• Newsletter Issue #297

    August 8th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    We’re in the midst of some major changes in the way the show is delivered. First and foremost, we’ve come to realize that our existing broadcasting server didn’t have enough power to handle the level of growth we’ve been experiencing in recent months, especially after converting our archives to Podcasts. So we made the decision to expand our horizons and move to new hosting facilities. The process is mostly complete. There are some glitches yet to resolve, particularly for listeners on dial-up connections. But we expect things to be worked out soon.

    Meantime, if you have a problem picking up The Tech Night Owl LIVE, please let us know about it as soon as you can. We’re especially interested in the kind of computer you have, your operating system and the type of connection you use. The more information, the better. The IT people handling the broadcast servers will make sure things are set right for you. Meantime, you can always download our archive files from our show site, one of the Podcast directories or via iTunes.

    As to our August 4th episode, despite the extreme popularity of Apple’s new input device, we got ahold of an extra Mighty Mouse to giveaway. Our second hour included a long conversation with our old friend Christopher Breen from Macworld and PlayList Magazine. We were also joined by a representative from Crucial Technology, who explained how to choose the right memory upgrade for your Mac. Bob Yakushi from Nissan North America, talked about the amazing computerized safety systems being offered in the company’s latest vehicles, such as the lane departure warning system. A representative from Belkin come on board to talk about the latest lineup of neat new accessories for your iPod.

    This week , we’ll be headlining eWeek columnist David Coursey, who has been favorably impressed by the first beta of the newly minted Windows Vista. Also joining us will be best-selling author and multimedia expert Jim Heid.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.

    If you haven’t heard our program, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives. Enjoy.

    INPUT DEVICES: YOUR FAVORITE IS NOT MY FAVORITE

    A few years ago, I reviewed one of the first Apple Pro keyboards to be bundled with a new Mac, and pronounced it near perfect, or at least as good as a computerized keyboard could get. At the same time, a fellow writer writer took a long look at the same keyboard and pronounced the feel “springy.”

    Now that Apple’s Mighty Mouse is out, the reaction is also mixed. Some find it just marvelous while others find the side-mounted switches an awkward reach. Others seem to have difficulty getting accustomed to the scroll button and the way right-clicks or context menus are handled. One reviewer even declared at the latest mouse from Microsoft was a far superior product, because you could use it to magnify the area surrounding the cursor, even though that feature didn’t work on Macs. So what’s the good of having a feature that you and I can’t use without setting up a PC box?

    While some loved the simple symmetrical shape of the Mighty Mouse, others found it uncomfortable and prone to cause strain on their wrists. A few preferred the uniquely shaped mice from Logitech and other companies, even though they are, in large part, for right-handers only. Southpaws either have to buy a special mouse, a standard shaped product such as the Mighty Mouse or put up with the awkward feel of devices designed with right-handers in mind.

    In recent days, a colleague said he was devoted to trackballs, which, he pointed out, require negligible wrist movement and are thus far more resistant to stress and strain.

    At the same time, some folks adore sushi, but others are vegetarians. One person might top off a night on the town with a dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, whereas another would feel equally happy with Mexican food. The long and short of it is that there is no single input device that works for everyone. You could survive for years using the products that ship with your desktop Mac, or you could try one device after another until you find the one that feels as if it were made just for you.

    Does any of this make any difference? Indeed it does. The right keyboard, the right mouse (or trackball) may enhance your productivity, make you a faster typist, and reduce the possibility of wrist-related stress or even a permanent injury. No, it’s not just proper posture. Of course, Apple only gives you two choices when you place a custom order for a new Mac, and that is wired or wireless. The Mighty Mouse, even if it becomes standard issue, won’t make much of a difference, because for all practical purposes, it feels precisely the same.

    Even Apple recognizes that not all input devices are made equal. If you check its online store catalog, you’ll find a number of alternatives from such companies as Kensington and Logitech. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can tell from a photo and a brief paragraph of descriptive text, unless you have personal experience with a company’s product. Alas, you could take a chance, but after you find yourself returning a couple of unsatisfactory products, or sticking with something because you didn’t want to go through the bother of sending it back, you might wonder if it’s all worth the effort.

