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#662: Mac Box Set Sale, Half-Wired on Vacation, How To Lift Your MacBook, 17" MacBook Pro Praise


Happy Tuesday,

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is right around the corner, and I’m headed out to San Francisco and Cupertino in a few weeks with Don for the always productive and inspiring meetings with Apple executives, other Apple Specialists, and the developer community. There’s always a ton of buzz before the Apple keynotes given before WWDC and Macworld, and this time around is no exception.

Snow Leopard is no secret, and the Apple website has an in-depth preview. The Apple community is rightfully excited for this sixth major release of Mac OS X, as Snow Leopard promises to breathe new life into multi-core and multi-processors systems with its Grand Central technology. Grand Central promises to help developers take better advantage of today’s multi-core systems, and every single Apple computer now features at least two processor cores.

An underreported feature of Snow Leopard is fully integrated support for Microsoft Exchange. Exchange is perhaps the most widely used mail, calendaring, and collaborative software used in the corporate world, and just as the iPhone is enjoying increased use in enterprise, I predict that Snow Leopard will be the impetus for widespread adoption of the Macintosh in that realm. We still don’t know the exact release date, but each day that passes is one fewer.

Enjoy this issue, and keep in touch.


  Taking a Half-Wired Vacation  

Hello again, Tech Tails! I just recently returned from an incredibly relaxing trip to Aruba filled with sun, calm surf and jeep-bound adventures through the wild desert landscape. When preparing for vacation, I always find myself in a conundrum of what technology to bring and what to leave behind.

Since my career is in technology, it’s important for me to feel a bit unwired and really let myself make the seperation from work not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my travel companions. This is why I generally try to travel to places with limited internet access. Aruba, however, is one of the most technologically advanced Carribean islands and as a tourist, there is some benefit in being able to check online reviews and travel guides to get the most out of the trip. So how could I make the seperation from my “real life” but use technology to actually enhance my vacation experience?

To start with, for the plane rides I loaded both my 80GB video iPod and my 8GB iPhone with plenty of videos, podcasts and music to keep me and my travel companion occupied; that’s just a given. While I tend to spend more of my time on planes reading or attempting to nap I like having the option of keeping a plethora of entertainment with me just in case I desire it. After all, I hardly have time to catch up on my favorite podcasts or must-see flicks during my work-week so this really is a vacation pasttime for me.

To make it a shared experience, I bring a headphone splitter with me so two people can listen and watch at the same time. To ensure that I don’t run out of juice, I also bring along backup batteries for both the iPhone and the iPod. Of course, the package is only complete when paired with some nice headphones and I do keep a pair of Bose and a “spare” pair of Bang & Olufsens in my bag.

Before taking off, I turned off my work email account on both my computer and my phone. While I could still cheat by checking webmail, it’s an extra step that I’d need to consciously take. To turn off an account in Apple Mail, simply go to Mail > Preferences > Accounts. Select the mail account that you’d like to disable, select the “Advanced” tab and uncheck the box that says “Enable this account”. This can then be undone just as simply when you get back from vacation by rechecking the “Enable this account” box. Now all of your work mail will be hidden!

It’s just as easy on the iPhone. Simply navigate to “Settings” > “Mail, Contacts, Calendars”. Then select the account you’d like to disable and the very first option is a toggle switch to turn the account on or off; just turn it off. Again, when you get back from vacation simply toggle that switch back on. It’s also important to note that while you might not want to use your iPhone while traveling abroad (unless you enjoy paying hefty roaming charges or switching to an International plan for the month), it’s easy to disable the cell service on your iPhone while still using it as an internet device using Wi-Fi. To do this, head back into “Settings” and toggle Airplane Mode on to disable the cell service. By default, this will also toggle your Wi-Fi off. To re-enable Wi-Fi, select “Wi-Fi” and then toggle it back on.

We were lucky enough to have free internet via ethernet right in our resort villa. Thinking ahead, I brought my AirPort Express with me for just this occassion. If you already have an AirPort Express and you use it with cable internet at home, or DSL (without PPPoE settings in your AirPort Express) then the configuration while traveling is usually just simple plug and play. I was able to take my AirPort Express from home that I usually use with cable internet, plug it right into a wall outlet and plug the resort’s ethernet cable right into the AirPort Express. In less than two minutes my AirPort Express lit up green to let me know if was receiving a valid IP address and sending it out to my room.

The next step is configuring my laptop, which is also very straight-forward though some people get confused by the first step. I opened my MacBook Pro and it immediately found my encrypted wireless network and connected without a hitch. I was then connected to my Express which was connected to the hotel’s ethernet but there was still one more step. Most hotels and business that offer either free or paid internet do require some sort of authentication. One usually encounters this when they attempt to connect to the internet, everything looks like a go, but then they attempt to sign on to an instant messanger or retrieve their email in Mail or Entourage only to get connectivity errors.

The first step here is to open any web browser (i.e. Safari or Firefox), and simply load any page. You will then notice that as the page you selected starts to load, it will be redirected to an authentication site. In this case, I was redirected to a page letting me authenticate for free for either a 1-day or 6-day session. I had to agree to the Terms and Conditions of the internet usage and then I was online! If you happen to be at a business that charges for internet access, the page that you’re redirected to would discuss charges and have you set up an account before allowing you internet access.

