Welcome To The CantBarsed Blog

Thanks for stopping by. This is where I let off steam and talk about affiliate marketing, promotional codes, freebies, Apple stuff and anything else which motivates me to post (which judging by my track record isn't much)...

Monday, 7 February 2011

iPad Second Thoughts (For Computer Age Denialists)

Following on from my iPad first thoughts blog post last May I've now learnt enough to post a worthwhile update on life with an iPad.

The short version of this blog post is I don't use my iPad much at all BUT there's more to it than that and I even have a useful iPad tip so it's worth reading on...

Last time around I wrote "I'm convinced [the iPad] will carve a niche for itself" and it turns out that niche doesn't include me BUT it does include my sister, and now my mum, Lorna (see picture left).

After playing with my iPad on launch day my sister had that conversation with her husband I talked about before she headed off to PC World and bagged a 16Gb Wifi iPad, despite reports and online stores reporting they were out of stock everywhere, so she was a very lucky early iPad adopter. Almost a year later I can report she still loves her iPad and uses it every day feeding it with new Apps keeps them both Apple happy.

Following the unexpected iPad love from my sister it occurred to me my mum "needed" an iPad for Christmas - which was a helluva gamble because she takes every opportunity to express her hatred of all things electronic, especially computers.
Undeterred I placed the order anyway and in the end everyone chipped in (thanks guys) for one last ditch effort to drag our mother into the computer age (there are several earlier aborted missions I won't bore you with here - well I might, but not today).

Anyway, we were all sat around on Christmas day pretending to be opening our own presents while we secretly all had one eye on Lorna to watch her reaction as she unwrapped her present and, disappointingly, she did a great job at hiding her dismay - or was that excitement - I couldn't tell, don't ever take her on at poker.

I took the time to set the iPad up with a mobile me email address, a £5 iTunes voucher (so I could set up the Apple Store ID), PingChat so she could talk to us all, a Facebook account so she can see what her family and friends are up too and a few other apps I thought she might click on when no one was looking.

Since Christmas we have all chipped in to ease Lorna through the techofear barrier and now more than two months later I'm pleased she's still using her iPad so mission accomplished and I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds as she becomes more proficient.

Meanwhile MY iPad has been lying around largely unused but I did look forward to upgrading it to IOS 4.2 hoping that might kick start my enthusiasm. After upgrading I had another quick play and the task switching a big step forward but it's not intuitive. I also downloaded my first free eBook and enjoyed reading it in bed in the dark - which didn't disturb the missus and for a day or two I was almost a proper iPad user but since then I've lapsed again.

It gets worse. My PC hardened brother was around to gloat when my "it just works" faith in Apple technology took a serious dent. I'd bought the updated Apple TV so we could watch podcasts and rent HD movies without putting any more dosh into Mr Murdoch's pocket.

Well, it just didn't work that day and it still doesn't now! The darn thing refuses to rent movies - it connects to the Apple store fine, logs in to my account fine, takes my order, then sits there doing nothing. We tried switching Apple IDs, networks, the lot.

I tried to point out to my brother that what I have actually always said about Apple stuff is "It will either just work OR it will be serious" but it was too late. He enjoyed NOT watching the film more than I did I suspect.

Some lateral thinking clever clogs (shout out to Natasha) suggested we could rent the movie on the iPad and stream it from the iPad through the Apple TV to the actual TV and that did work but the 5Gb movie took hours to download so we had to watch it the next day, which is still a bit of a FAIL.

OK, here's that iPad tip I promised you. I haven't read this iPad tip anywhere else - not even on the manufacturers website - and we only discovered it by accident because we have two iPads...

An iPad with a Gelaskin is MUCH easer to hold than a naked iPad. That's it! Sorry if you were expecting something more geeky.

It really is a major improvement. Naked iPads tend to slip through the fingers so you have to grip the iPad quite hard whereas holding a Gelaskinned iPad in one hand is effortless. It surprised us all how much difference the Gelaskin makes.

I usually put Gelaskins on my Apple gear anyway, partly to give them a little extra protection from scratches, partly so I can easily spot mine in a houseful of Apple gadgets and partly because I love the awesome Gelaskins artwork that's available.

Gelaskins are removable too which means you can change or remove them anytime without damaging the Gelaskin (keep the original backing paper) or your Apple gadgets so I'm pleased to recommended them.

[UPDATE] Lorna is still using her iPad, she composed and almost sent her first email a few days ago but unfortunately her friend phoned her up just as her finger was poised over the send button (OK, I've used a bit of dramatic license here) and they chatted instead!

The intention was there though and using the keyboard takes her back to the good old days before she had kids and she was at the cutting edge of technology using a typewriter.

Uh-oh, I've just realised there is an outside possibility she could read this - mum, if you ever read this, you can add a comment below...

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Don't Buy Another Useless Toaster, Buy a Magimix


Buying the perfect toaster has been a mundane yet recurring theme of my adult life which often leads to toaster rage when I buy yet another useless toaster.

When we moved into our first house back in the early 80's we were given a hand me down toaster, we'd never been responsible for toaster purchasing so we didn't have a clue. I should have known that toaster would not be "the one" and, of course, it wasn't. Setting aside it's inadequate toasting abilities it was the wrong colour and had a seventies pattern on it - and you couldn't live with 70's style back in the 80's. It marked the beginning of my quest for the perfect toaster. I think it's a man thing, probably because it's connected with fire.

Some time later I married "the one" and in all the kerfuffle we ended up with a white Tefal thick and thin toaster, designed and produced in an era where form followed function without compromising quality just to get the price down. That was a good toaster which lasted for years until it went on the blink and I attempted a DIY repair which didn't go well and we were back in the market for another toaster. My checklist for a toaster is simple enough:
+ Able to cope with different shapes and sizes.
+ Easy removal of toasted goods without burning or electrocution.
+ Ability to toast evenly.

Ideally it shouldn't need a manual but we live in a world were we will get instructions and warnings in many languages including English and I will still end up shouting at my wife to stop her digging around in a toaster with a metal knife!

With hindsight I realise I should have put more effort into finding the perfect toaster earlier in my life. Unlike a new TV a toaster purchase wasn't something I had previously devoted in-depth research into and every toaster we've bought since (at least half a dozen) have been impulse purchases or special offers and they've all been fundamentally flawed.

I have learnt that toasters with thin heated wires weaved over an insulated backplate just don't work properly. Perhaps in a bygone era they did, but as the decades have rolled by the wires have been spaced further and further apart and the heating area has shrunk so now it's hard to find a toaster big enough to toast a standard supermarket size loaf of bread.

I'm not the only person who has noticed, this snippet from an Amazon toaster review struck a chord: "I got fed up with toasting bread to find that the top third was untoasted because the slots weren't deep or wide enough so I cut out a piece of card the size and shape of the normal bread I use and slotted it into all the toasters I looked at in the shops."

The old adage "you get what you pay for" doesn't hold true for toasters either, our last but one toaster cost £5 from Tesco - I only bought it to tide us over while looking for the perfect toaster and it worked fairly well and remains in service after handing it down to our son who still uses it in his student accommodation.

Which brings us to the Magimix Vision Toaster and I'm relieved to announce it's a near perfect toaster. Yes it's a french brand and yes it cost more than a booze cruise but it's worth every penny. Magimix have been producing the best kitchen food processors for decades and now they also make toasters. This Magimix toaster is:
+ Really cool to look at and really cool to touch
+ See-through, which makes perfect sense
+ Takes full size bread, rolls, bags, bagels etc.
+ Toasts evenly using 4 halogen heating elements

Even better, the pop up action travels high enough so it's easy to remove the contents without burning your fingers or having to delve into the toaster innards and not so vigourously that the toast ends up on the floor. It's a fine balance which most toasters fail.

It really shouldn't be rocket science to make a perfect toaster but kudos to Magimix for getting to grips with the problems and creating a clearly superior toaster with kitchen cred.

So far I haven't managed to burn anything. Being see-through is obviously the key and I've learnt the time between not brown enough, perfect toast and burnt all takes place in around 30 seconds so it's not surprising most toasters are useless and reinforces the rationale for a see-through toaster, one day all toasters will be see-through.

