Category: Computers

Dear Apple

1TB is the biggest SSD I can get in a MacBook Pro?

I mean it’s lovely and fast and all that, but I’ve got 600GB of images, 350GB of music and video in iTunes, and a metric shedload of documents in Evernote and elsewhere to sync.

Let me know when I can have 10TB plus in a laptop and not have to hang and external SSD off the side just for music and films. 

Google Glass: I think I’ve found the killer app

I’ve been watching the fuss around Google Glass with a bit of an air of detachment. In a world where you feel like a geek for wearing a bluetooth headset for your phone, wearable computing has got a way to go.

But the application for Google Glass I’d love is a super version of Evernote Hello – tracking the people you know.

Combine facial recognition with background information – when my boss walks into view it reminds me I need to get him to approve my holiday request. When I meet someone new (they stay in shot for more than 30 seconds) it automatically adds their photo to the “people I met today” where I can add name, contact details etc. If I haven’t seem them for a while it pops up their name and where we met and any other notes. Also tracking context “This is Fred Smith from Fubar computing. Last met at Fubar user conference in Barcelona.”

How much technology to play a song?

So, I’m sat here with my laptop, and I decided it would be nice to listen to some music for a few minutes.  I grab a bluetooth speaker, fire up iTurnes, and play some playlists from the library on my desktop.  Took all of 10 seconds, 8 of which was ferreting in my bag for the speaker.

But let’s think about this.  The computer upstairs is pulling a data stream off its local hard drive, sending it down a wire to the wireless access point, which sends it over the air to my laptop, which then sends it via a different radio format to the speaker sat next to me.  I’m not just amazed that I have superb quality audio being played to me right now, with that lot of technology in the way, I’m amazed that it’s not only possible, but affordable.e

Aperture Confusion

I realised disk space on the Mac was filling up rather faster than expected, and after some investigation I found a couple of culprits.  First of all, iTunes was set to copy files into the iTunes Media folder when found, so storing a second copy of all my media files.

That was fairly easily sorted, but the bigger problem was that when I’d originally imported all of my pictures into iPhoto, and then shared the iPhoto Library with Aperture, iPhoto had sneakily done that by coping all those images – so Aperture was, mostly, working Managed, not Referenced.  

The workflow to sort this out was, after some trial and error, as follows:

  • Select group of Projects in Aperture (they are grouped by year)
  • File->Relocate Originals to put them in an Aperture sub-directory of the original folder.
  • find Aperture -exec touch {} \; to update the timestamp on the newly created files, because Gemini couldn’t work out which files to keep
  • Run Gemini on the folder, tell it to keep the newest files, and go.

Oh, and full marks to Gemini as a neat, cheap, file de-duplication program.  £2.99 from the App Store, and it’s gained my 200Gb of disk space and counting.  I also used Disk Inventory X to gain some insight into where space was being used to start with.  Both of which I found from tips at

I still have some cleanup to do on the original directories, but that’s not taking up much space in comparison with 90Gb of images – which, stored three times (in the file system, in the library, and in the backup Vault) was something of a disk space hog. 

Aperture – moving photos between computer

There’s a great video up at ApertureExpert on how to do this in detail, but this is the quick and dirty version.

For the “on the road” library, work in Managed mode, where the photos are stored in the library.  It keeps everything in once place, but for the main computer with 30,000 photos and growing, I need to work Referenced so that I can keep Aperture file sizes manageable.

Import from Laptop to Desktop

So, after importing and editing on the Macbook (working managed):   File->Export->Project as New Library.  

Then, on the base machine, File->Relocate Original… 

Export from Desktop to Laptop

Select what you want, then File->Export->Items as new Library

Select Copy Originals into exported Library – use the originals, and copy previews into exported library.  You can just export the previews if you don’t want to edit the images, just add keywords etc.

When you bring them back, use the merge option to merge back to existing project folders.

Paperless, and Apple Mac

I hinted at a bit of a technology change in my last post.  Several months on, I’ve replaced my PC technology with Apple, and I have to say I’m very pleased with the switch.  It’s been a bit more of an investment than I’d planned, largely because of finding some paid equivalents of free PC software that I’ve wanted to get, but for a lot of people, particularly those who aren’t power users, this could be done on a bit of a shoe string.

Copying the data over from the PC was painless enough – I just dropped the PC drive into a USB drive caddy and copied everything over.  About the only thing I know i lost was the iTunes Meta-data (track ratings, playlists, etc), and that was largely a conscious decision that with everything else that needed converting and moving I’d rather start from scratch.

