Saturday, December 14, 2019
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Elgato EyeTV

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I've had an Elgato TV tuner stick attached to my iMac and before that to a Mac Mini for a couple of years. But last week I upgraded to the new Elgato Diversity which, despite being little bigger than a USB memory stick, contains two separate tuners so you can record two programmes at the same time. Int_div_gallery_01
The updated software now includes a form of series link so you can automatically record every transmission of a particular show. There's even a setting to get the tuner to ignore repeats. So far, everything has worked well and I am building up a store of shows which I can copy to my MacBook Pro for when I travel. Another useful benefit is the free year's subscription to the German programming guide, tvtv. I've subscribed for a number of years and found it useful. When away from home you can access the tvtv site and tick off the programmes you want to record. Every hour or so the Elgato software on the home computer checks for updates and adds any requests to the schedule. Last, but certainly not least, the Diversity transforms my 24in iMac into a fully fledged television with all the facilities you'd expect from a dedicated set. Buying the Elgato Diversity has stopped me from upgrading my Humax HDD recorder which, with its 160GB disk and annoying clicking noise, is nearing the end of its life. I now feel confident in using the Elgato system which brings greater flexibility, particularly in choice of disk storage and the ability to back up and copy programming.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

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Icon-led-macbook
The new Cinema 24in Cinema display arrived at the nerve centre and is now resplendently established next to my MacBook Pro. It's taken the best part of two months to get the two together, despite ordering them on the same day. But it's worth it. I now have an identical set-up to that demonstrated in Apple Stores worldwide for the past three months. My MB Pro sits on the excellent Griffin Elevator stand which raises the computer to just the right height to sit alongside the Cinema Display. The new LED display is brighter than my previous 20in unit and makes full use of the 1920×1200 resolution (compared with 1440×900 on the adjacent Pro). The whole set-up is amazing and I'm enjoying moving windows around the two displays. I'm using the larger screen as the workbench and "parking" other windows on the Pro's screen. This is ideal for keeping an eye on the progress of backups, the state of the Mail window or other less-used apps. A bit plus point of the new LED display is the simple single cable which serves the magsafe power, USB and display sockets on the left-hand side of the computer. This makes for efficient and sightly cable management; it also leaves the standard power unit as a spare for travelling. You can leave it in the bag so you don't forget it. It's the nearest we've had to a true docking station for the MacBook line and, so far, it is an ideal arrangement for me. Elevator_2

MacBook and Pro HDD vulnerability

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Another small point on data security: the disks in the new unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros are very easy to remove since they sit inside the new compartment housing the battery. It's a few seconds' work to whip out the drive and this is something that could happen to you, even if a thief leaves the computer. As always, the information on the drive is probably worth more to you than the computer itself. So this is another reason to use PGP whole disk encryption. A stolen HDD is absolutely useless if it is encrypted.

Security and Whole Disk Encryption

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Back in October I was sitting on an Athens tram (pre riots) listening to one of those excellent podcasts from Victor Cajiao's Typical Mac User. This particular podcast centred on data security and whole-disk encryption from PGP. Most of us are a bit slapdash when it comes to protecting our private information. And the modern laptop can contain tons of useful stuff, from bank statements to passwords–even your address book. In fact, if you lose an unprotected laptop these days it is very simple for someone to steal your identity. Even our Government has been adept at losing unprotected laptops on trains or from cars. 

So Victor's timely words were comforting and I have since been mulling over the pros and cons of whole (or full) disk encryption. This is a method of encrypting the entire hard disk, including the boot sector, so that it is virtually impossible to access without the all-important private key. I'm assured that James Bond would have problems. I have now taken the plunge and installed PGP Desktop  on my new MacBook Pro and everything went according to plan, just as Victor promised. The 140GB of data on my 320GB disk took about seven hours to encrypt, so I left it running overnight. 

This morning all was finished and I took the fateful step of rebooting. My heart missed several beats when the PGP box was the first thing to come up on the screen. I entered my private key, a passphrase which I can remember but which is quite complex, and was delighted (if a bit surprised) that it was accepted and start-up continued in the normal manner. According to Victor and the various threads I've browsed on the PGP forums, encryption is entirely transparent while the computer is running: No loss of speed, no problems with software. And yes, before you ask, I did do a complete backup before installing PGP. PGP Desktop cost me about £100 and I'll be reporting on progress over the next few months. 