Because it's see-through there can only be one slot but it's long, wide and self-centring and copes well with pretty much everything I want to put in a toaster.

The Magimix Vision toaster is not cheap, I paid £160 at John Lewis online and it's available in brushed steel, with black, cream, red and possibly other end panel colours and comes with a 3 year guarantee. It's solidly built and easy to clean.

Next time you're in the market for a toaster or toaster rage gets the better of you the Magimix Vision Toaster has the CantBarsed seal of approval.

The only real alternative worth considering is a toaster fork, an open fire and lots of patience because nothing compares to bread cooked in the glow of an open fire. My kids didn't believe me until we tried it last bonfire night and now the quest for the perfect toaster has been passed onto the next generation - I'll settle for my Magimix Vision Toaster.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Munich a4uExpo 2010 Memories


There have been some great blog posts about what people learnt at the a4u Expo Munich, this is not one of them.

I do learn stuff at the a4u Expos but I attend so I can see what's happening in our industry and to touch base with networks, agencies and other affiliates and to reconnect with friends, meet new people and put faces to people I've chatted with by MSN and email.

On this occasion my wife, Deb, accompanied me because we'd been visiting family in Frankfurt the week before so we were both up to speed drinking beer and mumbling a few German phrases. We avoided the ashcloud by chilling on the ICE train down to Munich. At one point we were travelling at 236km/h and it still took several hours to get to Munich which reminded me Germany really is a big country.

We arrived in good time to settle into the Munich Park Hilton Hotel which is one of the better conference hotels I've stayed in with the exception of WiFi access which was taking the piss at 18 euros for a 24 hour pass. Internet access is not an optional extra for affiliate marketeers so 18 euros later my mobile office was up and running.
The hotel breakfast offered everything anyone could possibly want for breakfast from a full English breakfast, a bowl of cornflakes or a continental style breakfast.

The Sessions
Having attended all the a4u Expos I'd seen quite a few of the presentations before and some of the rooms were too hot and too overcrowded but the content was generally good and all in English, which surprised me. The European audience wasn't as quick to jump in on panel discussions as UK audiences so it was up to the moderator and twitter input to keep things moving - which worked well.
The lunchtime food was provided by the Hilton and was the best at any Expo offering something for everybody with a choice of nibbles, a bowl of soup or even a full meal.

The Germans
I wasn't very proactive touring the stands in the main hall because I already work with most of the networks which have UK operations and I didn't want to get into any long boring conversations with German specific networks and merchants I can't work with at the moment but it was good to touch base with Karel Ellis-Gray who we also met in Barbados. Karel is affiliate marketing manager at belboon-adbutler GmbH who have some UK clients so check them out.

The a4u Munich Parties
The pre-show Ignite Party was held at the Vice Bar which is located just off one of Munich's main shopping streets where we picked up our conference badges and wristbands before getting stuck into networking, the free bar and some tasty Bavarian nibbles. It was good to catch up with Ray Theakston, who I hadn't seen since Barbados, and Bruce Clayton who I'd seen a few weeks earlier at a Linkshare event in London and apologies again to Hero for not recognising her straight away, it had been a while and I'm useless with names. The sound level was perfect, plenty of atmosphere and I didn't wake up with a sore throat or ringing ears.

The Break Out Party on the middle night was held in, what looked like, a barn at the Munich Racecourse which sounds like an unlikely setting for what turned out to be an awesome party - undoubtedly the best a4u evening out ever.
The venue was really well organised with the BBQ outside, delivered with stereotypical German efficiency, no one was left hungry and I discovered, much to my surprise, that I like Sauer Kraut.
There was a raised back-lit music stage with an excellent DJ who really did build the atmosphere with the help of four great dancers and J'Lil who took over from the girls when he got into the groove.
For anyone wanting to chat there was plenty of space and seating away from the action but Deb and I were both enjoying the music and, despite being the oldest clubbers in town, wiggled our hips on the edge of the dance floor while admiring Duncan Popham throwing some classy moves on the dance floor - which I enjoyed a lot more than his click attribution presentation, Hi Duncan!

The After Show Party was held at the 089 bar in Munich (which coincidentally cost €8.90 to get to by taxi) and this evening wins my awkwardly titled "Best evening out from such an unpromising start award".
We arrived around 9.30pm to a half empty Bavarian style bar which didn't even sell Hefe Weissen - which is a bit like visiting an English country pub which doesn't sell real ale as far as I am concerned.
Deb and I sat down with our complimentary drinks on an a4u reserved table on our own with just a sprinkling of a4u attendees mixed in with the locals. Not much happened so we bought a couple more beers and mooched around until Matt arrived and told us the last time he visited this bar it was shoulder to shoulder and a great evening out. Frankly I didn't believe him and I was ready to leave but Deb persuaded me to give it a bit longer and I'm glad we did. Ray, J'Lil and a few other familiar faces turned up and that got the party started. Matt invited us to join the Existem gang and it got messy, needless to say I didn't eat breakfast the next day and the flight home was an unwelcome intrusion into my hangover recovery regime.

Deb and I thoroughly enjoyed Munich and I'd like to thank Matt and the Existem team for a great conference and three great a4u parties and for their hospitality. I look forward to a4u Expo Munich June 2011 - I've just booked my tickets, why don't you join me?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Mac Life Part 8 - Cloud Based Email Using IMAP

Figuring out the best way to handle email has been the most stubborn hurdle in my ongoing mission to create the perfect Mac cloud based working environment.

I get hundreds of emails every day and at one time I was running a backlog of over 35k unread emails, something had to be done and my Only send me junk emails blog post wasn't the most elegant or long term solution to the problem!

The "problem" with standard POP (Post Office Protocol) mailboxes is emails are stored on the computer which downloads the email from the server and it's then deleted from the server after downloading. This is fine so long as you only have one machine where you manage all your email AND if you are careful when setting up your mailboxes on mobile devices to leave copies of your email and any replies on the server - which isn't the default and is often tricky to set up correctly.

I am not that disciplined and I often end with multiple copies of the same email on different devices and I can never find my replies when I need them. At one time I thought the solution would be to access all my email online as webmail using a web broser but this proved far too slow and cumbersome and I ended up back at square one.

With hindsight I can see my email problems are why I've ended up with everything on a single laptop which I dock in the office so I can sit at a desk and use a proper keyboad and larger screen. I've been very happy with this setup until I bought an iPad but I've got my eye on the new all-in-one iMacs so I've been thinking again about the very best way and work with desktop machines, laptops, iPads and iPhones.

Using MobileMe, Dropbox, Firefox Sync, 1Password, Google Apps, Evernote and a few other cloud based services I can pretty much work on any device now as everything syncs together apart from email which triggered my IMAP moment.

Partly because I've been online since before POP mailboxes were commonplace and and partly because I'm lazy I hadn't really investigated other ways of handling email. I was vaguely aware my MobileMe mailbox synced itself across all my devices and I assumed it was some Apple black magic. I had already disciplined myself to only use my MobileMe mailbox on my mobile devices but the penny hadn't dropped that I was using an IMAP mailbox and it does seem to be the key to cloud based email handling.

It turns out most ISPs support both IMAP and POP so I've been working my way through my mailboxes and setting them up to use IMAP instead.

I feel such a numpty I hadn't figured this out earlier but better late than never and although solving one set of problems has created a few new ones but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that's all the excuse I need to get myself an all-in-one desktop mac!

So What Is IMAP?

IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol and it's basically a remote controlled cloud based mailbox, read this Wikipedia IMAP page for the long answer.

IMAP Pros and Cons
IMAP Pros:
1) One mailbox can be accessed from multiple devices, even at the same time, and the IMAP protocol takes care of all the syncing so all your devices are effectively looking at the live contents of your cloud/server based mailbox.
2) New emails arrive in near real-time because IMAP stays connected to your mailbox instead of periodically checking like POP mailboxes.

IMAP Cons:
1) Most ISPs have a storage quota so if you get lots of emails with large attachments your storage space can fill up which means you need to keep an eye on your mailbox and I'm not aware of any easy way to do this.
2) To avoid an IMPA mailbox becoming full to archive copies of important and large emails I'm partially recreating the problems with POP mailboxes I just solved by assigning a "main email" machine.

