Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Software Review: iSale 5

iSale 5.0
With the economy slowing down, more and more people are looking to sell their stuff on eBay. Putting items on eBay one at a time is a pain. Serious sellers use software to prepare and optimize their auctions. iSale is one of the best apps for creating and maintaining eBay auctions and is a clear leader in taking advantages of all the nooks and crannies of the Macintosh Operating System. They are a two-time Apple Design Award winner and their credentials shine through in iSale 5.0.

Some of the new features in 5.0 aren't terribly compelling. For example, iSale 5.0 allows you to post your auctions on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. However, if you are posting on eBay, you probably already tried to sell your items via your social network, thus I don't see much usefulness in this feature. Expanded in 5.0 for users running Leopard is the integration with iCal. You can be notified when your auctions are going to end so you can start bugging buyers to pay you.Of course, like with any new release, there are more templates and backgrounds for your auction, which is nice, but not really worth the price of admission. People don't buy items based on how cool the template is.

The killer feature that makes 5.0 a must-have upgrade is the Research Assistant. If you sell on eBay, you probably already check for other auctions similar to yours as well as Google your item for facts to include in your auction. iSale 5.0 automates this function. Search for an item and it will scan a preset list of websites including currently running auctions on eBay. When you see an auction similar to yours, click "create auction" and iSale copies the pictures and text from the listing...even the category. Of course you'll have to worry about copyright issues, but you can easily tweak things to comply. If you only want to use part of the text from a website, the Research Assistant allows you to easily copy and past the text from within the program or save it into a clipping file for later. I easily modified the Research Assistant to include eBay completed auctions and Google groups so I can see what the going price was for something and possibly copy info as necessary.

My one complaint about iSale is it is a processor and memory hog. Even on my MacPro 2 Ghz CPU with 4 Gig of RAM, iSale seems sluggish. It would often take 70-120% of processor cycles and over a gig of RAM usage for just a few auction items. All these features come at a price and if I sell enough on eBay, maybe I can even upgrade the computer!

Equinux has a great trial version. They'll let you download the program and try three auctions for free. No reason not to try it and see if you like it.

Overall iSale remains a great program to sell items on eBay and the 5.0 upgrade's research Assistant is well worth the upgrade price of $25.00 New iSale users will have to pay $39.95 for a single pack of $49.95 for a five user pack.

Pros: Existing selling features combined with the Research Assistant make selling quick and easy
Cons: Memory and processor hog.

Four out 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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hardware Review: Otterbox Defender iPhone case for the 3G

Otterbox Defender iPhone case for the 3G

Otterbox iPhone Defender Case Review

When I had a bit of an accident with my last iPhone a month after purchase, I was determined to find the ultimate case. I wanted a case that was comfortable and functional yet protected my iPhone as much as possible. A quest! A quest not with trusty steed and map, but with my trusty Macbook and search engine. I wrote a list of exactly what I wanted: protect every single exposed port, silicone on the outside to prevent slippage, hard shell protection in case of impact, protect the screen without reducing the ability to tap, and finally still fit in my pocket and iPhone accessories. That case is the Otterbox Defender.

What is an Otterbox Defender? I remember seeing something about them at the MacWorld press room, but if you've seen one iPhone case you'e seen them all. Boy was I wrong! My quest came to an end once I installed the Otterbox Defender. This is clearly the 800 pound gorilla of iPhone protection and function. The Otterbox Defender consists of two main parts. First is the silicone overshell that protects ALL the ports, and I mean all: the volume, the headphone jack, the docking port, the ring silencer; everything. When the silicone shell is on, not a single port of your iPhone is exposed, though it's very easy to operate the buttons through the silicone (or to flip open the protector.).

The other part of the Otterbox Defender is a hard shell case underneath the easily removable silicone. The hard shell includes a screen protector built in, so you don't have to worry about those annoying bubbles underneath those stick-on screen protectors. The shell even covers the speakers at the bottom and the front with a slight bit of cloth (remember none of the iPhone case is exposed). Honestly, I noticed maybe a 5% reduction in sound quality when it is in the hard case. However, the slight sacrifice in sound quality is far outweighed by knowing my $300 investment is protected. The camera shutter also has a plastic overlay to protect it while still allowing you to take pictures. The pictures are every so slightly less clear with the plastic overlay, however cleanup in iPhoto restored them to near perfect quality and people couldn't tell the difference between photos were taken with the case on and with the case off.

I used the case for over a month now, trying to weigh the pros and cons of the case. Besides a slight reduction in voice and picture quality, the case is just about perfect and I'm hard pressed to find any cons. Sure maybe maybe a transparent aluminum or the ability of the iPhone to accept a Shields Up voice command would clearly be the ideal solution, but in the 21st century the Otterbox is the best balance of protection and function on the market.

Finally, the Otterbox staff was an absolutely a pleasure to deal with. When I had a delivery problem, I didn't have the run around typically found with large companies. Otterbox is based in Fort Collins, Colorado and is neighbors with one of the world's greatest microbreweries, Coopersmiths, and gosh darn it, I think that just makes them happier people! I'm biased though.

The Otterbox Defender is available for $49.95 retail at www.otterbox.com and is hands down the ultimate iPhone case.

Pros: Protects every single nook and cranny of your iPhone and provides the best of hard shell and silicone protection, while leaving all functions of your iPhone intact
Cons: Slightly noticeable reduction in voice and picture quality

Five out 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

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Electronics and Water Don't Mix: What to do

Liquids and electronics never get along well . Most people know never to use a hair dryer in the bath, or plug in a appliance with wet hands and of course, never drop a cell phone in the toilet. Nonetheless, at some point in your life you will likely spill your favorite beverage on your computer. Here are some tips to minimize damage if such an accident happens.

Your first instinct will be to run and get paper towels to clean up the spill. That is not the best solution. As long as your hands are dry and water did not get near a power plug, go ahead and immediately unplug the computer from the wall or turn off your surge protector. Most of the damage done by liquid is when the components "short" out. If power is cut quickly, the damage might be minimal or not at all. For laptop users, you need to go through the additional step of removing the battery, since the computer can run on battery power as well. Sometimes removing a laptop battery can be tricky , so it's a good idea to know how to do it now. For desktop users, usually the damage is only to the part liquid was spilled on such as the keyboard or mouse. However, because laptops are all in one, spilling liquid on them has the potential to damage all the stuff inside the computer.

