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Desktop Clutter: How Hazel can clean things up automatically

Posted on by Mike Evans

I've been using Hazel's automated features for years but I am the first to admit that I merely scratch the surface of this deeply capable application. So I was all eyes when I saw that Harry Guinness at Tutsplus has produced a detailed guide to getting Hazel to tidy up my the desktop of my Mac. As he says:

Hazel is a great app for automating file management in OS X. You can assign certain folders for Hazel to watch and then perform specific actions if the files within meet set criteria. Hazel can automatically put videos in the Movies folder and audio tracks in the Music folder. It can also, as you’ll see, do a whole lot more. In this tutorial I’ll demonstrate how to create the ultimate workflow for keeping a Mac clutter free—or at the very least, keeping the clutter organised—using Hazel and a dedicated Inbox.

Armed with Harry's step-by-step instructions I shall be commanding Hazel over the Christmas holidays and hope to start 2015 with a pristine, uncluttered desktop. I plan to make just one tweak to Harry's sage advice. Instead of putting the Inbox in my computer's user folder I will place it in Dropbox. I keep all my current data on Dropbox so that it is available wherever I am and on either of my two Macs (MacBook Pro and MacBook Air). 

Read the full guide to uncluttering your desktop here

If you are not already familiar with Hazel, try this guide first

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Cinema Display: When can we expect a 5K external display?

Posted on by Mike Evans

My 24in Apple Cinema Display is well past its sell-by date. It soldiers on, with no Thunderbolt port and old-fashioned USB 2 connectors, but I have long wanted to upgrade. The arrival of the 5K iMac looks like a good starting point for the development of a really scintillating 5K display to go with the new Mac Pro and with the range of Apple laptops. But, for very good technical reasons, such an external display is a long way away.

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iPad Air 2: Slim, light and beautiful to behold

Posted on by Mike Evans

On Friday I picked up a space-grey 128GB cellular iPad Air 2 from the Apple Store in Covent Garden. It wasn't an impulse buy, I had been planning this ever since the iPhone 6 Plus appeared and I decided to sell of my iPad mini.

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iPad Air & iMac 5K: New toys, new decisions, more cash to spend

Posted on by Mike Evans

The Apple event last week had been widely trailered and it was no surprise to find new iPads and a new iMac. I was disappointed not to find the rumoured retina-screen MacBook Air making an appearance nor, for that matter, any upgrades to the laptop range in general. This rather puts on hold my strategy of replacing my 15in MacBook Pro retina in the near future. 

Seductive display

The new 27in iMac was a pleasant surprise. I was immediately seduced by that gorgeous 5K retina display. Having previously stated that I would never again buy an iMac (a great display to last five years trapped in a body that will be out of date in two) I felt my resolve weakening. I can just imagine this beast on my desk and I am sure I would love the resolution, especially for my photographic work. The problem is, this becomes a very expensive computer when tricked out to my satisfaction. Add the 4.0 GHz quad-core i7, 32GB of memory, a 1TB SSD drive and a few other fripperies and the bill comes to an eye-watering £3,500. This is very much in MacPro territory but, of course, you do get that wonderful 27in retina display thrown in. And if you follow Marco Arment's suggested specification you could shave off a few hundred pounds without serious compromise.

There is still a big snag. After two years the computing bits will be looking ancient but the magnificent screen will easily last another three or even five years. So, again, I have to ask myself if this is the right choice. Had Apple had introduced a retina-display Cinema Display at the same time I would have snapped one up in an instant. It is what I have been waiting for for several years. I understand, however, that a new 5K display would not play well with any other current Mac, including the latest MacBook Pros, so that is probably the principal reason the Cinema Display has again been neglected. It's a pity, though, because it would be the perfect answer for many users who prefer to keep their computing power up to date and don't want to have to lose a display every time there's an upgrade. On the contrary, it would be possible to use the new 27in iMac as a monitor in conjunction with a new generation of Macs a couple of years into the future. On that basis the iMac seems more justifiable.

Faced with these choices, my decision is to sit on the fence a few more months. If in doubt, do nothing is very wise advice.

iPad choice

The new iPads don't demand as much thought. Last year I chose to go with the retina-screen mini in preference to the iPad Air. In the meantime, along came the iPhone 6 Plus which, although not an iPad, is sufficiently large to be a daily carry-around device for casual productivity work. After a few weeks with the 6 Plus I no longer want to carry the iPad mini. And if I don't need to carry it, why not get an iPad Air 2? 

