Things I love: Griffin SmartShare USB slim hub

A year and a half ago I bought my way into the cool club buy purchasing a Macbook.  It’s been serving me very well and I’ve been so happy with it I actually sold my Windows desktop this past fall, the Macbook is now my only computer.  The one thing I always felt slighted about when buying it was the lack of USB ports, it only comes with two.  Two, seriously, are Macbook users less likely to plug things in than Macbook Pro users?

While I’ve lived this long with playing the swap this for that game, sometimes it’s a real pain.  The USB ports are so close that it’s nearly impossible to use a thumb drive + any other cable, and my card reader, yea that’s the only thing fitting in there, the second port becomes inaccessible.  Last night, I finally found a solution.

Griffin introduced the SmartShare USB slimmed down two port USB hub, kind of aimed towards the Macbook Air but works great with my Macbook.  USB hubs are nothing new, but they’ve always been bulky and often offer 4 or more USB ports in line, which again presents a problem if you’re using a larger than average thumb drive or something funky like the card reader for my compact flash card. Not anymore.

The SmartShare is simple and elegant in design and has two ports not connected to each other, allowing devices to be plugged in of almost any size.  At less than three inches long, it neatly fits into my Crumpler bag without excessive cables or plugs.

These small, simple devices make my both more productive and happy.  It’s fully USB 2.0 compatible and will transfer speeds up to 480 Mbps.  Last night I plugged two external hard drives into it and had no speed issues accessing either one of them.  If you need an extra USB port without the bulk of other models, check out the SmartShare.

Use Understudy to stream TV / Movies to your television using Front Row on a Mac

Just over a week ago I published the complete list of websites to stream full TV shows and movies from, the legal way to stream content to your computer.   The problem is, I don’t want to watch videos on my computer, I have a 42” plasma that I’d much prefer to watch TV and movies on from the comfort of my couch.  Yesterday Twitter user @scpi shared a link to an obscure piece of software featured here on Macworld called Understudy.  The article on Macworld is well written but simply doesn’t convey how awesome Understudy really is.

In a nutshell, Understudy is a small plugin that works in conjunction with the Front Row application on Macs (must run Leopard) to gain access to both your existing Netflix account and Hulu by default, other streams can be added in by the end user.  So why on earth am I so stoked for this?  Simple, I can now use the Apple Remote Control to navigate Front Row after connecting my Macbook to my plasma from my couch!  It’s easier than it sounds.

Here’s what I used to make this work:

My Macbook came with the remote, so my total investment was less than $25, depending on the total length of cables you need your out of pocket expenses could vary.  My plasma has HDMI inputs; make sure yours does before starting.

Install Understudy by downloading the package file and double clicking it.  Since the manual for their software is pretty much just the source code for other coders to look at, you should know that’s all you need to do, it doesn’t say that anywhere on their site though.  Understudy is not a stand alone application, so you won’t need to launch it by itself.   Launch your web browser and make sure you are logged into Hulu (free to create an account) and if you use it, Netflix.  In Netflix, add some movies or TV shows to your Watch Instantly queue.  Start up Front Row either from the Applications folder or by pressing the Menu button on the Apple Remote.  You’ll now see the Understudy icon show up in the list of options.  Navigate through the menu to add Netflix movies and Hulu streams, this can all be done by the remote control.  The only thing that still isn’t perfect is finding shows on Hulu from Front Row, as you have to add streams such as Popular Today or Newly Added Movies, so it might take a few minutes to find the exact show you are looking for.  Understanding that Understudy was meant to work with the Apple remote, I can only imagine that no search box will be added, but perhaps as the plugin becomes more developed they ability to add streams by network can added.

To connect my Macbook to my TV was pretty straightforward.  I used the Mini DV to HDMI adapter on the side of the Macbook, then connected the HDMI cable to it and the other end to the TV, this transfers the video content.  Connect the Mini audio cable to the headphone jack of the Macbook and, in my case, I plugged the white and red RCA jacks into the back of my stereo receiver, but could have easily plugged them right into my TV’s audio inputs as well.  That takes care of sound.  Lastly, make sure to have power to your laptop, don’t want the battery to die in the middle of a movie; again if you are using a Mini, you need power to work.

