Category Archives: Tech

Amazon Cloud Drive: Just a Bit too Good to Be True

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I’m a committed and active Amazon customer.  I buy just about everything from Amazon, and I back up my Mac to Amazon Glacier via the powerful (and often overlooked by tech pundits) Arq.  So when I saw that Amazon has upped the ante in the cloud wars by offering unlimited cloud space for $60 a month, I was interested.  I back up many hundreds of gigabytes to Amazon Glacier, and it costs me around $8.00 a month.  $60.00 a year, even plus tax, would be a cost savings.  But the bigger advantage would (or should) be accessibility.  Glacier storage is dirt cheap, but the files are not easy accessible.

I’m not bothered by the lack of a true Mac app for Amazon Cloud.  Sure, there’s an app, but it’s mostly a front end for the web interface.  There’s no sync, selective or otherwise.  But that’s OK, because I don’t think Amazon is trying to fill the exact same need Dropbox does.  Rather, I think Amazon is positioning itself as off-site storage.  A place to put things to get them off your computer and in the cloud, not onto all your computers and the cloud.

There are four things people need to save and store.

Music: There are many good and some free options.  I use Google Play (which just greatly increased the amount of songs you can store from a too small number of 20,000 to a plenty big enough number of 50,000, which makes it feasible for long-time music buyers like me).  iTunes Match is a possibility, and there are others.  Amazon Cloud Drive does a pretty good job with music, but I tried it before, and it lost out to Google.  So there’s nothing new to make me change my plan (and the thought of re-uploading all those songs that I finally got in place and organized in Google Play gives Google a bit of a moat).

Photos: Again, there are a lot of options, but the battle for photos in the cloud is still being fought.  I’m hoping that the best thing about the new, cheap Amazon Cloud Drive will be free or cheaper iCloud space when Apple releases its forthcoming Photos app.  I’d love Apple to solve the photos in the cloud problem, because I manage my photos in iPhoto.  If it doesn’t, Amazon may be the answer.  But as a Prime member, Amazon will already store my photos for free, so I don’t need an Amazon Cloud Drive plan for that.

Miscellaneous files:  Unlike space hogging photo and video libraries, there is a benefit to syncing miscellaneous files, so you can access them and work with them everywhere.  I don’t have a lot of text files and miscellany that I need to offload to the cloud.  Some of it is of a nature that I want to store locally, via Time Machine and Carbon Copy Cloner.  The stuff I do want access to everywhere (Word files, Pages files, Hazel rules, etc.) is handled very well via iCloud (mostly) and Dropbox (for some stuff).  I don’t see Amazon Cloud Drive as a player in the document storage, sync and access game.

Videos:   OK, here we go.  I have hundreds of videos.  Films I made back in the day. Home movies.  Photo slide shows.  Currently, these make up the bulk of my massive Amazon Glacier repository.  It would be a little cheaper to store them in Amazon Cloud Drive, and they would be easier to access.  All I need to jump in with both feet is the ability to view them from their cloud based home.  But no.

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Is this the end of the world?  No.  Do I understand why Amazon doesn’t want to bear the cost of being my private YouTube?  Sure.  Does this make me rethink my video storage and archival work-flow.  Yep.

It sounded just a little too good to be true.

Why I’m Not Sold on the Apple Watch as a Fitness Device

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Try as I might- and my love of all things Apple mandates that I try- I just can’t get excited about the Apple Watch.  Granted, I haven’t worn a watch in decades, but I have worn a Fitbit for over two years and track my exercise and sleep patterns daily.  So while I’m not a watch guy, I’m a prime candidate for a better and more powerful fitness tracker, with communication and timekeeping features to come along for the run.  The thing is, based on everything I’ve read, the Apple Watch (at least in the absence of an associated iPhone) doesn’t do much from a fitness tracking perspective that my Fitbit One doesn’t already do.  Sure, it tracks steps and stairs, but it has no independent GPS functionality and, because it is not waterproof, it doesn’t significantly increase the universe of activities I can track.  Let’s take a look at some things the Apple Watch can do all by itself, without relying on a nearby iPhone.

