Tag Archives: Apple

Odds and Sods: MailClark is out of beta, etc.

screenshot_102816_104525_amMailClark, the eMail robot for Slack came out of beta on October 27th. They have instituted reasonable pricing and even include a single eMail address for free, which should work for us at least temporarily. I was hoping that they would introduce nonprofit pricing,  but with the free address, and a price of $9.00 per month for unlimited inbound and outbound emails   we can probably afford it if necessary.

filemaker_cloudJust after buying our FileMaker 15 server license, FileMaker announced FileMaker for the Cloud. Essentially it looks like Amazon Web Services running an instance of FileMaker server.  Oh well. We’re pretty happy with our server running on a Mac mini,  with up to five users and have been deploying our nonprofit CRM to production, adding users one-by-one using desktop licenses for FileMaker Pro.   I still think there is a case for reasonable fixed pricing as opposed to subscription pricing,  and this is what we’ve got through TechSoup.

screenshot_102816_104818_amApple announces new MacBooks.  Fair enough.  Expensive though…. the least expensive MacBook, without the OLED touch bar is $1500 for 256GB SSD disk and 8 gigs of RAM.  The OLED touch bar adds $300.00 to the price! Oh and they upgraded Apple TV.   What about the MacBook Air,  Mac mini,  and the iMac?  Nichts, nada, silence….


Apple Downsizes. New iPad Pro and iPhone


Apple is holding its March announcement, and it is an odd mixture of a sort of fashion runway theme, snake oil salesmanship, and religious revival. It was a bit disconcerting to see CEO Tim Cook slavering over the new colors for the watch bands for the iWatch. The whole presentation seemed to have a sense of desperation.

Incredible!, Awesome!, Epic!, Incredibly!, Biggest!, Unbelievably Thin! I keep thinking there should be a way to lend a greater aura of dignity to the whole proceeding, but always end up feeling a little queasy.

They are even claiming that  your iPhone will help you sleep better.

Two interesting segments of the presentation revolved around a new iPad and health-related software.

  1. The Health App is a dashboard for health data which consolidates health data from other sites and devices. There was discussion of ResearchKit, which uses the iPhone as a data collection device for research data, and a new framework called CareKit, which delivers.
  2. iPad. A new iPad Pro with a 9.7 inch display. They are saying they are targeting Windows users. There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over 5 years old.  The iPad solves problems that you never knew you had. There is an available smart keyboard, and the Apple Pencil. The cameras have been upgraded to a 12 megapixels, and the ability to shoot 4K video. The front camera is 5 megapixels. Starting at $599 at 32GB, If you add an Apple Pencil, and a smart keyboard, the cost will approach a thousand bucks.

Outside of these two announcements there was the aforementioned discussion of new fabrics, styles and colors for the Apple Watchband, an upgrade to Apple TV, and upgrades to a few of the apps on IOS 9, including the lame Notes and News apps, and a new smaller iPhone. All this is accompanied by polite applause and accompanying whoops.

Pseudo-Sync for DropBox and iPad

I’m a Dropbox partisan. Dropbox works really well between multiple platforms as “personal cloud”. The wonderful thing about Dropbox is that it allows you to work locally on a file, whether you are connected to the internet or not, and then it will synchronize any changes that you have made to the source file in the cloud. This can legitimately be called syncing, because you end up with the same version of the file on all devices (and the cloud folder), once the changes have been made.

Except for iDevices. At least for Dropbox,

Even with the Dropbox app installed, the familiar syncing process that works so smoothly on desktops and laptops isn’t present on the iPad. The reason for this is that on actual computers Dropbox maintains copies of all files on all devices and the cloud. On the iPad that might be both a problem with storage space, and also a problem with the amount of data that is transferred.

This has come up with FileMaker files that are opened using the FileMaker Go app on the iPad. I’d prefer to go to the Dropbox app, find my FileMaker database file, and “Open in FileMaker Go”, which is, in fact the procedure that one uses to download and use the FileMaker file on the iPad for the first time.

1. Here’s the file shown in the Dropbox App.  It is called UCHealth.fmp12 and it is an exercise tracking application.

2. Choose the file, then, choose the Open icon (third from the right on the top, the box with the arrow).

Here FileMaker isn’t shown,  but if you tap the “Open In” application icon ….it will bring up additional options:

Tap the FileMaker Go icon, and the file is downloaded from Dropbox, and will be displayed in  FileMaker Go’s file listing for local files on the iPad

However, once the file is opened, it is copied to the iPad and it stays on the iPad. Changes to the file (new records, edited records, etc), are NOT synced back to the Dropbox cloud file.