Getting the video to display on the plasma is takne care of, doing it so the laptop screen goes to sleep took a bit of experimenting to get working properly on my Macbook (not Pro, not applicable to a Mini).  In the preferences pane, set the display to Mirror with a second monitor attached, not Span.  On the TV, change the input to the HDMI (this is usually done with your TV remote control and choosing the source option, much in the same way you’d select a DVD player) and you should see the same on the laptop screen as the TV.  It was annoying to watch a movie with my Macbook on the stand below my plasma showing the same thing, but there is no easy way to sleep the Macbook’s display and keep the stream on the TV, but there is a trick!

Close the lid to the Macbook, wait for it to go to sleep, the hard drive will stop spinning and the light on the front will start to pulse slowly.  Plug a USB drive into the Macbook, this will wake the computer up and start the hard drive to spin, wait about 15-20 seconds and open the lid to the Macbook.  The display on the Macbook is now in sleep mode and enables the video to continue to work on the Plasma.

Edit: Randomn3ss commenter joelco pointed out that simply lowering the LCD brightness on my Macbook would turn it totally black, skip everything in the top 2 paragraphs, that’s much wasier!

Get comfortable on your couch, use the Apple remote to start Front Room and enjoy watching Hulu and Netflix on your television.  I will be experimenting with adding other feeds into Understudy from the laundry list I now have and will be looking at purchasing a Mac Mini sometime in the soon future to use full time as a media center so my Macbook can remain my working computer.

Finally! Streaming Netflix on my Mac

For the better part of this year I’ve been subscribing to and generally enjoying Netflix, but one feature I could never take full advantage of was the streaming on demand content.  That all changed today when I finally got the email from Netflix letting me know that I could now enjoy streaming on-demand video content from them using either Safari, or my preferred browser, Firefox.

For clarification purposes, I have successfully streamed video on my Macbook while running a copy of Windows XP installed via VMware Fusion, awesome software by the way.  While it does work, it requires Internet Explorer 7 along with just about every security install for it right form the Micro$oft website and is a bit of a hassle to do.  XP does run fast my my Macbook (Core2 Duo 2.16 with 2GB Ram), but it also caused the not-so-quiet fans to kick on, the ones that blow air up through the keyboard.  Because of this I never really went out of my way to watch any streaming content.  I also sold my Windows desktop computer this summer, leaving me only with a gutted Ubuntu box and my Macbook, which is fine by me.

Tonight I logged into my Netflix account in Firefox 2 (still haven’t upgraded to 3 yet) and went to the Watch Instantly tab where I was prompted to install Microsoft’s Silverlight technology.  The download and install was painless and quick, after that, movies automatically started to work.  I recall a very long delay between the time I would hit Play in Netflix and the time it would start in XP, so I did a little screen capture video.  This was taken on my Macbook, on the Wi-Fi network in my house connected to my Verizon FiOS internet connection which has been giving me a steady 10Mbps downstream since I had it installed.  I didn’t do a full screen grab or include sound because I wanted the video to load as fast as possible, plus in my opinion it wasn’t needed.

No editing was done to this, so you can see truly how fast the Netflix Watch Instantly movies load, play, skip to scenes and then go back to browsing.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKv0n3Qm38s[/youtube]

I’m very impressed.  After the holiday’s I plan on looking around for a used Mac Mini to hook up to my Plasma and stream Netflix, Hulu and run bittorrent off of, as a PVR in a sense.  Hopefully the price on the second hand market for the Core solo models drops a bit more as I’ll also need to buy a 500 or 750GB hard drive to install, but that’s another article next year sometime.

Any suggestions for movies or TV series I should add to my Instant queue?

