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Showing posts from 2008

Tips on working from home

I have now been working from home for the better part of a year. Being self-employed has its advantages; not only do I get to choose the technology I will use (Goodbye Windows, Hello Macintosh), I also get to determine where I want my office to be. While others struggle with the daily drive to the office my biggest concern during my daily commute is turning an ankle while walking down the stairs to my home office.

Of course you don't have to be self employed to work from home. A surprising number of my friends and neighbors that work for other companies work from home as well and have to deal with many of the same issues I do. I've worked from home many times in the past as an employee and have also managed people that worked from home so I have learned a few things that may help you out if you are considering it.

1) Personal hygiene is NOT optional
It's so easy to simply stumble down stairs (or into the room you work from) and not worry about getting dressed for work or ev…

A Fast Way to Learn MySQL

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I've been doing development work for quite a while and up until my recent switch to Mac I had been doing that work using Microsoft technologies; on the database side I was using Microsoft SQL Server. When I started playing around with Ruby on Rails I also needed to switch out the underlying database I was using, settling in on the wildly popular MySQL.

Though there is a huge amount of information available online for MySQL I still like purchasing technical books and I cast about for a decent entry level book on the topic. What I found was Ben Forta's MySQL Crash Course. If you are trying to learn MySQL, especially if you are new to SQL in general, this book is a must buy, especially given the price.

The presentation is consistent throughout and Ben frames most commands with Input, Output and Analysis. He demonstrates what a particular command looks like in Input, displays the results of the command in Output and then discusses the nuances of the command in Analysis. His writing …

Mastering Twitter with TweetDeck

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I'll be the first to admit that I didn't "get" Twitter. When I first heard about it and saw that "tweets" were 140 character micro-blog posts that contained such mindless drivel as "Heading out to work" or "Getting a haircut" I dismissed it as pointless.

A couple of months ago my good friend Jeff told me that I should give Twitter a go. Jeff's a bright guy so I ask him "Why on earth would I want to do that?". His response was "You don't blog frequently enough for me". Well, this was indeed true. As I've been working more and more on my startup I didn't have as much time to devote to blogging. I had lots of things I wanted to share but didn't want to take the time to put together a full blog post for it.

So in July of '08 I grabbed a Twitter account and started tweeting away. I only had a couple of "followers" (people that would see my tweets in their Twitter home page) for the first few…

Anti-virus software and Macs

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Yesterday's Washington Post Security Fix disclosed that on November 21st of this year Apple put out a technical note where they recommend the widespread use of anti-virus software for Macs, including specific recommendations for Mac AV utilities.

I've never believed the "Macs cannot get a virus" mantra that some people spread. The reality is that any computer where the user has the ability to write to the hard drive or install applications is subject to a program doing evil deeds without their knowledge.

I've been a Mac user for 10 months now—a relative neophyte—but have learned a couple of things that have carried over from my Windows days. The single most important one is to be very careful about which software I allow to get installed on my Mac. When I install something that comes from the web I get a little confirmation dialog:

In addition when I try to run full installation programs I will often get prompted to enter the administrative password for my Mac:

Some …

Raising kids in an online world

My wife and I have had many discussions of late about how best to raise kids in an increasingly connected world. What I would like to share with you is how much change we’ve seen since we became parents nearly 20 years ago and some of the things we’ve done in order to make it all work.

A Little Background
All of my children grew up around computers and have had my hand-me-down machines in their rooms since a very early age. Since my oldest is now 19 and off in college, that means that a lot of their exposure pre-dated Internet access.

Initially having a computer in their room meant getting them educational software and games that helped with reading, geography and math. One of their favorites was the old Oregon Trail game; as a history teacher my wife loved those types of titles. Giving my kids extensive access to computers at an early age meant providing them with an advantage that I knew would help them later in life.

