBackup, be sure to make a copy of the program anywhere you store the backups, because you won't be able to restore without it.

The interface of the program was rough as it was clearly a Windows program rewritten for the Mac. Not a fatal flaw but a chip in the armor. That may also explain general buginess of the program. Buttons didn't always draw properly, forcing you to resize windows or quit the programs. Sometimes a function would take a few times before it would work - annoying at the very least. The latest update, version 1.2, was a bug fix that came out in April of 2006. No updates have been provided since then and it's still not Universal, which could cause issues on Intel based Macs.

Generally the program is better than not backing up at all, and considering it's sold at the Apple store, it's an easy purchase for people who don't use .mac. For the $30 price tag, it's easy on the pocketbook as well. Cheaper and easier to use than most of it's competitors but serious users might want to spend the extra money and get a program that is a bit more reliable and supported by its developer.

Pros: Generally easy to use, support for FTP backups
Cons: Unreliable interface, not updated for Intel Macs, backup format can't be read by other programs.

2 out of 5 dogcows

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Overflow: keeping the Dock neat and tidy

OverflowI'll admit it, I'm a dock addict. I put everything in my dock I could ever use. If I had a purse, I'd do great on Let's Make a Deal (if you don't know the reference, then you've always grown up with Macs--lucky you) However, now that everything is in my dock, I can't find anything on it! Arrgh.

Overflow was in the bottom of my stack of things to review from Macworld, which only proves why I'm an ideal candidate for it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

iPod Fully Loaded by Andy Ihnatko

iPod Fully Loaded by Andy Ihnatko

book

While I'm sure Andy has an iPhone, this excellent book was written when the iPhone was only an apple in Steve's eye, Andy does a great job of helping the average user tweak some extra features from their iPod. Those suffering from iPhone envy will find some solace in Andy's tips. This book is best for techheads who want to impress their friends, families and associates with all the incredibly cool things they can do with their iPod. iPods have evolved into mini PDAs that can do practically anything (it's the inputing that's the challenge!)

The first few chapters of the book were obvious tips that even beginner iPod'ers know and would annoy the intermediate to advanced audience the book is designed to reach. We all know we can copy songs from our CDs to our iPod. Yawn. Another distraction of the book is the annoying quips and too much personal info about Andy. Sorry, Andy, I'll read your blog to find out your opinion about Battlestar Galactica or the Simpsons, but I don't want it in a book about how to use an iPod. No offense, just not interested. Also, Andy played a bit fast and loose with disclosure on the risks of copyrights. It may be his opinion that some things should be legal, but in the murky legal environment today, more warnings of the risks of copying copyrighted materials should have been discussed.

Just like diamond surrounded by unimpressive coal, there are true gems in the book that I was able to immediately put to use. For example. Andy discussed programs for the Mac and PC that allow you to digitize to voice your emails and sync them with your iPod. I definitely downloaded some of his great tools and now I can laugh at those iPhone people because my iPod is almost as impressive. Almost. Also Andy does a great job of explaining how to use Automator in Tiger to get some really amazing features of your iPod working for you such as "listening" to a website. Take that iPhone! The most impressive iPod tricks Andy teaches is converting any text file to audio for listening, or simply easily breaking up the file for transport to the iPod. Many of the tricks don't require software, but use some neat ideas Andy has for existing tools such as taking a screen shot of a subway map and then putting it on your iPod.

As stated earlier, I quickly got annoyed by Andy's personal tips and societal opinions. Not tips on how to use your iPod, but tips on various SciFi TV shows. Again, Yawn. The tips interfered with the flow of the book because they were visual annoyance on the page. I expect those sidebars to give me exceptionally useful information. It's Andy's style as the "42nd most beloved industry personality" I'll give him leeway because he is an industry veteran and promoted the "Macquarium," just like I give my grandfather when he tells me story about the war (which one?)

Pros: Great tips to use your iPod to it's absolute potential. Great cure for iPhone envy.
Cons: Andy's style, which gets in the way of the information and artificially increases the length of the book.

Four out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, July 15, 2007

FLVR: Saving Youtube Videos easily



Sometimes a product comes along that is so simple and so straightforward that there is very little to say about it. What do you say about a screwdriver–it drives screws and does it well. No FAQ needed! FLVR does one thing and one thing only: saving videos from web sites that normally prevent you from doing so, such as Myspace and Youtube. However it does this one thing better than anyone else currently out there.