That's the logical plan. My mini is up for sale at Amazon and I will be buying one of the new iPad Air 2 models, primarly as a house device for reading magazines and browsing. It is also something I can pack when I know I am going to be doing lots of writing or editing while on the move.

The thinner, lighter and much faster iPad Air 2 offers a great excuse to upgrade. In addition, I am fascinated by Apple's new built-in SIM card and can't wait to try it out. I now see ultimate freedom from these annoying bits of plastic that are so easily lost. Federico Vittici has produced a masterful overview of the new iPads on Macstories and I recommend a browse if you are in the market for one of these svelte newcomers.

With the introduction of the Air 2 and the iPhone 6 Plus, the poor mini is squeezed. As far as I am concerned, it has almost lost its raison d'être.

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Apple's Cinderella Cinema Display: Will it ever be updated?

Posted on by Mike Evans

Lots of rumours about tomorrow's Apple event, mainly concerning the new iPad Air and the possibility of a retina-display 27in iMac. But there is one product that never seems to get the glass slipper treatment: Apple's ageing Thunderbolt Cinema Display. My 24in Cinema Display has done sterling work for over six years. I wanted to upgrade to the Thunderbolt version but have not done so because, for some unfathomable reason, it still supports only USB 2. 

 

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Choosing exactly the right MacBook for you

Posted on by Mike Evans

Rob Griffiths' dilemma, outlined in MacWorld:

There was my main iMac, which I love. Then there was my “power” laptop, a mid-2010 15-inch MacBook Pro (with the 1680-by-1050 display and a recently installed 750GB SSD), which I love. And there was my “light” laptop, a mid-201211-inch MacBook Air, which I love (and which replaced an older 11-inch Air). So what was the problem?

If it sounds familiar, it is. For several years I was addicted to the 11in MacBook Air. I have owned three of them and two are still around, performing faultlessly. I loved the go-anywhere portability and light weight. Even the small screen I could live with and the latest Air served as my main computer even when travelling for up to a month.

Then I realised that most times when I travel I would take the Air and park it on a desk and there it would stay until the return flight. For day-to-day computing I was becoming more and more content to use an iPad. I began to see the Air as restrictive. In particular, as a keen photographer, I missed a built-in SD card and I felt I really could do with more processing power and a better, larger screen. 

Just over a year ago I caved in and bought a specced-up 15in MacBook Pro with retina screen. It became my desktop computer and my travel companion, despite the unaccustomed size and weight. After an 11in Air you really know you have a computer in your bag. But I now have my processing power, I have the convenience and speed of the internal SD card slot and I also value the two Thunderbolt ports (one feeds my old Cinema Display at home, so I really do need that second port). With its 16GB of memory and 512GB SSD drive, the Pro has never been found wanting. And I just love the large retina display which is a delight, particularly when I am stuck abroad for weeks on end. No longer do I have to compromise.

I kept the latest 11in Air in commission. For some months, I would take it on shorter trips and, occasionally, out for walkies in my backpack. But single-day outings became less frequent. While working with two or even more computers is pretty painless these days, thanks to iCloud and Dropbox especially, there are always some small niggles when you pick up a computer that hasn't been used for a week or two.

Eventually I started taking the bigger computer even for short trips. I now use the MacBook Pro exclusively and the Air is sitting in the cupboard, unused but certainly not unloved. Every time I power it up I face a barrage of updates and I am wondering why not to sell it.

Where from here? I have more of less come to the same decision as Rob Griffiths.  When it comes time to update in the Autumn I will replace the 15in MacBook Pro with the smaller, lighter and more totable 13in Pro. Like Rob, I've spent some hours playing in the Apple Store and, all things considered, the 13in Pro is just about the ideal tool for someone who wants just one computer for all purposes. My only caveat is that I will wait to see what announcements Apple makes during the year but, for the moment, I favour the smaller MacBook Pro. 

 

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Disaster Recovery: Testing your accessories

Posted on by Mike Evans

Yesteray morning, after a tiring Saturday and a short night I stuffed my MacBook Air into the bag for the last day of Eric Kim's street photography workshop. I hadn't used the Air for some weeks after deciding to concentrate on my retina MacBook Pro. I even took this larger laptop to China earlier in the month specifically because I needed to work with photographs. At the last minute I remembered that the Air doesn't have an SD card slot so I rummaged around the cable drawer and produced an SD dongle and dropped it into my Billingham Hadley Pro.