After power is cut, go ahead and clean up the spill. Be sure to "blot" and not rub as rubbing could push the water further. Paper towels do a great job of this. If it's a sticky liquid such as soda pop or orange juice, your task is much more difficult. Water dries out, but sugar stays and can melt when the computer heats up. Yuck! Sometimes rubbing alcohol will help clean off some of the non-liquid remains, so you can try that if you wish.

Your next task is to dry the wet part out best you can. There are many tales on the Internet about the best way to do that. I don't like using a hair dryer because the heat could damage components unless you are very careful. The best solution is to use a desiccant pack which are often found in boxes of shoes or in pockets of new clothes. Put whatever you want to dry out in an air-proof container with the desiccant. A sealed garbage bag works nicely. If you can't go out and get a desiccant pack, use good old fashioned rice (that's why restaurants put rice in the salt shakers -- to draw out moisture). Wait at least a few days before using the device because you want to make sure it is completely dried out. In the summer when humidity is high, give it another day or so. Don't try and use the computer too early. Not only do you risk damage to the device, but you risk damage to yourself!

If your device still doesn't work, you are probably looking at replacement. Again, laptops usually require the whole unit need to be replaced. You might want to contact your insurance agent. Sometimes accidental damage like this is covered under your homeowners or business insurance policy. You can usually "schedule" your electronics on your insurance policy for just a few bucks a year and usually have to pay no deductible for replacement -- check with your agent for details. Additionally, if the item is less than 90 days old, you can often make a purchase protection claim on your credit card. Don't rely on your extended warranty; unless clearly stated, extended warranties don't cover accidents!

Hopefully, you will not need any of this advice for along time (if ever) but if an accident occurs, you will be ready to do everything you can to save your computer from a watery (or soda-poppy) grave!

This article appears in the Kaw Valley Senior Monthly

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Software Review: Mercury Mover

Mercury Mover Review

MercuryMover is a program designed for fast typists who hate using the mouse. For these people, clicking the mouse to access a menu or function is as obscene a gesture as showing one's middle digit in public! I too avoid removing my fingers from the keyboard and use either my Macbook trackpad or my Contour Rollermouse. MercuryMover allows you to move or re-size windows without having to move your hands off the keyboard, and implements the idea well.

MercuryMover runs as a System Preference, making it easy to install and remove. I run a fairly complex suite of applications and ran into no compatibility problems. The special modifier keys to move or re-size windows are fully customizable, so if there is a conflict with an existing program, the MercuryMover keys can be rerouted. By default, the program is set to use the control, option ,and arrow keys to initiate a re-size or move. After pressing the hotkeys, use the arrows or "jump" modifiers to move the windows one pixel or one screen at a time.

On a practical level, this program isn't going to change your life. The program shines when you want to have tiled or cascading windows open and need to move or re-size the windows. For example, I had iCal and Excel open as I was transcribing billing statements for client sessions I stored in iCal. In addition, I was remote controlling my desktop computer and MercuryMover allowed me to accurately re-size windows, which is a problem in a remote session due to "lag time" between mouse clicks.

Unfortunately, you can configure every key but the key to dismiss MercuryMover from the screen (it is set to escape and can't be changed). As a keystroke economist, I'd want the key to close MercuryMover closer to the modifier keys such as control and option. Fortunately, you can simply click somewhere and MercuryMover gracefully flashes off the screen.

My major concern about the program is price. I firmly believe in the shareware pricing model and know that developers should earn a decent wage. However $19.00 seems like a large sum of money for a simple shortcut application. I wouldn't be able to justify the purchase of this program based on the price, it simply isn't worth $19.00 to save mouse-clicks to move and re-size windows and the price is out of step with other keyboard shortcut programs of this type.

Pros: Quickly re-sizes and moves windows without using the mouse
Cons: Limited configurability, price

Three out 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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Software Review: SugarSync

SugarSync Review

Ever need a file and realize that you aren't on the right computer or device to access it? The file is on the desktop, but alas, you are on the laptop. What if you are at a public place and need the file? Do you want to open up your whole computer to the Internet, or just want to share a small portion of your files?

What SugarSync does is very similar to some of the functions of MobileMe. You specify folders on multiple computers you want synced and whenever something changes in those folders, the software pushes down the changes. Obviously this function only works for people who have MobileMe subscriptions and who have Macs configured with their MobileMe account. SugarSync opens this ability to both Macs and PCs that don't have MobileMe subscriptions.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Software Review: BusySync

BusySync Review

BusySync was one of the top rated products from MacWorld 2008. I immediately got a review copy and have been happily using it ever since. Though I had some initial setup problems, the product has worked so well that I simply forgot to review it. A program that works in the background and does what it says it will do is quite a refreshing surprise!

BusySync has two major functions. First, it allows you to sync with Google calendars. Google has functions that allow users to share calendars with the optional ability to edit someone else's calender. However, getting Google to sync with your iCal is key. That's where BusySync comes in. Purchase and install BusySync with a one time charge of $25, and you'll be able to sync your Google calenders with iCal on your Mac. On initial view, this sounds very ho-hum. You may not even use Google calendar, so why care? Ah, becuase Google is Google and everyone syncs with Google. For example, if you have a Mac at home and a PC using Outlook at work, Google can act as an intermediary to sync your iCal with Outlook. If you don't have an iPhone with Mobile Me, send a text message to Google and it will put an appointment on your Google calendar, and then BusySync will transfer it to your Mac.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hardware Review: AM OneClean Duopack ™

Review of OneClean DUppack
Unfortunately, I'm a member of the eat-at-your-desk club. I know the kitchen is just a few steps away, but until I get an iPhone, the idea of not being able to surf the net or Facebook is just too much to bare. Of course, some of you might actually be doing work during your lunch hour, so your excuse is better than mine. At least eating at my desk makes sure the dog always keeps me company: just hoping for the occasional crumb.

