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#652: A Look Back at 2009 and Forward to 2010!

 
     
 

Dear Friends,

It is going to be a rare blue moon on New Year’s Eve tonight. I heard on Vermont Public Radio on the way into work this morning that happens only once every 19 years. If I can stay up, I’ll probably head down to our neighbors for the traditional Prickly Mountain New Year’s Eve with lots of friends, champaign and dancing. I saw that our pond was shoveled off, so there will also be ice skating tonight (I’m definitely skipping that, though!).

I’ll be heading west next week for the Consumer Electronics Show where I will be looking for new products and will be helping to man the Chill Pill Audio booth as we exhibit at this huge show for the first time.

All of us here at Small Dog send our best wishes to you and your family for a healthy, happy and prosperous 2010! I am a half-full kinda guy and am really pumped about heading into a new year. We are expecting snow for the next several days as we really enter the winter season with the turn of the year.

Enjoy our look back at some of the best articles of 2009 and our look forward!

 
     
  2010 Prognostications  
   
 

Here’s my annual set of predictions for the new year.

bq.Thank a hen in 2010
Do it again in 2010
Have a friend in 2010
Begin again in 2010

Sports

I was 0-4 last year as the Cubs and Bears really sucked and the Blackhawks and Celtics did not advance. Maybe I should stick to local sports.

  • MLB Baseball: Yes, I am a fanatical Cubs fan. My mother used to use Wrigley Field as a daycare center and drop my brother and I off for games as we lived near the friendly confines. I have a Cubs tattoo on my shoulder and yes, I will once again predict that with new ownership will come a new found team spirit and finally a World Series Championship.
  • NBA Basketball: The Celtics are banged up right now, but if they can get healthy, I think they are the team to beat! Celtics over the Lakers in 7.
  • NFL Football: The Bears are out of it, so I’m going with the New Orleans Saints for the Superbowl.
  • NHL Hockey: I am going back to my standard—who cares?

WNBA – I see the Phoenix Mercury led by Diana Taurasi (WNBA Player of the Decade) repeating as WNBA Champs!

Weather

It will be another warm winter in Vermont with only one day where the temperatures stay below 0° F all day. This year we will have one huge snowfall over 36 inches that will slow things down for a few hours.

It will, however, be an early spring with early April motorcycling.

This coming summer in Vermont will be one of the best with little rain after June 15th and warm temperatures cooled by mountain breezes.

The western states will see a very hot and unusually dry summer.

Politics

Health Care reform will pass and both the left and right will howl. States will have some freedom to experiment with other more comprehensive health care reform. Vermont will lead the way with a public option and true universal coverage.

Afghanistan is not going to work. The new policy of increasing troop levels will need revision in the light of an expanded non-geographically limited war.

Iran will test a nuclear weapon, triggering ineffective sanctions.

Relations with Cuba will continue to thaw.

There will be renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after Israel signs a peace treaty with Syria and halts settlement construction.

Global Warming will continue to be talked about but no significant action taken. Cap and trade and carbon trading will get embroiled in partisan politics without any meaningful solution.

Vermont will elect a Democrat as governor.

Economy

Economic recovery will continue slowly, however, unemployment will significantly lag. More job creation incentives will be created.

Consumer Electric vehicles will hit the market with higher efficiency hybrids also becoming available, however, gasoline prices will remain below $4/gallon and that will make electric cars a niche market.

New incentives for renewable energy sources will be the fastest growing job creation sector.

Unemployment will reach 12% nationally before it starts to decline.

Chrysler will close its doors.

Apple

Apple stock will hit $300/share.

Apple will introduce a “game changing” tablet computer.

Apple will post record revenues and profits.

Steve Jobs will retire from Apple, Tim Cook will be named CEO while Steve becomes Chairman of the Board.

Apple will introduce an iPhone nano, basically adding cell phone functions to the iPod nano.

Apple will make remarkable gains in overall market-share for computers.

Small Dog Electronics

Small Dog Electronics will finally open its next store!

Small Dog Electronics eWaste event will again collect over 150 tons of eWaste.

Small Dog Electronics will add several products to the Chill Pill Audio and Hammerhead product lines.

Small Dog will finally be authorized to sell the iPhone.

Miscellaneous

There will be scientifically confirmed evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

There will be a bunch of new stunning 3D movies, 3D television will be the next home entertainment product.

Cell phones and other portable devices will become mobile payment devices.

 
     
  Share an Internet Connection via Built-in AirPort (3/06/2009)  
   
 

It’s sad but true: there are still many conference centers, hotels, and office buildings that lack Wi-Fi. However, many of these do offer hardwired internet access via Ethernet or (egads) a dial-up connection. If you’re solo, this is only a minor inconvenience. However, if you’re traveling or working with other people, a single wired connection can be a major productivity block.

