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Certified for Safety!

People are buying more and more technology online these days, and given the time of year, I think the topic of this article will be very timely. It also has to do with many of the things I’ve been writing about regarding electronics and electrical safety. In recent years there’s been a proliferation of tech companies (and random people on sites like and amazon marketplace) selling all kinds of electronic devices. Many of them appear quite sophisticated and are offered at extremely cheap prices, but the reality is often not so great. Here are some things to look out for in cheap, poorly constructed products.

One of the biggest ways manufacturers cut corners to save money is by using materials that are insufficient for the task. The most critical and dangerous way this shows up in electronics is insufficient insulation. If insulation breaks down, short circuits can be created resulting in catastrophic failure of the device. This failure can cause fire, electrocution or other damage. Under normal use, the device will probably be ok, but well-constructed devices are often built with excess for those unforeseen situations. Another shortcut is good old poor construction. This could be anything from skipping solder points on PCBs to poor component choice. Depending on the device, these shortcuts can create very dangerous situations.

Fortunately, there’s a very simple way to identify a product that’s safe. Almost all devices that use or create electricity will have a label on them with electrical properties of the device. Take a look at Apple’s own iPad charger. The writing on it is in tiny grey letters, but if you look at it, you’ll see many things including a number of symbols. There are two that you really want to look for: a “UL” in a circle and “CE”. The UL symbol stands for Underwriters Laboratories. Founded in 1894, Underwriters Laboratories is a certification company in the US that certifies the safety of electrical devices. They provide certification services for many organizations including OSHA. The CE symbol stands for Conformité Européenne (European Conformity). All products sold within the European Economic Area must have this symbol. We find the symbol on products even in the US because companies generally make one version of their products that will pass regulations in all markets. A CE label means the device complies with all relevant safety directives as declared by EU legislation.

A few years ago when I was building my photovoltaic power station, I was looking for a high quality pure-sine inverter. This class of device is notorious for being produced cheaply and unsafely. Any time you have something where the promise of results is high (power 120V appliances from the 12V socket in your car!) and the cost is relatively low, you should be extra cautious. Obviously, buying from a reputable manufacturer is one good way to get a safe, high quality product, but if the product is UL-certified, you can rest easier. I ended up purchasing a 300-watt Samlex pure-sine inverter. If you look at the specifications tab on the product page, you can see that it’s ETL and UL certified. ETL is a competing testing laboratory based in London. Having two certifications including UL means this device is likely very safe. Samlex is also a large, well-established and known manufacturer.

It’s just not worth saving a few bucks on a product that could be dangerous. Many retailers won’t necessarily list on their websites the safety certifications of products, but they can be easily found on the packaging. This is something I’ve gotten into a habit of doing, much like reading the nutrition facts label on food I buy. Typically, retail stores (including Small Dog Electronics) only carry devices from well-known, reputable manufacturers. These items will virtually always bear the CE or UL label. Also remember that I’m speaking of these certifications from an electrical safety perspective. UL and other organizations also certify safety of other things like fireproofing materials and certain plastics. Again, I treat looking for these signs of quality workmanship the same as reading nutrition facts on food I buy. It’s a great habit to get into. Be safe out there with all your electrical gizmos!

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Use Tabs in Apps in Sierra

We’ve all become accustomed to opening web pages in separate tabs in Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox. In OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple gave us the capability to open different folders in tabs in Finder windows, making it easy to work in multiple folders with limited screen real estate.

In macOS 10.12 Sierra, Apple has gone one step further, building tab support system-wide so you can open windows in tabs in most Mac apps. Tab support is ‘free’ in apps, developers don’t need to do anything to support it and you won’t need to download an update to take advantage of it in most of your apps. So how do you get started with tabs and how can you use them in your everyday work?

First, to determine whether Sierra was able to add tab support to a particular app, look in the app’s View and Window menus. If you see View > Show Tab Bar and tab-related commands in the Window menu you’re good to go.

Next, if Show Tab Bar doesn’t have a checkmark in the View menu, choose it to reveal the tab bar, which appears between the app’s main toolbar and the document itself. You’ll see a tab for the current document or window, and (in most apps) a + button at the right side of the tab bar.

One final setup step: By default, documents open in separate windows. To make them open in tabs, open System Preferences> Dock, and choose always from the Prefer tabs when opening documents pop-up menu. This setting applies to both existing documents and those you create by choosing File > New. Now that you have everything configured, here is what you can do:

Create a new, empty tab:

Click the + button in the tab bar

Move between tabs:

1. Click the desired tab
2. Choose Window > Show Next Tab or Show Previous Tab
3. Press the control-tab (next) or control-shift-tab (previous) keyboard shortcuts
4. Choose Window > Tab Name

Merge multiple windows into tabs in one window:

1. Drag a document’s tab from one window’s tab bar to the tab bar window in another window
2. Choose Window > Merge All Windows

Move a tab to it’s own window:

1. Drag the tab out of it’s tab bar until it becomes a thumbnail of the document
2. Choose Window > Move Tab to New Window

Rearrange the order of the tabs:

Drag a tab to the desired position

Close a tab:

1. Hover over the tab to see the X button at the left side of the tab; click the X
2. Choose File > Close Tab
3. Press Command-W

Getting used to tabs may require a little adjustment, but if you configure your Mac to always prefer tabs when opening documents, using tabs will quickly become second nature just as it likely did for you in web browsers.

