Canon came out swinging in this round

Let me start with a disclaimer: Having been in the world of digital photography for a few years now, I have met some great photographers. I have also met some fanatics. These are people that treat their camera brand like a religion and no one is going to tell them they are wrong. It reminds me of the Mac vs. PC days back in the 80’s and 90’s. Although I’m a Nikon shooter, it’s not my religion. I can certainly appreciate when one manufacturer does something cool vs. another. I’m not paid by Nikon, it’s just the camera brand I picked at the time based on the models that were out at the time. Once you buy a camera body and start buying lenses, it’s very hard (financially) to just up and switch because another manufacturer comes out with something that is tempting. So if this is your religion, that’s great for you, but I really don’t care. I’m just reporting on what interests me. So spare me with the comments on how one is so much better than the other (I am glad that you feel so passionately about it). Now that I got that out of the way, let me go on with my post:

Canon’s New EOS 5D Mark II SLR Kicks Butt

Yes, I said it! I’m a Nikon shooter, but I can certainly appreciate when I see a camera that has outstanding specs and that’s exactly what I woke up to this morning. The 5D Mark II had been rumored and leaked for months now. I’ve been watching the rumors as many of my friends are Canon shooters (yes I associate with both Nikon and Canon users, call me crazy). However, when I saw the specs this morning, all I could say was WOW! What caught my eye was: 21.1 megapixels, Full Frame, Full HD 1920 x 1080 video (Woah), 3 in LCD with Live View, 3.9 fps burst for unlimited JPEGs or up to 14 RAW images when using a UDMA CS card all for only $2,699 (body only price)! Based on the specs and price point, this camera is going sell WELL!


My take on DSLRs shooting video

One of my blog readers asked if I would perhaps do a post on the Nikon D90? I thought about it at the time and I didn’t really feel comfortable doing a review of a camera that I didn’t have or plan to get. However, now that both Nikon (with the D90) and Canon (with the 5D Mark II) have released models that shoot video, I thought I would at least weigh in on this topic. I haven’t actually used either model yet, so this is only my opinion/feeling at this point. I think that having an DSLR that can shoot video is an interesting concept. It will certainly appeal to the “dads” and “moms” out there. Think about it, you’re at the little league game and you can capture your kid as either high res great quality digital stills or as a video, when they slide into home base. I also think it’s going to open up a whole new world for seeing “different” kinds of video because now you have a camera shooting video using the dozens of different lenses available to DSLR cameras. What I’m not sure of is how well this will appeal to professional photographers. Most professional photographers that I talk to, never show any interest in doing video. So I’m not sure if they will care about having a DSLR that can shoot video. However, on the other hand most professional videographers I know DO SHOOT STILLS more and more now. So these cameras will definitely appeal to them.

Usually when you have a multi-function device, it tends to be really good at one thing and suck at the rest, or worse, it’s not really good at any one thing. I think these new cameras are probably going to be much stronger at taking stills than they will be at taking video. So therefore it won’t be the “only” camera that a video professional could carry. I think it will be good for occasional video use. There are all kinds of things that we don’t think about when it comes to video. The first thing that comes to mind is, “what kind of microphone do these cameras have?” Sound is the most important aspect to good video. People will forgive you for having crappy video with great sound, but they will not forgive you for having great video  with crappy sound!

Here’s a Sample Video my buddy Bruce found on the web, that was shot with the 5D. Video shot at 600 iso with 70-200 lens:


So the bottom line is that I think it’s an interesting idea that will appeal to the hobbyists out there. I don’t think the pros will latch on just yet or at least not to this first round of cameras, for their video needs. It’s going to be interesting to watch though!


My purchase plans?

I’m set! I’m very happy with my Nikon D700 and D300. I’m getting all that I want out of them and more. So I have no plans for any of the above at this time. I’m just sharing my thoughts on what I see out there. Sorry to disappoint the fanatics (actually I’m not sorry – dude, you need to get over it. Use that energy on taking better pictures) :)

2 Important Updates – iPhone 2.1 and Mac OS X 10.5.5

It’s bug fixing time at Apple!

