May 30, 2007

My new tech column - End User: That syncing feeling

The San Antonio Current has asked me to pen a bi-weekly column. Two have run so far, and I'm enjoying the project. I used to be arts editor, and later production manager, for the Current, and I've kinda missed the gig. Fine, I'll say it: I'm a byline whore. But I always felt a bit of a dilettante writing arts reviews and features, so this tech bent feels more legit.

{OLD VERSION: Dontcha know the iPhone has been on my mind, and this first jaunt is really a two-parter: here and here.}

So here's the first one:

Published in San Antonio Current, May 31, 2007

If you want to practice swearing for an hour, try getting your contacts from your Gmail to your Yahoo! address books. Then try migrating your calendar.

It’s doable if you, the trained Googling bear, want to Google through a few hoops to get it done. None of the hoops are on fire, but you might still feel burned on your beary behind.

Wait, now comes the trapeze act: Try syncing your address book or calendar between Outlook and Gmail and Yahoo! accounts. By “sync,” I mean having your information flow, in both directions, between one or more devices or databases. Make a change in one address book — on your phone, say — and that information shows up in Gmail, and Outlook.

Believe it or not, more than one internet page refers to this idea the “Holy Grail of synchronization.”

Now, if computers can make Britney Spears a singer, could this syncing thing possibly be that complicated?

More mysteries: Sometimes I wait 15 minutes for my Treo to sync to my Mac. Sometimes it duplicates every contact in my address book, or every calendar event, or just makes multiple copies of the email addresses in each card. That’s a real laugh riot when I’m trying to get out the door. So I make backups almost every day, before I hit the sync button.

To be fair, Windows has long had nearly instantaneous sync with Windows Mobile devices. Plug a Windows-based smart phone into your computer, and pop! your data is the same on both. Also, Apple offers a $99/year online service called .Mac (“dot Mac”) that will, albeit slowly and not dependably, keep your address book, calendar, and bookmarks synced between Macs.

Stray just a little, however, from Apple’s or Microsoft’s closed systems, and you find yourself inventing new swear words.

I have found a couple of pages that discuss methods to attain the “Holy Grail,” using software and services with snappy names like GcalDaemon, Funambol, and ScheduleWorld. I messed with GcalDaemon, and it works, but it involves command-line heavy lifting — sudo chmod -R yadda yadda — that would daunt any non-geek. Even I didn’t enjoy it.

Another semi-option is Plaxo, a useful online address book that syncs Macs and Windows with Yahoo!, but only imports one way from Gmail.


So what’s to come? Speaking of holy grails, we return to the iPhone, that obscure object of desire. We still don’t know if the damn thing works, but here’s my latest penny for the iPhone wishing pool (I’ll probably end up throwing my Treo in):

Yahoo! is offering free mobile-syncing mail accounts with the iPhone. Google has teamed with Apple to make a cool Google Maps program for the handset. I would love it if these three entities have put their brains together, and will release an open system for syncing, one in which everyone (except probably Microsoft) agrees on the fine points and plays well together.

I’ll have bunting and confetti and party hats and T-shirts that say “Sync This!” printed and waiting for the day.

(Side note: One netizen has created a contest called the “notMac Challenge,” to offer a cash prize to anyone who develops a viable and easy-to-use replacement to .Mac.)

Not using Apple Mail

This has been a little weird, but I've recently had to play with browser-based email because my PowerBook died. Also, the Bigfoot mail server that I'd used since 1996 also tanked, which inspired a migration to Gmail. So while my little aluminum baby was away at Apple (you DO have AppleCare, don't you?), I actually moved away from Apple Mail, and I'm stunned how easy it was.

One thing I found, however, was that Safari didn't work so hot with the Gmail interface, so I use the free Camino, which is based on Firefox but made for the Mac.

If you have a address, you might try the Yahoo! Mail Beta in Camino and see how you like it. And check out Plaxo to sync your Yahoo! contacts with Apple's Address Book. (Plaxo doesn't sync yet with Gmail. Check my recent article in the San Antonio Current for some of my thoughts on that matter.

May 18, 2007

Where to buy a new Mac

I was wondering where the best deals would be for a new Mac would be? I want to start looking over the next few months for either an iMac like the one I use here, a Mac mini or an eMac. Any suggestions?

I just want to kick this one off, and ask for anyone reading to post their own thoughts on the matter. I'm going to ramble a bit now, but if you want to know how to buy a new Mac, I intend this to be a good place to start.

Which Mac Should I Buy?

Just poking around, I found this great Buyer's Guide, which will give you some idea (not gospel, just suggestion) about whether it's a good time to buy the particular model of Mac you have your eye on.

N.B.: I've said this before, but RAM, RAM, RAM! Don't buy a new Mac with less than 2Gb RAM. You certainly don't have to buy the RAM direct from Apple. I have all of my clients go to Crucial for much cheaper, and lifetime-warrantied, memory. Crucial actually makes the RAM that Apple puts in its computers, but they sell it for a lot less.

So, the eMac is dead, long live the educational-level iMac. But it's severely crippled -- it lacks Bluetooth and other stuff, so let's skip past that one.

The Mac mini is a fantastic product, for certain applications. I use mine as a media server and to back up my home computers. They are also great for office administration and clerical work, kids, and some basic document production. Don't consider them an option for more heavy-duty graphics or multimedia work. Factor in price of keyboard, mouse, and monitor if you don't already have 'em.

