Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Music in the Cloud: Heavenly or Pipe Dream?

What if you never had to sync your music again. I respond to another columnist over at Gigom Pro talking about different ways of achieving it. I propose my thoughts over at TheAppleBlog. Mozy, Carbonite, Backblaze, etc. Listen up!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Apple's Media plan and Cable Companies

Locally, I'm the Cable Company curmudgeon as I have serious reservations of so much power being concentrated in one place...but one could say the same thing about Apple. See them at war over who will provide media content as I analyze the issue for TheAppleBlog

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Microsoft Office 2008 Visual Quickstart Guide


Microsoft Office 2008 is overloaded with tons of useless features which make the program slow, complex, and bloated. "Microsoft Office 2008 Quick Start Guide" matches Office's complexity. This 500-plus page tome is a comprehensive guide to many of Microsoft Office 2008's major features.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

True Visual Voicemail: PhoneTag, Google Voice and AT&T’s New Voicemail to Text Service

Apple introduces "true" visual voicemail that lets you read your voicemail messages via email and text...but others have already been doing it. Read a comparison between Phonetag (formerly Simulscribe), Google Voice, and AT&T in this TheAppleBlog post.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

iMovie 09 and iDVD for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide


Typically, Peachpit's Visual Quickstart Guide jumps you into a program giving you the "quickstart" to get working and obtain a basic understanding of the program. This book didn't follow that theme as closely as others in the series, but it's still an excellent guide to iMovie 09. If you buy only one book on iMovie, I firmly believe this should be the one. It's short, straightforward and highly accessible to someone who has never used a video camera before.

The book starts off with the essentials of movie making on your Mac, discussing important topics such as AV equipment, movie planning, lighting and composition. These preliminary chapters are an absolute gem. While I've worked with iMovie before, I never really understood the essentials of lighting, focus, and composition. A great iMovie starts out with the fundamentals and the first five chapters of the book are devoted to just this.

Next, the book gives you a "Make a Movie in a Hurry" overview of iMovie so you can quickly complete a task and have some initial success. Then, the author goes in detail about iMovie in a logical progression as to how the typical project would go: importing, editing, and exporting. Throughout the chapters the author includes tips and tricks not just about the usage of iMovie, but why a user should care about certain functions. Knowing all the features of iMovie doesn't really help unless you know how to use them in your projects to enhance your work. After reading this book, I understood much more of the power of iMovie and how to use the features of iMovie to make better movies.

Ironically, what's missing from the book is a guide to iDVD. One small chapter is devoted to iDVD and then the author directs you to his website for another 60 or so pages of iDVD info: That's my major con of the book: the title is extremely misleading. This is NOT a book about iDVD, it's strictly about iMovie. I can't imagine why the book was titled and distributed the way it was.

Pros: Easy to understand, accessible
Cons: No iDVD printed materials in book

Four out of Five dogcows

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Hard Drives: Apple’s Secret Weapon?

Who would have thought a tale of two hard drive replacements would create so much comment? Apparently it did! Read on about how the same hard drive failure was so different on a Mac and PC

Apple Tech Support Tips: 4 Steps to Bend Apple to Your Will

Need tips on how to get Apple to fix something they initially refuse to fix. Read my post over at TheAppleBlog on how to get Apple to fix things that are out of warranty, or not fully covered by a repair extension. Given the positive comments by Apple employees--I'm right on the mark

Opinion: Psystar Ruling Could Have Set Precedent for Upgrading Your Mac

With my background in law and my initial intent to go into Intellectual Property, I was particularly interested in this ruling. What concerned me most was the idea that modifying for the Apple operating system for hardware compatibility was considered a violation. This set precedent for any compatiblity update to be in violation of Apple's EULA. Read on for more details over at TheAppleBlog

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is Backup on Apple’s Back Burner or Simply Abandoned?

I admit, I've been so busy with stuff, I haven't been posting articles here and I've written a bunch recently for TheAppleBlog This was kind of a spur of the moment article as I was thinking about all the features of MobileMe and how backup was going to be the big selling point. Here is an article I wrote reflecting on that fact

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Complete Guide to Apple Certification and Training

So after 20 years or so of being an "uncertified" technician, I started inquiring what it means to be Apple Certified. After months of research, I hopefully have the definitive guide over at TheAppleBlog about what it means to be Certified by Apple and the alphabet soup of it all. Conclusion: I'm probably doing it, only to make my business more competitive in a crowded marketplace.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Apple Training Series:  iLife '09

This book is an excellent resource for someone wanting a hands-on learning tutorial about every aspect of the iLife Suite:  iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb, and iDVD.  This is not a "how-to" reference manual -- you won't find feature listings or troubleshooting tips.  Its exclusive goal is training sessions with pre-developed material to be done a classroom or self-teaching format.  For someone who has never been exposed to these programs, it's a great resource with which to start from scratch. 