IMAP in Mac Mail

I haven't found an easy way to convert mailboxes from POP to IMAP in Mac Mail so here's what I did (based on this useful Mac Mail IMAP article):

1) Rename my existing mailboxes with a P (for POP) prefix.
2) Create new IMAP mailboxes without P prefix.
3) Spend some time deleting stored emails (so you have enough online storage space).
4) Move the remaining messages from the POP to the IMAP mailbox - just drag and drop the contents and Mac Mail will move everything across and upload them to your IMAP mailbox.

I'm Loving IMAP

Although IMAP isn't the complete solution to email management it does mean I can now have all of my email on all of my devices, all of the time and read, delete and reply wherever and whenever I want to so I'm loving IMAP.


Back to Mac Life Part 1...

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Barbados Restaurant Experiences

Here's our family eating experience along the south coast from Bridgetown to Oistins.

Most restaurants prefer reservations but we got a table for 5 phoning on the day and there were empty tables at all the restaurants we visited during the last two weeks in July 2010 so don't be put off by this.

There wasn't much variation in prices either with almost all meals working out at between $100-$120 per person for a three course meal.

This list is roughly in order of preference and we were in broad agreement but do bear in mind this was a family of 5 with varied tastes.

Champers
Reservations 434-3463
Christ Church
As a family Champers was our favourite restaurant by a clear margin. It has recently moved to a new location with a large car park so if you've been before the new location overlooking Accra beach is even better.
The staff were friendly and unpretentious, the service was prompt, the atmosphere was lively without being too noisy and the temperature was just right.
The food was all excellent, my highlight was a crab crepe starter.

Mama Mia Deli and Pizzeria
Reservations 434-3354
Christ Church
Mama Mia's is an excellent Italian Deli stocking all the Italian essentials for anyone self catering or living on the island.
In the evening the Deli transforms into a lively restaurant and it was also one of the cheapest so it's another family favourite and the only place we ate twice.
You can eat inside, which was too cold and too bright or outside which is OK but people do smoke there. The folding chairs used throughout were too uncomfortable for the length of time it takes to eat a meal and the service was fairly slow but everyone was really friendly and the food was well worth the wait.
If you like traditional thin crispy Italian hand made to order pizza cooked in a proper stone oven you've got to visit. The selection of pizzas on the menu was a bit eclectic but you can create your own pizza - just ask the waiter and name your toppings.
The pasta and salads are also homemade and the antipasti was also excellent.

Tapas
Reservations 228-0704 (Closed Tuesdays)
Christ Church
Tapas is a fashionable and trendy restaurant located on the popular Boardwalk with a great sea view. The Tapas car park is too small for the number of people they can cater for so parking could be tricky if it's full but we managed to squeeze in. You can opt for tapas dishes or choose from the "a la carte" menu.
The food was good. My main course was a delicious sea food kebab served on a bed of crisp vegetables flavoured with a memorable dressing which was my favourite dish of the holiday.
On the downside the place is up itself and the service is slow and impersonal. It's probably better as a daytime stopoff for tapas than a full evening meal venue.

Josef's Restaurant
Reservations 420-7638 (Closed Mondays)
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church
This stylish restaurant is located in the heart of the Gap with a sea view and a small car park. There's a large private car park just around the corner which only costs $10 and makes it easy to visit any of the restaurants along the gap where parking is generally tricky.
The menu choice was an odd mix of Bajan and Asian cuisine with a limited choice but the food was all well received. The staff were polite and the service was efficient. It's a good choice for sushi and the restaurant has a Japanese feel to it.

Brown Sugar
Reservations 426-7684
Aquatic Gap, Bay Street
We visited Brown Sugar because it's within walking distance of the Hilton. It looks great with tropical plants and a water garden mixed in with hand painted murals which all help create a traditional Barbadian atmosphere.
Unfortunately it was far too hot and far too noisy. We think they'd given us pride of place with two huge portable air-con fans pointed towards our table but it was still sweltering hot and the noise of the fans and the crickets made conversation impossible.
We should have asked to be moved outside but we were too polite and this ruined our meal before we started. The food was good featuring genuine Bajan cuisine. Brown Sugar has the potential to be a great restaurant and I'd be prepared to give them another chance.

Oistins Fish Market
Friday Evenings. No Reservations.
Oistins is the south coast fish market town and it's geared up to cook for hundreds most Friday evenings. It is an essential Barbados experience where the locals and tourists mix side by side for a Friday fry up and street party.
Oistins has a lively market atmosphere and there's either live music or a local DJ. The fish is always good and comes with rice, macaroni cheese and all the usual Bajan side orders and flavours.
Parking is near-impossible so you either have to arrive really early, take a taxi or a tour. This was my third visit to Oistins so to avoid the travel hassle we took a tour bus which included the food and a drink at Pats Place but you can't leave when you want and on balance it's better to make your own arrangements and take a taxi.

Street Meat
St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church
After the sun goes down there are several food stalls which set up on the roadside along the Gap and they serve the tastiest burgers anywhere on the island. These are the perfect antidote to restaurant dining with 5 burgers costing less than a starter at most of the restaurants listed here so it's a very tempting snack option. My favourite is the stall just to the left of the entrance to the South Gap Hotel, opposite the Ship Inn.

Hilton Lighthouse Terrace
Reservations 426-0200 Extension 5949
We only ate in the hotel because we'd returned our hire car and didn't want to mess around with taxis on our last night. The restaurant is located on the first floor balcony with a lovely view of the sea, hotel pools and the beach beyond.
The service was friendly but slow and the food was generally awful and overpriced. Unsurprisingly there were hardly any other diners and we could only ever imagine this restaurant being full for business conventions where somebody else was picking up the tab!
The Hilton does have a more trendy restaurant aimed at both hotel guests, locals and tourists but their menu is even more expensive and I wouldn't risk it.

KFC
You'll find KFC restaurants dotted around the island and they'll even deliver takeaway to your hotel. I haven't eaten KFC for decades but I caved into pressure from my kids who wanted the KFC Barbados experience.
Even Colonel Sanders wouldn't have eaten the family bucket of grilled chicken we were served with. Some of the chicken was still red raw which is an inexcusable health hazard and the chicken skin was pretty much all greasy and slimy so not much chance for the Colonel's secret blend of secret spices and crispy coating to work its magic - I won't be eating a KFC again.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

iPhone 4 - Has Everything Changed Again?

The Apple iPhone 4 blurb says "This Changes Everything. Again." This only proved half-true for me but it's certainly another step in the right direction.

So what hasn't changed? O2! They remain as useless as ever! OK, it's not O2's fault they didn't have any iPhone 4s in stock to deliver to their existing customers on release day but getting my iPhone working with my existing iPhone tarriff proved to be a right PITA.

There was no way I was going to stand in a queue outside an Apple Store, effectively working as an unpaid Apple extra, just to get an iPhone 4 on the release day so the only way I could get my gadget fix was to buy a SIM free iPhone 4 from the online Apple Store UK and that's an expensive option at £599 for the 32Gb model.

I planned to swap my O2 pay monthly SIM from my existing iPhone to the iPhone 4 until I found out the iPhone 4 utilises a "Micro SIM" format and after some delving around online these were my options:

1) Buy a new contract SIM with any iPhone carrier - ruled out because none of them had stock and my existing O2 contract has over a year to run.

2) Wait and hope O2 sent me a new blank micro SIM. The O2 website said they would do this but to date nothing has arrived.

3) Trim my existing SIM with a pair of scissors to the size of the Micro SIM - apparently the only difference is the amount of plastic surrounding the chip, but I decided to hold this option in reserve as a last resort.

4) Get a blank Micro SIM out of O2 and swap SIMs. I read O2 stores would give existing iPhone O2 pay monthly customers a free micro SIM on production of their AppleStore order confirmation email so that's what I did and, apart from dealing with a numptie O2 sales droid, this part of the plan worked.

I kept my blank O2 micro SIM ready to roll as soon as iPhone 4 turned up which duly arrived around midday 24th June on launch day.

iPhone 4 Migration

The major software update to iOS 4 on my iPhone 3GS went smoothly and migration to the iPhone 4 was also straightforward - I just plugged the phone into iTunes, clicked a few options and that was about it. I had to re-enter a few passwords and Spotify seems to have got itself into an argument with itself about registered devices and offline playlists but apart from that I'm up and running without any significant problems.