On Friday Apple released the highly anticipated iPhone 2.1 update! I wanted to use it for a few days before passing judgment on what it fixed vs. what it didn’t fix. This was not a feature update. In other words it didn’t include Cut, Copy & Paste as some had rumored, it was mainly geared at fixes a boat load of small issues that were frustrating some users. One of the main things it was to fix was the high rate of dropped calls that some users were experiencing. Since I wasn’t experiencing a lot of dropped calls, I can’t speak to if this is better or worse now. My call quality has been good since day one and seems to be the same with 2.1. The other 2 important areas were App Crashes and Performance. Now those two areas I can speak to. As I’ve said in the past, I’ve got over 1,000 contacts on my iPhone. So when 2.0 came out the first thing I noticed was that the contact list was so slow that it was almost unusable. Each update made it faster, but 2.1 actually gives me about 98% of the performance I was seeing with 1.1.4. I don’t want to say 100% because it does still lag for about a second or two sometimes.

As far as App Crashes go, this is a mixed bag. The problem is that if an app crashes now, well it’s hard to say if it’s Apple’s fault or the fault of the app not being updated for 2.1 yet. I was still getting a few crashes in Safari on certain sites, but I haven’t had a Safari crash since 2.1 has been installed. However, my Facebook app (which has not been updated) locked up the whole iPhone (needed to reboot it) when I tried to use the camera function with it. So again is that the fault of the app or 2.1? Hard to say.

If I had to say, I would say that 2.1 is definitely a BIG IMPROVEMENT over all. The iPhone does seem more responsive and like I said, I haven’t seen any real crashes (except the one) all weekend.

If you have more than a few apps, you’ll love how much faster Backing up and syncing is. Also installing apps is way faster.

I also should mention that Apple plugged several security holes including the one that someone could gain access to your contacts using the emergency dial feature. So you should install 2.1 if for no other reason than to make your iPhone more secure.


Little things that have changed in the iPhone 2.1 update

Like I said, this is not supposed to be a new features release, but that never stops Apple from slipping in a small change here and there. One thing you’ll notice is that now when you receive an SMS text message, your iPhone will now sound the alert up to two more times after the first time in about 3 minute intervals. This is for those folks that complained that if they missed it the first time, they wouldn’t know they had a message waiting without looking at the screen. Unfortunately there is no preference for this. So everyone gets this feature whether you wanted it or not.

You can also create Genius Playlists now (a feature in iTunes 8) right in the iPod app on the phone. I didn’t see it at first and I knew it was supposed to be there. The reason I didn’t see it was because I sync my iPhone to two different computers. One for data and one for media (music, movies, etc.). It wasn’t until I sync’d it with the computer that holds my music, that that feature became active.

No more app updates screwing up your custom home screen configurations! This is a biggie! One of the things that frustrated me and several of my friends is that you spend time putting the apps in the order you wanted them in on your iPhone only to have that order screwed up when you did an update to one of your apps by sticking the update at the end on the last page. Now when you do an update, it does temporarily put it at the end until it’s done and then replaces the old app in the same spot! Yay!

