I set out recently to find a shared iOS shopping list App to replace my family’s paper grocery shopping list. I had some pretty simple requirements:
Easy-to-use sharing between family members using different iCloud accounts
Ability to review the list in the store and mark items off
Ability to review and revive completed items (We’ve got milk this time, but we’ll need it again soon)
I spent some time in the App store looking at reviews and didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. Some otherwise useful apps had a bad reputation for crashing. Others were just too complex. Some needed a subscription and a sign-on for sharing to work. It’s just creepy that the vendor would be watching everything on your shopping list.
Eventually I found it. An app that was already on my phone that met all my requirements and didn’t need any additional sign-ups, plus you can use Siri to add items to the list by voice.
The app is: Reminders — the humble Apple Reminders app that comes with iOS.
When the new version of Numbers for the Mac came out some features were dropped. Most of them have not been added back in. Reviews of the apps have been definitely mixed. Numbers only gets a 3-star rating on the App store (both versions).
Two-and-a-half to three stars is a pretty terrible rating, especially for an Apple app. As you can see, the ratings are very mixed with most reviewers giving either one star or five-star ratings. The ratings for the iOS version are very similar.
The one-star reviews are mostly from people upset about advanced features removed from the previous version. The five-star reviews tend to be from people who have come to the application fresh, with no special expectations.
Numbers includes hundreds of distinct features. The chart below highlights just a few of my favorite features as compared with Microsoft Excel.
Documents, Sheets and Tables
Numbers documents can have multiple sheets. Each sheet can have multiple tables. When you create a new Numbers document, it has one sheet with one table on that sheet.
If you have used Excel, having multiple sheets should be familiar. The main difference is that the sheets appear at the top of the window instead of at the bottom.
The concept of having multiple tables on a single sheet may be new to users of older spreadsheet programs. It is a very nice feature, which allows you to separate groups of data or formulas which are of different types instead of lumping them all into the same grid of rows and columns. You can arrange the tables on the page however you like.
Numbers uses a consistent set of formatting controls very similar to those in the Pages word processor we discussed last month. These are presented in a pane on the right hand side of the window. These controls look simple, but all together, they have a lot of power. In addition to the pre-defined Table and Text styles, you can create and save your own preferred styles.
Type an equals sign to enter formula editing mode for a cell. Color coding appears showing the source cells used in your formula. This makes it easier to understand if your formula is correct or to see the source of errors.
When you copy or fill a formula into additional cells, Numbers automatically adjusts cell references relative to the current cell. If you want to override that to select an absolute row, absolute column, or absolute cell, you can use the Preserve Row/Preserve Column options.
Importing Files From Excel
A common task in Numbers would be to open an Excel document created by someone else. This can work fairly well, but is not completely painless.
This imported okay, and the amortization calculations agreed, but the date formulas were not imported correctly and would have to be re-done in numbers.
One of our members asked how Numbers was at handling large files imported from Excel. To test this I created a large spreadsheet in Excel with 40,000 rows and about 14 columns. The file size in Excel was 3.7 Megabytes. Numbers opened it without complaint, but it took about 30 seconds. When saved as a native Numbers document, its size increased to 6.3 Mbytes, but the native document opened in Numbers in about five seconds.
Although I didn’t get any warnings in Numbers, I did get one “Not enough memory” message in Excel while cutting, pasting and filling to create the document. Excel handled it gracefully without crashing.
iOS Numbers App
The Numbers app on iOS is deliberately very similar to the version for Macintosh.
FYI, Excel also has an iOS app which is free in the App store. It looks like this:
The Excel app is apparently read-only until you register for and log in to a Microsoft Office 365 account.
If you want a spreadsheet program to perform the usual tasks of calculation, sorting and organizing, and you don’t have much prior experience with spreadsheets, you will find Numbers a very useful application. It’s especially easy to learn because of consistent controls across Mac and iOS versions and consistency with Pages and Keynote.
If you know what a pivot table is, or have a lot of spreadsheets already in Excel format, you may be dissatisfied with the limitations of Numbers.
I’ve met several people who say they just want to use Facebook or email, but are having problems using their iPhone. They are often surprised by the results of their actions, and sometimes flail away at the screen in frustration.
Trying to use Apps on the iPhone (or iPad) without understanding the basic gestures is like hopping in a car, wanting to drive across town, without being quite sure what those pedals on the floor do.
Here’s a quick rundown of the iPhone controls and what to expect from them. I’ve seperated gestures you make on the touch screen from operations involving the power button, the home button and the whole phone. Many of the functions I have indicated below can be customized in Settings, but these are the default actions. Gestures may have special meaning within certain Apps, but these are the most common usages.
