Tips & Tricks

The Apple disk utility is your friend

One of the most useful tools the Mac has available, right out of the box, is the disk utility. This little gem can be found in the utilities folder, located in the Applications folder, in your hard drive. A simple maintenance routine, running the disk utility can often clear up small glitches that might arise from software updates, printer errors, etc. So, how do we use it? Read on.

Once you locate the disk utility, you may want to keep it handy in your dock. We like to run this little utility after every software installation, or even update, and again about once a month. Go to our downloads page to get an illustrated, step-by-step guide on the procedure. Keep in mind that while there are minor differences between versions of this utility, the overall idea remains the same. Enjoy!

Take the fear out of using the best tool you own

Want to know why kids, especially really young kids, seem to be so good with computers? Kids lack fear. They don’t know any better. They just hammer away at those keys until something cool happens. That’s empowering ! If we all did that, we’d all be computer geniuses. Spend that kind of time at the piano, and you’ll be able to play anything reasonably well too.

Fear is a terrible thing. It keeps us from doing many things that could not only be really fun, but even enrich our life experience. So it is for some and their computers. Shortly after the New Year, calls come in from folks who decide it’s finally time to learn how to use that machine in the study. Some have had a computer for years, yet still barely know how to send and receive email.

That’s the equivalent of buying an expensive car, and not learning how to drive. Using a computer is really no different that using a car. Just as you don’t have to be a mechanic to drive a car, you don’t have to be a computer whiz to use a Mac (or PC). It’s simply a matter of putting in time at the keyboard.

So don’t see a computer as your enemy. It’s not sworn to make you look stupid. It will give you as much, and more, as you put into it (especially if it’s a Mac).

The fastest way to kill a laptop

Fluids. Whether it’s a glass of wine, coffee, or a cup of milk — someone has managed to drop it into their laptop’s keyboard. Some have even done so more than once!

Do yourself a favor. When you go to that cyber cafe, leave the “cafe” part on the table next to you, and use a long straw. Better yet, drink your drink first, and then let the laptop out of the bag. If you must drink and surf, invest in either a spill-proof cup or a clean, spill-proof rubber cover for the keyboard. It’s cheaper than a new machine. Very few laptops survive a liquid spill.

If you DO give the laptop an unintentional bath, turn it off immediately (if it hasn’t shorted out already), unplug the charger and pull out the battery. When you get back home, stretch out a soft cloth or towel, open up the laptop, and gently set it upside-down on the towel for a few days.

If you’re lucky, what you spilled wasn’t sticky or thick, and the machine will dry out. Don’t put the battery back in for a few days.

Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you try to take the laptop apart! You’ll never get it back together again, and get it all to work properly. Laptops are very complex, compact little machines. Even we techs don’t take them apart. Nor do the Apple Store techs. Laptops are routinely shipped to specialists who train endlessly for taking these machines apart and putting them back together. Don’t do it. You’ll regret it.

Fluid spills are not covered by Applecare. Pray that your laptop dries out. If you’re really worried, we can send the laptop in for you. But results have been, uh, mixed. It all depends on what and how much was spilled in the machine.

How to kill an expensive LCD screen

The worst things you can do to your screen, other than dropping it or smashing it with a hammer, is to spray something on it.

One client unfortunately used Windex. Maybe he saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” once too many times. He used just enough fluid to make it run down the screen and get into the bottom edge. The screen went black, and that was that. Apple informed the gentleman than fluid spills are not covered by Applecare. (It’s virtually impossible to hide a fluid spill. It doesn’t really evaporate from the casing). The first thing techs look for on a failed screen is tell-tale droplets in the casing.

Unless you want a good excuse to buy a new screen, keep sprays away from you LCD. For cleaning screens, we recommend a great product made by a company called Radtech. It’s an optical cloth that’s as soft as a baby’s bottom. Once you dab the screen with a provided alcohol swab (such as those used for prepping for a flu shot), you GENTLY wipe the LCD screen with this cloth. It works very well, and we wouldn’t use anything else.

Voice Recognition – Your Mac Can And Will Listen To You

Voice recognition is the future, and it’s available to you now for your PC or Mac. You may have noticed that you’ve been increasingly interacting with computer voices on the phone. The 800 number directory answers exclusively with a computer, that will probably find a number for you. Only if the search is unsuccessful will a “live person” come on the line. Same holds true for airlines, Apple, the phone company, and countless other commercial enterprises. The first to answer is the computer. It’s efficient. It (usually) cuts down on hold time, and, most importantly, overhead.

The individuals who can benefit most from this technology though are those who are unwilling or unable to type. Many folks with physical impairments have been using voice recognition for years. But only recently has the technology reached the level of accuracy and reliability to make it desirable and even practical to the average person.

The technology was first developed back in the 50s, when the growing market for automation of the document transcription process was recognized. The market then was principally doctors and lawyers. In fact, both groups remain the target market today. The good news is that the rest of us who never got around to learning how to type can finally take advantage of this technology. Systems that once cost thousands of dollars have been boiled down to a complete software package that runs just under $200.

While the “smart home” is beyond the scope of this entry, the off-the-shelf computer can also easily run a home –monitoring temperature, security, lighting, music, faxes, voice mail, etc. Several macitwork clients have trained their Macs (or PCs) to understand them. They’ve written books, articles, case studies, email and more, just using a headset microphone, the proper software and their computer. Those afflicted with severe arthritis (or some other ailment that makes typing virtually impossible) can finally write again –thanks to voice recognition software.

As always, there are limitations. Due to unrealistic expectations, or perhaps a misunderstanding of how the software works, some buyers of voice recognition software expect it to work right out of the box. Voice recognition is not ‘plug and play’. It requires not only training of the computer, but especially, the user.

Some students will rush to purchase the software, and install it on their laptop with great anticipation. Armed with a microphone and the laptop at their next class or lecture, the student expects the computer to replace note-taking. The the computer is to immediately transcribe what the teacher is saying. CEOs have a similar misguided expectations(probably due to the marketing genius of the software manufacturers). We’ve seen corporate board rooms set up (they think) to record and transcribe conference calls on-the-fly. Again, the software was installed, the microphone was set near the speakerphone, and the computer was turned on. This was the equivalent of buying the ingredients of a recipe for the kitchen, putting everything on the counter, and turning the stove on. Nothing happens.

Alas, voice recognition doesn’t work that way either. One can’t just load the software into the computer, attach a microphone and expect the computer to understand any speech it hears. Most speech recognition is limited to one user profile. That is, once the software is installed, the person who will be using it will have to create a voice profile, reading text into the machine so that the machine can reference THAT voice pattern against it’s dictionary of words. We all have different accents, inflections, etc.

If a person is willing to train a computer (and himself or herself) properly, voice recognition can work wonders. Depending on the software and system you use, it takes some effort. Most clients we’ve encountered with a voice recognition set up purchased it some time ago. It often turns out they gave up after just a few attempts at using it. Those those who had even just a minimum of training, however, realized an enormous gain in accuracy and usability.

So who makes this fabulous software, and where can you get it? Tune in to the next entry, and we’ll give you the low-down on what works, and what doesn’t.