May 19, 2010

My review of the 15-inch MacBook Pro (2010)

I've been pretty singularly focused on the iPad since its release, having finished my iPad Pocket Guide (due in stores likely in the next week or so!) and now working on a Take Control ebook about the iPad.

But while I was writing the Pocket Guide, Apple sent me a new 15-inch MacBook Pro review unit, which I used for several weeks while finishing the book. The switch from my 2006 MacBook Pro was painless: I used Migration Assistant on the new laptop to set up my working environment, copied from an external hard drive that had a backup of my hard disk. The fact that I was able to do this easily in the midst of a tight deadline says a lot.

The improved speed and increased memory was much appreciated: I package my print books, which means I do all the writing and layout, so I write directly within InDesign and use Photoshop for processing screen shots. Although the new setup didn't make me write faster (I'm still looking for that particular magic button), it did eliminate some of the little pauses and annoyances I was seeing on my old machine.

I'm happy to report that the new MacBook Pro is nice and speedy: I ended up buying one to replace my 2006 model. I figured I would be buying a new main Mac this year anyway, so the timing worked out nicely. My thoughts on its performance, and particularly how the new graphics-switching technology works, is now online in my latest Seattle Times column: "MacBook Pro makes another jump into the future".

11:01 PM in Articles and Books, Books, Cool Stuff, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2010

Increase Your iPad Media Storage for Just $49

[This post also appears at TidBITS.]

Here's a cool iPad tip suggested by one of our awesome TidBITS readers. Commenter "Mikey" asks:

Can you use the SD Card Adapter to watch or import h.264 movies?

The idea is that if you watch many movies or other video content, you'd want a lot of storage on your iPad. The base model, $500 Wi-Fi only iPad with 16 GB of storage isn't too roomy once you start throwing media files onto it. But paying $100 more for the 32 GB model, or $200 more for the 64 GB model, may not be in your price range.

What if you could increase that storage for just $49 instead?

Using Apple's $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit and a $20 8 GB SD memory card (or several), you can take an iPad on vacation without lugging a laptop, and still carry more movies than would fit on the iPad by itself. You could also repurpose older, lower-capacity SD cards you may not be using anymore.

The iPad camera kit is designed primarily to import digital photos directly from an SD card or a camera, but because most digital cameras now shoot video as well as still images, incoming video files are supported on the iPad, too. (Although not all formats will run; I discovered I could import clips from a Flip MinoHD video recorder to the iPad using the USB connector module of the kit, but couldn't play them on the iPad. Movies purchased from the iTunes Store, which are wrapped in Apple's FairPlay digital rights management scheme, won't play using the following method.)

To take advantage of this capability, load up the memory card with movies. Let's say you'll be gone for a couple of weeks and want to take just the iPad. Before you leave, encode titles from your DVD collection using a tool such as HandBrake, which offers a convenient Apple TV encoding preset. When a file is created, copy it to the DCIM folder on the SD card. I also successfully tested a short 720p HD video, exported from iMovie at the HD setting.

Eject the card from the computer and insert it into the SD camera connector, which opens the Photos app in the Camera pane. You can't watch a movie directly from the memory card, but you can copy it to the iPad's photo library. Tap to select the movie you want to watch, tap the Import button, and then tap the Import Selected option that appears.

After the movie copies, you'll find it in the Last Import collection under the Albums pane (as well as the Events pane if you normally sync the iPad's photos with iPhoto). The movie stays within the Photos app, not in the Videos app. Tap its icon to start playing it.

After you've watched that movie, you can delete it from the iPad's memory by tapping the Trash button at the far right edge of the toolbar. Then load another movie from the SD memory card and watch it at your leisure.

Other card capacities are available: A 16 GB card runs about $48 currently. 32 GB cards are also available, but at $96 the cost savings over upgrading the iPad diminishes.

