Category Archives: mac

Griffin BreakSafe Magnetic USB C Power Cable



Griffin LogoMagnetic power couplings are a godsend for the clumsy and accident prone, snapping away under stress and preventing physical damage to cables, connector and laptops. Owners of new USB C devices, such as the latest Apple MacBrook or Google Pixel, have had limited choice up to now but at CES, accessories outfit Griffin announced a new BreakSafe magnetic USB C power cable. Available from April for US$39.99, it’s pricey compared with a standard USB C cable, but think of the magnetic coupling as an investment in protection for your expensive laptop.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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Griffin iMic for USB C



Griffin LogoGriffin’s iMic has been a long term favourite with those who need 3.5 mm audio jacks on USB-only PCs and laptops. With a USB A plug on one end, and two audio sockets on the other, it does the job of converting audio brilliantly.

But with new MacBooks now only sporting USB C sockets, it was inevitable that Griffin would bring out a new version of the iMic with a USB C connector and here it is. Available in Q2 2016 for US$44.99, Daniel chats with Jackie from Griffin to find out more about the latest iteration of this great gadget.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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ArtRage Touch



artrage4-logoThe Surface Pro 3 I purchased a few weeks ago came with the bundled Microsoft Pen, which is a fancy name for a stylus. At first I didn’t make much use of the stylus, but after a while I decided it was time to experiment with it and see what it could do. Unlike the fat stylus’s for sale that will work on any capacitive touchscreen, the Microsoft Pen will work only with Surface devices and offers extreme precision.

The Surface Pro 3 with preinstalled Windows 10 comes with a program called Fresh Paint, and I played around with that for a while. Then I started looking in the Windows App Store and found ArtRage Touch which sells for $9.99. I was already familiar with the iOS version of ArtRage on my iPad, so after playing with the trial version in short order I ended up buying the full version.

ArtRage Touch has a very similar interface across all versions. There are full desktop versions of ArtRage for both Windows and Mac, as well as iOS and Android versions.

ArtRage Touch for Windows is similar to the iOS version, but perhaps somewhat abandoned. The most notable shortcoming is with the lack of much ability to save creations. While it is possible to save creations to the standard ArtRage PTG file format, there are apparently zero non-ArtRage applications that can open these files. If you do a direct share to Facebook, ArtRage Touch simply shares a screen capture including the ArtRage interface. I found an acceptable work-around by “printing” the file I want to a PDF format file, making sure that I have the paper size adjusted to landscape and to “print” the entire image to a single page. Then, I open the just-exported PDF file in Adobe Photoshop Elements and export the image as a standard JPG file. This lack of the ability to export directly to JPG is a major shortcoming, so would-be buyers beware.

The ArtRage website itself doesn’t even list ArtRage Touch as a version for sale, though they still sell ArtRage Touch in the Windows App Store.

If I ever were to become a more serious artist, I would consider buying the full version of ArtRage 4 for desktop machines, which sells on their website for $49.90.

Setting aside the problem of how to share creations with ArtRage Touch, it is a lot of fun to play with digital draw and paint tools. Digital versions of various paints, airbrush tools, pencils and papers can create extremely realistic effects with no wasted paper or messy, expensive paint supplies to futz around with.

On larger touch screens, “digital gloves” are available that allow the side of the drawing hand to be rested directly on the screen without interacting, though obviously many other types of open-finger gloves or even a piece of cloth would likely have the same effect of preventing capacitive contact with skin. The Surface Pro 3 has excellent palm rejection with native apps such as OneNote and others, but even so the appropriate digital gloves would seem to be a no-fuss solution with larger-screen devices. It is very tiring to try to hold and use a stylus on a large touchscreen device without anything to rest the side of your hand against.

Every version of ArtRage includes the ability to pre-load another image, typically a photograph, that allows a “trace” layer(s) to be placed on top. Thus, it is possible to accurately trace out the lines of an image and then paint it afterwards, which can result in some interesting, and sometimes hilarious images.

There are also many serious video producers on YouTube that lay out extremely good “learn to draw” lessons that can teach you how to draw if you follow along.

Once purchased, ArtRage Touch can be installed on up to 10 Windows devices.


El Capitan Tale of Woe



I have a mid-2010 Mac Mini set up in my living room that I use for occasional browsing and email. It came installed with Snow Leopard.Wallpaper-OS-X-El-Capitan-Mac

I swapped out the hard drive for a 256 gigabyte SSD and bumped the RAM up to 8 gigabytes. The machine is reasonably fast and is in a handy location. Additionally have it set up with a Neat desktop document scanner.

I’ve deliberately kept the machine running Snow Leopard over the years even though several new versions of OS/X have come and gone. Lately a nag screen kept popping up wanting me to update it to OS/X El Capitan. I resisted at first, but from the Apple podcasts I listen to the chatter is that things are slowly improving as Apple rolls out bug fixes.

So, I ended up saying yes to the El Capitan upgrade. The upgrade process itself seemed to go smoothly enough.

It wasn’t until I sat down in front of the machine afterwards that I realized saying yes to the El Capitan upgrade was a mistake.

The first thing I found objectionable is the overall look and feel of the new design. The menu text isn’t big or bold enough to stand out, and the aggressive use of white and wimpy light-colored pastels ruins the usability that extra contrast affords. You have to remember I’m coming directly from Snow Leopard to El Capitan, and the overall look and feel of the Snow Leopard interface is much more appealing and practical. If you can do so, put El Capitan directly next to a machine running Snow Leopard and the Snow Leopard machine is much easier to see and work with. Interface elements in Snow Leopard are much more prominent. Snow Leopard icons are far more recognizable, and menu text is bigger and stands out more boldly.

The next thing I noticed is that the Finder dumped all of my customizations. It has an “All My Files” folder that dumped some 1,200 files into one giant folder even those files reside in many different folders across the hard drive. Folders such as Movies, Photos and Music are completely missing from the Finder’s sidebar. They still exist but it’s necessary to go digging around for them.

Functionally El Capitan caused my Neat desktop scanner software and driver to utterly stop functioning. Neat has a multi-step work-around for El Capitan posted to their website. The work-around sort of fixes things partially but not really. If you have a Neat document scanner, DO NOT upgrade to El Capitan at this time unless you don’t want to use your scanner.

At this point, I was willing to live with El Capitan until Apple fixes all of the infrastructure problems. However, I ran into an infrastructure problem that turned out to be a complete deal-breaker.

I have a 6 terrabyte Western Digital MyCloud network attached storage (NAS) drive plugged in to my Apple router. Though the MyCloud drive functions perfectly under Snow Leopard, iOS, Android and any version of Windows, to my chagrin I discovered that OS/X El Capitan won’t stay connected to the drive. I could reboot the computer and regain access, but within a few minutes the Mac Mini would arbitrarily disconnect from the MyCloud drive. It even disconnected in the middle of copying a large file to the MyCloud drive. If you have a MyCloud NAS drive DO NOT upgrade to the current version of El Capitan.

That was too much. I made sure I had backups of pertinent files, including the all-important Neat Library database file. Then I dug out the DVD’s that came with the Mac Mini and made a fresh install of the version of Snow Leopard that shipped with it. I was able to use the Migration Assistant to restore pertinent files, settings and Applications from a current Time Machine backup.

What is Apple thinking? In my opinion OS/X El Capitan is worse than Windows ME, arguably one of the worst, most bug-ridden versions of Windows ever. I know what Apple is trying to do with the El Capitan interface and color scheme – they are trying to make it seem fresh, new and exciting. Unfortunately, it fails on basic ergonomics. The El Capitan interface is a nightmarish hurricane of weak pastels, hidden features and unreadable system text combined with a truly dysfunctional infrastructure.

Fortunately, I had the option of pulling the plug on El Capitan and going back to Snow Leopard, which is arguably the best-ever version of OS/X. People buying new Macs today do not have that option. Unless they’ve had experience with older versions of OS/X they will never know that they are buying into a computing eco system that left its best days behind it.