After installing FLVR, there is an icon on your Safari toolbar of a movie camera. To save a recent video file, just click the movie camera and select any video recently viewed in Safari. Could it be any easier? In preferences you can specify where to save the file and its format, but it works fine without any tweaks. Now you can transfer those Youtube videos to your iPod and pretend you have an iPhone. Fool your friends!

When I read about the beta, I eagerly tried it. They developers were smart and allowed beta testers to buy the program for only $8.00. Now the program costs $15.00, still a bargain for what it does. My only complaint besides the name (which derives from the .flv extension of certain video files), is that it only works with Safari. It would be nice if it worked with Firefox, but that’s like saying you’d turn down the iPhone because it only comes in black!

Overall elegantly simple and powerful.

Pros: Works great for saving videos
Cons: Very small: only works in Safari.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Finder For Windows in our lifetime

image

When Apple changed it's name to Apple Inc., it wasn't only celebrating it's victory over Apple Records and the Beatles, it was branding itself as more than a product; rather a philosophy. Apple enthusiasts have been talking the Apple way and "Think Different" for a long time, of course. Apple products are well known for being easy to use and understand.

Apple came out with the iPod and for the first time successfully extended its brand of computers. The Newton was a failure because it was too complex to understand and too difficult to use. At the time, I thought the iPod was a joke. I had a Nomad Jukebox which easily worked with Mac and PC, had replaceable rechargeable batteries, and easily fit into existing CD cases. The iPod was overpriced, less powerful, and less compatible. I was wrong because it wasn't about how functional it was, but how people felt about it. It was the same concept of the disposable camera: more expensive than buying film but easy to use.

With the iPhone, I still believe it is an inferior product.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Remote Control Made Easy and Inexpensive

CoPilot image

"Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Reach out, call up and just say hi. Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Wherever you are, you're never too far." Sure, I'm dating myself, but that jingle has always been stuck in my head. This was the slogan of the old AT&T of 1979. Of course, since that time, AT&T was broken up, and then merged together yet again. Instant Messaging and Texting have replaced picking up the phone. However the desire to reach across the miles still remains, and anyone who has tried to provide or receive technical support over the phone knows how inadequate voice can be to communicate technical problems.

Remote control software has existed for years and programs such as Timbuktu Pro and VNC are almost as old as the AT&T jingle. The problem with those applications, though, is that you need to install a program to run them, configure it for access, and possibly configure your router and firewall to allow the program to pass through. These programs are not designed for the casual remote user because they require the person you are "reaching out to" to install and configure the software in advance. That's great for consultants or helpdesks, but what if you just want to help a friend configure their email or help them do a mail merge?

MacHelpMate allows an easy download to provide remote assistance to your friends, among a laundry list of other great features to remotely fix a computer. It works great, but it's designed for consultants and costs about $600 a year. For that price, have your friend fly you out to help. CoPilot, by Fog Creek Software, is unique because it requires a simple download in order to help a friend out and it costs $5.00 for a 24 hour "day pass". Best of all, CoPilot allows your friend to pay for it. Your friend is already getting free advice, so make them pay the cost of a venti mocha in order to help you out. With gas prices the way they are today, it's cheaper to help remotely than drive half way across town.

The software is a bit slow and depends on the speed of the Internet connection, but it really does work. I've tried it numerous times, both from Mac to Mac and Mac to PC. PC to PC allows the fastest connection and more features, though really don't PC users need lots of help? All your friend needs to do is click on a link in an email. That will download the "host" application and you'll need to download a "helper" application for your end. Double click the applications on both ends and you are magically in control of their computer. When done, you and your friend can trash the applications knowing that nobody can secretly get into your computer later. I particularly like this option, since almost any other remote control option requires you to leave software on your computer--which can expose your computer to threats by hackers.

For computer professionals, Copilot offers a monthly subscription option that starts at 200 minutes for $20.00 a month. They don't lock you into a subscription either, you can change your mind later and either upgrade or downgrade your plan as your needs change. I wonder if they offer a cell phone plan? Darn, still have that jingle on my brain! Seriously though, this company sets the bar incredibly high for customer service. Check out the owner's blog on customer service and Fog Creek's hassle free return policy: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/customerservice.html

CoPilot is the perfect software to instantly help your friends and family remotely at little or no cost to you. Support professionals will love the fact you can save money with a subscription that doesn't lock you into a yearly fee. Best of all, if it doesn't work, they'll refund your money.