Wipe it automatically if someone tries to break in! Now there is an option that when you set a PIN on your iPhone you can optionally have it automatically wipe the iPhone if someone tries to enter the wrong PIN (guessing it) 10 times in a row. By the way I highly recommend setting a PIN on your iPhone. There some myths around this feature and let me clear them up now. The biggest thing people tell me is “hey I don’t want to have to enter a PIN to answer my phone!” OK good, because you don’t! Even if your iPhone is secured with a PIN you don’t have to enter it to answer a call. You only have to enter to make a call and only after the PIN has kicked in, which that interval is up to you. For example, on my iPhone I have it set to an hour. If I haven’t touched my iPhone in an hour, it automatically locks and requires a 4 digit PIN to use it again. You can go from immediately to 4 hours. When I’m on the road I change it to 15 minutes. This way if I lose my iPhone or if it’s stolen, I don’t have to worry about someone picking it up and just start using it and worse getting access to all my info on it. Because my iPhone is now setup to use Exchange, if it ever does come up missing, I can have my IT folks at work wipe it clean remotely. Once the wipe starts, there is nothing that can stop it. Not even turning it off or removing the SIM card. Once you turn it back on the wipe continues. Pretty James Bond’sy. The last myth is: “What if it’s an emergency and I need to make a call?” If you’re in an accident and someone needs to dial 911 on your iPhone but you’re unconcious and they can’t get the PIN out of you, there is an “Emergency Call” button that is accessible even when the iPhone is locked with a PIN. So there is no excuse, go Turn your Passcode on right now!


Cosmetic changes too. The 3G and EDGE display is different. Apple used to put a box around the “3G” and reverse it out, now the box is gone and it just says “3G”. Also now when you watch a movie (video, video podcast, etc.) and you don’t finish it, there will be a circle in front of it that is half filled in. So the blue dot means you haven’t watched it yet, no dot means you have watched it completely and a half dot means you started it but didn’t finish it.

It’s all good! Now Apple please return to adding more features that we want.


Mac OS X 10.5.5

Mac OS X 10.5.5 came out yesterday and fixed a slew of bugs. I read through the list saying, “oh that’s good, oh that’s a good one”, but in all honesty I haven’t really noticed a difference. Granted it hasn’t even been 24 hours yet, but I wasn’t really having any major problems with 10.5.4.

The one thing I would like to see addressed and I thought it was in 10.5.5, but I read it wrong, was the ability to sync subscribed iCals up to Mobile Me. It’s just lame that I can’t wireless sync my family and organization calendars to my iPhone because I use Mobile Me. If I sync them over USB I can! Apple also treats the Birthdays calendar as a subscribed calendar too. So no birthdays on the iPhone – LAME!

I do have a work around though. Since Birthday calendars, user group meeting schedules and Holiday calendars don’t change often, I exported those “subscribed” iCals out and then imported them back in as NEW iCals. That way the new ones are not subscribed to and therefore sync up to Mobile Me and my iPhone. This is a temporary work around as I’m hoping this issue will be fixed in the not too distant future.

iPhone App of the Week – Air Sharing

Air Sharing documents

My iPhone app pick this week is the insanely great Air Sharing app. This app quite simply allows you to wirelessly transfer documents to your iPhone or iPod touch for viewing on the go. Once you download/install the app, you launch it and it immediately displays the IP address that you need to connect to your iPhone from either your Mac or PC using the standard WebDAV protocol. Once you connect from your computer, you can just drag the files over that you want to take with you. These files can be the file formats that are supported on the iPhone such as PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, JPEG, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, Movie files, etc.

This is great for people who want to take complex documents with them such as spreadsheets, maps, diagrams, PDF manuals, lists and other such documents.

Once the app was running on my iPhone, I just hit Command-K from the Finder on my Mac and keyed in the URL. I was prompted to enter my user name and password (which I setup in the app on the iPhone) and bam, I was connected and saw a window with the sample files that they provide. I created a folder (an optional step – hey I like to keep things neat) and copied over my files. It’s also VERY FAST!

The file below is a 1.5MB PDF file and the cool thing is that it rotated the display when I rotated my phone.


I transferred over PDFs, Excel, JPG, Movies (.m4v), and PowerPoint files. All worked perfectly except the PowerPoint file. My guess is that it was just too big (27.9MB) and crashed when I tried to view it. Perhaps it will work better with larger files with the iPhone 2.1 update (also due out today). You can also delete files directly from the App without having to connect to your computer to do so. A nice touch.

I can’t get over how easy this app is to use and I love that it doesn’t require you to install anything special on your computer to use it. What is there to say? It works! Now for those of you who are interested in EDITING these files, you’ll have to continue to wait. The iPhone currently doesn’t have a feature that allows editing of Word, Excel, Pages, files yet. Maybe some 3rd party developer (such as Dataviz) will provide an app that allows you to do this. For right now, it’s about viewing.


