The Boyce Blog: July 2010

Find it on Amazon.

Friday, July 30, 2010

iTunes University

Pretty good motto.

Apple's iTunes university offers more than 250,000 free lectures, videos, films, and other materials-- from universities, museums and art institutions, and libraries all over the world. You'll find courses from Stanford, Michigan, and Cal (and from roughly 300 others-- click this link for a current list); lectures about past and current exhibits from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art), and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (and many, many more); and discussions and insights from The New York Public Library, The Royal Opera House in London, and the Carnegie Institution for Science among many, many others. And it's free. Unbelievable.
Did I mention that it's all free?

Some of the offerings on iTunes U are audio, some of them have video too. I'm currently watching a set of lectures on iPhone programming, recordings of classes given at Stanford University. It's just like being there, except that I don't have to do it at Stanford and I don't have to do it at any particular time. And, if I feel like taking a coffee break I can simply pause the lecture, and if I fall asleep in class I can rewind the lecture and watch it "again."

You want this. Trust me. Start up iTunes, click on "iTunes Store" at the left, and then "iTunes U" at the right. The rest is pure exploration.

Here are some screen shots to get you in the mood.

iTunes U categories

The class I'm "taking" at Stanford

Still from a Stanford lecture

Interesting-looking class-- I should take this one

Still frame from "Introduction to Drawing" class-- I should take this one too

Offerings from UC Davis

Interesting mini-series from UC Davis

From the University of Michigan

Whatever he's teaching, I'm going to watch

Find something interesting, give it a double-click, and watch it right there on your Mac. Or, download these things onto your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and watch them on the go. Either way, it's all free free free, so get in there and start clicking. I guarantee you'll find something interesting.

I still can't believe it's free.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quick Way to Enlarge iPhone's Emails

Someone (Dave) asked me how to make the text bigger on his iPhone, specifically for emails. I told him how to do it: Settings, then Mail, Contacts, Calendars, then scroll way do to the Mail section, then change the Minimum Font Size. That works, and Dave's happy, so that is that. Except that I found another way to do it.

Here's a picture of a "typical" email message, viewed on my iPhone. Definitely readable, though a little small after a long day. (If it looks a little blurry that's the screen-shot's fault, not the iPhone's. It's sharp as a tack on the iPhone.)

Here's the same email, with the iPhone turned sideways. I knew it would rotate but I didn't know it would enlarge. But, as you can see, it does. How handy, especially for those occasional times when your eyes are tired. Turn it back the other way and you're back to normal. Well, maybe YOU'RE not. But your email font size is.

Give it a try. Free, and easily worth twice as much.

Monday, July 19, 2010

FaceTime to the Rescue

No doubt you've heard about FaceTime, Apple's groovy new video-chat feature built into the iPhone 4. It's pretty cool the first time around-- in fact, it's better than that. It's incredible. Mind-blowing. Astounding. That's how it was for me. But then it wore off, becoming sort of a novelty instead of a game-changer.

Until tonight.

Tonight, one of my customers needed help with his Apple TV box. Not with his Mac, which I can see and control from over the internet-- but with his Apple TV. The customer's television was displaying a message from the Apple TV, and he wanted me to tell him how to respond. As you can imagine, it helps a LOT to know exactly what the problem is before offering a solution-- and what could be better than seeing the message on the TV for myself? Thanks to FaceTime, I could. My customer aimed his iPhone 4 at his television screen, I read the message for myself, and in a jiffy I was able to solve the problem.

I'm back to thinking that FaceTime is incredible. Mind-blowing. Astounding.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Speed Up Your Mac (#3)

So much of what we do with files starts with a drag and a drop. You might drag an image to Mail in order to send it to someone, or to iPhoto to add it to the iPhoto Library. You might drag an image to Photoshop in order to open it for editing. All of these things are easy to do (and much more efficient than going to a program, then going to File and then Open... and then hunting around trying to find your file in the resulting "Open..." dialog box. They're even easier to do when you don't have to drag your files all the way to the Dock, taking up time and introducing the potential for accidentally "dropping" the thing you're dragging, and losing it "somewhere" on your Desktop.

Here's how you do it.

Our first picture shows a typical Finder window, with some images in it.
Realizing that it's a long way to drag one of these icons to the Dock in order to open with (let's say) Pixelmator, we look for a shortcut-- and we find one, by dragging the Pixelmator icon right up into the toolbar across the top of the Finder window! Here's what it looks like (marked with a red circle to make things clearer here). I'll tell you more about how to do it in a minute.
Now, if I want to open one of those pictures using Pixelmator, I just drag it up a couple of inches (or less) to the Pixelmator icon, wait for it to highlight, then let go.

Here's an example with a whole bunch of program icons in the toolbar. With these, I can drag a file to open it in Pixelmator, open it in Preview, send it in a Mail message, add it to Evernote, or add it to the iPhoto Library. Nice.
Of course, you have to get those icons up there into the Toolbar, but it turns out to be very easy. Just go to the Applications folder, find an app that you want to have easy access to, and drag it to the toolbar. Hold it for just a second or two and it should work. Note that EVERY Finder window will have the same complement of icons in the toolbar, which makes it easy (add program icons to ANY Finder window's toolbar and it will be available in EVERY Finder window).