Pros: Works instantly without a subscription or configuration at the remote end
Cons: Could be faster

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Book Review: Tech Savvy Real Estate Agent

The Tech Savvy Real Estate Agent



While this book was primarily written for Real Estate agents, the technology advice is applicable to any self-interested person who works with an established client base such as a mobile salesperson. The advice covers not just the programs to use, but how to set up your home office, and even some tips on how to use your cell phone.

As a technology consultant, I agreed with about 50-60% of his advice, partially because any book on technology is outdated the day after purchased. However, most of the advice was structural and will stand the test of time regardless of what program is used. His advice was extremely biased and assumed his way was the only way of doing something. The author takes us deep into his business operations and the reader can either do it his way or find another way. Ideally, the book should have given the reader multiple option for achieving their technology goals, especially when there isn't universal agreement on the idea.

Unfortunately, like the agent who quickly moves you through a house you expect to live in for the next 20 years, the author gave only a brief overview and lacked in the specific details on how to do something. The CD wasn't much help either. For example, he went into great detail on how to modify your website, but gave no advice or direction on how to do it. The book is designed to make you "savvy" but not an expert!

I'd recommend this book to any agent who hasn't quite figured out how to put their cell phone on vibrate or is still using a AOL or Earthlink email address on their business card. Agents who understand how to use email to keep in contact with their customers, have their own domain (and know what a domain is), and know how to create PDFs would find this book boring and would scratch their head and state "Well, duh, that's obvious." This book is for the agent that didn't grow up with technology.

Pros: Gives a good overview of how technology can help any salesperson, but in particular real estate agents
Cons: Very simplistic and often lack details on how to do something, and the alternatives

Monday, April 02, 2007

Windows Vista the Missing Manual





Windows Vista is arguably one of the greatest changes Microsoft made to its operating system since it introduced Windows 95. If you bought Windows 95, you got a decent manual that explained its features, and computer hardware manufacturers frequently included a Windows 95 "start here" CD that explained the new features Windows 95 had to offer. Those were the good old days, weren't they? Gas was under $3.00 a gallon and you didn't take your shoes off at the airport unless your feet were tired. In 2007, we have none of that. Windows Vista comes with many new features, wizards, and a complete change of the start menu, but Microsoft provided no printed guide explaining these features. Even worse, we now have up to seven different varities of Vista, each with different features.

As we know some things in life you can't avoid: death and taxes. I always add one other inevitable facts of life: great books by David Pogue. "Windows Vista, the Missing Manual" doesn't disappoint. Mine is already dog-eared, marked up, and has passed around more times than (insert inappropriate comment here). I'm not running Vista yet, but friends and family constantlyask me about its esoteric features.

"Missing Manuals" tend to always share common traits such as clearly explained examples and great screen shots to illustrate the points. While other books feel compelled to explain every esoteric function of a particular program or operating system, Pogue focuses on those features the average user would need help with. He also doesn't waste time explaining the basics such as how to use the mouse or how to turn off the computer. The reader should have a basic understanding of how to use a computer and simply wants to know how to maximize their use of Vista's features. By far the handiest feature of this book is clearly explaining which features work with which flavor of Windows. For example: which version have faxing and which have the cool Aero feature? Another part of the book I constantly refer to is the "where did it go" section.

I only have two complaints about the book. First, you can tell Mr. Pogue "cuts and pastes" from other versions. In addition, I would have liked to have seen more troubleshooting help in the appendix. Granted, this isn't a repair manual, but people often read manuals when something isn't working the way they want and I would have nominated the book for Sainthood if it had those features. Overall this is an outstanding book and should be purchased by anyone anxious or concerned about making the switch to Vista. Advanced users won't like the book because it doesn't go into enough details...but advanced users rarely read manuals anyway.

Pros: Perfect explanation of the features the average Vista user will need to know
Cons: Not enough troubleshooting advice.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Blue Pixel Guide to Travel Photography: Perfect Photos Every Time

The Blue Pixel Guide to Travel Photography: Perfect Photos Every Time

Have you ever bought something that says "one size fits all" and it fits? Yeah, me too. Something that attempts to appear to everyone in reality appeals to no one. This book was designated by Peachpit as "beginner/intermediate" but I found most of it too difficult for me as a budding photographer and those things I did learn from the book probably would have frustrated an intermediate user. When I think "beginner", I want to be walked through the very basics. Schloss started the book expecting that you had a small arsenal of photography equipment. This book isn't for someone who has a $300 digital camera, but someone who has a much more advanced digital camera, light meters, multiple lenses and a bunch of other stuff I didn't understand.