The Bottom Line

There is no magic here. You can email yourself any of the above file types and view them as email attachments. However, what this app does is take the email equation out of it. You simply transfer the files over to your device and view them whenever you need to without having to find which email they were attached to. Also you’ll only be able to view the types of files that the iPhone/iPod touch currently allow you to view/play. If you need to have documents on the go with you, this is your app! For a limited time the good folks over at Avatron Software are offering this app for FREE! They will start to charge $6.99 for it. So grab it while the grabbing is good. You can get it here from the App store.

I want to thank my buddy Scott Kelby for turning me on to this cool app!

NeatReceipts for Mac


Having become a fan of the Fujitsu ScanSnap for Mac, I’ve been interested in having a more portable solution. One that would be small enough to take on the road if need be. While Fujitsu does over a smaller model, it’s still costly at a list price of $295.

I was standing in Staples the other day looking at point and shoot digital cameras and the scanners were right behind me. I looked back and saw the NeatReceipts display. I was intoxicated by the small size of this scanner. Of course Staples was out of them and it was probably a good thing since there was a newer model available online anyway. When I got home I ordered the NeatReceipts for Mac version. Now make no mistake, this scanning solution is designed for DOCUMENTS, not photos. I already have a portable CanoScan scanner for photo scanning when I travel to see family. I wanted this scanner to serve as a portable filing solution.

When my NeatReceipts scanner arrived I unboxed it and installed the software from the CD. Of course there was a newer version available online and I downloaded that version and installed it. I then ran the simple calibration procedure and I was ready to scan. NeatReceipts for Mac won’t win any races for speed. I was spoiled rotten by the Fujitsu scanner which is the fastest scanner I’ve ever owned. The NeatReceipts scanner only scans one side at a time and takes several seconds to scan an 8.5″x11″ page. Although slower than I imagined, it is still very acceptable. Had I never used the Fujitsu ScanSnap I wouldn’t have given the speed a second thought. The bundled software is designed to be your electronic filing cabinet. Documents and receipts that you scan are neatly filed away in collections (which are in Libraries).

The NeatReceipts scanner scans everything to PDF on the Mac. So there is no need for any kind of interim format. Once the document is scanned it is automatically OCR’d which makes it searchable in Spotlight. You can also bypass scanning into the NeatReceipts library. Although the app must be running in order to use the scanner, you can press the PDF button on the scanner and scan right to folder of your choice. It just pops up a dialog box asking you to name and choose the location for your scan that you’re about to perform. However, even if you do scan into their library app you can drag and drop a scan (PDF) from it to anywhere else on your drive including right into an email.


Scanning receipts

It’s clear to me (even by the name) that NeatReceipts was designed to scan receipts for the busy traveler or business person. The interface is designed to scan a receipt and then automatically detect things from the receipt such as price, business name, type of credit card used to pay, etc. It does an OK job at auto detecting this info and then filling it in on the right. Even when it doesn’t guess right (leaving a field empty) you can drag and drop lines of type from the actual scan into the fields as needed. Since it OCR’d the receipt, this is live text. When I scanned a couple of receipts as a test it seemed to scan more area around the paper than was needed. Luckily there is a crop feature, but it is 2-3 clicks to get a scan cropped. I would like to see a better auto page edge detection in the upcoming version.


Scanning documents

I scanned a couple of 8.5″x11″ documents. One was a simple letter and the other was a photo copy of a flyer that had photos on it. When scanning both documents using the hardware button on the scanner, it produced grayscale images of both. Clearly the letter could have been scanned as a black and white document. By scanning it as a grayscale, the resulting PDF was 2.8MB in size. I scanned the same letter using the software which allows you to specify “Scan Black and White document” and the resulting PDF was only 976KB. So it seems that you’ll get the best results by picking the appropriate option in the software as opposed to using the hardware buttons. Also there doesn’t seem to be any command keys for choosing the various types of scans. You have to go up to the Scan menu and then choose the appropriate option based on your needs:


How is the Mac version?

