MacHeist 2009 has started

If you haven’t yet checked out the latest MacHeist, it’s not too late. Just for registering at, you’ll get the Process application from Jumsoft, for free! And if you go through the initial steps of the “heist,” you’ll be rewarded with two more applications: MacDust (a chache cleaning utility) and the novel game Pandora’s Pests.

And this is just the start. After you complete the first steps of the heist, which involves finding and uploading the URLs of a series of nine TGA graphic files to the MacHeist “Main Frame,” you’ll be presented with a cryptic “countdown” screen to the next stage of MacHeist 2009. As I write this, the estimated time remaining is 17 days to the “decoding” of these TGA files, which suggests the next stage of the MacHeist will start around February 5. So if you haven’t got in on the fun, there’s still time!

iPhone 3G

So I finally had to buy an iPhone 3G.  I had talked about why I didn’t buy a first generation iPhone in an earlier post, and I’m glad I waited.  The iPhone 3G was truly worth the wait. 

I had wanted to get one of these phones back in July.  After standing in line for two hours at a local Apple store, I gave up.  But a little over a week ago, I was lucky enough to find a black 16 GB model in stock at an AT&T store.  No line to wait in, and although it took awhile to activate, it was a relatively painless process.  Plus by purchasing at an AT&T store, I was able to get my employer’s discount on cell phone service.

I’ve got to say that this is the first cell phone I’ve owned where I can actually use email and web applications.  While I’ve tried various “mobile web” enabled cell phones in the past, none of them provided a very usable experience.  Even if I limited myself to websites optimized for mobile devices, trying to surf the web on a phone was like trying to watch a movie through a straw.

Of course, the iPhone 3G isn’t perfect.  I wish it could handle flash.  I wish AT&T’s network was a bit more robust, especially the 3G coverage.  And I wish the new pricing plans included unlimited texting (something that was included in the original iPhone plans).

But I’m willing to put up with these minor annoyances for a phone that can let me read my email, surf the web, store my contacts, snap a quick photo and keep my calendar handy.  And yes, make an occasional phone call, too.  I think I’ve fallen in love.

MacJournal 5

Today I downloaded the update to MacJournal, and I’m writing this blog entry with it. I’ve used MacJournal for a couple of years to write blog entries, organize information, and keep a personal journal. The new version was announced at last week’s MacWorld Expo, and I’ve been eager to give it a try.

My initial impressions are general positive, but nothing too exciting. The familiar MacJournal interface has not changed significantly, although it has a cleaner, more “Leopard-like” appearance. This version has improved MacJournal’s ability to work with many different kinds of content, including images and videos. The icon for the program has changed; I’m not sure I like the new blue icon as well as the old red one, which seemed to have more “character.”

One thing that I’ve always loved about MacJournal is the full screen feature. This allows you to clear your screen of all distractions, presenting a simple, clean area where you can focus on your writing. This feature hasn’t seemed to change much in the new version. In fact, most of the changes I’ve discovered so far in the new version are rather subtle. There are a few more preferences available, including the ability to automatically discover “wiki style links,” which I assume means words in CamelCase (where a middle letter is capitalized in a new word formed by joining two words). I’m not quite sure how I would use this feature yet. There is also a “smart journal” feature that is similar to the “smart mailbox” in Mac Mail and the “smart album” in iPhoto. Another nice feature is the ability to assign a “star rating” to entries.

I’ve just been using the program for a short time, and I’ve found a few small annoyances. The full screen editor didn’t work at first, but that could have been a problem with Leopard’s Spaces feature. In any case, it’s working fine now, so I’ll just chalk it up to something that is probably happening at the OS level. I’ve also found that sometimes the “smart quotes” feature isn’t very smart, occasionally positioning the quote marks in the wrong direction. I’ve also found that this feature doesn’t seem to be compatible with my blogging platfrom. Again, this could be something in the OS, rather than in the program itself.

