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technotes

Apple's latest offerings don't disappoint

posted by Kristin Lynch

Jun 11

Apple WWDC 2010 Keynote AddressListening to Apple's keynote address at WWDC on Monday, I was struck by the audience's reaction. Since the WWDC audience consists primarily of application developers and technology media, it's fair to assume that they've done more than their share of speculation about what will be announced. Yet they still manage to react like giddy children at a magic show - oohing and aahing with excitement.

And I reacted the same way, though I oohed in the privacy of my living room in front of my MacBook Pro - simultaneously listening to the keynote (and occasionally watching it as video feeds became available for short periods), watching podcasts, following a chat feed and live tweeting the entire experience to grateful friends who were unable to participate. We all had expectations of what would be revealed surrounding Mac OS 10.7 (Lion), iOS 5 and iCloud. Our speculation was accurate while allowing Steve Jobs the satisfaction of still being able to provide us with a few surprises.

Some highlights:

Mac OS 10.7 (Lion)

250 new features, including multitouch gestures, fullscreen apps, Mission Control, Launchpad, Versions, Airdrop and new email functionality. Available only through the Mac App Store starting in July, and at a very reasonable price of $30 for up to 5 devices. Sweet.

iOS 5

More than 200 new features for our iPhones and iPads, including the much awaited new notifications system. No more annoying popups that must be attended to immediately. Awesomesauce. A new iBooks type of application specifically geared for newspapers and magazines called Newstand. Seamless Twitter integration. New Safari features such as tabbed browsing and page saving. A new reminders 'to do' list application. Improvements to their already impressive and popular camera - such as faster loading, pinch zoom, auto-exposure, red eye reduction and more. New mail features and a new messaging client. Most importantly, we're FINALLY PC Free! We will no longer be required to use the archaic method of connecting our devices to cables in order to install and update content. We'll also enjoy over the air 'delta' updates, resulting in smaller, faster downloads. Biggest surprise? iOS 5 will work on iPhones back to the 3GS. Most of us assumed iOS 5 would only be made available for the iPhone 4 and 5.

iCloud 

No more MobileMe. Even Steve made a joke about MobileMe, one of the only self-proclaimed 'failures' in the Apple product line. iCloud will replace MobileMe and provide much more functionality - while at the same time eliminating the $99 yearly fee. iCloud becomes your content source, wirelessly and seamlessly integrating content between your devices. Your documents, bookmarks, messages, etc. all save automatically to the cloud. Get a new iPhone? Just enter your Apple ID and your data restores itself the new device. Photos will automatically be stored between your Mac and iOS devices. Music and other iTunes content will also be available immediately across your devices. iTunes Match is a new product that allows users to access their iTunes content across devices, regardless of where it was purchased. To those of us with huge libraries of content purchased outside of iTunes, it is very reasonably priced at $25/year.

My only disappointment? That more wasn't made immediately available to consumers. I realize the address was intended for developers, but I was still hoping that at least iOS 5 and iCloud would be available same day as the keynote. But once again, Apple leaves us happily excited about their new products, and even happier that most of the new offerings won't even require us to open our wallets.
If you're like me, you rely on your Mac's dock to access a lot of the applications and files you use the most. Sure, there are other ways to access your apps - Spotlight, Alfred, Quicksilver, Google Quick Search Box - but the dock is still commonly used for launching. And if you're like me, you have an annoying tendency to occasionally click on the wrong application icon. ARGH! So when I came across this solution, I thought it was worth trying.

Group Your Icons 

Group your applications by type and add spacers to separate the groups. The trick requires Terminal, but don't worry - it's two lines of code you can copy and paste.