Swapping the SIM via the O2 website failed miserably probably because the O2 site was broken most of the launch day and then I realised I could have swapped SIMs a few days earlier, avoiding the rush, grrrr - lesson learnt in case Apple opt for a nano SIM next time.

I finally managed to swap my SIM the following day after restarting the process on the O2 website and it worked within an hour.

iPhone 4 Unboxing

No Apple fanboy unboxing pictures from me. Of course I still enjoyed opening the packaging which is as slick as ever and fully recyclable but I don't feel the need to share my excitement with you especially since we've all been bombarded by the adverts and the leaked iPhone pictures and the associated Gizmodo iPhone 4 saga. Suffice to say the iPhone 4 looks great so I'm going to concentrate on how the iPhone 4 feels in the hand and how it performs compared to my existing iPhone 3GS.

I was anxious to get the 2 big reported issues at launch out of the way as soon as I had the iPhone 4 powered up and connected to O2:

1) Screen discolouration: I don't have any yellow tinges on mine.

2) Antenna problems: I can take my iPhone4 from 5 bars to Network lost in seconds [see my video below] holding the phone how I normally hold it so whatever Apple says about holding it differently it's still a major design flaw and I'm not impressed to read Apple regard this as a non-issue! Rumours of free bumpers and a software update to fix the problem abound.



The flat slab design of the iPhone 4 looks stunning but it is less comfortable in my hand than the the iPhone 3GS. I do prefer the flat back of iPhone4 (and the original iPhone) to the curved back of the iPhone 3GS which scratches easily and wobbles around when placed on a flat surface. I will try one of Apple's bumpers and see how that feels - and at the same time see if this alleviates my loss of signal problem.
[update]I added a Gelaskin and this makes it a little harder to lose signal but it's not a solution[/update]

The iPhone iOS 4

It's a bit of wet blanket really. With literally hundreds of improvements listed on the Apple website I was expecting to see more than the new folder feature and task-switching functionality - which is really just dipping a toe in the multitasking water. I accept that it's a work in progress but task-switching is not multitasking as I understand the term and I'm really hoping we get proper multitasking features in future software updates.

The iPhone4 Screen

It's a glass screen and yes it's sharp, double the sharpness in fact, which makes sense because it now matches the resolution of the iPad which should mean running iPhone Apps on the iPad in x2 mode won't be necessary so I'm putting this in the good column but I still can't read the screen without my glasses on and there's no option to globally increase the display font size which would be far more useful to me.

The iPhone 4 Camera

The uprated 5 megapixel camera and LED flash which can also shoot HQ video is perfect for snapshots and recording instant memories and the pictures I took outside look excellent on screen - definitely a step up from the 3 mega-pixels of my iPhone 3GS 3 (and the 2 mega-pixel camera in the original iPhone). Flash pictures taken in a dimly lit room are muddy but at least there is a flash and I can see what I was trying to photograph instead of an empty black rectangle with my previous iPhones and it really does now offer everything I want from a digital camera although I'd love a x2 or x4 optical zoom feature - maybe next year?

I don't think I'm a FaceTime kinda guy (see picture top left) so the front facing camera and video chats doesn't really interest me but I did notice it's right next to the earpiece which always ends up covered in grease from my ear (eewwww) so if it could have been located further towards either corner that would have been better - for me.

iPhone 4 Dock Tip

Apple don't usually miss any opportunity to sell us expensive extras and accessories so I'll wager they didn't notice the iPhone4 sits perfectly into the original iPhone dock so I'll take the few quid I've saved and put it towards a bumper to fix the antenna issue Apple insists is a non-issue.

iPhone 4 Conclusions

Comparing my iPhone 3GS, updated to iOS4, with the iPhone 4 it's hard to justify spending £599 to get a better camera and worse reception but this is the first no-compromise all-in-one handheld device that's both fun and easy to use.

If you're mid-contract on a iPhone 3GS I'd wait for a revision sometime next year but for anyone considering buying an iPhone for the first time or upgrading from an original iPhone or iPhone 3G this is as good as it gets - go for it!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Ipad - My First Thoughts

I was delighted when the FedEx guy knocked on the door a day early and I couldn't resist a chuckle to myself at the thought of people queuing up early at Apple stores today to get their hands on an iPad this morning. Hats off to Apple for fulfilling their pre-orders on time - even if we are months behind our US cousins already.

Apple have, in my opinion, produced another game changing device which I'm convinced will carve a niche for itself and go from strength to strength as ever more imaginative and creative Apps are developed and the OS4 update evolves to support multitasking.

I bought 2 iPads, one 32Gb and one 64Gb WiFi model - we don't have 3G where I live and I don't get out much. My thinking was the 64Gb iPad for the the family and the 32Gb iPad for me.

iPad Out Of The Box...

The iPad is smaller and more awkward to hold than I imagined but nevertheless a joy to use and great fun to mess around with.

I'd read reports of them working straight out of the box in the US and I hadn't realised they have to be set up and synced with iTunes on a computer, just like an iPhone. I believe this is an unnecessary step which will get in the way of opening these devices up to an entirely new audience.

My daughter has taken possession of the "family iPad" and she absolutely loves it. She says it's "the right size" comparing it with her iPhone which is packed with games, and we're both really impressed with the battery life - we've played with both devices on and off yesterday and both iPads still have over 50% battery life left so they look good for 2 days casual use.

My mum and sister visited yesterday evening and we let them both get their hands on the iPads. My sister is now desperate to get one, which surprised me "It has everything I have ever wanted in a computer in one place" she said - she loved the games, the email, Facebook and her only negative comment was "But it's an Apple isn't it?" knowing she's going to have a hard time getting her dyed-in-the-wool PC loving husband to spring for one - but even then she's prepared to take on that battle!.

My mum was always going to be the toughest sell but she sat dutifully through a photo slideshow and a movie clip or two and I think pretty much everyone would be impressed with those. Next up I handed her the Labyrinth Maze Game and sat back as she played happily until I took it away from her 20 minutes later.

Setting Up An iPad

As I mentioned earlier you have to set up an iPad using iTunes on a computer and I think that's crazy. Apple seem to have iTunes tunnel vision at the moment.

How did we get to the point where the ONLY way to setup and use an iPhone, iPod and iPad is via an overblown music application on a computer?

iPads and iPhones should be stand-alone devices that can be setup over any internet connection including WiFi, cable or mobile broadband and Apple really needs to do this if they want to take sales to the next level.

The "Family iPad" is now synced to my daughter's computer so that's now effectively hers and the rest of the family are locked into her vision of how the iPad should be setup - which is not what I intended.

If you connect an iPad to a computer which you already use to sync an iPhone with iTunes says "This iPad has previously been synced with this computer" (which is plainly nonsense) but on selecting the alternative option to "Set up a new iPad" you end up with all your iPhone Apps and choice of music, photos, podcasts and movies being synced to the device anyway which is a bit odd.

This means if you own a 64Gb iPhone you're not going to get all that content on a 16Gb iPad. I had enough space on my iPad so I didn't have to solve that particular potential hiccup.

Is The iPad A Laptop Alternative?

The short answer is not yet - at least not for most users. The iPad clearly isn't designed to replace a laptop but for many people, like my sister, it could easily become their preferred way to access the internet at home - in fact she doesn't use the internet at home at all simply because she can't cope with using a laptop. There's a huge opportunity for Apple as the iPad could become the perfect gateway device for people like her to leave lying around on the sofa or kitchen table.

As an online marketeer the iPad can do some of the everyday things I need to do but not enough to make my laptop redundant. The single biggest limitation is the browser. The Safari browser doesn't offer tabbed browsing - switching between windows in a multi-step operation at best. The single-tasking nature of the current iPad OS is a serious limitation to anyone used to working with multiple applications and windows so I'm hoping the planned OS4 release over-delivers otherwise iPads are effectively running a 30 year old OS model on a device of the future - I'm sure Apple will get there, I just don't want to wait 30 years!

To end on a high, I love the iPad and I am fascinated to see how my family, friends and Apple respond to the way people eventually end up using iPads to enhance their lives - it's going to be a fun ride, buy one - or one each.

