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January 12th, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Sync Solutions

A common problem is how to share files with friends and family. Small files are easily shared via email but larger files such as videos are often too large to be an email attachment. Cloud services can be used, up to a point, but a user will be charged a monthly fee if his needs exceed the amount of free space offered. If you are like myself, you probably have several cloud accounts, each with it’s own amount of free space. This can get a bit confusing. In this article I will offer two alternatives that will give you a single “personal cloud”.

A company called Connected Desktop has recently introduced a new product called the Transporter Sync. You can read about this gadget on their webpage here. You can buy this device at Amazon for just under $100. It comes with no built-in storage so you must dedicate and attach another USB storage device. I use the word “dedicate” because whatever you attach is reformatted to an unspecified format. If you decide later to swap out that device for another, it will have to be reformatted to a file system recognized by your OS, e.g., NTFS, HFS and etc. The firmware is not quite complete at this time. A “Library” function is yet to be implemented. Without this function all the files/folders on the device are synced with a local or remote computer. It is doubtful that you will want to attach a 1 or 2 TB drive. Connected Desktop promises that the feature is “coming soon” and hopefully “soon” means weeks and not months.

A second solution is offered by the folks at Bittorrent Inc. This FREE software is called Bittorrent Sync and you can download it here. Versions are offered for all popular OS’s. The way this works is that file sharers designate folders on their computers to share. The shared folders are assigned a “secret” key. It’s rather lengthy at 32 characters but you only have to enter it once. Now remote file sharers having folders with identical keys can sync the folders using the bittorrent protocol. Great idea. It’s also a good way to transfer files to and from your local computer and your mobile devices. Of course, unlike the hardware solution offered by Connected Desktop in which the gadget is always online, this method requires that all syncing computers to be online.

Happy Syncing!

Update.

On January 29, Connected Desktop added the much needed “Library” feature to the firmware. The update was automatic with no action needed by the owner other than to have the device online.

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September 22nd, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Portable Wireless Storage

Tim Cook. CEO of Apple, recently predicted that sales of tablet computers would exceed sales of desktop computers by 2015. I believe that he is correct. For travelers, a seven inch tablet can be carried in a large pocket or purse. Try to do that with your laptop or notebook! The challenge is that a typical desktop machine will have a hard drive of 500 GB or more. that’s plenty of room for media. Tablets  have flash storage with capacities of up to 64 GB. Things can get crowded. Certainly a few tablets come with SD slots, but many do not, and none have USB ports. However, external storage for media is available via WiFi gadgets. This article will discuss two such gadgets priced at $100 or less.

First up is the SanDisk Connect Media Drive. It’s available in two capacities, 32GB and 64GB. This little gadget is roughly square measuring less than 3 inches on a side and less than 1/2 inch thick. It has a micro USB port for charging and a standard SD card slot if you need even more capacity. Companion software is avavailable for both Apple and Android at their respective app stores. Here’s how it works. When plugged into a USB port on a PC or Mac, it mounts as a visible drive. Drag and drop documents, songs, and videos to the drive. To view or play them turn on the device and in a few seconds it behaves like a router and broadcasts its SSID. Connect to the network with your tablet, run the companion software and enjoy your media. At least five people can connect simultaneously. The gadget will run for at least 4 to 5 hours on a charge. There is one limitation. Media must be in a format that your tablet can run natively. So, for example. if you have a movie in AVI format you must first convert it to MP4 or H264 on your desktop machine. This is easily done with Handbrake but it takes some time and is a bit of a nuisance.

Next is the HooToo TripMate HT-TM01Portable Travel Router. This gadget is oval shaped, about 4 inches long, 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. It has a dual purpose of being a portable power supply with a capacity of 5200 mah. That’s enough to charge your smartphone or small table one time.It will only charge a full sized iPad to about 25%, enough for about two hours of usage. Like the SanDisk it is charged through a micro USB port. Unlike the SanDisk it has no internal storage but has a regular USB port for network attached storage (NAS). Yes, this a complete router supporting b,g and n protocols. Should you want to change the router characteristics it has an IP address accessible through most web browsers. Use it like the SanDisk. Turn it on and it broadcasts its SSID. Connect to it with your tablet and run the companion software. Unlike the SanDisk your media is on standard USB sticks and your already installed player (that supports streaming) plays the media. For Android users MXPlayer and Dice Player are good choices, Apple users should consider OPLayer or VLC.