Usually I am a pretty careful packer and make checklists of bits and pieces, especially cables and camera chargers (set off for Timbuctu with your Leica M and forget the charger, you are in big trouble). This time I was tired and let down my guard.

After the morning's tramp around Oxford Street in search of photo opportunities, it was time to download the files and pick a selection. Just one snag: The SD card reader didn't work. Dead. Vainly I rebooted the Air just to make sure it wasn't a USB glitch. But the dongle had definitely dongled its last.

Fortunately I was in a room full of photographers with over a dozen laptops and several SD card readers going spare. Otherwise I would have been scuppered. This would have been a disaster at such a vital time.

So I learn yet another lesson. I knew it already, of course, but I let down my guard: Test out everything before you leave for an important assignment.

Another thing I've decided is that I no longer want to rely on travelling with the MacBook Air because of the absence of a built-in card slot. I now think that the new, slimmed-down 13in retina MacBook Pro is the ideal all-round travel companion. I've had this discussion with my friend Austin White of Thoughtfuldesign.net and he is also ready to drop his Air in favour of the 13in MBP. In his case the main motivation for the change is the retina screen and I enitely agree with him on that score. After working with that retina screen, the Air's display is now a big disappointment. This is especially the case for photographers. But the presence of an SDXC card slot on the Pros is just so convenient and safe. Again, it is a vital feature for photographers.

  The slim 13in retina MacBook Air has everything you really need for working while on the road. The retina screen is perfect for photographers and the SD card slot is vital. In contrast, the 11in Air which I have been using is seriously compromised by its single Thunderbolt port and the absence of a built-in SD card reader

The slim 13in retina MacBook Air has everything you really need for working while on the road. The retina screen is perfect for photographers and the SD card slot is vital. In contrast, the 11in Air which I have been using is seriously compromised by its single Thunderbolt port and the absence of a built-in SD card reader

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MacBook Ether, lighter than Air

Posted on by Mike Evans

When Steve Jobs pulled the first 13in MacBook Air out of its buff envelope in January 2008 the tech world gasped. This was a glimpse of the future. But even Jobs could not have predicted the tremendous success of the Air. It is now the definitive entry-level MacBook and holds its own against competing products, including many look-alikes, which are up to 70 percent cheaper.

Since 2008 a lot has happened in the world of electronics. Everything has shrunk. We have become addicted to our iPads and iPad minis which offer as much computing power and experience as most people need. Instead of sitting in front of a desk with computer, keyboard, monitor and mouse, new converts to computing are increasingly settling for the inuitive and cosy world of the tablet.

With the trend to miniaturisation showing no signs of slowing, is it now time for Apple to introduce a lighter, cheaper range of OS X computers? J.M.Manness, writing in Seeking Alpha, believes there is a case. He calls his hypothetical device the MacBook Ether, an entry level computer that will extend Apple's market share and challenge the opposition while leaving the Air as the company's full-featured entry level range.

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MacBook Air: Incomplete mobility

Posted on by Mike Evans

Freelance writer David Chartier raises an interesting question about the new MacBook Airs: The continued absence of a SIM-card slot. As he points out, most productive work these days demands an internet connection and, despite their day-long battery life, the Airs are hampered by their reliance on wifi.

This is something I have covered before, as early as 2010, when I said that the cellular connectivity was a surprising ommission from the MacBook range announced that October. Surprisingly, this is one of the most searched-for articles in MacFilos so it seems that many users and prospective purchasers are interested.

Since 2010, though, we have seen more connectivity options, in particular more widespread wifi but also the easy-to-use personal hotspot feature on the iPhone, introduced with iOS 4.3 in March 2011. These days, if I am caught short without a connection, I invariably turn to the iPhone.

But not everyone has tethering enabled on their phone and I know that many MacBook Air users would welcome the ability to slot in a SIM card, just as we do with the iPad. What do you think? Should Apple add wireless to the Air range or is it now something that isn't needed?

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MacBook Air: Faster, but not fastest

Posted on by Mike Evans

Reading the glowing reports on the new MacBook Airs could give the impression that the MacBook Pros, including the retina model sitting on my desk, are pretty redundant. Taken in isolation, the Airs are impressive beasts. But just how close are they in performance to the MacBook Pro? Now I have the answer.

Benchmark tests undertaken by Bearfeats.com demonstrate convincingly that the MacBook Pro is still king of the dragstrip. Particularly when it comes to graphics performance, the MBP is miles ahead.