[UPDATE] I've written a follow up iPad second thoughts post here...

Friday, 29 January 2010

iPad Thoughts - Will I Be Buying One?

I've just watched the Apple iPad announcement and Steve Jobs does seem particularly proud of the iPad. He made a good case that there is a gap in the market for another mobile device that's bigger than a smartphone and more user-friendly and portable than a traditional laptop.

Steve went on to explain that a netbook is just a small cheap laptop which doesn't fill the gap and I believe he's spot on - I've never bought a netbook for that reason.

The iPad is essentially a big iPhone, it can be totally touch controlled or, via a dock, using a real-keyboard for anyone who needs some serious text input. The big advantage virtual keyboards have is the ability to present context-sensitive input options, for example, a number pad would appear when entering numeric spreadsheet data and so on.

Although I find my iPhone intuitive and easy to use I don't use it to its full potential mainly because it's small so it seems likely I would make better use of an iPad and, as Steve Jobs pointed out, along with 75 million other people, I already know how to use the iPad out of the box.

I can envisage leaving iPads lying around the house, perhaps on the kitchen worktop where I'll use it to follow recipes, or perhaps on living room coffee tables to settle arguments and look stuff up on Wikipedia. The iPad could breathe new life into traditional board games and I'm excited by all those possibilities.

A docked iPad with a real keyboard is going to be all most people ever need and traditional laptops and desktop computers may well become the preserve of geeks in darkened rooms once again. Consider how quickly the iPod and iPhone changed the way we listen to music and how we use mobile phones and it doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to see the way we use the world wide web is about to change - in three years, just as Apple announce the iPad V3 we're all using tablets, you read it here first!

I can't be certain until I've had some hands on experience whether I will take my iPad around the house or have several lying around but it seems likely we'll have one each because future iPads are bound to interact with each other and our iPhones like virtual pets forming a House-Wide-Web and will change the way we interact with each other, our friends and the wider online world and my daughter won't need to ring the house phone to get her dippy egg in bed!

There's a pretty good chance technophobes, like my wife and my mum, will get carried along with the iPad wave. My wife already has an iPhone, admittedly turning it on/off is still a challenge but we're getting there and my mum loves sitting beside me while I drive my computer for her touring Picasa and Facebook photo albums and buying her shopping online - she certainly knows how to point her finger and she's good at gestures so she's halfway there so I should be careful what I wish for or we'll all be reaching for the blue pill!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a friend of mine (Hi Antonious!) said "NOT ME MATEY" along with this list of reasons he won't be buying one - but of course he WILL cave. Quite a few of the items on the list relate to lack of ports on the iPad which can all be made available via Apple or third party iPad docks and another accessory industry is born. I've appended my specific comments after each list item:

• Unspecified widescreen aspect ratio for video playback (so what?)
• 1024 x 768 aspect ratio not widescreen video friendly
(so like most TVs they'll be a black bit top and bottom)

• No integrated USB ports (via dock)
• No card reader (via dock)
• Non-removable battery (would be better if it was)
• Non-expandable memory
(would be better if it was, but will buy the biggest anyway)

• No GPS in the WiFi only model (durr)
• Unlocked iPad not great when network's don't use the micro SIM
(any network which gets the contract surely will?)
• Mono audio speakers (via dock)
• Prolonged typing on glass? (use a keyboard via a dock)
• No integrated camera (Gotta love Apple keeping something back for iPad 2)
• No HDMI/Displayport (via dock)
• No Ethernet Port (via dock)
• Still no Adobe Flash support
(It's bound to be Adobe dragging its heels, would prefer an alternative to emerge)
• Limited codec support i.e. AAC, MP3 and H.264 (can be supported via software update)
• Proprietary iBook eBook format
(Steve Jobs said it WAS an open format and I think all publishers will jump on this bandwagon or risk being left out in the cold)

• No breakdown of 'up to' 10 hours battery life
(Steve said he could watch video on a flight from LA to Tokyo and that lying around not being used and iPad would still have power after a month)
• No mains power cable included (via dock)

So yes, I will definitely be buying a WiFi iPad and, if I like what I see, probably more than one. Am I alone or will you be buying one? If so why? If not why?

If you'd like to watch Steve Job's Keynote speech and watch the iPad video for yourself click the Apple icon top left on the UK Apple Store homepage.

OTOH Hitler is NOT Impressed!


Sunday, 3 January 2010

CantBarsed.com 10th Anniversary Year!

CantBarsed.com was launched with no fanfare early in 2000 with no commercial ambition and no real direction.

The only thing I had in place was free cantBarsed.com webmail accounts which I thought were great fun and they remain popular today.

It was a chance email exchange with Dan Mountain (MD, Buyagift) that changed the direction of the website and led to my career in affiliate marketing.

Having quit my design job in London and retired over a decade earlier to become one of the first house husbands in the playground I was living the cantBarsed lifestyle and tinkering around online in my spare time as the World Wide Web stumbled into existence and the dot.com boom became the next big thing.

We heard a comedian using "dot com" as a punchline which stuck in my mind. One of Deb's favourite expressions back then, and even now, remains: "I can't be arsed" and I started chiming in with "dot com" every time she said it. At some point I casually checked whether cantBEarsed.com had been registered - and it had, which could easily have been the end of the story.

However, lying in bed, late one night, the image of a bumble bee between the words can't and arsed popped into to my head (yeah I know it's stupid but stick with me) and the idea for a domain named cantBarsed.com was born. I registered the domain and it was only when I was playing with logo designs I realised the letter B turned sideways made a bum shape and the original cantBarsed logo was born. The logo was subsequently animated and tipped up at an angle so it's easier to read and the design is now protected as a registered TradeMark.

I also registered cantBarsed.co.uk and several years ago I finally managed to get my hands on CantBEarsed.com for £3700 - which is most I have paid for a domain name so far and a sizable company expense at the time. I remember Nadeem Azam telling me it was news in the domain name industry and I also remember Nadeem making himself ill during the .eu domain sunrise period trying to buy them ALL(!) which prompted me to pre-register cantBEarsed.eu and cantBarsed.eu and those, along with a bunch of other variations, all end up at cantBarsed.com website.

The cantBarsed.com screenshot is dated 14th August 2000 and, from memory, I'd just revamped the site with the idea of making money aiming for an Austin Powers multicolored blocks feel - I still like it!

Keen affiliate marketeers will notice I was already up and running as an Amazon affiliate and the Firebox.com and Cheeky Monkey banners were running via UKaffiliates - which later transmoglified into Deal Group Media. I think the mp3.com banner is an early Commission Junction program.

After several years of trial and error, learning from my mistakes along the way, cantBarsed.com eventually started to make money and went on to establish itself as one of the first popular UK affiliate marketing portal style websites in the UK.

The peak year for CantBarsed.com was around 2007, before dedicated code sites dominated affiliate marketing, but even now, in CantBarsed.com's 10th Anniversary year, the site still makes money from over 700 hand-crafted static HTML pages which continue to rank well in search engines for many popular search keyword terms.

Future CantBarsed.com Plans
We continue to add content and keep CantBarsed.com up to date and during 2009 we finally managed to automate the promotional code handling to comply with IAB regulations. During 2010 we're planning to move away from static hand crafted HTML pages using Adobe Dreamweaver to an online Content Management System which should free up more time to add more original and useful content.

I find the continued existence of CantBarsed.com, in today's ├╝ber-corporate world, purely as a result of a string of co-incidences, remarkable and I'm looking forward to working on the site to secure it's future well into the teenies.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mac Life - Part 7 - A Few Teething Problems?


Thanks to Dan Williams who recently made the switch from PC to Mac after having a play with my set-up:

"Hi Joe, I'm now all set up with my Mac and very happy with it. It took me less than half hour yesterday to set up the Mac, Airport Extreme all working, broadband on, laptops can connect to the broadband, PC in with ethernet cable, Printer setup. I've also got firefox installed, exported and imported all saved passwords for hosting/networks etc and I have MSN messenger installed".

Check out Dan William's voucher code site here...