Both of these devices are good. IMHO the TripMate has the advantage of not having to convert incompatible formats. There is a work-around for the SanDisk. The device does have the ability to upload files to the tablet. So, providing space is available, you can upload the media, play it on your tablet with your desired player and then delete it. The upload does take some time depending on the size of the file.

If your traveling, don’t hesitate to invest in one of these gadgets.

 

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January 1st, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Advantage: Android

Shortly after its introduction in April 2010, I began to see articles on how one might replace his desktop computer with an iPad. Since then the proliferation of apps has made that possible. Well, not entirely possible on an iPad but it can be done with an Android tablet. In my previous post I pointed out that with their two year head start, iPad apps tend to be more polished than their Android counterparts. This situation is quickly changing. Let’s look at a few things that are easily done on Android that iOS has difficulty with.

First of all there’s the brilliant Android keyboards with word predictions. Entering text with either the SwiftKey or Swype virtual keyboards is nearly as fast as using a physical keyboard. There is no choice of keyboards with iOS. However, a new app called TouchPal provides a similar capability. After entering text within the app, the user copies the text to the iPad’s clipboard. Following this he launches the app where the text is needed and pastes. Clumsy, but it works.

Android has bittorrent apps. You will never see one in the Apple app store.

While you can root your Android tablet there are far fewer advantages than jailbreaking an iPad. An uprooted Android tablet already has access to a complete file system not unlike a desktop machine. There are folders for documents, apps, media, and etc. A desktop user will feel very much at home here. The Android desktop allows widgets some of which extend the capabilities of the operating system.

A desktop Mac has a nice feature called the spotlight that quickly locates and launches apps. Windows users have a similar ability starting with Vista or by using a third party utility like Launchy. iOS has this too but only on the first home screen. It’s annoying to have to return there frequently. Android has an app/widget called Conjure that does the job nicely. Put it anywhere you want. Or put a shortcut to it in the dock.

The dock is another iOS issue. Without installing a jailbreak app, the dock is limited to six shortcuts. The number will vary depending upon which Android launches you choose but in most it’s fair more than six and in some it’s unlimited.

At home I prefer to read news on my iPad. I like Zite and the iOS version is better than the Android one. However, when traveling, I’ll grab the Nexus 7. My laptop sees little use anymore. This post was entered and uploaded from my Nexus 7 using WordPress. The keyboard used was SwiftKey.

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November 6th, 2012 at 7:16 pm

The Android Note Taking Dilemma

For the last two months I have been using both my iPad (3rd generation) and my Nexus 7. I really like the Nexus and I am probably spending more time with that device than with the iPad. It’s smaller, lighter, easier to hold in one hand and has reasonably good screen resolution. Like the iPad it will tun for most of a day on a single charge. I have installed apps for treading ebooks (and PDFs}, calculators, online magazines, a few games and of course noter taking. The dilemma is all about note taking.

Unlike the single simple keyboard with limited features that Apple offers on the various iOS devices, Android allows the installation of third party keyboards. There are many to choose from. Some popular choices are Swype, Swiftkey, and the Perfect Keyboard. These keyboards are provided with special features including, but not limited to, gestures and word completion. With these features enabled text entry can be accomplished  at a very rapid speed that is not possible on Apple iOS devices. The dilemma is that , at this time, there are no really good Android note taking apps that can that are comparable to iOS apps such as Notability, Notes Plus, or my favorite, Note Taker HD. Oh yes, for short, one page notes or simple lists there are some good choices including Handy Notes  and Note Everything,  but for making a draft of a term paper or a blog article like the one you are reading, the available apps are far too limited in features. On the bright side most of these apps are being actively developed and some contain non-functional buttons that only display a message to that effect. Handwrite Pro is a good example. I hope that developer makes the mystery button into an add page feature that is sorely needed in this particular app.

I did find an app called Quill that comes closest to providing a notebook like writing experience. Quill can output handwritten notes to Evernote which can then be printed out from a desktop computer. The app is an open-source project. It’s free if downloaded from the developer’s web site or $1.00 if downloaded from the Google Play store. The downside of this app, as its name implies, is that it solely supports pen and pencil like input with no option for text entry and all the goodness of Android keyboards.

