Wednesday, December 25, 2013

GigaOM: Windows Phone 8 and the Mac: Surprisingly compatible

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I look at how to make a Windows Phone 8 sync with a Mac

Software Review: Vitamin R-2

Trouble focusing on your work?  This is the program for you!

Vitamin R-2 is a unique program that allows you to get things done on your computer using something similar to the pomodoro method in which you do work in short intervals and then take breaks. Pomodoro timers are a plenty on the Mac but Vitamin R-2 has the flexibility and options to adapt it to your needs.

On the base level, it’s a timer.  You mark how long of a time slice you want to take and the project you are working on.  The program then counts down and offers you a time and open ended break.  That’s just the beginning though.

Within the program are lots of features to optimize your productivity and reduce distractions.  When creating a “time slice” you can force select (or all programs) to minimize in order to reduce distractions.  While working if you think of something and must write it down, you can quickly open up the app’s “Now and Later” board to write down your thoughts for now, later, objectives, or simply a scratch pad.  This quickly gets you back to work. During your work you can also have a variety of sounds playing in the background such as white noise or a variety of ticking time clocks.  Occasionally the program will tell you how much time you have left.

When a time slice is complete, you can leave yourself notes on where to pick up from.   The program logs time spent on tasks and tasks can be tagged and categorized.

On first glance the program is intimidating and the manual focuses, pardon the pun, on the science of focus more than how to use the program.  After continued usage I was able to incorporate more of the features to improve my workflow.  By using the tools to plan the work and then to pick up when I shifted task, I really did get more done in the given day and be able to ask answer the question “Where did the time go?”

Pros:  Great productivity encouragement with the flexibility to adapt to individual workflows
Cons:  Can be a bit intimidating with the options and features

Four out of Five Dogcows

Software Review: MacBreakZ

Like many computer users, I tend to sit hours at a time working on projects without taking healthy breaks.  If an interruption occurs that’s about the only time I remember to stop typing, look away or simply take a break.  MacBreakZ is a welcome product to make sure I don’t suffer injury.

First, MacBreakZ watches your computer usage via keyboard and mouse/trackpad usage and suggests microbreaks after a certain amount of activity (this can be adjusted).  It also gives you a timer and a color code in the menu bar to know when your next break is needed and how excessive your usage is.  Typing really fast for a long period of time?  Take a microbreak.  If you are staring and watching a video, it’s more likely to leave you alone (it will bother you though so best to turn it off during a presentation or a video)

Let me say this:  the product is terribly annoying but that’s a good thing.  I’ll be working right along at a project and “in the zone” and that stupid window pops up asking me to take a deep breath and look away.  I’m way to busy for that- but in reality that’s the point.  I don’t want to feel exhausted, I need to take breaks so that way my hands don’t cramp up or my eyes start bothering me.  Once I accept the importance of taking breaks I really do feel more productive.  The Microbreak shows up as a transparent windows so it can be ignored if you want to, but I warn you it will start annoying you more the more you ignore it.  It’s bothersome without being intrusive.  It nags but doesn’t pester.

Besides the Microbreaks, MacBreakZ also offers tips for stretches throughout the day for various body parts that tend to get fatigued after extended computer usage.

Initially I balked at the price of $25 for a program that simply told me to take a break, but this is really so much more as it adapts to your usage and offers direct suggestions of how to take a break to prevent repetitive stress injury.

If you use your computer for an extended period of time and don’t have the discipline to take a break and stretch, this program is a lifesaver

Pros:  tells you how and when to take a break
Confs: pricing may seem a bit high

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: Raspberry Pi Cookbook

I'll admit that I've always wondered about the Raspberry Pi: the tiny little computer that can do so many things. I wasn't sure where to start since I’ve never used one before.This book was heavy on the ideas and specific ways of utilizing device in a high level technical format.The book jumps right in and ignores the handholding and step by steps I often find in other books and goes right into Python and using GPIO. This isn't a complaint, but these recipes were a bit intimidating.

The middle section of the book was the most interesting:what can you actually do with a PI such as setup a webcam or a game emulator.I would have liked more expansion in this area rather than the heavy programming and hardware interfaces (dip switches and jumpers scare me!)