This book is geared towards someone who already has a photography kit and wants to learn tips and tricks on how to travel with their equipment. For example, Schloss mentions you should ship your clothes to your destination and then carry your camera equipment on the plane. Clothes can easily be replaced, camera equipment can't. This advice is not for someone that is bringing the family digital camera on a trip to Grand Canyon.

My major concern with the book is that if someone owns several thousand dollars of camera equipment, they probably wouldn't be considered a beginning user. Maybe it's just me, but I would not spend $2000 in equipment and then pick up a beginner's book. I'd first learn how to use professional equipment and then buy an advanced book.

In spite of my complaints about the book, I found parts of it helpful. There were a few pages about composing a photo using a "grid" which I had read in "iPhoto: The Missing Manual." Other tips regarding photographing individuals or sports events required you to have a quiver of lenses to choose from to get the right shot.

A nice feature of the book is that it was visually stunning. Every few pages had amazing pictures taken from around the world. These photographers clearly are masters of their craft and a advanced digital photographer will probably be reminded of how to set an f-stop or how much light to let in for a particular photograph. We beginners just like looking at pretty pictures!

This is not a beginner book and intermediate users will only benefit if they have a set of professional or at least "prosumer" camera equipment and lenses. That person isn't me, so I found the book of very little help.

Pros: Pretty pictures
Cons: The pretty pictures require several thousand dollars worth of equipment.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Windows Vista for Starters: The Missing Manual

Did you know that "Mork and Mindy" was a spinoff from the hit TV show "Happy Days". While Mork only appeared in one episode, that was enough to make it a hit. Sometimes spinoffs are great. "Mork and Mindy" was hilarious. Then you have other spinoffs that are pale imitations of the original. Does anyone remember Joanie Loves Chachi? Probably not. Windows Vista for Starters is a spin-off from the highly respected "Missing Manual" series. Unfortunately, it's more of a "Joanie Loves Chachi" of the computer book world. Skip this spinoff book and head straight for the original : "Windows Vista, The Missing Manual.

First off, there was an extremely funny error that hopefully will be corrected later on. On page 11 in the book, under "Mouse and Keyboard Essentials" you find the opening statement of "This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use the Mac's Mouse." Unfortunately, this was an early warning sign about the quality of the book (though "Windows Vista the Missing Manua"l has another funny Mac reference).

The most annoying problem with the book is the spacing of screen shots and their explanations. Most of the time, I found the screen shot a page before an explanation which made it extremely difficult to read the explanation and see what is being talked about because I had to flip pages back and forth. While it was a welcome breeze to have that page flipping, it was a waste of time and a example of poor editing.

In addition, while the Missing Manual clearly states which version of Vista has which features, this book gave no such indication as to whether the feature being explained would work in a particular version of Vista. While the book appears to assume you have Vista Premium, it mentions features that only the business versions include such as faxing. A novice user would be quite frustrated reading this book and wondering why they can't find a feature. I can't fathom why O'Reilly would include the version designations in the Missing Manual, but pull them from this version.

Another confusing aspect of the book were the "sidebar" type tips. While these tips were sometimes interesting, the placement often had no clear connection to the text being discussed. For example, while discussing the "Start Menu and Recent items" in Chapter 2 there is a "side bar" about the User Folder file structure. The side bars uses specifications and references explanations found in chapters 15-17. I think a novice user would quickly put the book down after being introduced to a concept that won't be further explained for another 300 pages.

If one ignores the layout and flow of the book, the actual text of the book is helpful. The explanations that don't reference screen shots are easy to understand and straightforward. Someone new to using Vista would have a firm grasp of the concepts and new features after reading the book (and figuring out on their own which version of Vista has those features). However, having read the Missing Manual version of the book, For Starters usually copies the explanation from the Missing Manual version.