Starting at the very beginning, here’s how to use the power button, located on the upper right side of your phone. Holding the power button for 3 seconds brings up the Slide to Power Off screen. If your phone is powered down, you will need to hold the power button for a few seconds until you see the Apple logo and the phone begins powering on.
Here’s what you can do with the Home Button at the bottom center of the iPhone/iPad. Touch ID is only available in the iPhone 5s and newer. For a click, press hard. For a tap, just touch it lightly. Only a light touch is needed for the fingerprint sensor. If anybody knows some function that requires only a single tap of the home button, please leave me a comment.
There are a few things you can do with your whole phone, without pushing any buttons. When you phone is asleep, lifting it to a vertical position momentarily turns on the screen so you can see the time, date and notifications.
Here are the gestures for the iPhone touch screen. These are the most commonly used and the area where people have the most trouble. In particular, the iPhone is very sensitive to any sideways or vertical motion of your finger when you touch the screen. If it notices any motion, your gesture is interpreted as a swipe instead of a tap. Tapping is probably the most common gesture, so it’s important to master it. When tapping make sure you move your finger up and down only, without sliding it sideways at all.
One of the most common problems with the touch screen is unintended actions. The screen is very sensitive to the slightest touch. In fact, it will sometimes sense a touch if your finger is just near the screen. So, keep all your fingers away from the screen until you actually want to do something.
Remove your finger promptly when tapping or you will get a Press & Hold. If you want to use Press & Hold, you don’t have to press hard, just rest your finger — again, no sliding. This is probably most useful to open the sharing menu for a photo.
These are special, iPad-only gestures:
For a device with such an easy-to-use reputation, this is a pretty big list. But, make sure you understand these and you will have a much easier time using your device.
MacMAD’s October, 2016 Meeting topic is VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Here are some accompanying links and information.
People generally use a VPN for these reasons:
Security and privacy when using a public network, such as at a coffee shop or hotel.
To allow access to online content which is subject to geographical restrictions.
To allow remote access to a private local network such as your home network or your employer’s network
Provide privacy at home (prevent your ISP from knowing what you are up to)
VPN Features to Look For
Automatic connection and reconnection – prevents accidental leakage of unencrypted data
Choice of VPN endpoint – What country would you like to be in today?
Self Installation/Configuration – Avoids lots of technical settings
Client and Server
VPNs follow a client-server model. The client app usually runs on your computer or portable device. The server can be either a commercial VPN service or you can run your own VPN server at home on your router (some models) or on another computer. There are many (hundreds) commercial VPN providers. The following list is not at all complete.
I often hear beginners say that their computer is out of memory. This is often a clue that they are beginners. Computers contain two different types of “memory” and you need to carefully distinguish between them. I could give a detailed technical explanation, but it would be obsolete in a few years, and wouldn’t be all that helpful. Instead, I’ll describe how they are used, what the symptoms are when you run short and finally, what to do about it.
RAM vs. Storage
Current computers contain two main types of memory, RAM (Random Access Memory) and non-volatile storage. This is true for Macs, PCs, iPads and iPhones, etc. Confusion arises because these very different things are both measured in the same units, Megabytes and Gigabytes. If someone says their computer or phone has 16 Gigabytes, you should be thinking: “16 Gigabytes of what”?
Storage (Hard Drive Space)
Storage is what old-timers think of as their hard drive. Since iPhones and some Macs really don’t have hard drives, Apple simply uses the term Storage, which I think is a really good choice. So, what is storage? Storage is where things go when you save them, close them or download them. Things stay in storage until you delete them. Storage has a firmly limited size, and when you try to exceed it you will get a definite message. If you see a message on the Mac about a specific device (probably Macintosh HD) being out of space, this refers to storage.
RAM is where things go while you open them, edit them, view them or play them. RAM is lightning fast, but it is temporary. Things usually don’t stay in RAM long, and it is all erased when the device is powered off. Apps and documents flit in and out of RAM as you navigate between them. The operating system of your computer or device works hard to make sure you don’t run out of RAM. If everything doesn’t fit, it will compromise by keeping things that should be in RAM in slower storage temporarily. So, you probably won’t ever see a message about being low on RAM. Instead, things will just slow down, usually dramatically. The worst slowdowns are likely to occur when running a single memory-hog program like a video or photo editor. Running a guest operating system like running Windows under Parallels will use up your RAM quickly.
Gigabytes of Advertising
Apple’s marketing definitely de-emphasizes RAM. It is not mentioned at all for iOS devices, and for Macs, it’s down in the fine print, where it is called “memory”. When shopping for an iPhone 6, say, you will see a 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB model. Those are Gigabytes of storage, not RAM. iPhones have RAM, and newer models may have more RAM than older ones, but Apple never mentions it.
