Forgot your charger?

It happens to all of us at some point. You pack and you check your list and you do all the things you are supposed to do before leaving for a trip, but you forget your charger for your cell phone or iPod. I was coming home from Photoshop World in Las Vegas and I spotted this "Rapid Charger" charging station in the Las Vegas airport. What caught my eye was the various adapters just dangling there.

Just about all the major brands were covered. This is capitalism at its best! For a mere $3 you can get 30 minutes of power. My first thought was, "who would use this?" Then I remembered that yes, we do occasionally forget our chargers, because if you had your charger, you would simply find an outlet somewhere in the airport and plug in (unless that airport is Dallas/Fort Worth – they have no outlets ANYWHERE).

So the next time you’re running low on juice, forgot your charger, have 30 minutes to kill, and have $3 bucks, these folks have got you covered. Also you’ll have to stand there the whole time so no one walks off with your shinny device. Better bring a book or magazine too.

It’s the little things

The original 85W MagSafe adapter on the left and the NEW 85W MagSafe adapter on the right.

 

If you have a MacBook Pro, one thing you’ve probably noticed is how freakin’ big the AC adapter was. Apple has quietly addressed this and made a NEW 85W MagSafe Power Adapter (Part# MA938LL/A) available. I ordered mine immediately when I found out about it as my notebook bag is already heavy enough. Anything I can do to lighten the load is worth it. This new adapter is on par with the MacBook adapter which is a 60W MagSafe Power Adapter. Although the MacBook adapter will power a MacBook Pro, it doesn’t provide enough juice to charge the battery. So you really want the 85W adapter if you have a MacBook Pro. The 85W adapter will work with either the MacBook Pro or MacBook.

Now if only the folks over at iGo could figure out a way to make a MagSafe tip for their universal adapters (or get Apple to license the technology to them), I’d be in heaven.

USB Hubs, who makes the best one?

We spend a great deal of time researching our computer purchases, external hard drives, software, etc. However, when it comes to buying a USB hub, we tend to just buy the cheapest one or the one that the store happens to carry.

All USB hubs are not created equal. I’ve found that depending on the hub you get, you could see weird issues with your computer and not realize that it’s the hub causing the issues. For example, I’ve got an older Power Mac G5 that refuses to stay asleep. I know that it’s a USB peripheral or hub causing this issue. I haven’t really had the time or energy to go through the process of testing it, plugging in one peripheral at a time. But what if it’s one of the two hubs I’m using?

I’ve tried Targus, Staples (yes they have their own branded hubs) and Asanté. I don’t swear by any of them and I’m looking for the most reliable hub out there. Who makes the BEST USB 2.0 Hub?

So my question to you is, which USB 2.0 Hubs have you had good luck with and which ones would you recommend that we stay away from?

A must have for presenters

Keyspan Presentation Remote Pro

Keyspan has improved upon my favorite presentation remote in just about every way with their NEW Presentation Remote Pro. I was big fan of the Keyspan Presentation Remote. As a matter of fact it made it onto My Favorite Things list. However, the new Presentation Remote Pro knocks the old remote out of the box in just about every way! The first improvement is in the area of range. The new remote can be up to 100′ away from the computer. The second, and one of the most important improvements for me is that it has an on/off switch on the side (all portable devices should have this). With the old remote I would take the battery out before putting it back in my bag.

This new remote is RF based and therefore requires a small USB receiver to be plugged into your Mac or PC. They did a great job integrating this receiver into the remote unit. It’s spring loaded. Just press it down and the receiver pops out. Take it out and plug it into an available USB port and you’re ready to go. No software/drivers to install. Keyspan also improved the functions of the remote itself. It now sports an easier to use laser pointer (the old one required that you turn the laser pointer on separately). They also included a volume control which is cool to be able to adjust the volume of embedded movies without having to return to the computer or interrupt the slide show. They even included an F5/ESC button to start and stop slidewshows and a "black the screen" button which is very handy for when you want to make the screen go black so the audience focuses in on you and what you have to say. I know this may sound like a "duh" thing, but they clearly identified the Forward and Back buttons with big white arrows. When I handed my old remote to different presenter I would have to spend a few seconds explaning to him/her how to advance their slides with the side button. It wasn’t hard, it just wasn’t intuitive.

This remote does more than just advance your slides it also acts as a wireless mouse. However, in my initial testing I will only use this feature in rare cases. It was just too hard to control the pointer using the little nub/joystick. Perhaps if I slow my cursor down in my System Prefs it would be OK then. There are also standard Left and Right click mouse buttons.

A couple of minor issues: When I plugged the receiver into my MacBook Pro, Mac OS X tried to configure it as a keyboard by launching an Assistant, and asked me to press certain buttons. I’ve seen this before. All you have to do is quit out of the Assistant and you’re ready to rock and roll. The F5 button only works in Windows to start a slideshow. However, holding it down on both Mac and Windows will end the show (ESC). This is documented on the reference card that comes with the remote.