Fortunately, Mac OS X makes it easy to share a single wired internet connection over a Mac’s built-in AirPort wireless card, to other computers that also have wireless capabilities. Except for the Mac Pro, every Mac released since early 2006 has featured a built-in AirPort card (which is what Apple calls its brand of wireless card).

This tip works best from a wired Ethernet internet connection, but I’ve read that it will also work with a cellular internet connection, such as those provided by Verizon, Sprint, etc.

To share an internet connection via a Mac’s Wi-Fi, first connect the Ethernet cable to the Mac that will be serving as the base station.

Next, navigate to that Mac’s System Preferences panel (found under the Apple in the upper left corner of the screen) and select Sharing. When the Sharing panel opens, select Internet Sharing (note that you won’t be able to check the Internet Sharing box until other options are configured). Next, make sure “Share your connection from: Ethernet” is selected in the drop-down list.

Since we want to share our Mac’s connection wirelessly, click AirPort in the “To Computers using:” box. Finally, click the AirPort Options button to give your new network a name and password. When you have everything the way you like it, turn Internet sharing on.

The Mac serving as base station will still be able to surf the web while others piggyback on its internet connection. Any device with Wi-Fi (including the iPhone and iPod touch) will be able to share this connection.

 
     
  Ten Tips for Dealing with Unexpected Mac Slowdowns  
   
 

A friend recently sent me an email, questioning why his MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM was “getting slower and slower, with an increasing frequency of the appearance of the SRWOD (spinny rainbow wheel of death).” This is something I occasionally hear about, but haven’t experienced (except for Safari randomly bogging down for several seconds).

Unfortunately, mysterious computer slowdowns can be difficult to diagnose. Overstuffed system cache, old temp files, corrupted preferences, a hard drive in the early stages of failure, and faulty RAM are always candidates for causing this problem. Here are some suggestions to resolve system slowdowns.

Also, please make sure you have a solid backup of your Macs important data before proceeding. I’ll say it again: make sure your Mac is backed up properly before proceeding.

1. Any Mac will slow down when its hard drive is almost full, regardless of processor speed. Simply moving some of your data (especially media files like movies, video podcasts, etc) to an external drive can greatly improve a Mac’s responsiveness.

Read how to reclaim hard drive space in an old Kibbles article by clicking here.

2. Clear your Mac’s desktop. The OS has to draw each of those icons as separate windows, so when you have dozens of files littered on the desktop the system is taxed. Clearing the Macs desktop is proven to improve system performance.

3. Make sure your computer is up to date with all the latest software and firmware updates from Apple. This can go a long way to improving system performance. To check this, click the Apple in the top left corner of the screen and select “Software Update…”

4. Simply running a free maintenance program can often help bring a sluggish and flakey machine back to speed. These programs force the Mac’s regular Unix maintenance scripts; normally these run daily, weekly, and monthly early in the morning. Click here for further reading on this.

I use a program called Onyx to run these scripts. You can get it for Tiger (10.4) and Leopard (10.5). It’s effective and easy to use. It starts by checking the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive, so you can determine if the drive is failing. This step takes several minutes. After that Onyx can flush system cache, etc.

One catch about Onyx is that it has several options that most people shouldn’t use, such as the option for erasing bookmarks and internet browsing history. I do like and recommend Onyx, though—get it for free from the developer by clicking here. You can also download Onyx directly from Apple’s site by clicking here.

You can also download a simpler program called MacJanitor that will only run the maintenance scripts by clicking here. When a tech diagnoses your Mac, he or she runs a battery of programs that are similar to Onyx. This takes several hours. However, Onyx does a great job for occasional repairs and maintenance.

5. Check the health of your hard drive. I depend on Onyx to verify the S.M.A.R.T. status of my Mac’s hard drive. Immediately back up your computer if you think there’s a real issue with the drive. Then consider using a dedicated drive diagnostic/repair tool such as Disk Warrior. If the drive is having issues and you’re going to replace it, consider using a 7200RPM model. A faster hard drive will result in a (slightly) faster Mac.

6. Check the health of your Mac’s RAM. There are several ways to test the health of your Mac’s RAM. I use Rember, which is a free program that is a front-end GUI to a basic Unix ‘memtest’ command. You can read more about testing RAM by clicking here

7. Deal with mutant applications. Ok, so maybe the word “mutant” is unfair. However, it’s always a good idea to delete applications that you don’t use. I use AppCleaner to do this.

