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This is the personal blog of Don McAllister, the host and producer of ScreenCastsOnline.

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Getting Twitchy?

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a bit twitchy about the lack of product announcements from Apple.

It’s usually quiet after Christmas, but by this time last year we’d already had the iPad 3 launch and the announcement of Mountain Lion.

As of today, some software updates... and that’s about it.

I’m not unduly worried as such, I’m confident that Apple have a full pipeline of new products, but it’s still frustrating not to know when the next thing will appear. Things are made more difficult by the unexpected release of the iPad 4 and iPad mini late last year, something you might have expected around this time of year.

There’s not even a rumour of an Apple event?

Surely we won’t have to wait until WWDC in June?

So hopefully, this is the lull before the storm, but Apple really need to start cranking it up and making some announcements.

Well, they don’t need to, but it would be nice!


Using the Pebble

At home, I hardly ever use my Pebble.

Mainly that's due to me sitting at my desk surrounded by Macs, iPads and iPhones. There's really no need to use a watch, besides, I find the constant clunking of the watchband on the desk to be annoying.

However, spending a few days out of the office, I thought I'd give it a go.

So on my recent trip to New York, I decided to take the Pebble and wear it during the day in my role as tourist.

I really don't get many messages on my iPhone, but I thought it would be useful to see how (or if) I became accustomed to the watch. To give it something to do, I downloaded the new Google Field Trip app onto my iPhone. This is a location aware app that sends you a notification when you are close to something of interest. It should also send notifications to my Pebble.

So for the best part of three days, I wore my Pebble whilst out and about.

To my surprise, I really started to rely on it, to the extent whereby I really missed it when I forgot to put it on for the last day.

The Field Trip app did send notifications to the watch, but they weren't really useful. Most of the interesting things it told me about weren't really interesting to me, but the fact that the notification appeared on the watch, rather than me having to hoist the iPhone out of my pocket each time was brilliant. The vibration motor in the Pebble was put to good use, and all notifications were immediately picked up. I have missed a couple of notifications on my iPhone when carrying the iPhone in an inside coat pocket, but you'll never miss one on your wrist.

The occasional iMessage that I did receive was very easy to review via the Pebble, and the fact that I could scroll the message on the Pebble to read the whole message was a nice touch. I still would have liked to be able to respond to a message via the watch.

One unexpected benefit was that I didn't have to worry about having my expensive iPhone on show during the day. Most of the time it stayed firmly in my pocket, iPhone theft is apparently rampant in New York.

One thing that really surprised me, was just how much I used the Pebble as a watch!

I've not used a watch since getting my iPhone and I'd forgotten just how simple it is to glance at my wrist for the time, rather than remove my iPhone from my pocket.

So even in its current rudimentary form, the Pebble can prove useful and I'm excited to see what possibilities arise as the firmware gets updated and more apps start to get developed for it. Pebble have recently announced a new watch face SDK being released in April, and a new release of the firmware in the next few weeks.

Whilst the Pebble will almost certainly never reach the level of sophistication or functionality that a true Apple designed device could accomplish, using the Pebble for just a few days has certainly confirmed for me, that a wearable device closely paired to an iPhone could be a very useful product.

A very useful product indeed.


The Demise Of Google Reader

I'm getting a lot of emails from people asking if I'm going to be making any recommendations for alternatives to Google Reader.

Following a couple of days R&R, I came back to the news that Google are “shuttering” the Google Reader service from 1st July 2013.

Although I don’t use the web interface to Google Reader, it is the service I use to manage and sync my collection of RSS subscriptions to many websites. It’s also the back end service that many of my favourite Mac and iOS apps use to sync my subscribed RSS feeds - apps like Mr Reader on iOS and Reeder on the Mac.

As of the 1st July, these apps will stop working - in theory.

In reality, I’m sure the app developers will come up with some alternative solutions to Google Reader. Oliver Fürniß, the developer of Mr Reader has already stated:

I'm already looking for alternatives to support and I'm sure that there will be some more interesting ones released during the next couple of days/weeks/months. I'll keep you informed! Please be patient and don't switch overhasty to a other Google Reader alternative.

There are already some pre-existing alternatives available, but I’m not going to try and second guess which way apps will jump. As we have up to July for things to settle down, I’m going to leave it a few weeks and examine all the options, and then decide the best way forward.

I will, of course, be describing some of the options and my chosen solution in a future show, well before the 1st July deadline.


ScreenCastsOnline Affiliate - Reboot

I've run a fairly low key affiliate partner program for a while, but haven't really promoted it very much since the new website was launched.