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Filter Mailboxes in iOS 10

If your e-mail load is like mine or just someone who’s an organization freak ( OK, also me ) then you will love some of the filtering features in iOS 10. I use my phone exclusively at times so being able to better navigate through my Mail app helps a lot. Apple has enhanced the Mail app in iOS 10 to help you filter your email and focus on what’s important. The filters are like searches in that all they do is show messages in the current mailbox that match the filter, hiding everything else. They don’t move or modify messages in any way, but allow you to quickly access the e-mails you need.

To start using these filters in iOS 10 tap the Filter button in the bottom-left corner. By default, mailboxes are set to show only unread messages. You can click or tap Unread to bring up all the preset filter choices which fall into four categories:

E-mail Account: This section appears only if Mail checks more than one account. These choices tell Mail to include mail from specific accounts. Perhaps you want to be able to stay more focused while at work, you can specify to look only at your work e-mail account. When you’re at home, you can help yourself to disconnect from office concerns by only viewing your personal account. You will want to make sure to specifically select “all mailboxes” or individual accounts depending on your viewing and filtering preferences.

Status: You’ll likely want to keep Unread selected most of the time, after all half the point of these features to keep things more filtered and organized! You can also select flagged e-mails specifically, a huge time saver for me when I’m planning my meetings.

Addressed: Sometimes it may be helpful to see only messages that have your address in the TO line, versus those where the sender CC’d you. These options will also hide most mailing list messages, automated e-mails and marketing offers.

Attachment and VIPs: I am constantly having to reference e-mails with specific attachments that I need so this is a huge time saver for me when I am on the run. Being able to specifically pull up e-mails with attachments has really saved me from unnecessary headaches while on the move. You can do the same with VIPs, I must admit though that I do not use this feature. I tried to use VIPs once but quickly found I put too many senders in my VIP list so it didn’t save me any time.

Any of these filter options can be easily turned on and off with a quick tap, so as your needs change so can your filters. Give filters a try, hopefully you find them as useful as I have!

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Clickity Clack

You know, the weird thing is that the only class I ever got an “F” in was typing class. Now, I can type as fast as most people and actually the lessons in typing class served me well as I do not have to look at my keyboard and I use all ten fingers.

I have been fascinated by ergonomic keyboards for some time. This started way back when Small Dog got its start at my house in Warren. About a year after we launched the company I was having severe discomfort in my wrists and arms. It was so severe that it would keep me up at night as my arm and hands got numb. So, I went to see about it and was sent to a neurologist who confirmed that I had carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists.

The neurologist was Dr. Freize, ironically. He hooked up electrodes and shot current and measured it. This is memorable to me because his equipment was sort of old and he kept banging on it to make it work. Nevertheless, I went to see a surgeon and scheduled the surgery to open up the tunnel. They didn’t want to do both at the same time but I insisted and looked pretty pathetic leaving the hospital with both arms immobilized. It took some “special” tools for me to do daily functions and I wasn’t typing too much for awhile. Artie and Hapy had to do all my work for me.

So, I got interested in ergonomic keyboards and here in Kibbles & Bytes, I wrote a series of articles about some of the best boards. My favorite and the one I have used for almost 20 years is the Advantage Pro by Kinesis. Kinesis Technology is the leader in ergonomic keyboards and pointing devices. It took me about 3 weeks to get used to the very strange looking keyboard but it is clearly a superior design. It has the added advantage that no one else wants to use my keyboard so they stay away from my desk.

Now that I am about to move to the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar I am looking for a Bluetooth keyboard that has the same ergonomic features. Luckily, Kinesis came through again. They have recently sent me their new Freestyle2 Blue keyboard for the Mac. It is what I am using now and I love it. If you are old enough to remember the Apple ergonomic keyboard, the Freestyle2 is a bit like that.

The Freestyle2 has a bunch of cool features. It is Bluetooth (cool feature #1) so no cables to my Mac. Not only that but the Freestyle2 features multichannel technology that allows you to not only connect to your Mac but also simultaneously to your iPhone or iPad. It has 3 channels so you can instantly switch between them.

Most keyboards, including ergonomic models, have a 10 degree positive slope from front to back. These designs tend to bend your wrists. The Freestyle2 has a zero degree slope which minimizes the height, effectively creating negative slope and reducing wrist extension. The slim design provides you a 2-in-1 office and travel keyboard.

