Friday, September 29, 2006

Apple Releases Mac OS 10.4.8 Update

Apple released Mac OS 10.4.8 Update today fixing many operating system bugs and affecting third-party applications as well. Recommended for all Macs using Tiger.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Oh, Can I Relate to This!

Someone has finally quantified my qualitative disposition on the matter of how long to hang on to computers in the small office setting—and what to do about them.

I do know that small offices have budgets and I do know that computers are not free, but I see small offices with ancient Macs and appalling network hardware far too frequently. An article in The Networked Office that I wish a few former clients would read contains a few nuggets of wisdom. I'm really not out to just spend money for the fun of it, though. Honestly.

In my opinion only one thing is worse than hanging on to Macs older than about two and a half years in a small office, and that's to replace them with Mac mini's. I've seen architects laboring over six-year-old iMacs while charging clients the going rate for architects, then go out and replace it with a Mac mini. Hello? Is anyone home?

How much is your own time, and immeasurable aggravation, worth? To me whether one measures a narrow cost-benefit analysis or understands the more nebulous supposition that existence is a finite, limited resource, there's nothing more precious than time. Can you really not afford slightly better computer equipment? Maybe not this year. Money doesn't grow on trees, Mark. So noted, but if your business can afford it, choose a middle road between keeping your computers until they're good only as paperweights and buying every new model on the market.

You will benefit. Even if you don't want to do something nice for yourself, your employees will love you. The number one thing employees want from work is time off from work. After that, the second best thing you can do for them is to buy them a decent computer. If you buy them Mac mini's to produce architectural renderings, aren't you telling them something? "Sarah and Bill, you're such valued employees that I decided you can work on complex graphic design projects all day using sluggish Mac mini's with 17-inch fading monitors we've had since Sputnik." Hmmmm. Employee loyalty and esprit de corps cannot be measured by the bean counters. You'll have to use your heart to measure it in your business.

We shouldn't venture to speak about network hardware. Not just yet. Life is too short. I've got to find time for myself to write that Vietnamese student who is helping me connect to my past life as a teenager in Los Angeles during the Vietnam War—and losing my best friend at Quang Tri. I still love you, Doug.

Now, I just need to order a new computer. Come on, Apple, where are those new MacBook Pros, anyway?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Know Thy Home Directory

Mac OS X (that's a Roman numeral ten) is a multi-user operating system capable of managing multiple independent user accounts.

When you start your Mac, you are technically logging in to a single user account. Each account has its very own Home directory. Not all, but many roads lead to Home.

The following ways to find your way Home are the easiest:
Even if you are the sole user of that Mac, store all of your files in the Home directory. The folders you'll want to use are named Movies, Music, Pictures, and Documents. Save all documents in the eponymous Documents folder. Are you looking for a file? You know right where to look if you save all files in your Home.

Files stored on your Desktop are in fact residing in the Home directory but although convenient, doing so measurably slows your Mac. The more files piled on your Desktop, the slower your Mac will operate. Store all your files in the Documents folder and access them quickly through an alias of that folder in your Dock.

Files stored in folders other than your Home directory may be accessible to other accounts on the computer and may be easily lost among the thousands of other system and application files. Your file backup program may fail to back up those errant files, too.

It was of course that venerable Geek philosopher, Megapythagoras, who wisely implored us to: Know Thy Home Directory.

Monday, September 25, 2006

FixMacs Now Accepts PayPal

Existing clients may now submit payments through PayPal. Use as the recipient. Thank you.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Apple AirPort Security Update Available

Apple released AirPort Update 2006-001 and Security Update 2006-005 to fix several security flaws in AirPort Wi-Fi access. The security update can be downloaded using Software Update.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Quicken 2006 Updated

Intuit released Quicken 2006 R5 updater for Mac including a long list of bug fixes.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

For LOST fans

Dharma Initiative Hatch Clock
Scroll to the bottom of the Web page.

Wi-Fi Buyers, Beware N

Manufacturers of Wi-Fi access points are getting itchy. The current standard (802.11g) has been around for several years now. The market is saturated with models and the initial buying boom has passed.

