Monthly Archives: September 2011

App of the Week: Evernote

Since late in my junior year of high school, I used my computer to take notes in class, excluding math class (it just doesn’t work out the same way).   For the most part, I used programs like Word, as well as OpenOffice/LibreOffice’s Writer to take notes, using a general bullet point format.  This year, however, I’ve been experimenting with dedicated note taking apps, such as Growly Notes a few weeks earlier.  This week I decided to look specifically at Evernote, a very popular note taking tool in recent years.

Evernote works like this.  After making an account with them, you install the desktop client.  Using this, or by logging into Evernote.com, any notes you type will be synced up to Evernote’s servers and any other desktop client logged into your account.  Each note is saved in a user made notebook for easy organization; I usually make a notebook for each class, as well as other important things going on at the moment.  Even if you don’t have an Internet connection, you can still type your notes up, and they will sync again next time Evernote is open and there is an Internet connection.  Evernote also allows you to download their web extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox for easy access.  It also gives you the option of having a menu bar icon for quickly making new notes, grabbing screenshots, audio recordings and more.  Yep, Evernote supports picture, text, and audio notes all in one convenient package.  You can also share collaborative notebooks between other Evernote users.  And if you’re working on something private, you can always encrypt text and notes in Evernote.

The interface, thanks to the 3.0 Lion upgrade, is beautiful.  It is clean, crisp, and easy to understand.  There’s also plenty of organizational option for how you want to sort through your notes, whether by icon view, or more practical things like alphabetical order.  One of the coolest things to me was the full screen mode provided in Lion.  When put into full screen, the app takes up the whole screen, but changes the view
layout to show just your notebooks and the notes you have in the selected notebook.  Once you click to open the note, Evernote pops up a single window over the rest of it, letting you focus solely on the note you’re working on.  There were some issues that put me off from full screen mode in 3.0.1, but those were quickly fixed with the update to 3.0.2.

One downside to Evernote is that by getting a free account, you limit your syncing to Evernote’s servers to 60 megabytes of syncing per month.  It resets every month, but 60 Megabytes of notes is a lot more than what it looks like at first.  If you don’t believe me, this list from Evernote shows how many notes you would have to sync each month to hit 40 Megabytes (that was their old limit).

  • Typed notes: 20,000
  • Ink notes: 10,000
  • Mobile snapshots: 400
  • Web clips: 270
  • Audio notes: 40
If you’re still concerned you’ll go over the limit, you can always pay for the premium version, which gives you a gig for syncing, which gives you more features like scrolling through PDFs, or you can make your notebooks to be stored locally.  They won’t be synced to Evernote’s servers, but you could always use something like Dropbox to do sync them elsewhere.  Plus, Evernote has a Usage button, letting you check out how much space you’ve used this month and how many days you have left in this cycle.
Evernote is a simple, but effective note-taking application that I highly recommend to anyone looking to use their computer to take notes.  You can use the Web client from any modern browser to take notes, or you can download the free client for Mac OSX 10.6 or higher in the Mac App Store or at Evernote.com.  You can also download the client on Windows, iOS, Android, Blackberry, Palm, and Windows Phone 7.

Registering Mac on College Networks

If you’re in (or going into) a modern college, your college probably gives you Internet access.  And if that’s the case, most colleges have some form of monitoring service (such as the Bradford Persistent Agent).  These agents run in the background of your computer, and register your computer’s MAC address (physical internet address that identifies your computer on a network, not related to Apple of Macs at all) and link it with your school account.  While these agents can have the ability to look up your Internet history on that network, their general purpose is to make sure your computer is up-to-date, virus free, and not doing anything illegal, like peer-to-peer file sharing, pirating, etc.  It’s a good idea to go ahead and prep your Mac before attempting to log on to the network, it will generally make things easier.

