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


dogcow

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 www.richardsolo.com). 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.

Mophie

Using a completely different design concept is the Mophie Juice Pack ($99.95 at www.mophie.com). 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
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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

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

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hardware Review: ProClip USA iPhone holder for your car

My iPhone is one of my most indispensable tools. I use it everywhere and anywhere, especially in my car. Fortunately I have a Bluetooth speakerphone built into my GPS, so I can safely answer calls while driving. The only problem is that I often can't find the darn phone when I get in the car...until I got a ProClip.

Previously, my phone would be in my pocket, or my briefcase, or various other places. I tried the cupholder, but got nervous about my coffee spilling. I tried the glove compartment, but then it got knocked around. Most car accessories weren't designed for the iPhone 3G or required rather hideous stick-on devices for the windshield or dashboard. Even with those, the stability was marginal at best. Their key fault was that all cars are not designed the same, so something that works well in one car, won't work well in another vehicle.

ProClip is truly unique,and solves this problem. The clip consists of two parts. The first part is custom designed for your car; the "vehicle mount". I had to specify the exact make and model for the car: 2003 Toyota Corolla Matrix. The vehicle mount differs from car to car. Some go near the radio, some near a vent, some in the middle console. The experts at ProClip determine the most stable place to mount your device. Often times it requires a little bit of prying. I was wary about that at first, but it was very easy. It wasn't any harder than putting my iPhone in a hard case. Just place the tool at the predetermined spots in car and slip in the ProClip. I've had more trouble assembling a hard shell iPhone case then I did a ProClip.

The second part is the actual container for the iPhone; the "device holder". Unlike other iPhone holders, the ProClip has an adjustable model that allows you to keep your silicone or hard shell around your iPhone while the device was held in the ProClip. Again, I was skeptical about the ProClip. There was nothing to hold the iPhone in place except for groves in the plastic. However, after going over some serious bumps and even purposefully knocking the clip around, the iPhone remained stable and secure. Wow. There are other models that aren't adjustable forcing you to use your iPhone 3G naked as well as models that include chargers and pass-through connectors.

Unfortunately, with my car, the mount couldn't be in a worse place. It is extremely close to the radio and is in front of the volume button so I have to reach around the unit to change the volume. The closeness to the radio increases exponentially my problems with GSM buzz. Also, since I have a GPS on the dash, the placement of the phone partially obscures my view of the GPS and gets in the way when I want to program destinations. If I didn't have the GPS, the iPhone is in the perfect position for turn by turn direction viewing. If the placement in front of the radio wasn't bad enough, the ProClip also sits right in front of the heating vent, which means that on cold winter days I can't use that vent unless I want a blast of hot air to turn my iPhone into a toasty brick of plastic goo.

These mount problems are very vehicle specific. My spouse's 2008 Camry allows for a mount much further away from the radio and air vents. The website shows pictures exactly where the clip would mount on your vehicle. An associate of mine has the same car I do and has a ProClip mount. He never listens to the radio, has no GPS, and doesn't mind loosing one of the vents. In other words, my situation is unique.

ProClip is not a inexpensive solution. Vehicle mounts average $35 and the device holders are $30-$50. Also there is a 15% restocking fee should you need to return the item. That policy is a bit disappointing consider how personal and specific these vehicle mounts are.

In spite of these faults, I still use my ProClip unless I have a particularly bad GPS buzz problem or it's a really cold day. I enjoy knowing exactly where my iPhone is and I can easily see callers while I'm driving. When my GPS doesn't have my client's address, my iPhone is always able to find it.

Pros: Custom designed holder for your iPhone and your vehicle. Keep your iPhone in reach without messy suction cups or mounting tape
Cons: Very vehicle specific and often requires you to compromise other vehicle functions. Unfair restocking fee.

3 out of 5 Dogcows

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

Book Review: On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders

Book Review: On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders
by Michael A. Banks.

On the way to the web review

I remember my first CompuServe experience back in the early 80s. We were living in Ohio and my uncle worked in Columbus for some computer company. He had his own computer, which was absolutely amazing to me. I was in middle school at the time and remember being allowed to use the TRS-80 in the administrative offices. The computers were cool and I was hooked. I could chat with girls who didn't take one look at me and walk away.

"On the Way to the Web" brought back a lot of memories about the early days of the Internet and on-line services. I'm not sure people who weren't involved in on-line computing during the 80s and 90s would have that same nostalgic smile. If hearing the words eWorld or AppleLink doesn't ring any bells then you probably wouldn't enjoy this book. Banks assumes you know these services and their place in online history, and more importantly, how their development was parallel to the development of the greater Internet. Having lived through this dramatic time in history I still found myself confused on the relationship between these services and the Internet.

The first few chapters are amazing, and effectively captured the headiness of those early days during the 1970s when TCP/IP was not preordained to be the preferred way of computers talking to each other. After commercial online services entered the scene, Banks focuses primarily on those services and their lineage. While online services were clearly important to get us where we are today, he tells the history in a dry and matter-of-fact manner without explaining what else was going on at the time. The level of detail he went into about how these services was over the top. The book is hard to follow because the author tells too many stories at once. I constantly had to refer to the appendix to review the timeline. I expected more about the people involved, rather than the competing companies and their online strategies.

Overall the book was an enjoyable trip down memory lane, but fails to explain how we got from the origins of the Internet to where we are today.

Pros: Nice historical overview of the Internet
Cons: Hard to follow

Two out of Five dogcows

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