How to Check
On the Mac, you can see how your RAM and Storage stack up by going to the Apple Menu, and selecting About This Mac. In the Overview pane, you will see your computer’s installed RAM where it says Memory. You will also see an item at the top, Storage. Next to that you may or may not see one that says Memory. The Memory item only appears on computers with memory slots that allow additional RAM to be installed. If you don’t see that, your Mac already has all the RAM it’s ever going to have. That’s the way most of them are now, especially the laptops.
The Storage pane of About This Mac show an overview of how much storage you have, how much is being used for what and how much remains free. You should try to keep at least, say, 15% of your storage free. If it ever gets full, your computer can become almost completely unusable.
The memory pane of About This Mac shows your options for upgrading RAM. This pane only appears on Macs with upgradable RAM.
I’m Out of RAM!
First of all, you’re probably not out of RAM. Most beginners are very unlikely to need more RAM than their computer has unless the computer is several years old. If you really are low on RAM, you can do one of three things. First, install more RAM if that’s possible in your computer. It’s not possible on iOS devices. Second, if your RAM isn’t upgradable, upgrade to a whole new device with more RAM. Third, you can limit your RAM usage. First, quit all applications that you are not using. Consider if you can reduce the size of the documents you are working with. Can you edit that giant novel in separate chapters, one at a time? Can you work with lower-resolution photos or videos? Maybe you could split up your photo library into smaller sections. Those type of things are likely to reduce demands on your RAM.
If you are worried about needing more RAM on the Mac, you should open Activity Monitor and visit the Memory tab. The Memory Pressure feature in Yosemite has done a lot to reassure me that I’m in little danger of running out of RAM.
I’m Out of Storage!
This is all too common. Your first thought should be to delete something you don’t need. Your Downloads folder is a good place to start. Things tend to pile up in there. They all came from the Internet anyway, so if you find you need them, you can always download them again. Empty the trash. Storage belonging to trashed files isn’t freed until the trash is emptied. Empty the trash in applications, like iPhoto, that have their own trash.
While scanning your folders for stuff to be deleted, sort by size. Finding and deleting the biggest files first will save you a lot of time.
Another option is to add external storage. This is not possible for iOS devices, usually, but it is easy for Macs. You should move some of those big files to an external hard drive.
If you will be buying a new Mac or iOS device soon, it really pays to get your ducks in a row as far as your Apple ID goes. Your Apple ID is more important than ever in the new operating systems, Yosemite for the Mac, and iOS 8 for the iPhone and its ilk.
Apple ID Is Your Single Credential for all Things Apple
If you have, or have ever had an iCloud account, Dot-Mac account, or Me.com account, you have an Apple ID.
Your single Apple ID is used for all these things:
To access your email
To buy music, movies and books & iOS apps from the iTunes Store
To login to your computer
For instant Messaging and FaceTime
To access iCloud, including Photos and Find My iPhone and Find My Mac
To buy hardware from store.apple.com
To buy Mac software from the App store
To sign in to the Apple Support Communities
For Apple Pay
I’m probably forgetting something that should be in this list. It’s also used for developer access, if you are a registered developer with Apple.
Decide Which ID You Want To Use
If you’ve been using the Mac for a while, you may have more than one Apple ID. You probably want to settle on a single ID for your on-line life.
If you have been sharing an Apple ID with a significant other, you should get separate IDs. (It’s not that I don’t love you, but how can I send you a message if you don’t have your own ID?) Apple’s family sharing lets you share iTunes purchases with family members with their own accounts, so there’s no reason to use the same ID any longer.
Although Apple has changed their mind several times about what domain they want users to use for email, they have done a good job of making it transparent. Email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com can be received at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Doe can also use any of those to log on to his one iCloud account.
Apple could phase those older domains out some day, so use @iCloud as much as possible going forward.
It’s good policy for personal email addresses to belong to one and only one person. Some couples share an email address, but it’s a bad idea. One person can miss an email because the other one read it or deleted it. It can be awkward for your friends who are not sure which person they are addressing in an email. It’s certainly awkward if a couple separates for any reason — Who gets the email address? And, when the inevitable happens, and one person passes away, it can be extremely weird for you to send, or your friends to receive, email from the account of a dead person.
Use Really Good Password Practices
The strength of your password is the only thing keeping bad guys from buying a new Mac and charging it to your credit card. Since your Apple ID is so important, you want to make sure you have a good password. Don’t use the same password for your Apple ID as you use for any other service! I’d say that 10-12 characters is long enough for a password these days. Make sure your password or simple modifications to it are not in any dictionary. Mix in some numbers, caps and special characters.
