Category Archives: mac

SurfEasy On-line Privacy Debuts at CES

Canadian firm SurfEasy will debut their eponymous USB key-based private Internet browser at CES, Las Vegas, next week. The portable USB key launches its own web browser which uses strong encryption to keep your surfing habits secret and holds all your personal information such as bookmarks, history and web passwords on the password-protected key itself. Nothing is left behind on the computer itself.

SurfEasy Secure Internet

When you stop and think about it, we use many different networks and computers to access our online lives. Whether it’s connecting from the office or using a Wi-Fi hotspot, we’re providing a lot of personal information to computers, networks and websites that are not designed with our personal privacy in mind,” said Chris Houston, founder and CEO of SurfEasy Inc. “SurfEasy lets people take control of protecting their online privacy and security by simply plugging in a USB key.

One of the biggest potential benefits is when using unsecured WiFi in places like coffee shops. As SurfEasy creates an encrypted tunnel from the SurfEasy USB key across the Internet, no-one can see any detail about your browsing. All they can see is the encrypted data and the volume of data. SurfEasy encrypts the web traffic using SSL and passes the traffic through its own servers, stripping the client IP from the data stream.  The proxy network is hosted in Canada and the US, with other international locations to come soon.

As the data stream passes through SurfEasy’s servers, SurfEasy publish a Customer Bill of Rights which is upfront about what you can expect from the company in terms of keeping your activities secret. Basically, unless you come to the attention of the legal authorities, no usage data is held.

The SurfEasy browser is powered by Mozilla and is compatible with Microsoft Windows XP, Vista and 7. Apple users needs to be on Mac OS X 10.5 or later. The SurfEasy USB key costs $60 and this includes 2 GB per month of encrypted traffic through the SurfEasy network. Additional data costs $5 per month for 25 GB and $10 for 75 GB. Product delivery is expected in February.

I can see this being very handy for backpackers and other travellers who have to use Internet cafes while travelling and are rightly concerned about security. Plug-in the SurfEasy USB key to a public computer and you’re instantly secure wherever you are.

Today Only: 21″ Apple iMac Quad-Core i5 Desktop on Woot

It may be too late to order a Christmas present, but if you’re in the market for a new desktop computer and have your eye on an Apple then today is your lucky day.  It’s not often you can get a discount on any Apple product,but today the 21.5″ iMac is on Woot, the bargain hunter’s dream web site.

The 21.5 inch iMac starts at $1199 both in-store and on the Apple web site and sales are rare at best.  Woot, today only, is offering it for $1049.  This model comes with a 2.5 GHz Intel quad-core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 500 GB hard drive, a Radeon 6850M graphics card, and 802.11n WiFi.  These are brand new iMac’s, not refurbished models.

While this deal is good news for those shopping for a new Apple computer, it may also signal that new models are on the way.  That seems to frequently be the case with electronics that show up on Woot, which has had several tablets available recently in their daily deals.  Products like this also frequently sell out quickly, so if you want to get one then you better head over to Woot now.

Clarify by BlueMango

Clarify by BlueMango

Top Row Clarify

 If you have a Mac you maybe familiar with ScreenSteps by BlueMango. Screensteps allows you to capture and mark multiple screens. You can then export them to HTML, WordPress, Squarespace, Zendesk, Google Sites just to name a few. It is very powerful and is great for making how to documents. However what if you just want create multiple annotated screen captures a then email the result as a PDF to someone or maybe share a special url. That is where the new application by BlueMango called Clarify comes in. Like ScreenSteps, Clarify allows you to create a document with annotated pictures and screen captures included. You can then easily email a PDF to someone, or share a special link with them. You have the option of having the text above or below the picture, export as a pdf or jpeg, choosing a border and even resizing. It also gives you the option of saving a section to your document folder. I created a couple of annotated screenshots of Clarify below to show an example. If I wanted to share this with someone I could email it to them or give them this url

Top Row Clarify

Row Two Clarify

Row Two Clarify

Final Thoughts on Clarify

Clarify is in public beta and is still being developed. While doing this post I did run into a couple of problems, which I am forwarding to Clarify. The first is when I tried to use the delete button an error dialog came up, saying it couldn’t create the process. It then asked what I was doing when the error came up and sent the information to BlueMango. The second problem I ran into was using the sequence annotation, if I cut an annotation it rearranged the sequence. I not sure why it did this or if it was supposed to, but it was driving me a little crazy. The one thing I like about BlueMango is they are very good at responding back when you send them a problem. I was having trouble creating the special url, I kept getting a 500 or 400 error. I forward a tweet to them and they responded back almost immediately. It ended up to be a user error, I had entered the wrong password. If you have a Mac and find yourself sharing annotated screen captures I recommend trying Clarify. If you need something more powerful, take a look at ScreenSteps.