For the uninitiated, an affiliate program is just a way of rewarding people who recommend the service to friends, colleagues and family. Basically, you register as an affiliate, and I provide a unique referral link for you to give out whenever you recommend ScreenCastsOnline. If someone subsequently signs on as a member after using your link, you'll get some commission.

With the newly redesigned website, the huge archive of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials, the simplified membership structure and the new complimentary subscription to the ScreenCastsOnline magazine, more people are recommending ScreenCastsOnline than ever before.

So I've decided to reboot the ScreenCastsOnline Affiliate Partner program, and would invite you to take part.

I had some banner ads created a while ago, but they are starting to show their age and needed a refresh, plus I've decided to be a bit more generous on the commission paid for referrals!

Firstly, I've commissioned some new banner ads and very smart they are too!

****** ******

All of these banner ads are available via the affiliate website. It's really easy to set them up by simply copying and pasting the provided HTML code snippets to your blog or website. Links to the images and your referral code are already included for you.

Second thing I've done is to increase the affiliate commission to 50%.

So now, if anyone joins up as a member as a result of your affiliate link, you could receive up to $35 for each annual membership, or up to $12.50 for each quarterly membership (for the initial membership period only).

You don't necessarily need to have a website or blog to become an Affiliate Partner, as I also provide simple text links that you can send via email or embed in replies to blog posts or forum signatures etc.

If you think you'd like to register and become a ScreenCastsOnline Affiliate Partner (it's free and you don't even have to be a ScreenCastsOnline member), you can learn more about it and register here.


Apple Need To Sort This Out!

I've given Apple a pass on this one up to now but I really think they need to sort it out now.

They radically changed support for multiple monitor and full screen apps in Lion.

The issue is that if you go full screen on an app when you have multiple monitors, the app goes full screen on one monitor and you get just the desktop on the other. The second monitor is virtually a waste of space. If the full screen app supports floating panels (such as an Inspector panel), you can drag the floating panels onto the second monitor, but the main application is locked to the screen you went full screen on.

You can't access or view a second application on the second monitor.

What a criminal waste of valuable screen real estate.

I suppose the thinking is that "full screen mode" for an app is intended to allow you to 'focus' on that particular app. It works great on an 11" MacBook Air, but on 2 x 27" Apple Cinema Displays, not so much.

You can switch to another app using ⌘ SPACE, but the full screen app disappears into another desktop space - crazy!

Apple did make some changes to the default behaviour in Mountain Lion in that when you go full screen on an app, it goes full screen on the monitor you went full screen on, and not the primary display, but it's still pants!

It gets worse...

I was driven to write this blog post this morning following a quick Remote Desktop session. I'd had my Mac mini connected to one of my 27" Tunderbolt displays temporarily, but decided to return back to my usual set up of having both 27" displays connected to the MAcBook Pro with Retina display (rMBP).

After all, I could access the Mac mini via Remote Desktop and blow it up full size.

I'd been used to using the Mac mini at the full resolution of the Apple Cinema Display - in all it's 2560 x 1440 pixelly goodness.

Firstly, I connected via Remote Desktop to the Mac mini from the rMBP, with the Mac mini still connected to the Thunderbolt display. The Remote Desktop session connected and displayed the Mac mini at the same resolution of the connected monitor - 2560 x 1440, excellent.

I reconnected both Thunderbolt displays to the rMBP, and rebooted the Mac mini without the Thunderbolt display attached.

On the rMBP, I loaded up Remote Desktop, connected to the Mac mini and now the maximum resolution I can get from the Mac mini is 1680 x 1050.

If I go full screen on the Remote Desktop session to the Mac mini, I get a 1680 x 1050 desktop on one Thunderbolt display with a huge thick black border around it, and a completely black screen on the other Thunderbolt display.

So out of the available 7,372,800 pixels available to me, I get to use 1,764,000 or just 23.93% of the available pixels.

That's using the rMBP in clamshell mode - not using the built in Retina display.

If I open up the rMBP and switch it to the highest supported resolution of approx. 1920 x 1200 (it can actually go much higher), now I have a teeny 1680 x 1050 window and two black screens - out of the available 9,676,800 pixels available to me, I get to use 1,764,000 or just 18.23% of the available pixels.

Barking mad!

So please fix the ludicrous use of full screen apps on multiple monitors in the next version of OSX, and tweak Remote Desktop to support higher resolutions when connecting to machines running heedlessly.

Windows Remote Desktop access has done this for years!