Welcome to 2001
Written and published January 26, 2001
Note: This column appears here as I originally submitted it. When published, the intro and closing were deleted and it was entitled Hardware Efficiency.
At 5:45am my friend (hi Jeep) looks out of his hotel window and sees the line is already forming outside Moscone. Time for him to get down there, oversize umbrella in hand - just in case the prediction of rain comes true. From about 8:30 until 9am, crowds pour into the huge auditorium. The lucky ones the early ones get in. As we're asked to please turn off our cell phones and pagers, rows of hands reach down in amiable accordance. The lights dim and the two luminescent apples glow on either side of the stage, Steven Jobs enters and the applause rises.
Welcome to 2001. The new year has begun! Oh, I know... there's that January 1st thing. Not that it doesn't count but that's just a number. We're Mac users and this is the day that defines how we work and play for the first half of this new year. This week, with my newly published Adobe GoLive 5 Bible on bookstore shelves, I get to end my 6 month hiatus. So Jim and I figured I should do it with a bit about what I saw at Macworld that may increase your Mac efficiency. I'm departing from my normal software focus; this is all hardware stuff. I've missed my weekly communication with you and I'm very excited about this new year.
For a Moving New Year
Had our Enterprise car rental provided a functioning cigarette lighter outlet (as implied), my first communication with you would truly have been a moving experience and you'd have been reading this 2 days ago. I'd have written this to you from the passenger seat of a car, plugged into the cigarette lighter thanks to BTI's $69 Automobile Adapter.
Of course, I'm not suggesting that you work on your PowerBook while you're driving; that won't quite increase your productivity. But this adapter can certainly be a productivity boost if you rideshare or spend time waiting to pick up friends, associates, or kids. They are also coming out with an adapter that you can use on an airplane (if you happen to be traveling first class).
A nice little feature: I was able to know the car's outlet didn't work because the adapter has a small indicator light. Checking it out in my own car later, I verified that the adapter works beautifully. It's also so small that it fits in the cell phone pocket of my PowerBook case.
VST also makes a car adapter and other power adapters. Although I don't have first-hand experience with theirs, I have long known and trusted VST products, such as their battery chargers.
For a Shiny and Clean New Year
I start each new year by visiting one of my favorite booths for an old favorite product I am never without. For years I've been hooked on iKlear Apple Polish (also known as Klear Screen). This is THE product for cleaning your monitor or PowerBook screen, no matter what brand or type of monitor. In fact, Apple officially recommends it for their Cinema and Studio displays and sells it in their on-campus store. Traditional window-cleaning products such as Windex are great for windows, but they contain Ammonia, which destroys the anti-reflective coating of computer monitors. (PLEASE don't use that stuff on your beautiful monitors.) iKlear not only cleans your monitor, but protects it as well. I also use it on my televisions, scanner beds, Palm, and the LCD viewer and lens of my digital camera. (I think Olympus recommends it too.) But there's more...
iKlear is also the clear choice (again recommended by companies such as Apple) for cleaning all models of Macs and plastic-cased peripherals. Ammonia and alcohol dry out plastic so many traditional cleaning products cause your iMac, iBook, PowerBook, Palm, and other computer and equipment cases to dry out become dull, and crack. Apple has even already recommended it for the new Titanium PowerBook. Again, I use it on all cases of all the above-mentioned equipment. But hold on... there's still more....
If your have one of the recent PowerBooks you can use iKlear to remove the key marks from your screen (by wiping hard), then place one of the iKlear polishing clothes over the keys when you Shut Down and close your case. I actually found out about how well it removes key marks when two women told me an Apple employee told them. The idea to use the cloth as a key cover comes from users who reported that they've been doing this.
The 5oz bottle, approximately 750 applications, sells for about $15. I recommend using their soft polishing cloths, about a dollar a cloth, along with iKlear. Or, you can get individual use packets, also shown here.