Android has some vey good PDF readers with annotating functions. It occurred to me that if one had a notepad with nothing but blank pages in PDF format than that pad could be opened with a PDF app and all the annotating tools would be available including text boxes and free drawing. It was a good idea except I could not find a way to create multiple blank pages with any Androd app. I was able to do this easily with Note Taker HD on the iPad after which I opened this pad with the Android app Repligo Reader. Admitterly, this was clumsy but it did work and resulted in a pretty good tool. I was able to create text boxes and line diagrams. What’s more they could be resized and moved around the pages.

Originally, I  had planned to draft this article on the Nexus. After an hour or so of frustration I completed the work on an iPad as I usually do. Also, the original intent of this article was too demonstrate that an Android device might be a good choice for a college student. At this time I would be reluctant to make that recommendation but things to change quickly in the computer world. Yes, most of what a student needs is there, but the lack of a really good note taking app could br a serious problem.

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July 13th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

About Clients, Servers and File Sharing (A Review)

Recently a new iPad user asked me how she could get a photo from her computer into her iPad. I could have simply answered that it could be done with iTunes or I could have recommended any one of several iOS apps that would do the job and she could have figured the rest out for herself. On the other hand a more general knowledge of how files are transferred from one computer device to another would be helpful in making choices between applications and understanding how to use them.  In this post I will review the basic concepts of file sharing and transfer between computers.

To accomplish a file transfer one of the computers is assigned the role of a server and the other the role of a client. Each computer will have appropriate server or client software installed. A file transfer from the server to the client is called a download, A transfer from the client to the server is an upload. Generally, files intended to be shared are stored or “hosted” on the server. In this way many devices can be clients to a single server.

The rules and associated syntax that actually accomplish the transfer is called the protocol. In the “early” days before the Internet, the most popular file sharing protocol was FTP (File Transfer Protocol). FTP is still in use today although its usage is declining in favor of more modern and more secure protocols including WebDAV, SSH, and others. To access an FTP server on another computer your device must an FTP client. There are many to choose from and some are both free and cross platform. Examples are  Filezilla and Cyberduck. When the Internet was invented it needed a new protocol to share web pages. Web pages are written in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and the associated protocol is HTTP (Hypertext transfer Protocol).

Today a web browser, that is, a client for HTTP,  comes pre-installed on every computer sold going by such names as Internet Explorer and Safari. iI you don’t happen to like the one provided there are a number to choose from including Firefox, Chrome and Opera. Now wouldn’t it be nice if your favorite web browser could double as a file transfer client? Well that is exactly what a webserver application does! With a webserver app installed and running on your iOS or Android device you enter a URL into the browser’s address field that looks something like this:

http://192.168.1.xxx:8080

where xxx will be a number assigned to the device by your router. Don’t panic, the software figures this all out for you and you simply copy the URL into the browser. Typically, a “drag and drop” interface will appear on your desktop screen. You drop the photo (or other file) onto the interface and it is sent to your mobile device. Two apps that I would reccomend for iOS users are the Photo Transfer App and Air Transfer Pro. Android users should consider WiFi File Transfer Pro. These apps may cost a dollar or two but they are worth every penny.

Another approach is to use a remote server, often referred to as a cloud server. Dropbox is very popular and offers 2 GB of remote storage for FREE which is more than enough for most purposes. Other similar services include box.net, Microsoft SkyDrive, Ubunto One, and others. Dropbox was an early to offer this type of service which partly accounts for its popularity. As such it is integrated into many apps thereby simplifying it’s usage. To use a cloud server the user establishes an account and  acquires a username and password.  Often the username is simply an email address. A free client is installed on both the desktop and mobile devices. Some of the services, including Dropbox, also offer a web interface making the client optional. The user then uploads the photo (or other) file to be transferred from the desktop machine to the remote server. Then the file is downloaded to the mobile device by using the client installed there and (sometimes) performing a “sync” operation. Obviously the use of a cloud server requires an Internet connection and one might not always be available. However, files uploaded to the users “public” area are assigned a public URL accessible by anyone, anywhere. It is undoubtedly the easiest way to share a file with friends.

A client – server relationship will always exist when files are transferred between computers. The methods in which it will be implemented will differ. the “best” method will depend upon individual situations. Having a selection of software tools available and a knowledge of how they work will enable you to make good choices.

