Murphy Mac - Screencasts and Tutorials » Posts in 'Product Reviews' category

Pogoplug – Simple File Sharing and More

pogoWhat’s remarkable about Cloud Engine’s Pogoplug ($129US) is how well it serves two distinct types of users. Looking for a zero-effort way to share files on your local network and the Internet? Pogoplug. Looking for a tiny linux box with plenty of open-source tweaking potential? Pogoplug.

The Pogoplug web site promotes the mass-market features of the Pogoplug. The device can:

  • Put your external drives and portable storage devices on a network.
  • Allow you to access and share that content on the Internet.
  • Enable streaming of video and music to the iPhone and other devices.

But what’s great about the Pogoplug is that anyone can get all those features up and running easily. Instead of punching holes through your router by opening ports the Pogoplug uses a central server. Your Pogoplug checks in with the server to see if anyone is trying to connect, then it patches through valid requests. This makes setup incredibly simple:

  • Connect the Pogoplug to your router
  • Plug in your USB storage devices
  • Create a username and password

Once those setup steps are complete you can access your Pogoplug at http://my.pogoplug.com. Your username is automagically mapped to your Pogoplug hardware and the central server completes the connection.
The system seamlessly enables fast local access to its content when you’re on the same local network as the Pogoplug. Even though you’re accessing it via http://my.pogoplug.com you can upload and download files quickly over the Pogoplug’s gigabit Ethernet port.

Everything worked as expected when I tried out the Pogoplug. Using the web interface I could view images, watch video previews, download files, and listen to streaming music. I could also upload files and let the Pogoplug convert my video files so they could be streamed.

pogoYou can also share images or entire folders of files. The Pogoplug prompts for email addresses and the selected content is shared via a unique link. There’s more! The Pogoplug can send notifications automatically when you make updates to shared content.   You can create RSS feeds and connect to social networking sites.pogo

If you’re looking for an OS integrated solution there’s optional software for both Mac and PCs. Once installed the Pogoplug is listed like a drive in the Finder.
Maybe you leave your computer on all day because you never know when you’re going to need a file from your drive. Wouldn’t it be better to leave a low-power device like the Pogoplug running than your iMac?

iphoneConsider these scenarios:

  • Maybe you’re looking for an alternative to DroboShare, which has some limitations.
  • Maybe you don’t want your computer tied up converting video to a streaming format.
  • Maybe your dad wants a dead-simple way to share photos from his camera. What could be easier than plugging a card reader into a Pogoplug?
  • Maybe you’re that person who doesn’t trust the cloud or like the limitations. You want your stuff on your storage devices – not Flickr, not YouTube.  Pogoplug.

OpenPogo
How does Cloud Engine feel about people tinkering with their device? That’s pretty clear from the web site. You’ll find the root password in plain view on the Developer page, as well as links to the Pogoplug development community. I ssh’d into the device and poked around. I like the idea of using the Pogoplug for big overnight scp uploads instead of leaving a computer running.  Or burdening a computer that’s working on other overnight tasks.

Conclusion

The Pogoplug is a near-perfect implementation for what it does.  I admit I preferred the simplicity of the earlier form-factor.  Still – the newer version adds capacity that’s worth the tradeoff.   It’s basically a headless computer for $129.  There are others out there, just look for Sheevaplugs.  But it would be hard to beat the simplicity of the Pogoplug.

I’d like an alternative to accessing the device through the pogoplug.com domain – which could be a problem if Cloud Engine disappears.  But that fear is diminished by the company’s positive outlook toward open source development for the product.  Murphy gives Pogoplug two thumbs up.

Check out the screencast to see what the interface looks like.

Screencast | Permalink

Airport Extreme E-Book

bookI’ve never understood how non-techies make sense of things like private IP addressing, DHCP, Wifi, etc. When they troubleshoot –  where do they start? The only thing more baffling to Murphy is how the technically-disinclined manage to upgrade their WordPress installs.

But for anyone looking for guidance with an Apple Airport configuration (or any wifi network) there’s help: Glenn Fleishman’s Ebook, Take Control of Your 802.11n Airport Network. The 265 pages are packed with information for anyone trying to get the most from their Apple Airport, Time Capsule, or Airport Express.