Neat Receipts for Mac is an “Advance Release”. In other words, this version is not yet complete with everything they intend to include. For example, the Windows version includes software to automatically convert scanned business cards into text directly going into your PIM (personal information manager). The Mac version doesn’t have that yet. NEAT Receipts for Mac was developed in the Apple programming environment (Cocoa) to provide an easy to use, functional interface that looks and feels like the applications you use every day. Seasoned Mac users will feel right at home using the intuitive design and those who have recently switched from PC will get accustomed to the interface in no time. NEAT Receipts for Mac does not yet match the NEAT Receipts PC version feature-for-feature but it includes some new features available only on the Mac such as drag-and-drop functionality, Image Flow (their version of Cover Flow), Smart Collections and more. Therefore NeatReceipts for Mac ($179.95) is cheaper than the Windows version ($229.95). They are promising full feature parity in early 2009 as a free update.


The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for the smallest document scanner you can find that is USB powered, I think this is it! It’s easy to use and works cross platform on Mac and PC. While it’s not as fast as other scanners out there, it is smaller than everything else I’ve seen easily fitting into a laptop bag. It also costs less than the competition. NeatReceipts for Mac goes for $161.85.

Apple’s NEW iPod Lineup – Fall 2008

Apple’s "Let’s Rock" media event was more or less what I expected it to be (and what had been rumored). They introduced updates to the iPod lineup, a new version of iTunes, renewed partnership with NBC (yay!), HD TV shows ($2.99 each or $1.99 each for standard def) and more importantly the iPhone 2.1 update due this Friday (for free). Steve says this iPhone update will fix a LOT of BUGS, feature FEWER DROPPED CALLS, dramatically faster backup/sync, and fewer app crashes, significantly better battery life and performance enhancements as well. Sign me up!


The iPod shuffle

The entry level player seems to be the same as before just with 4 new colors. This entry level unit comes in both 1GB ($49) and 2GB ($69). Silver, blue, Product RED, green and pink.


The iPod nano

This one got a nice update. The form factor changed again and has now gone back to a shape that resembles the previous 2nd generation model and it’s VERY THIN. The nano features Apple’s new "Genius" feature that automatically creates playlists of songs that go great together for you based upon a song that you choose. The nano also gets a built-in accelerometer that automatically rotates the display when you rotate the unit (ala iPhone/iPod touch). This will be handy for watching widescreen video content. The one feature that seems like it will be fun (at least at first) is the ability to "shake" the nano and have it shuffle to another song. Hopefully you’ll be able to turn this on/off as joggers would hate this feature. The nano also features a built-in voice recorder feature, but doesn’t include a mic. So this feature will be dependent on an additional purchase of either Apple’s new $29 earbuds or a 3rd party mic. The iPod nano comes in 9 colors (yep, 9!) and in an 8GB ($149) and 16GB ($199) model.


The iPod classic

Yes, Apple still makes a hard drive based model. They used to sell an 80GB and 160GB model, but apparently the 160GB model wasn’t selling that well so they discontinued it. Now there is just one 120GB classic (thin) model (in silver or black) for $249. It also picks up the Genius feature. If you’re wondering why Apple just doesn’t get rid of this altogether, it’s because it’s still cheaper to have a hard drive based model at 120GB than one that is based on a 120GB flash drive. So for now this one survives at least a while longer.