Even if you don't eat at your desk, the keyboard is a wonderful petri dish of anything and everything that your fingers touch. Yuck. If you want to get really grossed out, think about those shared keyboards on corporate computers, or the IT person that goes from keyboard to keyboard spreading whatever they have along with half the company. Freaked out yet? You really should be. Do Google comparisons of your keyboard and a toilet seat.

Not to fear, AM One Clean Duopack Cleaner is here. While I've heard of using Lysol or other cleaners, these aren't made for computers and could potentially do damage. AM Cleaner was especially designed to disinfect computer keyboards. Not only does the solution disinfect, but the cleaner sponge is specifically designed to get into the nooks and crannies of the keyboards because there is stuff hiding in there. The keyboard cleaner did a great job removing the grime and junk after my extended lack of cleaning.

The kit also includes a screen cleaner which does a great job, though it works horribly on the glossy Macbook (and newer iMac) screens. I have yet to find a good cleaner for those screens! That is the major flaw of the product and makes it unacceptable for users of glossy screens. If you own one of these Macs, buy the keyboard cleaner and wait for a product designed for glossy screens.

What makes these products designed for the Mac? Style of course! Instead of looking like a spray bottle and sponge, the kits match the colors and texture of the current Mac model line: brushed metal for the Pro and newer iMac line and glossy plastic for the Macbook and white iMacs. The sponge and cleaner are integrated into a stylish holder that looks like it was provided by Apple itself. People won't accuse you of being a germaphobe with this handy device on your desk.

Next time you eat at your desk or IT says "move" and uses their magic fingers on the keyboard, pull out your AM cleaner and do your part to protect your health.

PROS: Cleans icky keyboards with style
Cons: Makes glossy screens look icky

Three out 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

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Book Review Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manual

Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manual

My review of Leopard: The Missing Manual won't be nearly as complete as David Pogue's typical brilliance. How can someone write about the Mona Lisa? You must actually experience it to fully understand it. (Ohh...now I just made my trip to France tax-deductible). As always, Pogue's Missing Manuals contain the nitty-gritty of every available function and possible combination. I compared the excellent Tiger edition with the Leopard edition side by side to see what changed.

The 300 extra functions in Leopard only added about 50 pages to the book, which is larger than a phone book and more complete! The Leopard edition had less handholding for Windows users, which is ironic because Boot Camp attracts more Windows users. Cut from the Tiger version of this book were among other things .Mac and iSync integration as well as some terminal tips and tricks.

Missing Manuals are well known for covering each and every function of the subject they cover and of course this version does not disappoint. Do you want to know the in-and-outs of Bluetooth on your Mac? No Problem. Screen Sharing? It's got it. Every single function of Leopard is covered. The book is designed as a reference guide, not a tutorial

This is not the book for basic user who just wants to send emails and surf. There will be too much information and the almost 900 pages will be intimidating. This is for the person that wants to eek every last ounce of performance and function from the computer. They squeeze the toothpaste to the very bottom and use double coupons for items on sale. Novices may also be turned off by no coverage of iLife.

Pros: It's all there. Every function, every System Preference. You name it, it's got it along with Pogue's style of easy to understand explanations

Cons: Consult a doctor before lifting this book, it's heavy. Might scare off novices.

Five out 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

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Software Review: Pzizz

pzizz review

When I first saw the Pzizz booth at Macworld 2007, I wasn't really impressed with the product. I got a demo, tried it, wasn't interested and moved on. The produce sounded too new age: help you sleep and help you be more alert. Isn't that like when Unilver bought Ben and Jerry's and Slimfast the same day? Yawn, literally. Then they sponsored a full naptime area at MacWorld 2008 and I decided to give the product another try after meeting with the developer and getting some tips on usage.

The concept of Pzizz is fairly sound - if you pardon the pun. The brain reacts to sounds in certain ways and you can gently nudge your brain into certain patterns. This isn't anything like subliminal messages or hypnosis. You won't suddenly bark like a dog or cluck like a chicken on command.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hardware Review: Contour Design Rollermouse Pro

Rollermouse proThey say there is no such thing as love at first sight, unless of course you are watching a Hollywood movie. On the big screen, you see your life partner from across the room and you both know you'll end up together, though it may take years.

I saw the Contour Design Rollermouse at Macworld '07 and instantly fell in love. I'm in that tiny minority that actually like track pads. I type pretty darn fast and hate having to stop typing and remove a hand from the keyboard to control the mouse. Also, it's an awkward strain to reach over all the time, and I have particular shoulder problems on that side of my body from repetitive mousing over. When I bought my first USB-only Mac I was devastated I couldn't use my old trackpad keyboard on the computer. It was my old pal from the days of my IIvx and was still running strong. I used an ADB to USB converter, but it's software was flaky and I eventually gave up.

When I gave up on my original ADB trackpad keyboard, I tried a few trackpad USB keyboards designed for PCs, but they were clunky and I hated not having the keys mapped for a Mac. I suffered along, accepting I couldn't have what I wanted and started doing more serious work on my laptop, because I could type faster on that unit. I accepted it was better to have love and lost, than to have never loved at all. At Macworld, I saw Sarah Bullock and found my next true love...ooops...we're talking about computers here. Seeing the RollerMouse was years later! As soon as I started using it, I knew I was hooked. I could type quickly and actually control the mouse better than I could on a trackpad. The RollerMouse is hard to describe, and much easier to see. Contour Design's website has a great video of it.

In a nutshell, the RollerMouse simulates a trackpad environment in that you can control the mouse movement without having to take your hands off the keyboard. Your thumbs do all the work. Best of all, it acts as a keyboard tray and wrist rest, so you can use any keyboard you want with the RollerMouse. Note that because it has it's own wrist rest, ergonomic style keyboards with their own wrist area do not work well with the RollerMouse. I had to give up my Logitech Wireless and Use a Macally Icekey instead. What we do for love!

