Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Update Apple TV with the Latest Software Update

So evidently lots of people are having problems updating Apple TV to the latest version that was released on November 29th, 2012.

I thought Apple products were just supposed to work. Oh well...

Evidently there is only an issue updating if connected to the internet by an ethernet cable. So the answer is to unplug the cable, turn wi-fi on, restart the Apple TV and then restart the update.

Okay, that's a lot of steps, here's the break-down.

1. Unplug the ethernet cable from the back of the Apple TV unit.
2. In settings, go to General -> Network->Wi-Fi. Select your wi-fi settings, put in the password if you set one (you did set one, right?).
3. Hit the menu button to go back to the General screen then select Restart.
4. After a Restart, go to General -> Update Software. Select to update the software. Wait as the software is updated.
5. Plug the ethernet cable back into the back of the Apple TV unit.
6. Sit back and enjoy the update.

Really easy, just a shame that you have to go though all of these steps to get it to work.

No, not everyone will have a problem with updating directly but if you do, here's the work around.

Monday, September 17, 2012

NetShade: Anonymous Proxy software for Mac

NetShade allows you to access the web anonymously from an access point that you choose. It also makes your presence on the web anonymous by routing your connection through a proxy server. There are a bunch more claims on the site but in the end, it's a way to access the web and pretend you're coming from somewhere you're not.

Beyond the obvious security uses, it's a way to access web sites that have geographic limits imposed on them. For example, I use it to watch BBC's iPlayer in the US. It would have been really useful to have access during the Olympics so that I could have watched the BBC's coverage of the games instead of the cr@p NBC showed but better late than never.

Okay, so you can buy the software at a touch under $30 but where's the fun in that? Of course, we want to keep everything legit so here's a way to get a legal serial number that has no expiration date.

Go to the MacHeist web site and download the game, play it. Register and a full serial number will be sent to your e-mail address. Hurry though, the game won't be around forever.

And if you're not one for games, the solutions are posted on the MacHeist forum. The solutions for all of the levels are posted in this thread, just read through and play along. The games are pretty easy to solve though so you might enjoy the distraction without the cheat-sheet.

Time to get the serial number - about 5 minutes.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Death of iGoogle! Now What?

So I pick up my computer this morning and I see a notification from Google that they're planning on killing iGoogle. Looking into things a little more I see their blog post stating "On November 1, 2013, iGoogle will be retired. We originally launched iGoogle in 2005 before anyone could fully imagine the ways that today's web and mobile apps would put personalized, real-time information at your fingertips. With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for iGoogle has eroded over time, so we’ll be winding it down. Users will have 16 months to adjust or export their data."

So they're giving us a little notice as the death sentence isn't planned until November of next year but I like to plan ahead (and get used to changes). I looked on-line for some alternatives and found two mentioned, Netvibes and Pageflakes. I don't know if it's just today but Pageflakes doesn't load (I'll edit if it reappears).

When I first went to the Netvibes site I was pointed to a nearly $500 option. After clicking back, I saw that there was also a free option. I like free so I went with that choice. Signing in and creating a site that mirrored my iGoogle site was very easy. I've posted the two sites below for comparison purposes.



As you can see, there's not too much that's different between the two. I think that the iGoogle site is a little cleaner but that might be because I'm used to it. The news site is a little harder to read on the Netvibes widget and there aren't too many controls to make the text appear darker. But it all works. I can still see my mail come in and my appointments (yes I have stand-alone applications for those but this functionality always serves as a nice little reminder; I like the built-in redundancy).

So I'm a little less worried now than I was when I woke up. I won't lose the functionality I've gotten used to and my homepage (yes, I still like to have a homepage) will look essentially the same.

The one thing I will loose is the black Google bar at the top of the page that really did nothing more than remind me to go to Google+ every now-and-again.

With that gone, how often will I look at Google+?

As for Netvibes, very nice for free!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Standalone Podcast App For iOS, Finally

Well it's about time. Apple has finally released a stand alone app that plays, downloads and allows subscription to podcasts.

Okay, a step back. If you don't know what a podcast is, it's a downloadable or streamable (is that a word?) tv (video) or radio (audio) show that you can play on your computer or smart phone. There are a plethora of topics and titles available including some you'd know from old media (NPR's Car Talk, for example) to those that were born and thrived on-line (Adam Curry's excellent Daily Source Code and the not-to-be-missed No Agenda recording his conversations with John C. Dvorak). It's also where you'll find the class of TechTV (Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton) before the station morphed into to what it sunk.