If you are programer wanting to get into Pi then this is a great book for you, but if you are a hobbyist wanting to simply play with a Pi and see what it can do for you, this may not be the best book

Four out of Five

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

In this post for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I review Garmin's new Head Up Display (HUD)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hardware Review: MyCharge Amp 2000

The Mycharge Amp2000 is a small convenient cylindrical battery pack that has the right balance of portable and power.  Measuring in at 1.3 x 1 x 3.9 inches and a soft rubberized finish on the outside this charger fits just about anywhere:  your pocket, your glove compartment or your carry on giving you that extra boost of power with it’s 2000 mAh battery that can provide up to 9 hours of extra talk time.

The package includes a micro usb cord for charging and the device has a standard USB Output of 1.0A for charging (bring your own charging cable).  Also included is a lanyard that you can use to wear around your neck although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.
A nice easy power boost to get you through the day or an emergency!

Pros:  small, cylindrical, just enough power
Cons:  none

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, August 11, 2013

Hardware Review: MyCharge Hub 6000 calls this ““Swiss Army Knife of portable power devices,” and trademark issues aside they have it right on the money.  Starting off with this is a 6000mAh Lithium Ion battery providing up to 27 hours of talk time.  A battery pack is simply a battery pack, expect when it’s a Hub charger.

This device has a retractable micro-usb and an Apple compatible Lightning connector to charge most modern devices out there as well as a standard USB port to use older devices such as 30-pin or mini-usb cables.  I’m disappointed the 30-pin wasn’t included but I understand Apple has discontinued that style.  All three charging ports (usb, Lightning, Micro) can be used at once allowing you to charge three devices simultaneously.  To charge the pack a retractable AC plug comes out and can plug into a wall and when not in use its well-hidden to prevent snagging.

Aesthetically this device is a beauty and matches Apple’s design style with silver metallic base and white plastic edging (ok black would have been better) and with smooth edges it should easily fit in most backpacks, briefcases and carry ones.

With the right connectors, the power and the style of this battery pack modern road warriors will be able to go all day long without skipping a beat

Pros:  Power, connectors
Cons:  No 30-pin connector

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, August 04, 2013

Hardware Review: MyCharge Peak 6000 Battery Pack

When traveling I can’t seem to get enough power but I absolutely despise filling up my carry on with a bunch of extra chargers and cables.  While there are lots of chargers on the market, this one is as close to all in one as you get with retractable cables and AC adapter as well as a USB port and even an audible indicator telling you what is charging and how much charge is left.  Due its somewhat large size it took up two wall plugins.

Starting off, this has a powerful 6000mAH battery which according to specs provide up to 27 hours of talk time for your (the iPhone has a 1,400 mAH battery).  The device has a built in 30 pin charger (see other products for Lightning adapter) and I can easily put my iPhone on top of the device and charge it without excess cable getting in the way.  In addition to the 30-Pin there is a retractable micro-usb cable as well as a standard USB port and the beauty of this is all three can be used simultaneously so I can charge my phone and Bluetooth headphones at once.

When you plug in a device, an audible alert tells you the device is charging and you can press a button to see how much charge is left in the battery as well as receive an audible indicator.  At a quiet location (think library) this could be annoying but otherwise I found this a great feature because I knew it was working and could quickly tell how much battery is left.

For travel this is the ultimate balance of power and convenience for users of Apple devices pre-iPhone 5 and iPads with Lightning chargers.  If your primary goal is to charge Lightning devices you’d probably be better off with another product but for the rest of us in the 30 pin era this device rocks.

Pros:  Powerful battery, retractable cables and connectors
Cons:  Audible alert could be annoying, no Lightning connector

Five out of Five

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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: Talking to Siri Learning the Language of Apple's Intelligent Assistant (2nd Edition)

Like many iPhone users, Siri was cool at the beginning but I quickly got bored with her and couldn’t really figure out how best to utilize this tool--until I read this book.

Siri is all about asking the right questions and phrasing your requests properly and this book shows you how.  This isn’t about silly games such as “Open the pod bay doors” but powerful syntax to utilize all the functions available to you.

Each chapter examines a different area in which Siri can help you ending up with a quick reference card of the commands.  Until I read this book I barely used Siri, now I can’t live without her!  Some of the tips included in the book is to be sure to use nicknames and create relationships so you can say advanced phrases like “Remind me when I get to the grocery store to buy milk” or “Tell me a gas station on my current route”--complex commands that would take much longer if you had to do them by hand.

If you’ve got Siri on your phone or iPad, get this book!

Five out of Five

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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: Cooking for Geeks

Although I am a geek, I’m not a scientist and this book was really geared more towards chemistry majors as much of it went above my head.  That being said, what I did understand was fascinating.  If you like Alton Brown you’ll love this book because it takes that scientific approach to cooking to the next level.

