Category: The Mac Observer

Ulysses gains WordPress publishing support, other features

I’ve mentioned that pretty much every word I write for Macworld and The Mac Observer is done on Ulysses — a terrific Mac and iOS app. I use it because of its great support for Markdown and for its excellent synching capabilities, as well as the clean, focused writing experience it provides.

With version 2.6, Ulysses gains the ability to publish directly to WordPress. According to the press release, “Bloggers will be able to publish their texts with just a few clicks or taps; no more exporting as HTML or Markdown, no cumbersome pasting to the WordPress backend. Bloggers can add tags, categories, excerpts and featured images, even schedule a publishing time, and preview their posts – all from within Ulysses.”

The new version also adds full support for Dropbox; the iOS version gets the “Quick Open” feature of the Mac app; and it introduces “Typewriter Mode” for an even more focuses writing environment.

Ulysses is a 2016 Apple Design Award winner. The update is free for all existing customers. The Mac app is available for $44.99 on the Mac App Store. The universal iOS version is available for $24.99 on the App Store.

For me, the update also fixed a crash-on-open bug with the macOS Sierra public beta.

SolarTab Review: A bright spot in outdoor charging solutions

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: The SolarTab is the best solution I’ve seen for using solar energy to charge your gear in the wild. The problem is, with the ubiquity of cheap, high-capacity external batteries, I’d pretty much written off solar chargers as obsolete. But more on that later.

A bright spot in solar charging

The SolarTab combines a high-capacity 13,000 mAh battery with a 5.5W, mono-crystalline silicon solar charger. The “mono” part is important. Older solar chargers use poly-crystalline panels—the ones with that fish scale look. Mono-crystalline chargers are much more efficient at turning light into energy.

The company says the SolarTab’s turns 21 percent of the sunlight it receives into energy; that’s right near the top of the charts for consumer-grade — even residential — panels. Commercial grade and “concentrator” panels have higher efficiency, but you wouldn’t want to carry them around, even if you could afford them.

It’s also the best packaged solar charger I’ve seen. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an iPad — its dimensions are almost identical, and in its protective case, it’s a dead ringer for one. This makes it a breeze to slip into a backpack or travel case — if you can fit your iPad, you can fit a SolarTab. It’s a sleek, slim alternative to the traditional canvas, foldable solar chargers that dominate the market.

Read the rest of this article on The Mac Observer.

Goodbye to Macworld, but not to those who made it great

One of the mainstays in Mac publishing is no more. Macworld will cease publishing the print version of its magazine after the November edition. It says the web version will continue publication.

The company also laid off most of its staff.

The news began breaking yesterday on Twitter, with several of Macworld’s editorial staff posting that they had been let go.

Macworld Layoff TweetsIn addition to Roman Loyola, Macworld laid off Dan Frakes, Phillip Michaels and Dan Moren. Senior Vice President and Editorial Director Jason Snell announced he was leaving the company in a decision that had been made prior to the layoffs; Serenity Caldwell also posted that she had given notice last week, and would be leaving the magazine at the end of the month. Dan Miller posted that he would be “here for another month to assist with the transition.” Senior Editor Chris Breen apparently remains the only “big name” writer left with the publication.

Continue reading

Where to find me at Macworld/iWorld 2013

I’ll be making a few appearances at this year’s Macworld/iWorld Conference in San Francisco next week. I always love meeting readers/listeners, so if you spot me, please take a minute to say hi.

Here’s where I’ll be:

  • Thursday, Jan. 31st, 1-1:45: TT803: Tech vs. Wild: Surviving Your Next Campout (and Other Natural Disasters) with High Tech Gear
  • Friday, February 1st, 3-3:45: TT843: iTravel Well: Troubleshooting Your Tech Travel
  • Friday, February 1st, 9PM-?: Cirque du Mac featuring the Macworld All-Star Band (If you see me on the show floor, ask — I may have a ticket or two.)

SPOT Connect Delivers Peace of Mind—via Satellite

As any good scout will tell you, the best way out of a bad situation is to be prepared. But how do you call for help if your adventures take you beyond the reach of the nearest cell tower? As Contributing Editor Chuck La Tournous discovered, a company called SPOT offers a clever way of combining the reach of a satellite communicator with the power of your smartphone. And it might just save your life.

