Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to school with your Mac

back_to_school-4852-2010-08-29-17-17.jpgThe first app I want to talk about is one to help study for the big tests. Cram for the Mac from Simple Leap software is sure to get you into the test studying groove. Cram for the Mac is a great study aid for students preparing for tests. Once you enter the questions and answers from a study guide or download a test file from the Cram Test Portal or Quizlet sites you can take a test or make flash cards to help prepare for a test. The User Interface has a simple layout and is very clear. The new test button allows you to create your own test and randomize the order questions are asked and randomize the multiple choices. You can also select a timed test if you need.

Once you create your test you can edit the questions. This is where you add your multiple choice questions, answers, and any photos or sounds to your questions. Be careful when uploading photos for tests there is no zoom or adjustment features within the test so always make sure your image is large enough to be legible when you insert it into a test.

The Flash card interface is clever and looks just like a standard flash card with a button to flip the card over and view the answer. Forward and back arrow buttons allow the user to move thorough the cards. The movement through the cards is complete with a sound of flash cards being flipped. The buttons on this screen could be a little clearer by being labeled and a shuffle option would be nice.

Cram also has a feature to export your tests to your iPod touch or iPhone. Transfers occur between with apps via wifi and you can choose multiple tests to move for study while you are away from your computer. I like where Simple Media is heading with Cram and I can’t wait to see what they do on the iPad. iPad seems like a natural platform for studying for tests. Cram can also monitor your progress as you take your tests over again you can see your high score, number of tests attempted and your average score to allow you to track your progress.

Taking tests feels like you are taking an online test like you would use when working on certifications. The interface is clean and uncluttered allowing you to focus on the question and answer. At the end of the test you are shown how you answered each question and what the correct answer is. Your score is displayed on the face of your tests thumbnail.

The CramTest Portal is a site where you can download Cram tests from other users. Cram also support downloads from www.quizlet.com as as source for tests. The tests are not vetted for accuracy or completeness so use at your own risk. Several I downloaded asked me to look at an image to answer the question where no image was attached. I would suggest building your own tests or sharing tests with others in your class that might be using Cram to study.

Cram is an excellent app for teachers to create quizzes to give to students as study guides or perhaps an in class study game. Currently there is not a lot of software out there that does what Cram does and I haven’t seen any others that connect with a database to share tests. If Simple Leap software can work with Apple, Microsoft, Comp/TIA and others to create tests that are accurate they have a winner of a product. I have subscribed to services that charge $100 a year to study for certification tests and the software is poorly written, only available on Windows or just not very accurate.

Cram is cheaper, well written, and infinitely more useful than the online services I have seen. At $29.99 for the Mac app and $3.99 for the iPhone app it isn’t a bad deal. Although it would be nice to see discounts for volume licensing for schools who may want to deploy Cram and a server component to manage tests. Overall SimpleLeap is on the right track and have a great app with huge potential.

Head on over to the Simple Leap Software site and get your copy just in time to head back to school.

The second app I want to talk about is Circus Ponies Notebook version 3. We all need to take notes in class and Circus Ponies Notebook is the fastest and most powerful way to do that. Notebook looks just like a notebook when you open it. You can create tabs and have index pages already prebuilt and update as you type. You can attach sticky notes to pages, draw, copy images, web links, even attach PDF’s right into your notebook. I create a notebook for each of my classes and I can search using the notebook multidex or spotlight right from my OS X desktop. Sitting in classes or even in meetings Notebook has a feature that will allow you to record audio while you are taking notes. As you add bullet points a small speaker appears next to the bullet so you can jump right to the point in the audio recording when you typed that note. It is great for recording lectures or taking meeting minutes.

If you have a digitizer tablet Notebook also support hand writing recognition. You can also get handwriting recognition with inklet and a pogostylus from tenonedesign. (Note: after talking to tenonedesign it was determined there was some confusion regarding the website and handwriting recognition does NOT work in Notebook at this time. You can still draw diagrams and write but it isn't converted to text. Hopefully Tenonedesign will correct this in the future. The link I provided from Amazon offers the bundle for a 12.00 discount. Notebook is an extremely flexible application that can be used in as many ways as a user can think up. It is a little daunting at first with the large number of options that are available but once you get started and check out a tutorial or two you will find how Notebook can best work for you. There is no wrong way to use it, just the best way for you. Screencasts online has a well done video showing us how to use notebook. It is worth checking out at www.screencastsonline.com.

