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#660: Tip of the Week, I Love Dashboard, Hard Drive Failure Prevention, Xserve


Happy Tuesday,

Small Dog newsletters and blog are powered by an open-source content management system (CMS) called TextPattern. Morgan has tweaked it to meet our needs over the years, and it’s been very good to us. It allows us to write content directly into a web browser and select a few options to direct content to the appropriate spot, like Tech Tails. This integration is both an advantage and a pitfall: typing directly in the web browser saves some time but does not allow you to save your work as you go. Further, if you don’t save your work and your computer crashes, that work is gone, unlike a traditional word processor; Time Machine doesn’t grab this content, either.

As luck would have it, I returned from a meeting to put the finishing touches on an article to find my MacBook Pro with the dreaded Kernel Panic message on the screen. That article was lost. Had I saved my work to the server… well, you get the idea.

Do you have Time Machine set up on your Mac? Do you have Leopard yet? Have Leopard but no external drive? Time Machine is for me the most compelling feature of the operating system, as the peace of mind alone makes the upgrade worthwhile.

Not all of us are able to upgrade our hardware every few years, especially in this economy. Older computers meet many our needs and while we’d love to buy new computers, operating system upgrades are often enough to tide us over for a few more years. As part of our Moms, Dads and Grads promotion that kicked off yesterday, I’m offering a bundle including the Box Set (Leopard, iWork ’09 and iLife ’09), 4GB of RAM, and a LaCie 500GB external hard drive for $399.99 installed. It’s a savings of over $100 off our normal pricing, and with the RAM upgrade you’ll notice a considerable boost in speed in addition to all the new features of Leopard.

If you already have Leopard, but lack a backup drive, we have 500GB LaCie models starting at $79.99. And if you just want a bigger internal hard drive, we’re offering half off data transfer services.

For all the Switchers out there, we’re also offering a free basic Windows to Mac data transfer, a $69.99 value, for the duration of the promotion. There’s never been a better time to get a Mac! Swing by one of our stores, or give us a call. There are tons of great deals right now.

Thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Tip of the Week | Maximizing Your Mac's Dictionary  

If you use OS X’s built-in spellchecker, chances are that you’ve added custom words to your dictionary. For example, here at Small Dog, we frequently write “”. By default, OS X’s spellchecker doesn’t recognize that word because it’s not in its dictionary. To save a couple of seconds a day, I’ve added it to my Mac’s spellcheck dictionary.

You can easily add custom words to your Mac’s dictionary by invoking the spellchecker, highlighting the word it doesn’t recognize, then clicking the “Learn” button. Invoke your Mac’s spellchecker in most apps by holding down the Command-Shift-; keys, or else by navigating to Edit > Spelling and Grammar > Check Document Now.

There have been times when I’ve accidently added words to my dictionary. This has included misspellings. Fortunately, it’s easy (though not obvious) to remove these misspellings from your Mac’s custom dictionary.

My recommended method for editing your Mac’s custom dictionary is to download the free Dictionary Cleaner application. This adds a small preference pane to your System Preferences panel, where you can easily view and remove the custom words you’ve added to the dictionary. You can download this app by clicking here.

You can also navigate to the Library folder in your User account on your Mac, where you’ll find a folder called “Spelling.” If you open this file with a basic text editing program, all you’ll see is a big cluster of words. These are the words you’ve added to your library. Before deleting any of these words, it’s better to use a program such as Text Wrangler (free, click here to get it) that allows you to see invisible characters. Now the words you’ve added are separated by red ¿ symbols. You can easily delete these. However, I still recommend Dictionary Cleaner

  Web Clippings: I Now Love Dashboard  

I’ve long been anti-dashboard. I find that the widgets consume more RAM that is reasonable and can bog down systems not loaded up with memory and running on older hardware. Thankfully, I use a top-of-the-line 17” MacBook Pro with 6GB of RAM so don’t have to worry about processor speed or memory constraints. But I’ve never really used Dashboard.

Sure, Leopard was released in October, 2007, and I’ve been using it ever since. I even knew about Web Clippings, one of the myriad new features in the operating system. But until now I haven’t used them. We have several dozen security cameras throughout our retail stores, warehouses, and offices, and it’s often helpful for me to see the video stream from several of these cameras. While the web interface we have is perfectly functional, it is clunky, and I grew tired of navigating through many web pages any time I wanted to see what a camera is seeing.

The solution was web clippings, and now I have quite a few on my dashboard. I have local and regional Doppler radar, several security cameras (which I can see from home while connected to our virtual private network, or VPN), and quite a few other clippings. A quick press of F12 gives immediate access to all of this information, which would’ve taken over a minute to see before.

If you have not yet used this feature of MacOS X Leopard and Safari 3, check it out. All you need to do is click on the web clippings button in Safari’s toolbar, and then drag a box on a web page to make the clipping. Dashboard will open, and you can place the new widget wherever you’d like.