 

 

 

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June 9th, 2012 at 1:14 pm

An Enemy of FOSS

In my previous post I referenced a discussion  I had on starryhope.com. In that same discussion a commenter accused me of being an “enemy of FOSS”  because I promoted and actually purchased an Apple product. It was that commenter’s opinion that all computer related products should be purchased on their “philosophy of design and ethos”. An informed consumer would not purchase a non-FOSS product when a FOSS alternative was available. In the same breath he noted that I was “confused and stupid” for thinking otherwise. In this post I will examine some real reasons why consumers buy specific products.

Most of my readers probably know what FOSS stands for, but for those who don’t It’s an acronym for Free Open Source Software. FOSS software is released along with its source code. It is provided without charge. The end user is allowed to modify that software as he or she desires or to do anything they want with it  including selling it!  Of course, selling the software would be a scam but it is not illegal and it is, sadly, often done. The OpenOffice suite is a good example. OpenOffice is nearly 100% compatible with Microsoft Office. It can use the Microsoft file formats and duplicates most features. It is free. I personally use and reccomend OpenOffice.

Linus Torvalds released an operating system “kernel” as FOSS software. Today it is known as Linux and is the backbone upon which many wonderful Linux distros  are built including the two most popular.. Ubuntu and Linux Mint. IMHO these are very good products and I recommend them to my friends as well as write about them in my posts. Do I recommend them because they are FOSS products? NO!. I recommend them because they work well and accomplish the job that the user expects of them! It is function that sells products not philosophy, even when the price is free.

In a recent article on CNET, the reviewer made a good analogy as follows. A persons goes into a hardware store and purchases a 1/4″ drill bit. Does that person really want a 1/4″ drill bit? No, what that person really wants is a 1/4″ hole! The typical consumer has absolutely no idea what FOSS is. He wants a device that will do email, surf the web, access facebook and etc. He must choose between Apple products, Microsoft products, other vendors and other OS’s (including Android). Some of these might be FOSS products but that will not be an element of his decision.

Apple is currently enjoying very healthy sales figures. They are outselling their competitors by significant margins. Apple products are simplistic in design with just a few buttons and ports. They are designed with an “ease of use” philosophy. Simple enough that they are sold without detailed instruction manuals. The purchaser can usually just look at the device and get started. Sure, you can find details online and you might even buy a manual but most things are obvious. The gadgets just work!

In November 2011 I purchased a Nook tablet. I wanted an Android device so that I could test and compare the Android OS and available software. The Nook could be “rooted” so that it could run most Android software and not be limited to that provided by Barnes and Noble. Rooting the gadget and installing quite a bit of software provided days of fun and truly did accomplish my goals for it, but would I recommend this device to friends? I might if all the friend wanted was an enhanced reading device because that’s all it really is. Yes, it will do email, surf the web and access facebook but those functions are much better accomplished on the desktop or on the iPad. The Nook does’t get much use except for reading an occasional book.

 

 

 

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June 6th, 2012 at 4:53 pm

iTunes – A Comfortable Old Shoe

I recently engaged in an online discussion (http://starryhope.com) in which a Linux user asked for advice on what tablet might be best for him.  I replied that the choice should be based on the capabilities of the tablet and not upon the desktop OS. I suggested that an Apple iPad was just as suitable for a Linux user as it was for a Mac or Windows person. My remarks were quickly and severely criticised by people who beleived that an installation of iTunes on the desktop was a necessity for an iPad and that there is no Linux version of iTunes. A few years ago this was true, but since the release of iOS 5 in the fall of 2011 it is not. In this post I will detail the current situation and explain why the iPad might be a good choice for any tablet purchaser.

iTunes began its life as a music “ripper” and music manager. It was liked by some and disliked by others, including myself. When the iOS family of products began to appear, Appple upgraded it with features to allow it to act as a “server” that would enable a user to install apps and data in the iOS device. To this day it still does that and does it well. Many users have grown accustomed to the routine of adding apps and data into iTunes, tethering the device to the desktop via USB and finally syncing the two to download the material into the device. However, both users and developers quickly realized that  iOS devices are wireless and it should be possible to perform the operation wirelessly without having to tether the device. Apps (GooodReader for example)  began to appear that had built-in web servers. On the desktop the user could launch almost any browser to act as a client and upload data to the app. The apps themselves were directly installable on the devices via the Apple App store client pre-installed on every iOS device.