  1. UPDATE:  This can be the major difference between instant access to the college’s network or hours sitting and waiting (trust me, I have seen it too many times).  Click on the Apple icon in the upper left hand corner, and hit Software Update and see if you have any necessary updates, specifically in the line of “Security Updates” and numerical patches (e.g. updating OS 10.7 to OS 10.7.1).  It’s best to go ahead and do all of them, but getting all the updates done in the Software Update list is generally a good idea.
  2. CHECK FOR VIRUSES: Yeah, Macs don’t have malware problems anywhere near the extent of Windows, though they are not without them.  That doesn’t mean that Macs can’t harbor Windows viruses.  Macs can be part of what is called the downstream effect, basically passing malware along.  However, since Windows viruses can’t effect Macs, a Mac user may not understand that they are transferring malware to their Windows using counterparts.  Simply put, you could have a Windows virus on your Mac, and it could be resent through you via a hacked Facebook post, a bad email, or even sharing a flash drive among friends.  If you’re not using a Mac antivirus, then download one and run a quick scan to make sure your Mac is free of infections.  I recommend Sophos Antivirus for Mac or ClamXAV, both of which are free.
  3. STOP THE PIRATING:  Yeah, it’s easy to download “free” music and movies, or to get expensive software free.  Yeah, you can use things torrent sites, Pirate Bay, and more to get these things.  Here’s the thing, it’s illegal, and some of these tools can catch it.  What’s more, If the school looks at the apps record and sees such activity, they have a legal right to report it to the proper authorities.  Those 99¢-a-pop songs you could have downloaded from iTunes, Amazon, or some other legal source, can end up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars each.  So buy it legally, or just turn to a free legal alternative (like Spotify for music, or LibreOffice for your papers).
Occasionally someone will have all of this in the clear and still not be able to fix it.  At this point, it’s the school’s issue to fix.  But the likelihood of getting stuck waiting for hours to get on your university’s network goes down so very dramatically.  Some other things to keep in mind though:
  • Firewalls can cause problems because they may block the agent from connecting your computer to the network.  I’ve found temporarily disabling your firewall while the process is running will allow everything to run properly, and then you can re-enable the firewall with no problems.
  • Try renewing the DHCP.  For some reason this seems to fix the problem when connecting.  To do so, make sure your connected to the college’s network (we’ll just say wi-fi, but this works for ethernet too).  Go into Network in System Preferences and click on wi-fi in the sidebar.  Hit Advanced in the bottom-right hand corner of Preferences window and go to the TCP/IP tab.  Hit the “Renew DHCP Lease” button.  Once it is done, you should be able to connect to the network fine.
Now all should be happy and bright as you update your status from your college’s network.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or any other topic, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  You can also check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by hitting the buttons on the top of your screen.  Thanks.

App of the Week: FileVault 2

About 2 weeks ago, I said I was going to test FileVault 2’s encryption.  Initially, I said I would review it after a week, but I instead decided to test it for 2 weeks to account for things like updating the Mac OS and apps within Mac.  Here is my final review of it.

Filevault is the Mac’s built-in disk encryption tool that has been around since OS 10.3 Panther.  Encryption is a data protection technique.  By locking your hard drive’s data down with an encryption key (a password), your data is basically masked.  While it doesn’t matter much if you always have your Mac, it can really matter if someone steals your Mac or gets access from the outside.  Anyone trying to look at your hard drive’s contents without the encryption key will only see

FileVault 2 icon

random data and no signs of the operating system or your personal files.  Encryption is generally used on high-value systems, such as banks, governments, or any other systems with important personal information.  While most average users don’t have a lot of social security numbers or credit cards on their hard drive, it’s still a good idea to encrypt your hard drive for the information you do have (think bank statements, Mac’s Password Keychain, etc.).

However, for all the convenience that FileVault provides, many Mac users who do encrypt their hard drives have shied away from FileVault for 2 reasons.

  1. Good encryption encrypts the whole hard drive, while FileVault has traditionally only encrypted the User’s Home folder.
  2. Encryption generally takes some hit on a computer’s resources, though the better the encryption tool, the less of an impact it makes on the computer.  FileVault has traditionally had a terrible impact on system performance.
With the release of Lion, Apple has upgraded FileVault to version 2.0, with 128 bit AES Encryption (that’s pretty strong encryption) and the ability to encrypt your entire hard drive, as well as a less dramatic impact on system performance and increased stability.  With these new abilities and promises, I decided to take the plunge with FileVault 2.  And before you ask, all the pictures below (with the exception of a picture involving encryption and backing up) are all taken from http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4790, so you’re not seeing any private information of mine.  REMEMBER: Back up your data before encryption, just for safe keeping.
First you will need to set a decryption key, which is basically the master password to decrypt the disk.  If you forget this password, you can recover it via a recovery key, and/or user security questions (more on that later).  When you enable FileVault, it will ask which users have to right to unlock the disk.  If you have multiple users on the same Mac, you can pick which ones can decrypt, and as such turn on, your Mac.  Each user account will have to enter their password in order to have this access right.  Once the data is decrypted,

User selection screen (property of Apple)

all other users can access the hard drive as usual, so long as the Mac isn’t restarted or put into hibernation.
You will then be presented with a recovery key.  It looks a lot like a registration key that you might see on a copy of Microsoft Office, or some other boxed software.  You should make a copy of it & hide it away, but Apple gives you the ability to store it with them, keeping in with Apple’s Internet syncing theme it has started lately.
Should you decide to keep it with Apple, you will be presented with 3 recovery questions.  You can pick from a variety of question ranging from easy to guess, to rather challenging.  Of course, these are your security questions, so it only matters that you remember your answer to the question.
After all of this is said and done, the encryption will begin.  Depending on the age of your Mac, the speed of your processor, the amount of data on your hard drive, etc., encryption times may vary.  It should take anywhere from 2-3 hours, mine taking about 2 hours.  You will likely see your computer restart a couple of times, but this is normal.  If you

