How Cult of Mac Went From the Top of My Reading List to the Bottom in a Single Post

It would be hard to overstate how much I have historically liked the website/blog Cult of Mac.  Simply stated, I have long felt it was the single best source for Apple-related news, reviews and videos.  I usually read it first when I open up Google Reader to consume my news of the day.

Until this week, when I saw a post entitled MacKeeper is 911 for Your Mac.

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Until that moment, I assumed Cult of Mac was a clearinghouse of sorts with respect to all of the things (apps, websites, etc.) that apear in its stories.  The inescapable problem with the above post is that a lot of people- and I mean a whole lot of people- not only disagree that MacKeeper is a good app, they think it is somewhere between unnecessary and nefarious.  Need some examples?  Here’s a thread from today on the Apple Support Community message boards (the first stop for Apple-related questions and troubleshooting).  This is not an isolated response, and it’s not limited to the Apple Support Community.  Here’s a page that goes to great lengths to warn users away.

The comments to the post as well as on Cult of Mac’s Facebook page evidence the controversy.

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A couple of important things, in the interest of fairness.  One, Cult of Mac is not alone in recommending MacKeeper.  Two, I have never tried MacKeeper, and have no first hand knowledge of whether it is the greatest thing ever, the worst thing ever, or somewhere in between.  My problem with Cult of Mac is simply this: if you are the premier source for Mac news, you simply cannot toss up a post recommending MacKeeper (or any other controversial app) without addressing the significant anti-MacKeeper sentiment that pervades the internets.  Especially when readers might think (rightly or wrongly- I have no idea) that you are getting a cut of sales driven by said post.

If MacKeeper is wrongly maligned by these other websites, then gut it up and tell the readers why.  Debunk the criticisms, but don’t just willy nilly recommend the app, without comment.  Users at least need to know there is a vigorous opposing view.  I would like to be able to trust any app I see recommended on Cult of Mac, but if they don’t want to do the work to give us the full story, I can’t and won’t do that.

MacJournal as a Blogging App: So Much Potential, So Much Frustration

macjI continue to keep Parallels and a Windows 7 installation on my iMac, solely so I can use Live Writer. Lately, however, I’ve experienced a lot of unexpected Windows restarts and other (Windows-related) crashes. This adversely affects my joy and greatly increases my interest in finding a decent Mac blogging app, so I can uninstall Parallels and rid myself of the last remnant of Windows.

So I was immediately interested when I came across MacJournal today.

It’s not specifically a blogging app, but it has blogging features that are noted in the write-up and in the user manual. It is clearly a powerful app, that does a lot of things very well. It has good ratings, and seems to be beloved by many as a journaling tool.  But as a blogging app, it has issues.  Some of them are serious.

Need an example? How about the fact that this is the fourth time I’ve written this blog post- the first three tries via MacJournal were lost to a spinning beach ball of lockups. This one is being written in good ol’ Live Writer.  I wish I was raving about the many good features MacJournal has to offer.  Instead, I am  ranting about the lost potential.  And the fact that I can’t yet rid my iMac of Windows.

Let’s take a look at the very good and the very bad.

The good:

1. It is designed to interface well with a self-hosted WordPress installation. Setting up the blog connection is as easy as adding the URL, name and password for your blog.

2. It’s easy to add links, though the app needs to paste any URLs on the clipboard into the URL box. A small thing, yes, but a real time saver.

3. It is generally easy to add and manipulate photos and videos. There needs to be an easy way to resize a photo to a specific width, etc.

4. Categories and tags are supported.

5. I think it would be easy to create time saving templates.  When it comes to adding content and media, the app is very powerful.

Adding photos is as easy as a drag and drop, or you can browse through the included media browser to find media on your Mac.

Adding YouTube videos is even easier.   Paste the iframe code into your post, and MacJournal does the rest. This is very handy.

You can also record audio and video entries right from the app.

You can quickly import audio and video files from your Mac.

The bad:

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This happens a lot. It’s a deal stopper for me.  The problems seem to arise mostly when I try to publish a media-rich blog post. Problems also arise when I try to open an existing unpublished entry to edit it.