For a Bright New Year
Sometimes the simplist things are the most important. One favorite find is a simple keyboard light, called the USB FlexLight by MCE. It plugs into the USB port, providing enough light for you to see your keys as you type. It weighs just about nothing because it draws power from the USB port, not batteries. It comes with two covers: clear and red. If you're ever doing a presentation you'll love this light. (I recommend that every Mac User Group have one handy. It helps not only with a PowerBook, but with an iMac as well.) It's also handy if your Mac is in your bedroom and you're a late night worker who has a spouse or roommate trying to sleep. The cost? $20 suggested retail. (Before this, I used an Itty Bitty Book Light, but it never seemed to work just when I really needed it. I've also been the official flashlight holder for guest speakers.)
For a Light New Year
Quite a while ago I got tired of lugging my external SCSI hard drive around with me. Then came the big switch to USB and FireWire, making that external drive not at all efficient for classes on the road. That's where my visit to the VST booth came in. Any size drive is great at home, but for travel VST's pocket-sized FireWire Hard Drive is a jewel.
For a Connected New Year
If you need to work on both a Mac and PC, or have multiple Macs in your home or office, it makes sense to have each computer connected to the internet. If you're using dial-up that's just a matter of a phone connector. But if you have DSL or a cable modem, you need a way to split the signal. The XRouter Pro "Internet Sharing Switch" (about $169 street price) by Macsense is a network hub that provides this connectivity. It also happens to provide a firewall and do away with the annoyance of the MacPoET software Earthlink and some other DSL providers require. I actually discovered (and brought home) this efficient gem 6 months ago when I first had time to check it out at Macworld NY. It took minutes to set up and has brought me effortless transparent connectivity. I already had a Farallon Starlet hub (a no-brainer at $31-$52 for 4-8 ports), so I connected that hub into the XRouter to enable even more computers to connect in my office. (It's fun when friends come over and we all hook into my Ethernet for things like software install-fests. Maybe I am a geek after all....) Macsense also makes Ethernet hubs and Farallon also now offers a hub for sharing internet connections.
Although it was easy me to make a small hole in one wall and drag a 50 foot Ethernet cable though to my living room, I'm also looking forward to experiencing Farallon's NetLINE Wireless Broadband Gateway for wireless (Airport equivilent) connectivity. (It won Best of Show so I figure I'll like it.)
For a Cool New Year
Technically I didn't see the Laptop CoolPad for sale or learn about it at Macworld, but after being curious about it for a while, I saw it on sale at the Apple Store en route to San Francisco. I love this simple little device. The CoolPad simply elevates your PowerBook about your finger's height off your desk surface, enabling air to flow beneath the PowerBook, keeping it cooler. The elevation in the back it just a bit greater, providing a very slight angle that makes the keyboard more comfortable. It also allows your PowerBook to swivel; something I worried about but find that I love. The CoolPad is lightweight, plastic that fits easily in your PowerBook bag and doesn't weigh much. The original CoolPad retails for $19.99. There's a fancier version that elevates the back legs higher but looking at both I preferred the size and weight of the original.
Other Things that Caught my Interest
I make it a rule never to recommnd something I have not used first-hand and liked. However, I'll make the exception to just mention a few things here.
This year for the first time I owned a PowerBook during Macworld Expo and had a vested interest in checking out BookEndz, the PowerBook docking station and can see this being rather handy. It allows you to hook up periferals such as a second (large) monitor, a Zip drive, an extended keyboard, etc, then just slip your PowerBook into the doc when you're working at your desk. The model I looked at, for the PowerBook 2000, looked very solid. I'm faring rather well plugging in my monitor and such individually, but I think I'd enjoy the convenience of a BookEndz doc.
I'm not a game-player and games are not exactly about increasing efficiency, but I enjoyed trying out the new Airstick joystick by Macally. You use it in mid-air and the angle at which you hold and turn it controls your game. It's suggested retail price is $69.00. I tend to be impressed with all the stuff Macally comes out with. Their keyboards are the most comfortable I've found, aside from Apple's own. I have my eyes on the iMediaKey ($89), a fullsize keyboard with 19 programmable keys, and the Macally USB iWebkey ($169), a cordless "Mini" keyboard with 16 programmable keys. These are the first keyboards I'd buy at this time if I had a good excuse for buying a new keyboard.
There were, of course, many more things at this year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco. These are just some of my favorites. Macworld Expo San Francisco 2001 is over, but the memory of it lives on each day we explore the new wonders announced or discovered there.