Category Archives: Technology

Favorite OSX Applications

Here are a few of my favorite Mac applications. These are mostly generic applications useful to most people using a Mac. I do of course have plenty of task-specific and domain-specific applications I use, but those are a topic for a later post.

Clipboard (cut-and-paste) history

Jumpcut

There are many applications that do this, or do this as part of doing all kinds of other application-launching tasks, but this simple utility is the one I’ve used forever. I cannot imagine how people use Macs (or any computer) without a clipboard history.

Online backup

Arq

This is a straightforward and reliable backup tool that let’s use use backends like Amazon and Google for data storage.
Sure, I have a nice little Time Capsule for local backups, but repeat after me “It’s not backed up until it’s offsite”. And using something like Amazon’s Glacier storage means it can be economical to back up large data sets.

Retina Mac Display Resolution Setting

Eye-Friendly

Yes, the Settings app lets you set display resolutions, but with nowhere near the level of control that this utility provides.

Disk Usage

DaisyDisk

If you want to see what is using up space on your disk, this tool is a beautiful way to do it!

Disk Cloning

Carbon Copy Cloner

So there are really three pillars that make up a comprehensive backup strategy.

  1. Local and very frequent – Time Capsule
  2. Offsite – Arq
  3. Local and immediate restoration – Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy Cloner is the tool to use for making a bootable backup, or when migrating to a new hard drive.
If you are in a situation where waiting to restore from a Time Capsule, or offline, would result in excessive downtime, a CCC backup is the fastest way to get things working again.

Monitor Everything

iStat Menus

When you want to go many many steps beyond Apple’s Activity Monitor, iStat Menus is there.
Incredible detail and monitoring of your network connection, voltages, temperatures, memory, CPU and more.
Maybe it’s just my love of gauges and dials, but I really like knowing whats going on inside the shiny box.

Other Tools

In no particular order, here are a few other tools that I find useful, but not everyone will:

  • Simplenote by Automattic
  • The Unarchiver by Dag Agren
  • Transmit by Panic
  • VLC

E-Books Update for Early 2014

Just wanted to give an update on my slow but steady transition to E-Books – a process that took on new urgency when we went from suburban life to apartment renters in downtown San Diego.

As someone who has spent a lifetime collecting, reading, and cherishing physical books, this has been a challenging journey. As the technology gets better, it has become easier though.

With my latest acquisition of the new Nook Glowlight (the one released at the end of 2013, not to be confused with the Nook SimpleTouch Glowlight which was its predecessor) this transition has become even easier to accept.

In the beginning, E-Books were read either on a Mac or PC, and the mobile hardware was pretty clunky. Today we have Retina iPads and very nice E-Ink readers. My latest Nook is E-Ink, and although my original Nook was also, this one is miles ahead.

It’s actually getting to the point where in many ways I’m preferring reading on my Nook versus a physical hardcover. Sure, this was always the case when portability was the main factor. “Hey, I can take ten novels with me on the plane, and it takes up less space and weight than one hardcover!”

But now I’m finding that the technology has improved to the point where even when the weight and size isn’t an issue, the experience is as good or better.

What factors are bringing about this change? Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Incredible reductions in size and weight. My new Nook weighs about the same as a moderate paperback, and about half of what a really think paperback weighs.
  • Higher resolution screen. It’s getting pretty close (~210dpi) to printed resolution. Close enough that it’s not obvious that it’s an electronic page rather than a paper one.
  • Frontlight for reading in the dark. The new Glowlight is pretty good, with only some mild darkening at the very top of the page. Fantastic for low-light situations. And since it’s front-light versus back-light like an iPad etc. it should have less of the sleep-impacting effects that have been reported for LCD displays.
  • No page-flip “flash” that previous generations of E-Ink typical had.

And then there’s the other factors that have been present for a while: The ability to carry hundreds of books, weeks of battery life, and (if reading a book purchased from Barnes & Noble) the ability to read those books on my iPhone or iPad with my place in the book being synced between the devices. Oh, and not having to try and hold a book open when eating lunch etc. is pretty nice as well.

I’m not ready to abandon my physical books just yet – nothing is going to replace that experience. But for my general reading, I think I’m about at the point where I no longer see switching to E-Books as a necessary compromise to accommodate our new less-burdened lifestyle, but as a pretty nice way to enjoy reading.

Nest acquisition by Google

On Facebook, a friend asked about my take on the Nest acquisition by Google that was recently announced.

(I’ve given Nest thermostats and Smoke Alarms as gifts, and have a Smoke Alarm myself. I’d have a thermostat if we weren’t apartment dwellers at this time.)

Here’s the answer I gave:

Unhappy. While I’m aware of all the positives (e.g. deep pockets to allow expansion of the Nest product line and protection against some of the patent issues they are threatened with), I really don’t trust Google anymore.

Nest has given assurances that the customer data won’t be shared, but that policy is subject to change down the road. Google made similar assurances regarding YouTube and those have weakened over time.

I’m trying not to be too paranoid, and I’m not suggesting that anyone throw away their Nest devices just yet, but I’m definitely concerned.

Really wish it had been Apple. Sure, they want all my money but they get it in an upfront fashion, not by advertising or selling my data.

Oh, I should add that on the bright side, this may kick off the overarching privacy discussions that need to take place as we head further down the “Internet of Things” road.

In an ideal world, the result of the acquisition will be Google realizing that they need to make some serious promises/safeguards regarding privacy for Nest if they expect it to remain a viable product line.

In the non-ideal world they just go ahead and be evil, counting on the sales to people who don’t know or don’t care about the privacy concerns. Sigh.

iPad mini – Retina musings

When the iPad mini was released, I bought one to see just how that size would work. I really liked it, to the point where I regretted getting just the 16G wifi- only model. I also missed the Retina display of my full-sized iPad. My plan was to grab a Retina mini when they release today, but since Apple made the full-sized iPad so much lighter and a bit smaller (but same screen size), my decision became a lot harder.

And then, to further complicate things, I happened to see the latest Nook e-reader at Barnes & Noble last night, and was impressed by both it’s extremely light weight, its small size, and the nice illuminated screen. (I’ve always been a fan of e-ink)

So now I’m contemplating just sticking with my full-sized 3rd gen iPad, perhaps getting rid of the iPad mini, and grabbing a new e-ink reader to fill the “just reading a book” niche.

(Yes, I still have my original Nook, but it’s about the size and weight of the iPad mini, so it hasn’t gotten much use lately.)

iPad Mini

The iPad mini is an experiment – wifi only and just 16G, so not planned to replace my “big” iPad.

May put the Nook into the museum though (or limited to use on the beach where sun makes LCDs a poor choice).

The mini is thinner and lighter than the Nook and just slightly larger width and height. And iBooks is way nicer than the somewhat limited Nook software.

The new Lightning connector is very slick – easy to connect and feels a little less fragile than the complicated 30-pin connector of yore. Yes, it’s a pain to have to (slowly) transition all of my cables and devices, but the 30-pin connector had a good run.

The display is certainly less crisp than the Retina display on my full-size iPad, but it’s not bad, just not as good. If you’ve never spent time using a Retina iPad, it will look great, as the dpi is actually better than that of the non-Retina iPads.

The Dish and My Non-Love of Ads

So Andrew Sullivan of The Dish is taking his blog independent, and using a no-ad pay model. This has been getting a lot of buzz on the internet.

After taking a look at his existing blog and finding it interesting, I paid my $19.99 for a year. Hopefully I’ll enjoy the blog!

Why did I take this rather impulsive leap and support a blog I haven’t ever really read?
Simple – I hate the ad model. Repeat after me “If you don’t pay for it, you’re not the customer, you are the product.”

I’m putting my money where my mouth is by supporting blogs like this, iTunes, Netflix etc.
(This is also why Hulu can go pound sand – I’ll only watch ads in TV shows – especially ones I pay for – only if there is no alternative. Long live Netflix & iTunes!)