Is Snow Leopard The New XP?

Like a lot of people, I purchased the Lion upgrade on the first day of availability from the Apple App store.

I upgraded two late-model Mac Minis along with an older 17” MacBook Pro. The Lion upgrade solved a freezing problem on the Mac Mini I use as an HD-DVR. However, it created a number of serious problems on the MacBook Pro – Lion would not work with my Verizon USB aircard, it would not back up to my HP Windows Home Server, and it would not work properly with the Ubercaster podcast recording application.

After living with these Lion-induced problems for more than a month on the MacBook Pro, I downgraded it back to a prior (and fully functional) Snow Leopard backup image. Everything is now back to normal, with everything once again functioning the way it should.

My MacBook Pro is no slouch, yet it seemed a bit sluggish running Lion compared to Snow Leopard.

If you have a Mac that’s more than a couple of years old, and/or you are running a variety of software and hardware that Lion likely won’t support and/or that may never be updated to run properly on Lion, I would strongly suggest skipping the Lion upgrade.

I found the Lion interface changes mostly annoying. On a computer (as opposed to an iPod), I prefer normal scroll bars. In Lion you can turn the scroll bars so that they remain on, but they are thin little gray lines that I have a hard time seeing and grabbing with the mouse. I don’t like the changes Apple made to the Finder in Lion, nor do I like the changes they made to the Spotlight Search functionality. I found the changes to the Mail program to be of dubious value, as well as the cosmetic changes to the Address Book adding no functionality.

Snow Leopard runs perfectly well and just might be the new XP.

Is Apple Turning Into Microsoft?

I’ve been a fairly happy Apple/OS/X user for the past three to four years. Before that, I was a Windows user that finally became disgusted enough to finally make the jump.

Most computer users are well aware of the arguments, both pro and con.

Up until now, I’ve been happy. Up until now, everything simply worked. Ahem, up until now…

What is different now? It’s called Lion. Depending on what you use your machine for, Lion can be great. However, there’s a dark side to Apple’s latest feline incarnation. If you use a wide variety of software with your particular Mac, chances are Lion is going to break things – perhaps things that you rely on. Say, a podcasting application called “Ubercaster” that no longer functions 100% for starters, or how about a Verizon USB 3G aircard that worked fine in both Leopard and Snow Leopard, but Lion somehow just cannot recognize?

Being a long-time Windows user, I’m used to the new version of the O/S screwing things up, sometimes royally. However, that bad Microsoft habit of releasing half-baked, buggy operating system updates seems to have migrated from Redmond down to Cupertino.

It wasn’t as if I expected something like this might happen. I’m prepared – I have a backup machine in the form of a 13” white plastic Macbook that I purposely kept on  Snow Leopard. Unfortunately, the most recent Snow Leopard updates Apple has sent out have broken Ubercaster entirely on that machine, rendering the backup machine rather useless at the moment for podcast recording. The Ubercaster application will no longer load, even the latest updated version.

Ubercaster still works on my Macbook Pro running Lion, but the setup is now unreliable.

Also, Lion seems to not even work properly with Apple’s own hardware. When I touch the touchpad on my 3-year-old Macbook Pro 17 it no longer makes the screen wake up after it has turned off – it’s now necessary to hit a key to make the screen come back on.

What was Apple thinking? Probably of money.