1. Launch Terminal. You'll find Terminal under Applications/Utilities.

2. Enter this line of code. Don't be a hero - just make it easy on yourself and copy and paste this into your Terminal screen, then hit ENTER:

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add '{tile-data={}; tile-type="spacer-tile";}'

3. Paste the code a few more times, hitting ENTER after each instance. Each instance will create another spacer tile.

4. Enter this line of code into your Terminal screen, to reset your dock:

killall Dock

Now you will see a large space on the right side of your dock. Mouse over the area and click-and-hold to move a spacer to a new spot on your dock. Do this with the other spacers. Removing spacers is just as easy as removing an icon on your dock. Just drag it out of the dock and POOF!



Add a Recent Applications Folder

Another way to add a little extra functionality to your dock is to add a Recent Applications folder, to sit alongside your Applications and Downloads folders. The instructions are very similar to adding spacers:

1. Launch Terminal. You'll find Terminal under Applications/Utilities.

2. Enter this line of code - make it easy on yourself and just copy and paste this into your Terminal screen, then hit ENTER:

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'

3. Enter this line of code into your Terminal screen, to reset your dock:

killall Dock

Once the dock resets, you will see this new item. Right-click on the folder to change your view options. That's it!
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KC Munchkin!

posted by Kristin Lynch

Jan 11

I'm feeling a little retro today. Watching '70s Tech' on 'Modern Marvels' at lunchtime got me looking for YouTube videos about the old Magnavox Odyssey Video Game System we had back in the late 70s-early 80s. All of our friends had Atari systems, so we had no idea what to expect from this system when we unwrapped it on Christmas morning. It didn't take long for me to get hooked on the games and find many ways where I thought it was superior to the Atari.

Some of my favorite games - bowling, football and KC Munchkin. KC Munchkin was similar to PacMan but once you played it, you'd notice several differences. It was released after the PacMan arcade version, but prior to the PacMan video cartridge version. The video here shows what it looked like:

 

Here's another one for their golf game:

 

Go ahead and laugh. This was SO COOL when it came out. I should call my Dad and see if he's come across our old system in the basement. I might want to hook it up!
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OK, so what if you could do some good without doing anything - and doing it all for FREE? You'd say 'yeah, um...sure sign me up. I'm all for helping where I can and this 'free' thing sounds right within my budget'. Well now you can with DoGood. Simply put, DoGood is a browser plug-in that replaces website ads with ads promoting their stash of charitable organizations and public service announcements. Their website puts it somewhat better:

The DoGood browser plug-in hides the generic advertising you see on the Internet, and shows you thoughtful green related initiatives, philanthropic calls for action, and health and wellness ideas instead. We then donate 50% of our profits back to charity, green initiatives, and non-profit organizations.

Now if you're an advertiser, you're starting to freak out - thinking your paid ads aren't being seen. Hold on. DoGood doesn't block paid ads and doesn't mess with your CPM agreements. Yeah, you're still getting paid. What's more, users can easily switch to see your ads. But what if you run a green or charitable website? Simply add your site to their whitelist, exempting yourself from this service. This will ensure that only your own ads appear on your site.

For someone like me who would gladly donate more if I could, this just makes sense. I seldom pay much attention to ads anyway, and now that I'm using this I have actually learned a few interesting facts. Did you know it takes 958 liters of water to make one liter of orange juice? Or that 40% of the lead found in landfills is a consequence of e-waste?

Install the browser plug-in (PC and Mac: Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer) and you're done. You'll notice a little green leaf at the bottom right of your browser showing the number of good ideas you've seen during that browsing session. You can easily right-click within any site to turn off the plug-in for that site. Go to www.dogoodhq.com to find out more.
My old Linksys headphones were seeing much less use, mostly because they couldn't hold a charge very long, and less so because the ear thingies kept falling off. The sound quality was OK, but nothing to tweet about.

Not having a good set of headphones wasn't a big deal - until I realized it was causing me to work away from home less often. I always use my headphones when I'm working on my laptop in public. And I get some of my best work done when I'm working somewhere other than home - such as Panera Bread.

