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Coming Soon – iLap

I just placed an order for a laptop stand called the iLap. It has gotten stellar reviews everywhere I have looked, including one from Alex King.

Why am I getting this?

  • While my Macbook by no means is burning hot, it does get very warm and sometimes toasty. Forget about putting it on your lap as well. The iLap is designed to really cool down laptops due to increased airflow and a design that acts like a heatsink.
  • I have lately been having some minor ergonomic issues when using the computer. Little things like neck craps or sore wrists every once in awhile. Work has been great about getting me all fixed up on that end, but I think I need to do something here at home. Enter the iLap, which is supposedly designed specifically to help with ergonomic issues.
  • It just plain looks cool.

Anyways, the 13 inch model of the iLap (which is designed specifically for the Macbook) isn’t released yet, but I was able to pre order it. Total price of $56 is well worth it in my opinion if it does what it claims. We will see in a month, when these are supposed to start shipping.

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The great Mac browser test

A little late on the first installment of the the Great Mac Browser Test. For a little over a week, the lone web browser I used was Safari, in an attempt to give it an honest try without switching to other browsers.

Here are a list of great benefits I discovered using Safari:

  • Safari is one extremely fast browser when it came to rendering. Very hard to get Safari to lock up while loading a web page, even one heavy on graphics, Flash, and JavaScript like many MySpace pages are clogged with.
  • The very simple interface put the focus on web browsing and getting things done, instead of tinkering.
  • The font rendering is excellent. Some web pages just seem to jump out differently just because of the little differences in font rendering.

The things I did not like:

  • Very little ability to customize. There are add-ons for Safari, but in my experience they tend to be rather clunky, bloated, and buggy.
  • Many web sites I use don’t work or have elements of the pages that don’t work. A great example: the rich text editing buttons that you see on forums or even on WordPress to make a post…most do not work with Safari, but work fine in Firefox and Camino.
  • Tab Browsing is too simple. No ability to force new windows to open in tabs for example, which makes it really hard to jump around different pages that are open the same time
  • No easy way that I can see to add search engines to the search box
  • It would be nice if you could customize Safari easily, like you can with Firefox’s extensions.
  • No unified UI. Brushed Metal is so dated looking

Verdict: Safari has lots of potential if its annoying little quirks are worked out. If it actually worked with some of the web sites I must use, I may even switch to it. However, the big deal breaker is the lack of tabbed browsing options…Safari just does not let me be productive enough when I surf online.

Next Up: Camino

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Easy sharing of printers between Macs and PCs

Recently I couldn’t get a printer connected to my Macbook to work on a Windows XP Home computer. The XP Home computer kept asking for a username and password every time the XP Home computer would reboot, without a way to save it for future use (thanks Microsoft).

I found a drop-dead solution that I wish I had known about earlier. Macs come with a piece of software called Bonjour that allows them to easily share printers/files, chat on IM programs, and so on. Well they also have a Windows version of that technology!

So on the Windows XP Home computer, I went to the download page for Bonjour 1.0.3 and downloaded the 14.2 MB file. A quick install and an icon appeared on the desktop for Bonjour. Double-clicking the icon allowed me to choose from a list of printers which ones I would like to install and in just a couple of steps the printer was all installed on the Windows computer.

I plan on installing Bonjour on my parents laptop and my brother Dan’s laptop so when I’m home, I can easily use their printers. Much easier then dealing directly with the awful printer sharing that Windows has.

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The backup strategy

A week ago the Windows machine decided that it was a good time for its hard drive to die. I lucked out and was able to get the data off of the drive before it passed the point of no return. Since then, I have worked hard on implementing a nightly backup strategy for both my Mac and the Windows machine.

Prior to a week ago, I did backups only when I remembered, which was once every few months if I was lucky. A horrible policy, especially for someone who makes a living in the IT business and have seen clients lose data in the past due to no backups. I was determined to get things done right this time.

The Mac side of things is pretty simple. I did some searches and came up with a program called SuperDuper! that made backing up as easy as it gets. I already had an external 120 GB hard drive, so the storage was taken care of. A few clicks and presto, I had a backup at 1:30 AM every day of the week of all of my user files. Couldn’t have been any easier. I just have to remember to keep the external hard drive on at all times.

I am still working on the Windows side of things to get that machine backed up. I need to experiment with SuperDuper! to make sure it can backup a Windows machine over the network. It looks like I can do it, but it might take some tweaking to get everything working right. That is my project for this week. The good news is that backup will be really quick…only Katie uses that computer and her data storage needs are slim outside of pictures and music. If I backup 3 GB of data I would be shocked.

I also plan on doing the following:

  • Do at least a quarterly backup of all files onto DVD’s and store them offsite, securely.
  • Find a way to make my 120 GB external hard drive be connected directly to the network. This would allow both computers (the Mac and PC) to access the drive independently, which would be useful if one of the computers is offsite. This also means if one computer fails on the backup due to software issues, the other computer will still backup (hopefully).
  • Get UPS’ for the router/modem and each computer. That way everything is protected from lightning strikes and power surges. Would be nice if I could get at least on TV on them too.
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The great Mac browser test

I have decided to embark on a test of epic proportions.

For the next month, I am going to use exclusively one web browser per week on my Mac. At the end of each week, I will do a write-up on my experiences with the web browser I used, the pros/cons, and whether I would consider switching to that browser.

Why am I doing this? Quite simple. I am very unsatisfied with browsing the web on Macs and need to see if I can find something that matches my needs.

The schedule:

  • Week 1 – Apple Safari 2.0.4
  • Week 2 – Opera 9
  • Week 3 – Mozilla Camino 1.0.2
  • Week 4 – Mozilla Firefox 1.5.0.4
  • The Verdict

The reason I am limiting this test to the four browsers above are the following.

  1. I want free web browsers. OmniWeb does not qualify.
  2. I want to set a reasonable date in the near future for this test to complete (so I picked a month
  3. I want to use web browsers that a normal Mac user could end up using and downloading.

The first installment of this test, with Apple Safari, will be posted by next Sunday.

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EasyEnvelopes Widget

One of the neatest Dashboard widgets I have come across is EasyEnvelopes. EasyEnvelopes allows you to easily print envelopes. It even integrates with your Address Book. Way cool.

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Backups are good

So last night at around midnight, Katie’s Toshiba laptop (which was my laptop until I switched to Macs full-time back in April) decided to freeze and give a very nice blue screen.

I should have wrote it down, but the blue screen looked really really bad. As if something was wrong with one of the computer’s drives.

I attempted to reboot and got a message about IDE #0 missing. Lovely, a hard drive crash.
Just make most PC users, Katie does not keep backups. Just like most busy geeks, I never got around to doing it for her. I also never implemented a backup strategy for my Mac. It was always one of those “oh, let’s run a manual backup” moments that happens maybe once a month.”

Luckily at my old job, I had run into so many dead hard drives that I knew how to resurrect them briefly to get the data off of them. So I decided to wait 10 minutes, hoping that perhaps the hard drive was overheating.

That worked. Luckily, she isn’t a heavy computer user…she had at most around 2 GB of data to backup. I was able to boot into Windows and burn most of her data (documents, photos, and music) onto two CD’s. Then the computer blue screened again. I waited another 10 minutes and got the computer to boot up again. The rest of the data I threw onto my flash drive, since it was much faster then burning a CD.

I learned some important lessons last night:

  • Never assume the user has their own backups. Odds are, they won’t. A backup plan is a MUST.
  • Always buy the extended warranty with a laptop. This incident, combined with when the laptop’s fan decided to die, should now total up more then the cost of the extended warranty itself.

Today I am going to BestBuy to drop off the laptop for repair. In the meantime, Katie and I will be sharing the Macbook for probably the next two weeks.

Always take the time make sure you have a proper backup strategy. I am going to spend part of today looking at Mac backup programs and getting it all configured. I hope I can use it to also backup Katie’s laptop (when it is repaired) over the network.

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Random thoughts

Some random thoughts from the past week:

  • Brought my Macbook over to the Genius Bar at the Salem Apple Store and after some tests, both of us agreed that the Superdrive needed to be replaced. He said they would order the parts and in 3-5 business days they will give me a call to schedule the repair. I hope this fixes the problem that I have with ripping some CD’s on my Macbook.
  • Katie’s portable CD player that she has had since freshman year of college has finally bit the dust. So we went out to BestBuy and bought an iHome iH5, which is a clock AM/FM radio that lets you dock your iPod into it as well. What a fantastic little radio. We spent all afternoon/night cleaning out the bedroom and listening to it. Great quality (especially for the price) and worked as advertised. Plus it is simple. What a concept.
  • We had an interesting weekend. Drove up to my parents house Friday night. Then early Saturday we had a three car caravan to my uncle’s house in Connecticut for a family reunion. First time in four years or so that  I have seen many of my cousin’s on my Dad’s side of the family. Good to see everyone. Oh and I learned I sucked at darts.
  • Because my company has placed in the top 5 for best small companies to work at, we were all given today (July 3rd) as a paid holiday in addition to tomorrow’s Independence Day holiday. Nothing better then four day weekends. I love working here.
  • I think I have settled on Camino for my web browser. The latest builds for what will become Camino 1.1 include opening new windows in tabs…a feature that I cannot live without. I keep trying Safari and just cannot use it…just doesn’t do what I need it to do. Firefox is alright, but it needs some much love on OS X.
  • I showed my Mom how iPhoto works. She wants a Mac now. Badly.
  • I just found out that the iPod Mini either does not support SoundCheck when the audio is coming via the dock connector or that it is a bug. That sucks and I doubt it will ever get fixed at this point. Maybe this is an excuse to buy a new iPod…must resist temptation.