My Review of Fantastical

What was the problem I was trying to solve. The problem I was trying to solve was how to easily add events to a calendar. Until recently my choices were either to have the calendar open and sitting in my dock or open iCal every time I needed to add a new events. Neither is very practical, leaving the calendar open  just eats up CPU and having to wait for it to open up every time I wanted to add an event was also not very practical. It took for ever to open and adding events was not very intuitive. So what was the solution. For me it was an application on the Mac called Fantastical. It is available thru the Mac App Store or through the Flexibits Web site for $19.95. There is a 14 day trial through the Web site. Once it is downloaded and installed it  sits in your menu bar, ready to use when needed. It works with iCal, Microsoft’s Entourage and Outlook. The only way for it too work with Google or the Yahoo calendar you have to add them to iCal.

When you are ready to use it just click on the icon or use a keyboard shortcut. (You can set the short cut under preferences.) Then just start typing the event as you would if you were writing it down or speaking it, in other words naturally. Fantastical uses a natural parsing language to fill in the event as if you are entering it in the calendar of your choice. If you can set up automatic alarms for both timed and all day events under preferences. You can have Fantastical show you the events for that day, next two days, a week or for 31 days. You can also set it to view by events instead of days. I know $20.00 seems like a lot, but believe me it is well worth it. If you are on Windows or Linux do you have a similar application, if so what is it.

Avast! Antivirus for the Mac

If  you have a Mac, you are mostly likely aware of the malware MacDefender. Which is a fake antivirus program created specifically to attack the Mac. For more details I recommend The Mac Security Blog.  Unfortunately as the Macs become more popular these kind of attacks will become more common, which will make installing antivirus and anti-malware software on a Mac as necessary as it is on Windows. If you are looking for antivirus software for the Mac now you may want to try the antivirus software from Avast! Software Avast Software is based in Prague, Czech Republic and has been stopping virus and malware on the Window’s platform since before Windows 95 was out. They are now making a free antivirus program available for Intel Mac 10.5 and above. It is in beta and available thru the Avast user forum for download.  Avast for the Mac was created specifically for the Mac and not something ported over from Windows. It has three separate shields; one for mail, web and file system. You can also scan your system or a part of it at anytime. The Web Shield is a new build and it actually filters all HTTP material before it reaches the browser. This is key since as Ondrej Vicek, CTO of Avast Software so rightly puts it “The discussion on Mac security has centered perhaps too long on individual operating systems,” added Mr. Vlcek. “There is already a lot of internet-distributed malware out there based on JavaScript which works across various operating system platforms and this beta protects against.”

I am a Mac user and am still not totally convince I need a product like this. However I decided it is better to be safe then sorry so I downloaded avast! Mac beta. The download and install went without any problems. You may lose connection to the Internet for a short time, during the installation. Once installed I had it scan my Home folder and it did it with no problem. When I did a full scan of my computer, I did notice that processes did slowed down. I was running several applications at the time so the slow down was not unexpected. Fortunately nothing was found. I have had it running for two days in the background and the only reason I know is the icon on the menu bar. Whether you need an antivirus software on your Mac is something only you can decide. If you do decide you need one Avast! for the Mac is not a bad choice.


Freecom Mobile Drive Mg Review

The Freecom Mobile Drive Mg is no ordinary 2.5″ external drive. It’s a thing of beauty. Intended to complement Apple’s MacBooks, the slimline Mobile Drive has a magnesium body that looks and feels great. The icing on the cake is that it’s USB 3. I’ve seen lots of external drives but this is the one you want.

Even the packaging reflects the target market. Instead of a relatively dull cardboard box, this comes in an acrylic box so that you can see drive before you’ve even purchased it. The model shown here is the slimline 320 GB USB 3 version which is just 1 cm thick. Freecom have used the bevelled-edge trick to make it seem even thinner than it is but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is thin and Freecom claim that it is the world’s thinnest external drive. In addition to the 320 GB capacity, there are two 720 GB units which are a bit thicker at 1.5 cm – one is USB 3 only, the other is USB 3 and Firewire 800.

Apart from the USB 3 connector and the Freecom logo, the only other external feature is a white LED which indicates power and disk activity. It’s difficult to make out in the picture below as it’s not lit, but it’s pretty much right in the middle. The drive is bus powered so there’s no power supply needed.

The Mobile Drive Mg comes pre-formatted with HFS+, so if you have a Mac, you’re good to go out of the box. If you’re a Windows or Linux user, it can easily be reformatted to another format.