Chatting with Dan reminded me of some of the things most people ask when they start using a Mac so let's take a closer look:

The UK Mac keyboard layout
In an earlier blog post I couldn't come up with anything that's better on a PC than a Mac but I take that back, the Windows keyboard layout is better and less confusing than UK Mac keyboards!
The Mac keyboard is cursed with THREE modifier keys for no good reason I can think off. They are called the [Control], [Alt] and [Command] keys BUT people also refer to them differently! For example the [Command] key is often called the "Apple" key and the [Alt] key is also called the "Option" key, so that's three keys, five names and two stupid little graphic icons nobody can relate to for starters - and I've got more!
There's no Delete key on laptop keyboards. Instead you get a backspace key (top right) which, if you hold down the [fn] key (bottom left), can be turned into a "proper" Delete key, still with me? You probably noticed the @ key is inconveniently located above the 2 key but can you find the # key? Well, no prizes for guessing there isn't one and you can get a # by holding down the [Alt] key and pressing the 3 key but why on earth is it missing?
I have more, but I'll stop because I don't want to put you off switching and after a couple of weeks you'll get past the keyboard shortcomings and be back up to full speed so it's just part of the Mac switching experience!

Expose & Spaces
Most people also seem to confuse Expose and Spaces, which isn't surprising since they share a System Preferences Panel and the "Active screen corners" concept but if we take it a step at a time it's easy enough to get a handle on:

Spaces are "virtual screens" so instead of buying a second monitor you can turn Spaces on and have up to SIXTEEN virtual screens - that's a lot of screen real-estate and quite a lot to get your head around in one hit. For ages I avoided Spaces and settled for one screen but after I spotted my daughter zipping around 9 screens I decided it was time to teach this old dog a new trick and I experimented with 2 screens side by side. I've eventually settled on 4 virtual screens arranged in 2 rows and 2 columns and I can move between them effortlessly using the [Control]+Arrow keys. You can also set which applications open in which Space so they are always where you expect to find them. Anything not specified opens up in the current workspace.

Expose basically "exposes" stuff, it's the way to show windows which are hidden under other windows, just press the F3 key to activate Expose and you'll soon grasp the basic concept and tweak as you go along to your requirements.

Both Expose and Spaces can be controlled using the keyboard, mouse and active screen corners or any combination which suits the way you work. I've included screenshots of my Expose and Spaces set up at the top of this post.

I prefer to use the mouse for scrolling and moving the pointer around so I don't have my mouse set up to control Expose or Spaces.
Since the Expose Panel is on the left I have the top left of the screen set as an active screen corner for Expose, along with the F3 key, which is set up by default. Extending my reasoning I have the top right of the screen set as the active screen corner for Spaces along with the F5 key. Finally, I have both bottom corners set to reveal the desktop along with the F6 key.
I also make heavy use of the [Command]+[Tab] key combination which cycles through the active applications, whichever space they're running in - similar to the Windows [Alt]+[Tab] combination.
So with Spaces and Expose set up and in conjunction with the [Command]+[Tab] key combination I have total control over what appears where and how - it quickly becomes second nature, trust me.

However you set your system up you can tweak it later and you'll soon evolve a setup which works best for you - and I'm here to help, just ask.

Mac Life Part 8 - Cloud Based Email Using IMAP...

[Back to MacLife Part 1...]

Friday, 27 November 2009

Apple Black Friday Event

Apple Black Friday EventThe Apple Black Friday Event is the only day each year Apple discounts it's own products so if you're planning to buy anything Apple for yourself or as Christmas gifts you can save yourself a few quid by ordering it online today. There's up to 6.5% discount off an iPod nano, up to 8% off an iPod touch, up to 8% off an iMac, and up to 8.5% off MacBook Pro laptops - which are all pretty good discounts. There's also discount off Apple TV, Time Capsule, Mac software and loads of iPod docks and accessories so it's well worth a look.
You can also add a free laser-engraved personalised message to personalise all iPod models which make great Christmas gifts and there's free delivery storewide on all orders over £76.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Mac Life - Part 6 - Readers Questions Answered

You can thank Neil for this Part 6 because when I started replying to his comment to Part 5: "[I would...] be interested to hear how you got on with your software switches. For instance, I use Dreamweaver, Fireworks, IPSwitch FTP etc. Presumably, you can download MAC versions and use original License Key?" my reply got so long I thought it deserved this follow up post.

There's good news and bad news on the software switching front.
I also use Adobe Dreamweaver and Fireworks and the REALLY bad news is you have to buy a NEW licence - you didn't really think Adobe would miss a chance to screw even more money out of you did you?
The not-quite-so-bad news is you can upgrade and change platforms so it's effectively a crossgrade.

[Update]I am aware of at least one person who has successfully switched their Adobe software license from PC to Mac by signing a "software destruction letter". This may or may not work for you and may/may not work in the future but it's got to be worth asking Adobe nicely before you part with your cash.[/Update]

I didn't get along with earlier Mac DW versions which I found both buggy and slow but the current release running in Snow Leopard is stable and you can save your workspace layout how you like it which is great - I hated the Mac style floating palette and tool menus.

It still took everyday use to adjust to the Mac Dreamweaver way of doing things. Mac OS generally displays file lists differently to Windows and I don't think there's any way around that (although there's bound to be an utility to patch this, anyone know of one?...) so my usual way of handling file uploads by displaying files by date modified and merely uploading the files at the top of the list doesn't work for subfolders which remain stubbornly alphabetically sorted even when files within those folders have been updated which is very irritating!
You could put your faith in Dreamweaver's file syncing features but I've never trusted them and have lost files using it so maybe it's just a problem of my own making. Fireworks is buggy, crash prone and a memory hog but it's no worse than the Windows version and it's still my preferred web image editor so maybe it's just me that has problems with it?
I haven't used IPSwitch, I used Globalscape's CuteFTP Pro for Windows and was pleased to find there's a Mac version CuteFTP MacPro which offers more features than I use but works well so I haven't looked any further. Again I had to pay for another license.

One the plus side I have found BBEdit to be a worthy successor to my beloved Textpad text editor, which is sadly Windows only so has now been retired. I've never needed a word processor - everything I write ends up in an email, a blog post, a DTP package for printed magazine publication or on web pages - I'm writing this in BBEdit before cut and pasting into Blogger.

I do have MS Office for Mac installed [hangs head in shame] because I purchased it a couple of years ago - the last time I was on the point of going totally Mac. It's a nice safety net to have around but it's expensive and I rarely use it - consider using Google Apps free online spreadsheets or Apple's iWorks which features a pretty decent spreadsheet called Numbers, a combined word processor and DTP application called Pages and Keynote to create Powerpointesque presentations. All three come with excellent quality templates and video tutorials and single and family pack licences available at sensible prices.

Mac Life Part 7 - Some common teething problems explained...

Back to MacLife Part 1...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Mac Life - Part 5 - Living In Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud based services are the future but in the here and now they're still pretty good. Set them up, have a play, and sit back and watch them evolve into indispensable services...

In previous blog posts I've mentioned cloud services including Mobile Me, Evernote and Dropbox. The big idea is to make it possible to get at my emails and data from anywhere with an internet connection but it has taken me years to figure out the advantages, limitations and feasibility of working with my data in the clouds.


Cloud Based Calendar and Contact Sharing
Apple's MobileMe service has this covered and can keep your contacts and calendar appointments up to date and synchronised across all your machines, including Windows, Mac and iPhones.

Cloud Based File Sharing
iDisk is part of MobileMe and gets you 10Gb online storage where you can store files and share them via a public folder with other users but what I really want to do is share folders with other MobileMe users, friends and collaborators and I don't think that's possible at the moment. Until then it's most useful feature is to share files between my Macs, virtual PC and iPhone.

Unlike MobileMe Dropbox makes it really easy to share files and collaborate with other people. Dropbox offers you 2Gb of FREE storage to get started with extra free storage if your friends sign up via your referral link and there's a paid Pro upgrade option if you need 50Gb or more storage.

There are other online file storage services floating around but Dropbox is free and easy to set up and use so I haven't had any reason to try the alternatives.

Sharing Notes & Documents
I use EverNote which is an awesome FREE cloud based service, with paid upgrade options, that's perfect for sharing searchable notes across all my machines and with my iPhone. Visit the Evernote website and watch the video tutorials which will blow your mind.