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Forever loading. Loading. Forever.

I was never able to successfully publish a media rich blog post via MacJournal.  My initial test post, containing just a photo and a YouTube video published quickly and easily, and looked great.  I could even edit it and republish it.  After that, when I tried to do a full post, with a photo, a YouTube video, several links and a short voice recording, nothing.  Just this.

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There are some quirks in the editing window (the cursor jumps to the top when you try to resize an image below the fold; I don’t see an easy way to make links open in a new tab or window, etc.), but those are minor annoyances that don’t outweigh the app’s obvious potential. That is, if you could actually post to your blog.

Granted, I am focusing on one aspect of what is, essentially, a journaling app.  But that is the one feature I want, and the only reason I would pay $30 (wow) for the app.

The local journaling features may work fine, but as a blogging app, MacJournal is frustrating, to say the least, and possibly broken (if these issues I am experiencing are widespread; I hope they are not).  The lockups and inability to open an existing entry are huge problems. The worst part is that MacJournal clearly has a ton of potential.  But for now its greatest potential is to frustrate those looking for a native Mac app to replace Live Writer.

Hopefully someone will create a decent Mac blogging app at some point.  I need to get Windows off of my iMac.  Soon.

Confessions of an Ex-Windows User

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It’s been almost two months since I dumped my last Windows computer, and returned to full-time Apple fan boy status.  It’s been great.  Almost perfect, in fact.

Here are my observations, two months in.

1. Macs are beautiful.  Period.  That may seem a little silly to those who are still beating away on their dusty, loud and aesthetically challenged Windows computers.  But think about it.  Many of us spend large parts of our day tethered to a computer for one purpose or another.   There’s something really Zen-like about sitting down in front of my cordless, contained iMac, compared to the mess of gear and cables that used to percolate on and under my desk.

All I have to do is sit down there, queue up All Things Must Pass (buy @ Amazon), and I am good with the world.

2. With only one exception, I don’t miss any of the software that isn’t available on Macs.  For one, the cloud has made much installed software irrelevant.  I only use 5-6 local programs regularly, and all but one of them have Mac versions.  As Macs continue to gain market share, we’ll see less and less Windows-only applications.

3. Much of the core Mac software is wonderful.  I absolutely love iPhoto.  Love, love, love it.  iMovie is not as powerful as Video Studio Pro, but it is incredibly easy to use.  And not owned by Corel.  I expect Final Cut Pro is plenty powerful, but I haven’t tried to tackle it yet.

I can’t really talk about video without mentioning… the Guy on a Buffalo.  I’ve watched those videos teens of times, and they are still hilarious.

4. The Magic Trackpad  lives up to its name.  I was such a fan of Microsoft’s Trackball Explorer that I bought a bunch of extras when they stopped making them.  But after a week or so with the Magic Trackpad, I can’t imagine using anything else, by choice.  I still have to use a 5 year old, dusty, crash-prone Dell box at work.  My morning buzz-kill-of-a routine consists of booting up that dinosaur, and waiting for it to crash when I try to email a big attachment.  If I had my way (sadly, I don’t with the IT folks at my company), I’d bring my own iMac up there, install Parallels, let them put all the corporate bloatware in there, and otherwise maintain my computing efficiency and karma.

5. The day to day experience is, well, just better.  I added iOS 5 to three iPhones and two iPads this week, which also required updating iTunes and other computer programs.  The process was really easy on Macs.  But on the one remaining Windows computer in our house- my daughter’s laptop- it was kludgy and hard.  The Windows navigation system seems cluttered, and the laptop touchpad is almost painful to use.  I really hate having to add software to that computer.

But it’s not all perfect in Apple land.

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Anyone who believes that Macs never lock-up or crash, hasn’t used one very much.  They do.  Not as often as Windows machines, but it happens.  I have had a few moments where I wanted to find every beach ball in the world, and rip them to shreds.

But, all things considered, I can’t imagine ever going back to Windows.  That just doesn’t seem, you know, fun.

