Archive for the ‘ Technology ’ Category

Take Nothing For Granted – Always Check Your Data

I use the 1Password  application from AgileBits extensively and this is a heads-up about a feature that didn’t operate quite as I had expected.

If you haven’t heard of 1Password you’re missing a treat. It’s a password manager and secure wallet that encrypts the information you store within it. One of its very handy features is that it’s available for Mac and Windows platforms and for iOS and Android devices and enables you to synchronise your 1Password data across your various devices.

The synchronising feature does however have certain limitations and it was my failure to recognise these limitations that left me without some required data recently.

As the Agilebits website says “You can now add file attachments to any item in 1Password! It’s great for attaching file-based licenses and receipts to Software Licenses, adding images to Secure Notes, or adding a scan of your Passport directly to your Wallet. Files are copied into 1Password’s database and encrypted along with all of your other information.”

I attach documents to items in 1Password all the time, it’s one of the features that makes 1Password so useful, but here’s how I made a wrong assumption about that particular feature…

The other day I had no access to my iMac, I only had my iPad and iPhone to hand. I needed some login password details and so I opened up 1Password on my iPad. I searched through the Secure Notes section and found the relevant note to which I had previously attached a PDF. I knew the information I required was on that attached file but there was no sign of the PDF in 1Password. I checked through other Secure Notes that I knew had files attached, but those too were missing their attachments. I was mystified, as I had always assumed that the attachments were fully synchronised to the iOS devices along with all my other data stored within 1Password.

But that was my mistake, I had assumed wrongly.

It turns out that attached files are synchronised between the Mac version of 1Password, but not across to the 1Password iOS applications.

I checked the AgileBits website and yes, there within the 1Password User Guide it states “Attachments are not synchronized to our 1Password for iOS apps at this time.”

So as the saying goes – always read the small print, or in this case ensure you read past the front webpage, to get all the details of the workings of any software on which you rely to provide your essential information.

If you are a 1Password user check that any data you require to access via the iOS versions of 1Password is not constrained to an attached file.

1Password’s customer support via Twitter have said that they hope to introduce attachment synchronisation in the future. In the meantime I will be working my way through a multitude of attached documents and ensuring that any information that may be required via the iOS version of 1Password is copied from the attachment to the main record within the app.

I learned my lesson, next time I won’t take anything for granted.

Are Your Ripped Movie Chapters Out of Sequence?

HandBrake

Have you ever tried to rip a movie DVD on your Mac with HandBrake only to find that the final result is a movie file with all the chapters out of sequence making the movie unwatchable?

Well, that’s the result of the copy protection doing it’s stuff, trying to prevent you from ripping the DVD.

But if the DVD is your own, legally acquired copy of a movie, then in my opinion it’s reasonable to make a copy of the DVD for backup purposes.

VLC Media Player

The application HandBrake, in conjunction with VLC media player, is one of the simplest ways to rip your DVD on a Mac.

However, if the movie DVD has the “new improved” chapter-scrambling copy protection on it, then HandBrake becomes confused. The DVD has multiple false tracks on it, so that when HandBrake reads the source DVD searching for the main feature to rip, it invariably guesses at the wrong track, resulting in a collection of scrambled movie chapters.

HandBrake finds multiple tracks of similar length.

The answer is to tell HandBrake which is the correctly sequenced track out of the numerous ones that show up in the DVD source list.

To find the correct track you have to leave HandBrake and go to the DVD Player app.

Take the DVD you wish to rip and start playing it on the Mac in DVD Player.

When the main feature has started playing, go to the menu bar and click on Go and then Title, you will be presented with a list of numbered titles or tracks, one of which will be ticked. This is the track that is playing and is the correctly sequenced main track.

DVD Player Menu Bar shows which track is playing

Make a note of the ticked title number.

Stop playing the DVD. Go back to HandBrake and choose that title number from the source list.

Let HandBrake works its magic and your ripped movie file should then be perfectly sequenced.

The digital file is now available to be watched on your computer or burned to DVD, allowing you to safely store the original DVD away from children’s dangerous jam-covered hands.

Sharing Address Book in iCloud

Apple’s abandonment of its MobileMe service in favour of the newly introduced iCloud has caused a few hiccups along the way. One of which has been losing the ability to share Address Book contacts easily between users with different iCloud accounts.

