Tag Archives: mac

Touché Brings Touch Bar to Any Mac



Touche LogoMuch has been said about the new Touch Bar feature on the latest version of Apple’s flagship laptop, the MacBook Pro. Some see Touch Bar as a cool new feature, with unlimited potential for different uses. Others look at Touch Bar as a gimmicky afterthought. Just a new shiny thing in a parade of new shiny Apple things that doesn’t add much in the way of true functionality to the MacBook Pro. The debate is sure to rage on for months (if not years) to come.

Regardless of how anyone feels about Touch Bar, the feature is only available on new MacBook Pros. Apple hasn’t said publicly if Touch Bar, or similar technology, will be added to other Macs in the future. If you’re intrigued by Touch Bar but don’t have the scratch to go out and purchase a new MacBook Pro, you might want to check out a new app from Red Sweater called Touché. The app can add Touch Bar-like functionality to any Mac by providing a graphical representation on screen of the commands assigned to the function keys of a Mac’s active application. (This mimics Touch Bar somewhat, as Touch Bar replaces the function keys on the new MacBook Pro entirely.)

Touche Bar

Touché is a free download and carries these requirements:

Touché requires macOS 10.12.1 or later, but there’s a catch! You must have the very latest 10.12.1, with system support for the Touch Bar. If your 10.12.1 version is specifically 16B2657, you’re good to go. If not, you can update to the required version here. You can confirm you are running 16B2657 specifically, by clicking the version number in the About this Mac panel.

If you’re curious about the Touch Bar experience but don’t have access to a new MacBook Pro, give Touché a try!


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.

 


Barriers To Productivity



logosIt’s been just a few days since purchasing a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 256 gigabyte tablet with the type cover. I am finding that I really enjoy the experience. Microsoft really has struck a chord I find myself responding to.

I believe this is the computing experience I have been seeking for a while now. Over the years I’ve had multiple desktop and laptop machines, both Mac and Windows. Certainly over the years I’ve had my fair share of problems with Windows, and to be honest fewer problems with Macs. I’ve also gone through the modern capacitive touchscreen experience with both iPads and Android tablets. The iPad media consumption experience is superior, but newer Android devices have mostly caught up and offer tremendous value for money when compared to over-priced iPads.

As I’ve noted in prior articles, over time I hoped to somehow transform the tablet experience from being perhaps the best media consumption devices developed to date into genuine productivity devices. The sheer portability of a tablet is dramatic when compared to laptops, the necessary bulky laptop bags, and the sheer weight of their accumulated accessories.

After trying three separate Bluetooth keyboards on two different iPad models, I found typing on an undersized netbook-sized keyboard was a notably unpleasant experience. Posting articles to the web from a tablet can be done but it’s not the most pleasant experience without the aid of a mouse.

Laptop computers have shrunk in size in recent years, but a laptop is still a laptop and does not offer the same portability and overall ease of use of a modern tablet. The non-touch, laptops I still bring with me have ended up not being used nearly as much as they once did.

Now that I’ve experienced the sheer portability and convenience of a tablet with a real keyboard and touchpad, I find myself being a lot more productive.

I believe there has been a subtle psychological barrier that has developed over the past few years that has limited my overall computing productivity. The sheer ease of use of touchscreen phones and tablets contrasted with the much more clunky experience of non-touch conventional laptop computing ended up making it easy for me to justify in my own mind being less productive. I would have ideas for articles to write or videos or other media to compile that would necessitate me digging a laptop out of its bag, plugging it in so I wouldn’t run down the battery, booting it up, etc. and this psychological inertia made it easier to just procrastinate instead.

My Windows 10 experience so far has been exemplary. It takes the Surface Pro 3 less than 5 seconds to boot up completely from a cold state. That encourages me to simply turn it off when I’m not using it. I can turn it on and immediately start using it. That’s a far cry from machines of old running off of hard drives. I find it amazing that I have a full, powerful PC that can run real productivity software in a tablet form factor.

The Surface line of computers running the Intel version of Windows is a genuine game changer. I can already hear the howls and catcalls from some quarters, but the combination of Windows 10 and the surface has brought me back actively to the Windows platform.

 


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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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.


G-Technology G-RAID Mini Review



External USB 3 hard drives are pretty common these days and GNC has reviewed several models in the past. However, this is the first portable RAID unit that I’ve had on my desk. On show here is the G-Technology G-RAID mini and with a pair of 2.5″ drives, the G-RAID mini offers a choice of RAID 0 or RAID 1 in a very attractive silvery metal case.  Let’s take a look.