So we ended up with a few good recommendations this week and none of them break the bank. We have Cram for the Mac at $29.99, Cram for the iPhone/iPod Touch for $3.99, Notebook for $49.99 or $29.99 for students, and inklet and pogo stylus for $29.43 with shipping. Last but not least don’t forget to check out Screencasts online to teach you how to use some of your new apps especially if you are new to the Mac. A membership to www.screencastsonline.com is just $57.00 for three months.

Enjoy your school year, study hard enjoy your Mac, and if you are studying programming on the Mac and think you have a cool app to share with my readers let me know paultscott@gmail.com I will check it out and I just might review it on my blog. Thank-you to SimpleLeap Software for providing me with a copy of Cram to test out for this review. Notebook, inklet and pogo stylus I purchased myself for school and daily use. I have been a fan of Don McAllister and Screencastsonline for some time. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Magic TrackPad & Mac Mini Server

The Apple Magic Trackpad brings the power of the mobile trackpad’s gestures to the Mac Desktop. For years users have struggled with pointing devices on portable machines from the little eraser in the middle of the keyboard to a small trackpad in the palm rest of the keyboard. Many of us carried USB or Bluetooth mice so we could get some work done while we were on the road. Finally in late 2009 when Apple introduced the Unibody Macbook Pro we got a larger trackpad and it was made of glass to make it more pleasant to touch. The buttons were done away with and the whole surface gained a mechanical click. Apple also added gestures beyond just the mere two finger scroll up, down, left, and right. We were treated to pinch, stretch, rotate, and given extra options based on how many fingers were touching the surface just like our iPhones and iPads.
With this leap forward in touch technology many portable Mac users started ignoring the mouse and started enjoying the touch pad and what it could do. Sometimes sitting at a desktop machine we started feeling limited. So just a couple short weeks ago Apple solved that problem by building a stand alone trackpad. The Magic TrackPad is 80% larger than the trackpad built into current laptops. Measuring a whopping 5.2” x 4.3” it gives the user much more surface area to work with. The Magic TrackPad requires OS X 10.6.4 or Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 and works in both 32 and 64 bit versions.
Windows drivers currently only support left and right clicking, as well as scrolling. No other gestures or inertial scrolling support seems to be available at this time. On the Mac I have no problem using the trackpad on the Windows side the control doesn’t feel quiet as fine and I switched back to the Magic Mouse on my Windows PC.
With all of our devices like the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook/Macbook Pro all supporting multi-touch it was just a matter of time before the technology made it to our iMacs, Mac-Mini’s and Mac Pros. The one thing that still feels like it is missing is the ability to use a pen with the Magic TrackPad. This would be a great device to sketch or sign your name if they support pressure sensitivity. Currently there is software for the Macbook Pro allowing you to use the Trackpad as a signature pad with a Pogo Stylus. This should work with the Magic TrackPad as well. I know Steve Jobs isn’t a fan of pens but there are some instances when it might be convenient for using the iPad or Magic TrackPad as a tablet for drawing or signing documents or any other application where fine detail control is required.
Overall I recommend the Magic TrackPad for 99% of tasks. I do sometimes still like to reach for the Magic Mouse as well so having them both hooked up is a perfectly valid choice as well. With Bluetooth we can hook a number of keyboards and other devices and not add extra cables to our setup. Currently on my desktop machine I have an Apple Apple Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard, Apple Magic Mouse, and Apple Magic TrackPad. I am considering adding a SMC Bluetooth Calculator/10 key in case I have to type large amounts of numbers.