The situation further improved when Apple introduced and allowed developers to include an import/export tool in the otherwise closed file system. Users know this as the “Open In” button. With this tool the user was no longer limited to using data in the app that received it from the desktop. It also enabled the functionality of cloud services such as Dropbox.  On the desktop one simply drops his data into his Dropbox account. On the iPad he/she selects it an opens it in the app of choice with the “Open In” button. Good Bye iTunes we don’t need you anymore. For those that love you, you are now a comfortable old shoe.

Well not quite until the release of iOS 5. Prior to that release you still needed iTunes to upgrade the firmware between releases. iOS 5 has the upgrade ability built-in. If you have an earlier version you’ll still need iTunes to get to version 5. After the upgrade,  Windows and Mac users might not want to delete iTunes just yet.  It’s use is still required if you intend to jailbreak your iPad. This perhaps is the only desktop related decision than a Linux user must make. The hackers that develop jail breaking software have only Mac and Windows versions. You cannot jailbreak an iOS device with a Linux desktop.

What then is the relationship between the tablet and desktop computer? The new tablet user will quickly find apps to run and enjoy on the tablet. Personally I do a lot of reading on my iPad and I like news apps such as Zite and Flipboard. Your tastes might be different. In any case you will find some activities more enjoyable on the tablet and others will remain on your desktop machine. There will be some cross-over and that is where the the dats transfer methods discussed above will come into play. For example if you obtain files on your desktop via bittorrent you will need to send these to the iPad as described above.

Competing with the Apple device are a variety of tablets with OS’s that use the Linux kernel. The primary competing OS is Android and the many devices that run it. Android users obtain and install apps from Google’s official Android Market or, depending on the device, Amazon’s App Store. There are others too and a “rooted” Android gadget may have access to several.  The mechanics of software installation and dats transfer is quite similar with the exception that the Android file system is more open and more traditional than iOS. A large amount of software is available for Android. Some very good apps are cross-platform. The Dolphin web browser is a good example.However, there are some iOS apps that I use on a regular basis for which I cannot find suitable Android equivalents. Note Taker HD and similar iOS handwriting apps are good examples. While there are several good handwriting note taking apps for iOS, there are none comparable for Android.

Developers use the term “fragmented” when talking about Android. There are many different display screen sizes on the variety of Android devices and other significant differences in hardware configurations. there are only two sizes of iOS screens and the larger one (iPad) is exactly twice the width and height of the smaller (iPhone). It is much less of a challenge for developers and perhaps a reason for more powerful software.

Over time any device will become obsolete. In my experience I can usually expect an Apple device to be upgradeable for three years or more. My first generation iPad, now over two years old, is running the version of iOS (5.1) as my new third generation machine. No, I cannot install camera software as cameras were introduced on the iPad 2 and do not exist on the first iPad. Android has been upgraded quickly with only a few months between releases. First there was Cupcake, followed by Gingerbread and Honeycomb and now Ice Cream Sandwich. The upgrade path on an Android machine is not at all clear and on some devices might not not even be possible.

Finally we come to the issue of price. Apple hardware has traditionally been more expensive than the competition. The price differential in the tablet market is not nearly as great as it is on desktops. With a “not so big” difference the iPad is outselling the competion by wide margins. One hopeful, the HP Touchpad, which BTW had many very good reviews, entered the market and then left after only 45 days claiming they could not compete and be profitable at the same time. Another competitor, the Samsung Galaxy, also is getting very good reviews. Apple is suing Samsung for patent infringement and if they win, the Galaxy will disappear from the U.S. marketplace. IMHO it appears that consumers are willing to spend a little more money on a product that they can expect to enjoy several years into the future.

I have not gone into great detail on the specifics of data transfer. Any reader who needs help with this can contact me with a question to which I will either directly reply or send a link to an appropriate tutorial.

 

 

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May 4th, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Hackintosh or Precise Pangolin ?

Prior to Precise Pangolin(12.04) my last Ubuntu upgrade was from Jaunty(9.04) to Lucid(10.04). That was the hard way to do it. It was a double install having to install Karmic(9.10) for a few minutes along the way and never using it. Lucid worked fine and since my primary desktop machine was a Mac, I decided to wait for the next LTS release before attempting another upgrade. Of course, in the intervening two years I read about the new “Unity” desktop. Using VirtualBox I installed Oneiric(11.10) on my Mac in a VM just to see what it looked liked. I was less than impressed and seriously thought that the next upgrade on my Linux box would be to Linux Mint. Upgrade day finally arrived and I stuck with my loyalty to Ubuntu. The upgrade went well up to the point where the computer boots into the new OS. I could not boot. The MBR had been corrupted. Now someone geekier than myself might have worked this out but I decided to make a clean install from a live CD. Wisely, all of my personal data was backed up on other media. A clean install was just a matter of software. I burned the CD on my Mac but I could not help but thinking that it was these kinds of problems that Linux developers would have to overcome before they could seriously increase their share of the desktop market.