The fix for this is a bit convoluted, but at least it works. It involves a manual copy of the file back to the Dropbox cloud.

1. In Dropbox, Delete the cloud version of the file. (If you are doing this next to your desktop computer you may see a notification on the desktop telling you that the file has been deleted from Dropbox.

2. In FileMaker Go – be sure to close the file.
a. Select the upper left menu, and choose Windows

Close the application window. (in this example, close the UCHealth application.)
That will bring you back to the file browser.

3. In FileMaker Go, choose “Device”  This will show the list of files that on the iPad.

4. Choose the upper right icon to “mark” the file. This is the (turned down page).
5. Choose the upper left “export” icon to export (square with arrow)

6. Choose “Open in Dropbox”

 7. Choose “Save”

Depending on the size of the file there may be a delay as the file is copied to the Dropbox. And of course, this process doesn’t work unless you are connected to the network.

This whole process isn’t elegant, and is only workable for a single person moving files around.  But it works.

Refurbished Desktop Computers

Refurbs are for when you have more time than money. I’m not sure about the exact figure, but in many cases, I think I’ve ended up spending several hours per unit getting a refurbished computer back online after a hard drive failure, or just having to spend hours updating Windows and Office so that I’m confident getting the machine on the network.

We got several “really good deals” from NewEgg, for refurbished Lenovo desktop computers at $214.00. These appeared to be of “office quality”, included Windows 7 Pro, and were nicely finished. Unfortunately, we have had 2/3 of the Western Digital Blue hard drives start to fail at some point. This has created no end of extra heartache for the users and an enormous amount of work for the IT staff.

NewEgg has been fine on returns, however, providing UPS shipping labels, and RMA procedures over the web.

OK….so much for NewEgg.  We’re looking at alternatives.  (we have more time than money).

Techsoup has Dell refurbished computers that are prepared by a third party. For example:

Dell OptiPlex 755 Core 2 Duo Windows 7 Desktop 2.0 Ghz – 2.6 Ghz 
Min of 160Gb drive
Min of 2Gs RAM 
Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. 
Also includes: 
Office 2010
Adobe Flash,Reader 

One advantage here is that if you need licenses for Windows 7 and Office, they are included in the price. You would spend the $286.00 on those if you bought at retail, and maybe quite a lot less if you have a Microsoft Open, agreement. But, it like getting the hardware free.

The Dell Outlet looks promising with several machines in the $315-$390 range which still include Windows 7 as opposed to Windows 8, and have at least 500Gb drives, and 4 Gigs of RAM. These have more up-to-date processors than the Techsoup machines, and are certainly not as old. Most Dell Outlet machines were either not delivered, or were taken back within the warrenty period.

I’ve had solid results with Dell Outlet computers at the workstation and server level; mixed results with standard desktop machines, and a real disaster with older SX-series Optiplexes.  The best seem to be the larger ones; towers or mini-towers. Smaller machines, “mini-desktops” may have suffer from the suboptimal cooling, and the older components may have reached their design end-of-life earlier than those installed in a larger case.

One thing we have often found is that dual monitors are wonderful, and this is something that I would recommend for anyone as a matter of course. If you need an extra monitor card, these can be found from NewEgg starting at around $35.00. Best to wait until you have received the machine, because there can be variations in the slots, and the available adapter space that aren’t evident from the web page.

On the Mac side, I’ve purchased several Macbooks, iPods, iPads, from the Apple Store. These have always worked flawlessly. The Refurb store has a 21.5 inch iMac for $1099, which is the model from September 2013. The cost is only $200 or so less that of a new, similar iMac. It includes 8 gigs of RAM, and 1 terabyte hard drive, and of course the Mavrick OS, and iWork. If you’ve got more money than time, and just want to get to work, this might be the way to go.

Vista to Windows 7 upgrade on Mac Parallels

Earlier, I did a couple of fresh installations of Windows 7 and found it agreeable, so now I’m upgrading the Vista VM running on my iMac with Parallels 4.0. This has presented various points of interest .