Also, many apps install helper programs that run by default whenever you startup your Mac. This typically happens in the background, without the user having to confirm anything. Often these aren’t needed and can hog system resources without having anything to show for it. To disable startup items you don’t use, navigate to System Preferences > Accounts > Login items and uncheck the list.

Finally, any active, running application uses system resources including CPU cycles, RAM and disk activity, even when it is in the background and you’re not using it. Some programs leak memory when they are running, which makes them gobble RAM over time.

8. Use Activity Monitor and iStat Pro to analyze which system processes and applications are hogging system resources. You can download the iStat Pro widget by clicking here. Activity Monitor is found in the Utilities Folder which is nested in the Applications folder in OS X.

9. If you have an Intel Mac, use Xslimmer to trim away the legacy PowerPC code from Universal binary applications. Read more by clicking here.

10. Programs that automatically perform syncing, indexing, and backup operations on your Mac can occasionally slow it down. They can sometimes cause minor drags that slow the system for a couple of seconds at a time.

If none of these helps, the problem will likely be more time-consuming to resolve. At Small Dog, our techs run a battery of tests with several software and hardware tools to seek out and fix strange system slowdowns. Hopefully the above suggestions will keep you from having to send in your machine!

Editor’s note: Check out this cheeky website to log your time spent waiting for the “Spinning Beach Ball of Death!”

 
     
  Top 5 Tricks to Make Your PC More Like Your Mac (4/24/2009)  
   
 

Last week, I wrote about how to make your Mac more like a PC. Now, here’s a Top 5 for the other side: those who want to make their PC more like a Mac! Whether you’re someone who wants the look and feel of a Mac because you’re used to one at home and your evil bosses make you work on a PC at the office (kidding) or simply because it’s fun to mix it up a bit, the following tips should help:

1) Get Firefox (or Safari): Seriously, ditch Internet Explorer if you haven’t already! Both Safari and Firefox are much faster, cleaner, secure browsers for the web. In addition, Safari has the same features you love on the Mac side, and Firefox offers a seemingly infinite number of extensions to customize it (including numerous Safari/OS X skins). It’s a no-brainer!

2) Use Thunderbird: Similarly, using Thunderbird will mimic your Mac experience. There are skins (themes) for it as well that emulate the look of Apple Mail—nice and clean. (We’ll be writing about our favorite Firefox/Thunderbird extentions in a future Kibbles.) Don’t worry about ditching Outlook; Thunderbird can handle all of the same types of email accounts (POP, IMAP, etc.) that it can, so you won’t miss a thing. (Just be sure to have someone guide you through the process if you’re unsure of some of your email settings.)

3) Fix that UI: Face it, the user interface of a Mac looks good. If you’re still using Windows XP, it’s especially apparent that it doesn’t look as great. Try StarDock’s WindowBlinds, a utility designed to make XP or Vista look amazingly Mac-like. It’s a non-permanent option that’s safe for work computers (as long as you have access) because it just gives your PC the smooth, aqua ‘skin’ of OS X.

4) Create PDFs: Miss how easy it is to make a PDF in OS X? Grab PDFCreator. Create a PDF from anything you’d be printing instead—no rebooting necessary!

5) Get Command back: Use SharpKeys! This tool allows you to switch your Alt and Ctrl keys, emulating the Command key on an Apple keyboard.

Have some tips of your own? Let us know. Next week, I’ll feature some feedback from both of these articles!

Image credit: Instructables.com

 
     
  Master the iPhone/iPod touch Restore Process (05/01/2009)  
   
 

My husband Chris recently ditched Windows for good on his MacBook, on which he had previously been running Windows via Boot Camp as his primary OS. Once he decided to make the leap for good, he just backed up his important files, deleted the Windows partition and started using OS X.

All worked great until the time came to sync his iPhone. Since he was still on the same computer, he didn’t think anything of plugging it in. However, he had been in the Windows world, and the two operating systems—though on the same physical computer—treat syncing devices separately. When he plugged his iPhone in, iTunes naturally treated it like a new device.

Without thinking, he clicked through the windows prompting him to set up his new device and all info was lost. Around the same time, I had been having issues with my own iPhone and needed to troubleshoot to getting it working correctly again. What a great time to write about safely backing up and restoring an iPhone!

So, if you’re having issues with your iPhone or iPod touch or you’d like to utilize the restore feature before syncing to a new iTunes library, here are some things to keep in mind (if you need step-by-step instructions for the restore process, see the bottom of the article for links):

  • iTunes has a built-in feature that backs up your data each time you sync, update or restore your device.

