Saturday, January 21, 2012

A helpful switching utility

It sure is cold in Ohio today- we were nailed with our first major snow last night. I'm guessing around 3" or so.  The kids are outside playing it in, and the wife is busy working this morning. I thought I'd take advantage of the time and post about a useful utility that I found, which should make the switching experience a bit easier.

I have a feeling that I will be focusing more on "how to switch" in the next few blog entries, but first a little background (you'll probably guess where I'm going with this). My wife has been using an ASUS laptop that I purchased almost 2 years ago.  The keyboard was starting to get very sticky and in my opinion was almost unusable (I am sure my kids sticky fingers had absolutely nothing to do with that)... Fortunately, I had purchased the black-tie coverage at Best Buy, and I am just within the 2 year warranty period-- so I am getting a brand spanking new battery and clean keyboard to boot.

My wife's her Birthday is Feb 1st and-- you probably guessed it-- I decided to get her an early present: a new Macbook Pro 13.3 inch.  I was going back and forth between the Air and the MBP. Best Buy was going to knock off $400 off the still-in-stock (but slightly older) i7 model of the MBP so I decided to go for that.  Given the sticky keyboard situation with the ASUS, I also opted for the black-tie w/ accidental coverage warranty on the MBP.  The 0% for 18 months also helped. Consequently, it's a win-win-win: my daughter's ancient Dell SC420 is just "too slow" for Webkins so the ASUS will be a suitable replacement and I can finally retire the old beast.

On a slightly less positive note, the timing of taking the old ASUS in for a cleanup job probably wasn't the best. She had a pretty tight work deadline for getting a word document done. I installed the latest Mac Office 2011 software, but she was having a tough time figuring it out (I think she had Office 2007 on her laptop previously). The screen is also a tiny bit smaller and she is still getting used to it. She did pretty well getting through a lot of it, and certainly enjoyed the new and improved "Facebook experience" the night before, but in the end she got frustrated to the point she had to revert back to the desktop PC.  Her biggest frustration was the annoyance of the maximize button not maximizing the window to full screen.

Fortunately, I came across a great app that helps with the more familiar Windows experience a few weeks ago: Moog.  Moog provides an extremely simple way to maximize your window, and looks like the best option in the app store (is also  rated 5 stars).  Reasonably priced at $4.99, I finally decided to give it a shot.  It is well worth the $$'s and works seamlessly.  You simply hover over the green maximize button and you have the option to maximize your screen, easily snap it to the bottom, left, right, or top.  Simple and well done, I applaud the developer that designed it ("Many Tricks").  I noticed this developer has a number of other utilities, including "Witch" that provides a slick command-tab interface.  

Screen shot of Moog:

Looks like it's about time to go check on the kids! Hope you enjoyed my update.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Macbooks and the Technical Community

During this past week I was at one of the premiere conferences in the Midwest (Sandusky, OH) aka Codemash.  This years conference was absolutely amazing.

As you may remember from a previous post, One of my objectives was to take notes from any fellow Mac users and see if there were a few things I could learn.  

Truth be told, I didn't get much of a chance to talk to others specifically about their Mac usage and what they are doing with them. However, I did come back with a few observations (actually, I'm still here at the Kalahari as I type this- the Jiterry Monkey coffee drink is keeping me up).  First, I noticed that there were a ton more Macbook Pro's than I remember from any of the previous years codemash.  As I walked through the halls it anecdotally seemed like there were more Macs than not. I also noticed several 15" Macbook Pro's and a few "plain old" Mac Books. I also chuckled at how many "non Macbooks" I saw that had the Apple sticker on them (I have one on my work laptop, which sat in my hotel room the entire time. Fortunately, I never had to turn it).

I did speak to a few fellow Mac users. I didn't necessarily initiate the conversation, but occasionally I overheard someone say something to the effect of "wow, there sure are a lot of Macs this year. I guess I'm not the only one".  I usually would chime in, agree, and give a brief synopsis of my switching experience. I found that in almost every case, the reason provided for getting said Mac was because they got hooked in by the iPad, then iPhone, etc. Very similar to my own story.

I also had a chance to show a few interested people what you could do on a Mac as they watched me playing around with either Tweetdeck or Visual Studio. Many of them were already somewhat interested in getting a Mac and typically wondered if it was worth the extra $$. A few were also concerned about leaving Windows behind and wondered how good the experience would be running a VM.  I was able to tout my Visual Studio 2010 running in VMWare, Unity Mode. The two or three people that saw my ad-hoc demo seemed pretty impressed and basically realized that it's kind of a fun experience. You can run Mac and Windows concurrently and actually enjoy the quality and feel of your computer.  For me, it's really about enjoying your experience and being able to get your work done. 