Connectivity Comes Along
In the late 90s I retrofitted our house with …

RegistryScan.cc tells my Mac I have a Windows Malware infection

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I was happily working along this afternoon when suddenly I received a Skype pop-up text message. I rarely use Skype for text messaging, sticking with Adium for that. It's usually some Skype SPAM asking me to come to some lonely woman's web page to see pictures of her. This time the message looked pretty ominous:

Obviously this is just a SPAM attempt to get someone to jump over to a web site. Kind of tough for my Mac running Leopard to get a Registry hack installed. At the bottom of the message was a link to go to the offending site:

http://www.registryscan.cc/?q=scan

Out of curiosity I decided to jump over and take a look at the page. I'm running a Mac and it was pretty clear this was targeting Windows machines. What I got was this:


Just trying to navigate away from the site presented me with this little pop-up:


What do I love about all of this? Let's see:
The animation leading up to the above screen shot looks like a Windows progress dialogThe Windows XP style dialogs were …

Making the Logitech Harmony 620 remote work with a Mac

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I was buying a couple of items at my local Costco yesterday and saw the Logitech Harmony 620 sitting in a display for $99. I had been wanting a decent all-in-one remote that would help me integrate my primary entertainment set up down in my basement. The equipment is a bit dated but works very well, the only problem being the plethora of remotes that I need in order to make it all work properly.

What looked interesting about this particular device was that it had a USB connector on it and would allow me to program it with my PC. This beat the old process I had to go through on a previous all-in-one remote that required a series of numeric entries into the keypad that felt like a game of Twister for my fingers.

The packaging on the 620 indicated that it supported a Mac so I made the impulse decision to buy it. Turns out I could have saved myself $10 by buying it from Amazon/Target but I didn't feel like driving back and returning it over $10. Once I managed to extract the device from…

Getting the most out of Spaces on a dual monitor Mac Pro

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Ever since I switched from Windows to Mac over 9 months ago I've been obsessed with making myself as productive as possible in OS X. Without question one of my favorite features is Spaces, the multi-desktop feature for Leopard. Here is how I've set up my environment to make the most out of it.

Hardware First
My primary workstation is a Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM and several TB of disk space. In addition I have two monitors attached (Samsung SyncMaster 204B), which gives me an effective 3200x1200 of desktop real estate. In my opinion you can't have too much RAM, disk space or more importantly screen real estate.



The other thing that I've found extremely helpful for me was using a decent multi-button mouse. In my case I'm using the one from my older Windows XP gaming rig, a Logitech MX 510 Optical Gaming Mouse. The best part of it for me is that I've set the additional button below the mouse wheel to activate Spaces, making it really easy to quickly access the list o…

iShowU HD - capture that video easily

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Have you ever wanted to capture video that you see online? Say for example you want to capture a highlight play on NFL.COM—which has some very high quality video clips online—integrating the results into your own video. I was looking for just such a solution the other day and found iShowU HD, a nice little application that can capture virtually any video you can view on your Mac, including Flash based videos from YouTube, etc.

Using the application is pretty straightforward - just set the video capture area, the quality of the output video, click the Record button and off you go:


iShowU HD also provides a way to put together basic screencasts, capturing either the entire screen or just a portion of it while scrolling the viewport with the mouse movement. It can display mouse clicks with a radar-like circle animation and audible click.

The only problem I've had with it was that recording audio (narrating my video capture) had a technical problem with my USB based microphone; it only r…

How to lose an AirPort Express in under a minute

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A couple of friends mentioned the Apple Airport Express to me and it sounded compelling; a super compact 802.11n Wi-Fi base station that could not only serve as a wireless USB print server but could also be used to play my iTunes music on my stereo.

I have long wanted a clean solution for accessing my iTunes collection from my stereo without a big hassle and this sounded perfect. I bought one on Amazon.com for $96 and used my Amazon Prime account to get it here in two days.