MacAge: Filling the Live Writer Void

I’m almost a week into my all-in Apple era. So far, it’s mostly wonderful. The iLife apps are far better than anything available for Windows- iPhoto alone makes the switch worth it.  Adobe let me switch my Photoshop license to Mac (though they stubbornly insisted on snail mailing me the discs, even though I’ve downloaded my last several Photoshop versions).  The machine is elegant, and my study is much more relaxing without the big, loud HP computer, dual monitors and all the associated hardware.  I understand what people mean when they say that Macs “just work.”

The keyboard is taking some getting used to, after decades of Microsoft ergonomic keyboard use.  The typos are legion, but I’m getting there. I think.

On the other hand, I really love the magic trackpad. I am surprised at how easily I have abandoned my much-beloved Trackball Explorer. Those things are hard to find, and now I have a couple to sell.  Stay tuned as I try to turn all my Windows gear into a family iMac.  Need a scanner, or some new 27″ Dell monitors?  Drop me a line.

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Thanks for the memories!

But, boy, do I miss Live Writer. I am mostly OK with the WordPress embedded editor, but I miss the added features and resulting speed of a dedicated blogging app.

So, I’m test-driving some of the scant Mac options. This post is being written in Mars Edit. I can make it work, but it’s a harder than via Live Writer. Maybe it will have the iMovie effect- you know, where something looks really messed up at first, until you suddenly realize how awesome it is. I hope so.

I’ll have more later on my transition, including my dumping of Windows Home Server, largely because of Microsoft’s dumping of Drive Extender, for a Time Capsule. For now, I’m going to see if I can get Mars Edit to connect with my blog so I can post this.

The Mac-age: Could the New Mac Pro Cause Me to Go All-Apple?

image When I bought my first iPhone back in 2008, I was a dedicated Apple skeptic.  I hadn’t used a Mac since the Lisa 2 era, and had no plans of ever using one again (unless Apple were to issue a new version of my beloved Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure; I’ve always said I’d switch my entire computing universe to Macs, if I could play that game again).

Anyway, I now own an iPhone, an iPad, and two Mac Minis, which as I noted the other day are the best home media option.  I like Front Row and, thanks to a comment to my last post, I installed and really like Plex.

As a matter of fact, I am seriously considering dumping DirecTV (and the never-ending “Searching for signal in Satellite In 2” message that keeps denying me True Blood) in favor of some combination of an OTA antenna, Netflix, iTunes and, maybe Hulu Plus (I got my beta invite a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t checked it out yet).

My only holdout remains my desktop.  I use one of the Mac Minis on the desktop periodically, and have become very comfortable with OS X.  Some things, most notably web browsing, just seem to look better in OS X.  I recently bought and really, really like dual Dell UltraSharp U2711 monitors (these beauties are so bright and vibrant that I feel like I need shades to use them; and I mean that in a good way), so an iMac in not an option for me.  It might be an option for my wife, who seems to destroy any electronic device she uses semi-regularly.  I genuinely think she has some electro-magnetic aura that kills electronics.  It would make a great X-Files episode.

Neither she nor I are computer gamers (again, in my case, pending the return of OIdyssey), which may be a good thing if either of us ends up with an iMac and a Magic Mouse.  Here’s the quote of the year so far in an otherwise positive Engadget review of the new iMacs:

[W]e don’t think hardcore gamers are going to flock to the Mac at these numbers, but you’re not going to be unhappy if you’re just looking to have some fun. (Playing any of these games with the Magic Mouse will make you tear your hair out and light your skull on fire, however, but that’s a different story.)

This leaves the forthcoming Mac Pro, as the only carrot that could draw me across the all-Mac line.  I still think they are too expensive.  However, the beautifully designed and easily upgradable case is very appealing to me.  I have even convinced myself that I don’t need Blu-ray on my desktop (though it is irritating that Mac Minis don’t have Blu-ray, as that requires me to keep a stand-alone DVD player).  What it comes down to is noise.  Or the lack of it.

