Sunday, March 27, 2011

Flipboard - Best Personalized Magazine for iPad

I was loading up the standard news apps for my iPad, like USA Today, NY Times and CNN.  Then I discovered a thread on MacRumors were they were discussing Flipboard, Zite and a few others.  I loaded both and I love Flipboard.  Flipboard is 100% what you want, you decide what news feeds to display in a magazine like format.  I selected  my popular sites like Engadget, TV Guide, Hollywood Reporter, New Scientist, Facebook, Car & Driver and many others.  The best part is the user interface, it is just like iOS, you hold down a news feed for a couple of seconds and drag it around to a different spot or page.

I can’t list all the feeds here but here are a few I recognized - Twitter, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Wired, Science Magazine, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, Popular Science, CNET, Roger Ebert and many other topics like food, cooking, dining, travel and shopping.  The list is very impressive.

Articles can be emailed or Tweeted.  There are also Flipboard news feeds which are articles curated by their staff.  About the only negative thing I can see with Flipboard is they don’t allow more than two pages of content for a total of 21 feeds.  Granted that is a lot, but having another page would be nice.  But the best part about Flipboard is my standard, it’s FREE!

I made a video

Friday, March 25, 2011

iPad Desktop Basics

Sometimes we geeks take things for granted.  After my great experience with the Atomic Browser a few friends asked how I got the Atomic Browser app on the bottom menu bar.  I had that you have to be kidding look.  I didn’t need to refer to any iPad docs because I have owned an iPhone since day one.  But when I opened my iPad 2 box to see what they give you I was somewhat surprised to find no manual.  As simple as the iPad is, Apple should provide some basic manual.  

Anyways here is a basic video I made up to show how to move apps around, create folders and how to change the menu app bar.  I also discussed those little white dots, another “what’s that do” from my buddies!

Final thoughts, once your done editing your desktop press the home button which will stop the apps from wiggling.  I forgot to mention that in the video!!

Atomic Browser video update

After watching my video I decided to cover some additional features of Atomic.  I also forgot to mention I was using version 5.5.1.  Here is an updated video:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

iPad Browser Upgrade

The iPad needs no introduction.  It’s going to be the #1 selling tablet for 2011 with no doubts.  But the Safari browser that Apple includes is not a great experience.  Safari on the iPhone is fine, small screen you don’t expect much.  But with a larger screen things like tabs make life easy.  The HoneyComb tablet OS from Google includes a decent browser, so why not Apple?

Luckily the app store can save the day.  I tried a few browsers and this one stands out – Atomic.  It’s not free but at $.99 cents it’s not going to break the bank.  The main upgrade over Safari is tabs.  Once you understand the power of a tabbed browser there is no going back.   I am sure many already use FireFox and Tab Mix Plus (talked about here).   You can control when you click a site to a different domain if it opens a new tab.  When selecting tabs from Bookmarks there is a blue button which also opens the site in a new tab.  Atomic is not as powerful as Tab Mix Plus, but it’s not bad.  

Atomic has another great feature – ad blocking.  When this is turned on it will eliminate most ads when viewing web sites. When you launch Atomic it supports options to display bookmarks, homepage, last page viewed and last session (all open tabs).  You can select which search engine to use, it supports Amazon, Bing, Ebay, Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo and Youtube.

There are options to create action buttons with dozens of functions like Font Size, Home page, Reload, Page Bottom, Page Top, Quick Menu, share link to email, Facebook or Twitter, downloads, clear tabs and many more.  It has options to create your own MultiTouch gestures.  Things like two finger swipe left, right, up or down can be assigned to a dozen possibilities.  It’s amazing how tunable this browser is.

Atomic also has integrated support for DropBox.  DropBox is a very popular app to share files across computers.  When you download a file in Atomic, you press the blue button next to the downloaded file and there are options for DropBox, email, open external app or view.   

I did not cover every option in Atomic, you will need to try this app to realize how feature rich this is for the iPad.  I did discover a few missing features I would like to see.  The tab options could use some more features like open a new tab when using the search bar.  I also don’t like the blue button in Bookmarks for opening a new tab, it should just be an option in the tab control selections.  I also found no way to whitelist a site from Ad Blocker.  I use this for some sites because I want to know about special bargains.  The biggest disappoint is no bookmark syncing with tools like Xmarks.  This is huge.  I don’t think any other iPad browser offers this but Atomic should!