You are using an earlier version... (property of Apple)

have previously used an earlier version of FileVault, you may see this image on the right asking about Legacy FileVault.  This is because of the change in encryption style from Home Folder to entire disk.  It is better to go ahead and turn off Legacy and let FileVault 2 run its encryption.
Once the process is done, your boot up process will be much different.  Now when you turn on the Mac, immediately after the chime you will be presented with a User choice screen, letting you pick among the users that have access to decrypt the disc.  You will be required to enter your FileVault password (the one you made for it, not the recovery key), after which you will automatically be logged in.  After this, my boot up time was noticeable longer than before I encrypted my disk, but once it did boot up, I noticed that all my background apps (Dropbox, Sophos Antivirus, etc.) loaded up much faster.  Some had already been loaded up by the time the desktop appeared.
Now the key question: how is the performance impact?  On my Macbook Pro, running 10.7.1, with 4 gigs of RAM, a 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, with a half-full hard drive, I did notice a slight performance hit.  Some apps took a few seconds longer to actually begin launching, but for the most part, the only major difference I noticed was the slow down in the start-up and shut down of my Mac.  Overall, I noticed little difference in my daily Mac routine, whether it was watching YouTube, writing notes, or playing Minecraft on my friend’s updated server.  I did test what would happen with backing up a FileVault encrypted drive to an external hard drive via Carbon Copy

Mac asking to be decrypted from a bootable backup drive

Cloner.  The drive booted up perfectly fine, though it did ask for me to provide the decryption key after it booted up before I could do anything else.  It probably would be better if it asked that before booting up.
All in all, I think I will leave my hard drive encrypted, as the performance hit is minor and the security is pretty decent.  If you still feel worried about FileVault 2, you can always try something like TrueCrypt.  FileVault 2 is on Mac OSX Lion and can be found in your Security and Privacy Preference Pane.
If you have a suggestion or a comment, leave a comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com  And remember that you can always check me out on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube by hitting one of the big buttons up top.  Thanks!

App of the Week: Growly Notes

If you have used Microsoft Office on Mac and Windows, you know that the number of apps on the Mac side has been noticeably less than that of its Windows counterpart, probably the most notable exception besides Outlook (which was added back in 2011) has been OneNote, Microsoft’s note-taking client. Certainly there are many note taking apps, but Growly Notes come with the idea of filling the hole that Microsoft has left.

Growly Notes is a note taking app specifically designed for the Mac. The setup is pretty straight forward, with an easy way to organize all of your notes. You have your notes organized in Notebooks, with different sections in each notebook, and then Pages in each section. To give you an idea how this works for me, each college semester for me is a notebook, each class I take is a section, and each page is another topic or chapter in the class. Each time you make a new notebook, it gives

Fun mode of Growly Notes, courtesy of GrowlyBird

you 5 pre-made notebooks for you to customize, a schedule section, a to-do list, 2 school projects, and after-school activities calendar. You can also pick between a fun style of organization or a serious style. I personally prefer the serious style, but you can judge for yourself.

The search feature is really quick and powerful, as you can search all of your notebooks for a term, or just down to the page you’re in. It is really nice that it pops open a drawer and show you in a list all of the places its found that term. By clicking on one of them, it immediately takes you to that section.

Every time you create a new page, it gives you a completely blank page, though you can customize the background with one of their pre-made themes. From there you can drag in pictures, create texts boxes, or put in pdf’s and other links. You can see the pictures, but you can’t read pdfs in you notes, though it does provide a link to them. You can also drag files to Growly Notes’ menubar icon or dock icon, and it will instantly make a note out of that file. And if you just want to make a note now and organize it later, you can do that in the Scratchpad section.

The page layout is pretty freeform, so you can have your main lecture notes in the center, but other pictures, links, etc. on top of the text box, or off to the side. The downside of this is that if you have 2 different text boxes, one above the other on the page, making one longer can quickly cover over the other text box. One other annoying thing about this is that while you have the option to make the text box in list form, it automatically creates a new textbox rather than making the text box you’re in into a list format. Some people may like this, but I find it annoying.

One other cool feature is sharing: You can easily email from the app pages of notes that you’ve taken. You also have what are called “Shared Notebooks”, which are notebooks you can share with friends and coworkers who use Growly Notes (say like a school project, preparing for a special event, etc.). You can do something similar by put your notebooks into a Dropbox folder. But if you have some private notes you’d like to protect, you can easily password protect notes and notebooks from within the file menu. Plus this password can be save in Mac’s keychain if you so wish.