Review: Crumpler The Considerable Embarrassment Laptop Bag

More than a year has passed since I bought my way into the cool club by purchasing a Macbook laptop and I couldn’t be happier.  At the time of purchase, I also ordered a Crumpler The Considerable Embarrassment Laptop Bag for it, based almost soley on the name and reputation of the company. Since I own one of their larger photo backpacks I knew that everything about the bag would be top notch and didn’t even really shop around for another bag.  I’ve been using this bag near daily for more than a year and figured it needs a review, so here goes.

Laptop bags come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, fabrics and functions, aside from going with Crumpler, my bag needed to have the following:

  • Black in color
  • No screaming logos
  • Dedicated padding for the laptop
  • Pockets inside to keep things organized
  • High quality velcro, zippers and buckles
  • Long lasting

The black in color and lack of logos makes this bag look more like a man-purse or messenger style bag and nothing about it screams out that there is a spendy laptop inside, very important to me, you may disagree.

There is a dedicated section for the laptop which holds my 13.3″ Macbook just fine but will also hold up to a 15″ Macbook Pro.  It has a flap that covers the laptop inside the main portion and padding on all sides.

There is one long zipper inside the bag that is great for storing magazines or papers that need to stay flat and 3 main pockets inside the front portion of the bag.  The two towards the edges are deep and open, one usually holds my charger while the other is the perfect size for a 16oz Nalgene bottle.  The middle pocket is a bit more shallow and has a velcro closure at the top, I usually keep business cards inside.  The main portion of the bag will hold everything else, from books and notebooks to a sweatshirt if need be.  On the front of the padded laptop section are some slots for pens, a small velcro covered pocket that holds my Macbook remote control and one more open pocket which I have yet to find a use for.  There are no external pockets, I’m fine with that.

The main flap closes with two large velcro strips and there are buckles that can be clipped for added security.  I rarely use the buckles because the velcro is just that strong, and in more than a year hasn’t collected those annoying little balls of fuzz that prevent it from working.  The only zipper is as mentioned, inside, and is Crumpler branded, I’ve never had an issue with them, on my photo backack or this bag, it’s just solid and works.

I was a bit concerned with just how long this bag would last, it’s made out of Water resistant 1000D Nylon shell & 420D Ripstop Nylon lining but there is no extra padding on the bottom, which is where it comes in contact with the ground, floor, etc.  Some higher end models from different companies often have rubber or a second layer of nylon around the bottom to prevent wear from running and overall use, to my surprise and delight, the bag shows no signs of wear, anywhere!  The strap hasn’t started to fray, there hasn’t been one thread come loose anywhere and as mentioned, the velcro preforms as new.

The one bonus feature to this bag that I’ve yet to see in any other mass produced bag is the bright colored inside.  My bag is black on the outside and a bright green on the inside.  Crumpler has been doing this for as long as I know, my photo backpack being baby blue inside, and for a reason.  Someone actually realized that if you drop something in the bottom of your bag, say a pen, it’s pretty hard to see down there when the liner is black, so they make them bright, fun colors to help locate what it is you are searching for.   The bag also features a comfortable shoulder strap pad that doesn’t flop over like some cheap bags do.

Onto the negative aspect.  The outside is listed as water resistant.  It is, but since it’s not a waterproof bag and there is no main zipper for the opening, only the folded over top, don’t walk outside in the rain for hours on end and expect the inside to remain dry.  At the corners of the bag there are little openings from where the fabric kind of bunches up that rain can get into.  My bag is used to get my laptop and stuff from my house to my car and from my car to wherever I’m taking it.  If I needed to walk several many blocks to get on a train and then go to my location in the rain, I’d consider keeping an umbrella with me.

At $85 the Crumpler The Considerable Embarrassment Laptop Bag isn’t the cheapest on the market, however considering that it’s safely kept my $1,100 Macbook safe for more than a year, I’m very happy with the purchase and have no regrets.