Getting the new mac fully loaded with software was helped along with the MacHeist Bundle 4.  While I’m not going to use everything in that bundle, I’ve more than got my money’s worth.

So, what does my Mac software bundle look like?

Aperture  for photo management.  iPhoto just didn’t cut it with almost 30,000 photos to manage.  I should probably do a longer post just on this, but I now stand a chance of finding pictures I’ve taken in the past, and seeing them again. 

Google Chrome as my primary browser.  Safari is OK, but I’m used to Chrome and it plays the same everywhere.  I really should make the effort to switch to Safari, just for the integration across devices, but sometimes the comfort zone is just too comfortable. 

iTunes for music and video playback.  There are lots of other programs out there, but for integration with the other iThings, it wins hands down. 

iMovie for video editing.  I’d like to get something a bit more sophisticated, but I do so little video work it’s extravagant to buy a more expensive piece of software for now.

Handbrake for transcoding DVDs to video files to watch on the iPad

Microsoft Office – fortunately I work for a company who is eligible for Microsoft’s Home Use Program so I was able to get Office 2011 for a tiny fraction of the usual price.   I’m still tempted to drop the Apple alternatives – Keynote, Pages, Numbers on as well for comparison. 

GIMP and Acorn for photo editing.  I installed Acorn and haven’t registered it, largely because, well, I’m familiar with GIMP and I’ve not used Acorn enough to decide if it’s better or not.  It probably is, but I need to get over the initial learning curve first.   What I really want is something that will do PhotoShop-esque intelligent object selection, but I’m not prepared to pay PhotoShop money to get it. 

Scrivener.  The word processor for writers.  For putting together longer documents, and researching projects, this is an excellent way of working – far nicer than trying to do it in word.  Again, why Scrivener is different from both Evernote and Word, is probably something that deserves it’s own post.

Evernote  “Your external brain” they call it, and it’s certainly mine. Synced to all my devices, and used in conjunction with the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner, this is the core of keeping paper off my desk.  Given the amount of non-paper cluttering the desk up, I do wonder why I bothered!

MarsEdit  Blogging client.  For writing blog posts offline, and managing them online.  I have several different blogs – this one, a separate one for amateur radio, and a third for a 4×4 Club, plus other websites I’m converting to use WordPress as  their CMS.

TextWrangler – because I can’t justify paying the money for BBEdit right now, though I probably will upgrade when I get into a serious programming frenzy at some point. 

DropBox to synchronise work in progress between the two macs, and also make stuff available to the iPad when offline.  For the amount of stuff I count as work in progress.

Backblaze for off-site backup of the primary Mac.  The laptop is backed up to a portable hard drive when at home, but I don’t worry about it too much.  I’m rarely on the road for any length of time. 

Freemind I’ve not found anything better looking as a paid app, though I love iThoughtsHD on the iPad.   This is my “thinking” program. 

Parallels to run Windows and Linux in a virtual machine.  There are a few applications I run under here, most of which are only installed on either the home Mac Mini or the Laptop – I don”t need them on both. 

Running under Parallels

TaxCalc – I get the upgrade every year for the pain it takes out of doing a Tax return.  

Quickbooks – looks like there’s a Mac version, but it’s not my money to upgrade with. 

Legacy – family tree software.  There’s probably a Mac alternative.  The learning curve is tough enough I’ll probably stick this one out. 

Ham Radio Deluxe and Minos for my Amateur Radio logbook.   HRD is going pay ware some time, so I’m probably going to switch to HamLoggerDX instead.   But right now, I don’t want to learn another logging program .

Various G4HFQ programs for radio handset programming, plus Kenwood’s program for the TMD72E.  I confess I haven’t tried these actually connected to a radio, but I remain impressed with Parallels ability to assign USB devices either to the host OS or guests on connection or permanently. 

Nanocom’s desktop software

And, for the hardware:

2011 Mac Mini with i7 Processor, 256Gb SSD, 750Gb Hard Drive, 16Gb RAM, two 22″ wide screen monitors, Apple USB keyboard and magic mouse.  I also have a trackpad which I find easier for some tasks, especially scrolling through documents while working on something else. 

MacBook Air, 13″ screen i7 processor,  8GB RAM, 256Gb SSD. 