O'Reilly really missed the mark in creating Windows Vista For Starters. My Business 101 class skills tell me they were trying to create a smaller and less expensive Windows Vista book to compete with the "Dummy" series. Unfortunately, they "dummied" the book to much and Windows Vista for Starters needs to repeat a grade or two before it deserves space on your bookshelf. Spend the extra $15 and get the Missing Manual version of the book.

Pros: Gives the reader a base level understanding of Vista

Cons: Extremely confusing for novice readers. Poor layout adds to the confusion. Could this be a subtle attempt to increase Mac sales by frustrating new Vista users?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Review: SeeThru Hard Case for Macbook by Speck

Having recently upgraded from a Pismo G3 Powerbook to a black MacBook, one of the annoying things about my new laptop was its ability to look dirty. The matte finish of the MacBook tends to pick up the oils and debris from your hands easily. I found myself constantly cleaning the exterior and started to fear of taking it from my home, which kinda defeats the purpose of a laptop, don’t you think?

Then along comes Speck products, with a great solution I first saw at MacWorld. Unlike other cases that require you to remove the protection to use it, the SeeThru is designed to protect your Mac 24/7. This case is not designed to protect your Mac from impact but rather to protect the look of your MacBook and allow for easy cleaning.

Installation was a snap both figurative and literally. Snap one part on the top and another on the bottom and away you go. Here’s a tip I had to learn the hard way. Clean the exterior of your Mac before you put on the SeeThru, otherwise that fingerprint on your case will be trapped for all to see.

When I first viewed the SeeThru, I was concerned about heat dissipation. Speck assures it’s customers that cooling was not a problem due to 74 ventilation slots. After 3 months of using the SeeThru, my Macbook has never indicated a heat problem. In addition, the Apple Retail Stores were selling the SeeThru and I’m sure that if Apple was concerned about the cooling issues, they wouldn’t have put the SeeThru in the stores.

The SeeThru is currently made for both the MacBook and MacBook pro and comes in clear, blue, and red. Personally I got the clear because the red and blue looked funky with my black MacBook.

The product works just as advertised. I had no problem keeping my MacBook protected from the crud that usually accumulates from body oils and sticky cafe tables. I also found it easier to grip my MacBook when I pulled it out of my case. The case was generally unintrusive and I had access to almost every function and port. The SeeThru retails for $50, though User Group members can get significant discounts.

I only saw two flaws in the design of the product. Every port was accessible on the unit except the battery power button. Not a major problem, but annoying when your want to check the power of your Mac without the hassle of waking it from sleep. In addition, the mini-VGA adapter had a slight bit of trouble fully locking into the side of my Mac. Representatives of Speck indicated the mini-VGA adapter port would be modified to better accommodate external monitor use.

Pros: Works as advertised and protects your MacBook. Best used as soon as you get your MacBook
Cons: Battery button not accessible. Some problems using external video adapters.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

PowerSlides by MacXware

Personally, I am a Keynote junkie. I think I’m going to put in my will that my eulogy be done in Keynote. While I’ve used PowerPoint in the past, once Keynote was released I’ve never gone back.

Unfortunately, because I use the program so much, I (and my audience) get quite bored with the standard backgrounds included by Apple. I’ve gotten so bored that I’ll occasionally import backgrounds from PowerPoint, but that’s so PC! Sure I could design my backgrounds, however I have absolutely no design skills. If I was a good designer, I probably wouldn’t be using Keynote so much in the first place.

When I read about PowerSlides I knew I found the product that would save people from seeing the standard chalkboard background I used for practically every presentation. The product can be used for either Keynote or PowerPoint and retails for $39.99.

PowerSlides includes a series of 500 backgrounds, fonts and 50 template sets designed for primarily for presentations. However, because the backgrounds are jpg files, I’ve used them for everything from desktop backgrounds on my Mac to matting for my iPhotos. I’ve even put many of the jpegs in rotation on my screen saver because they are so visually stunning.

The template sets are the key reason to buy PowerSlides. Template sets combine the backgrounds, fonts and visual elements in create a complete package for your presentations . After field testing many of these templates, viewers were impressed with something different for a change! Exit surveys from my presentation indicated a higher level of satisfaction. Not only were the templates different but some include design elements that help move the presentation along. For example, one template called “Apple-Progessive” uses a picture of an apple being munched upon as a visual cue of where you are in your presentation. You start with a full apple and each slide shows more bites out of the apple, until you get to the end where there is but a core left. Other visual clues include a running man moving along towards a finish line or a seedling growing into a full flower.