1.  It can tell the time.  Well, that’s great, but I don’t want a traditional watch and if I need to know what time it is, my  Fitbit One can tell me.  As an aside, I can’t remember the last time I was working out, didn’t know what time it was (or close enough), and just had to find out the exact time.  There are clocks, other people, and the sun, everywhere.

2.  It can play some of your music and show you some of your photos.  OK, I’ll admit the music capability is intriguing, especially if it includes podcasts, which comprise 95% of my workout listening.  The thing is, none of this streams.  You have to create some sort of playlist and store it in the 2 GB of space available on your Apple Watch.  Maybe, in theory, that would be awesome.  In actuality (based on my history with iTunes playlists), I might do it once or twice, and then never again.  As far as photos, if I were to list the things I want to look at while working out, my iPhoto library would be at or near the bottom.  And if I were to list the manner in which I want to view photos, on a watch-like size and form factor wouldn’t even make the bottom of the list.  It simply wouldn’t occur to me.

3.  It can track your heartbeat, steps, stairs, and stand-sit ratio.  Granted, my Fitbit One does not (at least as far as I know) have the ability to track my heartbeat or stand-sit ratio, but it tracks steps and stairs just fine.  If the Apple Watch had the ability to record and display my route (e.g.,  independent GPS functionality), that would be an improvement over my current process (my Fitbit can’t do that either, so if I want to I have to use my iPhone).  I suppose it would be nice to monitor my heartbeat, but that single additional feature isn’t going to get me in line to buy one.  I can see data that roughly correlates to my stand-sit ratio via my Fitbit dashboard.  In other words, these are relatively small and incremental gains that don’t seem like enough to warrant a third workout device (along with my Fitbit and iPhone).  Again, if the Apple Watch either allowed me to leave my iPhone at home or completely replicated and improved on the data tracked by my Fitbit, it might be a candidate to replace one or the other during my workouts.  But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.  Sure, if enough third parties play ball, the Apple Watch will one day allow a lot of health and medical tracking, but that’s not something that affects my actual workouts, and by the time all the players are in place, there will likely be newer Apple Watches and all sorts of other options.  In sum, I can see how the Apple Watch would appeal to people who are really into traditional wristwatches (except, you know, for the obsolescence problem), but I just don’t see how it is going to revolutionize fitness tracking.

4. It can use Apple Pay and Passbook.  This is neat, I guess, but I’m a huge Apple geek and I have used Apple Pay exactly four times: twice in an Apple Store and twice in a Walgreen’s (and Walgreen’s makes you sign something, even when using Apple Pay, which is a huge buzz kill on the entire process).  Nevertheless, I think Apple Pay is the future of mobile payments.  So, if I were willing to bet my right arm on the future, Apple Pay might be the Apple Watch’s quickest route to my wrist.

Rene Ritchie, at the always reliable iMore, has an article today about the Apple Watch as your new fitness trainer.  He makes as compelling a case as can be made that the Apple Watch will evolutionize, if not revolutionize, personal training.  Maybe, but I’m not seeing any giant leaps forward, though I will admit that the potential for the Apple Watch to learn how to track your workouts more accurately over time is intriguing.  Mostly, I see some incremental gains, some sideways leaps, and the allure of Apple.  If  I could swim with an Apple Watch, that would be one thing.  If it could seamlessly manage my music and podcasts, that would at least replicate what my iPhone does now, on a smaller device.  The fact that you can only shower with it seems like a missing feature, as opposed to a benefit.

Having said all this, I am realistic enough to know- and years of Apple experience has taught me- that feelings can change.  It may be that when I see an Apple Watch in person, and put it around my wrist, I’ll conclude I can’t live without one.  A year or two ago I would’ve told you that I will always be primarily a desktop computer user (long live the iMac).  My retina MacBook Pro has since taught me otherwise.

But here’s what I do know.  With the large majority of previous Apple devices, I have counted the days between the event announcing and showcasing the device and the day I could pre-order one.  Alarms clocks were set.  That’s not the case with the Apple Watch.  I’m going to need some convincing.