Before the recent change over to iCloud from MobileMe you could share your Address Book with another MobileMe user so that both of you could access the same Contacts list. This was done by “Subscribing to…” another MobileMe user’s Address Book. It was a simple process and worked well for me where I shared the Contacts within my Address Book with my husband. He was able to see my contacts within his Address Book on his iMac.

Although the “Subscribe to Address Book…” option still appears in the menu bar after the change to iCloud, you can only subscribe to a MobileMe member’s Address Book and not to an account that has been moved to iCloud.

In fact at first I could see no obvious simple way to share Contacts now that we have both moved our MobileMe accounts to iCloud.

Well, it turns out you can still share your contacts in Address Book between iCloud members, it just takes a different approach to achieve the same result.

An important note to bare in mind is that you will be sharing access to other parts of your iCloud account, so this really needs to be done only with someone you trust.

The best way for me to explain how to I did this is to describe how it works in my home.

Reason for sharing Address Book:

In my household I host the main Address Book on my iMac and I need this to sync to my laptop and iOS devices. My husband wants to share my Address Book on his iMac and for the contacts within my Address Book to sync to his iPhone.

Previously, in the MobileMe days:

Address Book was synced across my two Macs and iOS devices via MobileMe.  Within his Address Book my husband subscribed to my Address Book on his iMac and the contents were then synced to his iPhone via his MobileMe account.

And now with iCloud:

it isn’t quite so simple, but it is possible, here’s how…

Both my husband’s and my MobileMe accounts have been converted to iCloud, all our Macs and iOS devices are running the latests operating systems, OS X 10.7 Lion and iOS 5 respectively.

On my iMac: The Address Book is now synced to my MacBook Air and my iOS devices via my iCloud account. That’s the simple part.

On my husband’s iMac: He has his own Address Book but, by default, no access to the contacts within my Address Book.

So, to enable my Address Book contacts to show up in his Address Book:

I open System Preferences on his iMac and go to “Mail, Contacts & Calendars” where I add a new iCloud account. I enter my Apple ID details to set up the new iCloud account on his computer.

New iCloud Account Added

This new iCloud account is recognised by his iMac as not being the primary iCloud account for his machine. It gives the options of selecting or deselecting access to “Mail & Notes”, “Contacts” and “Calendars” from my newly added iCloud account. On my husband’s iMac, all I want is “Contacts”, so I un-tick “Mail & Notes” and “Calendars” and make sure “Contacts” is ticked.

I then select his original primary iCloud account and un-tick “Contacts”, leaving the others ticked as required.

The Original Primary iCloud Account

The contacts from my Address Book now show up in the Address Book on my husband’s iMac.

The next step is to get the Contacts from my Address Book onto his iPhone. This is achieved in a similar way, by adding my iCloud account details to his iPhone.

On his iPhone I go to Settings, and then into “Mail, Contact, Calendars”, and then to “Add Account…” , choose “iCloud” and I enter my Apple ID and Password.

He now has access to my iCloud account on his phone, but the only information from my iCloud account that I want on his iPhone is “Contacts” so I un-tick “Mail”, “Calendars” “Reminders” etc, just leaving “Contacts” as ticked.

He has read and write access to the shared Contact list and any changes he makes show up across all our Macs and iOS devices within minutes via iCloud syncing.

Both his and my Macs and iOS devices now share one Address Book.

For our particular setup this works well, however there may well be variations that others wish to explore. For example it would still be possible for my husband to keep his own Address Book and Contacts running in tandem with the shared data, just by keeping “Contacts” ticked within his own iCloud account on his iMac and iPhone.

Maybe one day Apple will give us a simpler way to share our Address Book, just like the old days.

The Never-Ending Hunt for the Perfect iPhone Case: Vaja, Speck and Mossimo.

An iPhone 4S found its way into my home  recently. As soon as it was unboxed I put it straight into my existing Speck iPhone case that had protected my iPhone 4 throughout the past year.

With the introduction of the iPhone 4S, the volume buttons and mute switch on the side have moved position slightly in comparison to the iPhone 4. The change is enough for some iPhone 4 cases to have their button apertures misaligned on the new 4S. There was no such problem with the Speck case.