 Just one of the tests showing the impressive performance of the MBP. Read more by clicking here.

Just one of the tests showing the impressive performance of the MBP. Read more by clicking here.

I confess I was wavering when I read the reviews of the 2013 MacBok Air. Had I made a mistake putting the Retina MBP to work, expecially for photo processing and other processor-intensive tasks? Would an 11in or 13in Air be all that I need? After reading the benchmarks I am feeling a bit better. I will continue to enjoy the speed and display quality of the MBP while retaining the "slow" 2012 11in Air for travelling. There's another year in it yet.

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MacBook Air retina display

Posted on by Mike Evans

Why did the new MacBook Pro not introduce a retina display when the higher resolution has already found its way to the iPhone, the iPad and the top-end MacBook Pros? I suspect the main reason is not the the possibility of slightly greater thickness and a few extra grams. No, the sticking point is battery life. When the iPad got its retina screen it had to be made thicker and heavier because of the extra battery power needed. I have no doubt the same would currently apply to the 11in and 13in Airs.

Brooke Crothers writing in CNet explains just why the current update, which majors on day-long battery life, had to be done without the big advantage that a retina screen would have given. But technology, including battery technology, moves rapidly these days and a retina display for the Airs is only a matter of time. Crothers cites research by IHS which indicates that the Airs could be ready for an upgrade, with new Sharp screen wizardry, by the end of this year.

When I wrote last week about my current 11in Air I mistakenly said that I had had it six months. In fact, after checking, I saw that it is now twelve months old and I have just bought Apple Care to see it through the next two years. Of course it is now feeling slow compared with Ralf Meier's new 13in model I tried in DC last week. On the other hand, it is still the same little laptop I was enthusing about last year and it can soldier on for a little longer.

Unless you have an older Air, when now could be a good time to upgrade, I think it is sensible to sit back and wait to see what comes at the end of 2013. I have decided to do this instead of succombing to temptation just now.

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Touch control is better on Air than on touch PC

Posted on by Mike Evans

 Could Apple's pad offer a better touch-computing experience than screen-based Windows 8? James Kendrick thinks so

Could Apple's pad offer a better touch-computing experience than screen-based Windows 8? James Kendrick thinks so

I have never been convinced by the idea of a touch-screen laptop. Even though I sometimes find myself prodding the screen of my MacBook Air immediately after a session with the iPad mini, the ergomonics of touching a near-vertical screen are appalling. As ZDNet points out in this article, Apple has perfected touch control on its latest MacBook Airs. The only difference is that manipulation is achieved by using the trackpad instead of by moving your hands from the keyboard in order to use the screen. Author James Kendrick says:

The MacBook Air recently released is a laptop that sets the bar for the genre. Even with all that Apple has accomplished with the new laptop, a common complaint is the lack of a touch screen. The support for touch screens in Windows 8 is creating an expectation that laptops need to have them. The fact is that OS X handles multi-touch on a trackpad better than Windows 8 does on a touch screen.

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New MacBook Air: First hands on

Posted on by Mike Evans

R1010299.jpg

My host, Ralf Meier, here in DC was quick off the mark when the new Air was announced last Monday. I went with him to the Montgomery Mall Apple store to see if a high-end version was in stock. We emerged with a 1.7GHz 13in model specced out with 8GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. This is serious computing in a tiny package.

Since then I have had the opportunity to compare the new Air with my travelling 11in model, a late 2012 5,1 version with 2GHz processor, 256GB disk and 8GB memory. This is no slouch, of course, but the new Air is subjectively much faster, particularly in startup and disk access and especially when processing RAW photo files.

Visually there is no difference between the two models (size excepted) but the 13in model appears to be an ideal all-round computer and would make a perfect travel device. One thing is clear: The dividing line between the Airs and the MacBook Pros has become less visible. The 13in Air offers 90% of the computing power and experience and loses out only in terms of display. With a retina display, choosing the Air would be a no brainer.

 From digital to analogue: Mr. Trainphilos himself, Ralf Meier, with his garden railroad in north-west Washington, DC. 

From digital to analogue: Mr. Trainphilos himself, Ralf Meier, with his garden railroad in north-west Washington, DC. 