Rollermouse close upThe RollerMouse is a rubberized rod that is placed in-between the two wrist rests, you slide the dowel right to move right, left to move left. However, it also acts like a scroll wheel, you can click the RollerMouse and roll up and down. The RollerMouse combines the best of a track-pad, a trackball, and a mouse. Unlike a track-pad, the faster I roll the the RollerMouse, the faster the mouse moves on the screen. One quick flick of the thumb and I've scrolled all the way up, because the momentum of the physical RollerMouse carries the icon up the screen. Unlike a mouse or trackpad, the RollerMouse allows 360 degrees of movement. It's very easy to move between any two points on the screen in one fluid motion. Although I'm not a video editor, I do occasionally watch TV shows via QuickTime. The RollerMouse accurately simulates the functions of the jogwheel video editors use. I can easily skip commercials and get right to the beginning of the show.

The RollerMouse comes in two flavors: Classic and Pro. The Pro features higher DPI for more precise movements and more programmable buttons. I tried out the Pro. One of the minor problems with the RollerMouse is an inability to program what each button does. There is a tiny "dip" switch that gives you 3 different combinations of what the buttons will do, which is somewhat limiting. USB Overdrive allows you a greater range of choices regarding each button's function, but other mice don't limit your choices as much as the RollerMouse. If we were scripting the Hollywood love story, this would be equivalent to not replacing the toilet paper when the roll is empty. Annoying, but unless you are Seinfeld, it's not a deal-breaker in the relationship.

Of course, love knows no price. I believe the going rate for a wedding ring is two month's salary, and my love of this mouth carries just a hefty price tag. The RollerMouse Classic is $189 and the RollerMouse Pro is $199. Ouch. Eliot Spitzer knows love sometimes comes at a high price. Fortunately, Contour Design has a generous 30 day free trial (how many relationships give you that?) I doubt if many people return it after using it for a while.

This mouse is not for the casual user. This is for the person who spends hours a day at the computer and in particular, begins to develop repetitive stress injury. If all you do is check email and surf the web on your computer, you are unlikely to see the true value in this input device. On the other hand (figuratively and literally), if your shoulder aches at the end of a busy day from using the mouse so much, then this mouse is for you! You can spend more time at your keyboard, and less time reaching over for your mouse. I'm truly in love with it and I wrote my old mouse a nice Dear John letter. It found a lovely home on eBay and is making a grandmother in Pittsburgh very happy. My MacBook trackpad is wondering why I spend so much less time with it. Yes, I've found another input device. When I need to do input on the road MacBook, your trackpad will satisfy my needs, but when I'm at my desk I'm delighted to see my MacPro will get my full attention with the help of my RollerMouse Pro.

Pros: Saves valuable time and effort by putting a mouse accessible to your hands without leaving the keyboard. Perfect for fast typists
Cons: Lack of button choices, cost.

Five out 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

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hardware Review: Laptop Desk Futura

Laptop Desk Futura

My laptop tends to be my best friend ..tagging along with me places I wouldn't ask my worst enemy to follow. Unfortunately, using a laptop in these conditions take their toll. Balancing a latte and a $2,000 laptop is a recipe for destruction. That is, if you don't have a Futura Laptop Desk. The Futura combines elegant design and world-class ergonomics to provide a 'body-friendly" workspace at almost any location.

The Futura serves two main purposes: a laptop desk for, well, your lap, and a ergonomic desk stand.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hardware Review: ElGato EyeTV 250 with QAM


Elgato EyeTV 250 with QAM

Watching TV and using a computer are fairly distinct activities. TV programs do not crash. The characters on "Lost" don't start walking slowly and stuttering when too many people are watching the show at the same time. Unlike Microsoft Office, Dwight Schrute from "The Office" won't unexpectedly quit at the worst possible time (which is more then can be said for his writers!)

Still, TV does have a lot in common with your Mac...both require you to watch what goes on on a screen, and these days, both contain digital content that you, as a consumer ought to be able to watch and use at whatever time you see fit. In our brave new world of TiVo, video on demand, and YouTube, television is no longer "broadcast" to your home on the schedule of some fat cat TV executive; consumers today have more control then ever of how and when they watch their favorite shows.

Book Review: Getting StartED with Mac OS X Leopard

Gettomg StartED with Mac OS X Leopard

Getting StartED with Mac OS X Leopard

Apress and the freindsofed division is a fairly new player to the Mac book industry, having focused in the past on heavier topics for programmers and hard core web designers. They are a welcome addition to the Mac Family.

Justin Williams wrote a very first-person account of his adventures with OS X Leopard. This should not be considered a beginners book, especially given the family this book is in. The book is designed for Tiger or other OS X users wanting to know what is new in Leopard. The book is a great effort, but at points I got annoyed that he was stating the obvious things a OS X user knows. Williams writing however was spot-on: easy to understand with plenty of screen shots and detailed examples. He also includes the basics of iLife '08, which is a bonus, though makes the title a bit misleading and leaves the reader with the assumption Leopard includes iLife '08. Unless you upgraded to iLife '08 and Leopard, 30% of the book isn't applicable to you. Even with the iLife '08 the book is refreshingly short and can't be used a child's booster seat like so many technical books can be.

Though I'm an experienced Leopard user, I even learned a few tricks from this book, based on Williams personal experience with the operating system. This would be a good book to give a experienced Mac user that wants to know "what's new" in Leopard. It was quick, straightforward and to the point: a good book for people who don't like to read manuals.

Pros: Excellent tips, easy to understand for a experienced OS X user new to Leopard
Cons: Covers iLife '08 which adds unnecessarily to the book, covers thins many in the target audience would consider obvious

Three out 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

Monday, February 25, 2008

Software Review: Serene Saver 2 HD

Serene Saver

Serene Saver 2 HD

While at Macworld, I usually pick one product I simply can't wait to try until I get home. When I saw Serene Saver, I knew it would be the product I'd try that very night. The booth's location was in the "low rent district" as I like to call it. These are small kiosks usually staffed by the writer of the software. There aren't sales people or flashy presentations because there isn't any room. The quality of the product needs to stand on it's own and Serene Saver doesn't disappoint. Of course, when I saw "Serene Saver", I immediately remembered the Seinfeld episode of a similar name. Ironically, that episode was inspired by "The Net" which was filmed at a Macworld Expo I was at.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Book Review: The iPhone Book: How to Do the Things You Want to Do with Your iPhone

iphone book

You know that one episode of Family Guy where Peter makes some seemingly random reference to something that connects him to Generation X'ers and then the sketch goes on for too long. You don't quite get the reference, it's bearing to the story, or why Fox didn't let sleeping dogs lie. Oh yeah, that's pretty much every episode.