Anyway, back to the app. Before the app was released, you would have to download individual shows though the iTunes app or you could subscribe through iTunes on the mac. This worked great but was a bit of a pain when you were on the road away from your computer. Otherwise it worked well with my work flow. I had no issue with syncing as I charge my phone each evening by plugging it into the computer. Others disagree and prefer to keep the phone charged with other gadgets and away from the computer. There is over-the-air syncing but I never found that this worked all that well.

The app works mostly as advertised though response is occasionally sluggish on my iPone 4, there is a blank podcast that appeared in my list (no shows, no artwork, etc.) that I cannot get rid of. In fact, I haven't found how to remove podcasts from the list yet though it has to be there, right? [Found the Edit button, hidden in plane sight]  I'm sure that will improve with time (or a new iOS or iPhone). The ability to play video as well as audio at multiple speeds (faster) is a nice addition. Subscription is easy. Removing older podcasts from the list of options would be nice in future updates.

There are Top Station options to help you discover new shows. The scroll wheel offers an easy and intuitive user interface. The Catagories button allows you to browse by topics that might hold your interest.

All in all, a nice app and very nice for free. It works well with iTunes but that relationship may be short-lived as iTunes is expected to disappear from iOS 6. It still needs a few tweaks to really be user ready though.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Saving $70.75 by Changing Your Own MacBook Pro Battery

Apple charges $129 for a MacBook Pro battery. That price includes the cost of having a technician (sorry, Genius) replace the battery which is fine if you are fortunate enough to live close to an Apple Store. I live 2 hours away from the closest Apple Store and didn't fancy the 4 hour round-trip so started looking for alternatives.

iFixit has all of the instructions describing how to change the battery on-line. The task looked easy enough with the only tricky part being with some of the less-than-common screw heads that Apple uses. You can buy the screw drivers required for the task from the iFixit site but Meritline has a cheaper alternative. Their 30-in-1 Screw Driver Kit has everything you need for the job. Regularly priced at $5.99, you can frequently find it for $2.49.

So now all I need is a battery. The Apple battery is $129 whether you install it or they do. That strikes me as somewhat expensive so I look for an alternative source. E-bay has them from $48 up. I don't like waiting to be sniped at the end of an auction so I went with the buy-it-now option from a seller with good feedback. My cost delivered was $55.76. The wait for delivery was 9 days so not too bad.

Installation was a breeze. The instructions left nothing out. It took me less than 5 minute to complete the task. I can't see a place where this could go wrong for anyone that can unscrew and then re-screw a series of screws. There is evidently a two-year warranty on the battery. I'll post if I ever have to ask them to stand by that warranty.

I'm happy I went this route rather than essentially paying someone $75 for 5 minutes of work.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Sending photos by e-mail or publishing on-line often necessitates reducing the file from the 30MB+ my camera is capable to a more palatable size. There are lots of ways to do this but an easy and free on-line service that I've been using recently comes from JPEGmini. Simply create an account (free) and upload your images to a folder. A few minutes later and you will be provided with a zipped folder containing the results. How good is it? Well, it's hard for me to tell the difference on my monitor but there is a slight reduction in print quality. Great for free though.

If you like to have a little more control over the process, you can download JPEGmini for Mac directly from the App Store. The application works well but is not free.

Now the only downside. The service and application work on image files of 2-17Mb in size so if your file is larger than that, you need to do a little pre-processing. However, it fits with my work-flow which involves a little selection and editing using Lightroom followed by a little final image manipulation in Photoshop. I then take the output from that process and make it web ready using JPEG Mini. I see no evidence of visual artifacts resulting from this final step.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Buying from England when You Live in America

As some of you know, I was not born in the US but in England. That means my tastes are not always filled by the wares in US stores. I can get many of the missing things I crave by a quick trip across the boarder into Canada but sometimes I have to order on-line from the UK. There are excellent stores that will ship directly to the US without issue (Amazon.co.uk comes to mind) but not all. For those times when I find such a store, I use Bongo International (this also works if you live in Europe and want to shop in the US).

When you get a US address or EU address from Bongo you can shop US and shop EU websites. (Isn't EU what teenage girls say when they see something gross?). Packages are sent to your Bongo address for forwarding to your country. It does mean that you are paying shipping twice but the rates are not too exorbitant and means that I still have access to some things that my sister just refuses to ship over for me (e.g. English comics).

Evidently Bongo offers solutions for online merchants who are looking to expand globally. I wish more would take this option up so I could just order directly but until then, I still have my Bongo International address with which to work.

A nice service that works as advertised.

And a little hint to those who shop for family overseas. Try ordering on-line from the country in which they live and ship directly to their home. It often saves money by reducing the need to ship Internationally. Again, amazon.co.uk has helped keep my nephew and nieces supplied with birthday and Christmas presents.