The iPod touch

The touch is where it’s at and continues to grow in popularity. The New iPod touch is even thinner than its predecessor. It now features a built-in speaker which should make gamers happy and integrated volume controls on the side! The software has been updated to 2.1 which features the Genius playlist capability. The touch also gets Nike+ support built-in! This is great because it means that you only need the transmitter in your shoe as the receiver is now built-in to the touch. Most importantly, Apple has lowered the price. The iPod touch comes in 3 models 8GB ($229), 16GB ($299) and 32GB ($399).


iTunes 8

iTunes got a couple of features and some tweaks. The main new feature is the Genius feature that automatically builds playlists based upon the other playlists you have created, the songs you have and how often you play them. This feature is OFF by default. Once you turn it on, it looks at your library, uploads this information to Apple’s "Cloud" and then sends back recommendations based upon what you have AND what others with similar tastes have. Now before the "right to privacy" folks start freaking out, remember, this is OFF by default. If you don’t want Apple tracking this info, then simply don’t turn this feature on. Apple claims that they will keep this info anonymously. I believe Apple to be on the up and up in this case and don’t really care if they know what kind of music I listen to (even if they sell that knowledge, as long as they don’t sell my name/contact info with it). Not only does the genius feature recommend playlists based upon your library, but it will also recommend additional songs that you may like from the iTunes store. This new layout is much nicer than the "mini store" that used to appear at the bottom of the screen. Most people probably turned that thing off simply because of the amount of real estate it was taking. I sure did! The new one is a sidebar and while I’ll probably keep it closed most of the time, it is much less intrusive than the previous method.

iTunes also gets a new Album Thumbnail view. I have not found a use for this yet. Sure it’s nice to see a grid of my album covers, but really so what. I don’t listen to my music by album, I listen to it by playlist. So this feature has ZERO appeal to me. However, if you’re an album kind of person, then you’ll probably love it.

iTunes 8 gets accessibility features which are way over due.



Apple also introduced a new set of earbuds that include a built-in line remote and mic. They go for $29 and will be available in October. They also introduced new in-ear headphones too that feature woofer and tweeters and 3 sizes of earbuds will be included for $79.


Other miscellaneous stats

iTunes store has over 8,500,000 songs, over 125,000 podcasts, over 30,000 episodes of TV shows, 2,600 Hollywood movies, over 3,000 applications for the iPhone and iPod touch! Users have downloaded over 100,000,000 apps in 60 days. There are about 700 games on the app store today. The App store is available in 62 countries now.

They have over 65,000,000 iTunes accounts. They are now the #1 Music Distributor in the US in any format. 90% of cars in the US now offer iPod integration. iPod has a 73.4% market share in the US. Microsoft has 2.6% market share. There are over 5,000 iPod accessories. Apple has sold over 160 Million iPods to date.


The Bottom Line

These are nice updates to the iPod line. So if you’re in the market for an iPod it’s hard to go wrong with any of these models. The prices have come down on some of them as well. Now that I’m an iPhone user I have very little use for a stand alone iPod. However, I do still use a nano on photo shoots, in my cars and I have an older 5th generation iPod docked in a speaker next to my pool. I don’t really have a reason to upgrade any of these as they are all working fine, but who knows? I may venture out and get some new toys. :)


To see the Steve Jobs keynote address video go here and to see more about the iPod line go here.

The iPhone needs an ICE feature

We are all encouraged nowadays to have an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact on our cellphones. While that is easy enough to do on an iPhone, the problem is that no one will be able to access that contact if your iPhone is locked with a PIN/Password (which I highly recommend). When your iPhone is locked with a PIN/Password the only thing someone can do is hit the emergency call button which dials 911. One tip that I give people is to create a custom Wallpaper screen in Photoshop that displays your ICE information right above where you have to key in the password. At least this info would be available to be seen by anyone who picks up your iPhone without having to unlock it first. However, I’d like to see a real ICE feature built-in.


It would work like the Emergency Call button

There’s already an Emergency Call button on the keypad when your iPhone is locked. I’d love to see an “ICE” button on the other side of the keypad. This button would be user configurable of course and not only display your emergency contact, but also any medicines you might be taking. How about blood type? Let’s take it even further, your doctor’s name/number too. As a matter of fact, pressing that button could display an entire screen (if you choose) with this info on it. You could even have the option of allowing your ICE contact to be dialed from a locked iPhone just like the 911 Emergency button works today.


