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OS X Mountain Lion: A Full Review

After getting my computer back on Saturday, I immediately upgraded to OS X Mountain LionOne of the first changes many Mac fans have noticed is that “Mac” has been dropped from the title. This has led many to speculate that there will be more to the marriage between iOS and OS X, but more about this later.

Since I have lived with Mountain Lion for about a week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the OS.

INSTALLATION

This is the second OS X release Apple has distributed through the Mac App Store. With Lion, a number of people complained about how the update slowed their system and there have been similar complaints about Mountain Lion.

Installation is actually really easy if you want the OS to install around your files. Backup your machine, download OS X from the Mac App Store (approx. 4.5 GB), and follow the instructions on the screen. After approximately 45 minutes, you will be Mountain Lion. Like many, I wish Apple made it easy to do a fresh install of the OS, but I opted for the simple install.

With my machine, an early 2011 15” MacBook Pro, I did not experience a decrease in speed. In fact, my system feels quicker. But, as I posted Monday, I had my hard drive wiped in May and just had a new logic board installed. That could certainly account for my seamless transition.

MINOR UPDATES

While there are some new features that are important to highlight, one thing I wanted to discuss first was how stable and polished Mountain Lion feels. Mac users who transitioned from Leopard to Snow Leopard a few years ago understand what I mean. The whole OS has been optimized for the Retina MacBook Pro and the detail does make a difference on lower resolution displays. Details of the icons and OS are crisper.

As for minor updates, all the multi-touch gestures are smoother, inertial scrolling is now a part of Stacks, and the dock has an aluminum surface. In addition, LauchPad and Dashboard have received minor updates, and all OS X updates are now handled by the Mac App Store.

There are a number of improvements to existing apps as well. Mail has some minor updates. Preview now has access to iCloud and more detailed editing tools. There are updates to the Image Capture app that make scanning and printing even easier. Other minor changes include a change in app names. iCal is now called Calendar and Address Book is now Contacts, much like their iOS counterpart, but this is only the beginning of Apple’s marriage of iOS and OS X.

NEW FEATURES

Apple says that there are over 200 new features in Mountain Lion. Most of them are not immediately noticeable, but there are several that are substantial and are very usable. As with Lion, the marriage of iOS and OS X continues. There are a number of apps added to OS X to match their counterparts in iOS. These apps then sync wirelessly using iCloud.

New to OS X: Reminders and Notes 

Two news apps from iOS includes Notes app and Reminders. Both apps are virtually identical to the iOS equivalent, and they both work very well. There isn’t much else to say! As Steve Jobs said about iCloud in 2011, it just works. iCloud syncs your Notes and Reminders automatically so you can accesses them on all your devices.

Notification Center

Another useful addition from iOS is Notification Center. Similar to Growl, Notification Center is one place for all your apps’ reminders, Calendar events, Reminders, Mail, and Twitter updates. With a two-finger swipe from right to left on the Trackpad, Notification center comes up on the right side of the screen. Notification Center is completely customizable in System Preferences and will certainly become more and more usable as developers continue to integrate it into their apps.

iMessage works on iOS and OS X

The most popular new app on Mountain Lion is iMessage. Like Facetime in Lion, iMessage in Mountain Lion allows for seamless communication between Macs and iOS devices. With iOS 6, however, Apple is will integrate users’ Apple ID and phone number. This will enable text messaging via the Mac! iMessage supports texts, photos, and videos. iMessage replaces iChat and works with other online messaging systems.

Game Center

Game Center is yet another iOS app added to Mountain Lion. Game Center allows Mac users to play games against other Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. This cross platform play is unique to Apple and will certainly be interesting as more iOS games are brought to the Mac.

Safari received a number of updates including Tab View

One of OS X’s apps to receive a major update is Safari. Users will notice the unified address bar, but there is also a new Tab Viewer that makes seeig all open tabs even easier. Apple has also integrated Share Sheets which has been added throughout the OS. It allows users to share websites, photos, videos and a variety of media via email, Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, and Facebook (coming this fall). One interesting development with Safari is that it appears to be exclusive to the Mac. Safari 6.0 has yet to be created for Windows, and with the wholesale changes in Windows 8, an update is doubtful.

Apple has also taken significant steps in addressing user privacy. Mountain Lion features a new security feature called Gatekeeper, which allows users to choose the types of apps that are installed to their machine. Users can choose to only allow apps from the App Store, allow apps from the App Store and trusted developers, or allow all applications. The goal of Gatekeeper is to protect the computer from Malware and Spyware. Other privacy features include a clearer option panel for users to control the apps that can access their Calendar, Contacts, Key Chain, and location data.

Airplay Mirroring connects your Mac and TV via Apple TV

One of my favorite additions to Mountain Lion is Air Play Mirroring. Many Mac users already use Air Play for their files and music, but Air Play Mirroring allows users to wirelessly view their computer screen on their TV using Apple TV. This feature is certainly a welcome addition in many homes and classrooms. However, this feature only works on machines released in 2011 and 2012.

An interesting addition to Mountain Lion is Siri-like dictation. Dictation can be accessed using the user’s choice of hot keys. While it is useful, it can be problematic because only the MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a dual microphone system built in. This is a feature that will certainly improve over time, but if you have an external microphone, it can be really handy. As of right now, most third-party apps do not support this feature, but it is one of many great accessibility features added to OS X.

CONCLUSIONS 

Mountain Lion is certainly an improvement to OS X. While it may not be a major shift like Microsoft is planning for Windows 8, Apple is focused on the marriage of OS X and iOS via iCloud. The merging of Apple’s operating systems is working well for Apple and will take another leap forward when Apple releases iOS 6 this fall.

For only $20 in the Mac App Store, Mountain Lion is a must have for all Mac users. If you are using Snow Leopard, now is really the time to upgrade. Lion users should consider upgrading to access this polished OS. While there are sure to be bugs in this release, I have yet to experience any. In addition, I have yet to find a third-party app that is incompatible. My transition has been seamless, and I encourage all Mac user with eligible hardware to download Mountain Lion and enjoy the latest and greatest Apple has to offer.

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

I have been watching the coverage of the Curiosity Rover on NASA TV for the last hour, and it has been pretty exiting! Curiosity is the latest in a series of rovers to be sent to Mars by NASA. The goal of this mission to determine if Mars could have ever supported life. The advanced technology aboard Curiosity will answer this question and provide the most detailed information on Mars to date.

This is certainly an exciting development for NASA. Although the manned space program has ended, it is great to see that NASA is still investing in rovers and orbiters. Personally, I am looking forward to New Horizons view of Pluto, but we will have to wait until 2015!

You can keep up with the NASA Curiosity Mission by following the website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

I was hoping to add some photos from Mars, but all of NASA’s websites are currently down due to heavy traffic!

UPDATE: I was able to get this picture from NASA’s Facebook page. It shows Curiosity’s wheel.

UPDATE 2: And yet another cool photo from Facebook. This show Curiosity’s shadow!

UPDATE 3: NASA’s HiRISE team announces that their orbiter was able to capture an image of the Curiosity Rover descending toward the surface of Mars last night.

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The Whole Earth Blog Social Media

Today there are countless social media websites, and I thought I would take a moment to share the social media sites you can use to follow The Whole Earth Blog.

-Twitter

-Facebook

-Tumblr

In addition, you can follow The Whole Earth Blog through WordPress and by email using the Subscribe feature in the right-side column. Use these social media tools to keep up with all the latest posts from The Whole Earth Blog.

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Back to the Future DeLorean Restoration

The group restoring the Back to the Future DeLorean have been posting images of the car to Facebook and Twitter. Some of the images are of the DeLorean used during the filming and of the car today. The so called “A” car is what has their interest, as it is the most complete. The project is being directed by BTTF writer Bob Gale. While the car looks fine, it is missing parts and other parts are beginning to fall off. The group plans to restore the car so it can be placed on display, but indoors this time.

Other images presented on the Facebook page are of a replica car built by the restoration team. The replica car shows the team’s attention to detail and is proof the group will do a great job at restoring the original car.

You can read more about the restoration in my original post or by following the restoration on Facebook or Twitter.

The gallery below has images of the “A” car and of the replica built by the restoration team. The video is the 2011 Nike ad featuring Christopher Lloyd and the replica Time Machine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

UPDATE: A reader pointed out correctly that some of the images presented in the slideshow were of a replica Time Machine and not the “A” model from the series. I have made the necessary corrections.

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Back to the Future Time Machine to be Restored

A group of restoration experts have gotten permission to carryout a museum quality restoration of the “A” model DeLorean Time Machine used in all three parts of Back to the Future. On the group’s Facebook page, there is a message from Bob Gale, the producer of the BTTF trilogy, encouraging anyone who has images of the car or parts from the car to contact them.

The “A” model DeLorean was one of several used for the series, but the “A” model was the most complete and used for external shots of the car. Since the filming of the series completed in the early 1990s, the car has been displayed outside in the elements and it has taken its toll on the car. The restoration team, consisting of Joe Walser, J. Ryan and Terry Matalas, have built other BTTF DeLorean replicas and they have the full support of the trilogy’s creators.

What they need is your help. If you have any pictures of the car from your trips to Universal Studios in Orlando, or if you have any of the original parts from the cars used in the movie, they would like to hear from you. You can contact the restoration group at TimeMachineRestoration@gmail.com.

For all other interested fans of the trilogy, you can follow their progress on Facebook and Twitter.

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SS United States Conservancy Announces 2012 Plans

The SS United States Conservancy announced their plans for 2012 last week. This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the ship’s maiden voyage. It is also the make-or-break year for the Conservancy. If they are not able to save the ship this year, they will be forced to sell the SS United States for scrap. They have set an ambitious schedule for 2012 beginning with the premier of a new documentary, SS United States: Made in America, this Thursday, February 9, at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Presenting the documentary will be the Conservancy’s executive director, Susan Gibbs.

The new documentary is only one of the many upcoming plans from the Conservancy. Others include:

-Releasing a made-for-television Public Service Announcement, featuring Super Bowl-winning head coach Dick Vermeil
-Unveiling a new museum installation at the Forbes Gallery in New York City in May, 2012 as a preview for our larger shipboard museum      planning efforts
-Hosting several new member cultivation events, including a gala in New York City in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the ship’s maiden voyage
-Launching an interactive, online, grassroots fundraising campaign — “Paint the Big Ship”
-Holding a ceremonial lighting and painting of the ship’s funnels

The Conservancy is working with the SS United States Redevelopment Project to ensure the ship is preserved for the future. The current plans are for the SS United States to become a mix-use stationary attraction in either New York or Miami. The Conservancy and Redevelopment Project have made important corporate connections, but private donations are just as important.

The ship has not been saved yet. There is still a great deal of work to be done and all donations will help the Conservancy develop the SS United States.

Today, the Conservancy announced that work has begun to prepare the SS United States for redevelopment. A sign that the plans are well underway.

I do not want to see the SS United States sold for scrap. She represents a lost age of Transatlantic sailing and American ship building. I encourage everyone to become a member of the Conservancy. They offer a number of membership levels to fit every budget.

Keep up with the latest Conservancy news by visiting their website or by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

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iPhone 4S Review

It turns out we did not get our fabled iPhone 5, but we did get a new device from Apple last week, the iPhone 4S.  As usual, I received my device on day one and am prepared to review it.

Design

The iPhone 4 had an impressive design with glass and on the front and back and a stainless steel band holding everything in, and the iPhone 4S maintains that design.  The 3.5 inch retina display remains as well.  Again, those hoping for the iPhone 5 might be disappointed, but the 4S looks great, especially in white.

Hardware

What is new with the 4S is the internals.  Apple’s dual core A5 chip (from the iPad 2) is paired with 512MB of RAM.  Apple claims the A5 will improve performance by up to 2X for daily tasks and up to 7X for graphic rich games.  The iPhone 4S is quicker at launch apps, loading apps, and just about everything else.

