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Try Using a Magic Trackpad 2 with Your iPad Running iPadOS 13.4

When Apple released iPadOS 13.4 recently, it came with an unexpected feature: trackpad and mouse support. Apple plans to release a Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro that has a built-in trackpad in May as well, but in the meantime, you can control an iPad entirely via a Magic Trackpad 2 (the wedge-like one that recharges via a Lightning port). Pair it in Settings > Bluetooth, and look for settings in Settings > General > Trackpad. Apple did an impressive job with integrating a cursor into the iPadOS experience: the small, circular cursor shifts colors subtly depending on the background, becomes a highlighted selection rectangle when over objects, expands icons on the Home screen, and morphs into a thin insertion point when in text. Plus, Apple built in oodles of two- and three-finger gestures to mimic what you can do directly on the iPad screen—see the full list at TidBITS.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Upgrade to iOS 13.4 to Fix Mail’s Lousy Toolbar Interface

In iOS 13, in what can only have been a prank gone wrong, Apple simplified the message toolbar in Mail, putting the Delete button where the Reply button had been in iOS 12 and leaving a lot of blank space in the toolbar. As millions of users accidentally deleted messages instead of replying, hilarity ensued. (Not really.) In iOS 13.4, Apple has seemingly acknowledged the error of its ways, returning to a four-button toolbar similar to iOS 12’s five-button toolbar and moving the Delete button to the far left of the toolbar where it will be much harder to tap by accident. Upgrade to iOS 13.4 to take advantage of this change.

(Featured image by Torsten Dettlaff from Pexels)

Tips for Setting Up a Comfortable and Effective Home Work Space

Vast numbers of people who previously reported for work at an office every day are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s sensible, and if you’re included in that group, there was probably even a little thrill of “I get to work from home!” at first. But as those who have telecommuted for years know, it’s not as simple as settling down on the couch with your laptop. Here are a few tips.

Make a Dedicated Work Space, If Possible

Particularly if you’re not home alone, you’ll want to create a space that’s dedicated to working. Otherwise, it’s difficult to focus on work instead of what’s happening in your home. A spare bedroom with a door is ideal, of course, because it lets you avoid the fridge, the TV, and your family, who may also be trying to work or do schoolwork at home.

But if you don’t have an extra room, or if you need to share it with your spouse and kids, think about ways you can create individual spaces, perhaps with bookcases or makeshift curtains.

Either way, your goal is to avoid seeing and hearing others. Your partner’s activities can be distracting, and listening to your kids discussing a school project will make focusing on your work all the harder. Sound isolation can be difficult to achieve in an open room, but that’s what earbuds are for. Those with noise-canceling capabilities, like the AirPods Pro, would be best.

Pay attention to lighting as well. Putting your monitor against a window probably won’t work well during the day, and overhead lighting can cause glare.

Set Up an Ergonomic Working Environment

It’s unlikely that your home office furniture is equivalent to what you have at work, but if you’re going to be putting in full workdays at home, you need to pay attention to ergonomics.

Many tables are slightly too high to sit at comfortably with your feet flat, your hips at a 90-degree angle, and your hands floating comfortably above the keyboard, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Do what you can to achieve that position; if necessary, raise the chair and add a footstool.

Good, inexpensive chairs with height adjustments can be hard to find, though the IKEA Flintan is well-reviewed and only about $80. A small pillow can provide lumbar support if necessary. Try to make sure the arms, if present, are low—you should use them only when not typing.

It’s difficult to achieve good ergonomics while working on a laptop, or, even worse, an iPad because you’re almost always looking down too far. With a MacBook, you can achieve the ideal sightline either by attaching a large monitor that you can position at the right height or by raising the MacBook and using a separate keyboard and mouse or trackpad at the proper typing height.

Potentially Upgrade Your Internet Connection

Even beyond whatever apps you need to do your work, it’s likely that you’ll end up doing a fair amount of videoconferencing. You may need to increase the throughput of your Internet connection, and it’s important to remember that upload and download speeds are separate. You usually have much higher download speeds, so focus on the upload speed when evaluating your plan.

Apps vary in their bandwidth requirements, but you can consider a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) upload speed a safe minimum, with 3 Mbps being sufficient for nearly any video calls you’ll need to make. The download speed should be at least equivalent to the upload speed, but that will almost always be true.

If your current connection isn’t fast enough, contact your Internet service provider. More throughput will usually cost more, but ideally, your ISP can just change some settings to upgrade you. In some cases, a new cable modem or similar network hardware may be necessary, and in the worst case, you may need a new cable from the street. Whatever you do, try to avoid any plan that comes with a bandwidth cap!