In any event, having taken the plunge, I soon had Precise up and running. I was staring at that butt ugly Unity launchbar that I had first seen in the VM. And where the hell was everything? My friendly GNOME desktop was gone. It was clear that I needed to “bone up” on what had developed over the last two years. I moved over to my Mac, did some googling and got three valuable insights.

First, with a few commands I could install the GNOME desktop as well as a new CINNAMON desktop developed for Linux Mint. It’s interesting that a desktop developed for one distro could run on another, but as Mint is built on Ubuntu it was not surprising. Second, I learned that the ugly launcher could be hidden via a System Setting that could accessed through a little gear icon in the corner of the display. This was a clue as to where Precise was hiding things. Third, I learned that Precise was implementing something called Heads Up Display(HUD). Query boxes could be brought up by hitting the ALT key on the keyboard, whatever that meant.

I returned to the Linux box, managed to find a terminal and quickly installed the alternative desktops. With little delay I was soon enjoying the CINNAMON desktop. I really like this but unfortunately it’s not completely developed. I tried, without success, to install my wireless network printer. I thought that maybe if I figured out how to install the printer in Unity, it might work in CINNAMON. Logging back into Unity and following the instructions I quickly had the launchbar hidden and the printer installed. Then the light bulb in my brain suddenly clicked ON. Unity was trying to act like a Mac! The HUD thing was the equivalent of the Mac spotlight, the lauchbar was a dock! I didn’t need menus! Just type a few letters into the HUD box and you get what you want!  I typed in “syn”, the built-in word completion showed Synaptic Package Manager and bingo, there it was. Yes, after a few more entries into the HUD I was convinced that this was a truly remarkable milestone in Ubuntu’s development.

The somewhat unintuitive task of software installation and removal has long been a criticism of Linux distros. Those of us comfortable on the command line do not represent the general population. The task has now been given to the Uuntu Software Center, accessed via a button in the launchbar. After finding the disired package(app) in the Ubuntu repository there are two simple buttons labelled “Install” and “Remove”. It can’t get any simpler than that. Now some of us, being the geeks that we are, will still insist on using the command line with its powerful options, however, it is clear that the Ubuntu delopers are striving for a Mac-like OS, OS X being famous for its ease of use. The terminal will not disappear but the need for its use will diminish over time. The need for exploring menus also diminishes as the query language becomes more intelligent. Precise already seems to be pretty smart.

OS X on the Mac is excellent but Mac hardware is expensive. Unlike versions of Windows from Microsoft, OS X can be installed without a license key. There is no “Apple Genuine Advantage” and if you are successful in its installation you will not encounter anti-theft booby traps. Find compatible hardware and you can have a “Hackintosh” desktop computer. In reality it’s much easier said then done. Windows is the most stolen and counterfeited OS in the world because it will run on so many hardware configurations. OS X will not. Apple does attack flagrant violators of its copyrights but does not seem to be concerned about individual hobbyists. Ubuntu is FREE open source software. It cannot be stolen. It will run on most any hardware that can support Windows. It behaves a lot like a Mac.

Yes, the launchbar is butt ugly, but I’m sticking with Precise until my next upgrade.

 

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November 14th, 2011 at 9:39 pm

An Unbalanced View of Reality

The Magic of Reality is a science book authored by Richard Dawkins that has recently been released in both print and PDF editions. Dr.(?) Dawkins, if you don’t already know, is a controversial atheist. He is controversial in that in some circles he is regarded as a brilliant scientist and in others a “nut case” to the extent of his being denied access to auditoriums in which he was scheduled to speak! The book, either in print or PDF format is reported to be  targeted at young adults. Having obtained a copy in PDF format I decided that I would “start” to read his book on my iPad. I say “start” because if the book turned out to be below my level of intelligence as an adult then I would not complete it. As it turned out I found that the book covers a variety of science topics as might be discussed in a High School class. Science has come a long way in the fifty years since I attended and I actually read the entire book. As a possible attraction to younger readers it is lavishly enriched  with cartoon-like like illustrations. As an adult I found them quite enjoyable.

There is a series of articles in Wikipedia in which science is broken into five categories as follows:

  • Superstition
  • Pseudoscience (looks like science but isn’t)
  • Fringe Science (treated with scientific method)
  • Protoscience
  • (Mainstream) Science (Systematized as as scientific definition)

An early chapter of Dr. Dawkins book goes into considerable detail on the science of evolution. This is not at ll surprising as Dawkins describes himself as an “evolutionary biologist”. He talks about evolution as if it were mainstream science. As such,  it is incomplete in that it fails to include the spiritual evolution that accompanies biological evolution. It should be pointed out, especially to youthful readers, that the Darwinian model of evolution is still regarded by many as fringe science. Texts on science do well in explaining how thins work in in the world but fail to include guidance on how we should react to them as spiritual beings. Authors such as Deepak Chopra and Casroline Myss attempt to do this, although at best their work can only qualify as fringe science. I suspect that Dr. Dawkins would classify spiritual matters as myrh and superstition, but in fact they are real and cannot be simply ignored.

In following chapters the book discusses less controversial topics such as the nature of space and time, cosmology and the methods of their measurement. In this respect the book is very similar to the book by Stephen Hawkings entitled The Grand Design. Unlike Dr. Dawkins, Dr, Hawkings only talks about mainstream science topics and wisely avoids controversial ones. This volume is also available in PDF format. It may well be a preferable reading choice to science minded individuals not wishing to get into the arguments between scientists and spiritualists.

The final chapter of the book discusses (and dismisses) “Miracles”. Once again the reader is presented with an unbalanced viewpoint. Dawkins specifically cites the Bible story of “the Jewish preacher called Jesus”  turning water into wine as a myth not to be accepted as truth. There is no recognition that Bible stories can be accepted metaphorically if not literally, again ignoring the spiritual aspect of human beings.

In summary the book does accomplish its goal of showing how scientific truths have replaced superstition and myths over time as our level of technology has advanced. It fails to point out that science itself is evolving. Our “scientific” concept of what reality it is today is quite different from what it was a century ago and a century from now it will most certainly be different from what it is today. Perhaps some of the “fringe” spiritual science will enter the mainstream. Stephen Hawkings tells us that there is no complete scientific “theory of everything”  and even some modern theories are in conflict with one another.That said, The Magic of Reality can only be regarded as an incomplete and unbalanced effort.

 

 

 

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September 20th, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Disappointing Numbers

I have read reviews of the iPad versions of Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote in which the reviewer describes the apps as “gorgeous”. Sadly, at least in the case of Numbers, beauty is only skin deep. I can only wonder if these critics ever actually try to use apps for practical work. If they did, they would soon discover that Numbers is so buggy that it is surprising that Apple released this app as something other than a beta version.

My first and only project before abandoning the app was a simple record of expenses. The spreadsheet had only three columns…. a column for the DATE, another for the AMOUNT and the third for COMMENT. I envisioned using the tabs to organize the data by months. There was no calculation but had the project progressed I may have summed the amounts, but it never got that far.

The problems began with formatting the DATE. I wanted to see something like 05 Jan or Jan 05. I did not want the year and certainly not the time. I was able to accomplish this for individual cells but attempts to format a column failed. Numbers kept insisting on inserting the year and time. After several attempts I finally got rid of the time but the year would not go away. I could have lived with that bug until Numbers started to display an incorrect date. I would enter Sept. 16, Numbers would display Sept, 11. Deleting and re-entering sometimes helped and sometimes did not. And, by the way, deleting the contents of cell was a tricky operation. A double tap on the cell sometimes brought up a delete option and sometimes did not. Apparently, tapping is somewhat an art in this app.

At this point it was clear that Numbers was too buggy for actual use. Nevertheless, I went on to setup the monthly tabs. I tapped the “+” tab.A blank sheet appeared. I mean really blank without grid lines or anything. Huh??? I soon found that only by copying and pasting from my first sheet could I get a new sheet with column headings and grid lines. This may or not be a bug but it is certainly non-intuitive and certainly a nuisance, This was my point of abandonment  Perhaps I’ll try it again one day when the bugs are fixed, After all, it is gorgeous.

I went on to set this project up in Quickoffice in about 15 minutes. Using an app that offers compatibility with Microsoft Office formats does have some advantages that I will discuss in a future post.

 

 

 

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