MacBook Pro arrives

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After weeks of procrastination I finally made up my mind: MacBook or MacBook Pro. For all the best reasons I decided to go with a Pro and keep my lightweight MacBook Air as a sort of portable netbook. The Pro is now my main computer and will travel with me when I leave home for more than a day or two. Having waited so long, I went for a customised 2.8GHz machine with the 7,200 rpm 320GB disk. While I probably don't need the power of this processor at the moment, I always have an eye on resale two or three years down the line. I've learned that it pays to go for the highest available specification at the time of purchase. My shiny new MBP arrived last week and I have ported all my stuff across with no problems. I will report further when I've had some hands-on experience.

Application overload

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It is just so easy to download iPhone applications that most owners have page after page of apps, many of them seeking to do the same job. I see there are now over 10,000 applications to choose from. Many are free (which surprises me, given the amount of work that has been done) but the majority are cheap (under £5). 

It's fortunate I am not (yet) into gaming. Everyone else seems to be. But so far I have restricted my downloads to what I consider productive or useful applications. I like to be organised. I have tried several check-list or shopping list programs, a clutch of book readers (more on that in another post) and two or three outliners and mind-mappers. At first I was a kid in a candy store but I've now realised I have a large number of applications that I acquired in enthusiasm but have seldom used. 

Here is my current list of most-frequently used apps for the iPhone (and iPhone Touch). These are the ones I use every day without fail:

  • Omni Focus, a superb task manager and GTD (Getting Thing Done) application that synchronises seamlessly with OF Desktop on any number of Macs. This is by far the best GTD system for iPhone and Mac users.
  • Evernote: This is without a doubt the best note-taking system which can be synchronised (via the web) with Macs and PCs or can be accessed on Evernote's web site.
  • iBlueSky: Simply the best mind-mapping app for the iPhone. Maps can be exported into PC or Mac systems such as MindJet Mind Manager.  
  • Bloomberg: An essential free app if you want to keep up with financial information or check your portfolio during the day.  
  • NetNewsWire brings together all your RSS feeds and is a quick way of browsing all news sources. 
  • Splash Money: I have been a long-time user of the Splash Wallet suite on Palm and Windows Mobile devices, so it's good to find Splash Money, Splash ID and Splash Shopper available for the iPhone. All synchronise with desktop applications. I use Splash Money daily to enter cash transactions. At the end of every month I transfer the totals for each category of expense to my main accounts system on the Mac (MoneyDance).  
  • Mental Case: A quirky one here. Mental Case is a fantiastic flashcard application for studying anything. I'm currently using it for improving my Greek and have downloaded a large number of flashcards from the Flashcard Exchange. 
  • Typing Genius: No doubt, this is the best typing tutor for the iPhone keyboard. I've increased my two-thumb typing speeds and accuracy dramatically in the last two weeks.  

In addition to these stalwarts I have a dozen or so excellent applications which I use less frequently; but I know they are always there on standby in case I need them. We've come a long way from the days of Windows Mobile and Palm.
  
  

Ideal case for the iPhone

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One of the attractions of getting a new toy such as the iPhone is exploring the range of accessories. Cases figure high on this list because, like most users, I want maximum protection with maximum ease of use. 
Some cases are just too bulky and yet offer little protection for the screen. Others, such as the rubberised condom style, need to be removed every time you dock the phone. Then there are the slim leather cases that offer style and feel-good factor but, again, offer little protection for the screen.
My Sena Ultra-slim Pouch is made from soft, high-quality leather and is of the slip-on type. It feels good and is a real quality item. The disadvantage is that you have to remove the phone for use, even to take a call–presenting the ever-present danger of dropping the naked phone. It also offers little real protection for the screen. 
My current case of choice is the Griffin Elan Form case which has a removable lower half to enable docking, plus a substantial clear-plastic screen cover that, surprisingly, doesn't make touch input difficult. The outer shell is covered in what I thought was a plastic leather-look but, according to the sales blurb, is actually a real leather coating. It looks good, whatever it is. 
I am also a fan of the Power Support Anti-Glare film for the screen. This is much better, in my opinion, than he crystal cover from the same manufacturer. The anti-glare has a slightly textured surface which does not attract finger marks but makes navigation and touch input more accurate and satisfying. What's more, this is one screen protector that is easy to apply. Getting rid of the air bubbles is easy on the iPhone because the hard glass screen can take more pressure from a credit card, the accepted implement for smoothing. This is one screen cover that actually improves the appearance while vastly improving the tactile feel and preventing smudges.
The anti-glare screen and the harder plastic screen insert of the Griffin case creates a very well-protected phone while input is only slightly impaired. For serious use, it is easy enough to slide off the bottom half of the case and remove the plastic cover. Incase make a similar two-part slider case but it does not have the hard plastic screen cover, thus leaving the phone more vulnerable.