Presented like a computer manual, each chapter examines a function of cooking such as the hardware, software, variables and methods involved.  In these chapters celebrities and food luminaries are interviewed for their unique perspective on the subject and recipes demonstrating the concepts are also included.  

The book is densely packed with information and if you understand college chemistry and physics you’ll get much more out of this book then I did because I struggled remembering the details of chemical bonds and Kelvin.  Even with those limits, I still struggled with the onslaught of information explaining different tasting patterns and flavor combinations and had to read some chapters more than once.  This isn’t  light fluffy reading but it’s really worth it in the end.  

After this book I was much more empowered to experiment with my cooking and cooking methods and understand why I like certain foods, combinations and cooking methods and why I dislike others.  This is the science behind the art of cooking.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hardware Review: Jawbone UP

The Jawbone UP is Jawbone’s answer to the popular Fitbit fitness monitoring product line.  This water-resistant product is worn around your wrist and will track not just your steps but your sleep as well.  With a variety of colors and sizes this is not only a fitness monitoring tool but a great accessory for you and your iPhone.  The 10-day battery means you don’t have to take it off to charge very often.

The UP measures yours steps throughout the day though has a problem with movement that doesn’t involve the wrist such as biking or an elliptical machine.  You can add those movements manually to the app or put the device in your pocket.  Although it’s water resistant, Jawbone advises against wearing it while swimming or in a long hot shower because long term water contact can cause problems.  My first one had a problem potentially with overflexing the band to fit on my ankle and I was warned the electronics are throughout the whole band and can be damaged.

The UP also measures your sleep quality and will let you take a power nap or set vibrating alarm and be woken up in an optimal time so you aren’t in the middle of a deep sleep and are jarred awake.  This is a great feature for those who have trouble getting up in the morning, although I didn’t notice much of a difference but to be fair I’ve tried other products like this without much success as well.

The way you read the data is through the iOS app and you must plug the device into the headphone jack to get a full read.  It does not sync via Bluetooth or a computer:  a smartphone (though not an iPhone) is required to analyze the data.  Fortunately syncing only take a few seconds so it’s not a big deal.

The food tracking capability of the iPhone app is amazing.  Not only does it have an extensive database of foods but it also allows you track food via scanning bar codes or taking pictures.  No excuses for not watching what you eat.

With all this data of how you move, what you eat and how you sleep, the app offers insights and observations to improve your health and lets you analyze this data on your own to see trends how lack of sleep might cause you to overeat or not exercise enough.  Impressive information for those trying to improve their health.

Built into the app is a team function in which you can work with others to compare fitness goals.  Personally I couldn’t find any friends using the Jawbone UP to compete with (although I had dozens of friends using the Fitbit).  Similar to many technology products, it’s about an installed base.  Fitbit got to the market first with the products and have a large group of users who continue the momentum of the product.  Tides easily turn. so it’s unclear who will win this war.  If competing with others is important to you, be sure other friends have an UP first.

Overall a great product with impressive features to empower you to take control of your health

PROS:  Long battery, wears around the wrist and water resistant
CONS:  A bit delicate, lack of installed base

Four out of Five

Hardware Review: Fitbit Flex

The Flex is the latest fitness monitoring product from Fitbit with a interchangeable wrist strap as well as water resistant electronics than may be worn in the shower or anywhere with brief contact with water.  These features, however come at a price of reduced functionality compared with the One or Ultra and is more like the lower end Fitbit Zip.

The Flex uses the same iOS App and dashboard as the other Fitbit products and can be synced via a USB dongle or directly to your Bluetooth 4.0 iPhone or iPad but does not have a digital display.  To see the actual steps you’ve taken for the day, you’ll need to use the app or view your progress on the Fitbit website.  A series of 5 dots on the Flex tells you how far you’ve made progress towards your goal throughout the day (Five solid dots indicate you’ve met your goal).  Without that display you also lose the stopwatch function, which was a very important part of my workouts.

The Flex does not measure stairs, unlike the Ultra or One, but does measure sleep and provides a vibrating wake up alarm and sleep quality monitoring.  It seems to sit slightly above the Zip but slightly below the One in the product line (though pricing is the same as the One).  Also because you wear it on your wrist, it didn’t register movement on an elliptical trainer, but when I put it in my pocket it worked fine.