The iMac or MacBook are right in the pocket for a household, and I know many graphic designers and photographers who have landed on the iMac as their main production machine.

If you will use your Mac for any pro-level production, or you like a big screen, or you're a gamer or other sort of speed freak (wait, that's maybe not the best choice of phrase ;-) or you purely want bragging rights, you should think about a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro.

Where Should I Buy It?

It's very clear that, unless you're a bit of a geek and want to mess around with an older machine, you should buy your Mac new. That includes Apple-refurbished units. You can buy used Macs at from SmallDog or PowerMax, or even eBay, but Macs hold a pretty good resale value through at least the first 3 years, so you simply won't save all that much buying used.

Rejoice in refurb: Go to and look in the right column for "Looking for a great deal?" next to the "SAVE" sticker. On the ensuing pages, you'll find refurbished Macs, and as long as you buy AppleCare with them (which you must do anyway), any of those are great.

Before you make a purchase, please allow me to put you in touch with my friends at the Apple Store at La Cantera. Also, Apple has finally set up a small-business sales department, which seems to be doing some pretty aggressive outreach. I have a contact on that team as well, but I've been really grateful to the folks at La Cantera for the service they've given every one of my customers.

By the way, if you haven't been out to that store, it's really worth it. They've established themselves on the forefront of the Apple Retail division.

Lastly, if someone in your household currently haunts the halls of academia, the best discounts on Macs are for educators and students. Go to the Education version of the Apple Store

That's all on this for now. I'm anxious to hear some other opinions.

May 17, 2007

Re: I lost my ipod

Can you tell me if this is covered under my warrenty

No, lost or stolen iPods are not covered by AppleCare. Also, Apple will (typically) not repair or replace an iPod that evinces any physical damage.

These things may be covered by your homeowner's or (less likely) business insurance.

May 6, 2007

Slow Mac

My Mac has not always been sluggish but now it is, unless I shut it down everyday. It is sporadic. I'm afraid it has something to do with my anti-virus updates but I know nothing about computers. Anyway, it is a PowerBook G4 version 10.3.9 with a processor 1GHz Power PC G4, Memory 564 MB DDR SDRAM.

First of all, I think it's important to say that you really don't need virus protection on your Mac, and if it's what holding things up, it'll be the first thing I ditch from a Mac.

So, here's the deal: Your Mac is slow because you have near the bare minimum memory necessary for your computer. Bringing it up to at least 1.5Gb (gigabytes) should help performance a fair bit. I encourage all modern Mac users: Install at least 2Gb (that's two gigabytes) of RAM, and you'll have a modern, happy Mac. And if you can afford it, and you're going to do anything serious with it, take that sucker to 3Gb.

I have, after much observation, found that having less than 1Gb of RAM (memory) can really slow a Mac down, unless one is doing only the most simple things with it -- like, word processingwhether it's on 10.3 or 10.4. (Surfing the web is actually a more intensive task for a computer than one might think.)


#1 - If you're still using OS X 10.2 Jaguar, you seriously need to upgrade to Tiger 10.4.

#2 - You actually shouldn't have to shut your Mac down unless you are going to be away from it for a while, or unless you have done a software installation or update that requires a restart.

#3 - There are a couple of basic troubleshooting techniques for a slow Mac, but the main one is to use the Activity Monitor, to be found in the Utilities folder inside Applications:

I'd like you to bear with me through the next couple of (brief) paragraphs. It's going to sound quite geeky, but it should help us examine your problem.

When you open Activity Monitor for the first time, you'll want to do two things: Change the "Show" drop-down menu to "All Processes", and click the "% CPU" label. This will show you which applications, or processes, are taxing your computer most.

And at the bottom of the window, you'll see a bar graph. If that graph is almost all black (and your computer is sluggish), then we're looking in the wrong place. If you have a lot of green or red in there (say, more than 20%), I'd like you to call or email me what processes are listed in the window as taking up the most of the resources.

(For kicks, here's a more complete article on using Activity Monitor.)

#4 - Now, here's another, and fairly important question: Do you use a lot of different fonts? If so, try closing them and see what happens. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, then fonts are not the issue.)

#5 - Finally, there are a couple of maintenance tasks that one can perform. I can walk you through them over the phone. I'll mention that the tool I like to use is Onyx; the version of it for your Mac can be downloaded by clicking here.

May 2, 2007

How bloggeth thou?

I need to figure out create a blog to my personal web domain. I'd like to be able to upload my thoughts/pics just as easily as you do. I would name it something like: There are several options that I've seen.

There's a gazillion ways to blog now, and honestly all of the good ones (as opposed to a MySpace blog page) are going to help you create a full-fledged weblog.

So, to go through some options:
  • I would skip iWeb unless you want to keep it simple... I mean like Forrest Gump-simple.
  • Many pro bloggers love Wordpress ...
  • ... but many also really like Six Apart's TypePad (, or their Movable Type (  if you're gonna get serious. I know a teacher who really likes TypePad for distributing information to her students.
Note that MarsEdit is blog publishing software for the Mac, intended for use with a blog service such as TypePad, Blogger, or your own server. Note, also, that MarsEdit is in transition of ownership, and I wouldn't put down money on shareware in those circumstances.

As someone who does not want to spend a lot of time maintaining a blog, I appreciate Blogger's simplicity. (It should be stated here that Blogger and Blogspot are the same service.) I really really like that I can send an email or a text message to publish to my blog.