I'll end this blog post with a note on self-improvement. While at Codemash, I went to a great session by Scott Hanselman that talked about handling information overload. Many of these concepts were already in place and I've learned over the years, but I also learned a thing or two. He spoke about finding a trusted tool and using it to reduce your "Psychic Weight", which is essentially a for-loop running in your head, keeping you awake at night because you can't stop thinking about it.  At work this has been Microsoft OneNote and it has worked out quite well. I don't currently have it installed on my phone or Mac, and I think it will do a great deal to help me reduce further "Psychic Weight" in other areas of my life. As I type this I am downloading the Windows version of OneNote, and will be installing this on my VM (the Kalahari wifi is a bit slow, but CodeMash is over so I don't feel guilty downloading). There is also a version for the iPhone that I plan on installing as well.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mac Adventures in the App Store

Today I decided to redeem a few of my iTunes gift cards that I received for Christmas. I didn't really tell anyone what I wanted this year, so I got lots of gift cards. I'm actually pretty happy with that so maybe I'll stick with the strategy for next year :)

Before I talk about the apps that I downloaded, I have to take a moment to vent. Apple iTunes has always been frustrating to me. I have been using it with my iPad since I got one almost 2 years ago when they were first released. My biggest complaint about the App Store is that it isn't very intuitive, particularly when it comes to purchasing or downloading an app. One would think that apple would want to make it an easy and intuitive experience... but there have been a few gotchas.

I'll bring up my iPad App Store story once again, because even after all this time it still irritates me and I want to make a point. You may remember my earlier post about having gone through a few defective iPads, mainly due to the sync not working or giving out after a short period of time.  In addition to the hassle of trying to return it and find a new one, there was another frustration that quickly followed-  re-loading my apps through the App Store.

At that time there was no cloud backup, so if you didn't back up to your PC or Mac, you were in for a headache when you wanted to reload your apps to your new device. Well you guessed it- I was in for a painful reloading experience. At that time, the only way to re-load apps would be to find all my receipts/ purchases and "re buy" the apps.  However, if you had already purchased the app you wouldn't get charged.  Needless to say, this was a very manual process and due to the way app purchases work (there are the "in app" purchases, and the buy from the app store purchases) you can very easily make a mistake and purchase the same app twice.   Let me illustrate- Sound Hound was an app that I originally downloaded the "free" version for.  When I decided I wanted to purchase it, I did so within the app.  I completely forgot how I had purchase this by the time I went back to the app store. I found Sound Hound and purchased it. I fully expected not to be charged, but you don't find out it has already been purchased until after you click buy.  NOT INTUITIVE.  Sure enough, I was charged again for the app.  Fortunately, I complained to apple support and got my $3 back. The rep kindly pointed out that the Sound Hound I had downloaded was Sound Hound with an infinity symbol by it, not the original Sound Hound free and in app upgrade, which is why I was charged again.  Wowzers, how was I supposed to remember that?

Anyway, today I was contemplating a purchase from the App Store for my Mac. I signed in, redeemed my gift cards, and went to buy an app for 3.99. After typing my password in, I was prompted again for billing info.  As if I had never entered the codes in.  Hmm, that's not right!  There was a little message in red text that said something about entering in my security code again, but not really any good explanation. It certainly seemed that it was trying to charge my card for this purchase.  Bahh!  I did some quick googling and didn't find anything useful. I then proceeded to email apple support- why do I need to enter my credit card info when I have a credit?  In fairness, they responded a few hours later and gave what I thought was a pretty a lame-o reason: apple is all about security. Since this was the first purchase I was going to make on the app store from my Mac, I needed to re-confirm my credit card security code.  AFTER that, I could utilize a different form of payment, ie, my app store credit from the gift cards.

Blech!  NOT INTUITIVE.  Why not have a message that says something like that right on the page? Why not make me re-enter my credit card when I downloaded several other "free" items?

Anyway, I guess it isn't a huge deal, but it just bugs me about how UNINTUITIVE the app store still is. On the flip side, I am very glad there is a Mac app store, which makes it very convenient to download.

There is much more venting that I'd like to do because of the App Store policies when using it in a Corporation, but I will save that for another day.

Let's change the tone and get on to a more positive note!

Apps that I just downloaded that seem to be pretty slick:

1. FreeMemory - A freebie that is a very useful "menu bar" app, letting you easily see memory usage. This is especially useful when running VM's, and also when you are not sure what apps are hogging memory.

