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Showing posts from 2009

Apple solves my MacBook Pro battery problem

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After finding that my MacBook Pro's battery required service and would no longer hold a charge I made an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store in Reston, VA. After a short wait Vilma (the Genius) called me up and asked what the trouble was. After I filled her in on the issue she reached into a drawer and grabbed an iPod Nano that was labeled "Battery Diagnostics":


Once that was plugged in and she rebooted the machine she loaded up a diagnostic application and sure enough the status of my battery was decidedly bad:

I bought this MacBook Pro in June of 2008 so it's nearly one and a half years old, yet still under the 3 year AppleCare warranty I purchased. She told me however that batteries are not covered under the extended AppleCare warranty unless the failure is a result of a manufacturers defect. Though she delivered the news in a friendly and empathetic way I was not happy.
Vilma could see that I only had 48 cycles on the battery and it seemed reason…

A MacBook Pro and a Dying Battery

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I've gotten a lot of e-mail lately asking why I haven't been updating my blog. Frankly it's because of two reasons: my business has kept me busier than a one-armed wall-paper hanger and my Macs have just worked. With my adjustment period from Windows to Mac firmly in the rear view mirror and a well rounded set of applications available for use, I haven't really had any issues to speak of.
That is, until this last weekend when my MacBook Pro's battery decided to act up.

Since I have a very powerful Mac Pro humming away under my desk I don't use my MacBook Pro too often. I'll take it when I travel but don't use it on battery power too often. Since I bought the machine about 18 months ago I've only cycled the battery 47 times according to System Profiler.
While traveling over Thanksgiving I pulled the MBP from my bag, powered it up and started happily working away. Oddly the battery indicator—which should show a full charge—rapidly dropped to 92%. Within …

Upgrading to Snow Leopard

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The UPS truck pulled up yesterday and delivered my family upgrade pack to Snow Leopard. Though I'm a software developer I really stick to the web side of things and have not participated in any of the developer versions of Snow Leopard. As a result, I've only done modest reading on it and I am approaching this upgrade as many consumers would.
Rather than jump in with both feet, I decided to upgrade my MacBook Pro first, holding off on my primary machine (a Mac Pro) until I had seen which applications are compatible.
Application compatibility? Doesn't everything work?
Well, no. Most general purpose applications run fine - the majority for me did in fact. It's those little extensions that I've become hopelessly addicted to that can cause a problem. My biggest concern with Snow Leopard was whether or not I would have to change the way I work if one of my applications suddenly stopped working.
Since Apple released Snow Leopard ahead of schedule it apparently caught a numb…

I hate my Mac!

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I was chatting with some friends yesterday, some folks I hadn't seen in a while. As they were getting ready to leave Donna looked over at my MacBook, propped open and sitting on a table.
Donna: "Ugh. Macs."
She had a disgusted look on her face, as though something unpleasant had just been released into the air. This caught me a bit by surprise. You see, Donna had called me earlier in the year because she wanted to replace an aging XP based laptop and knew I was a happy Mac convert. I talked with her for a while about the benefits of a Mac, telling her about why I liked it and what she could look forward to.
Since switching over to Macs I'm very careful about promoting them to others and my description of them to Donna fell right along those lines. I don't get irrationally exuberant; when switching to Macs from long time Windows use I recognize that attitude and approach is critical to being happy with a new personal computer. I'd rather people be happy using the…

TNT doesn't like Mac users

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I was sitting on the couch the other day and relaxing when my wife yelled to me from the other room:

David! My Mac's not working!

I love those highly specific descriptions of a problem. I asked for a little more clarity.

I'm trying to watch a video and it's not working!

I dragged myself off the couch and over to my wife's MacBook. She was on the TNT site and trying to watch an episode of Raising the Bar. She would click on "watch a full episode" and a blank screen would appear where the viewer normally would be.

It was not immediately apparent what the problem was. A poorly installed codec? A broken web page? I rummaged around for a little while and found that the TNT support site stated that they didn't support Macs for viewing their shows. Why? Here's what the support site says:
TNT.tv would like to apologize for not being able to accommodate Mac users.
The issue is related to the Windows Media Player, specifically video with Digital Rights Management (DRM…

The application Mail quit unexpectedly - GrowlMail problems

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One of my favorite–yet least mentioned–free utilities is Growl, a universal notification service for Mac that lets applications notify you of events. Now instead of each application deciding on how they want to present notifications for things like new mail, incoming tweets, etc. you can control it in a single place, assuming the application supports Growl or an extension has been written for it.

