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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Macworld/iWorld 2014 Wrap-Up

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Macworld/iWorld 2014 Wrap-Up

I'm back from Macworld/iWorld, having spent three days searching for the newest and grooviest Mac, iPhone, and iPad stuff. Although Apple remained a no-show, I am happy to say that Macworld/iWorld appears to have found its post-Apple stride. The crowds were fairly large, the exhibition floor was full of interesting stuff, and almost everyone was enthusiastic and happy to be there. Here's what I found particularly noteworthy.

Note: if you'd like to listen to my Macworld/iWorld report with Doran Barons and Ric Allen on the Digital Village radio program, here's the link to that.

perfect365logo
Perfect 365, an iPhone/iPad app, can improve anyone's portrait. Take the picture, let Perfect365 figure out where the eyes, nose, and mouth are, and then start making things better. One tap takes away circles under your eyes, smooths your skin, whitens your teeth, slims your face-- in short, it makes your picture look like the person you know you are, not the person your lying mirror says you are. Check out the Before-and-After below (and click the picture to see a larger version). It's really rather amazing. And yes, this was done on an iPhone, with ONE tap.

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Perfect365, free (with in-app purchases)



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Refurb.Me is a website that helps you purchase in-demand refurbished items from Apple's store. Yes, you could go to Apple's website to see if the item you want is available or not, but RefurbMe.com will do it for you-- for free. You set the criteria-- which items, which options, which price-- and Refurb.Me watches Apple's site for you, and sends you notifications when your items come up. Visit Refurb.Me, watch their introductory video, and learn all about it. I know I'll be using Refurb.Me next time I'm looking to buy a refurbished machine from Apple and I think you should do it too. (Refurb.Me gets paid by Apple for referring customers to Apple's online refurbished items store-- that's how it works. Thus, there's no charge to you for this service.)



EverWebLogo
Speaking of websites, EverWeb (formerly EasyWeb) makes creating and publishing a website easy as pie. For $99.95 you get the EverWeb software and a year of web hosting. If you've arranged hosting with someone else you can buy the software for $79.95 and use it with them. EverWeb's software reminds me of Apple's now-defunct iWeb, only better, which means it's easy and fun to use (and comes with lots of templates so you don't have to start from scratch). If you've wanted to make a website but were overwhelmed by choosing software and a web host, EverWeb is for you. One-stop shopping.

(If you're thinking that "easy-to-use" means that EverWeb can't make a fancy site, think again! EverWeb lets you add a bunch of nifty features to your sites, including:
  • Menus
  • Google Maps
  • Image Sliders
  • YouTube videos
  • Facebook "Like" buttons
and a lot more.) Download the software and give it a try-- for free.



diving_into_iOS_app_development
Diving Into iOS 7, by Kevin J. McNeish, is Book 1 of the iOS App Development for Non-Programmers series. It's really, really good. In fact, it's so good that I've ordered Book 2 and Book 3.

Book 1 teaches you
everything you need to know in order to use Apple's Xcode to make a prototype of an iPhone app. (I've been trying to learn iPhone app programming for a long time, taking online classes from Stanford that were way over my head, and reading books that assumed I already knew a lot about programming using Xcode, and the results were a big fat nothing. Two days into McNeish's book has given me a giant boost of confidence, teaching me how to make a working prototype of an iPhone app the very first day.)

If you've ever thought "I'd like to make an iPhone app, but it looks kinda hard" this is the book (and series) for you. Even if you end up hiring someone else to do the actual programming you'll have a greater understanding of how it all works after reading this book. Book 1 is $16.99 (list) for the paperback, with Books 2 and 3 listing for $24.99 and $29.99 respectively. Kindle versions are available for about $5 less than the paperback versions. Here's the
link to Amazon, which discounts the books by about 10%.



Other interesting things, which might have gotten top billing here had they been available at the show instead of "real soon now":
petcube
The PetCube is a webcam, microphone, speaker, and laser pointer, all in a little cube. Put it in your house and play with your pet over the internet, using your iPhone. $199.



flir
FLIR One is an infrared camera attachment for the iPhone. Wondering where your house is short on insulation? Want to see wildlife (or bad guys) in the dark? Want to be like the CSI people, locating fluid stains that can't be seen by eye? A thermal camera's the thing for you, but until now they've been too expensive for most of us. Not anymore. FLIR is making a thermal camera that connects to the iPhone and they're going to sell it for $349.



lumolift
Lumo Lift is a small wearable device that reminds you to stand up straight by gently vibrating when you slouch. An iPhone app tracks your slouchiness. It also tracks how many steps you take and how many calories you burn. The app keeps track of your slouching whether you have the Lumo Lift set to vibrate or not. In a way, you're paying $99 to be nagged.