However, this does NOT include your photos, videos or audio. If you have the information still on your computer that you want to sync, it will do so; however if you’re setting up your device for the first time and your information is not already on the computer, you want a more fully-featured backup program such as iPhone/iPod touch Backup Extractor. (Leopard only)

  • If you want to restore your device from a backup, either right click the iPhone or iPod touch icon in the lefthand navigation bar or click Restore in the Summary tab in iTunes.

If your data is completely up-to-date the way you want it, and you need to restore it because it’s acting funny, I’d recommend syncing first, so you have a recent backup.

Note: If you click Restore in the Summary tab and proceed from there, it gives you a little more information about the backups than if you right click on the device icon (e.g. my old iPod touch and iPhone are named the same thing—only the former example gives you your phone number to indicate that it’s a phone, rather than an iPod!)

Depending on the size of the backup, it could (and probably will) take several minutes.

  • Once your data is restored, all of your information should be back on your device, but the apps will be out of order.

If you’re like me and have several pages of apps that you’ve painstakingly organized to perfection (yep, I said it), I recommend taking a screenshot of each page beforehand to help you sort them out afterward! (iPhone only: To take a screenshot, press the Home button and the button on the top simultaneously. It will take a screenshot that is then stored in your pictures.)

More resources:
Backing Up/Restoring your iPhone/iPod touch software
iPhone and iPod touch: About backups
iPhone Troubleshooting Assistant
iPod touch Troubleshooting Assistant

 
     
  Compress Those Pages File Sizes! (8/10/2009)  
   
 

Recently, I created a Pages document that grew to be unusually large in file size due to the images that I was using. The Pages file was roughly 140MB, so even exported to a PDF, it only shrunk to about 50MB—still too big for an email.

Rather than resize the images that I put in the document itself, there’s an easier way.

In Pages, select File > Reduce File Size. This will resize the images according to how large they actually appear in the document itself.

140MB > 1.2MB? Success!

 
     
  Top 10 Favorite FREE Mac Apps (5/29/2009)  
   
 

As promised, here is my list of favorite FREE applications for Mac. While these are my own personal favorite apps, many of them are also great for new Mac users and recent switchers.

These are all legitimate applications, and not pirated or black market titles. I use these apps weekly and even daily, and don’t hesitate to recommend them.

Note that I didn’t include any web-based applications and services in this list, though I was tempted to do so. We’ll cover our favorite web apps in a future Kibbles & Bytes.

1 OnyX This is a multifunction maintenance, optimization, and personalization utility for Mac OS X. It’s available for Panther, Tiger, and Leopard. I use it about once a month or so to keep all my Macs running smoothly.

OnyX allows you to verify your Mac’s Startup Disk and the structure of its System files, run miscellaneous tasks of system maintenance, configure some hidden parameters of the Finder, Dock, Dashboard, Exposé, Safari, Login window and some of Apple’s own applications, it deletes caches, removes a certain number of files and folders that may become cumbersome and more.

Click here to learn more and download OnyX!

2 VLC VLC media player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, more) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.

In other words, VLC will play back many file formats that the QuickTime Player, Windows Media Player, etc can’t handle. Best of all, VLC doesn’t need any external codecs or programs to work.

Click here to learn more and download VLC.

3 Bean Bean is a small, easy-to-use word processor (or more precisely, a rich text editor), designed to make writing convenient and efficient. Bean is Open Source, fully Cocoa, and is available free of charge! MS Word, OpenOffice, etc. try to be all things to all people, and indeed offer many more writing tools, templates, and output options. But sometimes you simply need to write, and that is Bean’s niche.

Bean includes many writing essentials including a live word count, a Get Info panel for in-depth statistics, a zoom-slider to easily change the view scale,
an Inspector panel with lots of sliders, date-stamped backups, auto-saving, page layout mode, an alternate colors option (e.g., white text on blue), selection of text by text style, paragraph style, color, etc, a floating windows option (like Stickies has). find panel allows regular expressions (pattern matching), and all of Cocoa’s good stuff (dictionary, word completion, etc.).

I combine Bean with Think for efficient, clutter-free writing.

Click here to learn more and download Bean for Mac.

4 NetNewsWire This is an easy-to-use RSS and Atom reader for your Mac. It allows you to browse, subscribe, read, and save hundreds of thousands of website feeds. It is a true desktop Mac application, with integration with Spotlight, Address Book, iCal, iPhoto, Growl, Twitterific and more. Best of all, it effortlessly syncs with NetNewsWire’s web-based RSS reader for free, allowing you to manage all your RSS feeds from any Internet-connected computer (Mac or PC).

Click here to download NetNewsWire!