You can read the full review at The Mac Observer.

TMO Review: Scosche RAILkase Makes Serious iPhone Protection Downright Stylish

I may have become to iPhone cases what Imelda Marcos was to shoes. Somehow — and it may be a function of this job — I seemed to have amassed quite a collection of them: silicon cases, rubber cases, cases with irked fowl on the back, cases that can open my beer bottles, cases that can survive a fall off a cliff. You name it, I probably have it.

It was with some hesitation, then, that I agreed to review Scosche’s new RAILkase ($59) — a combination of interchangeable silicone sleeves with a clever, easily removable “exoskeleton” (essentially a bumper with a latch), made of — and this is what caught my attention — AIRCRAFT ALUMINUM. I don’t know what distinguishes aircraft aluminum from regular aluminum, and frankly I don’t care; it’s got the word “aircraft” in it and that’s good enough for me.

Scosche RAILkase

The combination of silicon and aluminum on the RAILkase provides serious protection for your iPhone. The aluminum bumper wraps around the entire phone, ready to take the impact of a fall and transfer it to the silicone wrap to be absorbed. It’s not a new concept, but it’s well implemented here, and the use of aluminum rather the the more standard heavy-duty plastic inspires confidence that your phone is going to be just fine after that sudden introduction to your asphalt driveway — and that your case is going to survive as well.

The Inside Story

While that’s all well and good, there are lots of cases on the market that can make pretty much the same claim. What sets the RAILkase apart is design. The silicon sleeve slips easily on and off the phone, with a not-too-tight fit that still keeps it securely in place. The silicone is thicker than many other cases I’ve tried. That and the sleeve’s silky smoothness give it a high quality feel. Cutouts for the cameras, sensors and buttons are well placed and and the cutouts sport a beveled edge so they taper gracefully to the phone’s surface, maintaining a quality feel. The fact that I’ve devoted an entire paragraph to a silicon sleeve should give you an indication of just how well made this thing is. Oh, and did I mention Scosche includes two sleeves? One in black and one in white, to match — or contrast — the phone you own.

Did We Say ‘Aircraft Aluminum?’

But it’s the RAILkase’s aluminum bumper that really makes it stand out. The bumper (Scosche calls it an exoskeleton) is hinged with a quick-release latch that makes it drop-dead simple to put on or remove. That’s perfect for folks like me who use car cradles that won’t work with cases. I’m also a big fan of the RAILkase’s hourglass shape. It fits naturally in my hand and I actually prefer it to the iPhone 4/4s’ straight lines and sharp edges. Scosche says it uses high impact polycarbonate in conjunction with the aluminum to avoid interference with the iPhone’s antenna. In our testing, we saw no differencen in signal with the case on or off.

Attention To Detail

Another standout design feature is the RAILkase’s approach to using the iPhone’s mute switch. While most cases I’ve seen use a cutout or flap to allow access to the switch, the RAILkase exoskeleton includes its own switch that integrates seamlessly with the iPhone’s. I’ve never seen one like it and it gives the RAILkase a finished, polished feel.

While Scosche touts the RAILkase as being rugged protection, its styling and impeccable design help it avoid the brick-like connotation that usually brings. It’s a great choice for everyday use, and its shape and quality make it a pleasure to use.

Read this article on The Mac Observer for my Pros, Cons and Final Rating.

About those Apple Genius ads

They’re not cool; they’re not “Steve” ads; I don’t like them. But they may be appeal to “non-Apple” folks, and if that works, that’s fine. They’re also the first Mac-rather-than-iOS-device-ads I’ve seen since the “I’m a Mac” spots, and that makes them a good thing.

Read more in my latest article on The Mac Observer.

Chuck La Tournous Previews Macworld | iWorld Session: ‘The Geek Outdoors’

It’s a rare opportunity when my love of technology and my love of the great outdoors align, so I was thrilled when I was asked to deliver a seminar on “High Tech Camping” at next week’s Macworld | iWorld event in San Francisco.

If you’re coming to the event, I certainly hope you’ll consider attending my session. Camping geeks are as enthusiastic about their gadgets as technology geeks, and the two fields are converging in some pretty interesting ways, mostly thanks to the portability and versatility of the iPhone and iPad. Here’s a taste of what I mean.