People are looking at the iPad as a laptop replacement, and although this trick doesn't tackle other issues such as effectively working with business documents or printing, it can be good for travelers with long stretches of time that needs to be filled. Instead of bringing a laptop, with its capacious hard drive, you can bring just the iPad and a pocket full of inexpensive SD memory cards.

07:08 AM in Articles and Books, Cool Stuff, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 09, 2010

I think I've figured out the Big Deal about the iPad

One difficult thing about being a tech writer and having an iPad is answering the questions, "Why would I want one?" and "Will it replace my laptop?" Well, I think I've finally figured out why the iPad is a Big Deal: it's a spontaneous computing device. Read more in my Seattle Times column this week.

10:16 PM in Articles and Books, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 07, 2010

Free Sample Chapter of My iPad Pocket Guide

The iPad was released last weekend, and to celebrate I've made an excerpt from my book The iPad Pocket Guide available as a free download from (You need to click the "Sample Content" tab toward the bottom of the page to access the download link.)

As I mentioned previously, I've been working on the book without an iPad in hand, which only goes so far. I was not one of the fortunate early reviewers, so I received my iPad on Saturday along with a few hundred thousand other people.

Waiting for iPad DeliveryIn fact, I wasn't leaving anything to chance. In addition to preparing the first chapter for the excerpt, I ended up writing the Seattle Times review of the iPad (assigned at the last minute). So, to make sure UPS didn't have trouble finding my house, I printed and made some signs pointing the right direction and hung them a block away. I also set up a lawn chair and waited.

It's funny that I chose to have the iPad delivered when I ordered, versus picking it up at an Apple retail store, because I didn't want to potentially spend hours in line (as I did during the iPhone 3G launch). And so, I ended up outside in the cold anyway.

Fortunately, the UPS driver arrived fairly early (cackling all the way down the street seeing me waiting for him) and I finally got my own iPad. Good thing, too! I ended up making a few structural changes to the chapter based on hands-on use.

(I also made an error. When discussing Multi-Touch gestures, I used the iPod app as an example of shaking the iPod to do something - in that case, it was to shuffle the song playback, a feature that did not, in fact, migrate from the iPhone to the iPad. I've sent an updated PDF to my editor, so hopefully the error will be fixed by the time you read this.)

The iPad is a very cool product, and, I believe, represents major changes for Apple and for computing. I'm excited to be working on this book (even on a speedy timeline) and having fun exploring and writing about the iPad.

02:32 AM in Articles and Books, Books, Cool Stuff, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 24, 2010

Making Technology Easier

I think one of the great things that will happen due to the iPad is a renewed focus on making technology easier to use. That's always been a goal, especially with Apple, but I run into people all the time who get confused by the Finder, and application windows, and anything related to networking. The iPad does a great job of hiding so much of that stuff that, really, normal people shouldn't have to worry about.

An exchange with a friend this morning about friendlier Linksys wireless routers made me envision the following scenario, as Linksys helps someone set it up.

It's super easy. All you need to do is attach this cable, open a Web browser...

a Web browser...

the big E there at the bottom...


now type in ""...

no, don't type the quote marks... now specify an encryption type...

well, it stands for Wireless Encryption Protocol, but that's not important, you don't want that one anyway...

because we had to put in in for legacy reasons...

no, not the Tom Cruise movie...

oh just buy a fucking AirPort already and ask your kid to set it up.

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March 09, 2010

My book "iPad Pocket Guide" Is Now Available for Pre-Order

ipad_pocket_guide_cover_amazon.jpgI'm hard at work on my next book, The iPad Pocket Guide, which is now available for pre-order at for only $10.19 and at Barnes & Noble for $10.11!

Amazon lists the release date as June 11, but I'm sure that's just a placeholder. I want to have most of the book written by the time the iPad arrives on April 3 so we can get it printed and distributed as soon as possible after the iPad launch.

Does this mean I have an iPad at my disposal? Sadly, no. I'll be getting my iPad when it ships just like everybody else. I did attend Apple's media event, where I was able to use an iPad for about 45 minutes. (You can read about my hands-on impressions at TidBITS, as well as view a photo tour of what it's like to attend a high-profile Apple event like that.)