Each module has lesson files that are installed on your computer and gives you a time estimate of how long the project will take.  According to the book's estimates, it will take you about 13 hours to complete; however for me the modules went much quicker.  Fortunately, since the materials are already created for you on the included DVD, you don't have to actually shoot video or load pictures to understand the lessons.  You'll be able to follow exactly line-by-line along with the book and compare actual results.  The book is well laid out with real screen shots for every outcome, so don't be intimidated by its size.  At the end of each module is a quiz to test your knowledge of the subject.  Obviously this makes an excellent text book for instructor or group study.

Personally, I was new to iLife '09 but have used previous versions.  The book skipped over computing basics and focused primarily on new iLife features such as Face Recognition in iPhoto. The modules were extremely well paced and I had an excellent grasp of the subject material at the end. My only major complaint is that between iLife programs, the authors did not stay consistent and the lessons at times were confusing, as not all the authors had the same skill level or approach to teaching.  Nonetheless, the book was outstanding as is typical of the Apple Training Series.

Pros:  Training modules for the key features of the iLife Series along with pre-developed material
Cons:  Inconsistent style of lessons between modules.

Five out of Five Dog Cows


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

Friday, October 02, 2009

Remote control software for the iPhone and your Mac

The ultimate dream: control your Mac from anywhere in the world via your iPhone. It's possible. Reach out and touch your Mac! (just like those commercials for AT&T from way back when). Is it that easy? Found out here in this article I wrote for TheAppleBlog

Monday, September 28, 2009

iPhone Roundup: 10 Jewish Apps for the New Year

As Yom Kippur is over and we say goodbye to the 5770 welcoming, many people will consider using their iPhone to enhance their spirituality this year. Here is an article telling you how to use your iPhone to help you practice Judaism. Those that aren't Jewish might still find value in the unique technological innovations these apps have to offer. Experience another culture via your iphone.

By the way, the article was supposed to run Tuesday. My apologies it got published early

Thursday, September 24, 2009

iPhone 3.1: Unresponsive and No Vitals, But Not Dead?

iPhone being unresponsive and refuses to wake up: it maybe suffering from iPhone coma after the 3.1 iPhone update. Check out this article I wrote for information on why it happens and what to do about it

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Macintosh iLife '09

The Macintosh iLife '09  by Jim Heid

This book elegantly balances screen shots, tips, and walk-throughs for the iLife suite.  This isn't a feature guide covering all the nooks and crannies of every program, thought it explains some features very well.  Nor is this an exhaustive guide on how to create a DVD or podcast, although many examples are covered.  If I could only own one book about iLife '09 it would be this book.  It achieves a harmonic balance.  

The book is extremely iPhoto heavy and Heid covers the ins and outs of iPhoto over around 150 pages, more than any other aspect of the suite.  iMovie and Garage Band each get about 80 pages of coverage.  Least featured is iWeb and iDVD, each given only about 30 pages.   For most casual users' interest that's about right. Each two-page spread of the book covers a different aspect of the program and Heid includes detailed screen shots to enable the reader to study when they are not at the computer.  The table of contents allows you to hone in on the exact feature or project you are doing.  In particular, I like how the book compared and contrasted the different overlapping features of iLife.  For example, what is the best way to do an iPhoto slide show?  iPhoto, iDVD, or iMovie--it gets confusing.  Additionally, Heid goes beyond the functions of the apps and considers real-world problems and questions an iLife user might have, such as scanning old photos into iPhoto, or the best way to record sound in Garage Band.

The target audience of this book should be the intermediate user of the Mac who has a basic understanding of what each iLife program does and why they might use it.  This is for the reader who wants to dive deep into a project and doesn't want the unnecessary fluff of a beginner's manual, nor does the reader want to be distracted by the features most people never use.  This book covers the classic 20% that you'll use 80% of the time.

Pros:  Covers the key features of the iLife '09 suite while avoiding the time wasting feature inventory
Cons:  Assumes some basic knowledge of the suite, skimpy coverage of iWeb and iDVD

Five out of Five dogcows


Friday, September 04, 2009

How-To: Resurrect Your AppleTalk Printer in Snow Leopard

Ok, so you upgraded to Snow Leopard and now that old AppleTalk based printer doesn't work. Have no fear, I have the answer for you over at TheAppleBlog

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why I’ll Wait on Snow Leopard, and Why Maybe You Should Too

Thinking about running out and installing Snow Leopard?  After reading this article  I wrote for TheAppleBlog you might have second thoughts.    