Let’s start with navigation. Sure, the iPhone has a built-in compass, but I’m not here to try to sell you on using it — let’s face it; it’s pretty flaky. I’ll opt for a “real” compass any day, liquid filled, mind you, and if I’m expressing a preference, I’ll take a mirror compass; they allow you to see your bearing and line up your target at the same time. The mirrored top also acts as a lid to protect your compass and it’s compact enough that there’s no real advantage to leaving it behind in favor of the app on your iPhone.

If we’re talking GPS receiver, though, I’ll choose the iPhone over a dedicated unit — at least for casual camping. Sure, a dedicated GPSr’s battery will probably last longer, but the some of the offerings on the app store so good I actually prefer them to a standalone device. My favorite, hands down, is MotionX GPS. It was one of the early arrivals on the app store and it’s been improving ever since. In addition to the usual features like being able to set waypoints and record tracks, it lets you choose from a variety of maps, track your altitude, add photos, share waypoints on your favorite social media network and more. And while a decent GPSr will set you back $300 or more, MotionX GPS is sale-priced at a ridiculously low $1.99 — and it’s a universal app.

The SPOT Connect device can be a life saver — literally. It allows you to use your iPhone to communicate to rescue teams or the folks back home using satellites when there’s no cell coverage. It’s pricey, but for serious outdoor adventurers who frequent remote locations, it could be the best investment they ever made.

There are dozens — maybe hundreds of apps that can be tremendously useful in the great outdoors — everything from apps that help you identify birds to apps that help you identify poisonous plants. There are even apps that will help you with first aid in case you didn’t do so well identifying the poisonous plants. And if you’re a star gazer, you already know how many more stars shine on a dark backcountry night; and you can name every one of them if you have an app for that. (I like Star Walk; $2.99 on the App Store.)

So what’s a gadget-loving camper to do when your iPhone battery barely lasts through the day, let alone a busy weekend of star charting and bird watching? A good solar panel and an external battery can ensure your iDevice has enough juice to do it all. My favorite combination is from a company called GoalZero: their monocrystalline solar panels are much more efficient than panels of old, and their Guide10 battery pack uses rechargeable AA batteries, meaning you can bring multiple sets of batteries to power your device even if there’s not enough sun.

Finally, on the non-Apple front, here’s one of the coolest ways I’ve seen to purify water yet. Traditionally, there have been three ways to ensure water is safe to drink: boil it, treat it chemically or filter it. All have their downsides: boiling water takes a long time and leaves you with hot, often flat-tasting water; iodine pills and other chemical treatments leave a bad taste; and pumping can be slow, labor-intensive and subject to clogging.

A company called SteriPEN added a fourth method: purifying by ultraviolet light. It looks like something straight out of Star Trek: a small device about the size of a travel tube of toothpaste, with a glass rod on the end. Immerse the rod in water and it lights up. Less than a minute later, you have water that’s safe to drink, with over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa eliminated, seemingly by magic. (Depending on the condition of the water, you might want to remove sediment or other particles by filtering them through a bandana or coffee filter first.) What’s even cooler is that SteriPEN’s newest model features a USB-rechargeable battery, so you can use your solar panel to charge it too.

I’ll be talking about a lot more at my seminar, so I hope lots of TMO readers will be able to join me. It’s a session that probably wouldn’t have been possible without the new direction of Macworld | iWorld, so I’m very eager to see how it’s received.

Oh, and one more thing: Go to this article on The Mac Observer and you can get $15 off an iFan pass.

I hope to see you there!

“The Great (Geek) Outdoors: Using your high-tech gear to get more out of your high adventure outings”
Friday, January 27th
10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.

MacObserver post: ‘Ruminations on Apple’s second “Post-Jobs” Era’

“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” Thirty-some years after he asked the question it’s clear Steve Jobs didn’t just change it once, but several times: computing, music, movies, mobile phones and now the tablet are all vastly different because of one adopted kid from the orchards of Silicon Valley. Now that Jobs is stepping down from his role as CEO of Apple, Contributing Editor Chuck La Tournous posits that Apple’s success in a “post-Jobs” era all comes down to one question: Is Steve Jobs Apple or has Apple suceeded in becoming Steve Jobs?

Continue reading