There is an ICE App in the App Store

As you can see from the screen shot above, there is an actual ICE app already available from the App Store. The problem though is that no matter how good this app is, no one would be able to access this app if your iPhone is locked with a PIN or Corporate enforced password. So while it may be a very good app, Apple would need to allow access to it from a phone that is locked. Again, I’d just like to see the feature built-in. I also like the “Owner” feature that this app has. That’s cool to be able to display in the case of a “lost” iPhone. I’ve already made this recommendation/feature request to Apple. So we’ll see what happens.

Adobe Photoshop World ’08 Vegas Keynote Video

Adobe Photoshop World Keynote Address

I had a blast at Photoshop World ’08 Vegas and I want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who stopped by and said hello. As usual Adobe’s SVP of the Creative Business Unit – Johnny L used the Adobe Keynote Address to show off some never before seen technologies that are coming in CS4 and beyond. Be sure to check out my exclusive video of the keynote here on my Creative Suite Podcast.

I also want to congratulate my friend John Nack on his induction into the Photoshop Hall of Fame!

See more photos from this year’s event here.

I also want to thank those of you who attended my theater session in the Adobe booth, my InDesign classes on the conference track and my lighting and shooting tethered into Lightroom session at the Westcott booth. I really appreciate the support!

Thats me teaching in the Westcott booth

That’s me showing off the NEW bulbs for the Westcott Spiderlite TD5 system and how to shoot tethered into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2. Photo by Sarah K.


iPhone App of the Week – Save Benjis

Apple iTunes

My friends keep telling me how much they appreciated My Top 10 Favorite iPhone Apps post. They liked it because I not only said which were my favorite apps, but why they were my favorites. Well I as stated in the post, this list would always be changing. I discover new cool apps all the time. There are over 1,600 apps for the iPhone and iPod touch on the App Store and more and more are coming each week. So I decided to do a weekly review (no promises) of an app that stands out and that I really enjoy using.


This week’s app is Save Benjis

Actually it’s about saving money (save Benjamins). We’ve all done it! You’re standing there in the aisle of a store. You’re holding a product in your hand. You’re looking and the price and you’re asking yourself, "is this the best deal?" Save Benjis lets you do a quick check right there on the spot! Simply type in the product name or better yet (for accuracy) the UPC number on the barcode and Save Benjis will lookup the product in question at some of the most popular retailers and etailers.

I used it just the last week and saved a quick $10 in Staples. I was buying another APC UPS unit and the price seemed higher than I thought it should be. I whipped out my iPhone and keyed in the UPC number right off the box. Save Benjis revealed that the $74.99 shelf price was indeed HIGH. As a matter of fact it was $10 higher than their own web price and even cheaper just about everywhere else. Since I wanted the unit right then and there (didn’t want to wait or pay for shipping), I asked the cashier if they would match their own web price. They said, "no problem." If I decided to get it from one of the lower cost sources I could either have the app take me right to the appropriate page in Safari on the iPhone or email me the link to buy it later when I get home. In this example (not including shipping) I could have saved $25 off the shelf price of Staples by ordering it from TigerDirect.


Save Benjis is FREE and works with both the iPhone and iPod touch. However, for touch users it may not be as useful because you would need a Wi-Fi connection to do an on the spot comparison. Thanks to Adam Pratt for turning me on to this app.

Quiet! I’m trying to sleep!

Tis the season for power outages! Last year I invested in a whole-house natural gas backup generator. I work from home (and am spoiled rotten by power consuming technology) and therefore, I can’t stand prolonged power outages. Remember the blackout of 2003? Buying the generator was like buying insurance. Once you have it, you never seem to need it (and I’m ok with that). The power has not been off for more than 5 minutes since I had it installed. Figures right? Well that all changed a couple of nights ago. The power went off at 4:30 AM Saturday morning! How do I know the exact time you ask? Well when the utility power goes off, my generator kicks on within 10-15 seconds and powers the whole house. It’s located on the opposite end from by bedrooms so I never hear it. Normally I would have slept right through such a faint motor sound. However, I have APC UPS (uninterruptible power supplies) throughout my house to provide backup battery power for my gear for those few seconds that it takes the generator to fire up. It was on this night that I found out what it’s like to have 10 APC UPS systems go off at once!