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Airport Security: Unpredictability is king

Posted on by Mike Evans

On my way through security this morning at London Heathrow, en route for Washington DC, I spied a change to the notice of dos and don'ts. Perhaps it has been there some time, I just haven't taken heed before: "All computer protective covers, including neoprene, must be removed". This gave me a few anxious moments. My MacBook Air is encased in a black Speck case which is difficult enough to attach and virtually impossible to remove in a hurry, especially with a crowd of impatient travellers in the queue behind. Even the iPad mini has a neoprene back case and a SmartCover.

This morning I sailed through without a problem. The staff were more interested in my belt than the cases on the computers. Even my camera gear, which was stored in my flight bag, went unmolested. In some airpots, Frankfurt for example, cameras and lenses are often hauled off for screening in a nearby room. Security experts say that unpredictability is the key to preventing illicit items being taken on board. We have no choice in the matter but, sometimes, the decisions are arbitrary. I now worry that one of these days I will be asked to strip the Speck case off my Air. What a nightmare. I would be interested to hear from experts whether the presence of a plastic or neoprene case really makes a difference.

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MacBook Air: All day on one charge

Posted on by Mike Evans

The notebook is not dead. Apple's duo of MacBook Airs, the 11in and 13in, build on the success of the old model and offer what users have been demanding: More speed, storage and long battery life. The new Intel Haswell ULT processor is the key to the extended battery life but the Airs also offer much faster graphics and more efficient use of power. OSX Mavericks, when it arrives in the autumn will further aid battery life because of its improved resource management.

Battery life is not just incrementally lengthened, it has been almost doubled. The smaller model now gets nine hours instead of the five hours of the last Air. The 13-incher will squeeze a very impressive twelve hours from its larger battery, up from seven on the old model. This is a real progress and will be appreciated by all travellers. For the first time, a MacBook can offer all-day battery life to compete with tablets and phones.

Wake up time, the bane of the computer user, has dropped to a ridiculously fast one second thanks to new all-flash storage which is said to be 45 percent faster than before. Wifi speeds have been trebled when communicating with the new AirPort Extreme which features 802.11ac technology.

There is good news on the price front. The 11in Air now gets a 128GB SSD, twice that in the old model, at the same price as before, $999. The larger model with the base 128GB disk comes in $100 cheaper than before, at $1,099, and you can grab a larger 256GB SDD for only $200 more.

Is it worth upgrading? This depends entirely on the age of your Air. If you are behind a generation or two it is certainly a good time to invest. On the other hand, as in my case, my 11in Air is only six months old and I will give this upgrade a miss. I use it mainly for travelling, primarily for writing and other non-intensive processes, so I reckon I can get by until the next major upgrade. I will just have to live with the relatively poor battery life.

UK Prices start at £849 for the 11in with 128GB and £949 for the 13in with similar memory. Again, for the benefit of readers outside Europe, these quoted prices include a 20 percent sales tax. In some countries, in particular the USA, tax is added at checkout.

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Apple Ecosystem: The happy plateau

Posted on by Mike Evans

It will soon be eight years since I gave up on Windows and moved all my stuff over to Apple. I have not regretted this for one minute and the addition of iOS devices has been icing on the Mac cake. The ability to sync a number of disparate devices via iCloud or Dropbox is something we now take for granted. Not only because it exists because, with few exceptions, it just works. Possessed of a modicum of common sense, we are now highly unlikely to lose important data than was the case five years ago.

Rumours of new products continue, of course, but for once I can say truthfully that I am satisfied with what I have. My 15in MacBook Pro Retina is the best computer I have ever owned; and the one-year-old 11in Air is by far the best travelling Mac ever. The iPhone 5 does its job and never fails to impress. Frankly, I am not sure what new features I would want.

I am also deleriously happy with the iPad mini and rate it the best iPad so far. Sure, it has its shortcomings in the screen department; no one would argue that it is as good as the retina display on the large iPad. But it does its job in all lighting conditions and I willingly trade off a lower resolution screen in exchange for the light weight and perfect screen size.

It would not worry me if a retina-equipped mini is delayed to 2014, although Apple Insider hints this morning that we could see two new retina mini versions, one in the third quarter of 2013 and an enhanced version, with faster processor, in the first quarter of 2014. I will certainly update but I am convinced I will stick with the smaller-sized iPad. The mini is the perfect tablet in my book.

I never thought I would say this. But I am indeed content here in the second quarter of 2013. I am willing to be surprised by new and scintillating technology but I am not looking forward to it as impatiently and as avidly as I did the in the past. The Apple system, both in terms of hardware and back-office services, has reached a comfortable and stable plateau.

by Mike Evans, 6 May 2013

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