Reclaim disk space on your Mac in 5 minutes

Last year I bought my way into the cool club with a Macbook and haven’t looked back.  At the time of purchase there was a pretty hefty difference between the 120gb hard drive I got and the 160gb drive on the upgraded models, nothing else was readily available for the Macbooks and I figured the 120gb would suit me just fine.  It more or less has, but I did gut the 250gb hard drive from Ubuntu box I built more than a year and a half ago because it was getting dusty and backed up my entire 60gb iPod and started to archive photo shoots from 2007 and the first half of 2008 to clear space on the Macbook.

For a working computer, 120gb suits me fine; I don’t need 500gb or more of photo archives or movies stored locally.  What I could use is an extra few gigs deleted out of the Mac OSX install that I never use, but how do I do this and what could be deleted?  A few weeks ago I got my answer from an RSS feed in my reader (sadly I don’t recall which blog) that would grant me my wishes of reclaiming disk space.

A very small application called Monolingual installs simply and quickly and lets you delete unused languages from your OSX install.  Don’t know about you, but I only use English, I will never have a need for Cantonese language set.  Running the application is simply, most languages are already ticked but I went through and ticked everything except for English and Spanish (who knows, maybe I will learn Spanish one day).  Click Remove and sit back and wait.  In less than 5 minutes I freed up 2.4gb of space!

Officially, the software,

is a program for removing unnecessary language resources from Mac OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space.  It requires at least Mac OS X 10.3.9 (Panther) and also works on Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

Additionally, should you delete the English resources your install will be FUBAR’d and you will start to cry.  This should be added to one of those few things that just about everyone does when they first get a Mac or reinstall the operating system.  Does anyone know of a similar program that will remove all the printer drivers and devices that I’ll never use?

How addicted to Apple are you?

In the spirit of the Macworld 2008 keynote address which announced four new products and services, all of which can be recapped through this live feed from Gizmodo, I present to you the simple question, How addicted to Apple are you?

mac.png

I’m not that addicted and doubt that I’ll increase my score anytime soon.

Personally, I’m bored with this years announcements and nothing makes me want to jump out of my seat and scream, “I want that! How on earth did I live without it?” I really like some of the features of the newly announced Macbook Air like the black, backlit keys, but not enough to sell my still smells like new Macbook to get one.

So how addicted to Apple are you?

I’m Afraid of My MacBook

As of 5pm EST, I became the proud owner of a brand spankin’ new 13.3″ screen, white, 2.2GHz something, 120 GB of something, and 2 GB of something else MacBook laptop.  It’s super freaking cool.  It is sexy and light and totally full of memory and I have yet to take it out of the box.  And I probably won’t take it out of the box until Tuesday, when I will be able to take it back to the store to get my data transferred from my old laptop.  Until then, I will continue to use my 2001 Toshiba Satellite with no more memory, a broken CD drive, and the inability to delete programs to make more space.

Why, you ask, did I just drop $1500 (plus tax, minus the “student discount,” thank you Hamilton College, your IDs without dates and the $160,000 I spent for them are the gifts that keep on giving) on a computer I’m not totally psyched to dive into?  Because I’m afraid.  Yes, I am intimidated by new, sexy, smart piece of machinery.  I will not be used to a computer that is speedy and doesn’t immediately get a virus as soon as I check my email.  I am not ready to not hit the “ctrl” key everytime I need to click a link so that I can fool my pop-up blocker.  I can’t commit to long battery life, nor to the time it will take to rip all of the CDs I’ve accumulated in the last 15 months since my CD drive broke.  Will I finally subscribe to NetFlix now that I have a functioning DVD player?  Am I sure I want to be able to download and delete programs with ease?  Do I want to be modern and sexy?

No.

I want the status quo until I have the courage to take my MacBook out of the box.  Also, I have an uncanny tendency to ruin electronics immediately upon first use, like the time I bought my Treo 700wx and dropped it when I went to show it to my friends.  Yeah.  Or the time I bought my new iPod, then went to Japan, got on a bike and wiped out with it, getting the headphones caught in the gear chain.  I’m pretty sure that as soon as I open that MacBook box, I will dump spaghetti sauce on it, drop it into my humidifier, get a coin jammed in the CD drive, and then, suddenly, lose the “r” key. 