As anyone who knows me (for example, my neighbors with the barking dog) will confirm, I am very sensitive to noise.  I’m a super-light sleeper, and anything more than a pin drop will wake me up, and keep me awake.  My current HP desktop isn’t loud, but it isn’t quiet either.  I’d probably pay a premium for a Mac Pro- if it were really quiet.  I’m betting it’s not, but I’ll certainly inquire once the new models hit the street.  A rocking new Mac Pro, with my current monitors and Parallels installed in the name of Live Writer would work nicely.  Very nicely.

In the meantime, here’s some bonus video of yours truly playing Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure in 1985.  I really loved that game.

Why doesn’t someone port this game to the iPhone/iPad?  I’d buy many copies, just to show my thanks.

Bonus tech support for Google searchers who will have this problem: if you buy a Dell UltraSharp U2711 monitor and have a bad picture, be sure you are using dual-link DVI cables (one came in the box with the monitor).  They look similar to, but are not the same as, older DVI cables.  You can’t use your existing standard DVI cables.  Trust me.  It took me about a half hour to figure this out.

Why a Mac Mini is the Best Home Media Option

Like a lot of techophiles, I have struggled mightily with bringing computer apps and internet content to my home theater set up.  I’ve tried full size computers, small computers, various streaming solutions and all sorts of other equipment, all in the name of television and internet convergence.

Everything works a little and it seems like nothing works really well.

image This weekend, I found my answer.  A Mac Mini.  It’s not perfect, but it’s the best solution I have found so far.

By a wide margin.

Sure, I tried a Mac Mini before.  But it died a premature death so I took a while to try again.

I also recently tried a Dell Inspiron Zino. These are nifty little computers, and its small footprint will find it a place in the house, likely as a replacement for my kids’ older and bigger shared computer.  Plus, it has a Blu-ray drive, which the Mac Mini stubbornly lacks (thereby prolonging the need for a stand alone DVD player).  But the Windows big screen media experience is just not satisfying.  I don’t like things to be too simple in a desktop environment, but when you’re on the couch chilling, simple is good.

And for better or worse, Apple tries to make the media process pretty simple.

I also tried- and loved- Apple TV.  But three things make the Mac Mini a better choice.

1. It does what the Apple TV does, plus the entire range of other computer and internet functions.

2. I don’t know what Apple has in store for the Apple TV, but the two most likely things are massive changes or death.

3. Parallels.

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Parallels is a pretty nifty program that lets you run Windows 7 and Windows apps inside of and along with OS X.  So I can have the best of both worlds.  As we speak, I am installing Windows Live Writer on my Mac.

Scary thought: if I find little or no performance degradation when running Windows apps on a Mac via Parallels, it could lead me to make my next desktop a Mac.  I just need to find an extra $10K or so to recreate the dual monitor Windows setup I have now.  People try to tell me that Macs are not overpriced, but one trip to the Apple store to configure a Mac Pro with lots of storage and two monitors proves otherwise.

Front Row is a beautiful app for viewing photos and videos and for listening to music.  I just wish it had iTunes store integration so I could buy movies from within the app (and completely avoid that blight that is the iTunes app).  The inability to purchase media within Front Row and the need to suffer iTunes  is, by far, the biggest feature deficiency in the Mac Mini as home theater experience.

But it’s still the best option out there.

At the end of the process, I’ll probably have two Mac Minis in operation.  One in my study (where the current one resides) and one in the theater room, so my wife and kids can access our music, photos and home movies.

It’s hard to believe how far I have come in my Apple journey.

Mac Mini (2008-2009)

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Mr. Mac Mini, 1, of Bellaire, Texas, died September 3, 2009 at home, from unknown causes.  Mr. Mini was found sleeping at his desk and could not be revived.  Heroic efforts were made by his friend and manager Kent Newsome, who performed immediate emergency surgery on Mr. Mini, to no avail.

Mr. Mini was born in June 2008 in China, and moved to Bellaire, Texas in December, 2008.  He was the son of Steve Jobs of Cupertino, California. Following graduation from the Apple Store in 2008, Mr. Mini enlisted in the Extraordinary Everyday Lives Show and appeared semi-regularly during his short life. In early 2009 he partnered with childhood friend Mac the Ripper to rip a few recalcitrant DVDs.  Several of his ripped MP4’s reside in the Newsome family media library.  For his actions Mr. Mini was awarded the distinguished Medal of Mediocrity by leading tech blog Newsome.Org.