Monday, August 24, 2009

Macworld Expo is Dead: Long Live the Macworld Expo

Read in TheAppleBlog why Apple decided not to go to MacWorld Expo 2010 might be the best thing to ever happen to this annual Mac Geek fest.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Review: Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders

Best iPhone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders

With well over 56,000 apps of this writing, the iTunes app store can be intimidating. There are just so many apps out there one doesn't really know where to begin. Staring with the top 10 or top 25 is a great place to look, but too often the gems are buried in the middle and nearly impossible to find in that stack of 56,000 apps. Even if you just stick to the top apps, you don't get manuals or easy instructions with them, making purchasing apps that much more of a frustrating experience.

"Best iPhone Apps" fixes both problems. Author Clark has a good mix of popular apps such as Yelp and Facebook, but also includes some off-the-wall ones such as What The Font which helps you identify a particular font using your camera. Each app receives one dedicated page of explanation and a screen shot - which is a heck of a lot more than iTunes or many developers provide. Additionally, there have been some more expensive popular apps I've been afraid to purchase because there are no demos in the App store (a fatal flaw in my opinion). An example of this is Jaadu VNC. This $24.99 app sounds great, but does it work? I bought it and couldn't quite figure it out until I read this book.

Unfortunately, while the book is iPhone 3.0 aware, it was published before iPhone 3.0 software and the iPhone 3GS came out, so some of the information is slightly dated. Nonetheless, the apps that are great now will continue to be great. This book is perfect for a non-technical new iPhone or iPod Touch user who isn't quite sure where to begin. A vast majority of the apps listed in the book are free or low-cost so there is little risk in trying and exploring these apps.

Overall this book is perfect for a new iPhone user or a more experienced user who wants to take the time to learn about some new apps

Pros: Covers a wide variety of apps in depth
Cons: Quickly will become outdated

Four out of Five Dogcows: dogcowdogcowdogcowdogcow

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mophie Juice Pack Air: Extend Your iPhone’s Battery Life With Style

In this article for TheAppleBlog I review the Mophie Juice pack Air Battery extender. Does it provide the power you need, or does it leave you feeling drained? Read my review and find out

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mozy vs. Carbonite: Mac Backup Smackdown

Which is the best online Mac backup software. Mozy or Carbonite. Read my review here

Friday, July 10, 2009

Patience is a Virtue: Wait to Buy Your Mac and Save

I cover when the best time to buy a Mac is and how to save big money. Hint: it's the first weekend in August Read more here

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Would you be "lost" on your Vacation without your Mac

This is a little tongue in cheek way of giving travel tips with your Mac. Worth a read even if you aren't a Lost fan

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Secret to App story: $1875 per day

Want to learn how to make your iPhone app appear in Apple's top 100? Or learn about one app's success story. Read this article on TheAppleBlog

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Book Review: Facebook Me!

We all know that Facebook is the hottest thing since maybe Friendster (anyone remember that?) or MySpace (does anyone go there anymore?), and unfortunately, Facebook constantly reinvents itself.

Whether you are logging on to Facebook for the first time, or are a pro, "Facebook Me!" will teach you some valuable tips and tricks on how to maximize your usage. The author takes the novice user through ever aspect of Facebook including a heavy emphasis on privacy and security. In particular, Awl's book will survive most Facebook interface changes because he focuses on the core values of why you are on Facebook and what you hope to accomplish. He handles such tricky issues as friending your boss and coworkers as well as to how to deal with friends who send you invites to every application known to man.

Awl gives great advice to new users on how to follow proper social mores on Facebook as well as how to prevent getting viruses on it. Experienced users will benefit from Awl's suggestions on topics such as how often and what to say in status updates and most important, how to check Facebook from work. Business owners in particular will benefit from this book's excellent explanation of pages, groups, and advertising on Facebook.

The book is extremely well organized so more experienced users can focus on the subject that interest them the most. A detailed table of contents helps readers hone in on their particular topics of interest and excellent use of color screen shots helps everyone visualize his descriptions. Although Facebook will surely redesign it's interface and the pictures will then look different, the concepts of keeping up with friends and acquaintances are at the core of Facebook. Awl's book is about how to use Facebook effectively, not merely a "how to" guide.

Pros: Well organized, detailed, perfect for novices and experienced users
Cons: Still doesn't tell me whether I should friend my Mom or not

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

First Look: iPhone 3GS

So the day finally arrived. I had to have something new. This was one of the only times I have waited in line for technology. But was it worth it.