2. Caffeine - this is another freebie. It forces your make to stay awake indefinitely (or different intervals).

3. There will be many many more downloads of the freebies!

Paid apps that I am considering:

1. Moom - it lets you hover over the green maximize window button.  It presents another pop up menu that allows you to easily maximize to the full screen, similar to what happens on a PC when you maximize (by default, maximizing windows just makes them somewhat bigger).

2. Air Display - lets you add a second monitor wirelessly. I downloaded this for my iPad (it was free) which works with a Windows 7 machine.  Before I buy this app ($20) I want to find out if I can basically share a monitor between a PC and Mac, which would be very useful.  Currently I am using Chicken of the VNC when I need to go back to my PC (which is admittedly rare). Chicken of the VNC is horrible from a resolution / color perspective.  It would also be nice to let the PC have the ability to use a monitor, and have the Mac take it over when needed.

3. Again, many more... so much out there to explore!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year- The Mac Adventures Continue

I had a brief hiatus on the blog due to a) the holidays and associated hustle/bustle, b) some minor health issues (out of commission for a few weeks), and c) Modern Warfare 3 / Skyrim on the Xbox 360 (a guy has to get some down time!).

The good news is I am back in the swing of things and thought I would do a "Happy New Year" post, along with what I've been up to over the last few months.

You may remember my last blog left off on my joys with using Final Cut Pro (version 7). I have continued to dabble and play around with media editing- including video and photo. But I've also been continuing to all but eliminate my PC from the mix.

For the month of December I have to admit I reverted back to the PC on occasion.  The PC has the larger screen and I found myself jumping on it vs. opening up the laptop. There really wasn't any reason other than enjoying the nice big screen... and one other semi-critical thing: the printer driver. Tis the season to print coupons... as much as I hate to waste paper.

Since I had some time off at the end of the year, I decided to make a couple more adjustments to my setup. I went over to best buy and purchased the adapter to extend my desktop to the larger screen.  It's still not quite the same because my keyboard is on the laptop screen... but now I can easily do browsing, netflix, etc.

After that I decided to try and get my Lexmark Prevail 705 Pro printer going. I had some difficulty trying to figure it out myself (similar to the PC) so I gave the technical support chat a try. I was up and running within 5 minutes.  Great experience and I really appreciate Lexmark's customer service. The printer seems to work just as well on my Mac as it does my other PC's.

I also finally took the plunge and found a great price on a memory upgrade $40 for 8 GB. I'm still patiently waiting for external thunderbolt drives for my VM's, but those aren't quite out yet (at least according to the Best Buy salesman).

On a related note, I did some ASP.NET development from my VMWare Fusion in Unity mode... It worked great, even with only 4gb RAM. It was good enough to write a small web application (single web form), complete with debugging.

Still quite happy with the purchase and I don't have much reason to keep the PC on at this point. It's still there for a few things like the Microsoft Zune software, because I havent' taken the time to load that into VMWare Fusion yet. It also has the external USB drives tethered to it for backing up over the network. I think I may leave it primarily for that task for the time being, at least until I get a good USB hub that I can easily plug in to the MBP.  Would be nice if there was a good docking station solution so I don't have all the cables to contend with.  Apple has a nice monitor that is thunderbolt and has a lot of USB connections so that may be the answer- I would just need to plug in my thunderbolt and power adapter and be all set. But then that's more $$$ that I don't want to spend right now... :)

It's good to be back and I plan on publishing a few more articles.  What is coming next?


One of the things that I look forward to every year is a conference called codemash (   This conference was started several years back and I had the fortune of being one of the people that helped with some of the initial ideas (I think it was Drew Robbins who got everyone on a conference call to hash out the details of the v1.0, if memory serves correctly). I think the first year there might have been 150 or 200 in attendance. The event has grown to over 1200 (probably 1500 by the time you add in all the speakers and vendors) and registration sold out in 20 minutes this year.  I am not involved in the planning but did some speaking in the early years on topics such as ASP.NET and Agile, and have been an attendee ever since. It's great to see how the conference has grown over the years.

Anyway, I digress and I'll get to the point. The attendees that go to Codemash are a varied bunch. Other than enjoying bacon and hot sauce, the whole point of the conference is not to get religious about which programming language is better... in fact it is just the opposite. It's to see what other technologies are doing, how to leverage some of those concepts, and of course to meet some of the sharpest / most interesting people in the industry.  Many of those people use Macs (even the .NET guys like me) and tend to be innovators. So, I'll be keeping an eye out for anyone using an MBP.  Who knows, maybe there will even be an "open spaces" topic for people wanting to learn more about development on an MBP.  I will be taking notes and plan to post what I hear / learn on this blog.

And yes, if you see me there I will most certainly have my MBP and will be leaving my Windows 7 work laptop in the room (if I even take it at all).

Happy New Year and enjoy 2012!!!