The AirPort Express itself is extremely small; about the size of a standard MacBook power adapter. There were instructions inside and a CD containing the AirPort Utility but since I had already installed a Time Capsule I had all of the software ready to go. I simply plugged the AirPort Express into a power outlet inside of our stereo cabinet and ran a mini-stereo to RCA cable from it into one of the inputs on our main stereo receiver. A small green light started to flash so I went over to my MacBook Pro and fired up…

Quick tip - save your MacBook's hard drive

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Recently I've gotten a couple of e-mails from folks that have had problems with hard drive failures in their MacBooks. While hard drive failures are a fact of life with nearly any computer it can be exacerbated in laptops and portable machines where the risk of drops while the drive is spinning is significantly higher.

One of the features I really love about my MacBooks (both my original MacBook and my MacBook Pro) is how reliable the sleep function is; close the lid and the MacBook's screen goes dark and you are ready to run off. The reality is that by default the machine does not immediately go into sleep mode but starts the process of writing the contents of your memory to your hard drive.

This means that when you think the machine is inert, the reality is that one of the more sensitive moving parts (hard drive) is writing to disk. Depending on the amount of memory you have in your machine this may take a while to do; in my case with a MacBook Pro and 4GB of RAM it takes a li…

Time Capsule creates a challenge

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I was thinking something was not right with my wife's MacBook. It wasn't because she was complaining about anything; to the contrary over the last week she didn't say anything about the machine. It was quiet. Too quiet.

Last night while I was sitting down watching TV with Allison she finally let it out:

"That new Mac is really slow. My Windows machine was faster."

Wonderful I said to myself, let me see what's up. I grabbed her white MacBook and saw by the dock bar that she didn't have anything running so I started up Firefox. Sure enough, there was a very long delay before the application window appeared.

"See?" she said "It's really slow! It's not just me!"

Apparently I have some deep technical gift, an ability to approach any technology problem in the house and by simply laying hands on the offending device the problem is immediately solved without me doing anything. At least, that's the way Allison sees it and it's just o…

My wife and her switch to Mac

I had anticipated that I would be writing a lot about my wife's experiences using her "new" MacBook. After all, it's been two weeks since I got her the machine, yet she has barely touched it by my standards. The reality is that computers are just not that important to her. She's an experienced teacher with 8 years at the same school under her belt and for the last two weeks has had to do little more than e-mail and web based activities from home. She averages just under an hour a day on the machine right now.

She is also becoming mildly amused by my regular queries about how she likes her MacBook. Her standard response?

"It's great. I love it."

There have been moments where she has struggled with the machine however. She did offer up that she doesn't like the Delete key. Why? Well, she's used to using a Windows based delete key that deletes forward, not backwards. Backspace is what she expects that key to do. I assumed that she simply had a pro…

Playing with iPhone pictures - Juxtaposer

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One of the cooler aspects of writing this blog has been the people that have come around to not only give advice but tell me about some of the cool stuff they are working on. Hendrik Kueck has been commenting on this blog for a long time now. Hendrik is a software developer and when he told me about an iPhone application he was working on I became very interested in checking it out.

His product, Juxtaposer, is a fun little application for mashing two pictures together quickly and easily. Hendrik has done an outstanding job creating an easy to use interface, one that feels very natural for the task. You can take a picture directly with the camera and start mashing away or you can grab a photo from your library.

Basically you set a base image and a top image, then start hacking away at the top image. The tools included are very basic but are perfect for doing the task at hand. It literally takes a minutes or two to put together images. If for example you wanted to see what your brother wo…

8 months after switching here are my favorite applications

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As I've now crossed the 8 month time frame since I got my first Mac it's time to update the applications that I use regularly. When I made my switch I made a real effort to find native Mac replacement applications for everything I use and for the most part I have been successful in that.

I'll list these applications in the order in which I find myself using them and will include internal OS X applications as well. Many of these applications are related to the way I am using my Macs now, which is starting up a new company. I am doing lots of development, marketing messaging and content creation, building spreadsheets, etc. and am in front of my Macs anywhere between 12 and 16 hours a day.

This my friends is the life of an entrepreneur in start up mode.

LaunchBar
I am completely addicted to the Spotlight / QuickSilver / LaunchBar model of activating applications and documents and more importantly tying them together in helpful ways. Virtually everything I do starts up with Comma…