Like previous years, it seems, AT&T was disorganized and confused. Multiple lines, frustrated customers, and some walking out empty handed.

I started camping out at 2:30am and was the fourth in line for my local store in Lawrence, KS.

Two of the people in line were "pre-orders" which meant they would get to go into the store at 7am. Other people had to wait until 8am or until after all pre-orders were fulfilled. Everyone was pleasant and polite from about 2:30am until 6:00am.

The first woman in line got there at 11:00pm on Thursday after she got off work. Two high schoolers before me were pre-orders and had their mom in tow.

At 7:00am the pre-order folks started being allowed in the door.

A small disagreement ensued when the store manager said that the rest of us would have to wait until 9am. Never argue with a group of iPhone users who can quickly pull up AT&T's website on their phones, showing that the opening time for the general public was 8:00am!

Around 7:30 the pre-work pre-order crowd started arriving and were aghast and quite ornery that they couldn't just walk in and pick up an iPhone. Never have I been to an AT&T store or Apple store when I could just walk in and be helped; you need to meet with a "host" or "concierge", give them your name and wait in line. One gentleman started getting physical, but quickly realized forcing his way in would probably cause him to loose his iPhone.

Around 8:00am we walked in and I met with the guy with whom I confirmed upgrade eligibility yesterday - except he was wrong, or we miscommunicated. The reduced-price upgrade is per line not per account. A second line on a family plan is almost never eligible, because in their mind it's only a $10 phone. Huh? I pay $225 a month to AT&T and they say my account doesn't generate enough revenue for 2 iPhone 3GSes. Arrrgh. Being the gentleman, I let the spouse get the iPhone and I was quite irate, but realized I was helpless. I wasn't going to pay another $200 dollars. I don't know why, but the iPhone 3GS sounds way too much like the Apple IIGs

Read about the rest of my experience over at TheAppleBlog

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dave is now Writing for The Apple Blog

I'm honored and excited to be writing for one of the top Apple Blogs on the web. Please continue to read my writings at The Apple Blog I'll continue to post links here to my TAB writings as well as do writings for some other blogs.

Thanks to my loyal readers for encouraging me and giving me great ideas!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Book Review: The Mac OS X Leopard Pocket Guide by Chuck Toporek

The Mac OS X Leopard Pocket Guide is designed to be a quick overview of the "gotta know" features of OS X. This is not a how-to guide or a step-by-step book; it is what we call in the biz "quick and dirty," give me what I need to know as quickly as possible. This book answers the typical questions an intermediate to advanced user needs to know when switching over to or supporting Leopard. There is no fluff in this book and very few pictures or illustrations. This is not a beginners book, but an ideal book for support technicians or people who don't want to have to contact a support technician. The book assumes a strong background in Mac fundamentals.

Primarly, Toperoek takes you through key functions of the UI such as the Finder, Dock, System Preferences, and the Leopard apps that had signficant changes. He briefly describes each function in Leopard and all the options related to it. This book helps you answer the question of "How do I" and "What does this function do?" Short, sweet and to the point. It's includes the 20% of the Leopard functions you'll use 80% of the time If you ever wanted to know the keyboard shortcut to any command in Leopard, it's in this book. The index is almost as powerful as Apple's Spotlight function and quickly allows you to hone on the questions you need answered.

A short review for a short 200 page half-sized book, but like the magna carta it is short yet very valuable!

Pros: Excellent overview of key Leopard functions geared towards intermediate and advanced users
Cons: No tutorials or pictures, but the technical Illuminati don't need such things.

5 out of 5 dogcows


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

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hardware Review: Pogo Stylus

The iPhone, as many people know, is an absolute masterpiece of form and function. However, all these functions are useless if you can’t actually touch your phone. Dirty or gloved hands render the iPhone completely useless. The Pogo stylus bridges that gap, allowing you to use a stylus to control your iPhone.

When the iPhone’s touch sensitivity works, it works great! However the first week I owned my iPhone I realized how vulnerable my phone was. I got a flat tire and began to change the tire when I ran into some trouble removing one of the lug nuts and decided to call roadside assistance. Oops. My hands were greasy and grimy and I simply couldn’t control my iPhone. Without paper towels or anything I was in major trouble. From then on I carried a disposable phone in the car with me! Similarly, in the winter, my iPhone also wasn’t terribly useful with gloves hands. Again, my expensive smart phone was dumbed down by a thin piece of leather. While this hasn’t happened to me, I’ve seen women with long sculpted fingernails look about as stumped as Edward Scissorhands with an iPhone. Why deny them the ability to use an iPhone?