(I would put my Amazon affiliate number in all those Amazon links if I was a better business man but I still think it's a little cheesy).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Agenda Show

No Agenda is a podcast I really enjoy. I know banner links are supposed to be hidden to the side of the main text but this is something I really enjoy so I wanted to put it front and center for this post.

Congratulations to Adam Curry and Micky Hoogendijk on their upcoming wedding on July 16th in Holland and to John C. Dvorak on his 60th birthday on April 16th in Northern Silicon Valley.

If you listen and enjoy, then you might want to subscribe to make sure that you don't miss a show. If you enjoy enough to subscribe then please donate (to them, not me)!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Is the Apple TV the Perfect Companion for the Tivo?

Let me start by saying I love my Tivo. The new Premiere works wonderfully and is a significant OS upgrade to previous systems. The image quality pass-through is phenomenal. The ease of use and intuitive design are both second to none (is it possible for two things to both be second to none?). And that's before the addition of Hulu+ streaming and Amazon downloads.

That said, there are a few things it doesn't do or doesn't do well. It works as a podcatcher but not as well as do other platforms. The ubiquitous iTunes seems to be the standard and one with which I'm familiar enough that I always seem to fall back to. However, getting my iTunes podcasts onto the big screen (my 52" Sony Bravia) has not been easy. The Tivo is absolutely no help here. But of course, it is easy with the Apple TV. Really easy!

Veronica Belmont of Tekzilla fame initiated an open-sourced spreadsheet comparing all of the capabilities of the various desktop boxes available. There are a lot of good options but there isn't one box that rules them all. So the user is left to choose the option that does what they want to do.

And as hinted earlier, what I want to do is get my iTunes content onto the big screen and there isn't a better option than the Apple TV to achieve that functionality (well except perhaps hanging a Mac Mini on the back of the big screen but the cost there is significantly higher). The new $99 Apple TV me this capability in video quality of up to 1080p which is up from the 720p image quality of the second generation box.

There are other functions that the Apple TV provides such as Netflix (what doesn't give you Netflix? Soon, toasters will give you Netflix), movies and TV rentals (through iTunes) and a very few apps (Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, WSJ Live). More apps would be nice. But really it's the ability to stream my iTunes content to my big screen in decent quality that sold me on the box.

One thing I don't like is that the remote has functionality that also manipulates both my MacBook Pro and my son's MacBook. To the extent that my son just bought 8 songs on iTunes accidentally (I know it was accidentally as he would never buy the country music tracks that were included in the mix). Would it be so difficult to make the remote function differently? Not good.

So how could this be made better? Well, I think a lot of the short-comings will be addressed when aTV is ported to the new third generation Apple TV. That would give me the ability to run more apps, a browser, etc. A better remote would also be a bonus. The iTunes ordering cross-talk aside, the single button to input for search and iTunes is frustrating at best.

But overall it's a good box. Very good at $99.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Pogoplug

So I bought a new toy for my new home that makes sharing files about as easy as, well, as using a Mac. I found the Pogoplug on sale just before Christmas for around $25. They're only a little more now at $30 with free shipping from Buy.com. Or you can get the pink one on Amazon for the same price I paid for my black one.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What is the Pogoplug? It's a little box that puts your cheap external HD on the internet or your home wifi network. Easier to put together than a NAS and much easier to configure, this is a good looking piece of hardware. Installation took seconds and couldn't be easier. Plug everything in and follow the on-line instructions. It really doesn't even need one of my step-by-steps as its that easy.

Okay, so now we're set-up, what does it give you? Well, I now have wireless access to 250GB of storage (the size of the external HD I plugged into the unit). Makes me think that a small SD drive is now a possibility if I drop the photos and music onto the external HD. My photos are accessible and I can stream my music anywhere. That also means that the next iPhone I buy may not need to have quite as large an HD as before. And I get immediate back-up of the photos on my iPhone. I can also use Superduper to wirelessly back-up my HD and  I can share large files with friends without having to use a third party service. Very, very nice.

Overall, if you've got an external USB HD that you're using, this thing is a no-brainer. Certainly worth the money I paid.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Apple Sues Again

It seems that every other Apple-related story recently has been about them suing someone over something. Today is no different as they have filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in the US for infringing on four patents.


Quit whining and go and invent something new so that they can copy you again. How else is the industry going to survive?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

QR Code Generator

Just a quick hint today for anyone needing to include a QR Code. A QR Code is that two-dimensional matrix barcode developed by Toyota to track automotive parts that has more recently become the ubiquitous replacement for traditional UPC barcodes. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background.. There's a generator available from those nice people at Kaywa. Operation is very self explanatory. Free to use and save the image. Great for free.