If you change your mind and want to rearrange the icons hold the Command key (not Control, Command) and either move the icon or tear it off and let go outside the window. Poof. Note that you are NOT throwing away the program. You're just removing a shortcut from the toolbar. And it's perfectly OK to have the same program in the Dock and in the Finder window's toolbar. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Bonus: if all you want to do is launch a program you can click its icon in the toolbar. It's like having a second Dock, except somehow it's always closer to where your cursor is. I use this all the time and I'll bet you will too.

iPhone 4 Antenna Song

I found this amusing for some reason.

Apple's iPhone 4 press conference is going on right now. They started it by showing this YouTube video.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Free Admission to MacWorld Expo

MacWorld Expo 2011 is six months away, but if you plan ahead a little you can save major buckos on admission. In fact, if you use this link before the end of the day on July 26th, you can get in for free. San Francisco in January isn't exactly balmy but who cares, it's SAN FRANCISCO, and it's MacWorld-- the biggest Mac (and iPhone, and iPad) love-fest on Planet Earth. You are likely to have a great time. Mark your calendar.

Note: they've changed the dates. The conference part of MacWorld Expo starts January 26th and the exhibits part (the part you can get into for free via this link) starts on January 27th.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Speed Up Your Mac (#2)

As we've seen before, sometimes it's not the Mac that's slow. Sometimes it's the user. Even if you're fast you can get a little faster still. Here's another hint that will save you time, day after day after day. It's all about checking boxes. Read on.

The typical Print... dialog box looks something like this:

See those checkboxes at the bottom? I've marked them with red. Let's say you want to check them. Do you carefully position the pointer inside those little square checkboxes? Well, you could, and it would work-- but that isn't something you can do in a hurry (especially if you're using a trackpad instead of a mouse). FYI, I NEVER click in the boxes. Too much trouble.

It turns out that you can click anywhere in the words beside the checkboxes (shown in purple in the picture below).

That's a much bigger target-- more than ten times as big! It's easier to hit a big target, and easier means faster. This works (or it should work) for ANY checkbox (and for radio buttons too), in any program. Give it a try and save a few seconds multiple times a day. It doesn't sound like much but it all adds up.

Bonus: if your Print... dialogs aren't nice and big like the ones shown here you need to click the little black triangle in the blue square, shown below and marked in purple. There is a shortcut for clicking that triangle, but since you only need to do it once per program (and since it's a multi-step shortcut) I'd just click the thing and be done with it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Epicentral iPhone app

Here's a handy iPhone app, especially if you were in Southern California at 4:53 pm today. It's called Epicentral and it tells you where and when and how big the earthquake was.

Here's the link.

In case you wondered: Anza Borrego Desert State Park, magnitude 5.7.

Monday, July 5, 2010

iPhone 4 FaceTime

People ask me all the time "What does the new iPhone 4 do that my old iPhone can't?" Here's one thing: FaceTime. Only on iPhone 4.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Free Fireworks App

In case you didn't get enough fireworks tonight here's an iPhone app that lets you make fireworks anytime you want. It's called "iLoveFireworks Lite" and it's free.I can't find any written directions but through trial and error I've discovered a few things. First, tap on the screen to make a small firework. Second, drag your finger (in any direction) to make a trail that ends up in a firework. Third, tap and hold to make a BIG firework (when you lift your finger). Fourth, and this is my favorite, tap and hold with multiple fingers to make that many fireworks at once.

Here's a picture.

Go have fun. For free.

iPhone 4 signal strength

You've probably heard about problems with Apple's iPhone 4-- specifically, there's something about the antenna that makes the number of AT&T signal bars go down when you hold the phone in your hand "in certain ways". It turns out that "certain ways" includes the way I'd normally hold it (in the palm of my left hand). Bummer.

I had not noticed this problem myself, but I was able to reproduce it. Here it is, in pictures.

iPhone 4 on desk. Five AT&T bars (top left corner).

A few seconds later, I picked up the phone and held it in my left hand as anyone who uses his right hand to type would. Looky here-- down to three bars!

A few seconds later and I'm down to 2 bars.

Then I put the iPhone 4 back into the cheap-o silicone case that used to hold my iPhone 3GS and my bars shot up to 5.

So-- independent research shows that indeed this "fewer bars when holding the iPhone" phenomenon does indeed occur. Maybe, just maybe, putting the antenna on the outside of the iPhone, right where a person would naturally hold it, wasn't the best idea ever. But, as demonstrated here at Boyce Labs, we have two ways to get a 5-bar signal. One of the ways (leave the iPhone 4 on the desk) isn't practical. The other way (put the iPhone 4 in a case) is super-practical, and since there's a case for every taste, I say "get a case and put this problem behind you."

That would be the end of it, except for one thing: Apple's written a very interesting letter (click here to see it) that attempts to explain it all away. I say "very interesting" because while one might expect Apple to say "sorry about the bars, we're going to give away free cheap-o cases for all iPhone 4 users and solve this problem for you" they instead said (paraphrased) "Yes there's a problem, but it's not what you think. You had lousy signal strength the whole time, and we made a boo-boo in how we calculate the number of bars when it sits on your desk. You think you have 5 bars but you don't."

Hmm. Like I said, very interesting.

How can it be that they've made a mistake in their bar calculation "all along" (that's what the letter says), but the mistake only shows up when you hold your iPhone 4 in your hand? And how can it be that they expect me to be happy with a phone that gets 2 bars out of five while in my apartment? I think what they're telling us is that they're going to change the formula to "more accurately reflect" the signal strength... but that means that even with a case on, my iPhone 4 is going to show 2 bars. That's a different problem, and according to Apple it's all AT&T's to fix. Too bad, because I have more confidence in Apple's ability to fix a problem than in AT&T's.