Unlike other smart phones, you cannot use a regular stylus since the iPhone relies on the electrical impulses of your fingertips or other body parts. The Pogo is a stylus designed specifically for touch screens. The bottom of the stylus has spongy material designed to activate touch screens. The Pogo stylus was not as responsive as my stylus was on my old Palm Pilot, but the Pogo was still extremely useful. The material at the bottom was soft and won’t scratch the iPhone, and in fact, helped clean mine a bit. I was even able to use it with my GPS, keeping my hands warm on the cold days.

The Pogo package comes with a clip to help keep the Pogo Stylus connected to your iPhone without creating bulk. Unfortunately the clip did not work with my external iPhone case, but people who keep their iPhone naked will have no problem using the Pogo Stylus. At $14.95 the purchase of a Pogo Stylus is about the best investment in protecting the usability of your iPhone. You may not need it today, but at some point you’ll need your iPhone and your hands will be dirty, wet, or otherwise inaccessible. That Pogo stylus will allow you to make the call! I keep one in the glove compartment and another in my laptop bag.

Pros: Allows iPhone use in situations you can’t directly touch the screen

Cons: Clip doesn’t work if the iPhone has a case

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

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Book Review: Mac Migration: The Small Business Guide to Switching to the Mac by Jason Rich

As an avid reader of Entrepreneur magazine, I had very high hopes for this book. More and more businesses are switching from Mac to PC and need a guide focused on how to get typical business functions done on the Mac. The book completely skips the iLife suite and takes the reader from the decision to buy a Mac over to the key tools a business owner needs in order to run a business on their Mac. Unfortunately, the book is incomplete, inconsistent and needs to check its facts.

The first few chapters of the book helps the reader decide which Mac to buy and how to set it up, then takes the reader through the built-in contact management functions and then onto the Microsoft Office suite and,finally, backups. This is not a how-to guide but rather an overview of the considerations to make when switching to the Mac and whether your business will be able to make that switch. By the time you have actually made the switch, the book will be of little value to you. Business owners on the fence about switching to the Mac will find comfort that it can be done and there are tools out there to help them do the job.

The author focuses too much on his personal preferences and has a recommended suite of hardware and software to buy, giving the reader few options if they wish to deviate from the path. For example, he devotes 60 pages to Microsoft Office but barely mentions iWork or Open Office which are both extremely viable alternatives for the average company switching to the Mac. Similarly, the penultimate chapter of the book mentions that every business should own the full $299 version of Adobe Acrobat when much of its functionality is already built into Leopard. The other programs he mentions are extremely expensive and often unnecessary for even advanced business owners. Why does he recommend Photoshop CS3 to a business user? This chapter could convince a business that it is too expensive to switch to the Mac.

The final chapter of the book is all about backups and Rich does an excellent job of explaining the various backup options the average business owner should consider. He goes through not only the Apple options, but third party hardware and software as well. Alongside with backups, Rich then covers (in the Appendix) something every Mac user should have: a full record keeping worksheet of all the important information about your Mac and the hardware and software that goes along with it.

Unfortunately, Rich is just plain wrong on some of his facts. Each chapter had a few minor facts wrong that would not impact the average business owner, but still reduces Rich's credibility as an expert and an author. The explanation of how to install software assumes that the software will begin installing as soon as you put in the CD, when in reality most programs that come on optical media require you to double click something to begin the install process. Rich also explains grey-market hacked Apple clones, which should never be used in a business. Rich even admits they haven't been tested nor are they probably legal, so I'm not sure why a business book would mention them. Entrepreneur Press is not used to editing technical books and it shows.

Pros: Cuts right to the chase regarding those aspects of the Mac most interesting to business owners
Cons: Extremely biased and doesn't empower the reader to make their own choices

2 out of 5 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 01, 2009

Software and Book Review: iPhone the Missing Manual, iPhone Book App

Software and Book Review: iPhone the Missing Manual, iPhone Book App

I fondly remember the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer was developing a coffee table book...about coffee tables, so when I read about an iPhone book on the iPhone, I simply had to review it. Not that there is anything wrong with that, no of course not!