Wish me luck.

My Christmas List

Now that I’m (kind of) an adult, I don’t really get to make a Christmas list anymore. There are fewer presents under the tree and more cards with some cash in them. It’s not that I’m complaining – money is great – but it’s more fun to open gifts than to buy them for yourself. There are a few choice things I would like to see under the tree this year. Sadly, much of what I would like could be filed under “practical and boring” but, being female, I think I can find some frivolous things to throw in there.

Dear Santa:

I was only naughty on a handful of occasions this year, so I think I’m deserving of the items on this list. I mean, the naughty-ness occurred in the company of good friends and was all in the name of fun. If there was any naughty-ness that was not in the name of fun, I was too drunk to remember it so it doesn’t count. I’m pretty broke, so if you could like, pass this on to people who are loaded, that would be great.

  1. A humidifier. I’ve had this persistent sinus infection for the past three weeks and I think it’s partially because of how dry the heat is in my apartment (it’s also due to drinking). But, I think this would help. This one is fancy and cute and from The Sharper Image. It’s also $150. Something between this and “cup of water next to the bed” would be stellar.
  2. The Led Zeppelin 2-disc retrospective. I’m really into them lately and would love to have it in my music collection. I can’t get “Kashmir” or “Immigrant Song” or “All of My Love” out of my head lately (and I even like some of Robert Plant’s solo stuff). I’ll also take an iTunes giftcard. I’m kind of a music whore.
  3. My computer is dying. It’s a six-year-old Toshiba Satellite laptop that has been very good to me, but is definitely in its last days. The CD drive doesn’t work and I’m pretty much out of disk space on my hard drive. Since I blog, I kind of need a computer (and it’s nice to have a portable one at that). I realize that I could get a regular Windows OS laptop for way cheaper, but I am sick of viruses and popups and installing extra programs to prevent the aforementioned. I just want to buy a computer, have all my files transferred, and call it a day. I want a Mac. Not only are they extremely sexy, but they are easy to use and don’t get all funky from rogue programs. I’ve decided on the 15″ MacBook Pro – it has a matte screen (unlike the 13″, which only comes in “glossy” which is damn annoying). However, I am really sad that it doesn’t come in black to match my two iPods and Bose speakers. Yes – color is important to me. Don’t judge.
  4. Because you can never go wrong with this gift… but I can’t guarentee it’ll last past New Year’s.
  5. A job with health benefits. I don’t think that’s a whole lot to ask for. Right, Santa? And yeah – that’s a picture of Steve Jobsget it? JOBS?? HA! Also, if he reads this, it might help my case with getting that MacBook.
  6. Maynard James Keenan. You don’t need to put him under the tree, just undress him and leave him tied to my bed, please. He can keep his cowboy hat on. Thanks.

Mac users taking over the world

OK not really the world, but the market share is up a good 40% from last year. Mac users, don’t get to excited, Windows still owns 91% of the marketplace. Yahoo news reported today,

Mac’s worldwide market share among Web users increased to 6.6 percent in September, compared to 4.7 percent a year ago

It’s been almost a month now since I bought my way into the cool club and ordered a Macbook, my Windows desktop has been fired up I think twice over the last month. There is still some photos and data, along with music and movies I need on it, but I don’t need them on the laptop. One of the primary reasons the laptop is getting more use then the desktop is because I can park my ass on the couch and watch TV and surf the net. Outside of that, it is merely a tool for me to use.

The learning curve for me has been pretty mild, simple stuff, keyboard shortcuts, working in terminal, stuff like that. Outside of that, most programs I use operate the same for me. I don’t love my Mac the way others told me I would, I enjoy the speed it has and the ability to do what I need when I need it, it is stress-free, that is what is important.