Now the marketing staff at these Wi-Fi access point companies are wondering what to do. Surely something can be done to entice us into buying more of something.

That something goes by the moniker of "Pre-N" Wi-Fi access. Beware so-called Pre-N.

New standards for wireless networking is in development. Whether the new "N" standard improves life for some of us remains to be seen, but the Wi-Fi manufacturers are rolling out Pre-N versions now hoping to convince you to buy now. Out with the old; in with the new.

Notwithstanding the intense marketing hype to buy now, buying now is a very bad idea. Stick with G products. The N standards are in development and are not expected to become adopted as an industry standard until early 2008. Meantime, the Wi-Fi hardware you can now purchase labeled Pre-N offers no benefit for Mac laptops and very dubious benefits to PC users.

No standards exist today for N Wi-Fi hardware. Until such time, each manufacturer builds their own proprietary Pre-N equipment based on draft specifications. Whether or not that hardware will function when the final version of the N standard is approved is anyone's guess. The odds are not looking favorable.

According to Gartner, as quoted in, "vendors that market draft compliance are misleading prospects, even if they articulate what such compliance means in other documentation."

My recommendation is to stick with G-based Wi-Fi access points to ensure interoperability with existing Wi-Fi-enabled computers.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Super deal on SuperDuper!

The easy-to-use Mac backup application SuperDuper! is offered at a 10% discount during the next two days. I recommend it for those who have a single Mac to back up and do not yet have a backup routine.

Enter the coupon code getsmart at time of purchase.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Revolution has been Postponed, or "The Outer Limits" of Bandwidth

Apple's iTV is a harbinger of things to come. Wal-Mart should be worried about DVD sales, and the likes of Blockbuster and even NetFlix do not sit well with the future of entertainment distribution.

The take-home message from Apple is that the revolution is coming, but neither the iPod nor even the as-yet-unavailable iTV are the message. Distributing music and movies directly to your home requires bandwidth only now becoming available in adequate supply. Want to download the Godfather film series using dial-up, anyone?

Apple would like us to believe they're in charge; ditto. Microsoft will soon unveil the Zune MP3 player thinking now that the innovation phase is over they're in charge. Comcast and bretheren want to be in charge. "The medium is the message" (Marshall McLuhan). It's the bandwidth, baby. All the viable commericial toys exist because the bandwidth is there to deliver the real goods.

The current communications revolution began with the advent of the World Wide Web, upon which the progressing sub-revolution in entertainment distribution is founded. The fate of music CD and movie DVD distribution through brick-and-mortar giants such as Wal-Mart and Blockbuster seems clear. We all know it. This observation is trivial, but what isn't known is who will control the future direct electronic distribution of music and movies? Of that, no one really quite knows, but it won't be the "record" companies (the music CD soon to be as anachronistic as 78's,) or Hollywood's vertical marketing theaters.

The future depends on how much bandwidth will be available, to how many homes, how quickly, and how does the bandwidth get there.

No more profound question is before the entertainment industry.

Currently, more than half the home Internet access in the US is still dial-up. The other half is mostly DSL with cable following.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, as of March 2006 about 42% of American adults have broadband access at home. Fifty percent of these high-speed connections are DSL, whereas about 41 percent are cable access and 8 percent have fixed wireless broadband. About half of the homes with Internet access in the USA are still dial-up. Don't forget them. The USA is not even in the top ten nations with respect to broadband penetration (the South Koreans and Danish do better; more on this later).

According to Comscore, the average bandwidth (download speed) in the US in 2004 for the various Internet access pipes is as follows:
The data I have on broadband bandwidth is dated but indicates trends. Bandwidth is up. Cable is faster. DSL access is now being offered, at a premium price, at 1,500 kbps and my own cable Internet connection is about 5,000 kbps.

Faster Internet pipes are coming as are more options. The current near-monopoly in cable Internet bandwidth may be challenged with new technologies such as Broadband Over Powerline (BPL), regional Wi-Fi, and Fiber to the Home.