Don't get me wrong. I love working from home. But sometimes I need to really concentrate on nothing but work and working at home can have its own challenges and distractions. I will often work at home with the TV off, no music, sleeping cats - all I should need for a conducive work environment. But other distractions can arise - noisy neighbors, phone calls, cats flying across the room playing and running around the house, a thousand and one other things that need to be done around here. When I work away from home, in spite of the other obvious distractions of working in public, there's nothing else to do BUT work, and sometimes that's exactly what I need in order to get things done.

So I needed a new pair of headphones.

I was primarily looking for something with great sound and battery life, with features like wireless and comfort also being very important. I'm not a big fan of the ear buds. I used to think I must just be an oddball because buds hurt my little ear holes¹, but then noticed a lot of similar complaints on the Internet and a larger selection of non-bud earphone products. I'm obviously not alone. I've had several pairs of headphones over the years from a variety of different brands (Sony, Linksys, Motorola, etc.) so I think I know what to expect in terms of quality and price.

I found a great set at Best Buy - Rocketfish Bluetooth HD stereo headphones. I like the Rocketfish brand and when presented with the opportunity to buy one of their products, I'll willingly spend the extra cash. I have yet to be disappointed in the quality of their products - from HDMI and Ethernet cables, to media readers and other small computer-related peripherals. Surprisingly, these headphones were only $60 - much less than you'll find with other similar quality headphones. AND, you can answer phone calls with them too. This feature alone makes this product even more impressive at this price.

Here are the specs for the Rocketfish™ Mobile - RF-MAB2 High-Definition Stereo Bluetooth Headphones (borrowed from Best Buy's web site):

What's Included

•    Rocketfish™ Mobile Bluetooth High-Definition Stereo Headphones
•    USB charging cable
•    AC adapter
•    Owner's manual

Product Features

•    Compatible with most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, MP3 players and other audio devices - with a stereo A2DP Bluetooth profile for wide-ranging compatibility.
•    Comfortable behind-the-head design
 - with foam ear pads for a comfortable fit.
•    4 high-definition audio settings
 - deliver enhanced audio quality for customizable listening.
•    Up to 14 hours of use per charge - along with up to 340 hours of standby time for extended use.

What I like most so far:

1. The product feels comfortable. The molded ear thingies¹ fit well and don't get lost since they're not separate attachments. You wear them behind your head so they're out of your way².

2. The sound quality is phenomenal. When I test sound quality, I generally use songs by The Beatles since I'm very familiar with every nuance of most songs. I tested the headphones first using the intro to 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' since it starts with crowd noise and then blends into the music. 'A Day in the Life' is another song I like to use for testing - lots of different sounds at different ranges and levels. These headphones picked up everything I expected to hear very clearly. Even better? You can choose between 4 HD settings. I tried them all and can see where I might switch from one to another based on what I'm listening to, but they all sound great. I'm sorry, but I'm not a sound expert so I can't speak the lingo and give you anything more scientific other than 'they sound great'.

3. The device holds a charge for days, not minutes. I don't have enough field test time yet to be able to tell you specifically how much time a charge will run - just that I've been impressed so far.

4. The controls are easy to use.  One set of rocker buttons handle play/pause and call answer, another set of rocker buttons handle fast forward or reverse (tap to skip, hold pressed to scan). Yet another set of rocker buttons handle volume up/down. 5. Easy setup. Sure, Bluetooth is supposed to be easy to set up. But with some products it can be a little frustrating. I paired this device with my iPhone and my MacBook Pro - total time less than 20 seconds.

What I don't like so far:

Nothing. These are a great set, and actually less expensive than I've seen in inferior products.

¹Yeah, OK so I can't remember what the actual term is for 'ear holes' and I'm too lazy to look it up.

²I laughed when I read the reviews for this product on Best Buy's web site. A few customers were ticked off because the headphones 'don't fit over their head very well and barely touch their ears', obviously not realizing that these are a behind-the-head design. Otherwise, the reviews are all very complimentary about the product.
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