As an application, "iPhone the Missing Manual" was difficult to navigate at first. Instead of scrolling up and down to move from page to page, you swipe from left to right in order to move to the next page, much like turning a page of a book. Once I understood this design element, navigating was fine. Ideally, the program should have had a initial welcome screen explaining how to move around within the program. The text of the book was extremely clear to read and quickly rendered when turning pages. Other text programs I've used in the past had annoying delays going from page to page. However, the initial opening of the app the very first time I launched it had an abnormal delay of up to a minute, and I thought the app was hung.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Review: The iPhone Book Second Edition

Sometimes sequels are better than the original and sometimes they are worse. Then there is the genre of movies that shouldn't have been made in the first place, much less a sequel. The iPhone Book falls into the latter category. Kelby and White again fail to deliver a useful iPhone book for the money. For the price, the average iPhone/iTouch user would be better off with another book. The information in The iPhone Book is technically accurate and helpful, but there is simply not enough of it. Much of the space in the book is filled with iPhone screenshots and "too much information" about the author's personal lives and not enough iPhone facts.

Similar to the original version, each iPhone concept is devoted one entire page, no matter how complex or simple the subject. Turning on vibrate mode on your iPhone is given the same space as iTunes library syncing as setting up email accounts. If the superfluous white space and screen shots were taken out, the book would probably be about 1/4 it's current size. The target user for this book is someone who probably wouldn't normally buy a computer book. With the pictures and white space it's a quick and easy read and allows the reader to pick up the book without having to remember where they left off. The reader will have a basic understanding of the critical aspects of the iPhone in a very short period of time.

Overall, the book is easy to read, but would only be helpful to the absolute beginner new iPhone or iTouch users. Again, this review is short because the book is so short!

Pros: Quick to read and easy to understand
Cons: Not enough helpful information and explanations

2 out of 5 Dogcows


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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review: Cool Mac Apps

51ywp55en4l_sl500_aa240_Robin Williams (the writer and graphic designer, not the actor) has rightly earned her crown as Queen of the Mac. Her writings on Macintosh software is simply outstanding. While "Cool Mac Apps" isn't her best work, it's still a great book and compliments other books on how to use Leopard. In fact, this book should be seen as a companion to her other books on Leopard, most notably her "Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Peachpit Learning Series." "Cool Mac Apps" expects a basic understanding of how to use the Mac and the Leopard operating system.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Software Review: Stellar Phoenix Macintosh

box-packIt is said that there are two types of hard drives: those that have failed and those that are going to fail. It is simple math: your hard drive will fail, it's just a matter of time. Obviously good backups are your first line of defense. Your second line of defense is a data recovery program like Stellar Phoenix. I reviewed their 1.0 product a few years back and the program was extremely rough around the edges and not ready for the general public. The 3.0 version of the software is a welcome revision, but the program still isn't a truly "Mac friendly" product, often using unix-style prompts rather then standard Mac dialog boxes. The program retails for $129 and has a 30 day money back guarantee.

Stellar is a primarily a PC based software manufacturer and it shows. Their user interface doesn't look like a Mac program. It follows few, if any MacOS design conventions. In particular, their help system uses Windows icons and the Windows help interface. Their marketing material also shows a fundamental lack of Macintosh background. They refer to repair situations that only occur on older systems running OS 9. In addition, they refer to "Lacie" [sic] drives, when they apparently means external hard drives. Why they are using the generic term "LaCie" to refer to external hard drives is unclear, but I'm sure Maxtor, Seagate, and Other World Computing are annoyed by it.

As stated earlier, the interface of the program doesn't follow Mac conventions and is quite confusing. You are faced with three choices for recovery: "Hard Drive", "iPod", or "Recover Photos, Music & Video Files." However, the options are basically the same whichever one you choose, which is confusing. Once you choose one of the recovery types you have to decide between "Formatted media/Lost File Recovery" and "Search Lost/Deleted Volumes." The documentation doesn't make clear the difference. The choices also don't warn you it doesn't recover from FAT32 or NTFS volumes, which many external hard drive and flash drives use. Other programs warn you of this fact, Stellar simply says no data found, which can be misleading at times.

Unfortunately, because development is done outside the US, the program documentation and interface suffers from the typical grammatical confusion that occurs after something is translated from its native language to English. Similarly, technical support is not US based and when I had problems I was unable to effectively communicate with them and have my questions adequately addressed. Do not count on being able to contact technical support if you purchase this product.

In spite of the language barriers and the interface, if you are able to figure things out on your own, the product seems to perform well. Obviously testing data recovery properly is difficult because most recovery attempts change the reliability of future recovery attempts. Nonetheless, I recently had an opportunity to try it both as the first program for recovery and the second program, and Stellar Phoenix effectively recovered data consistent with other programs in the same price range. However, unlike other applications in its price range, Stellar Phoenix does not have a bootable DVD version. You must install Stellar on a computer before you can use it. This greatly limits Stellar's ability to recover in emergency situations. Most other programs cost less and offer more options than Stellar.

