December 11, 2015
If you want to buy a tech or geek present for the kid in your life, here are our top 5 websites specializing in tech gifts.
These kits of “electronic building blocks” let kids create their own robots, musical instruments, and remote controllers.
Toys with sophisticated tech inside. Artificial intelligence cars, a Miposaur dinosaur that responds to hand signals, or a Karma Kitty that’s the modern version of a Magic 8 Ball.
Lots of weird toys, many of which are promo tie-ins to big franchises (Star Wars, Dr Who, Minions, and so on). Like this Darth Vader Lightsaber…
More educational, lots of kits (robot kits, soldering kits, build your own Tesla coil…). From the folks who do Make magazine, which would also be an excellent present.
It’s a subscription, so your child will receive a different package each month, each one providing a learning experience.
November 13, 2015
There’s a lot of hype about the new generation Apple TV, and I’ll be taking a closer look at that soon.
However, while I was sitting around waiting for Apple to up their game — the previous Apple TV was certainly long in the tooth — I tried out a Roku, and I love it.
Roku was an early pioneer in providing internet video on TV — they’ve been around a while. A Roku is, in fact, a lot like an Apple TV. It’s a small puck, or stick, that connects to an open HDMI port on your TV, and provides you with content that streams over the internet.
Since Roku doesn’t actually provide their own content, unlike their competitors Apple, Amazon, and Google who all make similar devices, it’s fairly agnostic as to what you watch and how. Its whole reason for being is to provide access to as many internet video sources as possible, which they call “channels.” For many people, that may not really amount to much more than the big players: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Go, etc.
However, because Roku has long followed the “app” model that the new Apple TV is introducing only now, their box is open for anyone who wants to make a channel for it, from large companies to a single person. This means that all kinds of specialty niches are available, such as Cafe Noir (for fans of intriguing old movies). Some channels are actually “live” rather than “on demand” like traditional TV channels, such as Bizarre TV, for those of us with a taste for trashy horror movies from our childhood.
Some Roku channels are subscription, some are a la carte, some are ad-supported, some are just free (or included with cable service, if you haven’t cut the cord). There are also private channels, which you can find out about from sources such as RokuGuide.
One notable channel for New Yorkers, and which I use a lot, is Time Warner Cable. Their Roku channel allows you to watch many live cable channels, just as your cable box does, as well as a ton of on-demand content (which is great for those of us with TiVo’s, which don’t support TWC On-Demand). And, in a brand-new pilot program in NYC, Time Warner is offering their Roku channel as an outright replacement for needing a cable box at all. (The future moves quickly.)
Setting up the Roku is easy, once you choose a model. There’s the Roku 1, 2, 3, and 4, plus the Streaming Stick. The Stick ($49) looks like a large flash drive which sticks out of your TV’s HDMI port. The big downside is that you still need to provide it with power, meaning an additional cable, but some TV’s have USB ports, and you can use those rather than plugging a cord into the wall. (The Stick a handy thing for hotels, but don’t forget the remote and power cord, and to take everything when you leave.) As for the other models, even the Roku 1 ($49) is totally adequate, and also supports old TV’s that don’t have HDMI ports. The Roku 2 ($69) is a faster performer, the Roku 3 ($99) offers a remote with a headphone jack and voice search a la Siri, and the Roku 4 ($129) is something most people won’t need today, but may in few years when Ultra High Definition TV’s become commonplace.
If all you want is cheap access to the popular content providers, you might also consider the Amazon Fire Stick, which is only $39. It doesn’t have all the same content Roku does, but you may not care. I haven’t actually tried it out, but my brother loves his. (However, I don’t recommend the Google Chromecast for Apple-centric people.)
One thing the Roku does not have compared with the Apple TV is AirPlay and iTunes Store content. I haven’t missed those, really, since most of what I used AirPlay for was Amazon Instant Video, which is available as a Roku channel; and I don’t buy much from the iTunes Store, as I prefer subscription services to a la carte video. With the new Apple TV’s new app capabilities, Amazon and Google could provide their content if they want to, but until they do, the Roku will still have a place on my TV cabinet.
November 11, 2015
One of Apple’s more unwelcome trends over the last few years is making Macs that are not upgradeable — they are as you buy them, and if you underestimated your storage needs — or a store employee did so while advising you — you often have no choice but to to sell what you’ve got and purchase a new machine with greater capacity, and go through the headache of migrating everything over (a service Apple charges $99 for if you don’t want to DIY).
Or, it may be that their highest-capacity option is still not enough for you, as is the case with me and my MacBook Air 11″, which tops out at 512 GB.