Voila! I now had wireless internet access throughout the villa that I could use with my computer, phone or any other internet devices. The last trick is all about sheer will and determination; limiting computer access to only looking up fun Aruba activities, maps and reviews. I cheated a little by occasionally checking my favorite comics and blogs while sipping magaritas and piña coladas but managed to stay offline for a good 95% of the trip. While this wasn’t an entirely unplugged vacation, bringing technology with me helped me get the most out of my trip while limiting my access allowed me to unwind, enjoy the good company and amazing scenery. As we head into high-vacation season I hope many of you also get the chance to unplug but if you do decide to bring your gadgets with you remember to use them wisely!

  How To Lift Your MacBook  

The vast majority of insert/eject problems on Apple laptops are related to how users pick up their machines. It sounds ridiculous, and some people even take offense when I offer a tutorial on how to handle their machines, but if you squash the optical drive opening, that is considered damage and is not covered by your warranty.

By picking up your laptop with two hands, and avoiding at all costs putting pressure on the optical drive area, you can prevent problems down the line. These range from failure of the optical drive, scratching disks on every insert or eject and failure of the drive to suck a disc in or spit one out.

When we see this problem, we’re often able to use a non-marring nylon probe tool to pry open the optical drive slot. These tools are thin and rectangular, and by inserting the tapered end a few millimeters into the slot and twisting, the slot can be coaxed open. However, if your optical drive is having issues and your slot is compressed, there cannot be warranty coverage for the problem.

The non-unibody 17-inch laptops are especially prone to this problem, as the optical drive is right under the wrist rest area, and the slot seems less reinforced than on other models. Plastic MacBooks are also very vulnerable. Apple, recognizing this oversight in design and engineering, made the optical drive slot in unibody laptops much more rigid. This said, you should still make an effort to avoid pressing or squeezing this opening.

  In Praise of the 17-inch MacBook Pro  

For many years, I thought the 17-inch MacBook Pro was not really portable and pushed the limits of what a laptop should be. When I was a full-time technician, I would often look at them on my bench and shake my head. Why would anyone want such a heavy laptop that won’t open while seated in coach? A laptop to me has always been about the portability, and such a big machine just didn’t seem practical for my needs.

I thought about it a bit a few months ago. After installing some RAM into a 17-inch and reading the tiny print on the high-resolution screen, I wondered if I would be able to live with one. So I grabbed one, migrated my data from a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and gave it a go.

The first few days were a bit trying, as I got used to the smaller print size in the menu bar and on web pages. Sure, I could increase the size of print on web pages, but that generally degrades the layout of most web pages. I also found myself zooming in a lot by holding the control key and two-finger scrolling towards me. Surprisingly, though, my qualms were all about the high-resolution screen. After all, the high-resolution screen has the same number of pixels as the 23-inch Cinema Display, except this is a 17-incher.

Seven-ish pounds? I could deal with that. It’s size? No problem. Much better battery life than a 15-inch model? Bring it on. 8GB of RAM? Come on now. Vastly superior internal speakers? Yes please. And, the 17-inch has an antiglare screen option. Sign me up.

It’s been three months now and I can’t imagine going back to a 15-inch laptop. When I look at a MacBook, I wonder how I got work done on mine. And when I look at a 15-inch MacBook Pro, I marvel at its lack of heft and seemingly tiny screen. I will never go back to a smaller machine, but at the same time am more aware than ever that each Apple product is designed to meet different needs.

My only wish is that Apple would add a second hard drive option to the 17-inch laptop. Knowing how Apple engineers can magically shrink things (think iPod nano, Mac Mini, and MacBook Air), I’m sure they can come up with the space.

If you can get excited about having a keynote going with a spreadsheet and web page – all visible at once – you owe it to yourself to think hard about a big laptop. Don’t forget that we’ll buy your used machine and use the credit towards any Small Dog purchase!


This week we’re offering a special low price on the Mac Box Set. The Mac Box set makes it easy to upgrade to OS 10.5 Leopard, which is the latest Apple Operating System, along with the newest versions of iWork ’09 and iLife ’09.

Separately, these programs cost $290. The Mac Box Set is normally $169. For the month of May, we’re offering the Mac Box Set for only $149.99, which is a $140 savings from purchasing the programs separately.

Buying the Mac Box Set at this price is like buying iLife ’09 and iWork ’09, and getting 10.5 Leopard totally free. Also, the software in the Mac Box Set offers so many new features and enhancements, it’s almost like getting a whole new computer. Mac Box Set also makes a great gift for Father’s day and Graduation.

Apple Mac Box Set (iWork ’09, iLife ’09, Mac OS X Leopard) – $149.99 and FREE shipping!

Apple Mac Box Set Family Pack – $199.99 and FREE Shipping (can be installed on up to five computers in your household

This is an exclusive offer to readers of Small Dog newsletters and customers who purchased OS 10.4 Tiger.

  SPECIALS | 05/12/09 - 05/19/09  
   Apple iWork '09 - Save $10!
   Apple Time Capsule 500GB (2009) - instant $15 rebate plus FREE shipping!
   Buy any Mac together with MobileMe and get a $30 mail-in rebate! Final MobileMe cost is only $45!
   iMac 20in 2.4GHz 4GB RAM, 250GB HD, SD, 2400XT, Free Shipping!
   Apple Aperture v2.1.1 - Save $25!
   Apple Time Capsule 1TB (2009) - instant $25 rebate plus FREE shipping!
   Apple Final Cut Studio 2 - Instant $150 Rebate, plus FREE shipping!