Such is the case with Mail.app. Though Mail.app is not written to support Growl the developers for Growl have created an "extra" that can provide that functionality. I've been using this setup for a while now and have been quite pleased with it.

After upgrading to Safari 4 I suddenly found that Mail.app was crashing on me as soon as a new e-mail came in. Here is the error message I was getting:

Which was followed by:

Reset and relaunch had no effect - Mail.app just crashed again. It turns out that an error has been introduced into Growl after upgrading to Safari 4 that creates this …

Book resources for learning Ruby on Rails

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I've now been using Ruby on Rails for a little over a year and have found it to be a fantastic environment to build web based applications. The last year has not been without some serious pain and learning curves and while I hardly consider myself a master of the environment I've found a number of resources that may help you if you are considering using RoR as a development platform.

Sure, you can access nearly everything you need to learn RoR online but I am personally still addicted to the dead-tree model of learning. If you are like me and prefer buying books then read on. In the last year I've bought 10 books on various Ruby/Rails topics and what follows are the ones I've gotten the most use out of.

NOTE: Ruby on Rails is a constantly evolving environment and the information below is really relevant for early June 2009. Things can change in the Rails world relatively quickly. It's a good idea to stay up on Rails developments by following the Ruby on Rails blog at…

10 little known Mac utilities

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When I blog about applications that I've found I generally wrap up my posts with an open invitation to readers: Got any you like? Many folks have been generous and shared links and applications that I've used to expand my virtual toolbox and make my Mac experience more fun and productive.

This time I turned that process around a bit and used Twitter up front. I put out this question: Looking for cool little Mac utilities that nobody knows about... I promptly received replies from a number of people with some cool applications that I had never heard of or tried using. After culling through the list I've pulled out 10 that I felt looked pretty cool. I've included the Twitter name for the person that made the suggestion in case you want to start following them.

EasyEnvelopes

Need to quickly print out an envelope for someone in your address book? EasyEnvelopes from Ambrosia Software has a free Dashboard widget that does just that. When you want to print out an envelope you ac…

Remembering those shortcuts easily - KeyCue

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The best part about writing a blog where I talk about Macs? People give me some great tips in the comments and yesterday's post on apps for making users more productive was no exception. While I love the shortcuts available on my Mac I often overlook many of them because I don't know what they are and they aren't always obvious.

Fortunately DCBrit stopped by and mentioned KeyCue, an application that can quickly display all of the keyboard shortcuts for the application you are currently running. You simply hold down the activation key (defaults to Command) for a few seconds and up pops a dynamically built list of all the shortcuts for that application. Here's what it looks like for TextEdit:



It really is a simple application but can quickly help you learn those key combinations, making you much more productive on your Mac. It's normally $26.99 but MacZOT is running a special on it right now for $14.99 through May 3, 2009.

If you want to learn all of the keystroke combi…

4 Mac Apps that speed YOU up

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Many people are obsessed with speed and I happily include myself in that category, at least with respect to the performance I get from my computer. Whether it's a faster processor, more memory, a quicker graphics card or a new high-speed hard drive, upgrading to the latest and greatest translates into getting things done more quickly.

It's not enough to just throw hardware at a problem, sometimes you have to optimize yourself. Of course I can do this by inhaling a rather large quantity of coffee first thing in the morning but what I'm talking about is finding applications that can improve how you use your computer. Though Macs have incredibly high usability right out of the box, over the last year I've found 4 applications that have really helped me improve my efficiency on my Mac. I've tried quite a few but these are the applications I've stuck with and found most valuable to me.

1Password
Like many people I spend a lot of time in a web browser (actually both Saf…

TweetDeck vs Nambu vs Tweetie

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I've become quite attached to Twitter lately, as several of my blog posts will attest. I use it for a wide range of things; a source of news (technical and non-technical), to chat with friends and share things I find of interest, to ask and answer questions on Macs, Ruby on Rails, etc. and finally to banter about my favorite sports teams (Redskins and Caps, thank you very much).

Given this wide range of uses I tend to be accessing my Twitter feeds throughout the day and the web interface simply doesn't handle things the way I need it to. As a result I use a custom client to access Twitter. A custom client presents Tweets in their own interface, accessing the data through the Twitter API. You drop in your Twitter username and password and the custom client takes over from there, presenting you with a view of your Tweets and the ability to create them as well.