Don’t be afraid to compare prices if you have multiple providers, and even if you have sufficient bandwidth now, it may be worth calling to see if plan prices have dropped since you subscribed.

Upgrade Wi-Fi Hardware

Finally, if the only place in your home that you can work isn’t well served by your current Wi-Fi router, it might be time to upgrade. That’s particularly true if you’re working on old AirPort base stations from Apple.

For creating a Wi-Fi network that has the most coverage, look into mesh networking gear like Eero and AmpliFi. The beauty of mesh networking is that you can add another router or beacon to extend the network without complicated setup.

That said, contact us before ripping your network apart, because on-site visits to fix problems may be difficult or impossible for a while.

(Featured image by Gabriel Beaudry on Unsplash)


Social Media: Working from home like the rest of us? Here’s our advice on setting up a comfortable and effective workspace.

MacBook Air Update Features Magic Keyboard, iPad Pro Gets a Trackpad

In a widely expected update, Apple has introduced a new MacBook Air that replaces the much-maligned butterfly keyboard with the new Magic Keyboard. The MacBook Air also gains faster processors, enhanced graphics, and more storage options, all for $200 less than before.

Apple also threw back the curtains on an updated iPad Pro that will be compatible with a new iPad Pro-specific Magic Keyboard that includes a trackpad. The iPad Pro is available now, but the Magic Keyboard won’t ship until May.

MacBook Air Gains Magic Keyboard, Faster Performance, and Other Enhancements

In an effort to eliminate the hated butterfly keyboard from the Mac line, Apple has released an updated MacBook Air that features the scissor-key Magic Keyboard introduced last year in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. That keyboard has received highly positive reviews, and we’re happy to see it appear in the MacBook Air. (Look for a new model to replace the current 13-inch MacBook Pro soon as well.) The Magic Keyboard includes 12 function keys as well as a Touch ID sensor, but no Touch Bar.

Apple significantly improved the MacBook Air’s performance by providing a choice of 10th-generation Intel Core processors, including the model’s first quad-core processor option. The base level 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 is probably pretty slow, but upgrading to a 1.1 GHz quad-core i5 is only $100 and a 1.2 GHz quad-core i7 is just $250.

Graphics should be noticeably speedier as well, thanks to the switch to Intel Iris Plus Graphics. The MacBook Air can now drive a 6K display too, if you have a Pro Display XDR.

Apple also doubled the base level of storage to 256 GB, and you can increase that to 512 GB ($200), 1 TB ($400), or 2 TB ($800).

Minor enhancements include True Tone technology for more natural images on the 13-inch Retina display, “wide stereo sound” for the speakers, and support for Bluetooth 5.0.

As welcome as all these changes are, the best news is that Apple simultaneously dropped the MacBook Air’s price. The entry-level model now starts at $999, and it’s available to the education market for just $899.

iPad Pro

We were waiting for the Magic Keyboard to come to the MacBook Air, but we had no inkling that Apple was going to add a trackpad option to the iPad Pro. It will come in the form of the new Magic Keyboard, due in May, and will require iPadOS 13.4, slated for late March. Apple says it will be easy to use, with the pointer transforming to highlight user elements appropriately as the user moves their finger across the trackpad. What it won’t be is cheap, at $299 for the 11-inch model and $349 for the 12.9-inch model. (The second-generation Apple Pencil and an updated Smart Keyboard Folio remain available.)

The other unexpected change in the new iPad Pro is the addition of the new LiDAR Scanner. LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is a way of measuring distance with reflected laser light. It’s commonly used in self-driving cars, but Apple is instead using it to beef up the iPad Pro’s augmented reality (AR) capabilities. It offers existing ARKit apps instant AR placement, improved motion capture, and people occlusion. Apple also uses it to improve the Measure app. We can’t help but think Apple is testing the technology for future AR goggles.

Less surprising improvements include a new processor—Apple’s custom A12Z Bionic chip—and a dual-camera system that combines a 12-megapixel wide camera and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide camera that zooms out two times to capture a much wider field of view. The iPad Pro also now boasts five microphones for capturing audio and four speakers that automatically adjust to any orientation.

Pricing for the iPad Pro itself hasn’t changed. The 11-inch model starts at $799, with the 12.9-inch model at $999. Both come with 128 GB of flash storage, up from 64 GB in the previous models, and you can buy more storage: 256 GB (add $100), 512 GB ($300), or 1 TB ($500). Cellular connectivity costs an extra $150.