All things considered, this upgrade wasn’t a huge leap for MacJournal, but considering it was only $19.95 to upgrade, I’m not complaining. The one feature that may be worth this price is the ability to work with more kinds of content, and in particular, PDF files. Still, it would have been nice to have seen a few more features in this upgrade. In particular, I would have appreciated more tools for adjust the formating of images in blog entries.

MacUpdate and MacHeist

This past week, the venerable MacUpdate has been running a special bundle promotion.  For just $49.99, one could get a bundle of eight very useful Mac programs, including one of my favorites, ProfCast.  If you are a professor using Keynote or PowerPoint on a Mac, and want to easily make enhanced podcasts of your lectures, ProfCast is for you.  It simplifies the process greatly, and helps you focus on more important things than editing XML and publishing RSS feeds.

But wait…there’s more!  If enough people buy the bundle, one or two more applications will be “unlocked.”  If 3,800 bundles are sold, the drawing program Intaglio would be added.  And if the 6,000 bundle figure is reached, TechTool Pro will be included.  I’ve been using earlier versions of TechTool Pro for many years, and it’s one of the best testing and diagnostic tools available for the Mac.

But wait…there’s still more!  The great minds behind MacHeist have developed an even more appealing way to get the bundle.  If you buy the MacUpdate bundle through their special link, you’ll not only get all of the apps in the bundle, you’ll also get four additional programs, plus special preview access to two programs in beta.  All told, that’s 15 programs (16 if TechTool Pro is added) plus a free membership in MacUpdate if you send out the bundle invitation coupons.  That’s about $3 a program.

What a deal!  If you use a Mac, you owe it to yourself to at least check this out.

Why I didn’t get an iPhone…yet

I couldn’t stand it any longer. After playing with an iPhone on Saturday at an AT&T store, I decided to go to an Apple store on Sunday to see the iPhone in a more “natural” environment. What a difference! The marketing of the iPhone at the Apple Store was much more polished and appealing than what I saw in the AT&T store. For one thing, you could see the stock on hand, boxes stacked up behind a roped off area of the store. Also, there were plenty of activated iPhones ready to play with and make test calls on. And perhaps most importantly, there were people there who were interested in selling iPhones.

So why didn’t I buy one? I almost did, but a series of events led me to leave the mall without this beautiful gadget. I decided not to satisfy my “technolust” not because of Apple, but because of two other companies who got in the way of an impulse purchase: Juniper Bank and AT&T.

Juniper Bank is the company that offers the Apple “iTunes Rewards” Visa card. Since I’m one who always looks to take advantage of every possible premium, even on hot products like the iPhone, I had intended to apply for this card in the Apple Store and use it to purchase the iPhone. I didn’t think there would be a problem with getting this card, as I have excellent credit, and in fact already have a couple of other credit cards from Juniper Bank. Alas, after I had filled out the application on one of the computers in the store (using private browsing in Safari, of course) I received a message that the bank needed additional information to process my information. I then called the phone number for Juniper Bank on their web site, and after navigating through a number of menus, finally got to speak to a real person. She was not very helpful at all, basically giving me the same response that I got from the web application. Indeed, I think she may have just been reading it off of the same web page I was looking at. So, strike one for getting an iPhone on July 1. But I wasn’t giving up.

I called my wife on one of the demo iPhones in the store to test the sound quality. It was as good, if not better, than the sound quality on the Verizon “Chocolate” phone I currently use. And my ear didn’t accidentally activate the touch screen, as it does on my Chocolate. Yet if I wasn’t going to get my free iTunes from the Visa card, I had to be really impressed with the whole package. Hardware wise, I certainly was very impressed. This was the best cellular phone I had ever used. It may have been the best consumer electronics device I had ever used, and I have used a lot. But then I began studying the AT&T side of the deal.