However, this reference to pop culture does actually have some bearing on my review of "The iPhone Book". This was a series of disjointed short "tips" about the iPhone that included way too many pop culture references that made you scratch your head and want to put on Futurama instead. The book was cowritten by Scott Kelby and Terry White and their styles mixed like oil and doorknobs. In the intro the authors warn the book is "quirky.", and if you want "quirky" buy this book. If you want a great book on how to use your iPhone, put this book back on the shelf.

Friday, January 18, 2008

MacWorld Expo: Final Thoughts

First off here are the Day 2 pictures

Now that the show is over officially, I'll give my overall review of the show. Brian will give his review here

My overall impression. Apple was accurate with it's theme of the show: Something in the Air

Something in the Air tonight indeed. It's called vaporware, or as another person put it...Engineering by Powerpoint (or in this case keynote). Some were Betas, meaning they are actually programs, but the vendors expect users to find the bugs. So many vendors were showing off product and then said "This isn't out yet...but we expect to ship in...March...December...next Macworld." That's usually followed with "Buy our product now and we'll give you the next version when it ships." Here are some of the guilty:

Equinox: Tubestick (viewing HD TV on your Mac) and iSale 5. However, they are forgiven for having a great press pack...more on that later.

Neat Receipts for Mac: they expect to be fully compatible with the Mac...by December '08.

Intuit: No new version of Quickbooks (does anyone trust it?) and replacing Quicken with another money managment program called Quicken financial life: "some time in the third quarter 2008 we'll have a beta"

Retrospect X: they gave out cool glasses known as "Retrospecs" to pacify the fact they still don't have a Intel native version. Public Beta available. Gee...I'd trust a Beta of backup software...not

Avery: they will have design software for the Mac. Sign up for the Beta, but if you do, you have to agree for us to Spam you.

Thus I passed on this.

Now Software: Nighthawk. It was in beta at Macworld 2007 and still is beta in 2008. Yawn. Give up already!

iBank 3: Supports downloads from banks, just like Quicken. Will be released "in the next few weeks."

Garmin: Beta Software to access your GPS from the Mac (have I mentioned how upset I am mine was stolen!!!)

Micromat TechTool: All they could say is if you buy version 4.0 now, you get a free upgrade to 5.0 which will ship on DVD "some time in the future"

Google Picassa: great booth, great products...still waiting.

The other theme that continued and expanded was iPod and iPhone cases. Every Tom, Dick, Harry, Jane, Sally and on and on had a take on the same basic theme of a wrap around silicone case. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Some differentiated themselves with features like "feet" or " easy access slider", but still the same. Mike just got a Nano and wanted a good case, I really had no clue. They all looked the same to me. Rough estimate is about 30% the show is cases for your iPhone/iPod cases, with another 10-15% cases for your laptop. Pratically every non case vendor I spoke with were annoyed that this is the "iShow" with the ocassional Mac product thrown in. At this point, I'm not sure if I'll go next year, and IDG (the company that puts on Macworld) will have to make some changes and either limit the amount of case vendors, or have seperate shows. This is after all MacWorld, not AppleWorld, and while these products have value to Mac users, they don't help promote Mac Products...which is a key goal of Macworld.

MacWorld tradition at the end of the show is to flicker the lights, applaud, and then begin the teardown. Macworld was split between two different buildings this year (Moscone South and Moscone West), but teardown began at about 30 minutes before the end of show and there was no applause...just security guards at 4:15 kicking out people who shouldn't be there.

In sum, there wasn't "much there" this year. If you factor out the companies merely announcing their intention to sell a product at some later date, and the companies selling the same basic iPod silicone case and zipper bag, not much to report on.

So as was last year's tradtion, I'll give my "Best of Show" along with some other commentary

Best Program:
Busysync: it won one of the "Best of Show" awards. It allows you to sync *and* edit iCal info without buying .mac. The next version (more vaporware...but he's forgiven because the product is cool right now), will sync with Google Calenders.
(runner up) SereneSaver: it gets a strong mention because it was the first program I installed on my laptop. Serene Saver is an active background that helps you relax. I always look for ways to relax! Check it out.

Best Swag (swag is free stuff):
Drivesavers: to be fair, I was given access to their VIP room as a vendor, but apparently they gave this out on the showroom floor as well: bag, luggage tag, buttons, coffee cups, mouse

Best Press Kit:
Equinox: These were the guys a few years back that had no press kit, refused to give out a review copy and were generally rude. This time I got a Macbook case, a free copy of their Leopard Mail Templates, a USB massager, printed information, and apparently demos on a 1 gig USB flash drive. Only problem...image was corrupt on the flash drive. Oh well.

Best Booth in terms of information:
Dr. Bott: because they showed my company logo.
Serious answer: Parallels. Great demos, fun swag (stress balls), lots of knowledgable people

Best Booth as far as cool factor
Belkin: they used this same booth last year, but the created an entire house on the showroom floor. Wow.

Best Booth to annoy the daylights out of you
Skullcandy: they were blasting their music non stop--right next to the pzizz booth and annoying all the people in Moscone West.

Best booth to theoricetically take a nap in:
Pzizz, which is a program to "program" you to relax or be energized, used these cool Metronap pods, but IDG in it's brillance placed them next to Skullcap. According to multiple vendors, skullcap told people to go away when asked to turn down the music.

Best surprise no show to the show:
BareBones software: These guys have been there as long as I can remember. Really great T-Shirts. Heck, they even had a product to announce. Personally, I chalk it up to a bad PR firm: Pearce Communication I spoke with the Naomi once...very pushy and over the top. Bad decision not to show this year BareBones!!! You and your T-shirts were missed. If she tells you to give away iPod cases instead, please fire her on the spot.