Mac mini

Last and indeed least, Apple announced that the standard configurations of the Mac mini now have twice as much storage as before. That means the $799 configuration comes with 256 GB and the $1099 configuration comes with 512 GB. 1 TB and 2TB configurations remain available, and there are no other changes.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: Here’s some good news! Apple has introduced a new MacBook Air with a better keyboard and faster processor for $200 less. And there’s a new iPad Pro with trackpad support. Seriously! Check out the news at:

 

Unsubscribe from Marketing Email to Lighten Your Inbox Load

Are you overwhelmed by email? Is your Inbox filled with promotions, special offers, and the like? These messages aren’t spam—you almost always bought something from the company or have some sort of relationship with the sender—but that doesn’t mean you want to hear from them repeatedly. Luckily, it’s easy to get off the lists of legitimate senders. Just scroll to the bottom of each message and look for an unsubscribe link. Often it will be the word “Unsubscribe” or an instruction to “click here to remove yourself.” Click the link and, if necessary, click an Unsubscribe button on the resulting Web page. Then delete the message and move on to the next one. After a week or so of doing this regularly, you should start to notice a marked decrease in unwanted messages.

(Featured image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

Invoke Split View More Easily in Catalina

Split View on the Mac helps you focus on your work in one app—perhaps a word processor—while providing access to one other app, like a Web browser. (Make sure “Displays have separate Spaces” is selected in System Preferences > Mission Control.) Before macOS 10.15 Catalina, you had to click and hold on the green full-screen button in the upper-left corner of any window, drag that window to one side of the screen, and click a window on the other side to put them side by side. Catalina makes this easier to discover: hover over the green full-screen button briefly and then choose Tile Window to Left of Screen or Tile Window to Right of Screen before selecting a window on the other side of the screen. If you don’t want a 50-50 split, drag the black divider bar between the windows to adjust the proportions. To leave Split View, move your pointer to the top of the screen to reveal the menu bar and then click the green full-screen button.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Set Your Preferred Name and Photo for Messages in iOS 13

In your list of conversations in Messages, you probably have lots of people who have generic icons next to their names or numbers. You likely look like that to other people as well, but a new feature in iOS 13 lets you share your preferred name and avatar picture with other iMessage users (blue-bubble friends). In Messages, first tap the ••• button and then Edit Name and Photo. Then, in the activity view that appears, tap Edit under your photo to select a new photo and set your name as you want it. Make sure Name and Photo Sharing is enabled before tapping Done. From now on, for any iMessage conversations, you’ll see a little banner at the top that asks if you want to share your name and photo. Do so and your recipient will get a prompt to replace whatever they’re seeing for you. (And if, as a recipient, you don’t want to accept the new photo, tap the X button at the right of the prompt.)

(Featured image by Daniel Frese from Pexels)

Disable or Remap the Caps Lock Key to Avoid Accidental ALL CAPS

As you undoubtedly know, TYPING IN ALL CAPS is considered shouting on the Internet. Doesn’t it bug you when you accidentally tap the Caps Lock key and start writing in uppercase? The Caps Lock key is vestigial—it was invented as a “Shift lock” key to make it easier to type the second characters on the keys of a mechanical typewriter without also holding down the Shift key the entire time. It’s seldom useful on a computer; Google replaced it with a Search key on Chromebook keyboards. It still appears on all of Apple’s keyboards, but macOS lets you disable or remap it. In System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard, click the Modifier Keys button. In the dialog that appears, choose No Action (or another key) from the pop-up menu next to Caps Lock. Click OK and you’re free from accidental capitalizations.

(Featured image based on an original by Scott Webb from Pexels)

Preparing Your Organization for a Possible COVID-19 Quarantine

As of this writing, the respiratory disease COVID-19 has caused nearly 3000 deaths and infected over 80,000 people worldwide. There are relatively few cases in North America currently, but that could increase significantly. For high-quality information about COVID-19, turn to the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For now, the Centers for Disease Control are recommending sensible precautions. They include regular hand washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes (with your elbow), and staying home and avoiding public spaces if you’re feeling unwell. (These are smart things to do during flu season anyway, given that 10,000 people in the US have died of influenza already this season.)

What if local health officials were to declare a quarantine? Without lapsing into doomsday scenarios, it is always reasonable to make sure that you are personally ready for a natural disaster or other emergency. The Prepared has a detailed guide to help you prepare for a COVID-19 scare or quarantine.