The future of entertainment lies in who controls the download conduit. Is Steve Jobs the modern equivalent of Vic Perrin in the 1963 TV SciFi "Outer Limits" imploring:

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. For the next generation we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the Apple limits."

The fight over who will control the revolutionary entertainment pipeline to your TV has begun, and the message is, "It's the bandwidth, baby."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Adobe Flash Player and QuickTime Fixes Vulnerabilities

Adobe announced the availability of a new version of Flash Player to fix vulnerabilities.

Apple released QuickTime 7.1.3 via Software Update to fix vulnerabilities.


"What's in a name? That which we call a planet,
By any other number would soar as sleek."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Disney Movies, iPods, and iTV but Still No Mac for the Rest of Us

Apple, in an incredibly non-essential media event today announced upgraded iPods, a new version of iTunes (v7), and movie downloads from Disney (75 movies; how many times can you watch The Lion King?) Apple "hopes" to add more movies next year.

The movies will take about half an hour to download using cable Internet and an estimated two to five hours on DSL.

A home theater device called iTV was also revealed that will be available—next year. iTV is not a HTPC; it's a media interface with the internals probably much like an AirPort Express with added I/O ports. HDMI and component video. This is astoundingly underwhelming.

Ho-hum. Apple dragged out the media presumably to pump up December holiday sales of the beefed up iPods, to counter-attack the similarly anemic movie download service, and to trump Microsoft's up-coming MP3 player. The new iPod nanos and the redesigned Shuffles are welcome, though. More good industrial engineering from Apple.

Notwithstanding the sleek new iPods, I must wonder what in the world Apple is doing over there. The company seems to be iPod-centric. I suppose it's a savvy move from the perspective of the "suits" who don't understand computing. It's a narrow pecuniary world-view.

It's the computer, stupid.

Most of us work for a living wherein we require computers that are more than iPod attachments. The center of the Apple world is the iPod and your Mac is now a mere iPod accessory conduit for more Apple cash flow in the guise of iTunes music and movies.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love music. Some of my best friends are musicians (chuckle) but, where are the Apple computers for those of us who work? Apple has lost focus. Manufacturing a small tower Mac with upgradeable processor and video cards, two hard drive bays, FireWire 800 and e-SATA ports, and one PCI slot won't make Apple rich in the short-term and may very well cannibalize the iMacs, so why build it? Because of the hidden iceberg of G4 users. Some SOHO businesses have been hanging on to their aging G4 towers waiting for Apple to offer a computer for the working creative professional. It doesn't exist. It's not the Mac mini and it's not the current crop of iMacs, either. These Macs are not well suited for graphic, video, or audio editors.

The Mac Pro at close to $3000 (with RAM) is fine for the corporate market but it's extreme overkill, and too expensive, for most SOHO operations. The Mac mini is perhaps best for the PC convert, and the iMac is a good, serviceable machine for common office uses such as Microsoft Office, e-mail, and Web surfing. Still, no Apple computer model for the SOHO creative niche.

iPods are sexy. iPods make Apple a bundle of cash. A working-class computer will not entice Time Magazine to put Jobs on the cover again, but I really don't know what to tell my SOHO graphic artist clients.

Wait until next year? Not really. They've stretched their G4s beyond any reasonable lifetime. Waiting.

Steve Jobs, what should I tell them? Buy a new iPod?

It's the computer, stupid.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Plethora of Passwords in your Mac Wallet

FixMacs Seal
We all seem inundated with passwords. Apple Keychain stores many passwords such as for email and encryption keys for Wi-Fi access points. Enter the password once, click the check box to Save in Keychain, and you're done with it.

Yet, why do I still find myself fumbling with scraps of paper and searching for printed account records?

The Mac password storage tool, Wallet, is now in my Utilities folder keeping my passwords easily accessible and reasonably secure. Wallet uses a high security encryption algorithm to store data. Accessing Wallet requires one password to access many stored passwords. I don't know of a better way to store rarely-used but essential login credentials. I've made a list below of the user names and passwords that would be best stored in Wallet:
That's all I can think of at the moment, but I'm certain you could add to this list. I do not store any passwords in Safari or Firefox, though I am often tempted to do so.