PowerSlides is an ideal investment for anyone that uses PowerPoint or Keynote to make presentations on a regular basis (user groups especially). Not only will your presentations appear fresh and unique, but PowerSlides unique visual elements can be used to keep your audience engaged and involved.

Just imagine if Al Gore had used PowerSlides during “An Inconvienent Truth”?

Pros: Does exactly what it says and more
Cons: None

Five out of Five Dog Cows
5 out of 5 dog cows

Sunday, January 21, 2007

iPhoto 6: The Missing Manual

Some say lightening can never strike the same place twice. The Missing Manual series proves that wrong. David Pogue and the O'Reilly gang constantly hit the mark and spark creativity and knowledge in a variety of programs.

IPhoto 6 covers absolutely every aspect of digital photography on your Mac, leaving few stones unturned. In order to make sure you get the great photos you need and minimized the editing needed in iPhoto, Derrick Story and David Pogue make sure you buy the right digital camera for your needs and tells you the basics of lighting and composition. After reading that chapter, I looked at my own iPhoto library and understand why I liked certain shots and why others ended up on the digital darkroom floor.

After explaining how to buy a camera and create great photos, the authors take you through the steps of using iPhoto in logical order: importing, managing, outputting and of course backing up. More technical manuals need to do this. Instead of taking you through the features, they take you through the workflow.

The writing was typical of the series: clear, understandable with plenty of screen shots to explain the concepts. While I consider myself an expert on iPhoto, the book was full of subtle tips and tricks to shave hours off my digital photo management.

The strength of the book was definitely the extensive chapters on what to with your photos after they are in iPhoto. Photos are meant to be shared, not locked up in your hard drive. He went over not just the specifics of all the printing options such as photo books and calendars, but also using iMovie, iWeb, and iDVD to share the photos with the world.

The final chapters covered some more advanced options such as AppleScript and Automator. Unlike other Missing Manual books that simply point you to the website to download utilities, Pogue and Story explained some of these programs and how they can help you expand your iPhoto capabilities. The Appendix was definitely the icing on the cake handling practically every iPhoto error and it's solution, as well as walking you through the basics of every iPhoto menu command and its implications.

My only complaint was somewhat weak coverage on desktop printing of photos. I always get confused about the way to feed the photo paper and how to configure settings to get the proper output. iPhoto, the printer's software, the printer, and Mac OS X must all be in alignment to print properly. These days, I simply upload it to the drugstore website and print it there. Printing to services other than Apple's wasn't really covered either.

While iPhoto basics are simple and quick to learn, "iPhoto 6 the Missing Manual" helps you become the hands down master of digital photos on your Mac. Others will tremble in fear of your massive knowledge after reading this book cover to cover.

Pros: Covers every aspect of digital photography and makes everyone an iPhoto wiz.
Cons: Needed more coverage of desktop and third party printing of photos.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mac User's Guide to Living Wirelessly by Brad Miser

While wireless connectivity should be “plug and play,” in reality there are choices, compromises, and caveats when using wireless devices. The author effectively navigates the reader through the wonder world of wireless connectivity and while warning us of problems, does not make the process overly complex.

By far, this is the most hands on and effective book on wireless networking I have read! The book was very logically organized by first training the reader on all the lingo such as the difference between an Airport Extreme and Airport Express and all the 802.11 alphabet soup. Once establishing that baseline with the reader, Miser then gives the reader all the potential options of how to setup a wireless Mac network and then explains each step with plenty of simple diagrams and pictures. Other books I read on this subject quickly lose the reader with complex and unnecessary options. For example, Miser doesn’t go into detail about “port mapping” which allows you to use create a web server “behind” an airport. If someone needs to set up a webserver, they probably don’t need help setting up a wireless network. This book covers the practical aspects of wireless networking the typical Mac user would face. If someone wanted complex, they’d probably be using a PC!

I was particularly impressed with his hints on how to have certain parts of your network secure, while realizing that it may not be worth the hassle of securing other parts. Heck the guy even asks you to email him if you have any questions about setting up your network (though to be fair, he didn’t say the advice would be free, but I suspect it is!). Having setup thousands of wireless networks for clients, I really think he’s covered everything an average user would face. His wireless network troubleshooting section should be licensed by every ISP! Too often, when a user calls tech support and tells them they have a Airport Base Station–tech support blows them off and tells them to get a Linksys or other brand they know. Miser covers it all in his troubleshooting section. In fact, after reading his section you can avoid calling tech support all together….just pick up his book.