Email handling
Moving my huge archive of Outlook email has been my biggest headache. Fate intervened and I lost years of old emails when my PC hard drive failed as I was porting them across to the Mac!

I'm using Mozilla's Thunderbird on the Mac and to port the email across from the PC I used a nifty utility called Email Alchemy with memory booster active which works well - unless a hard drive fails on you.

In a blog posted titled Only Send Me Junk Mail From Now On! I explain why it's better if you don't email me with anything important. I'm still trying to arrive at a workable solution and the current state of play is to use Mailwasher Pro to look at all the emails sitting in my mailboxes across various accounts and services and delete and reply to anything urgent from there.

I think the way forward is to use google mail. When setting up new projects, especially where I'm collaborating with other people, we've been using Google Apps and the free google email services looks like the most workable solution for large volumes of email so far.

Project Sharing & Project Management
Google Apps is where it's at. It's another awesome free service which makes it possible to share spreadsheets and documents between collaborators online and in real-time and access them from anywhere using a web browser on any machine, PC, Mac or PDA.

Using a shared Google spreadsheet you can see other people editing cells in real time and chat with them at the same time. I hardly ever need to use Excel anymore, another MS application consigned to the scrapheap with no tears goodbye.

I'm not sure if chatting in real-time is strictly a cloud service or not but it remains a crucial part of the way I work in the clouds. The real-time chat mode in Google Apps and MSN make it easy to keep up to date with any project.

Cloud Based Multimedia Sharing
My son lugs around a heavy case stuffed with DVDs and music CDs, he thinks he owns them. I'm past that. Being in possession of shiny silver disc means nothing. You can't own music, TV programs or movies - they belong to the original creators and all you ever have is permission to listen or watch them so I've been content to have my music delivered to my ears via iTunes and more recently Spotify which only stores files locally on your iPhone for offline listening.

iTunes now offers Home Sharing which allows your to share your media between up to five machines which reminds me of my Apple Inspired Vision Of The Future posted back in 2007 - it's all coming together nicely.

Conclusion - Was Mac-Switching Worthwhile?
Unsurprisingly, given I started writing this on my PC and I'm finishing it on my Mac, the short answer is YES.

My Mac setup is an excellent affiliate marketing environment which means I can work from my office desk or get away from my desk by removing four cables and I'm good to go with my entire working environment without rebooting - it's an almost perfect fusion of desktop PC and portable laptop.

The biggest remaining challenge is figuring out the best way to organise local file storage and sharing. Although cloud services are the future they're still slow and need an internet connection so I still need to store some data, music and pictures locally.

Everything is backed up to a Mac Time Capsule so if the machine breaks or gets stolen I can, in theory, restore everything from the last backup at the click of a button.

So that's my Mac Life, how's yours?

Mac Life Part 6 answers readers questions

Back to MacLife Part 1...

Mac Life - Part 4 - Running Windows Programs On A Mac

Ok, you've got your Mac, you've still got your PC and you've set up Windows so it runs on your Mac, now it's time to set up any Windows programs you still need and make sure they work before you finally shutdown your PC for the last time.

Most of the issues I've experienced can be resolved or minimised by tweaking the settings in your virtual machine or by changing the way you work, particularly how and where you store and share files which I go into more detail in Part 5.

Generally speaking most software applications run just like they do on real Windows machines but even with a top spec Mac the trade-off is speed - you are effectively running 2 computers on one machine so the more grunt your CPU has and the more memory you have installed the better.

Here's how I got the following Windows programs up and running on my Mac, your mileage may vary.

Affmeter Pro - On the Mac
Once you've used Affmeter Pro manually logging into each network to check stats seems tedious and inefficient so here's how I migrated my copy.

Download the original archive from the link in your original registration email somewhere you can get at it from Windows running on your Mac.

From within your virtual PC open the affmeter archive and it will prompt you to install the Microsoft .Net framework. On the Windows update site select the runtime version which will take some time and then install updates.

Next, make sure Affmeter Pro is not running on either machine then copy Affmeter Pro's data file:

C:\Program Files\Affmeter\Data\affdata.afx

to the Affmeter\Data\ folder within the PC environment on your Mac.

Run Affmeter Pro and enter your serial number which is also included in your registration email.

That's it. I have had a few issues upgrading between versions but it generally runs fine under Parallels.

Mailwasher Pro - On the Mac
There is an old Mac version of Mailwasher Pro but don't waste your time with it because the current PC release is much better. You can download the current release version from the Firetrust site here:
http://www.firetrust.com/download/mailwasher-pro

Install within the PC environment on your Mac, cut and paste your registration key from your original registration email. To migrate your blacklist, friends, filters and training data to your new installation you have to copy some files.

Open the About Mailwasher dialog from the Help menu and enable the extended error logging checkbox.

On your original PC open the About Mailwasher dialog from the Help menu and enable the extended error logging checkbox.
Click on the path below to open MailWasher data files directory:

C:\Documents and Settings\Joe\Application Data\MailWasherPro

Within the PC environment on your Mac open the About Mailwasher dialog from the Help menu and enable the extended error logging checkbox.
Click on the path below to open a window displaying the MailWasher Pro data files directory and shut down Mailwasher Pro.

Now copy the Training folder, blacklist.txt and filters.txt from your orginal PC to the Mac.

Relaunch Mailwasher Pro. At the time I switched there was a problem with the mailpv.exe in the download archive so I had to manually recreate my mailboxes so if it's not fixed by the time you switch you'll have to do that as well.
Preferences are not migrated so I suggest running Mailwasher Pro on both machines and going through the Options dialog making sure everything is set up to your preferences. Finally you can toggle off the extended error logging checkbox.

I use the Mailwasher Pro preview window extensively to follow links and write Quick replies to emails and with the Parallels environment on the Mac these actions will open the default PC mac client (usually Outlook Express) and default PC web browser (Internet Explorer) but since the aim is to go Mac I was pleased to discover Parallels can be set to open internet applications either to the default PC or Mac applications - in my new Mac setup that's Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.

You'll find these settings in the Virtual Machine Configuration dialog under Internet Applications.

Quickbooks Pro - On the Mac
Every affiliate needs to keep HM Revenue & Customs happy so you're going to need some accounting software. I've been using Intuit's Quickbooks Pro for years and although there is a Mac version it's only available for the US market. A UK edition has been promised for years but I wouldn't hold your breath - I'm STILL waiting Intuit!

The PC version runs fine within the Parallels environment on a Mac I just have trouble getting it to play ball with the my Mac network printer for which Boujour for Windows, another mac innovation, comes in handy.

Mac Life Part 5 covers using Cloud based services

Back to MacLife Part 1...

Mac Life - Part 3 - It's Decision Time

Once you've made the decision to switch from PC to Mac and BEFORE you make the switch is the time to think carefully about the hardware you'll need, the way you work and the applications you use.

If you haven't already bought a Mac you can add buying a laptop or desktop machine to your research and planning. As I mentioned earlier I prefer sitting at a desk when I'm working but I eventually settled on a MacBook Pro laptop and a 24" LED display which gives me the best of both worlds. At my desk I dock the laptop to the monitor which already has a mouse and keyboard attached along with integrated webcam and sound. To work on the laptop all I have to is disconnect 4 cables and walk, no reboot needed, it doesn't get much better than this (one plug would be even nicer Mr Ive).

Many popular applications are available on both platforms. Most web browsers including Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and Apple software including iTunes, QuickTime and other applications have logical alternatives on the Mac platform which are widely discussed on the Mac Switching forums which are well worth a read.

In an effort to make the time I spend working as productive as possible I've already been working towards using browser and cloud based applications and services including Google Apps, MobileMe, Dropbox and Evernote which leaves me with just three PC only applications I need. In my case these are:

Affmeter Pro because it gives me a quick overview of what's happening to my affiliate income.
Mailwasher Pro because it's the quickest way to keep an eye on all my mailboxes.
Quickbooks Pro because although there's a US Mac version this isn't available in the UK.

If you're not planning on running any PC software on your Mac you can skip to Mac Life part 5 which covers cloud based services...

