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Entries related to techology in general…

Free iTunes songs from Audi!

A3 PictureThe car in the picture is Audi's new A3, which just launched here in the USA. I was browsing Audi's site last night, looking for some info, when I stumbled onto a pretty cool promo ... Audi USA is offering this deal, but not for much longer:

Test drive an A3, and get 33 free iTunes songs!

This promo ends today, so if you've got any free time and a local Audi dealer (I have both today, luckily), it might be worth a lunchtime test drive. Just fill out the form, print the email you'll receive, then visit the dealer. I'm don't think I'm all that interested in the car, but heck, test driving new cars is always fun. Throw in $32.67 worth of free music, and I think it'll be worth the 45 minutes of sales pitch from the rep. Who knows, maybe I'll like the car, too! :)

Sorry for the short notice, but I just found out about this promo last night.

Multi-button mice are great timesavers

mouse picOne of the first things I tell new Mac users is to ditch the one-button mouse that Apple provides. Sure, it's simple and easy to use, but it also has limited power and you end up using way too many keyboard modifiers to get things done. There are lots and lots of multi-button mice out there, and all of them work (to at least some degree) with OS X: the second mouse button is functional by default, and will bring up the contextual menu -- that's the menu you normally reach with a control-click.

But for the most productive computing experience, find yourself a mouse that comes with OS X drivers, so that you can program all of the buttons. Logitech makes a full line of OS X-compatible mice, as do Kensington (wired, mobile) and Microsoft (check compatibility for each device; some are PC only). But this isn't a post about which mouse to use (I've chosen the Wireless Intellimouse Explorer, used for the icon in this story), but more a discussion on how to best put all those buttons to use once you have a multi-button mouse. So I thought I'd share my configuration, and ask what others might be using...

The Intellimouse Explorer has five buttons (two main buttons, a scroll wheel button, and two buttons under the thumb) plus a scroll wheel with "tilt" side-to-side scrolling. Here's how I have the five buttons set up:

  • Left button: Click
  • Right button: Control-click
  • Scroll wheel button: Dashboard (F12)
  • Top thumb button: Exposé all-windows mode (F9)
  • Bottom thumb button: Activate DejaMenu. If you haven't seen this handy little program, it's a huge timesaver. It puts any program's menubar one keyboard combo away -- no mousing required. I just assigned its keyboard combo to the thumb button, and presto, menus wherever I want them.

So that's how I have my mouse set up. I find it a huge timesaver, especially the thumb button tied to DejaMenu. No more wasted time moving to the top left to grab File when it's a simple mouse click away. In general, I love the mouse and I've gotten very used to how I've got it set up.

The one thing I find lacking in the Microsoft software is that you can't assign custom commands to modified button clicks -- i.e. I'd love to be able to assign Command-Option-button 4 to something other than the button 4 default. I think this should be possible, given that OS X can read command- and control-clicks, but Microsoft's software doesn't allow it.

Anyone else have any interesting configurations, and/or mouse recommendations?

The hidden Comcast higher-speed option

comcast logoOur home internet connection is from Comcast, and overall, I'd say I'm a reasonably satisfied customer -- I've had a few outages, and a flakey modem that had to be replaced, but they've always been prompt and courteous when dealing with these issues. But this post isn't really about their capabilities as an ISP, it's about their marketing (or lack thereof).

A couple months back, I heard that Comcast had a faster package available. Now cable modems aren't slow to begin with, but there's always a desire for more speed, so I was intrigued and went net searching. I probably should have started at Google, or just called Comcast, but I didn't. Instead, I tried our account page on, but came up blank. Next, I tried the Products page from the corporate homepage. No luck there either. I even tried entering our zip code, address, etc., but could find no reference to this purported faster package on the ordering screen. For what should be an easy sale to existing customers, Comcast was making this information very hard to find.

I finally found it, after much clicking, by tracing a convoluted series of links from the FAQs page. In an FAQ discussing available speeds, it states:

Comcast High-Speed Internet Service + $10 Add-on for Speed
$10 Add-on for Speed delivers you a 100% Pure Broadband experience. Super blazing fast speeds (6Mbps downstream and 768Kbps upstream) will help you fly through the Web's most graphic-heavy sites.

Finally! This was the info I was looking for -- for only $10 more a month (about 23% more money), download speed increases by 50% (4Mbps to 6Mbps). Even better for me, as I do a lot of this, upload speed increases by 100% (384Kbps to 768Kbps). Since I rely heavily on my connection, this added investment was a no-brainer for me.

This package is officially called the '$10 Add-on for Speed,' which is what you need to know to order it. So if you have Comcast, and want some additional speed for a bit more money, it might be worth a phone call -- unless you're in the Portland area, then don't upgrade, as I want all the bandwidth for myself! :)

The “joy” of travel in the digital age

Note: This post originally appeared on my friend Kirk McElhearn's blog, Kirkville, back in January, as I didn't have a blog site at that point. I wrote it shortly after returning from the Macworld show in San Francisco, as I was amazed at the amount of stuff I had to take for such a short and simple trip! I'm reproducing it here just so it becomes part of the archives...

wire jumbleLast week [January, 2005], I had the pleasure of speaking about Mac OS X (one of my favorite subjects) at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco (thanks to everyone who came to my sessions!). Since I live in Portland, Oregon, I had to pack for a plane trip to the 'big city.' That's when the fun began...

Traveling has become a much more complex endeavor than it used to be. A decade ago, packing for a three-day business trip would require nothing more than insuring that you had sufficient clothes in your bag, the required personal care items, and perhaps your address book and maybe even a calculator. But that was about it.

Packing today, especially if you're giving a presentation, is a whole different ballgame, as you can see in the image at right (larger version)

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The technology of baby monitors…

Baby monitorsRemember I warned you that anything of interest to me was fair game for The Robservatory? Well, here's the first non-Mac-related post, but it's at least vaguely technology related.

My wife and I have a nearly two-year-old daughter, Kylie. Way back when at the baby shower, someone gave us The First Year's 900 MHz Two Receiver Monitor set. For those without children, the purpose of these devices is to dramatically increase the stress level in new parents. After placing the transmitter in the child's room, the receivers pick up the child's every sound. So basically, every noise your child makes at night or while napping becomes something new to worry about -- "Honey, did that breath sound labored? Is she getting a cold? Did you remember the blanket, I think her teeth are chattering! Is she breathing? I can't hear her now -- quick, go check on her!!"

In all seriousness, these are very handy devices for monitoring your child without having to sit outside the door to their room. In our case, Kylie's room is upstairs and on the other side of the house from ours, and I sleep quite soundly, so I really need the speaker to jar me awake in case she needs something overnight. So why am I talking about monitors here? While our unit worked well at first, it had recently started to get very noisy. Every so often (like 10 times a minute, really!), we'd get a loud burst of static, or very loud "white noise" sound that would last 20 seconds or so. Sometimes we could even hear half of the neighbor's phone conversations.
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Two older articles

Macworld logoThe following two article were posted on prior to the launch of my blog. I'm referencing them here in one article, just so they'll have some representation on my blog.

  • [April 2005] Volunteering for our local PBS station's pledge drive, I was quite surprised to find a room full of iBooks. So I wrote about it, after interviewing some of those responsible for making it happen.
  • [May 2005] Widget security: fact and fiction: This is my perspective on the security risk (or lack thereof) with the then-new OS X 10.4's Dashboard widgets.

The remainder of my articles will be posted in their own stories here; you can read them all by looking at the Macworld category.