On-the-hoof computing

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The arrival of the iPhone has completely changed my view of on-the-move computing. Up to this year I would have been convinced that something light and heftable, such as the MacBook Air. I put my money down and bought a first-generation Air. In many ways the Air is excellent–light weight, thin but with a useful size screen. I carried it around for some months and thought I had finally cracked the problem of on-the-move computing.
The iPhone is just so capable and is the better companion for day-to-day travels. The keyboard is a shortcoming, of course, but the iPhone represents an all-in-one communication and entertainment device. For email, task management (Omni Focus) and internet browsing, the iPhone offers all that you could expect from such a small device. I have had several iPods before, but have never been a great one for on-the-move music. 
Now, since getting my iPhone 3G I have  discovered podcasting and now regularly listen to the casts on my daily walks and on longer journeys. It's a good feeling to be organised and have everything you need in your pocket. As the iPhone and it's major competitors develop greater functionality and easy of use, this positive user experience can only improve. 

iPhone wishlist

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After several months with the iPhone 3G I am still amazed by the utility of this device. It does almost everything well and provides hours of entertainment. There are one of two shortcomings, however.  One is the lack of cut-and-paste. We have been waiting for this to be added in the last two software updates, but it seems to be low down on Apple's list. 
The second problem is the absence of multi-tasking (except in relation to phone and iPod functions). I seem to spend a lot of time waiting for my frequently-used applications (such as OmniFocus, Bloomberg, Splash Money) to load. Switching frequently between applications is a pain because the current application must close and the new one must open. Having been used to multi-tasking on my old Treo 750 (with Windows Mobile) I miss the advantage.  
However, by far the biggest improvement would be the addition of support for an external keyboard. This could take the form of a small, foldable device similar to those available for PDAs and many phones. Or a bluetooth link to the existing Apple bluetooth keyboard would be ideal. This lightweight aluminium keyboard is small and packable and would perfectly complement the iPhone 3G equipped with a simple prop stand.

White phone appears

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I have now acquired my second iPhone, linked to a contract with Vodafone Greece (the local Apple partner). This time I chose a white one to differentiate between the Greek phone and the black O2 London phone. On balance, having played with both, I think I prefer white. Somehow the phone looks slimmer and sleeker. 

The reason I've had to get another phone is that my UK phone is locked to O2 and I wasn't interested in jail-breaking it to work with a local Greek network. I need a contract SIM while in Greece because roaming costs, particularly for data, are prohibitive. 

There's a bonus in all this. The new bar of white chocolate in completely unlocked. The Greek phone market doesn't indulge in locking. The concept is alien and, I suspect, is illegal as it is in some other European countries. So I have a completely open phone which, if I wish, I can use with the O2 SIM card in England. I will probably do this because keeping the data of some applications synced between two phones can be a pain. 

Downside is cost. The unlocked phone cost €400 and the €40-a-month (for twelve months) contract is miserly when compared with O2's £35 offering. I get 100 minutes, 150 SMS and 500GB of data in Greece. That compares with 600 minutes, 500 SMS and unlimited data in England and, interestingly, the O2 minutes and texts roll over to the following month. So after a month's absence I have 1,200 minutes to play with.

I'm now fully operational in at least two countries. The problem comes when I visit a third country: do I use the O2 or the Vodafone SIM? I need to spend some time comparing roaming rates and, more importantly, roaming data bundles. More on this when I've done my homework.