Fortunately, there are a couple of recent products that offer some alternatives to replacing the machine. I just purchased a SanDisk Ultra Fit 128 GB USB 3.0 flash drive. Its so small that it’s intended to be “plug-and-stay,” where it’s not a thumb drive to keep track of, it’s something that just becomes part of your computer, poking out of one of its USB ports. (See the photo above.) For $38 at Amazon, it’s a ridiculous bargain. I moved my virtual machines and some other large, seldom-used files to the drive — it’s quite fast. If I need that USB port, I can always remove it temporarily.
Now I have 100 GB free on my internal drive, and if I need more than that, I can always buy another one of these puppies for the other USB port. I can’t wait until they have a 256 GB model.
An interesting competing product — much more expensive, at $149 for 128 GB, and $399 for 256 GB — is the TarDisk, which fills the SD card slot of your Mac and creates a flush edge, nothing poking out. The intent is that you never remove it, and if you do, you may even have problems — it utilizes the Fusion Drive capability of OS X, normally reserved for desktop models, to make both your internal drive and the TarDisk appear to you as simply one large disk, so both need to always be present for your computer to operate properly. If I had a non-upgradeable Mac with an SD card slot, and I was out of space, I’d be all over this.
October 12, 2015
Check out all these pieces of software that make your Apple Mail more useful — on sale now through October 18th. And they all work under El Capitan!
Go to MailCapitan.com and use discount code MAILCAPITAN.
Here are the 10 sale items for Apple Mail we think are the most useful:
1. Take Control of Apple Mail: Created by our friends at Take Control Books, this ebook gives you the basics as well as the tips and tricks of Apple Mail.
2. Mail Act-On: Create rules for processing incoming and sent mail
3. MailTags: Organize messages with keywords and notes
4. SignatureProfiler: Create more customized email signatures
5. EverMail: Convert email into Evernote notes
6. CargoLifter: Allows you to send email attachments of any size
7. Graffiti: Design better-looking email signatures
8. SendLater: Allows you to schedule an email to be sent at a specific date and time
9. Mail Plugin Manager: Make it easy to enable and disable mail plugins
10. EagleFiler: Archives old emails
October 9, 2015
At the Maker Faire in Queens a few weekends ago, we learned about a company called Wire Care, which has hundreds of products for keeping your tech cables organized. They’re located in Lafayette, NJ, and everything can be mail ordered through their website.
A few of the items they have on offer:
- cable ties in lots of colors and materials
- magnetic fasteners, to guide a cable around any metal surface
- heat shrink tubing, to connect all your cables together into one attractive bundle
- cable clamps, in case you want to bunch cables together and then separate them later
- electrical outlets that rotate, so you can plug lots of bulky bricks into one outlet
Check them out if you’re looking for a way to hide, route, or bundle your computer cables!
June 4, 2015
Something that’s been popping up lately for my clients is: What happened to iPhoto? It’s a good question, indeed.
What happened is that with the very latest OS X upgrade — Yosemite version 10.10.3 — Apple introduced their new replacement for both iPhoto and Aperture, called simply Photos, like the app already on your iPad or iPhone. If iPhoto was in your dock, it is replaced by the new Photos app.
The new Photos app has pros and cons. The upsides is that it has better photo editing tools, supports larger libraries, and offers iCloud Photo Library, which is the long sought after holy grail: the ability to have photo libraries synchronized across all your devices and computers. The downside is that many find it less intuitive to use (particularly if you relied on iPhoto’s date organization), and in some cases is slow and buggy.
When you first open Photos, it imports everything from your iPhoto library (though in a way that doesn’t occupy more disk space), and creates a new Photos library. From that point onward, anything you do in Photos won’t appear in iPhoto, and anything you do in iPhoto won’t appear in Photos. It’s a one-time copy. The first thing you’ll probably want to do is choose “Show Sidebar” from the View menu so you can see all of your folders that were in iPhoto.
iPhoto is not removed from your system. It’s still in your Applications folder. However, if it wasn’t already updated to version 9.6.1, it will have a big “do not” icon superimposed on it and you can’t open it, which makes it seem as though it’s gone forever. However, you can get it back by:
- Delete iPhoto from your Applications folder
- Open the Mac App Store
- Don’t search for iPhoto. It’s not in the Mac App Store any more. Instead, click on Purchased at the top, and it should appear on the list of applications. Click Install and it will be put back in your Applications folder.
So, feel free to try out Photos — if it isn’t to your liking, at least yet, you can always go back to iPhoto — just remember that anything you do in one won’t be reflected in the other.
May 14, 2015
I’ve had my Apple Watch for about a week. Here are my initial thoughts.
Size & model
I have the 38mm black sport watch. The size is good for my hand, and because it’s all black, it’s very inconspicuous. I haven’t had one person ask me about the watch; I don’t think anybody even notices it. The band is high quality plastic. I do have to wear it tighter than I normally wear a watch, so I can feel the haptic vibration.