All Fitbits feature the ability to compete with your friends to get in a certain number of steps each day regardless of which Fitbit product they have.  If you are motivated by gamification, this is the product to help with your fitness goals.  Fitbits also include a basic food diary for tracking calories, but the third party API’s help extend this feature such as through the Lose It app. The device charges via a USB dongle (but not the same one that enables syncing)

I’ll admit I was first very disappointed with the Flex’s inability to provide immediate readout and track stairs, but I gave up my obsession with knowing the exact number of steps and became satisfied accepting the simple progress bar on the device.  Not having to worry about my Fitbit going through the washing machine and leaving it at home is a strong selling point even with a lack of features.  As I wore it, others noticed and I was able to increase the number of people I competed with in the program.

A solid and reliable addition to the Fitbit product line to motivate you to stay fit.

Pros:  Wear it on your wrist and not worry about water damage or loss, competition among friends
Cons:  Doesn’t track elliptical motion, lack of digital readout

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

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Book Review: Jailbreak!: Free your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

Jailbreaking is one of the more confusing aspects of using an iPhone and this book explains every aspect of jailbreaking:  risks, rewards and caveats in a clear and easy to understand format for even the non-technical people who would never dream of jailbreaking.

First, the author makes clear the distinction between the relatively low risk jailbreaking and the high-risk unlocking.  Jailbreaking is a software modification to your phone that allows you to make changes to the iOS and is legal at least until 2015 in the US.  

Due to the previously questionable legal status of jailbreaking and the risks involved, few of the traditional companies have come out with books on the subject.  That’s a shame because when done properly, jailbreaking is safe and legal and can be quite useful for those who need a bit more features on their iPhone rather than what Apple has to offer.

After explaining what jailbreaking is and why you might do it, the author explains exactly the process of how to do it making sure you can return to factory spec status if necessary. The explanation is detailed although only Mac instructions are included.  Windows users won’t find the same handholding Mac users get in this book.

With your newly jailbroken phone, the next set of chapters introduces the App Store of jailbreakers:  Cydia.  Once you realize that Cydia isn’t some seedy pirate site but a legitimate way to buy apps, it’s really amazing everything that’s out there.  Sure, there are some, pardon the pun, bad Apples out there and the buyer should beware and be aware, ratings and research will keep you safe and the author gives some good guidelines on staying away from problem apps.

Finally, armed with a jailbroken phone and a Cydia account, the world is your oyster for tweaks, modifications, and enhancements of your iOS device.  Fun stuff like themes and visual effects to more practical items such as home screen shortcuts and ways to sweep up your iPhone and increase your battery life.  Awesome functionality that Apple frequently includes in the next versions of iOS.  Want iOS 7 functionality now?  Much of it is already available to jailbroken phones.

Most of all this book gives the reader confidence to give it a go realizing they won’t damage their phone, void their warranty or go to jail and, if they don’t like it, they can easily revert back to a stock version.  Don’t pay some questionable tech from Craigslist to jailbreak your iPhone:  do it yourself!.

Pros:  Great explanation of the features and the slight risks of jailbreaking
Cons:  Could use better instructions for those on Windows.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Software Review: Mailplane for Gmail

I’m a huge Mailplane fan and was using the beta for quite a while and fell in love. Mailplane simply put is a dedicated Gmail browser. Why do you need one? Many reasons.

The most obvious one is the fact it allows you to log into multiple Gmail accounts at once on different pages. Sure you can do this with two different browsers or use some of Gmail’s built in capabilities, but this does it all for you automatically in a dedicated fashion. Open it up and you have distinct pages for each Gmail account as well as optionally ones for the calendars. The menu bar icon indicates how many emails are in each account and color codes the different account.

In daily usage, I absolutely rely on Gmail and using it in Safari has caused me problems. Safari slows down, plugins such as Flash crash, and I often have to restart Safari. Even when Safari is acting flaky Mailplane allows me to keep on working while Safari is being annoying. Yes, I could use an alternate browser and have less problems than Safari has, but I love my dedicated email system has a dedicated program for it.

Mailplane just doesn’t deliver up multiple Gmail accounts but allows you to customize the toolbar to dedicate key functions to it such as easily adding attachments, screenshots and clippings to evernote. Opening your Gmail in the browser misses this functionality and each browser handles such situations differently. This is a unified experience independent how your Gmail or browser is setup. Operations such as marking items as trash, starred or spam work regardless of what Gmail view you are in because they are in the Mailplane toolbar.