Mr. Mini was a life long Macintosh, and worked tirelessly throughout his life to rebut the oft-cited Mac superiority claims by Macintosh fans.  From the age of 2 months, he was mute, unable to produce the slightest sound through his tiny little speaker.  Thanks to the miracle of modern geekiness, he was kept alive and in operation for almost nine months.

His untimely death was met with great reaction from the technosphere.  Steve Wozniak released a statement saying “while I am saddened by Mac’s death, when his father and I split up and his father got custody, I knew something like this was going to happen.”  Noted blogger/photographer Earl Moore said “well, we all know Macs suck, so everyone should save themselves some misery and get a far superior Windows-based computer.”  Richard Querin noted “since OS X is nothing more than a glorified Linux kernel, what did you expect?”  Upon hearing the news, Bill Gates pumped his fist in the air and began to jump up and down briefly before falling to the ground with leg cramps.

Mr. Mini is survived by his father, of Cupertino, California, two brothers (HP, 3 , and Dell, 5), of the home, one sister (IBM, 4), of Houston, Texas, several mice, keyboards and iPods, and one AppleTV.

A private memorial service was held on September 4, 2009, after which Mr. Mini was interred in a trash bag.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Vintage Mac Museum, or the charity of your choice.

Hacking a (Mini) Mac

macopenedNow that I have taken that important first step and added a Mac Mini to my home office computer array, the only logical next step was to open it up, take a look at the insides and add stuff to it.  Here’s the story of how I upgraded my RAM to 4-GB and my hard drive to 465-GB.  Because of the small size of the machine, it was harder than upgrading a desktop, but no harder than upgrading a laptop.  And there are lots of tutorials on the web to guide you through the process.

First, I shopped around for new hardware.  I ended up getting two 2-GB memory modules and a 500-GB hard drive from OWC.  The items were shipped immediately and sitting in my office within a couple of days.

I decided to add the RAM first.  Methodshop has an excellent walk-through of this process.  Of course, I didn’t back up anything.  I decided to play marbles for keeps and just grabbed a putty knife and started prying the case apart.  As noted in the walk-through, this first step is probably the hardest part of the exercise.  Once you get the hang of it, it gets much easier, but at first that Mac Mini looks about as hard to get into as Fort Knox.  Once you get the case open, follow the steps as described in the Methodshop walk-through and a few minutes later, you have an upgraded Mac Mini.  The only part I couldn’t get done was to reinsert all 4 corner screws.  The back left one proved to be impossible, so my Mac Mini is secured by only 3 corner screws.  I hope it doesn’t feel inadequate.

atm Adding the RAM was easy- and easier than I expected.  Now for the new hard drive.

Applefritter has a good walk-through of both the RAM and hard drive upgrade process.  OWC sells upgrade bundles along with its hard hdinfo drives, which include an external SATA enclosure and software to clone your existing hard drive to the new one.  Cloning my existing hard drive to the new hard drive was easy- and I didn’t read any instructions.  I just installed the application, put my new hard drive in the enclosure, attached it to my Mac Mini, opened the application and looked for the right settings (clone).

After cloning the hard drive, I followed the steps as described in the Applefritter walk-through.  It went relatively smoothly, with a couple of complications.  When unfolding the case to access the hard drive, the audio cable to the DVD drive came loose (see the last picture in the Applefritter walk-through).  It’s easy to reattach, but it would be a huge drag to fully reassemble the machine, only to find later that the DVD drive wasn’t working.  I also accidently pulled the cable that attaches the airport antenna off of the connector on the internal airport card.  It can be reattached easily if you know where to attach it.  I also found that you need to pull the T-shaped foam rubber off of the old hard drive and attach it to the new one.  You can see this foam rubber attachment in the eighth picture in the Applefritter walk-through.

All in all, these upgrades were quick and easy.  And at the end of the day, my little Mac Mini isn’t quite as mini anymore.

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