This recent spike in Mac users, like myself, is only likely to grow though. I’ve had my sticky fingers on Vista enough to know I don’t like it. I have to support it for work, but I still much prefer XP or even win2k. Most computer users now-a-days are not buying their first computer. They have time vested, programs they are used to using, things that work and don’t work and ways of working around the hardware not living up to what they thought it would be. In my case, buying a Mac was a matter of getting the most from a computer with the least amount of money. To equip a Windows powered laptop with the hardware to match that of my Macbook, the price was only dollars apart, for me it was a choice of operating systems and expandability, most of which I covered several articles ago. I still couldn’t imagine spending $2,500 or more on a Macbook Pro or even $1,500 on an iMac.

Apple could continue to grow its user base if, and only if, they continue to offer products that are financially viable for most users. The fact that Dell and HP offer desktop units that do what most home users need, email, internet, photos, etc for half the price of an entry level Mac desktop will mean that they will continue to dominate the home market. Not until someone has specific needs do they start to look elsewhere. It is also my belief that, with Vista being as shitty as it is, more average users will start to look into other operating systems like Ubuntu. Ubuntu offers what the vast majority of home users want and need, even though mine is currently dusty, as soon as someone figures out an affordable way to offer support and get some marketing behind it, it will grow.

For now I am a content Mac user who also utilizes Windows and likes to play with Ubuntu now and again.

My $2400 Crush

Now, I know that humans invented shit like Craig’s List for stuff like this… and I also know that’s it’s stupid to spend $2400 just because you have a 30-second crush on someone, but I had an experience today that defies the logic of both of these things.  Today after work I stopped into the Apple Store across the street from the retail store where I work to see if a Mac would be compatible with my Windows OX Treo (that I can, like, barely operate). I wandered around for a bit and was going to approach one of the guys I had seen in my store before, but…

I saw him.

A vision in a black Apple Store t-shirt… unkempt brown hair, unwashed for about 36 hours, scruff, and needy brown eyes.

“Can I help you?”

Um, yes.  You can help me by tailgating for the Phillies game on Wednesday, by cuddling and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation marathons on G4, by letting me play Halo 3 on easy without laughing (do you think he has an Xbox even though he works at the Apple Store???)… or, you could just tell me if my Treo will work with a Mac.

Apple Store Guy helped me by looking on the internet and slightly mocking my lack of technological know-how.  He asked a bunch of questions about my phone, throwing around fancy terms like “USB cord” and “shareware program.”  Psssssssssh, that is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, I am certain.  Then he asked me why my screen was so dim (damned if I know, because it came like that?) and proceeded to pull out his iPhone with it’s super-bright screen.  This was obviously the Apple Store Guy version of “peacocking”; this should have given me the courage to give him my number, because showing off the iPhone was pretty much just like whipping out his penis and waving it in my face (Freud would soooooooo agree).  However, I just pointed out his fabulous taste in Reef sandals because we were both wearing the Sultans (hey, I work in a sporting goods store, I get paid to know this shit).  He laughed, but I groaned inwardly as my attempt to be flirty also resulted in his knowing that I can only fit my ginormous feet into man-dals.  Fuck.

We chatted some more until I saw an older couple start to approach (fucking cock block!) and he asked if I had any further questions.  I could sense the longing in his eyes, him waiting, yearning for me to have one more question about Macintosh and everything they (nee, HE!) had to offer.  And I couldn’t do it… I froze.  I said I was good, then basically turned and ran out the door, which I summarily pulled into my chest before realizing that you push the door out.  We shared one last glance and he was gone, off to help tech-savvy geriatrics talk to their grandkids in Arizona via webcam.

Clearly, I’m going in there tomorrow after work.  If anyone has some shit I can make up to ask him about Macs, please let me know.  Until then, I adore you, my raven-haired, Bassethound-eyed, probably Shins-loving, Reef-and-board-short-wearing Apple Store Guy.  If you ever need a backrub, someone to share your Wii with (the VIDEO GAME SYSTEM… Freudian slip much?) or moderately-priced sporting goods, I’m your girl…