To increase reliability of Gmail, Mailplane allows you to block ads as well as Gmail chat so that way your Gmail is quick and efficient while operating. Ultimately it uses the same engine as Safari, so it does tend to lock up about as much as Safari, but since it’s focused exclusively on Gmail this happens much less frequently and the program loads your email quickly after restarting it.

Serious Gmail users need to get this program and those of us that use multiple Gmail accounts absolutely need to get this quality program. I simply can’t imagine using Gmail without and when I’m forced to use something else Gmail simply loses something for me.

Pros: Perfect program for Gmail users
Cons: Can be as unreliable as Safari

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, June 18, 2013

Book Review: Windows 8 The Missing Manual

Like many users I was initially very skeptical of Windows 8.  The changes were not intuitive and the removal of the Start menu in exchange for the Start screen is downright confusing.  However this book does an excellent job of explaining the interface for desktop users. Windows 8 the missing manual is a great companion for any Windows 8 user.
Typical of the Missing Manual series this includes an in depth analysis of the 20% of the features you’ll use 80% of the time while still introducing the list of features you’ll use that extra 20% of the time.  No stone is left unturned, but the presentation is straightforward and easy to understand without being overwhelming.
When presenting functions, both the “Tile World” (Start Screen) and traditional desktop interfaces are covered.  While the basics are reviewed, missing from the book are the detailed troubleshooting steps I’ve seen in previous versions, but ideally Windows 8 should have less problems.  In particular, the appendix translating XP/Vista/7 functions into Windows 8 is a must have guide for anyone who is a bit perplexed by what changed in Windows 8.
If Microsoft issued this with every Windows 8 machine, people might actually start enjoying the new operating system.  I sure did!

Pros: Excellent support for Windows 8 key features
Cons: None!

Five out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Software Review: Camtasia Screen Recording software

Camtasia is a program for recording and annotating audio and video captured from your Mac commonly known as screencasting. I’ve used other programs in the past to do raw captures from my Mac and then did the painful editing in iMovie and GarageBand but Camtasia does everything with an intuitive and easy to use Mac interface.

I’m an extreme novice when it comes to audio and video editing and still was able to get the functionality I needed from this program. It treats audio and video like Pages treats words. SImple and easy editing. The help screen combined with online tutorials (screencasts in and of themselves) gave me the skills I needed to get up to speed. After I got down these basics, the hardest part wasn’t using the Camtasia tool but the direct aspects of my presentation such as timing and my script. When a tool gets out of the way and let’s you do the work that’s a win in my book.

Besides audio and video editing, Camtasia provides tools for highlighting and annotating the screen with features like greying out passwords or dimming part of the screen as well as a huge list of features I’ve only scratched the surface on. Getting down the basics of a presentation is easy and the toolbox provides transitions and effects that are designed to be used with scalpel like precision rather than strewn about the video-similar to Keynote or Powerpoint.

After you’ve tweaked the screencast just right, Camtasia makes it easy to export it depending on what device you are showing the screencast on and directly exporting it to youtube.

Nicely priced at $99.00 this is an ideal program for anyone that has to train or market towards others. User groups will love this program being able to walk their members through a short training session. Ironically while the PC version has few more features than the Mac version, it’s 3 times the price at $299.

Pros: Easy to learn, nicely priced.
Cons: Really none that I can see.

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, April 28, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Review: Mac Hacks: Tips & Tools for unlocking the power of OS X

A great example about “never judge a book by it’s cover” I expected this book to be a book about how to get the most out of OS X. Tips and tricks to extend the OS beyond what Steve Jobs envisioned. While a few gems were included, most of the tips had nothing to do with the power of OS X and more about hardware and many of the tips were only marginally Mac related such as securing a Linksys router or using a Wii Remote with your Mac.

These tips and projects were either extremely basic such as installing and backing up Mountain Lion (sigh) or completely unproductive and complex projects such as a dye job for your Macbook. I was particularly annoyed with the chapter on torrents which didn’t cover the risks of malware (rare, but not impossible on the Mac) and the legal and copyright implications of doing so. That was completely unacceptable in my opinion.

Read the table of contents and see if these projects interest you and if so, the book may be for you but for most people this won’t increase their productivity or “unlock the power of OS X”. I found the book had some amusing ideas and a series of tricks that were cool but nothing to write home (or a book about).

Pros: Interesting projects and a few helpful tips
Cons: Little in productivity or value enhancement for your Mac

Two 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, April 14, 2013

Book Review: Master your Mac

Too often computer books are written for either beginners or programmers. Very few intermediate books truly exists but this is the “just right” level for an experienced Mac user who wants to take his or her experience to the next level without learning programming or spending hours at a command prompt. This is the book for the rest of us who want just a little more from their daily experiences.
Instead of reading like a manual this book is in a “cookbook” style with various recipes you can try divided up into sections such as automation, productivity and security. Each recipe includes a justification for the project and tells you the very basics of how to do it primarily to help the reader reach that intermediate level. After establishing the basics, Cone suggests configurations and software to take it to the next level. The built-in functions of Spotlight are great, but programs such as Alfred build on that skill set and make your Mac usage experience extraordinary.

I was initially skeptical, but pleasantly surprised by this book. I expected a series of simple tips and tricks I already knew or topics so advanced and complex that it simply wasn’t worth my time “trying” these ideas. The book has a perfect balance of suggestions and project that can really enhance your Mac. Sure, I could research programs in the App store or online but this book curates all those thousands of programs into a series of basic ideas and solving of problems. Use your Mac with an external monitor? An entire chapter covers little things you can do to prevent annoyances such as knowing where your menu bar is or the annoying resizing of windows when you disconnect your monitor.

Experienced Mac users will benefit most from this book, but even beginners who simply want more will find a great series of ideas in this book. These chapters solve problems intermediate users experience and beginners haven’t quite hit the wall yet.

One of the best books on the Mac I’ve read in recent years and makes a great gift for any Mac user that wants to be more productive and efficient without investing too much time or energy.

Pros: Outstanding series of ways to use your Mac better with detailed instruction
Cons: The book quickly needs a version 2 because I finished the book wanting more of the same.

Five out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Book Review: Mac Kung Fu

While the Mac is generally perfect as is with its intuitive interface and easy to understand menus and help screens, a group of Mac users simply want more out of their systems. They know the Mac can do more, but can’t quite figure out what they need. Similarly, the Mac has annoyances and quirks a user has learned to live with, but might like the Mac even more if they could only change some aspect of how it works. This book is for that group!

The ideal audience of this book is an intermediate Mac user who isn’t afraid of making changes to program settings or going into terminal and typing a command or two. Knowledge of UNIX or programming isn’t required, just an adventuresome attitude and a willingness to learn.

Most of the tips were commands and functions I never knew existed and wasn’t looking for them but now that I’ve found them I couldn’t imagine life without them. For example, a simple terminal command will turn off that annoying question about using TIme Machine on a new hard drive when it’s plugged in. Another amazing tip is being able to show the full path names of file locations in the title bar. Saves me the confusion of knowing which disk is the original and which is the copy.
Probably all of these commands, tips, and tricks can be found online somewhere but Kung Fu puts it all together from a reliable source so you can take your Mac skills to the next level.

Pros: Amazing tips and tricks
Cons: No blackbelt issued at the end

Five out of Five Dogcows

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Wordpress the missing manual

The missing manual series consistently provides an excellent guide to every aspect of the program or product and this interation in the series is no exception.

Since Wordpress is more of a service than an actual product, the author faced a unique challenge of making it relevant and useful without get stuck by the fact that Wordpress does frequent updates and tweaks to its products. The features were presented in such a way that they empowered the reader to understand the concept and not get caught up in the very detailed aspects of features that could change over time such as where an option is located or which menu to click on. This was less of a tutorial and exercise based book but rather an exhaustive feature guide that didn't get bogged down in overly technical aspects such as the nitty gritty of php or sql databases and was written from an end user perspective. The book mostly ignored fluffy discussions of why you should blog or what you should blog about and keep it all about setup, usage, and maintenance.

The flow of the book assumes no prior knowledge of blogs hosted by Wordpress or self-hosted blogs and clear distinctions were made where applicable between the two versions. After reviewing setup and installation the book talks about how to enrich your blog with media, pages, and comments and then eventually going into the advanced concepts of plugins and multiple authors and then finally turning a blog into a full-fledged website which is all the rage today. This flow allows someone already familiar with how to setup Wordpress to pick up the book to start where the reader's individual skill set ended.

Even though I am an experienced user of Wordpress, the sections on plugins and optimizing the use thereof was extremely helpful and the index was invaluable when I got stuck on a particular feature. Great book for someone who wants to move beyond simply writing a blog and work on taking ownership of it without paying a consultant or designer to do so.

Five out of Five Dogcows