Over the last few months I've tried a number of different Twitter clients for my Mac. First it was TweetDeck, an Adob…

OpenDNS, a great free way to speed up the interwebs

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Last night I was doing some research and went to pull up the Ruby On Rails site. Unfortunately when I did I could not connect. My DNS server wasn't resolving it properly. Assuming it was Verizon's problem I embarked on a long and ultimately fruitless attempt to find out why rubyonrails.org was not resolving. While doing this I tweeted about it and suddenly got responses from people explaining that there were some problems with that domain name. It wasn't the Verizon DNS server after all.

So Twitter helped me out, but that wasn't the end of the assistance. Chad Hohner (@hohner) told me about using OpenDNS, something that will help improve network performance (at least as it relates to name resolution). I figured it was worth a try and changed the DNS on my Mac Pro to using OpenDNS's servers. The performance improvement for me was dramatic, so much so that I changed back to the Verizon servers, flushed my DNS cache and started testing different sites. I then switched …

Baby Shaking Apps and Other Challenges for Apple's App Store

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My wife and I were going through our morning routine, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper when suddenly she said "I can't believe Apple!". We share many core beliefs—especially on politics—so I usually give her a nod, offer a "Yup" and continue reading my section.

Me: "What about Apple?"

Wife: "They have a shaking baby iPhone application!!! This is outrageous!"

Me: "Honey, Apple didn't make that application."

Wife: "Well they had it in the App Store. That's just stupid."

I completely understand that Apple is generating some significant revenue from their App Store sales and that it has become a major part of their strategy moving forward. The problem as I see it is that Apple is putting itself in a very precarious position. Instead of just worrying about whether or not the application will break an iPhone, chew up resources, etc. Apple now has to worry about the content.

The problem as I see it is two-fold: Apple…

Keeping those bookmarks synchronized

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I'm torn. On one hand I like Firefox because of the incredible array of add-ons, especially for developers building web applications. On the other hand I love the performance I get from Safari and with the release of the version 4 public beta many of the new features. As a result I find myself jumping between the two browsers all the time, often keeping both open (one for browsing, one for my current web development project).

Compound this with the fact that I have two Macs I use frequently—a Mac Pro and a MacBook Pro for meetings and travel—and my bookmarks are all over the place. I even have Firefox running on my Ubuntu workstation and would like my bookmarks there too. Fortunately I found a great solution for this problem: X-Marks.

Though it started out as an add-in for Firefox they recently changed their name from FoxMarks to X-Marks and have started adding more browser support. They now have a Safari add-on and this has solved my little bookmark problem.

X-Marks is backed by a f…

Two tips for Tabbing your way through a Mac

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When I switched to Mac from Windows I had an adjustment period. The window model is a bit different, the menu is in a different location, the Dock Bar != the Start menu, etc. Those all took a little adjustment period but I quickly overcame them as obstacles to productivity. By far the longest adjustment period involved the use of the keyboard and more specifically the use of the Tab key.

For all of the keyboard power of a Mac (shortcuts are virtually everywhere) the Tab key seems to be forgotten on most Mac keyboards, yet that is probably the most used navigation key on Windows. Here are a couple of tips for making your Mac keyboard experience leverage the Tab key:

Enabling Tabbing
The first thing you will want to do is to enable tabbing in dialog/pop-up windows. For some reason Apple decided to make that an option you need to manually enable in order to tab your way through all of the controls on a modal dialog. You can change this by going to System Preferences / Keyboard & Mouse /…

Nambu makes Twitter feel natural for Mac users

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For a while now I've been using TweetDeck to access my Twitter account. While I love many of the features that TweetDeck has made popular I always struggle with the UI. Though it's quite usable the fact that it's built on top of Adobe Air means it doesn't look quite right on my Mac's OS X desktop.

I've tried a number of different Twitter clients for Mac but none worked quite as well as TweetDeck did for me. Then along came Nambu, which is still in beta. Nambu looks and feels like a normal OS X application. The design is similar to TweetDeck in some respects but has some key enhancements that make it much more powerful.

Multiple Twitter Accounts
I have two Twitter accounts that I use: dalison and sharedstatus. The former is my personal account where I ramble on about my blog, Macs, sports and things I find amusing on the Interwebs. The latter is an account for my main product and I use it to announce features and generally cover business related topics. Fortunately…