Go here to download:
Atomic Browser at iTunes


I made a video of Atomic Browser

Friday, March 18, 2011

Great Free CD/DVD/BluRay burning app


I used to be a Nero user.  Nero went bloatware a few years ago.  The program loads so much junk on your computer you will never use.  Then came along ImgBurn.  They should have called LeanBurn, this utility is all most users will ever need.  It’s touted as lightweight and they are correct.  You can burn ISO’s, DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-ray.  To date I have never made a coaster with ImgBurn.  It’s very reliable.  It supports drag and drop, so we all know I am going to use Total Commander to get the files to ImgBurn.  Total Commander is the best file manager for Windows.  You can read my blog about it here.

ImgBurn supports all the usual versions of Windows including Win 7 and 64bit versions.  My only warning is the crazy music it plays after a successful burn, it might catch you off guard if you have your volume a bit too high.  You can change or turn off the sound effects in the options menu.

For more info:
http://www.imgburn.com/

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TheCus 4100Pro NAS system

NAS drives are becoming more common in households these days.  Many of us have gathered a library of digital photos, videos, music and movies that take up terabytes of disk storage.  The issues of backups and sharing make dealing with local storage on your PC difficult.  The most amazing feature of a NAS drive is you can loss one hard drive and all of your data is intact.  They call this RAID.  I use RAID 5 for home storage, it’s not the best, but it’s the cheapest.  High end database servers would use RAID 10 but for home that’s a bit of an overkill for many. 
 
The TheCus 4100Pro is a great value.  You get 4 SATA drive bays, a gorgeous blue backlit LCD display and built in web management so you don’t need any special software to use this NAS.  It uses an embedded Linux system to provide services like Samba, FTP, NFS, AFP and Bonjour.  The best value is to buy this NAS drive with no hard drives and provide your own.  Some NAS systems don’t allow this (Buffalo for example) but the TheCus is known for BYOD (Bring your own disks).  I used 2TB hard drives from Seagate at $70 each.  The LCD display is great if something goes wrong, at least you get some idea of why it may not boot.  Many other NAS systems have no display and when something goes wrong it's a black hole. 

Setup is fairly easy.  First step is to install your hard drives.  TheCus provides plenty of screws.  Second step is the IP address.  It defaults to 192.168.1.100.  If that is not compatible with your network  just unplug a PC or laptop from your network and plug the CAT 5e cable between the systems and manually IP your PC to 192.168.1.10 and then bring up your browser and navigate to the NAS drives IP address.  The default password is always admin for TheCus. 

There are a lot of options in the web admin menus.  I would recommend getting your network setup first for the default gateway and DNS servers.  I would leave Jumbo Frame off.  If the NIC can’t negotiate with your switch for Jumbo Frames you will lock yourself out of the NAS. Next step is making sure the NAS drive sees all of your hard drives (Storage menu – Disks).  This can be tricky, the NAS uses the S.M.A.R.T Info to determine how healthy your drive is.  If the log in the SMART info is filled with errors the NAS drive will flag the disk as bad or a warning.  I had one perfectly working Seagate drive in Windows that just refused to work correctly due to errors in the SMART log.  When I ran the Seatools the drive failed all diagnostics!  I sent the drive back to Seagate for a free replacement. 

Next step is to determine your RAID type.  That’s up to you.  I use RAID 5.  I fully tested the 4100Pro by pulling a good disk and the system ran very nicely with the missing disk.  It also fully rebuilt the drive when I installed a replacement disk.  Building your RAID set is very time consuming.  Depending on the size of the drives used you should anticipate a day of lost time while the drive builds your RAID.  Once the RAID set is done you can setup your file shares/folders and start using your NAS. 

I have been using the 4100Pro now for about two years.  It’s rock solid.  I actually own three of them now. I found the costs of 8-12 bay units is more expensive than these 4 bay drives. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

iPad Easter Egg Hunt

Shame on Apple.  That’s right Shame on Apple.  These silly games Apple plays is getting tiresome.  I spent 12 ½ hours in line to get an iPhone 4 and said never ever again.  So when the iPad 2 came out I didn’t even attempt to get one on opening day.  I did try the day after visiting two Best Buys and one Apple store.  Of course no joy.  But the most frustrating part is Apple has no online store inventory.  How can a company as savvy and techy as Apple not have this basic feature?  And then I noticed a trend, Best Buy and Target labeled it store pickup only, no online ordering.  Then I see JR Music World has the same deal, store pickup only!  This is classic Steve Jobs games.  And then the icing on the cake, the phone.  I tried calling two Apple stores, I did umpteen times and it’s ring, ring, ring - No answer!  I’m fed up.  I don’t want to play this game anymore.  Apple wants your money and they make you work to spend it.