The service plans from AT&T are reasonable, but I had to check out a few more details. The mall I visited had two AT&T stores, and I visited both to discuss the iPhone service plans. The first place I visited was the AT&T kiosk nearest to the Apple Store. A woman there was discussing the iPhone service options to another interested customer, and gave conflicting information about the “family plan” options. She said that you could have an iPhone on a family plan, but only if it wasn’t the primary phone. In other words, she was saying that if you wanted an iPhone with a family plan, you could only do so if you got a different phone first, then added the iPhone as an additional line. That didn’t make much sense to me, so I asked to look at the brochures she had. When I pointed out to her that the AT&T iPhone service plan brochure does indicate a family plan is available with the iPhone as the primarily line, she seemed confused for a moment. Then she said that maybe you could get the iPhone as the primarily line, but only if all other phones on the family plan were iPhones. When I asked her if I could apply my 15% employee discount that AT&T provides to faculty at my university, at first she said yes, then she said no, then she said she wasn’t sure. It was obvious to me at this point that she really didn’t know enough about the iPhone service plans to give a straight answer. Strike two.

Then I decided to walk to the other end of the mall where there was a “real” AT&T store. I thought that perhaps the folks at the kiosk weren’t trained as well as employees at full-fledged AT&T stores. That hunch was correct; I talked to a woman who seemed to be quite clear about the options for iPhone service. Yes, I could have an iPhone on a family plan. No, it didn’t matter if it was a primary line or not; I could have any combination of iPhones with other phones on a family plan. No, I couldn’t get the employee discount on either the iPhone or the monthly service fees. At that point, she said that wasn’t an AT&T decision, but something that Apple had insisted upon…that Apple had stipulated with AT&T that no service plan discounts could be applied to any account that had an iPhone. I found that rather suspicious, but she said it with such authority that I didn’t question it. But then she asked me a rather unexpected question…

“What is it about the iPhone that appeals to you so much?” the AT&T salesperson asked. I replied that I liked a lot of things about the iPhone, and proceeded to mention many of its features that impressed me. Then she told me that I could get all of those features “and more” with another phone she could sell me. Walking away from the people crowding around the iPhone display, she led me to a much less busy part of the store where they were displaying a number of Windows Mobile Edition “smartphones.” She proudly demonstrated all of the features on one particularly ugly phone that she said was her favorite, and that it “had all of the features of the iPhone” at a much lower price. Plus I could get my employee discount on the service plan. Plus it would work much better with Windows than would the iPhone. Sure, the iPhone will be popular with the “die hard Apple fans,” but once the dust settles, she was confident that I would be much happier with a Windows-based smartphone.

Now I was getting really concerned. Her spiel sounded so well-rehearsed and polished that I couldn’t help but wonder if AT&T may be encouraging employees to play down the iPhone. Maybe it had to do with commissions or something. Maybe it had to do with this particular employee’s obvious preference for Windows. Or maybe there was something even more sinister going on. Could it be that some people at AT&T don’t want the iPhone to succeed? Not the top brass, but maybe middle managers who may feel a bit threatened by the iPhone? If nothing else, it was clear to me that the iPhone marketing approach at the Apple Store was worlds apart from the approach at the AT&T stores I visited.

And that gave me enough uncertainty about my purchase that I decided to wait. Strike three. No iPhone for me today. Until it becomes clearer to me whether AT&T is really on board with Apple on the iPhone, I’m not sure I’m ready to bite. The phone itself is great. But my impression of the company providing the phone service is considerably less than great. It may well be that the only thing standing in the way of the iPhone’s success is AT&T. As a stockholder in both companies, I’d really like them to see the value of working together…not just “at the top” where the deals are made, but “in the trenches” where the sales are made.

At the very least, I’ll wait until I hear what Juniper Bank’s story is. Gotta get those iTunes rewards!

A furry web on the iPhone?

Now this one’s rather strange, but some might enjoy it. If you’ve seen the latest ads for Apple’s iPhone, you may appreciate this oddly humorous version, compliments of the folks at This Just In. It’s just incredible how much hype the iPhone is getting, both positive and negative…and in this case satirical.

And just think, in less than two weeks, you’ll be able to watch this video on your iPhone (if you’re lucky enough to get one).