To add the proverbial icing on the cake, Misner covers another technology that would fall under the terms of wireless: Bluetooth. Bluetooth almost always works, but every once in a blue moon (pardon the pun) things don’t always click. He covers almost every major bluetooth peripheral you’d connect to your Mac. He even covers how to sync your phone. Cell phone companies are notoriously bad about assisting customers syncing with Macs. They say to call Apple. Apple says to call the cell phone provider, and you’re left stuck having to manually put in phone numbers to your phone. Finally, you can get those pictures off your cell phone and into iPhoto with Miser’s help.

Realizing that people that use wireless technology probably travel, Miser includes a brief section on how to find wireless networks and how to safely connect to them over the road.

Overall, an outstanding book for any Mac user wanting to setup and enhance their wireless experience.

Pros: Covers every aspect of using Apple’s Airport products to set up a wireless network and most of his advice is applicable to 3rd party products

Cons: Would have like to seen coverage of Linksys and other popular wireless products

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New ways to manage your photos

After the holidays, there is never a shortage of photos. Children opening presents, holiday parties, and winter vacations all leave digital cameras overflowing with cherished memories. The problem, of course, is what to do with all those pictures. Wolfe’s Cameras, Camcorders and Computers, located at 635 S. Kansas Avenue, has brought to Topeka an easy way to organize, share and preserve memories via “photo books.”

Photo books are collections of digital pictures printed and professionally bound into books of various sizes. While some digital camera owners will print their photos at home or with a photo processor, the pictures often times are never put in an album. According to Wofle’s President DeWitt Harkness, “Even with the best of intentions, pictures don't get put in albums”. That’s one reason Wolfe’s give the average consumer the ability to not just print their digital pictures, but at the same time, have them put in an album and bound for permanent storage and display.

Approximately six months ago, Wolfe’s invested in touch screen kiosks that allows customers with digital photos to get a bound photo book on the same day for under thirty dollars for a ten page book. Each page holds up to nine pictures and the books can accommodate up to 40 pages. Harkness is so committed to the digital processing, he’s redesigned the store to accommodate more do –it-yourself photo printing equipment in a cybercafe-style format with easy chairs and couches.

At these kiosks, Wolfe’s employees, all who have experience with photo books, will walk new users through the short process of making the book. Harkness indicated the knowledge of his employees is “what a specialty store offers that the big boxes do not”. No computer skills are required to operate the kiosks. Customers plug in their digital camera media and the pictures automatically load into the kiosk. Customers can then select the photos to print, specifying how they should be laid out on the page, as well as colors and size of the album The kiosks even allow themes such as "earthtones or “romantic hearts” which include predesigned color schemes and backgrounds. The books are extremely high quality and are "printed on the best commercially available equipment" according to Harkness.

Alternatively, customers can also go to the compay's website, at www.wolfes.com, which offers more options and greater control, but isn’t as user friendly and requires about ten days for the book to be processed. Harkness believes that the in-store printing is more attractive than other online options because “people want what they want now” and printing the books at Wolfe’s is much faster than other online options.
  
Other popular options at Wolfe’s for printing include calendars, full size posters and scrapbook pages. Often times people buy these books for those difficult-to-buy-for people on their shopping lists. At Wofle’s, one of the most popular uses of photo books is grandparents giving them as gifts for grandchildren. Each grandchild is given a unique album of pictures, printed with their name on it. Another popular use of these photo books is to share vacation photos with friends and family.

Harkness sees these photo books as the next “big thing” in photography and is excited about photo books because they are “designed to share with others, on the coffee table or other places”. Next time you take a series of pictures, you might consider freeing those memories from your camera.

*****
Sidebox:

*****

Online websites that support photo books as well as other ways to print digital photos:
Photoworks: http://www.photoworks.com
Shutterfly: http://www.shutterfly.com
Snapfish: http://www.snapfish.com
Kodak Gallery: http://www.kodakgallery.com/
Walgreens: http://photo.walgreens.com
Walmart: http://photos.walmart.com

Users of Apple’s iPhoto can click the “book” icon
For coupon codes and savings at these websites, go to http://www.deal-news.com