In new installs, your login password on your Mac is your Apple ID password by default. That’s a pretty good idea, because it makes you remember your Apple ID, since you’ll use it every day to login. If you just set up a new Mac, or just installed a new OS from scratch, you’ll likely get to a point where the machine restarts, and you are asked for a login password. If you’re like me, you’ll think “Panic! I don’t know the password because I haven’t created a password for this machine yet.” Well, don’t panic. The login password is your Apple ID password.
For greater protection, you can enable two-factor authentication (aka two-step verification) for your Apple ID. This provides much better security for your Apple account. It eliminates social engineering attacks where the attacker is able to find out the answers to those lame security questions (your mother’s maiden name, etc.), and get Apple to reset your password. With Apple’s two-step verification, your security becomes entirely up to you. Apple cannot help you if you forget. You are responsible for remembering your password. You will also be given a recovery code which you are responsible for keeping in a safe place where you can find it if needed.
Two-factor authentication isn’t for everyone. Read the instructions carefully before enabling it. You will have to use application-specific passwords for certain things. Make sure that doesn’t scare you before you commit to the change.
I patiently waited out the first couple of versions of iOS 8. After iOS 8.0.2 had been out for a while I figured it was safe to update my iPad. Not so. For iPad 2 users, iOS 8.0.2 has been causing loss of cellular data service. Obviously this only affects cellular capable iPads (3G models).
No real workaround is known. Rebooting the iPad restores service for a short time, but it soon fails again.
There is also no easy way to revert to iOS 7. So, DO NOT Upgrade to iOS 8.0.2 if you have a 3G iPad 2 and intend to use cellular data.
Apple has been slow to even acknowledge this bug, much less do anything about it.
Update Oct 13, 2014: Strange behavior — I connected my iPad to my Mac, but didn’t really do anything but transfer a picture to iPhoto. I noticed that the cellular service came back, although at one bar (I usually get 3 bars at home). It went to 3 bars, and stayed good for about a day, but is now back to “No Service”.
Update Nov 2014: This problem appears to be fixed by iOS 8.1. My iPad 2 has become glacially slow in recent updates, but that’s a separate issue.
I am a backer on Kickstarter for the $59 wireless Nova Flash from https://www.novaphotos.com/. The hardware recently shipped to backers, so I have had a chance to try it out.
Since I have been interested in off-camera flash in general, I backed and bought the Nova flash. The Nova brings the general advantages of off-camera flash to the iPhone and Android platforms. Off-camera flash improves your photos by moving the light source away from the lens. Your subject has more natural shadows and detail. Off-camera flash is at its best in portraits, where subjects lose that deer-in-the-headlights look and have more natural skin tones. An off-camera flash can also give your portraits a nice catch-light reflection in the eyes.
The Nova flash works with a dedicated Nova camera app which fires the flash using Bluetooth radio control.
The initial release of the Nova is oriented towards the iPhone, with a very basic camera app for the Android. I only tested with the Android version for this review.
Nova requires iOS 7 or Android 4.3 or greater. It requires that your hardware support Bluetooth 4.0 low energy. For this reason, the Nova requires newer iOS devices: iPhone 4S/5/5C/5S, iPad 3/4/Mini/Air or the iPod Touch 5G. I tested on the Motorola Moto X, running Android 4.4.
The Nova hardware is super simple. It’s a thin white plastic case with no user controls or buttons at all. It has a micro USB port which is used to charge the internal battery. It is extremely compact which should encourage you to take it along frequently. The translucent case allows the LED lights to shine through with a nice diffuse glow.
Below are before and after photos taken with the regular Android camera app, and with Nova.
The face is underexposed without flash. I took another photo using the stock camera app, with the built-in flash, but it was a total disaster — shiny skin, closed eyes, really awful, trust me. Mercifully, I deleted it.
The Nova flash provided a nice fill-flash here and really made a much nicer photo.
The Nova acts more like a radio controlled LED flashlight than a traditional photo flash. When you take a picture, the flash comes on for a couple of seconds, during which time the photo is taken. So, you won’t be stopping any fast action with this flash. The long illumination time appears to allow the camera to adapt to the new lighting situation and take a properly exposed photo. The good thing about this is your subject has time to get over any blink reflex before the photo.
Nova Flash Summary
Compact size, light weight
Bright enough to make a real difference
Occasional trouble connecting via Bluetooth – restart App or turn Bluetooth on/off to recover
No indication of battery state. This would be a nice addition to the app.
Update: June 2016 Not Recommended
The Nova Flash just went on the trash heap of otherwise nice products condemned by a bad battery. Mine sat in the drawer for 6 months. When I was ready to use it again, it wouldn’t charge up or operate. The battery is not replaceable. Since the unit doesn’t have an off switch, the battery discharges drastically when not in use. I can’t recommend getting this, since the same thing is virtually guaranteed to happen to every unit eventually.