Best thing about the show:
The contacts I made. I got about 75 business cards this time of not just PR people, but engineers and tech support people. This helps me with my clients, because I can wade through the phones trees and outsourced call centers to get to the right person to get me the information I need for my clients.

Best booth that I wish I saw a few weeks ago:
Gadgettrak: helps you recover stolen laptops, iPods and GPS. Unfortunately not an easy thing to test.

Best time for the show:
I was done in about six hours. I established contact with every booth that 1) didn't have an iPod case, 2) had something that would interest myself or my clients and 3) I understood what they were talking about. I was still exhausted.

Despite us being in the same place many times, we couldn't hook up to actually see each other in person. The fact that AT&T's network near the Moscone was overwhelmed with iPhones meant we couldn't easily call or text each other.

Watch this space for more reviews of all the great products I'll be getting in the mail

Greetings from Macworld: Day 1 Review

Hello Everyone. As always, I had less time then I thought to do a detailed post. Expect that later today. I did about 75% of the show on Thursday and arrived home dead tired after a great meal at a local restaurant.

Here are my photos so far. Why is it version 5.?. Well, it's my fifth Macworld and it's day one.

Brian's been blogging quite a bit about Macworld: Check out his thoughts as well.

I'm writing this from the Media Center at the show, starting day 2. In general, I was unimpressed with the show so far. The fact I was able to see most everything in about six hours is evidence there wasn't anything to write home about, figuratively and literally. I'll reserve final judgement until I finish the show. My initial thoughts is "evolutionary" not "revolutionary". I have a term for stuff like this: "with sprinkles". It refers to that episode of the Simpsons in which Homer gets enticed to eat donuts because it now has sprinkles. Most of the items I saw added a few bells and whistles and called it a new product. Many vendors said "Now we are compatible with Leopard" or "Now for iPhone". Yawn. We kind of except that, it's been out for a while.

More later!

Note: this item is cross-posted from the Lawrence Apple Users' Group:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Midwest Complaint: Final Resolution and lessons all around

Our story draws to a close and has a very happy ending. I'm satisifed
with Midwest's resolution to my problems on my recent flight. While
they couldn't comment on human resource issues, I suspect the 28,000
people who read my complaint put some gentle pressure on Midwest to
fix a personnel issue that they knew was a problem.

What about that "free voucher?" Good question. I didn't get that,
but I didn't necessarily want it. It was a way of negotiating. I was
a bit disappointed at the lack of creativity shown by Midwest to come
up with an interesting solution. Per their request, I'm letting
everyone know that they didn't offically revoke that $25 voucher.
However, since they didn't mention it when denying my free voucher
request, and based on past behavior, I assumed it was off the table.

I've been on both sides of customer service situations, and the key is
to figure out what the customer wants rather than offer a boilerplate
solution. It's about listening and asking questions. When your meal
comes out wrong at a restaurant, being offered dessert when you are on
a diet adds insult to injury. My father taught me a lesson early on
in my life on how to handle any complaint, personal or professional:
"What can I do to make this right?" Let the customer come up with the

I was never asked that question, so I proposed it. Just give me the
exit row on the next flight. Though it's reserved for elite flyers of
Midwest, I think it's fair compensation since I came early to that
flight and was denied. I suspect that was even cheaper to Midwest
than any kind of voucher and it made me very happy. I don't have to
arrive three hours early for my next flight and can keep my knees from
banging the person in front. Sometimes, the simpliest solutions are
most elegant and are directly tied into the problem. My complaint
wasn't about the cost of the flight, so why give me a discount?

The happiest part of the ending is obviously the Internet. That
customer you treat poorly could start a virtual frenzy. If you are in
customer service, then provide service to your customers. Plain.
Simple. Elegant.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Over 20,000 Webhits: My response to Midwest

Hi visitors from Consumerist and BoingBoing among other great websites, I wanted to share with you the letter I received back from Midwest and my response to them.  I took ALL your comments into consideration.  My only classification is that I never actually complained to Roger.  Once I realized that I wasn't getting the exit row, I simply told a FA I was told I received the exit row in check in and would like to find out what went wrong...that is when Roger came on the plane.  I didn't pester, raise my voice, or badger anyone.  The only person I argued with was Ramone who refused to check me in early and then refused to give me the available exit row seat because I wouldn't like it.  Midwest was concerned I wasn't sharing their side, so I'm posting my response to them along with Mr. Vanderbeck response.  I'm amazed at the power of the Internet to hold companies accountable.  Personally, I try to treat everyone with respect, but after this incident, I realize that no customer service incident should be ignored. You never know when a customer brush-off can be spread over the world.  Regardless of Mr. Vanderbeck response, I know the flight staff at LaGuardia has been reprimanded and will probably not treat a customer like this again!

Mr. Vanderbeck,

As an FYI, this has also showed up on BoingBoing: http://www.boingboing.net/2008/01/07/midwest-airlines-to.html. You already know about the Consumerist. I'll let you know if my complaint posts on any other sites. I'm posted this letter in it's entirety on my blog.

I've gotten over twenty thousand hits to my blog. I'm amazed at how many people are interested in this subject. WOW. I wanted to avoid posting it on the Internet for just this reason. I like Midwest, but again, I fear the culture has changed since AirTran's takeover bid. Cutbacks have been slow and steady. After reading comments on our conversation, I apologized for the harsh tone. I tried the "nice" route and got nowhere, unfortunately. I believe we can come to a fair resolution on this issue. Because I didn't get a response to my letter, that is why I went on the Internet.

To address the specific points in your letter....