It has even more versatility. From small to tall and body types in between, the Freestyle2 allows for maximum flexibility catering to each individual’s unique needs. Out of the box both modules are connected together by a flexible pivot tether allowing an infinite range of splay. Disconnecting the pivot tether allows up to 9 inches of complete separation of both left and right keying modules. Perfect for individual needs ranging from a narrow footprint to complete separation. This design greatly reduces and/or eliminates ulnar deviation.

For even more versatility you can add the VIP3 kit which I did. The VIP3 and V3 accessories attach easily to the base of the Freestyle2 keyboard allowing quick and reproducible tent settings of 5, 10 and 15 degrees greatly reducing forearm tension. For people who want integrated palm supports get the VIP3, and for people who prefer tenting without palm supports get the V3.

It is quiet, too. Rob Amon has the company’s loudest keyboard, I think it is an old Datadesk, that he loves but I can always tell if he is working by the insanely loud clicking coming from his office. The Freestyle2 utilizes a quiet, low-force, tactile membrane key switch. The typical average maximum key force of a switch is 45 grams. This is at least 25% less than most traditional and many ergonomic keyboards.

It is clearly made for the Mac. Driverless hot keys for commonly used mouse actions such as Internet Page Forward and Back, Beginning of Line, End of Line,Cut, Undo, Copy, Select All and Paste. A vertical rib is located on the inside row of hot keys to provide tactile notification to the user. And, like the iMac keyboards top-row driverless hot keys provide quick access to Esc/Force Quit, Brightness, Exposé, Dashboard, Play Audio, Audio Volume, Dock, Eject & Off/Sleep.

I am only a few days into using the Kinesis Freestyle2 keyboard but I can tell already that is not only gives me the adjustability I need for proper ergonomics but it also has the functionality that will improve my overall productivity. I highly recommend this new keyboard from Kinesis.

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The All New MacBook Pro

After weeks of anticipation and months of speculation, Apple finally announced updates to the MacBook Pro lineup. Before we get into the details let’s pause for a moment of silence. Apple has officially eliminated the optical disk drive from the entire computer lineup by removing the entry-level MacBook Pro 13in 2.5GHz which hadn’t been updated since 2012.

The new MacBook Pros offer some pretty remarkable upgrades. They have up to 130% faster graphics, screens that are 67% brighter, up to 58% more storage volume and are 17% thinner. Apple has also removed the function keys from most MacBook Pro models and replaced them with the all new Touch Bar which also allows for integrated Touch ID. The 13in MacBook Pro has slimmed down from 4.5lbs to just 3lbs. The removal of the optical drive, the traditional spinning disk drive and most of the ports has allowed this dramatic reduction in weight. The Force Touch Trackpad is now 2x bigger on each MacBook Pro, the flash storage is up to 100% faster and the battery life has been increased to 10 hours.

Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3 has been introduced to the new MacBook Pro and now supports 5K. Like previous generations of Thunderbolt, these new ports allow the user to connect multiple devices through the same port configuration. The base model 13in unit comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports while the stepped-up 13in and the 15in models have four Thunderbolt 3 ports. The 15in MacBook pro can support up to two additional 5K displays and dual RAID systems allowing for some pretty incredible productivity and amazing work experience from a portable machine.

Touch Bar and Touch ID

The all new Touch Bar replaces the function keys on all the MacBook Pros except for the base model. For those users who still aren’t ready to let go of the physical function buttons Apple still leaves these keys on their $1499 model and by pressing the function key the Touch Bar will digitally display function keys. The Touch Bar is a small digital screen where the traditional functional keys once resided and changes depending on the application that you are running. If you’re in mail you can customize your Touch Bar much like the graphical tool bar in mail. You can now file, forward or delete with the touch of your finger and never have to use your track pad. For users who edit photos you can now relocate many drop down menu options to the Touch Bar allowing for full screen editing with ease. You can accept an incoming call, text someone your favorite emoji and now even Apple Pay all from your Touch Bar. Touch ID allows you to now unlock your computer with the touch of your finger and even use Apple Pay on your favorite sites.

Second Generation Butterfly and Larger Touch Pad

The butterfly switch mechanism was first introduced in the MacBook and it’s what helps to give the keyboard on the MacBook an even lower profile and faster response time. The keys are now even more stable allowing for a more comfortable typing experience and more responsive keys. The Touch Pad is now 2x larger than previous generation models giving users more space and flexibility to work and manipulate graphics.

Faster Graphics and a Brighter Display

The 15in MacBook Pro now has up to 130% faster graphics performance than previous models while the 13in is up to 103% faster. The new displays in the MacBook Pros feature a 67% brighter contract ratio and 25% more colors. The new LED display delivers deeper blacks, brighter whites and more vibrant greens and reds. Just when you thought that the display couldn’t get much better Apple managed to make it even more impressive.

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