Next year's Macworld/iWorld is scheduled for March 12th, 13th, and 14th. If you plan ahead you can get in for free, and it's a great excuse for spending a couple of days in San Francisco. Think about going. It really is fun.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Christian Boyce on the Radio

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Christian Boyce on the Radio

It's Springtime, and a young man's thoughts naturally turn to Macworld/iWorld in San Francisco. The show starts Thursday, and I'll be there, keeping my streak alive (I've never missed). On Saturday I'll tell you all about it via the miracle of radio. All you have to do is tell Siri to remind you to listen to the Digital Village radio program on KPFK, 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, at 10 AM this Saturday. If you want to listen over the internet using your Mac here's a link to KPFK's site. The "Listen Live" button is near the top. (Note: if you tune in at 10 AM expecting to hear me, and you hear Dr. Eric C. Leuthardt instead, there's no mistake. I come on in the second half of the show, probably close to 10:30 AM.)

If you'd rather listen on your iPhone or iPad get the
tunein radio app. Here's a link to the tunein iPhone app and here's a link to the tunein iPad app.

If, for some reason, you want to hear my talk from last year,
click here and enjoy on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad.

BONUS: Here's a link to some interesting Macworld/iWorld historical background information. Fun stuff.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

iOS 7.1 Update: Get It

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iOS 7.1 Update: Get It

Apple continues to refine iOS 7. The 7.1 update is the latest and in my experience it's something you ought to install. The easy way to do it is through the air. Make sure your iPhone or iPad is plugged in and charging before starting, just to be safe. Then Settings, General, and Software Update.

The harder way is to connect your iPhone (or iPad) to your computer with the USB cable and do the update via iTunes. Actually, it's not really "harder" but it does take a lot longer. That's because doing it via iTunes backs up your iPhone (or iPad), then erases your iPhone (or iPad), then installs 7.1 "cleanly," and then, finally, restores your stuff from the backup. The biggest advantage of doing it with the cable is it works on iPhones and iPads that are close to full. If you've tried doing the update through the air and received a "not enough room" message, try doing it via the cable.

Of course the real question is, why do it at all? There are several improvements-- some small, some not so small-- that add up to a really nice update. Here's what I like:

1. A new option to show "Button Shapes" helps you identify buttons more easily (by making them look different than "headings"). Settings, General, Accessibility, Button Shapes. Check out this before and after:

IMG_5508 IMG_5505
Even the highlighting is better. Check out the lower left corner.

2. Calendar has a List View now. In iOS 6 the calendar had a list view but it disappeared in iOS 7. You could bring it back in iOS 7 by tapping the Search button but that wasn't obvious at all. Now all you do is tap on the day you want your list to start on. See below:

IMG_5515 CalendarListView
3. My favorite improvement: everything is faster. This is great news for iPhone 4 users and iPad 2 users, many of whom found iOS 7.0 unpleasantly slow and unresponsive.

4. The Touch ID finger print sensor works better.

5. Siri has a new way of knowing when you're done talking. Used to be, you'd press the Home button until the iPhone (or iPad) beeped twice, then you'd say something, then you'd wait for Siri to figure out you were done. In iOS 7.1, you can still do it the old way-- but now there's a new way. Press and hold the Home button, wait for the two beeps, say your stuff (still holding down the Home button), and finally let go of the Home button when you're done talking. Try this once and you'll never go back to the old way.

6. There are lots of new little animations that give feedback that you've tapped something (they also give the impression that Apple hasn't quite decided how they want the iOS interface to look and behave). For example, moving an email to a folder shows a tiny email message flying into a folder. Answering a phone call makes the green handset icon roll over and become the red off-the-hook icon. You'll find a lot of these things if you look hard-- they're out there, but they're all fairly subtle.

In Conclusion

If you're already using 7.0, the 7.1 update is a no-brainer. Do it right away. New features, refined features, and better performance await.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Christian Boyce Speaking at Macworld/iWorld

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Christian Boyce Speaking at Macworld/iWorld

Macworld/iWorld (formerly "Macworld Expo") is coming soon to San Francisco's Moscone Center. I've been selected as one of the speakers in the "RapidFire" session on opening night (March 27th, 2014), starting at 5 PM. Each RapidFire speaker (I think there are 15) gets exactly five minutes to impart some pearls of Mac or iPhone wisdom and if it's anything like last year it's going to be educational and a lot of fun. If you're going to be at Macworld/iWorld you owe it to yourself to come to RapidFire.

Here is a link to a video of
last year's RapidFire session. If you're looking for my part it starts at 30:32.