1. You can do an in-place upgrade from Vista to Windows 7, but not from Windows XP.

2. I had to increase the size of the Parallels Vista VM disk from 30 gigs to 48 gigs to accommodate the installation files for Windows 7. You do this in Parallels through the Parallels Image Tool which expands the disk partition size. Before doing this is will merge any snapshots that you’ve taken. I had only a single snapshot that I had created when first installing Parallels a year ago. Rather than allow this merge, which would have taken several hours, I exited out of the program, deleted the snapshot through the snapshot manager, then reentered the Image Tool and performed the expansion in a about 30 seconds.

3. I increased the available RAM from 1 gig to 2 gigs, at least for the installation, since it was a stated requirement to have more than 1 gig. I may crank it back to 1 afterwards.

4. Among the steps during an upgrade, there is “Gathering files, settings and programs” The count of these was 414,061. That is not a misprint. Amazing, after less than a year of running this particular Vista workstation how much crap you accumulate. I’m also wondering at how they calculate the percentage in the upgrade status screen (above) which doesn’t seem to correspond with the numbers.

My guess is one reason XP isn’t supported for an upgrade is that XP still runs nicely on smaller, older machines, and these are probably not good candidates for a Windows 7 upgrade… notwithstanding the fact that Win7 is supposed to have a smaller footprint both in disk space and memory requirements than Vista. Accordingly, any machine that can run Vista should be able to accommodate Windows 7.

Odds and Sods – Templates, Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin

The Odds and Sods get odder every day.

Templates for Mac Pages

A quick search on Google for Avery 5163 templates landed me at this page on B3n’s Mac blog which has a pointer to a host of free label templates in various formats. Even though Mac Pages isn’t represented, a template for Microsoft Word worked fine.

Wolfram Alpha

This computational search engine will automatically calculate the nutritional values of your breakfast. So, for example here’s my granola: This creates the following chart:

Cal Thomas & Sarah Palin

Now, here is a column which has something everyone can hate from either extreme of the political spectrum.

If Palin is to have a future in national politics (assuming she wants one) there are several steps she must take. First, she needs a complete makeover. The big media will never admit they were wrong in their judgments, but they might write stories about the “new Sarah Palin.” She should hit the books and learn as much as she can about the modern world, history and court cases. She should read newspapers so that when future interviewers hit her with questions, she can dazzle them like a “Jeopardy” champion.

The only guy who isn’t falling all over himself for Michael Jackson

Like the United States, Michael Jackson was spectacularly bankrupt, reportedly in the range of $800-million, which is rather a lot for an individual. Had he lived on a few more years, he might have qualified for his own TARP program — another piece of expensive dead-weight down in the economy’s bilges — since it is our established policy now to throw immense sums of so-called “money” at gigantic failing enterprises (while millions of ordinary citizens wash overboard, without so much as a life-preserver).

This from James Howard Kuntsler.

In this morning’s paper, someone said Jackson was “our Diana”.

Remote Access via iPhone and iPod Touch

Logmein now has a version of Ignition for the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

Logmein continues to provide terrific value for remote access. We’re using it extensively, with a combination of the free version for most workstations and LogMeIn IT Reach for our servers and critical workstations. Ignition is the desktop client which is slightly more convenient than accessing your Logmein computers from a web page.

MobileMe – Synchronizing Macs

I’ve been intending to sketch out my whole synchronization scheme which keeps multiple applications synched between two Macs and the rest of the world, but it is so complicated that just documenting it has made me want to rethink. In the interim, I noticed yesterday that a bunch of changes that I had put into my address book on the MacBook didn’t get synched to the iMac, and after a lengthy chat with Apple’s MobileMe tech support the answer appeared to be nothing more than logging out of MobileMe on the laptop and then logging back in.

One trick with synching with MobileMe is to strip down the applications, so that you are only trying to sync one thing at a time when troubleshooting. Right now I’ve only got the contacts synching.

If one forgot that you can actually log into your MobileMe account from a web browser, one should be reminded of that helpful suggestion, as you can check whether your sync changes reach the the “cloud”. Obviously (in hindsight) if you make a change in iCal on one machine, and do a sync, the changes should appear in the copy of your files in the cloud, before any other machine can sync and download the changes.

Mac Conversion: A progress report and some backsliding

The Spousal Unit always wonders why I upgrade my computer and operating system as frequently as I do. The fact is I think the world has enjoyed a pretty long run with Windows XP, wasn’t it out in 2001? She doesn’t sympathize with my explanation that sometimes I just get to the point that I’m tired of solving old problems, and I would just as soon solve new ones.