"I am very appreciative of your feedback regarding the service you
received at LaGuardia. As I mentioned before, we take our customers
feedback very seriously and I can assure you it is being used to ensure
Midwest Airlines continually delivers the service standards we expect. "

This isn't "feedback" but a "complaint". Feedback is "it would be nice to have signature seating on all flights" or "I miss real silverware on flights" while a complaint is a problem a customer had that needs resolution. If you are perceiving this as merely feedback, that might explain the lack of responsiveness. Because this is a complaint, I expected a response that would indicate some kind of understanding of the real problems at LaGuardia. I've flown Midwest out of many cities and this is the only problem I have encountered in any way, shape, or form. Generally Midwest employees go out of their way to accommodate passenger needs above and beyond the call of duty. Because I was told by your CSR that you've had not only complaints about your LGA crew, but in particular Roger (and based on responses to the internet postings, many other customers have been bullied by Roger as well), I am stil concerned this complaint is being brushed off and others flying out of LGA will have problems. Originally I was told thatRoger was "British". I'm not sure how his cultural heritage is relevant to the situation. I was disappointed that you didn't check up on the issue and appeared to be merely going with what Ramone/Roger reported to you. As I said, blocking my seat and holding my boarding pass prevents me from getting to my assigned seat. I consider that a threat.

As I indicated before, I can not honor your request for a complimentary
ticket for this situation. It would be unfair to our employees that
deliver customer service every day to implement such a practice. Once
word got out that a report of poor or rude customer service earned you a
free trip on Midwest Airlines, we would have an impossible time sorting
through what feedback we may trust, and what feedback is self serving to
receive compensation. Our promise to customers has always been that we
will use their feedback to make Midwest Airlines a better airline.

I completely agree that if you give a free flight to everyone that complained...you go out of business quickly. Of course it would be a strong incentive to reduce complaints, that's for sure. I'm disappointed by your wording of "earning" a free flight. I certainly don't think I "earned" anything. This isn't payment for what I went through, but a good will gesture saying..."Yes, we made a mistake." This is the first time you have indicated anything was wrong. What happened was "Poor or Rude" customer service, rather than a misunderstanding. I haven't had Midwest acknowledge what was done to me was rude our outside the norm. Simply a "misunderstanding. However, your CSR indicated that there have been numerous complaints about Roger and the LGA crew in particular. When I was on the phone with her I asked if that was a Midwest crew or one that was outsourced. WIth my knowledge of Midwest, I know some gates are "serviced" by other airlines and the flight agents are not Midwest employees. She confirmed they are in fact Midwest employes and problem ones at that. Keepinga crew around that consistently gets complaints contradicts "Best Care in the Air."

I was hoping for some kind of counter offer. "I can't give you a free flight, but what I'd like to do is...." According to your CSR, a $25 voucher is given to any customer that calls in a complaint--even the one that didn't get 2 lumps sugar with their coffee.

You indicate in your latest email that you feel I don't believe the
employees did anything wrong. Anytime our staff does not effectively
communicate with a customer or makes them feel that they are not valued;
I feel they did something wrong.

That's the language that concerns me. You are lumping this into the same category as a FA that forgot to give me sugar with my coffee. This was poor customer service and not a misunderstanding, in my opinion. Blocking a seat and holding a boarding pass is a serious offense. Compounding it was Roger staying on the plane and the gate door remaining open until he left the plane. That's why I had my cell phone out--I was fully convinced I was being taken off the flight. Note that I never actually complained to Roger. I said to the FA I'd like to be re-seated because I requested exit row at the gate and thought I was getting it.

In fairness, I must point out that two of your comments on the
consumerist are misleading. First you state, "And Midwest's response?
Nothing until I did an email "carpet bomb" of their entire executive
staff". Our records indicate a member of the customer relations staff
spoke with you on the phone regarding this issue on November 19th. At
that point you were offered a $25 discount certificate as an apology and
the LaGuardia manager was immediately contacted with your complaint.

You may be "out of the loop" on this. *I* called your CR staff to complain. I was very polite and said a $25 voucher was not acceptable and she gave me your CEO's information. She said only your CEO could offer alternative compensation and her hands were tied. I sent the CEO a letter return receipt and didn't hear any reply back. That letter had my phone number and street address, but not my email. That was deliberate.

However, you responded via my email and first asked for my phone number. That shows that you weren't responding to my letter or in response to my complaint of 11/19, but to my group email to the Midwest executive staff. Thus my dissatisfaction with CSR response nor my letter was acting upon...only my email to the entire exec board got a response.

I'm delighted the LGA manager was contacted, however that was only to get their side of it. Again, your CSR said she simply couldn't understand Ramone's broken English and Roger comes across strong because he's British.

Oh and thanks for acknowledging this was a complaint and not feedback!

In addition, you indicate that you received a form response letter
regarding this complaint. This simply is not true as I personally typed
you an apology addressing your concerns. I can assure you your
situation is very unique, and we do not have form letters for this type
of situation. Rather than prepare form letters, we prefer to focus on
fixing the issues that they would be designed to address.

I'll agree this seems unique as Midwest has been stellar in the past. I believe while your email was personally typed and was not a "Dear Customer" letter, it however failed to address any of my concerns, just that there was a misunderstanding and you sincerely apologized for the misunderstanding. That did not address Roger's aggressive behavior nor Ramone's inability to communicate with customers. That concerned me that they have done this in the past and will do this again.

Our transaction with TPG Capital is currently not scheduled to close
until the end of January. I can assure nothing has changed with our
management structure or with our customer service philosophy. In
addition, our customer service philosophy will not be changing once the
deal with TPG Capital is complete. Midwest was acquired because of our
unique approach to customer service, not to change it.

As I'm sure you know that while it isn't until the end of January, it has been in the works for a while. Already Signature Seating on some flights costs extra and other amenities appear to be dwindling. AirTran's takeover bid did hurt the airline in my opinion and TPG's relationship with Northwest (not a well-respected airline) is of further concern. In other words, I believed my incident was insight into what was to become of Midwest under TPG and I received no assurances otherwise. This was chalked up to a "misunderstanding" rather than dealing with the actual problem of poor service out of LGA. This is a key time for Midwest and customers and former investors need to know things won't change. This is the first time you are addressing this issue and I thank you for that. I posted this to my technology blog because while *you* might think that TPG won't change things..companies say that all the time. The only person I know who doesn't change things after a buyout is Warren Buffett. To think that TPG won't change things is heroic, but probably unrealistic. Midwest no longer answers to public shareholders anymore, which I think is always key to treating the public well.