My part of
this year's RapidFire program is called "iOS 7 Tips You Need to Know!" I haven't finalized my talk yet but here's something that I think will be included:

How to Access iOS 7's Control Center Like a Pro

iOS 7 has this terrific feature called "Control Center" that gives you access to all kinds of stuff with a single swipe. Here's how it looks on my iPhone:

ControlCenter

You get it by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Look at what you get, all in one panel:
  • Airplane Mode on/off
  • WiFi on/off
  • Bluetooth on/off
  • Do Not Disturb mode on/off
  • Do Not Rotate on/off
  • Brightness control
  • Sound controls, including rewind, play, pause, fast forward, and volume
  • Airdrop (in case you want to share a file with a Mac)
  • Flashlight on/off
  • Clock controls (world clock, alarms, stopwatch, timer)
  • Calculator
  • Camera
That's a lot of stuff.

The problem is, a lot of the time when you swipe up the Control Center doesn't appear, and you end up doing something to the app that you're using, rather than bringing up the Control Center, and after you've done this a few times you more or less give up on it.

Naturally there's a way to do it that works every time, and naturally I am here to tell you what it is.

The Secret: start your upward swipe below the glass! It sounds weird but it works. Try it and see. I wouldn't start right on top of the Home button if I were you, because you don't want to accidentally click it. Just put your finger down to one side of the Home button or the other, and swipe up. Voilá! Impress your friend(s).

Speaking of friends, if you'd tell someone about this here blog I will be your friend. Word of mouth, and emailed links, are the best kind of advertising. Try the little "Share" button at the bottom of this post. Thank you.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WiFi Problem Solved via SMC Reset

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WiFi Problem Solved via SMC Reset

Every so often I run into a problem that just doesn't make sense. I ran into one like that today. A MacBook Pro could not connect to the wireless network, even though it worked fine yesterday and as far as anyone could tell, nothing had changed. The network was visible under the Airport menu, and other devices (an iPad, an iPhone, and my own MacBook Pro) were able to connect. But the other MacBook Pro-- the one that connected to the WiFi yesterday-- asked for a password every time we tried to join the network, and even though we knew the network's password it never was accepted. The error message said "Connection timed out."

Rather mysterious. It worked yesterday, but not today. And other devices connected to the network just fine.

Here's what I tried.

1. Restarted the MacBook Pro (no good)
2. Turned the WiFi off on the MacBook Pro and then back on again (no good)
3. Restarted the Airport base station-- actually a Time Capsule (no good)
4. Checked that the Time Capsule wasn't restricting connections (it wasn't)
5. Updated the Time Capsule's firmware to 7.6.4 from 7.6.1 (no good)
6. Tried entering the wrong password to see whether I could get a different error message (I could not)

I was rather stumped, but I was getting closer. At least I was eliminating possibilities.

Sometimes in a case like this the problem involves the Keychain (where the computer's passwords are stored). What happens is the password, which is supposed to be supplied automatically, somehow gets corrupted (or maybe the password's been entered twice, once right and once wrong, and the Mac supplies the wrong one, by mistake). In that case, what we do is go to the Keychain Access application, find the key (or keys) that store the password for this particular network, and then delete it (them)-- and then, with a clean slate, try to join the network one more time and very carefully type in the correct password. That's what I did-- but it didn't solve the problem. So now I was even more stumped.

Keep in mind that the connection to a network is not a "user" property. Network connections belong to the machine, not to any particular user. Switching to another user on the same Mac wouldn't have accomplished anything.

All of this led me to realize that the problem was in the MacBook Pro itself-- not in the Time Capsule, not in the user, not in the Keychain. I figured the Airport card inside the MacBook Pro needed to be reset somehow. The question was "how." The answer was "by resetting the SMC." Now all you need to know is, what's an SMC, and how do you reset it.

SMC = System Management Controller. It's a subsystem inside modern Macs that, when malfunctioning, can make a lot of things break, including Airport wireless networking. (If your Mac's USB devices aren't recognized, or the fans seems to run overly fast, or the Mac doesn't wake up reliably, that might be an SMC issue also.) The SMC's settings are stored in non-volatile RAM, which means they're stored on chips inside the Mac, not in a file in the Preferences folder the way many other settings are stored. Different machines require different reset procedures (see this link to Apple's website), but this one needed only this:

Shut down MacBook Pro. Press Shift, Control, and Option on the left-hand side of the keyboard while simultaneously pressing the power button. (Nothing will happen.) Let go of everything-- the keyboard, and the power button-- all at once, then press the power button by itself one more time. Voilá, the SMC's reset.

And guess what: after the SMC reset the MacBook Pro joined the network just fine, as if nothing had ever happened. A happy ending.

(You might think "I'll just reset the SMC as my first trouble-shooting step and save a lot of time." I wouldn't do it that way. The SMC controls a lot of different things so there are lots of different settings in it. I blasted them out and got a nice, new, factory-condition set of settings-- solving the immediate problem, but changing a lot of other settings that I didn't really want to change. Nothing serious, just lots of little things, and no data loss or anything like that. Still, resetting the SMC is an all-or-nothing thing-- you can't reset just one part of it-- and it could be inconvenient to the user to have so many settings changed at once.)