I bought a Macbook back in November. I was just coming off a bad experience with Microsoft Windows Vista. Partly I needed a new laptop…my Dell Inspiron keyboard was terrible, even after two replacements. So even thought the Inspiron is as great laptop, it was essentially useless for actual work, like word-processing. It was also heavy, but considering it could be a replacement for a desktop machine, I was willing to live with the weight.

So, an update on the Macbook, and my (non)-conversion to all things Mac.
The hardware is terrific. Even thought Apple upgraded the processor speed and hard drive capacity shortly after I bought mine, both have been more than adequate. What is really nice is that the weight is about half of the Inspiron. I can keep this machine in a LL Bean Sportsman Briefcase, along with the essential accessories and a leather-bound pad for note-taking. It has an excellent and usable keyboard. It has a track pad which mimics a single-button mouse. This is still a pain for us two-button mouse users, but it something you can live with if you want to go naked, or you can buy a Microsoft two-button notebook mouse to carry in the briefcase.

The Macbook plays nicely with external non-Apple peripherals. When you aren’t traveling, you can plug it into one of those Dell 19″ monitors from Staplesand work at 1440×900 resolution. If put the notebook to sleep, and then attach the external mouse, keyboard and monitor, you can restart it with the lid closed. Not as convenient as a docking station, which might be something to try next.

I’ve got the Macbook printing to an HP OfficeJet Pro K5400 ink-jet printer. Two of these printers have been working reliably and well for the past eighteen months under what I would call light duty. The printer has a USB interface. If you need to plug this in with a USB keyboard and USB mouse, then you need an external USB hub. I note that the docking station advertises five USB connections, which is another reason to consider it. Right now I’m using $14.95 keyboard from Logitech as the external keyboard. It is a little scary to realize that this dirt-cheap keyboard is superior to that of the Dell laptop keyboard.

Having all this paraphernalia connected to the Macbook detracts considerably from its sleek and smooth look. The Macbook is considerably more attractive running alone on a battery, connected wireless to the unseen network cloud. I’ve gotten well over three hours on the battery when running wirelessly which is fine. With the wireless connection enabled, the machine will sniff out the strongest local network connection and walk you through the connection process. If you have done this once already, the connection will be automatic the next time. It works fine on the university’s VPN with the addition of the Cisco VPN client which requires manually logging on.

Mac heads rave about the Mac software and operating system. I think the OS is fine. I don’t care really for the “Finder”, but that is partly because I haven’t really transitioned comfortably from the Windows “Explorer”. But I really like that fact that the OS on the Macbook is the same as the OS on all other Macs, and that it is available in one version only. It is an operating system instead of a demanding lifestyle. Apple doesn’t try to bludgeon its competition or its customers with its operating system. Really, can you imagine the Apple OS getting the same kind of treatment and publicity that Vista has gotten in the past two years? Upgrades and patches are a fraction of what comes out for Windows every week.

As for the backsliding, well, I installed Vista using the Parallels software. I did this strictly so that I could run OneNote, the one essential Microsoft program that doesn’t seem to have a Mac equivalent. Except for the onerous secondary startup process of booting Vista within Parallels and then starting OneNote, this seems to work fine. In fact, the Macbook would really make an ideal Windows laptop.

Other Mac Software

Safari is much maligned in the blogosphere, and it has crashed several times. I installed Firefox as an antidote, but it crashed even more, so I’m sticking with Safari on the Mac side of the house at the moment. IMail doesn’t really compete with Outlook, and I’ve had trouble trying to duplicate the series of folders that I have in Outlook with rules that automatically move new messages into specific folders. The calendar and address book have separate interfaces, and I guess I prefer how Outlook integrates all these into a single (albeit bloated) application.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that I’m really attached to this notebook. It is a fine combination of price and functionality with a sleek and comfortable design. I’m not sure if I would recommend it for an office, but for an individual’s private machine it is ideal. With the addition of some inexpensive peripherals, it doubles nicely as a desktop machine as well.

ITunes and Quicktime are pigs

A host of minor irritations:
1. Why does it take almost 15 minutes for iTunes to download and install an update?
2. Why does iTunes autoamatically install Quicktime?
3. Why are there Quicktime icons installed in the systray and on the desktop even though I never want them? Why does this happen every bloody time it updates?
4. Why does iTunes automatically use up about 80% of my processor capacity when playing a tune from the hard drive, thereby practically rendering my workstation useless if I want to listen to music at the same time I’m programming?

Just asking.