Learn Pixelmator Free

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One of the multitude of things I love about Macs in general, and my retina MacBook Pro in particular, is the photo editing application, Pixelmator.  For many years I was a semi-dedicated Photoshop user.  But Photoshop is expensive, and I have a natural dislike of pay-as-you-go applications.  A few months ago, I decided to dump Photoshop and go all-in with Pixelmator.  Like any good geek, I looked around  for a series of tutorials to get me started.  Drippy Cat has an excellent series of Pixelmator tutorials, freely available on YouTube.

Here, for your and my perusal and reference, are links to Drippy Cat’s excellent Pixelmator tutorials:

Save your Photos from Yourself: The Pixelmator Tutorials 1 and 2
An Overview of Photo Enhancing : The Pixelmator Tutorials Parts 3 and 4
Balance up Your Colors :The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 5
Cure Jaundice with Hue Shift and Saturation: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 6
What you need to know about Curves :The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 7
The Big and Beautiful Guide to Selections : The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 8
Zap Those Spots and Cure your Redeye: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 9
Clone Those Mistakes Away: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 10
Why Layer Masks are Fab: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 11
Back to Black and White plus Spot Colors: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 12
Dodge and Burn: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 13
Why You NEED Layer Modes!: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 14
Flawless skin – Not just for Hollywood: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 15
Getting that old Polaroid Effect: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 16
Best Pencil Effect Tutorial in the World Ever: The Pixelmator Tutorials Part 17

I was surprised by how powerful Pixelmator is.  It can do everything I need and more.  You can even import and open your existing Photoshop files.  In short, unless (and even if) you are a professional photographer, I see no reason whatsoever to rent Photoshop monthly, when you can buy Pixelmator for only $30.

Pixelmator also has an iPad app.

Apple and the Backwards Looking Advance

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The second biggest problem with the Apple Watch is that it’s a watch.  I get that there are a lot of people who (still) love wearing a watch.  I also get that there are people who (still) wear ties and high heels.  There are also people who still write letters.  Fifty years ago, almost everyone wore a watch and ties and high heels were the rule, not the exception.  Fast forward to 2015, and the trend line for ties, high heels and watches is not on the upswing.  Betting large on watches is a backwards looking advance by the greatest technology company in the world.

I haven’t worn a watch in close to a decade, and sadly not even Tim Cook can make me want one.  I saw some interesting stuff yesterday.  How much indispensable stuff is another question.

What I do wear is a fitness device.  I’ve worn my Fitbit (the pocket version) for over two years.  It is as integral to my day as my phone or my reading glasses.  I feel anxious on those rare but unavoidable days when I lose mine and have to wait a day for Amazon to deliver me another one.  Until now, the best hope for an Apple Watch to find its way onto my suntanned wrist was as an improved fitness device.  But, no.  The fact that you have to carry your iPhone with you to get the full benefit of the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features is the biggest problem, and a deal-stopper for me.

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And while I am bemoaning the recent Apple announcements, as opposed to my more typical reaction of counting the days to preorder some new wonderment, I’m underwhelmed by the new Macbook.  I’m not moved by the tech specs or the single port (and associated, expensive adapters to come), and I worry that it may spell the beginning of the end of the beautiful MacBook Airs.  Yes, these new laptops are light and small and lovely, but they seem like the child of an iPad and a netbook. I want something more powerful.  Like my beloved 15 inch retina MacBook Pro- the most beautiful and productive computer I’ve ever owned.

I hoped to be blown away yesterday, but I wasn’t.  I’m still all-in on the Apple train, but I worry just a little about where we are headed.

The Problem with the Apple Watch

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Or, more precisely, the problem with the Apple Watch priced at five figures.  If someone buys a fancy iMac or MacBook for $2,000 and a year or two later it starts looking less than awesome when compared to newer models, that’s frustrating.  Paying $20,000 for a fancy Apple Watch and having it look less than awesome a year or two later when compared to newer models would be devastating.

Dictating Blog Posts on an iPad Air 2

I’m writing this blog post on my new iPad Air 2, using the WordPress iPad app and iOS 8.1’s native dictation feature.