- Attractive and understated, more so than I thought it would be
- Reminds me to stand up once an hour, and I’m actually doing it
- Great to receive text messages immediately, especially when I’m walking around and my phone is in my bag
- Our VoIP phone provider has a watch app, so I can immediately see when our office phone is ringing, even when I’m out of the office
- Pretty easy to use the iPhone app to set up what I want to appear on the watch
- Haptic vibration is sometimes too subtle for me to feel unless I’m really paying attention
- Screen is pretty small, as is the type!
- Not so easy to dictate a voicemail or answer a phone call if I’m out on a busy, noisy NYC street
- Not sure I need to see every single email on my phone; perhaps I need to investigate selective notifications for email?
- The animated emojis are hideously ugly; stick with the old-fashioned ones
- Activity app tells me I’m hitting my excercise goals (move, exercise, and stand) even though I’ve been mostly sitting at a desk all week (although I haven’t been wearing it when I actually do exercise)
- Not enough 3rd-party apps yet!
Jury’s Still Out
- Haven’t used the map feature for directions, the workout app, the Uber app, which all seem like they could be useful
Summary: It’s helpful and attractive, but it hasn’t changed my life. So I’m not recommending you run out and buy one. I’m looking forward to more 3rd-party apps that can really take advantage of its opportunities.
April 23, 2015
We went to the 3D Print Show over the weekend — one of the best items we saw was this Matter and Form 3D scanner that folds up for storage, and it’s only $600.
Why would you want a 3D scanner? Well maybe you have a broken part to a mechanical object, so you want to scan it and digitally repair it and then print a replacement part. Or you might want to scan a design so you can improve the design.
There are many scanners out there, but they are much more expensive than the Matter and Form scanner, or not suitable for an NYC apartment. Nor are they nearly as attractive. And this one is Mac-compatible.
When closed, the Matter and Form scanner is only 3.5” wide by 8.25” wide by 13.5” tall. So it definitely fits on a small table or in the corner of your closet when not in use.
It comes with its own scanning software, which is available for anyone on Mac 10.9 or above. Connects to the computer via USB. It says it can capture detail as small as 0.43mm. And can scan items as big as 7” in diameter and 9.8” in height.
We haven’t tried it ourselves; we’re saving up…
At the 3D print fair last weekend we saw 5 unusual 3D printers. Here they are, along with what’s interesting about each.
Unique One from Kwamb.io
This printer is very large (so it can print big objects) with an unusual design. The computer goes on your network, so you can print directly from your smartphone. No computer required! In addition, if you’re a 3D designer, you can sell “royalties” of sorts to your designs, so you make money every time your design is printed, even if it’s printed on someone else’s machine. Printer is about $800.
Tinkerine Ditto Pro
This printer is supposed to be very, very quiet. So you can have it on your desk without distraction. And it’s attractively designed, so you might not mind looking at it in your home or office. $1900.
Printrbot Simple Metal Printer
This small printer is one of the most inexpensive available; it can print an object up to 6” x 6” x 6”. $600.
BeeTheFirst from BeeVeryCreative
This small, elegant printer is specifically made to be portable; it has a handle and a case that can carry everything you need for printing. It can print something up to 7.5 x 5 x 5 in. $1700.
DeeGreen from be3D
This printer is a closed box with a door, so you don’t have to worry about something screwing up your print. It has a few features we haven’t seen anywhere else, including pausing a print, automatic bed calibration, and printing off of an SD card so you don’t have to keep your printer attached. $2000.
April 20, 2015
Over the weekend we went to the Apple Store on 14th Street and tried on the Apple Watch.
Normally you need to schedule an appointment ahead of time to try on the watches, but we just dropped by and the store had some empty slots.
The store has huge custom tables made just for the watches: Wood sides, with a dropped display section in the middle where all the watches sit under glass. Those watches are just for display; the watches for trying on are in special locked drawers underneath that same table. They put down a small leather pad on top of the table so that if you drop the watch while trying it on, it doesn’t break.
The models for try on don’t have full functionality—they just cycle through a display mode. To try out how the watches actually work, Apple has created custom mini docks with a watch and an iPad Mini next to each other. These watches are fully functional so you can test the
We tried on two models: The Watch Sport, 38mm aluminum case with black band ($350), and the Watch, 42mm stainless steel case with black classic buckle ($700).
The black plastic band on the Sport is much more attractive in person than the photos on Apple’s website make it look. It’s a nice rich color with a nice heft and no ugly seams. And the black aluminum case looks good with the black band.
The stainless steel model with the classic leather band is definitely a step up in terms of finish and elegance—the leather strap gives the watch a more traditional upscale look.
Display is super crisp. It will take some time to get used to when to spin the crown wheel, when to press the crown as a button, and when to press or swipe the screen.
We’re looking forward to getting our watches and seeing how they integrate with our phones and with our lives!