Like I said, this remote is better in just about every way over the previous version. I fired up Apple’s Keynote (my presentation app of choice), Adobe Acrobat Professional 8 and MS PowerPoint and I was able to control my presentations in all three apps. I love everything about it and there isn’t really anything that I don’t like about it. I rate it as a "must have" for anyone that does slide presentations. It retails for $79 and even came with the 2 AAA batteries already loaded in it. I ordered it from the Keyspan site and while I didn’t request any special shipping, it came so fast that when it arrived I didn’t know what it was at first.

Do more than just protect your keyboard

People tend to do a lot while they’re working on their computers including eating and drinking. After a while the keyboard can get kind of gross or even permanantly damaged. There have been keyboard protectors and overlays out there on the market for years. However, the folks over at zCover have the right idea. Why just protect the keyboard when you can also learn the keyboard shortcuts of your favorite app at the same time?

I first saw these guys while attending Macworld Expo in San Francisco back in January. They had a booth set up on the show floor and they were selling these keyboard covers like hot cakes (do people still buy hot cakes?). I have bought specialized keyboards in the past that were configured with color coded keys for a specific app. However, the zCover keyboard covers make so much more sense. When I used to buy the specialized keyboards of course the keyboard shortcuts were only listed for the one application that I bought the keyboard for (mostly video editing apps that I don’t use everyday). Now I can have multiple covers and switch covers when I switch apps. While out at Macworld, I bought two of these (they had a deal), I got the one for Adobe Photoshop and the one for Adobe After Effects. I just ordered the one for Adobe Premiere Pro now that I’ll be using the New CS3 version full-time. They also carry covers for non-Adobe apps too.

Typing with a zCover on will take a few minutes of getting used to it. Some keys you may have to press down harder than you’re used to. Otherwise these covers are GREAT! Also if you someday replace your keyboard or move to a different computer you can take your covers with you.

The covers aren’t cheap. The ones that have color coded keyboard shortcuts start at $49.95. The plain protectors start at $29.95. However, keep in mind that the specialized keyboards from other vendors can cost over $100. The zCovers are for your Apple Keyboards for desktop Macs and MacBook Pros.

Yes it’s even washable.

Unexpected Fireworks!

I hope you all had a great 4th of July break and enjoyed time with the family. I’m a fan of fireworks displays, but not of the electronics kind. The above shot is actually a backup battery pack for my Nikon D80 Digital SLR camera. I keep this pack in my bag as a backup for when I’m out shooting and run out of juice. It’s great because you can use off the shelf AA batteries in a pinch. While I was in Montana, I left my laptop bag with this pack in the outer pocket in the trunk of the rental car. I guess we can say that the Energizer Bunny keeps going and going and going. Things must have gotten a little hot back there and at the end of the day when I opened my bag to grab something out of it, I saw this! Luckily it didn’t damage anything else. The batteries were Energizer NiMH AA rechargeable batteries. So you might want to think twice about what you leave in your car on a hot day, tech wise. It would have been kind of hard to explain to Hertz why their car burst into flames. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.

Charge your MacBook Pro batteries externally

Newer Tech Intelligent Battery Charger and Conditioner

 

I’ve always been a fan of external notebook battery chargers. I like being able to roam around the house on battery power. When the battery gets low I put the computer to sleep, swap out the battery, wake and keep going. The problem is that I haven’t had an external charger since the original Titanium PowerBooks.

Newer Technology to the rescue!

Newer now makes an external battery charger that can charge two MacBook Pro batteries at once. This new Intelligent Battery Charging Station is great. I got it and setup was very easy. Basically just plug it into the wall and place your batteries on it. One of the two slots has a "Recondition" button that actually drains your battery and recharges it for you. This is a good thing to do every now and then even for your Lithium ion batteries. Another good use for this charger besides being using it home is using it when you attend a seminar. Often times wall power is not very accessible from your seat. However, you can go plug the charger in at the wall and charge one battery (or two) while you have one in your MacBook Pro. The Newer Tech Intelligent Battery Charging Station goes for $149.95 at OWC. Newer Tech also makes them for MacBooks, iBooks and PowerBooks too.

My Favorite Things…

FavoritesPeople ask me to recommend products and services to them all the time. Sometimes they take my advice, sometimes they don’t. But that’s besides the point. Rather than having to constantly go back and dig up a link to a product that I like, to send it to them, I’ve decided to put it all in one place, here on my tech blog. This way you will always be able to tell which products and services I’m currently recommending at any given time. The products and services listed here are the ones that I actually use (or have used in the past) and I don’t get paid to recommend them (other than Adobe products of course. Although I was using and recommending Adobe products long before I worked for the company.) Most of these companies don’t even know that I exist.