Overall, the program does work, although the documentation and interface is quite confusing. This would not be the first nor the primary tool I would recommend to use in a crisis to recover files off a hard drive. If other options fail you, Stellar is worth at least a try with their free evaluation and 30 day money back guarantee.

Pros: Works decently and is another tool to try for data recovery
Cons: Poor interface, documentation and support.

3 out of 5 dogcows

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

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Software Review: Executive Sync

Software Review Executive Sync
Executive Sync Review

At one point in history, the word "executive" tended to stand for some type of higher-end product, or a product with special features that separated it from the merely ordinary. Unfortunately, today, when we hear "executive" we think of corruption, bribes, and incompetence. Executive Sync tends to use the newer, less appealing meaning of the word. However at $29.99, it won't wipe out your 401(k) unlike those other "Executives."

Executive Sync promises to sync files "to servers running Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and more" as well as "keep your work or personal files up-to-date between home, office, and on the road." It does...but not really. I had inaccurately assumed the product was similar to Sugar Sync or Drop Box: I specify the computers I want synced and this happens in the background. I was wrong.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book Review: Mac OS X Leopard Killer Tips

Mac OS X Leopard Killer Tips by Scott Kelby and Dave Gales

Mac OS X Leopard Killer Tips

New Rider Press, like many other publishers, has different book series around a certain theme.  The "Killer Tips" obviously aren't about how to kill someone, but rather tips so sweet and juicy, you'd pursue them at all costs.  In difficult publishing or photo editing programs, these tips can often make or break a deadline for you.  The ability to save a few keystrokes everyday on a file that takes a few minutes to load saves time and therefore money.  They describe killer tips as the sideboxes of most manuals that give you neat workarounds or "did ya know" type blurbs.  They are also the tips that bloggers include often in their feeds. 

With OS X, killer tips simply aren't as necessary.  I've read most of this series in relation to the operating system.  Each iteration of the MacOS makes usage easier and more straightforward and thus tips aren't as important.  The tips in this version are less killer than they were in Tiger and much less than Panther.  Even though all the cats of OS X are dangerous in the wild, they are becoming easier to understand and domesticate in each successive version. My review of Leopard Tips is harsher than Tiger Tips because there is simply less to cover and there is much more filler in this book that is inappropriate.  The "sexy side" of Leopard weren't really tips, but more observations and the "cheap trick" section was fifteen pages of practical jokes you can play on people running Leopard  Excuse me?  Tips on how to create fake dialogs to scare users and how to corrupt their video so they buy a new monitor is more like a little knowledge being dangerous.  Such "tips" ensures no IT department will want their users to keep this book at their desk.

Save for the "cheap tricks", a vast majority of the tips covered are so obvious even to the non-technical end user, that I'm surprised they authors weren't too embarrassed to include them.  Do most users really need to be told that you can hide the dock?  Also, this is either a pro or a con, but the last few chapters cover each iLife component.   Personally, I don't use iDVD, iMovie, or GarageBand so maybe those tips are worth the price of admission.  When you do the math, the actual Leopard tips are about 80% of the book; much less than previous versions.

As they state in the intro , this book is not really for beginners.  If it isn't for beginners, why do they include such basic tips as having iChat's status be your current song?  Yawn.  However, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and there were a few cool tips in the book, in particular located in the Spotlight section.  I learned a few cool shortcuts to writing searches, which might save me some time.  I also found out how to make printers auto-quit after launching a print job.  You click on their icon in the dock and choose auto quit.  Oh no, now you may have no reason to buy the book.  Of course, if it really annoyed me, I would have Googled and quickly found the tip.

While the book is accurate, it is generally too advanced for a beginner and too basic for an intermediate user.   The book might be good for a new Leopard user, and possibly for a seasoned Mac user that simply wants to know some cool things in Leopard and doesn't want to try to self explore.  However, that's a stretch.  I really can't find too many people who would get value from the book and the "cheap tricks" chapter, well that cheapens the book's value to negative numbers.

Pros:  Has a few good tips
Cons:  Not enough tips for most people to justify the purchase.  "Cheap tricks" are inappropriate.

1 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, January 18, 2009

Hardware Review: A tale of two iPod battery extenders

A tale of two iPod battery extenders

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I had the best phone on the market but not enough time to use it before my battery ran out. My iPhone 3G works great, but eats battery way too quick. When my hometown got 3G, if I didn't charge up at some point, I couldn't make it a single work day without running dry.

Two different type of chargers recently came on the market with clear benefits and drawbacks to each. The odds are that one of these will greatly help you extend the usefulness of your iPhone 3G.