I'm writing the book based on that experience as well as my knowledge of the iPhone and iPod touch as an owner and author of Take Control of Your iPhone Apps. When I have an iPad in hand, I'll then go back through and fill in gaps and details I didn't have initially.

10:45 AM in Articles and Books, Books, Cool Stuff, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 31, 2010

A Day of (Anonymous) Fame

On Wednesday, Glenn Fleishman and I caught an early flight to San Francisco to attend Apple's media event where the company introduced the iPad. It was fun to be there for the announcement, not just because it's a new Apple product but because there's a lot of energy and interest among the assembled journalists. (I put together a photo essay at TidBITS documenting the day: Photo Tour of Apple's iPad Introduction, which you can also view as a slideshow on Flickr.)

Crowds around the iPadsAfter the unveiling and presentation itself, we were taken to a large room with several tables with iPads that we could use.

The iPad is impressive, speedy, and responsive. It's also very experiential: you get a better sense of it when actually using it, versus reading about its specifications and features. I think Apple will sell a ton of them, mostly to customers who aren't "computer people." Glenn and I wrote about our impressions in "Hands-On Impressions of the iPad" for TidBITS.

We had only a short window of time to use the iPads—those were unfinished prototypes, with some software features missing (such as the iBooks Store and many app preferences, for example). So as a journalist, I spent much of my time trying to think of what features to absorb and which questions to ask. At one point, I launched the iPod app and played some music. Since the room was filled with clamoring (literally, at first) people, I couldn't hear the music well, so I lifted the iPad up to my ear.

(I couldn't tell how good the speaker was, though I definitely felt the bass thumping at the back of the unit through my fingers.)

When I did, Justin Sullivan of Getty Images snapped a photo of me. I didn't notice at the time, of course; as you can see in the photo at right, many people had cameras.

After the event, Glenn and I caught a 6 p.m. flight back to Seattle.

The next day, I received an email from a friend saying she thought she saw me on The Huffington Post Web site. And sure enough, there I was! No doubt the photo was chosen because it looks like I'm having a special romantic moment with the iPad.

Jeff on the Huffington Post

Soon after, a bigger surprise arrived via Twitter: someone said the photo appeared on the cover of the print edition of USA Today. I jumped in my car and drove to the nearest grocery store to see for myself (and buy a half gallon of milk). Here's a shot of me with the evidence:

Me on the Cover of USA Today

You can view a PDF version of the cover here.

But wait, there was one more appearance: Not only did the photo appear in the Wall Street Journal, it occupied most of the above-the-fold first page of the Marketplace section.


(Sullivan also included another photo of me holding the iPad in the batch of Getty photos from the event, but it's not nearly as good as the first one.)

I can't really claim "fame" from the photo, just exposure. But still! There are plenty of unsavory ways to appear on the cover of a national newspaper. I like this method better.

12:06 AM in Cool Stuff, Macintosh, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 18, 2010

Frugal Mac Buyer Suggestions

My latest column for the Seattle Times is online, which looks at several areas to save money when buying Mac-related items: Plenty of ways for frugal Mac users to save on products (15 January 2010).

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October 26, 2009

Two New Articles Posted this Week

My latest Seattle Times column is online, which is about when my wife's MacBook drive exploded and how I recovered her data: You can't have too many backups for Mac hard drives.

In my most recent iMovie column for Macworld, I look at several methods for stretching the boundaries of iMovie's editing interface: Maximize Your iMovie Editing Space (26 October 2009).

02:07 PM in Articles and Books, Digital Video, General, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2009

Organize Your iMovie Video Library

Macworld has published an article of mine: Organize Your iMovie Video Library. Learn how to mark video as favorites, assign keywords, and get your video library under control.

01:22 PM in Articles and Books, Digital Video, Macintosh | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack