E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

Tools and Gadgets

Mac Tip #2: Picasa – The Easy Way to Find, Edit and Share Your Fotos

It is that time again where I get to blog about that series of Mac Tips I started a little while ago,  talking about some of the most helpful and resourceful productivity tools that surely are helping me get the most of out of my MacBook Pro experience as my primary work machine and at the same time help me stay on top of things while giving up on email at work altogether.

Well, today’s Mac Tip  doesn’t have much to do with email per se, but I am sure you would find it equally helpful. Specially, if you have to handle large amounts of pictures in a very short period of time… If you have been following this blog for a while you would know by now how when I made the switch from a Windows notebook into this MacBook Pro there were two different applications I knew I was going to miss big time.

One of them hasn’t made it just yet into the Mac world (So I will not mention it this time around, waiting for that time when it is finally there!), but the other one has and this is what this blog post will be about; my favourite program to handle pictures on the Mac: Google’s Picasa!

There are plenty of different reasons why, if you haven’t given a try to Picasa on the Mac yet, you actually should. However, I thought that for today’s Mac Tip I would share with you five reasons why it would be worth to give it a try and, I am sure, keep it! So let’s go!:

  1. Handling large amounts of photos: Must confess, up until now, I have been using both iPhoto 08 and Aperture and just simply loading both libraries of my pictures archives (Over 15GB) would take a good amount of time that with Picasa just doesn’t happen. Open up the application and voilá, ready to go! And the same thing happens with navigating the different galleries. Just too slow compared to the snappy Picasa. Thus if you have got large amounts of pictures, Picasa will do the job beautifully faster!
  2. Exporting and uploading with Flickr Uploadr (into Flickr): One of my favourite features from Picasa. That is, the capability of working with your photos, adjust whatever settings, export the new picture and ready to be uploaded into my Flickr account with the lovely Flickr Uploadr. Just perfect! Allows me to have control over the quality of the pictures I would want to share and that’s why you may have noticed how I have started to share many more pictures in there than in previous months. Main reason: Picasa itself.
  3. Creating collages on the fly: One of my other favourite features. Putting together some of my favourite photos and then on the fly create some amazing collages that surely have the effect I would want to provide. Check, for instance, the collage I put together for my Twitter homepage background. It was done with Picasa’s collage capabilities. Very nice!
  4. I’m Feeling Lucky: To me, the one single feature that makes Picasa on its own worth it! That super nifty and incredibly powerful button that when displaying a photo you click on it and it does a wonderful job for you improving the overall quality of the picture. Just amazing! I used to do this with both iPhoto and Aperture (And, except for more complex tweaking of images where I still use the latter), and very soon it became a bit painful for simple image processing. With this particular option in Picasa it gets the job done in a blink! Like I said, this feature alone is worth while downing and installing Picasa itself.
  5. Free: Yes, of course, I have to give this one as well as one of the top 5 reasons. Very few of the image processing and handling tools out there for the Mac are freeware. Both iPhoto and Aperture cost money (And quite a bit in the case of Aperture!), thus knowing there is a very qualified tool for this kind of job that you can get for free in a Mac is just a no-brainer. Don’t you think? Yes, I know it is beta as well, but we do love betas, don’t we?

And that would be it. Top 5 reasons for me as to why Google’s Picasa has now become my default Mac application to handle, process and share pictures (In combination with Flickr Uploadr). I know there are plenty more, but I think those five would be good enough. And if not, check out the end result of what this superb tool can do for you and for your pictures:

Gran Canaria - Ayacata

Not bad, eh? Not bad at all!

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Mac Tip #1: MacBreakZ – Healthy Computing Made Fun

MacBreakZ for Mac OS X: Healthy Computing Made FunIf you have been reading this blog for a little while now, or if you have been following me online in multiple social networking sites like Twitter, you will know how for the last 18 months I have seen the light and have become the proud owner of a MacBook Pro as my main work machine. During that time I have tried several dozens of applications trying to help me increase my productivity into new levels and although with some of them such improvements haven’t been there, with some others the jump has been tremendous!

So I thought it may be a good time now to share with you folks a series of what I call Mac Tips, putting together short blog posts sharing some further insights on some of those incredibly helpful and resourceful tools I have been using at work all along, some of which have been incredibly instrumental in my successful quest of giving up e-mail at work.

Yes, that’s right! This is going to be the first of a series of blog posts where I will be sharing with you the productivity tools, as well as the social software tools, I am using to eventually move out of e-mail successfully, which I know is something that most of you would find interesting and perhaps somewhat intriguing.

Every now and then, what I will be doing is putting together a short blog post, shorter than this one, definitely! (This longer one is the kick-off one!), where I will share 5 different reasons as to why I really am enjoying using that tool and how it has improved my productivity at work. And all of that using my MacBook Pro.

Why using my Mac? Well, in most cases to prove the point that you, too, can be productive at work using something else than Windows. Plenty of times I get people looking at me with weird looks when I tell them I work for IBM and I use a Mac. This is just the perfect opportunity for me to share with everyone out there how it is possible to do that! So, let’s get the fun going, before this entry becomes longer than I expected!

Mac Tip #1: MacBreakZ – Healthy Computing Made Fun

In the past I have been touching base a couple of times on the important topic of working in a healthy environment, whether at the office, on the road or from home. Specially sitting in front of a computer for many hours a day, it is something that no-one should ignore. To me, on the Mac, that lovely tool that looks after my health is MacBreakZ. Preventing Repetitive Strain Injury (a.k.a. RSI) is probably one of the best things you can do to keep yourself healthy while sitting in front of a monitor for far too long. Thus here are 5 reasons why you would want to give it a try yourself:

  1. Its incredible ease of use: That’s right, installing and setting it up to match your needs is very easy to do. I set up mine to kick in every 30 minutes with a 5 minute break in between and so far I am loving it!
  2. It actually works: I have tried in the past a couple of other applications in this space of preventing RSI like Time Out, but somehow I noticed how they weren’t as effective and convincing as they could have been. MacBreakZ does the job beautifully, so much so my wrists are now very very grateful!
  3. Its sounds: One of the issues I had with some of the tools I tried in the past was the fact their sounds were not as wonderfully annoying are those from MacBreakZ. I mean, if you exceed the time for a specific break, this application will keep nagging on you with a lovely sound till you eventually give up and move away from the keyboard. Love it!
  4. Its price: Yes, I know, it is not freeware. It costs 24.95€, but if I look into the potential amount of money that it has helped me save keeping me in good shape with my wrists, elbows, etc. etc. and away from the Mac when I should, I think that amount of money is a very worth while one! Don’t you think?
  5. Its tips: Finally, this is probably one of my favourite reasons to use MacBreakZ, and, in a way, it kind of reminds me of Workrave for Windows. Every time you take one of those breaks, MacBreakZ actually shows you a few tips with graphics showing you different types of very easy stretches you can do while at your desk; some of them which I am sure you are all familiar with (As you will find them in other programmes), but with plenty others I was not aware of and which after executing them on a regular basis not only is it good fun, but you get to feel the stretch and how it helps release the pressure of your muscles and tendons. Amazing!

    Never thought that so relatively easy stretches, yet so powerful, would have such effect and since I have set up the system to kick in every 30 minutes it helps me stay on top while I learn new ones! Ideal as well for when you are on the road and you have a spare minute in between to keep stretching! Just brilliant!

Oh, and one other really neat feature that I certainly like about MacBreakZ is the fact that if you try to type for an extended period of time, right after you have just finished with one of those breaks, it immediately tells you to slow down with a beep, beep, beep sound that reminds me I need to stop now!

Thus there you have it, my first Mac Tip on one of my favourite Mac programmes available out there looking after my health while I am typing away on those long days in front of the Mac: MacBreakZ.

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Oh, No!!! Have I Become a Mac Fanboy?

Well, I surely hope not! Or, at least, not yet!! The truth is though that, earlier on today, I went to the candy store, errr, I mean, to the Apple Store (One of its official providers, actually!) here in Gran Canaria and look what I got for myself while spending a few minutes in there:

Becoming a Mac Fanboy? Hummm

Becoming a Mac Fanboy? Hummm

Becoming a Mac Fanboy? Hummm

Becoming a Mac Fanboy? Hummm

Goodness! Someone has got to keep me away from visiting such places and get an exposure to such lovely sweets. It is a very dangerous thing, don’t you think? But doesn’t it look gorgeous? Now you will be able to understand why I got easily distracted over the last few hours and why I have gone relatively quiet in most of the social software spaces I usually hang out in. But fear not, regular blogging activities will resume shortly. It is just that I couldn’t help sharing the pictures of this beauty over here. Probably my next blog post will be coming through from that sexy thing… (I can see it …, what a treat, eh? 😀 )

In its due time I will also be sharing a lengthier blog post though with a review of what the experience has been moving from the old 15” MacBook Pro I have been using over the last year and a half (With an wonderful experience to say the least!) to the new and shiny MacBook Pro 15”, so that you can get an idea what it has been like and, most importantly, for me to figure out whether it is an easy move or not. We shall see.

But for now I just need to step away for a few minutes and keep drooling! Ahhh, yes, I may have become a Mac Fanboy after all, but who wouldn’t, right? hehe

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Yoigo – Verdad Verdadera – Seriously? You Reckon?

As I am back home already from another wonderful event in Madrid (At IBM‘s Innovation Summit Pro-voke) and already spent most of my day catching up with things, both at work and outside, I thought I would finish off the day (And get started with the weekend!) by posting this blog post, which has been in my mind for a few weeks now. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I put together two different versions of this entry, but I wasn’t too much convinced about either of them, more than anything else, because they were poignantly negative. So, in the end, I decided to go with this lighter version of it. Much better.

If you have been following this blog for a while now you would probably know how most of this year I have spent it travelling all over the place participating at various conference events, as well as talking to various different customers around the topic of Social Computing, Enterprise 2.0, Collaboration and Communities, amongst some others. You would probably also remember how the number #1 issue I have been experiencing all along has been connectivity, or the lack of, better said.

This blog post is a reflection of what most folks have been talking about mobile connectivity and how pervasive it has become nowadays. Well, allow me to state quite the opposite! All along, whether we like it or not, we have just been living an illusion, a chimera. A myth! And even today I am much more convinced than ever before!

In a very interesting, enlightening and at the same time provocative blog post, my good friend Jevon MacDonald encouraged all Enterprise 2.0 vendors to start paying more and more attention towards the mobile market when designing and making available Mobile 2.0 applications. Well, while he brings in a whole bunch of really good points, I am going to take things even further!

Before we start demanding for Enterprise 2.0 vendors to provide us with Mobile 2.0 apps., let’s get back to basics and ensure we can all GET CONNECTED to the Internet in the first place! Yes, indeed, not matter how cool, user friendly, sexy, helpful, resourceful, appealing, etc. all of these mobile 2.0 apps. would be like, if we CANNOT connect to them, they are useless! Now. And forever!

This is perhaps, to me, the number one caveat from adopting social computing and social networking tools, both inside and outside of the corporate firewall! Not the tools themselves, nor the cultural aspects, nor the knowledge workers themselves (Or the businesses they work for!), but the availability of a stable, reliable and scalable broadband network connection throughout!

That, to me, is the main issue that is stopping us right now from a wider adoption. Specially for those of us who are more mobile than never and who are starting to rely more and more from a good and reliable Internet network connection.

Yes, I know that some of you may well say that things have improved over the last couple of years and everything, and that may well be the case, but this year and, specially ever since I started giving up e-mail at work (And use much more heavily social software instead, therefore living more on the Web), I have been able to prove, time and time again, how such network connectivity is not as pervasive as we thought or expected it to be! Anyone remember a recent conference event they have been to where the Wi-Fi connection has been good throughout the entire event? Right now, I am having problems myself coming up with the name of one of them!

Here is the latest example, which is partly the reason why I am putting together this blog post. As you well know, since mid-September, with the holidays and a couple of business trips, I have been more on the road than working from home. Yet, the connectivity has been horrendous in the three countries I have been to during that time (Spain – Barcelona / Madrid, London & Mechelen, Belgium).

While I have been on holidays in Barcelona the first few days I stayed at a couple of good hotels, right in the city centre, and although they offered FREE Wi-Fi, I wasn’t able to connect to either of them for whatever the reasons. In London, I had a very similar problem while I was presenting at a Web 2.0 conference and in Mechelen much of the same in another hotel right in the city centre!

That’s why a few months back I eventually got the recommendation to finally get a SIM card that would allow me to work not just with voice, but also with data, wherever I would be travelling. And I did. It was Yoigo. And I was happy. And it was all joy. And I thought to myself all of my problems would be solved once and for all! No longer would I need to depend on a network connection other than that one from Yoigo. Ha! Poor thing! A myth! Like I said.

To start with, back in May, and while in Germany, I had a taster of what roaming charges are like using a SIM data card. A few MBs downloaded and a phone bill of nearly 100€! Nice one! Not really!!! (Yes, I know you are going to say I should be using MaxRoam, and I would probably have a look into it, but will it offer me a decent broadband capability or just another analogue one, because if that is the case, I’ll pass & save the money for something more productive!).

Thus, when travelling abroad I realised I would still have to go through the same painful experiences, as I have been going through all along. Then I thought, ok, I can make use of Yoigo within my country. Their SIM data card prices are, indeed, very competitive and probably the best in the market at the moment, but, as you will see in just a paragraph or two, it is just not good enough!

Yes, their pricing model is very competitive and very attractive, but then again, we come to the problem at hand. Their coverage and bandwidth is just appalling! Awful! Terrible is probably a mild word! As bad as having a modem dialling through an analogue line! (Yes, indeed, those kind of speeds!). And it would not matter where you are. While I was on holidays in Barcelona I couldn’t reach most of the Web sites I wanted to go to. While I was in Madrid this week, I had the same issues! Over and over again! And don’t even mention the opportunity to connect consistently to VPN networks. Not a chance either!

Oh, don’t take me wrong. It works! It loads pages, like your e-mail (Which I no longer use myself, remember?) or like http://m.slandr.net (Which is one of the many Twitter mobile Web sites), and which displays very little traffic. But as soon as you go into some heavy Web sites, like most social networking sites, or grabbing your RSS / Atom feeds, or something so relatively simple like loading a simple Web site with a few graphics and images, you can surely put yourself together to wait for two to three minutes before it loads! Yes, two to three minutes! (You see? I didn’t say analogue for nothing).

As you can well imagined, all of what I am talking about above comes from my experiences, while I was in Barcelona and Madrid, but, mainly, in Barcelona. Since I thought such service was rather unacceptable, I decided to call the support folks for Yoigo. And what happened? Well, the usual stuff.

Yoigo is one of those mobile operators that has got a catchy phrase to capture customers: "Verdad Verdadera" (Something like "Truthful Truth"), indicating how they are much much different than other mobile providers, not only on their pricing model(s), but also as far as their support goes! Ha! Too funny! How wrong!

Not to worry, I am not going to share another horror story on my own HelpDesk experience with them. I think you can imagine it by now. However, what I am going to say though is that when contacting them to check out why that response time was so appalling I got two messages back: first one, sorry, we have got a general problem in Barcelona (Sorry, that was not accurate. I had the same problem for the 9 days I was there! And also in Madrid!) and, secondly, a bit more serious than the first one: they wouldn’t guarantee that the SIM card would provide the speeds advertised, so I was advised on something they would not do anything about, because it’s just not part of their covered support.

And I went … WHAT?!?! You kidding me? You may be saying that, but certainly you are more than happy to put the bill together and send it across at the end of the month, right? No matter what. Even though you don’t offer a guarantee it will get connected with the specific speeds mentioned? Hummm, how that does make you different from other providers? Let me tell you something. It doesn’t! It just makes you much of the same. Abusive with your customers with an attitude like you take it or leave it. Your choice! (How wrong, once again!)

Not going to comment much more on it all, because I know nothing is going to happen. I don’t expect them to read this blog post, I don’t expect them to react to my concerns of their NOW high pricing for the very poor / quality of service they provide) and to be honest I just don’t care anymore. I gave them plenty of opportunities to do something about it, and they didn’t. And, well, my opinion today (And, like I just said, I think I have given them far too many opportunities to change things… Sigh) is that Yoigo is just like another mobile provider abusing from their Internet mobile end-users with very high prices and very poor connectivity capabilities, which is really sad, because they were really promising quite a different story!

Yes, I realise I may be asking for too much, i.e. a mobile Internet broadband connection that just works, but to be honest, I am starting to prefer to be disconnected and live without it, than with the growing disappointment and rage of a service I am paying fully for, yet, I cannot make use of it as advertised!

How "truthful truth" (Verdad verdadera) can that be? When will telcos understand, once and for all, that they are the key towards making the bountiful world of the Internet available to us all. That they are just bottlenecks stopping our adoption of such valuable resource as the World Wide Web not just to improve the way we work, but also the way we use it for our personal benefit? That they are missing a HUGE opportunity to partner with Enterprise 2.0 vendors to empower us to get the most out of Social Computing to help us connect with one another across the globe to enhance our own personal business relationships?

When will they realise they are missing out on a GREAT opportunity to build long lasting, fruitful working relationships with those of us who are constantly travelling on the road and who have a growing need to be constantly connected?

When are they going to join the 21st century once and for all? That century of the Knowledge Economy where everything flows and where making connections in the social computing space will become essential to conduct business? Am I just asking for too much? Is that all just that? An illusion? A myth?

Like I said half way through, Jevon mentioned how Enterprise 2.0 vendors need to start paying attention to the mobile market. Well, I am just going to take things into a bit more of a fundamental premise saying that, for that to happen, telcos need to stop being the bottlenecks and become more of the enablers for that interconnected world we have all been longing for all along!

Will they be ready at some point? Will Yoigo ever adopt and embrace their own slogan? Or will they just be like all of the others? Well, I don’t know. We shall see. I am just glad, for now, that I am back home and with a Wi-Fi connection that just works 😀

Have a good one everyone! (The search continues … )

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IBM Lotus Notes 8.5 Beta for the Mac and Lotus Sametime 8 – Full Integration Nirvana

Last couple of days from last week have been incredibly busy at work and didn’t give me much of a chance to go ahead and create a blog post over here. I guess that being featured on the corporate Intranet Web site to share your story on how you have moved away from e-mail can surely be a hit for various different folks! Well, that’s just what happened last week and still going on this week. Not to worry, I shall be blogging shortly on my take of what has happened last week as far as my new adventure of re-purposing e-mail is concerned.

However, for this blog post I just wanted to share one more thing towards what I call integration nirvana on the Mac! Yes, that is right, if not long ago I mentioned how I was actually quite happy with having Lotus Notes 8.5 Beta for the Mac up and running and how a few days later I managed to get working as well IBM’s Lotus Sametime 8 standalone on the Mac, here we go with the next achievement in that integration nirvana on the Mac!

Yes, that is right! That is a screen shot of my Lotus Notes 8.5 beta for the Mac, fully integrated with the embedded version of IBM’s Lotus Sametime 8 and all of that connected to through the main Messaging server we use at IBM. I know that for most folks this may sound like "Well, big deal! So what?", but to me, this surely confirms the commitment that I can now kiss good-bye my Windows environment and welcome the Mac as my new productivity tool to get the job done at work, just as effectively as I could have done it on Windows, or, better, said, ever so much more effectively!

And it works beautifully, too without hindering my machine to a haul whenever I have multiple applications open. In this case the MacBook Pro is rather happy to allow me to keep working without having to go through innumerous issues.

Next challenge? Getting Lotus Sametime Unyte to work on the Mac from a presenter’s perspective to do seamless screen / file sharing! Wooohooo! Full integration nirvana coming through!!

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Up and Running with IBM Lotus Sametime 8 for the Mac – That Works, Too!

I am sure you would all remember how excited I was about making my full transition from my Windows notebook to my recently acquired MacBook Pro with the installation, and successful setup!, from the IBM Lotus Notes 8.5 Beta client for the Mac. So far things have been running pretty smooth and I can certainly confirm that the user experience is just from another world! It simply works! Well, to add further up into the excitement, here I am putting together this blog post where I am sharing what, to me, was the last collaboration tool I needed to have it in my Mac to completely move away from the Windows environment. And never come back! Yes, I am talking about IBM’s Lotus Sametime 8!

Up till not so long ago I was actually using Adium to connect to our internal Sametime server(s) and must confess that the user experience was not as good, probably because of how much I have gotten used to other Sametime related real-time collaboration tools, like Notesbuddy, IBM Community Tools and lately Sametime 7.5.1. The cons have been so numerous that all along it felt kind of crippled, blind, numb, so restricted, in short, such a sense of not getting the most out of it all.

So when today I had the chance to finally manage to connect my Lotus Sametime 8 to our internal Sametime server(s), I was just ecstatic! And big time!! I am back in business! And enjoying every minute of it with one IM client that expands further and beyond around the concept of Instant Messaging, real-time collaboration and social networking across teams and communities. I am sure that during the course of Lotusphere 2008 you had a chance to get some exposure on the huge buzz around what is happening in this space with Sametime 8. Well, not to worry, as time goes by, I am hoping to be able to blog some more about it so that you folks get a chance to see what I meant when I said, I am back in business!!

For now, here is a lovely screen shot I took today with Skitch (Whoooaaahhh, do I love this massive productivity tool quite a bit or what?!?!)  of Sametime 8 running quite happily on my MacBook Pro (Contact list not showing to protect the privacy from people, by the way, in case you are wondering why it is showing empty):

Rock on!!

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