Richard Solo

First, is the Richard Solo 1800 battery backup for the iPhone ($69.95 at Richard Solo was started by Richard Thalheimer, the founder of Sharper Image. I tried their previous version without much success and thus declined to review it. The 1800 is a complete redesign of their previous model. The 1800 has a much longer battery life than earlier models, and some very serious thought went into the overall 1800 package. The unit includes a car charger as well as a wall charger. Either charger can charge both the 1800 and the iPhone at the same time. If that wasn't enough (but wait, there's more), the 1800 has a built-in flashlight and laser pointer. Yes, freakin' lasers (hat tip to Dr. Evil).

All these great accessories wouldn't do much good if it failed in it's primary mission of charging the iPhone 3G. Fortunately, it does a great job of quickly and effectively charging the battery. However, it has one major drawback in that it is very difficult to both charge and use the phone at the same time. The 1800 is about the size and thickness of the current iPod Nanos and sticks out from the bottom of the iPhone. This means it's nearly impossible to charge the phone while in your pocket. Richard Solo includes a connector to keep the battery firmly connected to the iPhone while in use, but it wasn't firm enough to keep the battery securely connected to the iPhone on a regular basis. I use it in my office sometimes while keeping the iPhone on the desk in speakerphone mode.

Even with the 1800's awkward design, it is still a great product and I use it frequently. It fits effective along with my iPhone car mount so I use the Richard Solo charger to charge both the 1800 and my iPhone. While talking on the phone with the 1800 connected is difficult, it's perfectly usable while using the iPhone for watching videos or simply surfing. In particular, I was easily able to leave both connected in the seat pocket of the airplane and let it pick up a charge while I had to turn off my electronic devices. It will charge most iPhones and iPods. However, one key disappointment with the 1800 is that it has no battery level indicator meaning I didn't know how much charge was left in the 1800 as it charged my phone.


Using a completely different design concept is the Mophie Juice Pack ($99.95 at The juice pack combines a basic external case along with a battery extender. When attached, the juice pack adds about an inch of thickness to the bottom of the iPhone and makes the overall unit slightly thicker. Nothing too bulky. Unfortunately, you can't use the iPhone with any other external case while using the Mophie no hard case and no silcone cases. The only type of protector that works with the Juice Pack are the plastic screen or case overlays. The Juice Pack is designed to be the exclusive external case for the iPhone.

When I tested the Juice Pack, I refused to take my iPhone out of my home. I was simply too afraid to carry around a partially naked iPhone. Who carries around an iPhone without some kind of protection? Apparently so, because after I used the Juice Pack for a day in my home and ventured out with my Otterbox securely protecting my iPhone, I found a vast majority of people I saw have no protection whatsoever. Naked, exposed and vulnerable iPhones out in the wild. If your iPhone is traveling naked, then the Mophie is absolutely perfect for you. Not only do you get extended battery life, but you get protection for your iPhone. While Mophie claims you can charge the iPhone and juice pack at the same time, I could not replicate these results; when my iPhone was plugged into the Mophie and the Mophie was plugged into the wall, only the Mophie charged, not the phone. Similar to the Richard Solo, the Mophie comes with it's own USB charger and power adapter. Because the Juice Pack is designed to act as a external case, it is device specific and thus you can't use an iPhone 3G juice pack for your iTouch.

Trying to compare the capacity in the real world between the Mophie and Richard Solo was impossible for me. I couldn't use the Richard Solo all day because it didn't fit into my lifestyle and I was too afraid to keep my iPhone only partially protected all day with the Mophie. After a few hours of use on a nearly drained iPhone, my Mophie was down about 30 and I couldn't tell with the Richard Solo, but both devices fully charged my Phone.

Which do I recommend? For those that don't use protection because it's too bulky (I could make some analogies here, but that will be major TMI), the Juice Pack is a decent external iPhone protector that extends your battery life, and probably the life of your phone. If you don't have an external case, the Mophie pack is clearly the better choice. If you are looking for the Red Bull quick-pick me up recharge, than the Richard Solo 1800 is great for you. Not only do you get the power boost, but the accessories are pretty cool as well. The Richard Solo is $30 cheaper to boot. However, you can't use those worthless Sharper Image Gift cards to purchase the Richard Solo!

Richard Solo 1800
Pros: Multiple chargers, other useful functions of battery pack
Cons: For ergonomic reasons, generally can't use the charger while using the phone

3 out of 5 dogcows

Mophie Juice Pack for the 3G
Pros: External case, slim design, battery indicators
Cons: Requires removal of any other external case

3 out of 5 dogcows


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