This ebook is part of an entire series of ebooks managed by publishers Adam and Tonya Engst. The catalog is extensive – and based on Take Control of Your 802.11n Airport Network – the quality is excellent. I hadn’t read many electronic books before but one benefit became instantly obvious: searchable text. The book is also well hyperlinked, allowing easy hops from what you’re reading to related content.

So – do you really need this book? If you typically guess your way through networking and have set up wireless networks before you’ll probably get your Airport up and running using the Airport Utility’s guided setup mode. But is up and running good enough for you?  Consider these questions:
chart

  • Should your wifi be running on the 2.6 ghz radio or the 5 ghz?
  • Can you stop your iPhone from slowing down your Mac’s wifi?
  • Could an Airport Extreme be the bottleneck between your lan and an ultra-fast Internet provider?
  • Do you know what channel is best for wifi in your home or office?
  • Do you want to allow outside traffic into your network?
  • Do you want to extend your signal outside or beyond the range of a single Airport?
  • What kind of encryption is best for your network?
  • Does it take entirely too long to copy video files across your network?
  • Do you know how to interpret the information in Airport Utility, like the chart displayed here?

If you’re looking for guidance on any of those questions -or if you think the Airport should have included a detailed manual – you should take a look at Glenn’s book.

Your Airport has many configuration options, not all of them are obvious.  For example, when selecting a radio mode only a few choices are listed in the drop-down list.  Yet option-clicking the list yielded the choice I was looking for along with many others.  How was Murphy supposed to know that?  Read the book.

Advanced configurations can get confusing with two radios.  What are the best options for naming the two networks?  How will your guests access the network?  Are you going to allow access for 802.11a?  Glenn covers these questions in his book.

Yes, the Airport came with a 36 page manual. But the first eight pages explain how to plug it in and the last five cover how big it is and whether or not you can use it at the North Pole. In between you’ll find the same vague information found in many Apple publications. On the other hand, Take Control of Your 802.11n Airport Network is one of the longer Taking Control titles – and it’s packed with useful information.  The material covers a wide swath of networking information with just the right amount of depth.

The book starts out by covering many general networking concepts, quite an undertaking in itself. But it’s not overwhelming and it won’t bog you down. All the content is cleanly presented with plenty of screen captures and diagrams – helping you understand the roles Apple networking products can handle. The presentation is easy on the eyes; the content is well written.

For those already familiar with the ins and outs of Ethernet and IP networking there’s an in-depth discussion about channels used by wifi networking gear. Glenn explains how wifi signals can be constrained by walls as well as devices in your home such as microwave ovens and cordless phones- as well as many other culprits.    The topic is covered even further in a new appendix.

Sure, some people can get their network running themselves.  But maybe you’d like to get a handle on networking yourself – or you’re considering calling the Geek Squad.  With this book you can easily set up a network without outside help.  A generous sample is available on the ebook website.  Don’t forget to check out the other Taking Control titles.

Taking Control of your 802.11n Airport | Permalink

Motion-X GPS for iPhone

Motion XMotion-X GPS reminds me of a simple map-less handheld Garmin eTrex I once used for running and hiking. The eTrex kept track of my distance and average speed, functioned as a compass when I was moving, and could store waypoints and tracks. Handy, but an extra thing to carry and a little awkward to use.

Motion-X GPS is designed to fill a similar role, but it does so much more. Like the eTrex, the compass lets me navigate to a known waypoint. The eTrex essentially needed a computer to add waypoints, unless you were standing on the spot you wanted to mark. Motion-X has Google Maps built in and you can double-tap a spot to drop a waypoint in. Views include road, satellite and contour maps.

The user interface is one of Motion-X’s main strengths. Functions are laid out in pages, with arrow buttons to slide through the rotation. A very Apple-like function: Hold down an arrow button and a list appears allowing you to jump directly to a page. There are separate pages for maps, compass view, waypoint and track lists, a stopwatch, and GPS status.Motion X

There’s a well-designed interface for sharing waypoints, tracks, and photos via Twitter, Email, or Facebook. The application can access your iPhone contacts too.