Before we get into the nitty gritty of setting these up on a Mac it's time to decide how you are going to run your Windows software on your Mac. There are three main choices:

Boot Camp
Apple includes this as an optional install and it works well but you have to boot into Mac or Windows mode and I want to run both side by side and cut/paste and copy files between them in real-time so it's a non-starter for me.

Parallels
Parallels can run Windows, Linux and pretty much any OS as a virtual machine within the Mac environment and once set up it's an almost seamless experience. it works well and has proven reliable so I'm pleased to recommend it. There's a free trial available so why not give it a try?

VMware Fusion
There's a free trial available but I haven't tried this software. It appears to offer similar features to Parallels which I've been using for years so, if you're not already using Parallels, give it a try and make your own mind up before making a final decision - feel free to share your experiences by commenting below.

All three options require a legitimate copy of Windows so make sure you have that to hand before you install your chosen software.

Mac Life Part 4 covers running Windows programs on a Mac

Back to MacLife Part 1...

Mac Life - Part 2- Virtual Machines & OS Merging

Although I'm now exclusively using Mac hardware I am still "OS merging" - I still need Quickbooks PC accounting software and down the years I've picked up a few other PC only applications including Mailwasher Pro and Affmeter Pro which I don't want to be without so I'm running them using the Parallels Virtual PC software.

Virtual Machines - Better Than The Real Thing?

(If you're not planning to run any non-Mac software you can safely skip to Mac Life Part 3)

My Atari background offers me a unique insight into the pros and cons of working with Virtual machines compared to the real thing. Atari software ran much faster on both Mac and PC hardware than it ever did on real Atari computers and I've run up against all the typical issues which ALL need to be addressed before finally committing to using a virtual machine:

Switching between the guest and host OS
This can involve a complete machine reboot or a keyboard shortcut and everything in-between.

Accessing software from the other OS
Parallels makes it possible to run the host and guest OS in parallel so it doesn't get much better than this.

Accessing, moving and copying documents and files between the OS's
You'll need to find a way of working which makes it easy to access documents and files which need to be available across OS's and you're going to have to find what works best for you on a trial and error basis.
My solution is two-fold. I run a local network with shared storage and I use remote cloud services - which I'll go into in more detail later on.

Hardware compatibility issues
If your software relied on any hardware which isn't supported or emulated by your Virtual machine you won't be able to use it. There's no easy solution to this one.

Problems with peripherals
Printing is the most common area which always throws up unexpected problems.

Keyboard layout handling
The Mac and PC keyboard layouts are different. A few crucial keys are in the "wrong" place or simply missing! Switching to a Mac and continuing to use Windows software is a challenge that requires practice and a measure of perseverance and reference tables.

Mac Life Part 3 covers what I think you should do before finally making the switch...

Back to Mac Life Part 1...

Mac Life Part 1 - Switching to Mac

I've owned personal computers since 1981 and I have been looking for the perfect set-up ever since. There have been some great machines along the way and decades later thanks to the Parallels virtual PC software, which makes it possible to run PC and Mac programs side by side on a Mac, I now have the best working environment so far.

I've retired my last office PC so I thought I'd share my experiences and encourage anyone interested in kicking the PC habit to do the same and switch to a Mac.

Why didn't I switch earlier?

(It's complicated, you won't miss much by jumping to Mac Life Part 2 if you've already bought a Mac and want to know how I've set mine up.)


Because I've been using computers since 1981 I have decades worth of prejudice and baggage to unload. I prefer sitting at a desk using a computer with a "proper" screen, keyboard and mouse and my first Apple Mac was the unrivalled Mac Duo which cleverly combined the desktop computer experience with a neat netbook sized laptop which could be ejected and used on the move. The Duo concept remains the best computing set-up I have ever used until my current Macbook Pro setup which is why it's taken me so long to finally make the switch.

Renegade Publishing Ltd was originally formed to publish Atari Computing magazine so the Mac versus PC debate wasn't an issue - we were promoting Atari machines and software. However, after Atari development ran out of steam, I had no choice but to migrate from Atari to PC and Mac software at the same time Renegade Publishing Ltd evolved into online publishing and marketing, new age media in modernspeak.

The business needed accounting software and the only choices back then were Sage and Intuit Quickbooks and neither have UK versions that run on a Mac so I bought my first PC and I've been running both Mac and PC systems side by side ever since.

The PC versus Mac Debate
My Atari background has helped me remain objective when weighing up the pros and cons of each platform and I've had a longer look at both hardware platforms and operating systems than most computer users will ever have and combined with my professional background in technology and product design on this subject I really do know what I'm talking about! Here's my overview:

Apple Pros Superb product design, headed up by Jonathan Ive, CBE, originally from Chingford, Essex, one of the world's foremost product designers.
Reliable, out-of-the-box lifestyle solutions people love using - even if they don't know it yet!

Apple Cons Comparatively expensive, Apple only cables, standards and conventions.

Mac OS Pros Reliable, easy to use, easy to keep up to date, generally virus free, compact, free software included which works and is easy to use for most common tasks.

Mac OS Cons If it does break, it can be serious.

PC Pros There's a dazzling choice of hardware available which means it's possible to build anything from a budget priced general purpose machine to a state of the art gaming platform.

PC Cons The flipside of supporting such a wide range of hardware is compatibility and software driver problems.

Windows Pros I'm struggling to think of any, help me out here Windows fans...

Windows Cons The Windows interface has never been a seamless experience and it's very tedious to keep to date and virus free. New hardware often leads to driver and software compatibility issues.

Mac Life Part 2 covers Virtual Machines & OS Merging

Monday, 27 July 2009

How To Encourage Affiliates to Update Creatives...

Because we work with hundreds (thousands?) of merchants all competing for our atttention we have to make choices about which merchants to update first in our ongoing mission to keep everything up to date across our websites.

We're more likely to update merchants that work best for us so we don't miss out on future sales and we're always responsive to requests from staff at networks, agencies and merchants with whom we have built-up a personal relationship.

We also keep an eye out for any threatening emails we get from merchants who may remove us from their programs if we don't comply with their requests at which point we make a judgement call about how to promote them in the future - working with merchants who make unreasonable requests and threats, especially at short notice, often results in us promoting their competitors ahead of them.

Today we got this email from Boden, via Affiliate Window:

Dear Boden Affiliates,

Boden are encouraging all affiliates to remove any stale promotions and to update their sites with the new 10% off, plus free delivery and returns, Autumn promotion. For affiliates doing this, Boden are offering 3 x £100 gift vouchers to 3 lucky entrants.


Now that is a simple and effective way to get affiliates working with you that demonstrates an understanding of how most affiliates work and I'd like to see more of this carrot instead of stick approach in the future.

Update...
Boden have also put up a further 3 x £100 gift vouchers to encourage affiliates to add Boden home page links and feature Boden in newsletters.

Well done Boden.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Google Slap and Back In Less Than A Week

I was checking my stats late one night when my eyes beheld a heart stopping sight - google had stopped sending cantBarsed.com any traffic and the PR for most of the popular pages had dropped from PR4 down to PR0 and were missing from the SERPs - eek!

Because the site has been online since before the millennium we've seen some dramatic spikes and depressing slaps before but we've never experienced PR0 pages and NO traffic at all so something was clearly wrong.

My first instinct is always to do nothing but after asking a few affiliate chums if I had missed anything obvious the consensus was it was most likely we had tripped an automatic penalty or perhaps a manual penalty - eek2! I had a look around for news about Google algorithm changes and nothing set any alarm bells ringing - the site hadn't changed before/after the slap so I feared the worst.

Apparently a Google manual penalty will be displayed in your Google Webmaster tools account so I nervously logged in and was relieved to see I had not upset the google traffic gods so WTF was the problem?

I took a good look around GWT and the only thing flagged up was errors in the sitemap.xml file. I manually created and update that file so I knew I hadn't made any recent changes and that left me puzzled how that could suddenly cause errors. I re-uploaded my local copy, validated it then resubmitted it to Google and within 24 hours most of the pages were showing up in the SERPs and the PR had returned - phew!

We're still well down on traffic but I'm sure that will improve as we add new content which will get crawled.

I was surprised that fixed the problem but it does leave me wondering whether to remove the sitemap.xml file altogether and let google make its own way around the site - or maybe it was just a google blip, either way it was a bad day in Joe World!