Another major change internally is the antenna.  There was a lot of controversy surrounding the iPhone 4’s antenna.  So much that Apple provided free cases to iPhone 4 customers experiencing a drop in network connectivity.  Apple has supposedly fixed this issue by allowing the phone to switch seamlessly between two antennas built into the phone.  So far, tests have indicted this system has worked.

Camera 

Apple is very proud of the fact that the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera on Flickr and they have upgraded the camera for the 4S. The sensor is increased from 5MP to 8MP, but the real story is in the CMOS sensor from Sony.  The backlit sensor allows in more light making the images crisper in low-light situations.  In addition, Apple has added an additional lens into the design allowing for more accurate color depiction.  All these features, along with the new  f/2.4 aperture (improved from the old phone’s f/2.8) make for a great camera.

In addition, the camera now takes 1080p video and, paired with iOS 5, includes many new built in photo editing options.

iOS 5

The latest release of iOS improves greatly on what Apple has already created, and addresses many of the concerns put forth by those in the tech world.  The creation of Notification Center is certainly one of the greatest features in iOS 5.  Notification Center is similar to that on an Android device and makes it easy to keep track of everything you missed.

Other features such as: iMessage, Newsstand, Reminders, Twitter integration, and mail improvement are just a few of the over 200 new features in iOS 5.  Perhaps one of the greatest new features is the fact that Apple has made their devices truly wireless.  It is not longer necessary to sync your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to iTunes for backups and updates.  Syncing can be done over WiFi and the OS is now updated over-the-air via delta updates.

Overall, iOS 5 is a very solid OS.  There were some download issues when it was released last week (my iPhone 4 was bricked for a few hours), but that was largely due to the amount of traffic on Apple’s servers.  It has been reported that 1/3 of all iOS devices are now running iOS 5.  It hasn’t even been out a week yet!

iCloud

A major new feature of iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion is iCloud.  iCloud allows the user to wirelessly sync photos, calendars, contacts, bookmarks, documents, books, mail, and iTunes between all your Apple devices without the need to sync.  It is all done automatically and it works very well.  For example, I downloaded an iBook yesterday to my iPad, it automatically downloaded it to iTunes and to my iPhone.  I also added an appointment to my calendar on my iPhone and it automatically added it to my calendars on my iPad and MacBook Pro.  As Steve Jobs said in June, it just works.

All these features are also accessible from iCloud.com if you are not on an iCloud enabled device.  Users can also signup for a free .me email address if they choose.  Perhaps the most amazing part of iCloud is the price, FREE.  iCloud is free to all iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion users.  I believe this is going to start a trend in the tech world as cloud services become more and more popular.

Siri 

Perhaps the greatest, and most fun, feature of the iPhone 4S is Siri.  I am sure you have seen all the articles about Siri’s attitude and snappy remarks, but she really is helpful.  She can send email and texts, set reminders and appointments, make phone calls, play music, search the web, and just about anything else you might need.  She does so, as she says, humbly.  Siri is remarkably smooth for a beta and there are few times that she misunderstands.

Yes, Siri is fun to ask off the wall questions, but she is very useful and I think will only get better with time. I believe that Apple will eventually share Siri’s APIs with developers and we will see voice integration with 3rd party apps and that will truly make Siri the master of everything.

Impressions 

I have to admit that at first I was a little disappointed by the announcement of the iPhone 4S on October 4, but after using it for a few days, you begin to realize that Apple still has the complete package.  Having used Android phones, most recently the Samsung Galaxy S II, there appears to be an inherent cheapness to the feeling of the chassis of many phones.  The iPhone 4S, like the iPhone 4, feels very strong and durable, despite being made from glass.  The other issue with many phones is the disconnect between the hardware and software, but with Apple, both are made by the same people to ensure they work together seamlessly.  The iPhone 4S is a strong smartphone with great overall features, but other devices, such as the Motorola Droid RAZR, are thinner and have larger displays.  Apple is on par with the current market, after all, Apple did sell 4 million over the weekend, but a major redesign in 2012 will be required if they do not want to fall behind the crowd.

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