The dictation feature is much improved. I love the way I can now see my words typed in real-time, as opposed to having to wait until I’m finished talking, click the “Done” button and wait for the iPad to process a lot of dictation at one time. I also like the way autocorrect suggests words when you tap an incorrect word. It’s still cumbersome to add links and images via the WordPress app, but blogging on a tablet is definitely getting a little easier. [Note- there was no way to search for and link to that prior post via the iPad app.  I had to save this post as a draft and add the link via my desktop computer.]

One nit I wish they would fix in the WordPress app is to add an option to insert two spaces between sentences. Like a lot of people, I learned to type that way, I think it looks better, and that’s the way I want to do it.

Photos are still hard. [Note- when you add photos via the app, it links them to the full-sized copy.  If, like me, you want no link, you have to edit the photo via the desktop, which breaks the photo embed and puts a huge, full-size photo in the post.  You have to delete it and reinsert it in the desired, unlinked size, from the desktop.]

Photos By Trail Camera

It’s getting easier to do some heavy lifting on your iPad, but we’re not quite there yet. Some of it falls on developers to take full advantage of the increased flexibility available in iOS 8. Apple needs to continue to make it easier for developers to write apps for complicated workflows and power users.

The One Frustrating and Needless Omission that Makes Safari Suck

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I’ve been a Chrome browser user for a long time.  It’s a great browser, but my love for all things Apple occasionally leads me to attempt the switch to Safari.  There’s a lot to like about Safari- it’s fast, and it is deeply implemented in the OS X environment, via Reading List, iCloud, etc.

So recently I gave it another try.  I spent some time setting up Safari on my Macs,  installing my must-have extensions and getting the very customizable menu bar just the way I like it.  And I used it exclusively for a week.

While any new app is a bit of an adjustment, it is now clear that I could easily make the switch to Safari, except for one extremely frustrating, completely unnecessary flaw that makes an otherwise elegant and well-designed piece of software HORRIBLE AND UNUSABLE.

Before we get to that, let’s talk about what this post should be.  A generally favorable review of Safari, with a few mild frustrations that, if fixed, would make it perfect.  For example, I wish there was a way to make bookmarks and favorites open in new tabs.  This should be configurable, on an overall or site-by-site basis.  But it’s not.  You can force sites that want to open in a new window to open in a new tab, but you can’t set the browser to open your bookmarks, favorites or other links in a new tab.  Sure, a setting that caused every single link to open in a new tab would result in tab overkill.  But the option to have certain links (perhaps via an option to check a box on the edit bookmark screen) or categories (such as favorites- the ones I most want to open in new tabs) would be simple to implement and would be a great feature for power users.  I find the LastPass extension in Safari to be more kludgy than its Chrome counterpart.  There are other things that could be a little better.

But I can live with all that.

magnifyingglassWhat I simply cannot, should not and will not live with is THE INABILITY TO SET CUSTOM ZOOM LEVELS FOR THE SITES I VISIT.  Safari has native zoom in and zoom out buttons.  And they work fine.  But I DO NOT WANT to have to click them EVERY SINGLE TIME I VISIT A SITE.  A font-size and zoom level that works on a lower resolution or smaller screen is tiny on a 27″ iMac, and I can’t imagine it’s going to be any better on the beautiful new Retina iMacs.  Chrome lets you select and retain zoom levels, without doing ANYTHING.  Why in the name of Bobby-Elvis and his missing eyeball can’t Safari do this?

Someone is going to point out that you can set minimum font size in Safari, via the preferences.  Sure, but have you tried it?  Some sites look fine, but many become a jumbled mess.  Need to see what I’m talking about?  Set a largeish minimum font size and go to Feedly.  A horrible, unnecessary mess.

Yes, I looked for an extension.  There is one, but it doesn’t work on any of my Macs running the current version of Safari and Yosemite.  Yes, there may be complicated workarounds that let you impose custom CSS functions, but those break as many things as they fix.

At the risk of sounding like a baby: I WANT CUSTOM AND STICKY ZOOM LEVELS IN SAFARI AND I WANT THEM NOW!

But since I don’t have them, it’s back to Chrome for me.