 


MacKeeper Provides Human Tech Support For Your Mac At CES



mackeeper logo

Even though Macs are well-known for their security, it’s still important to keep tabs on your Mac’s security. With excellent anti-virus protection and built-in tech support capabilities, MacKeeper is the perfect Mac security and support solution.

Jamie and Nick talked to Jeremiah Fowler from MacKeeper about his product. MacKeeper is an application with a wide range of features to protect and enhance your Mac. You can connect with a real technician to troubleshoot and solve computer issues, manage and protect your Mac’s data against viruses and security breaches, clean up your system, and much more.

MacKeeper’s support staff are certified IT professionals, so you can rest assured that you’ll get expert assistance every time. MacKeeper runs quietly in the background of your system, so you won’t experience annoying lags in speed or performance. And with pricing as low as $7 per month, you won’t have to break the bank to get user-friendly all-in-one tech support for your Mac.

For more information, visit MacKeeper’s website.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live.

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Juiceboxx Protects Your Mac Charger At CES



juiceboxxThere’s no shortage of cases and sleeves available to protect your phone, tablet, or computer, but what about your Mac charger? Charger cables are fragile, and it’s not hard to break one — or more — without proper protection. Luckily, there’s now a durable, stylish way to protect your Mac charger without breaking the bank.

Scott got to talk to Scott Scherpenberg about the Juiceboxx, a protective case for your Mac charger. The Juiceboxx’s unique trumpted design sturdily protects your charger from fraying and breaking, and with 6 different colors available, your charger can be just as stylish as the rest of your gadgets.

The Juiceboxx is available for purchase now for $19.99.

Interview by Scott Ertz of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock at CES



OWC logoOther World Computing (OWC) always turns up at CES with new toys and this year Todd looks on with desire as founder Larry O’Connor shows off the latest accessories from the Mac shop.

First up is a 240 GB SSD with USB3 crammed into a memory stick form factor. Made to match most Apple products with a brushed aluminium finish, it’ll set you back a cool $199. A 480 GB version will be coming soon!

Next is OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock which brings five USB 3.0, two Thunderbolt 2, FireWire 800, HDMI, gigabit ethernet and audio in/out ports into a single unit. On order for delivery in February, this will set you back $249 as a CES limited-time special ($299 normally). Very handy if you have legacy FireWire gear that you want to use with newer Apple computers.

Other products mentioned but not shown include SSDs for Mac Pro upgrades, software RAID solutions and portable backup drives.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.
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Capti Narrator Comes To The Desktop



Capti LogoFor most people it’s usually faster to read than it is to listen but there are times when it’s better to listen than it is to read; while driving or at the gym, or even for pleasure to nod off to sleep. If this sounds of interest, take a look at Capti Narrator.

Capti Narrator is a popular app for the iPhone and iPad which takes text and reads it out. It’s sophisticated with features such as playlists and it can read from a range of textual formats (.pdf, .doc, .rtf, .epub, etc.) sourced from a variety of locations – Google Drive, Dropbox, Instapaper, local storage and more.

At this year’s CES, Charmtech Labs LLC has announced Capti Narrator v1.0 for Mac and Windows computers which greatly increases the flexibility of the app. If Capti is installed on more than one device, the playlist can be synchronised via Capti Cloud and seamlessly switched between devices. Capti makes it easy to add webpages to the playlist and it skips ads, menus, and other clutter and reassembles articles spread across multiple pages. Without installing Capti, the Capti Bookmarklet can be added into any web browser on Windows, Mac, or Linux to add webpages to Capti Cloud.

Capti can be downloaded for free from www.captivoice.com.


Fitbit Flex Review



Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.


Lenmar shows off the Chug Plug for your MacBook



lexmar

Jenny Simpson of Lenmar stopped by TPN in Las Vegas recently to talk about the company’s new battery pack for your MacBook computer.

The new Chug Plug can provide up to four hours of additional batter life and connects via the computers existing cable. It is Apple specific, so don’t expect to get one for your Windows PC. It has built-in smart technology that can detect how much power your Macbook needs and push extra if necessary. The Chug Plug will be available for $159 starting in March. You can check it out over at Lenmar.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network and Chris Davis of Health Tech Weekly

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