Speck Hard Shell Case for iPhone 4/4S

As the iPhone 4 and 4S are otherwise identical in form factor, the Speck case fitted perfectly and could well have continued providing its protective services on my new 4S. The Speck case is rigid plastic with a textile covering on the solid back panel. The case splits into two sections along the outer edge making it easy to remove for cleaning or when accessing the SIM card drawer. Originally purchased from the Apple online store for Au$39.95/US$40, it is still available in the iPhone 4 cases section of the Apple Store.

My quandary was that the new iPhone 4S would look and feel no different to my existing 1-year old iPhone 4, so I decided to search for a new and different case. This time I fancied a more luxurious feel to the case, something in leather and if possible, in a dark red colour.

The closest I could find was a leather case that caught my eye at a local Optus mobile phone store. It was a flip style, predominantly black leather with a red stripe and red iPhone surround. It bore the name Mossimo and was relatively inexpensive at Au$39/US$39.

Mossimo iPhone Case

The iPhone 4S fitted in snuggly and the padded leather front and rear protected it well. Later that day that I noticed what can only be described as a design flaw: it is not possible to close the front flip-cover when using earphones as there is no access to the earphone jack when the front flap is closed. An annoying problem that caused me to continue searching for a more satisfactory case.

Eventually I stumbled upon the Vaja website, makers of leather cases for all sort of electronic devices including of course, iPhones. Their website is gorgeous and allows you to customise the cases in your own choice of colours.

Vaja ivolution Grip

I liked the look of the Vaja ivolution Grip but was a little concerned that the whole top section of the iPhone is exposed and therefore vulnerable to damage if dropped. The Vaja ivolution Top seemed the safer choice, with its flip style front cover which protected the top of the phone. Most importantly the earphone jack was still accessible when the cover was closed.

Vaja ivolution Top

The main aspect of buying from Vaja is that many of their cases are custom made to order and so can take many weeks to deliver, luckily my choice of Pompeian Red leather with Rosso interior lining was showing as in stock with immediate delivery. The price (sharp intake of breath) US$80/Au$80 plus a delivery charge of (a rather pricey) US$43, giving a grand total of US$123/Au$123. Expensive by anyone’s standards!

Delivery took approximately 10 days from Vaja’s factory in Argentina to Perth, Western Australia.

The iPhone case was packaged in a sturdy attractively designed box, but just rattled around inside the box and the sense was of it having just been tossed into the box with little care.  The iPhone case itself appears very well made with metal bar fixing the front flap to the main body of the case. There is a large cutout area for the iPhone’s camera lens and flashlight with a black plastic surround to prevent flash reflection off the case itself. The front cover/flap is rigid and has a cutout for earphone socket and power switch.

     

Vaja ivolution Top

The iPhone fits in very smoothly and the snug fit holds it securely in place. The front cover is kept closed by the pressure of the top section gripping the top of the iPhone and the front cover is actually held clear of the phone’s screen, floating about a millimetre above the screen surface.

Vaja case is much thinner than Mossimo case.

The profile of the case is quite slim and just about doubles the overall thickness of the iPhone, but it doesn’t feel bulky in the pocket. As you can see in the comparison shot it is substantially thinner that the Mossimo leather case.

Verdict:

The Speck case is functional if not attractive, it shows very little sign of wear after 12 months hard use and is good value for money.

The Mossimo leather flip case is well made, although the leather feels cheap. It is a bit on the bulky side, but well priced and does a good job of protecting the phone. If there had been access to the earphone jack with the front cover closed I would probably have stuck with this case.

The Vaja ivolution Top is a beautifully crafted case with a quality solid feel, it protects the iPhone from minor knocks and scrapes and slips in and out of pockets with ease. Is it worth the high purchase price? I’m not so sure it is. Maybe in twelve months time I will be better able to answer that question, but in the meantime I will continue to love the feel and colour of the Vaja case.

HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer

I recently started the search for a replacement for my Canon Pixma MP500 all-in-one printer.

In my home office the Canon printer was connected via USB to the Apple Time Capsule router, allowing all the computers on the network (wired and wireless) to print to it. This worked well, but when it came to scanning, the Canon had  to be directly connected to the computer by USB. This time I wanted an all-in-one printer that would scan wirelessly.

After researching the pros and cons of various printers I decided upon the HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer available at the online Apple Store for Au$169.95. My choice was based on its ability to connect wirelessly to my home network and to both print and scan wirelessly.

HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer

The purpose of this post is not to give an in-depth review of the HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer, but to say whether or not it fulfilled my personal printer requirements, namely:

Network printing, wireless scanning, good quality text and colour printing and copying. My need for photo printing was very limited.

My first concern was whether there would be the expected battle for the printer to join the wireless network and then, whether the promised wireless scanning would actually work. I had my doubts.

Once unpacked, I connected the HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer to the mains and hit the power button. The 8.9cm colour touch screen sprang to life. A finger-tap on the screen and we were into the Setup Wizard which guides you through cartridge insertion and wireless setup. Network name chosen, WPA password entered and we were connected.

Touch Screen

So simple, oh ye of little faith! I had not expected it to connect up so easily.

Printing from the networked computers worked nicely, with each of the wired and wireless Macs printing successfully to the HP printer.

Now to test the promise of wireless scanning. I opened Preview on the Mac and chose “Import from scanner”.  There in the list was the HP Photosmart printer. A few seconds later a document scan was appearing on my Mac – success!

The HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer has fulfilled my requirements.

There are however many other features and tricks of which this printer is capable.

One clever feature is the ability to print to this printer from anywhere in the world. Just configure the HP printer with a unique email address via the HP website and it will print documents sent as email attachments. A feature some travellers may well find useful. There is also web app that allows photos to be sent to HP’s online printing service direct from the printer.

The photo print quality of the HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One Printer is a little flat, this may be partly due to there only being 4 ink cartridges. Other printers with more cartridges can produce better quality photo prints. Document print quality is fine. The printer itself can be very noisy though, with a lot of rattling about as it prepares to print.

On the whole, I’m happy with this printer, especially its wireless connectivity and its printing and scanning without the need for a USB connection.

Choosing iPhone Headphones

For the past 18 months I’ve been using a set of cheap in-ear headphones for listening to podcasts on my iPhone. So when these cheapie earphones recently gave up the ghost, I began my search for a replacement set.

I’m not keen on spending big bucks on earphones as their failure rate seems out of proportion to their cost. I’m always amazed at the high cost of some models available at the Apple Store.

I have previously had a couple of Sennheiser earphones and was happy with the sound quality, but found their cables tended to fail at the connection with the 3.5mm plug.

I searched the online Apple Store for a similarly priced set of earphones to my previous Sennheisers and came up with

the V-MODA Remix Remote Headphones at Au$99.95

V-MODA Remix

and the Sennheiser i300 Mobile Music Headset at Au89.95.

Sennheiser i300

Both the Sennheiser and V-MODA earphone sets have an inline switch for controlling volume and play/pause of audio tracks, together with a microphone for iPhone use.

The Sennheiser earphones come with 3 pairs of silicone earbuds of varying sizes whereas the V-MODA set comes with a total of 8 (yes 8!) pairs of replacement earbuds in 4 different sizes. The V-MODA set also has detachable sport ear-hooks to prevent the earbuds falling out during your daily jog.

V-MODA Remix Detachable Sport Ear-hooks

The features that impressed me most with the V-MODA earphones are the Kevlar reinforced cable and the 45 degree 3.5mm plug fitting which allows you to get a good grip on the jack when removing it from the device. It looks like this usually vulnerable part of the headset is likely to withstand many years of tugging the jack out from your iPhone or iPod.

The Sennheiser earphones have a more flexible cable which thankfully, does not transfer the scraping sounds when the cable drags against clothing, as much as the V-MODA cable does.

The Sennheiser plug feels much more vulnerable to damage when removing it from the audio connector. It is thin and smooth, making it difficult to get any traction when pulling it from the iPhone. It is all too easy to end up putting strain on the cable instead of the jack.

As for sound quality, I found quite a difference between the two sets of earphones, although I have to say I am no audiophile.

The Sennheiser produced a good all-round sound with decent bass and good noise isolation, whereas the V-MODA earphones lacked bass, producing a very tinny sound quality. I felt their noise isolation was either lacking or gave the effect of being overly cutoff from my surroundings, depending upon which size ear bud was fitted. There seemed to be no happy medium with the V-MODA.

Disappointingly, the V-MODA earphones were uncomfortable in the ear, the serrated chrome band just behind the silicone bud felt rough in my ears and made it impossibly uncomfortable when trying to sleep with the earphones in my ears. Yes, I go to sleep with my earphones in, listening to podcasts or audio books!