Motion-X takes advantage of a new iPhone API – adding iTunes controls right inside the application. No need to stop the app (and tracking) to change your playlist. A recent update taps into the iPhone 3GS magnetometer for the compass. There’s still an option to use a GPS-based compass while in motion.

Looking for a GPS application for your car? While Motion-X isn’t intended to provide directions it can still function as a trip computer, providing information like an ETA, average speed, and distance-to-destination.

Like my old eTrex, this application is better applied to outdoor use: biking, hiking, running. You could mark your starting point in a strange city, then wander around adding waypoints for places you’d like to revisit. You can even take photos within the app and store them with waypoints or a track.

Others have already given Motion-X a full review, I’ll leave the details to them. But here are some of my favorite features:

  • Great interface including customization options
  • Built-in access to iTunes
  • Ability to add a waypoint on a map
  • Magnetic compass support on iPhone 3GS
  • Smart interface for sharing via Twitter, Email or Facebook
  • Can store 101 tracks and 303 waypoints
  • Comprehensive Google Map integration

There’s a free lite version of Motion-X (iTunes link) that lets you see the features but restricts waypoint storage. It’s well worth a look. The full version (iTunes link) is currently available in the app store for $2.99.

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AirFoil Adds Features

Murphy uses AirFoil to send audio from a web browser to an Airport Express or an Apple TV.   It’s great for listening to Pandora throughout the house, with various speakers all in sync.  There’s an Apple TV connected to the stereo and an Airport Express connected to a Tivoli radio in the kitchen.  AirFoil can also send audio to another Mac, like the G5 upstairs that has decent speakers connected.  Three sets of speakers all playing one stream throughout the house.

Airfoil keeps getting better.  Recently it gained the ability to ‘hijack’ audio from an application that’s already running.  Previously, you had to start AirFoil, and then launch the application from AirFoil to send its audio to another device.  Not anymore – AirFoil can access already-running applications now.  And they’ve added an iPhone app.  So Murphy can bring a portable radio out on the porch – connect an iPod touch – and listen to the same stream that’s playing in the house.  In a nutshell, it turns an iPhone or touch into a battery powered Airport Express in terms of music streaming.

The software is rock solid, no drop-outs.  The interface is simple and unobtrusive.

Using Quicktime Murphy could listen to the aapl quarterly conference call over AirFoil.  Sending the stream into the kitchen beats lugging a laptop in there.  It’s great for Songza, Pandora, YouTube – or whatever audio you want to transmit.  You can even transmit an iTunes stream to your iPhone or touch – enhancing its multi-speaker functionality.

The iPhone / touch application is free.   The desktop software is $25.  AirFoil for Mac / Windows.  There’s a bundle with both for $40.

AirFoil | Permalink

Find Duplicate Files with Tidy Up

Tidy Up
Murphy has built up a ton of duplicate files over the years.  All kinds of stuff, some files with the same file name, some with different file names.  Many of the files are half-baked backups thrown onto external drives in haste.  Some are just the result of poor housekeeping.

I’ve used various tools to get the mess under control.  Later we’ll be looking at a tool called CD Finder that despite its name can be very helpful in cataloging an unruly collection of disks and drives.  We’ll be looking at the diff command too – which is already on your Mac.  But first let’s take a look at Tidy Up, an extremely helpful tool for finding duplicate files and deleting them.

Tidy Up can look beyond the filename to determine if files are duplicates or not.  In the screencast Murphy uses Tidy Up to look at file content and size.  There are many other criteria sets the application can use to evaluate files.

Tidy Up can also dig into iPhoto and iTunes databases in search of duplicates.  Mail mailboxes too.  Information about deleted files is then synced back to the applications.  We’ll look at these features in another screencast.

One feature Murphy really likes:  The ability to keep a single copy from a duplicate grouping.  Tidy Up groups identical files together in its search results.  The application will display all but a single file from each group, allowing you to delete all the extras at once.

Tidy Up can also restore content you’ve deleted to its original location, as long as you haven’t emptied the trash.

You can use Tidy Up to scan multiple drives at once or just a folder that you suspect has duplicates.  It’s probably best to experiment a little before deleting anything – to ensure you’re getting the results you expect.

Watch Now | Permalink