G-RAID mini Shadow

The G-RAID mini comes in the usual blue and white G-Technology packaging and in the box is the unit itself, a power supply, a travel case, a Firewire 400-to-800 cable, a Firewire 800 cable  and a USB3 cable. The travel case isn’t anything to write home about but it’s good to have the full range of cables. The G-RAID mini weighs in at just under a 1 kg so it’s pretty hefty but this an all metal case – there’s no cheap plastic here. It’s also surprisingly small at only 149 x 83 x 38 mm, as you’ll see from the ruler below. Overall, it’s a solid, well-built unit.

G-RAID mini Front

Looking over the unit, round the back are a USB 3 port, two Firewire 800 ports and the DC in jack. On the underside, there’s a cooling fan and on the front, there’s white LED in the G-Technology logo, which flashes with disk access. There’s a hidden “drive failure” LED which goes red if a drive dies, but you’ll see the LED flicker when the mini powers up. The G-RAID mini needs supplementary power from the PSU when connected up via USB, but it’s not need when the Firewire ports are used.

G-RAID mini Rear

RAID ConfigThe G-RAID mini can be configured either as RAID 0 with both drives contributing to one large logical volume or else as RAID 1 with the drives mirroring each other. There’s a simple configuration tool that let’s you chose which it’s going to be. Changing the RAID level completely erases the drive so it’s best to decide early what configuration you want.

The utility is available for Windows and Mac, but once the G-RAID mini is setup, it works as any device that understands USB storage, e.g. Linux boxes or Chromebooks.

So that’s the basics out the way. What’s the performance like? I ran through my usual selection of tests with hdparm, dd and bonnie++ in both RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations. Remember, while these tests are indicative of performance, they are for my setup only.

RAID 0 USB 3 USB 2 FW 400
hdparm (read)  155 MB/s  33 MB/s 39 MB/s
dd (write)  178 MB/s  37 MB/s 22 MB/s
bonnie++ (write)  173 MB/s  37 MB/s 21 MB/s
bonnie++ (read)  171 MB/s  49 MB/s 55 MB/s

 

RAID 1 USB 3 USB 2 FW 400
hdparm (read) 126 MB/s 32 MB/s 39 MB/s
dd (write) 117 MB/s 38 MB/s 21 MB/s
bonnie++ (write) 114 MB/s 37 MB/s 21 MB/s
bonnie++ (read) 154 MB/s 51 MB/s 53 MB/s

In either configuration, the G-RAID mini is fast, especially when connected up via USB 3 in RAID 0. Looking at the data, it’s clear that at USB2 and Firewire 400 speeds, there’s no performance difference between RAID 0 and RAID 1. Simplistically the data connection rate is the limiting factor.

However, with USB3 bonnie shows that write speeds fall by a third in the RAID 1 configuration, with reading affected by only a 10% fall. This is not unexpected as extra work is required to write the data in a mirror setup. Regardless, it’s still 3 times faster than USB2.

In summary, the G-RAID mini is an ideal companion for power users with the latest ultrabooks or MacBook Pros where performance is matched to good looks. It’s not cheap with an on-line price of around £275 for the 2 TB version but the protection against single drive failure will be important to those with high profile or travelling roles where having the data available is crucial. The G-RAID mini is an attractive and well-built unit with great performance and it will appeal to both those who need either high-performance or protection against drive failure.


Kanex Multi-Sync Keyboard



kanexlogo
Todd chats with Tracy from Kanex at CES Digital Experience about their new Multi-Sync Keyboard for Apple devices.

Although touch is great way of interacting with tablets and smartphones, it really doesn’t replace a keyboard when it comes to large amounts of text entry. In response, many manufacturers have come out with add-on keyboards that typically connect to the tablet via Bluetooth. These are generally useful devices but usually it’s one keyboard-one device and often there’s already a keyboard on the desk for the PC, so the desk simply gets more cluttered.

Kanex’s solution the Multi-Sync Keyboard which allows 3 Bluetooth and 1 USB connection to be maintained at any one time – Mac, iPhone and iPad. The user can then switch between connections, entering text into just one device at a time but being able to connect to up to 4 devices. Brilliant! Currently, it’s only available for Apple devices, but future versions should support PCs.

On-sale now for US$69.95 at www.kanexlive.com.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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