5 HandBrake HandBrake is an open-source, multithreaded video transcoder, available for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows. It will convert just about any video file you can play on your Mac into a variety of other, easier to play, more portable video formats. Most people use HandBrake to back up their DVDs, or convert a DVD into a file that can be played back on their iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, PS3, etc. Use it as you will. HandBrake has been updated substantially over the past several years since its initial release

Click here to learn more and download HandBrake.

6 Carbon Copy Cloner 3. I admit, since Time Machine debuted with Leopard, I don’t use this app as much as I used to. However, for simple, successful backups, Carbon Copy Cloner can’t be beat. You can also use CCC3 for backing up across network, backup to disk images, and backup of selected files only. CCC 3 features an interface designed to make the cloning and backup procedure very intuitive. In addition to general backup, CCC can also clone one hard drive to another, copying every single block or file to create an exact replica of your source hard drive.

Click here to learn more and download Carbon Copy Cloner!

7 The Unarchiver Forget the other commercial unarchiving apps (like the free version of StuffIt)—the Unarchiver is all you need. Uncompress RAR, 7zip, tar, and bz2 files on your Mac. The developer notes “Many new Mac users will be puzzled the first time they download a RAR file. Do them a favor and download UnRarX for them!”

Click here to download the Unarchiver and learn more.

8 Google SketchUp Google SketchUp is used to create, modify and share 3D models of anything you like. I know a few people who used SketchUp extensively to plan and pre-visualize house renovations. I’ve used it to create a virtual set for planning camera placement. There are dozens of video tutorials, an extensive Help Center and a worldwide user community for SketchUp, making it relatively easy to learn.

It’s amazing that SketchUp is free! Download SketchUp by clicking here.

9 Tweetie for Mac. Tweetie is my desktop Twitter app of choice. I like that I can easily mange multiple Twitter accounts, view entire tweet “conversations” iChat-style, and compose Tweets in a seperate draft window (with built-in URL compression). The free version is ad-supported, which so far I don’t mind. I mean, it is free after all.

Click here to learn more and download Tweetie for Mac.

10 AppCleaner Want to remove some of the apps you’ve downloaded here, or downloaded in the past? Try AppCleaner. It’s a small application which allows you to thoroughly uninstall unwanted apps. Installing an application distributes many files throughout your System using space of your Hard Drive unnecessarily. AppCleaner finds all these small files and safely deletes them.

Click here to learn more and download AppCleaner for Mac.

Honorable Mention: Quicksilver. I know I’d get lynched if I didn’t include this app, which is #1 on many lists of essential Mac software. I simply don’t use it anymore, or ever since I upgraded to Leopard. It’s an awesome app though. Click here to learn about and download Quicksilver

Runners Up: Audacity, Adium, NeoOffice, CyberDuck, Firefox, Camino, Carbon Copy Cloner, xPad, Windows Media Components for QuickTime, by Flip4Mac, iStat Pro, Think, SuperDuper, Burn Chicken Of The VNC, Skype, Anxiety

 
     
  YouTube Comparison of iPod nano Video vs Flip MinoHD (9/25/09)  
   
 

We always know a new Apple product is going to popular when a large number of Small Dog Electronics employees decide to buy it for themselves. The new iPod nano with built-in video camera, microphone, pedometer, and FM radio is a perfect example of this. (And in case you’re wondering, green is the most popular color.)

I recently tested the video from the new nano against a Flip minoHD. In some ways, this isn’t a fair comparison. The Flip is a dedicated video camera, and shoots in HD with a wide 1280 × 720 aspect ratio. The video camera in the nano isn’t really intended to replace a dedicated video camera; it’s there to capture spontaneous, fun videos. It captures standard def. video at a 640 × 480 resolution. The nano also features 15 built-in special effects like X-Ray, Security Cam, Cyborg, and Kaleido, which further accentuate the fun factor. Still, I thought the video from the nano looked surprisingly decent.

I basically attached the two cameras with rubber bands and walked around Small Dog. Video here is shown side by side. All audio comes directly from the nano, not the Flip. Neither the Flip nor the nano has a particularly outstanding microphone.

Of course these videos are ultra-compressed by the time they’re posted online. Don’t forget to watch in HD!

Click here to see the video on YouTube.

Click here to see the video in a larger size in better quality on Vimeo.

 
     
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Thank you for your support in 2009! All of us here at Small Dog Electronics realize that ultimately it is you, our loyal customers, that pay our wages and we pledge to continue in 2010 to provide the very best in customer satisfaction.

We believe in making customers for life and want to hear from you with comments, suggestions, complaints, praise or just a friendly hello!

Happy New Year from Small Dog Electronics!

Your Kibbles & Bytes team,
Don, Kali and Ed