No more scraps of paper. Promise.

Show Time at Apple — Movies, Video iPods, and a Home Theater

This coming Tuesday, Apple is expected to announce new video iPods to go with a new Apple movie download store. In the wake of Amazon's movie download scoop last Thursday, Apple is a week late and the initial offerings may be limited to Disney Studios. Notwithstanding, Amazon movies, called Unbox, might be better named "UnTV" because the files will not easily playback on TVs.

With the advent of larger-screen iPods and a new Apple movie download store, will we also see a new HTPC (home theater PC)? When asked during the April shareholder's meeting about the possibility of an Apple HTPC, Steve Jobs answered in the skewed affirmative, "We hear you loud and clear." Recent patent filings from Apple indicate a G4 Cube look-alike computer may be on the way. Is this an Apple HTPC device capable of synching with new video iPods and playing movies from the new Apple movie store on your HDTV?

Speculate all we want, we will know with no certainty before Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Apple Announces New iMacs

Apple announced the availability of new iMacs today. All Intel iMacs now use the faster Core 2 Duo processor, and the top-of-the-line now features a 24-inch screen, a faster video chip (both the 20- and 24-inch models offer optional processors and video chips), and FireWire 800. Prices have dropped across all models. The 24-inch model has become appropriate hardware for some graphics work by narrowing the hardware gap between the iMacs and the high-end Mac Pro computer workstations. I can now recommend the 24-inch Core 2 Duo iMac to some graphic arts professionals.

Also revised, the Mac mini computer has been "speed bumped" and the single-core model has been dropped entirely.

Major product news is also expected from Apple next Tuesday during a scheduled press event. Although Apple shrouds new products in mystery, speculation and rumor ranges from the likely announcement of MacBook Pro laptops based on the Core 2 Duo processor, new iPods, an iTunes movie store, to the more ephemeral iPhone.

The 21st Century Home — Wired for Speed

New home construction and major remodeling projects present opportunities to build in the infrastructure for modern data communications. Structured wiring is a bundle of various data communications paths including computer networks (Ethernet cables), video and audio streams (CATV-coaxial cable), voice (Ethernet or Cat-3) and often low-gauge copper wire used for various low-voltage devices such as security, baby minders, and intercom.

Here we see a data port that can be found in each room in a structured-wired home. Wires shown are: telephone and fax (black), computer network (green), and audio/video cables (black round).

The wiring panel seen above has two major components. On the left are the telephone and video distribution panels. On the right are the computer network hardware which includes, from top to bottom: cable Internet modem (beige), router (blue), and network switches at the bottom with blue Ethernet network cables connected.

Images, and detailed information, are from Structured Wiring How-To by Bob Catanzarite.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Apple Online Seminars

The Apple Computer website includes free online mini-seminars covering a wide spectrum of topics including graphic arts, business applications, science, and video production.

Apple Online Seminars are little-known gems offering short, focused tutorials providing suggestions and solutions for maximizing the use of your Mac.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Apple Blossoms in the Wind

The Apple rumor mill is busy at work. If you're considering purchasing a Mac computer or iPod, I'd urge my clients to wait a few weeks before ordering.

The Intel Mac Pro was announced recently, but any and all other Mac models are fair game for major hardware revisions at this time.

Gooooooood Morrrrrrrrning Macintosh!

Robin Williams--not the funny guy but the skilled tech author--offers up a useful read on the nature of the current Apple computer operating system Mac OS X Tiger (Roman numeral ten, thus it's pronounced "Oh Es Ten" not "Oh Es Ex"). Far more adept at relating function and far less expensive than my services, Robin Williams explains how to use a Mac.

She explains the Mac way better than anyone using non-techie gentleness and humor.

Although directed toward appealing to newbies, veteran Mac users will find useful tips on such matters as how to use keyboard shortcuts and the power of Spotlight searches.

The Little Mac Book, Tiger Edition by Robin Williams

Available elsewhere.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pluto Today, Mercury Tomorrow?

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