Apple Magic Trackpad


Apple Computer


Buy New $53.95



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The Mac Mini Server is the newest edition to our network. It is the same size as the older Mac Minis but missing the optical drive. In its place is an extra 500 GB Hard Drive. Allowing the user to use the extra drive as separate storage, a RAID mirror, or concatenate the drives together to make a 1 terabyte drive. We will go into these options in a future post and why you would or wouldn’t want to choose them.
The Mac Mini Server is just as easy to hook up as a traditional Mac however, make sure you have a USB keyboard and mouse handy for the initial setup. The Setup Assistant on OS X 10.6 Server doesn’t work with any bluetooth devices. Hopefully Apple will fix that issue in the near future. Also the Server addition requires the user to type in a long registration key which is not very Apple like at all. I have always enjoyed the fact that I never had to type a serial number to install a copy of OS X. Something Windows users have always had the hassle of dealing with.
The Setup Assistant walks you through all of the things you might like to do with your server like File sharing, email, iCal, Address Book, DNS, Open Directory, Podcast Production, Quicktime Broadcasting, web services, iChat, Software Update, etc. With each one you check off it ads to the questions you will be asked so when you are finished your server is 99% of the way setup. Most users will not need this much power or these services at home. This is more meant for the small business. If you run a small to medium sized business this can get you up and running with your own internal MobileMe services for the price of one server instead of $99.00 per year per user. Plus it gives you the control of your own servers.
The cost to entry for a small business is reasonable at $999.00 with unlimited licenses. A similarly equipped Dell server costs about $800.00 before you add in the cost of the OS which is about $276.99 on Amazon for a 5 client license. For each extra 5 clients you want to add tack on another $166.23.
Snow Leopard server in addition to providing Apple File Protocol (AFP) it also supports Windows SMB sharing, and Unix NFS sharing. OS X also supports Open Directory authentication and Windows Active Directory Authentication so it will play nice with your Macs and your PC’s. The remote admin tools also allow you to totally manage your Mac Mini server from your desktop. This particular feature is of course Mac only.
The Mac servers aren’t quiet the server for the rest of us like the rest of Mac line. It does take some knowledge and experience to set it up. If you are a small business I highly recommend seeking out an experienced Mac consultant or contact your local Apple Store Business Group for assistance. It may take a little more effort to setup up initially but the long term benefit of stability, security, and reliability are worth it.
The Mac mini server is a platform that can grow with your small business and with multiple Mac Minis support clustering of services to give even small users a robust configuration that includes the ability to fail over to a backup server. For larger businesses and more critical systems Apple also makes an XServe that is built for larger corporations to use with redundent power supplies and extra NICs.
For a small business one or two Mac Mini servers with a Drobo file storage solution is a great scalable solution with good redundancy to help reduce downtime and data loss if a drive were to go bad.


Apple Mac mini MC408LL/A Snow Leopar...


Apple Computer


Best Price $780.00or Buy New



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Friday, August 6, 2010

Windows 7 driver update breaking iPads and iPhones

When updating your iPad or iPhone be careful with a possible issue involving driver updates with Windows 7. By default Windows 7 will look for driver updates automatically when connecting a new device. While it is searching for the drivers it will temporarily disconnect the device. If you are updating your iPhone OS or iPad disconnecting the device at that start of the upgrade can corrupt the software update and leave your iPhone or iPad in a state requiring it to be reconnected to iTunes and restored.

If you connect your iOS device frequently to your computer and backup your settings, apps, music, videos, books, etc., you should be fine. When the computer restores it will restore the backup it does right before the installation runs. If however you are upgrading from a computer you don’t backup your device on or for some reason your App syncing isn’t turned on you could lose data.

To make sure WIndows 7 doesn’t disconnect your iOS device during the upgrade follow the steps I have listed below.

 

1.)    Click Start and choose Devices and Printers

2.)    Right Click on the PC Device and choose Device Installation Settings

3.)    Then select No, let me choose what to do.  Select Never install driver software from Windows Update and select save changes.

image001-2010-08-6-09-42.png

This will keep WIndows 7 from disconnecting your USB devices and looking for new drivers when you plug them in. The easier option is of course to use a Mac and it won’t disconnect your device while looking for new drivers.