We want to focus on how organizations—either those you run or work for—might prepare for a public health scare or possible quarantine, particularly in the context of your technology use. Here are our thoughts, and contact us if you want help with your preparedness plans.

Infection Prevention

If your organization has numerous employees or serves the public, put some thought into how you can reduce the chance of infection. That might include providing hand sanitizer dispensers, wiping down frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners, and a more frequent cleaning schedule for restrooms.

For an Apple-specific tip, try using or encouraging the use of Apple Pay to reduce the need to touch credit card terminals!

Also, it’s best to avoid shaking hands with customers and colleagues. Perhaps the Japanese custom of bowing will gain traction elsewhere in the world.

Internal Communications

In the event that public health officials discourage people from gathering, think about how your company will communicate internally with people working from home. Many organizations allow such flexibility now anyway, so it’s likely that yours has at least informal communication channels via phone and email, and chat systems like Slack.

Consider formalizing those channels if need be, and if your directory service doesn’t already contain this information, publish a list of phone numbers and email addresses so everyone can contact co-workers easily. If your organization relies on IP telephony, make sure everyone understands how to use softphones or can configure an office phone at home. If you have a switchboard, investigate how it can be operated remotely.

If your organization’s email system is usually available only from computers owned by the organization, make sure webmail access is enabled and that everyone understands how to access it. Similarly, it’s worth making sure everyone has email access from their phones.

Chat systems like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be effective ways for far-flung groups to communicate because they provide real-time communication segregated into topic- or group-specific channels. If you’re not already using such a system and would like to investigate adding it to your communications strategy, contact us for advice.

Remote Access to Organizational Services

For connectivity to office-based file servers and other systems, make sure everyone has access to your VPN and knows how to use it. (Don’t have a VPN, or virtual private network? Again, call us—a VPN is an essential way to provide remote access while ensuring security.)

Are there any specialized servers or services, such as an accounting system, that have security safeguards related to specific access points? Think about what additional access may need to be provided for an employee working from home.

Physical Environment

If most or all employees are working from home, what does that mean for your office? Do physical security systems or climate settings need to be adjusted? Do you want to set up video cameras or other remote monitoring hardware? Who’s going to water the plants? On a more serious note, if you have on-premises servers, make sure they can be administered entirely remotely, including power cycling.

It’s also worth determining who will have responsibility for the office in the event of problems, which could still occur even if no one is there. What if a water pipe in the building breaks, or there’s a burglary? Make sure it’s clear who will respond.

Business Functions

Think about the regularly scheduled aspects of running the business, with an eye toward those that might assume the presence of certain people. Can they run payroll, accounts receivable, and accounts payable remotely? Make sure that every key position has at least one backup, so if one person falls ill, the organization’s ability to function won’t be compromised.

If international travel is a significant part of your organization’s mission, you’re already figuring out how to compensate through videoconferencing and similar technologies. But if you regularly travel only within the country or your area, think about which trips are essential and which can be replaced using online conferencing tools.

Finally, consider how your clients and customers will react to the situation. It’s unfortunately likely that there will be less work taking place, so you may see decreased revenues, but certain organizations may see an increased workload. For instance, if the number of patients in hospitals skyrockets, those who support healthcare systems may struggle under the load alongside the doctors and nurses.

We certainly hope that all these preparations prove unnecessary, but they’re worthwhile regardless. Too many businesses have failed after a fire, hurricane, or earthquake renders an office uninhabitable, and such natural disasters are all too common. As the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.”

(Featured image based on an original by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)


Social Media: How would your organization react to a COVID-19 scare or quarantine? Here’s how you can use technology to respond to such an event.

Make Your Own Keyboard Shortcuts on the Mac

Power users like keyboard shortcuts because it’s faster to press a couple of keys than to navigate lengthy menus. If you have trouble remembering shortcuts, check out KeyCue, which displays a concise table of all currently available shortcuts. But what about menu items that lack shortcuts? Make your own in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts. Click the + button, choose an app from the Application menu, fill in the Menu Title field, click the Keyboard Shortcut field, press your desired key combination, and click Add. You can even make shortcuts for Safari bookmarks, since they appear in the Bookmarks menu. If a shortcut doesn’t work, make sure you typed its menu title exactly right, including any punctuation like three periods for an ellipsis. To edit an item, double-click its title or shortcut in the list. If you no longer want an item, select it and click the – button.

(Featured image by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash)