Why I love Google Reader

A week or two ago, Google Reader was completely redesigned. At the time, I was using NewsFire, a very solid newsreader for OS X. However, there were many minor quirks that got to me.

The new Google Reader resolved those quirks. I cannot get enough of it now. What do I love about the new version?

  • Works a lot like how Bloglines works, except it seems faster and is designed much better.
  • Subscribing to feeds is so easy. Just type in the name of the site. Type it in perfectly and Google Reader will just autosubscribe to it. If there is any doubt, it will give you a few choices and let you pick which one to subscribe to.
  • With one click you can star an item to look at later. Invaluable when you are doing just a quick scan over your unread items and want to go back to an item later on.
  • With one click you can share an item. I can then share these to anyone who wants to check out what I have been reading. I can also subscribe to share feeds from other people. So if you were using Google Reader, I can see what you share!
  • I can easily tag and organize my feeds.
  • It has keyboard shortcuts that work real well.

My only complaints?

  • Can’t add a feed to a folder when you first subscribe to it. You have to go to Manage Subscriptions and organize it after the fact. Annoying, but it is a workaround that works.
  • Can’t sort by oldest items first. Since many of my feeds require me to keep up on older posts first, this isn’t good. However, a workaround is to scroll down all the way on the all items list until you hit the bottom, then work your way up the list.

I highly recommend Google Reader for anyone that is trying to keep track of web sites they read. Try it out today.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Virus/phishing hybrid?

Ed Bott is reporting that some customers of American Express have experienced a new type of phishing that at least I haven’t seen yet. It looks like it is some type of spyware/malware on a computer that recognizes when you visit a site like American Express.

Extremely scary and I cannot imagine how many people are getting hit by this or other similar scams. Without up-to-date antivirus software, installing a hardware firewall, spyware potection, Windows Update always checking/installing updates, switching to Firefox, even switching to a Mac, etc….I don’t know what else can be done.

Problem is, I’d say a good 80+% of users have no clue about how to protect a computer properly. I fear it is going to get even worse as these bad guys get even better in hiding their work on unsuspecting computers.

It is the one thing I worry about when I visit friends or relatives. Without me constantly watching their comptuers, I just know at some point something will slip through a crack and cause some real pain, not something that a simple virus/spyware scan will resolve.

2006 Predictions

Well everyone is doing them, so I might as well join in…

  • Apple will come out with at least one Intel laptop in January and will completely switch to an Intel-based lineup by Fall 2006.
  • Firefox will reach 15% of the browser market.
  • I will not get in 1 car accident in 2006. I already passed my quota in 2005.
  • Windows Vista will be delayed and won’t be released in 2006.
  • IE 7 will be a flop in terms of reversing IE’s slide in the browser market.
  • Web applications (Gmail, Flickr, Writely, etc.) will become mainstream.
  • Someone will figure out how to make all of the files from these web apps to be synced with your computer, so you basically have access to them wherever you go.
  • Google will finally release Google Calender and completely take over that market.
  • Google will finally give you the ability to upload old e-mail archives to Gmail.
  • Someone will figure out how to do put a fully functional and usable office suite online.
  • A plugin to search Gmail will be released to Spotlight.
  • Mozilla Lightning actually makes an appearance. Whether it will actually be usable at that point is another question entirely.
  • GTalk and AIM will finally chat together. Everyone will switch to Google Talk or compatible 3rd-party client as a result, resulting in AIM being relegated to people who don’t know better.
  • Skype will open its network up to other providers.
  • The major IM networks will finally work with each other. No longer do you need 3 IM clients.
  • A Web 2.0 startup will actually not sell itself after generating buzz.
  • Apple will make iWork into a full-fledged Microsoft Office kiler.
  • Apple’s marketshare will reach 8 percent.
  • Apple somehow makes iPhoto better the Picasa.