  Easy Hard Drive Failure Prevention  

It’s true that laptop hard drives tend to fail before desktop hard drives (unless your desktop computer uses a laptop hard drive, as is the case with the Mac Mini). This is simply because laptops tend to be moved around much more than desktops.

I see customers close their laptops to make them sleep–which is fine–but they then pick up the computer immediately and begin walking with it. The problem with this is that modern laptops take the contents of memory and write it to the hard drive. This is what makes “safe sleep” possible, and it can take up to a minute.

A hard drive is like a record player. There are platters inside that spin anywhere from 4,200 revolutions per minute to 15,000 revolutions per minute. If you’ve ever bumped into your record player or otherwise jarred it while it was playing music, you know that it doesn’t sound very good, can damage your stylus, and can damage the vinyl. The same holds true in hard drives.

Perhaps the easiest and most effective thing you can do to protect your laptop hard drive is to wait after closing the lid. When the sleep light begins “breathing,” your computer is truly asleep. If the light is solid or off entirely, your hard drive is still spinning. Take a deep breath and wait until the hard drive spins down; your data will thank you, and so will your wallet.

  Nehalem Xserve: Apple's Greenest Server Yet  

I joined Rob, Tony, Mark, and Morgan today on a conference call with one of the engineers working in the Xserve group at Apple. Among other things, we spoke about the massive boost in computing power and how the Nehalem processor architecture (also found in the newest Mac Pros) is poised to fully take advantage of Grand Central, a core new feature slated for release with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Grand Central is unique to Mac OS and enables the operating system to best take advantage of multiple processors and processor cores. As we approach the limits of silicon manufacturing processes, it is the number of cores and/or processors that will drive performance in the coming years. Apple recognizes this and Snow Leopard will be a big step forward for all of us on multiprocessor and multi core systems.

Of note was the big step forward in green design seen in the Xserve. This server uses 19% less idle power than its predecessor, has dynamic processor-level power control, active cooling that revs up only when needed, 89% efficient redundant power supplies, and optional solid-state drives that uses one measly watt instead of the 20 watts used by a typical server-grade hard drive while offering insanely fast throughput and incomparable mean time before failure (MTBF). Over a server’s lifespan, this can add up to pretty big savings for your organization and our planet.

I often hear grumbling about Xserve’s price point and am always confused by that. The hardware is top-notch, the service and support of AppleCare is second to none, the green factor is huge; this translates directly to your bottom line. But the biggest hidden value in Xserve is that each and every one comes with an unlimited-client license of Mac OS X Server—a $1000 value. If you’re a system administrator looking to switch either in part or entirely, you owe it to yourself to consider Apple hardware.

Drop a line with any questions you might have about the Xserve and its cousin, the Promise RAID, which offers massive amounts of completely redundant, secure storage at 89¢ per gigabyte. We offer end-to-end solutions ranging from project management to deployment to maintenance through our WatchDog Consulting services for everything from home businesses to multinational corporations.

  Mother's Day Mac Gifts  

Mother’s Day is coming up on May 10. We’ve created a page with some of our most popular Mother’s day gifts in one place. You can see this by clicking here:

Items listed on that page have been popular on past Mother’s Days, with one new addition: the Flip digital camcorders.

Flip camcorders are fun and incredibly easy to use. Each model has 2GB of built-in storage, which holds 60 minutes of video. They are imminently pocketable (about the size of an iPod classic). They are plug-and-play with modern Macs and PCs. You can use their built-in software to edit videos, or use iMovie 08 or iMovie 09.

Flip cameras start at $129.99. The high-definition recording MinoHD actually captures true HD footage. We have specials on most Flip models. We expect them to be one of the hottest gifts this spring and summer. We can recommend them because we use and enjoy them.

Click here to see all Flip camcorders by clicking here.

  SPECIALS | 04/28/09 - 05/01/09  
   Mac mini 2.0GHz 4GB RAM, 120GB HD, AppleCare, Free All-In-One Printer with rebate!
   LaCie 250GB Rugged Portable Drive 5400RPM USB 2.0, Reliable, Fast Portable Storage!
   Mac Pro Quad-Core 2.66GHz 8GB RAM, 640GB + 1TB, GT120 Graphics (w/ Snow Leopard), Free Ship!
   iPod nano w/video 8GB Pink (4G), FREE Pink Silicone Case!
   MacBook 2.0GHz 2GB RAM, 160GB HD, Free Sleeve (Grey Plaid), AppleCare, Free Printer with rebate!
   iMac 20in 2.4GHz 1GB/250GB/Superdrive/2400XT, AppleCare, Free All-in-one Printer with rebate!
   Apple Final Cut Studio 2 - Instant $150 Rebate, plus FREE shipping!