Mr. Greenbaum, thank you again for your feedback and your past support
of Midwest Airlines on savethecookie.com. I again sincerely apologize
for your dissatisfaction. Our intent has never been to "revoke" the
offer of a $25 discount voucher that was provided to you back in
November. I apologize if you implied differently because we stated we
could not honor your request for a free ticket. The offer of a $25
discount certificate remains.

Let's talk specifics here. What would be fair and right? I learned early on in customer service that when I customer complains the *best* phrase you can respond with is "What can I do to make this right?" Giving someone something they aren't interested in doesn't help. This simply isn't about money, as they say it's about the principle. I only asked for the acknowledgment of my concerns, assurances it wouldn't happen again to others or to me, and a feel good token to know that my complaint was serious and you want my continued business. I thought offering miles would be an interesting idea because it costs you less. I was disappointed you never looked at my Midwest Miles account because that would have given you my full contact information and you would have seen my flight history. If you would have looked, I'm a few thousand miles away from a free trip anyways and I expected you to respond "While we can't give you a free flight, how about I top off your miles so that way you can get a free trip if you wish." Early on I mentioned I have an upcoming flight to SF in two weeks which is why I wanted resolution on this issue.

You can tell by the letter, my willingness to arrive extremely early for my flight and my polite complaint to the FA when I didn't get the exit row, I like the exit row. I have back and leg problems and being able to keep my knees elevated makes the flight more tolerable. I can move them around to keep the circulation going and preventing my feet from numbing. Yes I could fly other airlines and get first class, but I'm not rich and can't afford it. However, I like Midwest. I always fly Midwest when I can. I believe in Midwest. It's the only airline in my portfolio. I like the fact it started as an offshoot of Kimberly Clark often doing charitable flights for sick children. Much better than bar and strip club approach of a certain other airlines that flies out of Love Field.

To me, the solution seems very obvious. Mr. Greenbaum was told by Ramone he would have an exit row, he was blocked from his seat by Roger...by golly why don't we make sure Mr. Greenbaum gets an exit row on his next flight. Only Elite Frequent Flyers on Midwest get to request those before the date of flight. You could easily check my reservation and put me in the exit row (if available) to put me in the same position I'd be if Ramone and Roger hadn't treated me poorly.

It is my sincere hope that you will have the opportunity to fly with
Midwest Airlines again and enjoy the customer service that you were
previously accustomed to. We look forward to welcoming you aboard.

I apologize for not being direct with my request. Midwest used to bend over backwards to treat their customers like royality (as I understand you started initially as a airlines for Kimberly Clark executives), so I was reaching for the stars figuratively and literally with my request hoping we'd meet somewhere in the middle. I can understand how my request seemed extreme, but I believed with so many problems with customers being denied boarding for silly reasons, I assumed you'd want to go overboard to assure me that isn't Midwest under TPG's approach. When I couldn't get a response, I needed to yell louder on the Internet to be heard.

It was not my goal to put Midwest in a poor light, my goal was to improve Midwest for myself and others. Sure I could fly another airlines, but I *want* to fly Midwest. I want assurances that asking about an exit row isn't "failing to follow crewmember instructions". It is nice to be welcomed aboard rather than blown off. I hope that your LGA crew also welcomes people aboard and when they request a certain seat aren't tricked into believing they have that seat and then blocked from taking their seat when they complain about it.

Fact is, whether you say it or not, the fact that as of this writing my page has gotten over 12,679 hits about this issue, I suspect there will be changes at LGA regardless of whether you can confirm it or not. Of course, this was the long way around the issue.

So in sum, I'd simply like the exit row on my next flight if it isn't already taken. Frankly, I'd rather have that than the free ticket. That to me is more important. A $200 free ticket won't make or break me, however seating in the exit row saves me hours of discomfort and a chiropractor bill. That to me is priceless. Whether you do it or not, I'll probably still fly Midwest because while I believe the cookie has crumbled..cookie crumbs are better than pretzels any day.


David Greenbaum

Monday, January 07, 2008

Book Review: iPhone: The Missing Manual

iPhone: The Missing manual

iPhone:  The Missing Manual

The "Missing Manual", in case you didn't already know, is the gold standard of technical publications. Heck, it's the platinum standard at this point. Any book that has the "Missing Manual" in the title is sure to be a must have. I've never been disappointed and "iPhone: The Missing Manual" carries the torch for the series yet again. Some books are only edited by David Pogue, but this one was written exclusively by hi, most likely because the iPhone was a hard find for anyone.

While Pogue expertly covered all the features of the iPhone, he also helped readers work around some of the limitations such as the lack of a word processor or a instant messaging program. I learned quite a few tips even for my mere mortal Treo 650. He helps you save money on text messaging, much to the chagrin of AT&T's accountants. I had very high hopes for the book, and Pogue exceeded every one.

Ideally, the iPhone should be straightforward and obvious for most people, but occasionally you aren't quite sure about a feature or how to combine features together to do what you want. For example, how does one avoid SPAM on the iPhone...yuck. This is more than the typical Missing Manual in my opinion. This includes those handy tips and tricks most companies write a separate book on. The list of websites that will simulate desktop apps is worth the price of admission alone.

As always, the Mac and PC platforms are covered equally and with respect. He explains how to sync contacts on a PC and a Mac. Most important, Pogue covers all the troubleshooting steps you need to know when your iPhone stops doing what it wants. Because the iPhone is so new, there aren't many guides to fixing problems and I've had to google way too much in order to fix problems. Now I've got all I need in one guide.

No features of the iPhone is left undiscussed! Even experts with the iPhone (can you say you are an expert when it's been out less than a year?), will find something in this Missing Manual. I think that anyone who has a smart phone will get ideas from this guide. If you can't have an iPhone, get the next best thing.

Of course, if the manual were hard to understand or disorganized it wouldn't do anyone much assistance. Fortunately, Pogue's easy to understand writing style explains things in such a way novices can understand without talking down to them or boring expert users. The index and table of contents are very easy to use to hone in the particular features you are interested in. Extensive use of full color photos helps make sure you can follow along with the book.

Pros: Amazing guide to the iPhone. I suspect Steve Jobs secretly keeps a copy on his desk.
Cons: Besides the fact it doesn't come with an iPhone, absolutely no cons.

Five out 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