    My suggestion is that, before you order anything online or from a printed catalog, take a ride over to your nearest computer store and see if they have any on display. Take your time, and try out a few for size. Does the mouse or trackball feel comfortable? If it’s connected to a computer (and it doesn’t matter so much if it’s a Mac or PC), see if normal cursor movements and basic clicking and dragging feel comfortable for you. Sure, the settings on the computer may not be ideal, but you should, after a few minutes, get a sense of the comfort level. You’ll also want to take a look at the box and see if it’s Mac compatible. Many are, even devices from Microsoft. But even if there’s no Mac software, you’ll still be able to use most mice with two buttons and a scroll wheel without having to worry about the software. You can also try a shareware program, USB Overdrive, which lets you access the extra programmable buttons on many of these input devices.

    When it comes to keyboards, the issue of comfort also applies. Take a look at the two extremes. Apple’s Pro keyboard is ultra-soft and it may be perfect for a fast typist who likes a fast, smooth feel. But if you pound on a keyboard, you might prefer something like the Matias Tactile Pro, which uses mechanical switches that closely match those employed in the original Apple Extended Keyboard.

    There are lots of keyboards between these two extremes, and you’ll want to experiment with a few, and see which ones essentially stay out of the way and let you type as quickly and accurately as you can. I can’t tell you which one is right for you. That’s something for you to determine. As for keyboards, aside from the different positions of the Apple Command key and the Windows key, most any PC keyboard should work fine. If it’s a multimedia device, with extra rows of special function keys at the top or sides, you’ll have to rely on the maker’s software to access those keys. Some make Mac software, some don’t, so you’ll have to check the labels on the box to be sure.

    My preferences tend to vary with the seasons, I suppose. Today I’m using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and a Mighty Mouse. Another day I might use the Matias keyboard, and plug in my Logitech MX1000, a specially shaped mouse that uses a low-powered laser for precise screen movement.

    Your favorites might be totally different, so please take what I say as a starting point and nothing more.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: FAX MACHINES? HOW RETRO!

    The other day I ranted about the gradual removal of built-in modems from some of Apple’s desktop modems. The issue is not just whether or not you can connect to your dial-up ISP, but whether it makes sense to use a personal computer as a fax machine, and therein lies a much larger question. While I know that some of you continue to use fax software, others continue to rely on multifunction (or all-in-one) printers and single-purpose fax devices.

    A little bit of history: The technology behind faxing actually dates back to the 19th century. But the modern-day fax machine was originally based on a device called the Belinograph, where a picture was placed on a cylinder and scanned with a powerful light beam that was capable of converting light or the absence of light into electrical impulses that could be transmitted. One of the earliest practical applications involved transmitting wire photos by the Associated Press.

    Fax machines became affordable and ubiquitous in the 1980s, and soon nearly every business had at least one. As I recall, many of those devices were highly temperamental. They used a special thermal paper available in rolls, and it paper jams were not uncommon. You ended up having to call your customer and asking them to fax the entire document all over again, even if it contained several dozen pages. I was delighted to welcome the arrival of plain paper faxing.

    Adding fax capabilities to a modem seemed logical. You could fax a document directly from your computer without printing it first, and receive them and view them on the screen. Think of all the trees you could save. Alas, fax software, whether a Mac or PC version, was perennially buggy. System slowdowns and crashes were all-too-common. Worse, if you wanted to fax a document that wasn’t stored on your computer, you had to use a scanner or just buy a regular old fax machine. Of course it wasn’t long before someone figured out that it would be a terrific idea to combine faxing, copying, printing and scanning on a single product.

    While I realize some of you still fax directly from your Macs, I’ve resided in both worlds. If the document originates on my Mac, I’ll use Tiger’s somewhat flaky fax software to send it, but I receive everything on a separate multifunction printer. You can get some pretty decent ones these days for something north of $100, yet simple fax machines are still being made. While writing this article, I found a fairly extensive lineup of fax machines in the online catalog of a Staples, a chain of business supply stores. At the low end of the scale was a $65 refurbished Brother PPF-775. For another $5 you could buy new models from both Brother and Sharp, and an additional $10 puts Panasonic into the mix. A computing retail chain, OfficeMax, has them for less than $60.

    These days, lots of documents are saved in PDF format and sent via email. There are also email fax services that allow someone to send you a fax by phone, but you receive your copy in your inbox. A highly reliable and feature-laden Mac fax application, pagesender, supports both fax modems and email faxing.

    Yet despite these alternatives, there appears to be a healthy market for the old fashioned fax machine. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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