APC Battery backups "BEEP" when there is a loss of power. The idea is is that this will alert you so that you can go to your computer, save your files, exit your apps and do a normal shutdown until main power is restored. In my case that should only be 10-15 seconds right? Well not quite. I found out the hard way that UPS systems are very sensitive to the actual quality of the power being supplied to them and it seems that generator power is not quite good enough when the APC units are on their default setting of "high senstivity". So my UPS systems continued to stay on an BEEP even though there was "power." Needless to say I wasn’t able to sleep through it. At this point I wanted to yank these things out of the wall, throw them in a pile and light a match! Even my larger ones that did not stay on continuously beeped every 10-20 seconds to let me know that line conditions were not ideal.

I remember after the initial installation and testing of my generator (the UPS’s were beeping then too) that my generator installer told me that I would need to change the settings on my UPS systems to make them less "sensitive." In fact I did just that on my larger units and didn’t know of any way to do this for my smaller units. However, it didn’t stop the beeping! Since I was awake anyway, I grabbed my laptop and Googled "turn off the APC beep" and the results lead me to various discussion threads (some really old) about how it could be done with the supplied APC Power Chute software. That’s where the fun began!


Windows to the rescue?

As most of you know, I’m a Mac guy. I have nothing against Windows or Windows users, I just prefer the Mac and have used the Mac OS since 1984. So let’s not get into that debate here. However, I also run Windows XP on my MacBook Pro via Boot Camp and Parallels. Why am I bringing up Windows? Well as it turns out, APC makes the Power Chute software for both Mac and Windows. However, the two versions differ as much as night and day. The Mac version is very basic and simply allows the Mac to communicate with the APC units and if there is a power outage the Mac will automatically do a shut down.

Here’s the interface to the Mac version of Power Chute:

Guess what? You don’t even need their software for this. Apple has built that functionality into the Mac OS via the Energy Saver System Prefs:

So if you’re a Mac user, don’t even bother installing the APC software. Just plug in the supplied USB cable into your APC and into your Mac and you can control it from the Energy Saver prefs.

As you can see from the above screen grab there is no other controls over the unit itself (nope, nothing under Options either). After doing a little digging, I found that the Windows version offers WAY MORE! So I rebooted my Mac into Windows XP (Parallels works too without rebooting, but I wasn’t sure if it would see the APC at the time. Later I tested it and it does.) using Boot Camp and popped in my APC CD that came with my latest unit. It had Power Chute 2.0 for Windows XP and I was floored by the available options:

There were two settings that I needed to change. The first one was under Notifications. I don’t want my APC units beeping EVER! If there is a power outage here, it won’t be for more than a few seconds because my generator will kick on. So therefore, I don’t need to hear any beeps ever! Especially at night. There was even the option to turn off the beeps in the evening and still have them on during the day. However, I don’t want them at all:

The next and most important setting was the magical "Sensitivity" setting. This allows the APC to be a little less sensitive and recognize generator power as being good enough to power my equipment.

I took my laptop around to each APC unit and set these settings for each one. I was back in bed by 6AM for another few hours of sleep. Of course this was on a Saturday when I didn’t have to wake up early! Arggghhhhhhhh!


Shame on you APC

I’m happy that I was able to solve my problem without a single call to APC. If my generator installer had never mentioned a "Sensitivity" setting I would have never known to look for one. I was initially going after disabling the beep sound when I found the Sensitivity section. So it all worked out. However, not all Mac users have Windows installed on their Macs. Since APC bills their units as for both Mac and Windows, I would expect the same level of control over the hardware on either platform. APC you need to provide these same options in the Power Chute for Mac version.

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