So from a comfort and sound quality angle, the Sennheiser i300 earphones win hands down, but the extra ruggedness of the V-MODA Remix’s Kevlar reinforced cables and tough plug/cable joint cannot be ignored. My choice though, will be to go with the Sennheiser i300 Earphones next time. The problem is that “next time” could be a long way off, if the strength of this V-MODA audio jack connector is anything to go by, I doubt it will be failing any time soon.

Sennheiser i300

Pro’s: A richer bass sound quality. Comfortable in ear. Good sound isolation.

Con’s: Fragile audio jack to cable with not much grip. Bulky inline mic/audio control switch

V-MODA Remix

Pro’s: Kevlar cable. Solid well-shaped audio jack connector. 8 pairs of earbuds. Detachable sports ear-hooks.

Con’s: Tinny sound, lacking in bass. Uncomfortable in the ear. Friction noise transmits along cable to earphones.

WoodPad – The Hardwood Stand for iPad

Hello WoodPad for iPad – Goodbye Griffin A-Frame Stand.

My iPad has spent its whole life protected by Apple’s original iPad case which has held the iPad upright in landscape mode quite happily. However, recently I have noticed a tendency to fall over. No, not me, the iPad!

To prevent this precarious wobble I resurrected the Griffin A-Frame Stand from the cupboard. Problem solved, we have a steady iPad once more. However when the Griffin stand is not holding the iPad it looks too obtrusive, its height dominates the corner of my desk and there always appears to be something missing, like well… the iPad! This niggled me and I became unhappy with the Griffin stand. Yes, I could fold away the Griffin stand but I wanted to leave the stand available for use.

Then, while listening to an episode of the MacBites Podcast, I heard a review of the WoodPad for iPad. I perused the The WoodPad website, a beautifully designed site which clearly presents everything you need to know about WoodPad “The Stylish Hardwood Stand for iPhone and iPad”. It gives the history of WoodPad, details of the woods used and the availability of versions for iPad, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPod Touch.

The creator of the WoodPad, James Turner – a professional cabinet maker, describes how he first made a simple wooden stand for his iPad and posted a photo on Twitter, where interest in the idea lead to further development. Prototypes were tested and the product refined until a well crafted hardwood stand emerged.

The WoodPad for iPad stand is available in four different polished hardwoods: Maple, Ash and Cherry from the USA and European Oak, all the hardwoods are from managed sources.

I chose the Oak WoodPad for iPad and was pleased to see that free worldwide delivery was included in the £20 cost, a bonus when one considers delivery for me is from the UK to Australia!

The WoodPad was despatched (Air Mail) the same day and was received by me a couple of weeks later.

The Oak WoodPad instantly met my expectations of a nicely hand-crafted iPad accessory. I particularly like the pattern of the end grain on the vertical edges of the WoodPad.

The two grooves in the iPad stand give the option of 15 or 26 degree viewing angles and hold both the original iPad and the latest iPad 2 in landscape or portrait mode. My iPad in its Apple case sits nicely in the grooves at a perfect viewing angle, leaving the docking port and volume controls accessible. The rubber-style plastic feet have enough “stickiness” to hold the WoodPad firmly on horizontal surfaces and prevent any unwanted sliding around. With the iPad sitting in the WoodPad’s grooves it is feels solid and secure, its low centre of gravity making it feel more stable than the Griffin stand.

So what does the WoodPad achieve that the Griffin stand couldn’t? Well, apart from the apparent extra stability, the WoodPad blends into the background on my desk when it isn’t holding the iPad. It’s only 36mm tall whereas the Griffin A-Frame Stand is 208mm high. WoodPad is small enough to go unnoticed, but if I do become obsessively bothered by it, WoodPad slides under my iMac and is out of sight altogether!

For me, the simplicity of the WoodPad is its defining feature. The beauty of natural hardwood and an uncomplicated yet functional design combine to produce a desirable and useful iPad accessory that achieves more than I had expected. It provides a natural, low-tech alternative to the various aluminium and plastic iPad stands and I love it!

WoodPad Stand for iPad is available from http://www.woodpad.co.uk for £20 and the iPhone version is available for £16, both with free worldwide delivery.

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