So the next time you’re looking for a hot gadget recommendation or you’re wondering what I use in any given category, you can just take a peek at "My Favorite Things" to find out. I’ll keep the page updated as I swap out my gear over time.

90 more gigs! I’ll take it.

While I was quite content with my 160GB drive in my MacBook Pro at first, it’s amazing how fast space goes away when you not only want the Mac version of Adobe’s Creative Suite 3, but also the Windows version too. Not to mention that I now have all of the betas of the CS3 Production Premium video apps too. The next thing I knew I was down to less than 10GB’s of available space left and that’s a little to cramp for my comfort. I was all set to go with the 200GB 7200 rpm Samsung drive (although Samsung is not one of my favorite brands by any means). However, before I could pull the trigger on that one, MCE Technologies announced a package deal on the Western Digital 250GB 5400 rpm drive.

What a choice? 200GBs at 7200 rpms or 250GBs at 5400 rpms. Although I’m a fan of speed, I couldn’t give up the chance to have the extra space at the current speed that I’m used to now. So I pre-ordered the package from MCE and my birthday wish came a little early (yeah, I’m tech guy. These are the kinds of things we really want as gifts). MCE said that the drives would ship on June 1st. However, I got mine this past Friday. Although I’m sure you can get a better deal on the drive alone, I liked the fact that MCE was selling the drive with a USB 2/eSATA case, the cables, instructions and tools to perform the upgrade. All for $279. Speaking of the case, it comes with both the USB 2 data cable and the eSATA data cable as well as a 2nd USB cable that powers the drive. So no AC adapter required.

Installation went well. Here’s how I did it:

First I took my existing backup drive, a 120GB 2.5" SATA and installed it in the USB 2 case that came with the new drive. I then replaced my existing 160GB drive with the new 250GB drive. Keep in mind that my 160GB drive has all my stuff on it. So I put my 160GB drive in another external case. This way I could boot from the backup drive in the USB2 case and perform a CopyCatX duplication of the whole drive (sector-by-sector copy) including my Boot Camp partition. I thought I was home free, except there was one problem. CopyCatX does an EXCELLENT job of making an EXACT copy of one drive to another (SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner can’t do this). However, since I had Boot Camp installed it did NOT automatically expand my Mac partition to see the rest of the space. So what I ended up with was two partitions that were the exact same size as before and the 90GB’s of free space was just sitting there as unformatted free space. This is when I found out that you just can’t expand your partition without wrecking your Boot Camp partition. I tried to do it with iPartition and while it worked for the Mac partition, it rendered my Boot Camp partition unbootable.

So I reformatted the new drive using Disk Utility and simply used SuperDuper (which actually comes on the new drive) to clone my Mac partition from the old drive to the new drive (about 2 hours of cloning). Then I went through the multi-hour drudgery of reinstalling Boot Camp, Windows XP and my Windows apps. While this wasn’t the most fun part of my day, it did give me the opportunity to also bump up the size of my Boot Camp partition. I went from 40GBs to 55GBs in the process.

All is well and I’m back up and running with a total of 90GBs of extra storage. I have a couple of network configuration things to do on the Windows side the next time I’m in an Adobe office, but that’s a minor thing. I recommend this drive to anyone who needs LOTS more space in their notebook. If you have Boot Camp, get ready to reinstall it. Hopefully Apple will make tasks like this easier when Boot Camp comes out in its final form in Mac OS X 10.5. I also hope that they make it possible to have (support) more than two partitions (Mac & PC) with Boot Camp installed. I would like to have a 3rd partition that is for data files that could be shared between the two environments and multiple users on the Mac OS X side.

Great SATA external drive enclosure

I recently had to move some computers around and transfer some data from one drive to another. The easiest way was going to be to put the New 750GB SATA drive in an external case. Since I didn’t own any SATA to Fir wire cases, I went looking for one. My search lead me to CoolDrives.com. They had this SATA to Firewire/USB2/eSATA enclosure on sale for $99. Although that still seems like a lot for just an enclosure, it was one of the lowest prices I found. I bought two of them (I will need them in the future) and temporarily installed my new drive to do the transfer. The transfer of 365GB’s went without a hitch (7.5 hours later at Firewire 400 speeds). I was floored to see that they included not only the power cable, but a Firewire 800 to 800 cable, USB 2 cable, and Firewire 800 to 400 cable. Although most users will only need one of these, it was a nice touch to not have to go out and buy them separately. Installation of the drive in the case was a piece of cake. Remove 3 small screws and you’re inside. Plug in two cables and secure the drive  to the bracket. This case is whisper quiet and works as advertised.