I think we’ve established that it looks good, but does it perform? Connected up to USB 3, the Mobile Drive recorded the following data rates:

hdparm gave 75 MB/s for buffered disk reads.
dd gave write speeds around 82 MB/s.
bonnie++ gave 74 MB/s for writes and 85 MB/s for reads.

Under USB 2, the figures were obviously slower but still healthy for a USB 2 device.

– hdparm gave 30 MB/s for buffered disk reads.
– dd gave write speeds around 37 MB/s.
– bonnie++ gave 35 MB/s for writes and 40 MB/s for reads.

Looking at the data, using USB 3 roughly doubles the performance when compared to USB 2, which is not unexpected. If you are interested in the specs, there’s a datasheet .pdf.

Price-wise, the model here costs 79 euros, with the 750 GB model bumping the price to 119 euros. Adding the Firewire port will cost 10 euros extra.

You know you want one.

Thanks to Freecom for the loan of the Mobile Drive Mg.

Create Your Own TV Station

One of the problems with watching video podcasts as an alternative to conventional television is that you have typically and deliberately watch one video at a time. On longer videos it’s not as much of a problem, but with short videos that last 5 minutes or less you have to keep manually restarting the next video after the previous one has finished.

I now have three Mac Minis – one is an old somewhat underpowered Power PC Mac Mini that I’m using as a video podcast aggregator. I have that machine’s iTunes database located on a much larger shared drive that’s available to every machine on my home network. I’m subscribed to a variety of tech podcasts, most of them in the highest resolution file sizes available.

I have two other Mac Minis that are of the latest design. I have an “Eye TV” USB HD tuner connected to one that’s connected to a substantial external antenna. Depending on atmospheric conditions I can receive up to 18 channels counting the various digital sub channels. This enables the Mac Mini to function as a DVR.

The second Intel Mac Mini is in another room and the Eye TV software also loaded on it is able to work from the other Mac Mini’s shared recordings.

Today I discovered by accident when playing around with iTunes on one of the Intel Mac Minis that the shared videos show up in the shared playlists from other iTunes databases. So, in other words, I can pick a shared iTunes list from the Power PC Mac Mini’s shared iTunes and a list of video files shows up. Since the videos are in the list just like audio would be, I am able to start a video file playing and when one file ends it will immediately start playing the next video file on the list. This is particularly useful because I can start videos playing as I do other things and it will continue to play just as if it’s a TV station. This is quite a handy capability to have. The lack of an ability to set up continuous video playback has long been one of the Apple TV’s biggest shortcomings.

Periodically I go to the Power PC Mac Mini and delete the video files that have been played, since iTunes keeps a play count, so I always have fresh material to watch.


Tea Timer and Alarms Applications for GTD

AlarmsThere are a couple of applications on the Mac that I use almost daily. They are single task apps, that do only one thing. The first is Tea Timer and the second is Alarms. Tea Timer is a Dashboard application. It does one thing it reminds you of things you tend to forget, like your tea is ready or your pizza is done. You can have it send you a Growl notification, a voice alarm or a sound. You can select the background color for Tea Timer. When your ready to use it activate dashboard and chose Tea Timer. To start a countdown click on the time field and enter the hours or minutes or seconds then either hit the play button or enter. When the time is up the Tea Timer alarm will go off. I use this application almost daily.

The second application is Alarms which is a application that sits in your menu bar. If you want to add an event simply tap on the alarm bell and a time line comes down. You can click on a time and manually enter an event. If you enter it at the wrong time simply drag the event to the correct time. If you receive a email or a tweet simply drag it up to to the alarm bell and the time line will drop down and you can drop it into the correct time. If you drop an event into a different day it will add it at the start of the day. (You can choose when you want the day to start and end under Preference.) To move the event to the correct time simply drag it there. Alarms is perfect when you don’t need a full fledge GTD application but you just want a reminder. Alarms can sync with iCal if you want it to.

Both of these applications are for Mac only, if you are a Windows or Linux user what do you use. If you are a Mac user and use something different what is it and why. Tea Timer is a free application. Alarms cost $15.00 and has a 14 day free trial, its available in the App store for $7.99 ( no free trial) . I recommend both of these applications.