Backup devices: QNAP NAS with 2x2TB RAID 1 array for backup of the Mini.  500Gb hard drive connected to the Mini to backup the Air.  None of these leave home under normal circumstances; I’ll use dropbox or a local disk for on-the-fly backup copies if needed. 

Oops… a bit of a glitch in the paperless road

Well, more than a glitch… My PC died last week.  Only 2 1/2 years old, my trusty HP laptop died a death with a fried motherboard.

I’ve been hankering after a Mac for a while and had been considering getting one as a Christmas present.

The dead PC brought this into focus a bit – and I decided that rather than repair the laptop on what might be a never ending cycle of “just another component”, or get another Windows PC, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and “go mac”.

I’ve been using my iPad 3 as my primary computer for the last week, and that’s proven to be an interesting experience.  For the majority of tasks, writing emails, Facebook, keeping up with the news, watching the odd video… it’s worked like a charm.  But as a power user there are some things that I need a Proper Actual Computer for.

And there are some things I’ll need a Windows PC for, which is why I’m making Parallels part of the purchase decision so I can still access my existing applications.  It’s a lot cheaper than the £500 or so I’d need to invest in replacing the Windows Apps I’ve spent money on.

It’s going to bean interesting journey.  I’ve been warned to expect a couple of weeks of “so this is what computers are like if you’re not an expert”, and I’ve also been told I’m going to hate PCs after this.  Watch this space to find out how I get on.

Paperless Office

The paperless office has been the promise of computing almost since the start of the computing generation.   I don’t think we’ll ever see the back of paper, but I do think that the amount going around is getting drastically reduced.

I’m looking at a two foot high pile of paper in the corner of my office.  I know it’s “post-action” – I don’t need to do anything with it, but it still needs filing against possible future need.   And I just can’t be bothered.

This is on the back of a  productive day.  I’ve shifted a pile of paper over a foot high, done the stuff hidden in there,  and now I’ve got this pile which is growing and looking at me accusingly.   I need to get the paper shifted out of my office, and then start on the non-paper stuff.

So, the plan to tackle the paper is to expand my use of Evernote by purchasing their recommended Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner.  I already have a scanner, but it’s a single side scanner with limited document feed capability.  And since Amazon had some S1500 models on at a reduced price, it seemed like too good a deal to miss.

I do have some concerns about this approach, notably around security.  Evernote is cloud based storage, and the files are not encrypted.  So, I think some sensitive finanical files will need to be stored just locally on my PC.  I need to ensure they get backed up.

I believe the scanner can be configured to scan everything to a network drive and to evernote, so that will allow me to throw all of the data onto my NAS drive in parallel with an instant backup, so the availability question is covered.

There will always be books, but I think I can give the recycling guy a hernia next week when I stick all of this paper back into the recyling bank.

I think getting to a clutterless office is going to be a bigger challenge, but this is a good start.

iPad – most of a year on

After I originally posted my initial impressions of the iPad, I thought it was time to come back with some long term opinions.

When I got it, I said that “the iPad would either become used almost as much as my laptop, or become a very expensive photo frame except when I’m travelling.   After the first 48 hours I think it’s going to be closer to the former.”

Well, some 9 months later I’m pleased to see my prediction was correct. It’s been an essential companion on a variety of trips from a handful of day trips into London to two weeks in the Maldives.  I hardly ever read a normal book any more.  It beats using a laptop in bed – and being able to flip between the Internet, a book, and a game as the mood takes me is great when chilling out.

I pretty much use it every single day, and have come close to flattening the battery in less than 24 hrs – yes, 10 hrs usage.

What’s bad about it?

I wish I’d got the 3G version for seamless mobile use.  I dismissed it as a luxury thinking I wouldn’t want to use it mobile very much.

The onscreen keyboard isn’t good enough to be a complete laptop replacment, and even with an external bluetooth keyboard it’s a bit limiting.

It’s only 64Gb of storage.   I need to be restrained about the number of films I keep on it.

The screen isn’t the best in bright sunlight.  You can ignore the reflections up to a point, but I’m probably going to end up with a Kindle as well.

It also suffers from the same limitations as other eBook readers: limited availability of existing titles and no (legal) way to convert your physical book collection into eBook form.   If you have a favourite book in paper that’s not available yet, you’re kind of stuck unless you can find an online copy (which can then be easily converted into EPUB format using a tool called Calibre).   I don’t mind paying for eBooks, but I do object to paying twice for the same book to get the electronic version.

On a related note it would be nice if importing video from DVDs was as quick and as seamless as importing music from a CD.