And what’s up with the retailers like Best Buy, Target, Walmart, ATT and Verizon?  They all got less than 10 per store?  More games from our beloved Steve Jobs and company…..

So then today I took the bait – hook , line and sinker. I saw the rumor mill on Macrumors.com that Apple is having a 2nd launch day and is opening their stores early on March 15th.  Of course I tried calling Apple but you know the story.  So in the car I went, arrived at the Menlo Park store at 9am and was told they have not received any additional iPads since launch day.  They told me to call them!  Yeah that works…..

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Microsoft Security Essentials

Anti virus software has been a must now for many years if you own a Windows PC.  In the past I used McAfee, Norton and a few other lesser known packages.  The problem is yearly upgrade fees.  I’m sick and tired of paying when I see so many free packages out there.

A couple of years ago I switched to AVG and was happy.  Lately AVG has become a little too pushy on their pop up advertising in their free version.  AVG works fine but installing the free version can be tricky, they easily try and dupe you into installing a premium package that will expire in 30 days.  Then you must go through the hassle of downgrading to the free version.  Well after that trick I decided to try Microsoft’s Security Essentials.  I like it!  Yes I am actually happy with a Microsoft product for a change.  It’s free, installs easily and it is very quiet.  There are no annoying nagware screens to buy upgraded products. 

MSE has many options to exclude file names and directories and also has tunable actions when it does detect a problem.  It’s 100% free and works with Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 including 64 bit versions.  

To download follow this link:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Motorola Xoom


I went to Best Buy this week to try out the Motorola Xoom tablet.  Motorola is using the new Android Honeycomb operating system for their tablet.  I was very impressed with the system.  I am struggling trying to decide if I am going to buy an iPad v2 or the Android tablet.  You would think the iPad is the easy choice but anyone who owns an iPhone knows Apple just loves to restrict things and do things their way.  For example iTunes, I hate it, but you have no choice if you own an iPhone or iPad.  iTunes is the traffic cop to any iOS device from Apple.  With Google’s Android OS it’s open, you can use what you want to move files on/off their devices.  Google also does not ‘censor’ apps like Apple.  If Apple decides your app is not worthy, your toast!  

First impressions of the Xoom are good.  I like their browser, it uses tabs and feels much more like a desktop browser.  Apple needs to upgrade Safari on their iPad, it’s too limiting and with the app store restrictions Mozilla’s Firefox will not be coming to iOS but it will for Android.  The screen was very fast, I could flick screens around with no lag.  I also tried the Android Market store, it’s easy to use, I even installed the speedtest app on Best Buy’s Xoom to measure their WiFi speeds.  Best Buy’s internet was rather slow (2meg) so downloading larger apps was painful.  

The only issue I had was rotating the Xoom from portrait to landscape.  There was a large delay, somewhere around 5-7 seconds.  I researched some Android forums and owners are not seeing this delay, so my only guess is the Best Buy anti-theft tether cord which is somewhat restrictive may have been effecting the motion sensor.   

The Xoom screen is better than an iPad, the resolution is 1280x800.  You also get a micro SD slot (currently disabled, waiting for a software update) and HDMI without a special dongle.  The camera specs are also superior with 5megpixel  back and 2 megapixel front.  A WiFi only version is coming, the model # is MZ604.  What’s nice about the Xoom’s WiFi version is it includes a GPS, with iPad you need a 3G version for GPS. 

I am hoping once the iPad v2 is released, Motorola will be compelled to drop their pricing a bit.  Considering the large lead iPad has, Motorola needs to be more aggressive on their pricing. 

Final thoughts, the iOS for tablets needs to be enhanced.  It needs a notification bar and widgets to customize the desktop.  Right now iOS feels very plain when compared to Android’s Honeycomb. Right now I have no interest in buying a 3G enabled tablet from Verizon.  $800 is too much for me, once the WiFi only version is out I will have to decide which way to go.  Rumors are the WiFi will be priced at $600 retail and discounts should be available.