The software does have some bugs to it though. I notice on occasion that when using the “undo” keyboard command (Command-Z), it will undo whatever I just did, and move me to another note in the notebook at the same time. I also notice that if Notes is maximized to full-screen (not Lion style full screen though), activating the drawer will cause it the window to shrink in size, but not return to its previous size after turning off the drawer. I notice also that the app hangs when typing in another language, compared to doing the same in another text app. One last thing is that though Growly Notes calls itself (yes, even on their website) the OneNote for Macintosh, it can’t actually read Microsoft OneNote files. I realize this compatibility is easier said than done, but I think it would be only fitting the title for it to gain that ability. And although Growly Notes has a spell-checker and grammar checker, they’re pretty weak (I got one letter wrong in Connecticut and it said it had no alternatives for the word).

Overall, for someone looking for OneNote for Mac, or just an alternative Mac note-taking app, Growly Notes deserves a bit of your time. The app is available for free on OS 10.5, 10.6, and 10.7 (Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion respectively) from GrowlyBird. You can download it at http://www.growlybird.com/GrowlyBird/Notes.html

If you have something to add to the topic, leave a comment below. If you want to suggest an app to review, leave me a comment too or send me an email at easyosx@live.com. If you want to check out more of my stuff, hit the YouTube, Twitter and Facebook buttons on the top of this page. If hungry, go get something to eat. If tired, please go to bed.

But really, thanks for reading!

A List of Common Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

From its beginning, the Macintosh has been a mouse based OS.  This is no more apparent today than in iOS and Mac’s gesture controls.  That doesn’t mean that I always want to reach for my trackpad when I want to do something other than typing.  Fortunately, Mac has a wide array of keyboard shortcuts, which I’m going to try to cover.  NOTE: This list is not necessarily comprehensive, though I will try to be.  What I basically mean is that I’ll cover the shortcuts for specific, Mac-centric apps (e.g. Finder), a few application agnostic commands, and some that may be general across similar apps (like browsers).  Just don’t expect to find every keyboard shortcut under the Apple-logo sun to be in this list.  Enough of that, let’s get to the commands. NOTE: Unless otherwise stated, a dash is not part of the keyboard shortcut.

GENERAL: Shortcuts you’ll find across the board.

  • Zoom In: Command – (command key, minus symbol)
  • Zoom Out: Command + (command key, plus symbol)
  • Cut: Command-X
  • Copy: Command-C
  • Paste: Command-V
  • New folder or document: Command-N
  • Open file: Command-O
  • Save page/file: Command-S
  • Save As: Command-Shift-S
  • Find folder,word in page: Command-F
  • Print: Command-P
  • Select All: Command-A
  • Undo: Command-Z
  • Redo: Command-Shift-Z (on rare occasions, the command is Command-Y
  • Quit an app: Command-Q
  • Close a window/tab: Command-W
  • Hide window: Command-H
  • Minimize window: Command-M
  • Activate Spotlight: Command-Spacebar
  • Quick app switching: Command-Tab
TEXT/WRITING: These shortcuts you’ll find helpful when writing
  • Bold Text: Command-B
  • Italics: Command-I
  • Underline: Command-U
BROWSERS: These work in the majority of Mac browsers:
  • Reload Page: Command-R
  • New tab: Command-T
  • Back: Command-(Left arrow)
  • Forward: Command-(right arrow)
  • Reopen closed tab: Command-Shift-T
FINDER: Shortcuts for the Mac’s famous file manager
  • Connect to Server: Command-K
  • Get info on selected folder: Command-I
  • Quick view of folder you’re in: Command-Y
  • Open folder: Command-(down button)
  • Open enclosing folder: Command-(up arrow)
  • Back: Command-[
  • Forward: Command-]
  • Change Finder view: Command-(the number 1, 2, 3, or 4)
  • Make duplicate: Command-L
  • Make alias (shortcut): Command-Y
  • Delete file: Command-Shift-Delete
VISUAL AID: Occasionally, you just need some help seeing what’s on your screen
  • Zoom in/out on a page or folder: Command+ or Command- respectively.
  • Zoom in and follow arrow: Option-(two finger scroll up).  NOTE: For OSX Lion or higher, this is the same whether or not you have “natural scrolling” enabled.
  • Turn your screen to a negative image: Command-Option-Control-8.
HANDY: Just nice little tricks to have up your sleeve:
  • Turn volume up or down without the “pop” sound: Hold Shift while pressing volume up or down key.
  • Smaller adjustments to sound and screen brightness: Hold Shift & Option while moving the screen/keyboard brightness, or volume keys.  NOTE: This does not work in OSX Lion or higher.
If you have a cool keyboard shortcut that you would like to share, comment below or email me at easyosx@live.com, and I’ll add it as soon as possible.  Check out the Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages by hitting the appropriate logos on the top of the screen.   Thanks!
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