Once you start to get your entertainment without ads, it’s hard to go back.

It really bugs me that even though the New York Times has a pay model, you still get ads on the web. Why not have an option to eliminate them for a higher cost? I don’t get it. I understand that printing and selectively delivering two versions of a printed newspaper isn’t practical. But online? It’s a Simple Matter of Software. Could be done easily.

My time has value. I’ll gladly pay what something is worth to watch, listen, or read it.

Apple TV, iTunes, Netflix and the end of DVDs

Our Apple TV gets a huge amount of use for both content-purchased-from-iTunes as well as Netflix.

We still buy DVDs, but less and less. The iTunes stuff is so much easier – no loading the disc, sitting through the FBI warning (or, in the worst case, needing to skip trailers for other shows). And then navigating the sometimes annoying menu structure while the theme sing plays in an endless loop.
And did I mention the occasionally spoiler-ish nature of some of the images they use in menus and such?

Just navigate to the show on iTunes and hit play. Ahhhh.

I have zero interest in anything that involves commercials at this point, so Hulu is right out. (Once you get used to a zero-commercial life, it’s jarring to go back!)

From iTunes, most stuff is $1.99 for SD and $2.99 for HD. If you buy season passes, this can be reduced a little, or for some shows in some cases by quite a bit.

I’ll admit I tend to trade off the concerns of DRM for the utter convenience of digital media. No swapping discs in the DVD player, no waiting through the FBI warnings etc.
If the price is even close I’ll go with iTunes over DVDs.

One other advantage of the digital versions is that I’m ready to go should I want to watch shows on an iPad while traveling.

The ability to lend DVDs was a big issue for me for a while, but I find that I lend them out less and less, so it’s become a smaller factor. And after moving to an apartment, having less physical stuff is attractive as well. Unbelievable how many boxes of DVDs we moved! And are having to find room for.

Watching the Final Space Shuttle Landing

Just got done watching the shuttle land for the final time.
Some random thoughts:
Double sonic boom was both louder and quieter than I expected. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but keep in mind I’m running on about 4 hours sleep.

Rolled by fast!

Bigger than I expected.

Wow, lots of media there, and more people than I expected.

Took no pictures or videos of actual landing – happened fast and I’m glad I just experienced it.

Bittersweet that the USA has a period where we don’t have the ability to get men into space.

Can’t believe how much money we’ll gladly spend to blow shit up, and how little in comparison we spend for amazing things like the space program. Space is the future of our race, we are getting there way too slowly.

OSX Lion

Cannot believe that Apple releases OSX Lion on the day I’m headed to Florida! Guess I’ll just have to be satisfied reading John Siracusa’s review on Ars Technica.
It does tempt me to take my trusty old MacBook Air with me, but not sure I want to try downloading an OS over hotel WiFi.
And speaking of MacBook Airs, the upgraded models announced today look really sweet. I don’t need a new laptop, but I sure want one.

The Last Space Shuttle Flight

So a few weeks back, before the launch of the final space shuttle flight, I registered to “win” a chance to see the launch at NASA, as part of a “tweetup”. This was an opportunity given to anyone following NASA Tweetup on Twitter.
Out of thousands of registrations, they chose 150 to attend. I was not one of those 150. I did get placed on the 150-person wait list. So close!

It doesn’t end there though. Last week they announced that they were going to select 50 people from the 150-person wait list and invite them to watch the shuttle landing. My odds were 1 in 3! Friday, the day of the invitation emails, came and went. No invitation.

Cut to Sunday morning, when what do I find in my email inbox but an invitation to see the landing! My assumption is that although I missed the first 50, I was invited to fill the spot of someone who declined the invitation.

After much hesitation, and encouragement from friends and family, On Sunday afternoon I decided I was going!

This Thursday morning at 5:58 will find me, tired but excited, in Florida watching the final space shuttle land.