Monday, 17 November 2014

Migrate To Mac With Parallels For Mac

How a 30-year PC pro, used Parallels Desktop for Mac to migrate from PC, in just 1 day (more or less).

Transferring files from the PC to the Apple desktop was easy peasy, but what to do with Windows programs?

What about MS Office, or those programs that don't exist in the Mac ecosystem?

Why Migrate To Mac?

"My new iMac", by Kansir, CC-A 2.0, via Flickr
Once upon a time in a small town south west of London, I received an iMac from a friend.

This is the story of how I migrated all my "stuff" - music and files - and my family - from the old PC to the Mac desktop, in around a day.

I won't bore you with the details of how I grew to hate PCs and Microsoft Windows in my home environment.


I could talk about the daily frustrations of waiting for the machine to start up, shut down and do all the basic things that a PC should do...

But I will write about that elsewhere.

What I will say, is that I had got to the point where I had to do something to make things easier for my family and me.

So when the iMac arrived, I was very, very excited.

Apple Desktop Basics: Plug In And Startup

The basics were easy to get to grips with:
  • Take the PC apart and place it, with all its wires in the lounge.
  • Then, put the iMac where the PC was, push the single power cord into the back of the iMac, plug it into the socket and press the "On" button on the back.

I followed the on-screen prompts to set up my language and other settings - so far, so PC.

I already had an iPod Touch for the past couple of years, so I had a lot of things like contact details, calendar entries and notes, backed up to iCloud.

- I've always used the Touch like an electronic organiser (remember them?).

I logged into my user account on the Mac and then signed into my iCloud account.


A few seconds later, and everything from the iPod was there on the Mac, waiting for me.

It was simple setting up user accounts for my family too.

I just went into the settings section and added them there, then checked that I could log into each one.

Job done.

Transfer From PC To Mac With No CD

The most "complicated" things I had to do were related to transferring our data from the PC to the Mac.

However, even then, most of this was pretty painless:

From my research, I knew that the iMac had no CD drive built in.


I had therefore already burnt all my music CDs into iTunes on my PC (that took a while, I can tell you!)

I was able to set things up to transfer the iTunes music library over the network via Wifi.

You can do this a lot quicker using a cable, but my old PC didn't have an Ethernet socket, so Wifi would have to do.

However, with a couple of tweaks to let one machine see the other, it all went across quickly enough.


Once on the other end, I opened iTunes and there it all was.

A lot of the album art seemed to be missing, but most of it re-downloaded ok.


Meanwhile, a number of independent (of Apple) podcasts that I had painstakingly labelled as such on the PC, turned up in the music section.

Oh well, at least I could play them all straight out of the box, as it were.

It could have been a lot worse.

The Problem With Apple And MS Office

Documents were a little more touchy for me.

I had given this a lot of thought beforehand and sure enough, transferring them was the easy part, using the same route as for the music.

However, how would we work with our Word and other Microsoft documents or files?

Again, I had done some research on this. ;)

Apple computers now come with their versions of the "Office" products, for example Pages as a Word replacement.


I was concerned though, that it would be too great a learning curve for my family.

You can buy MS Office for Mac, but it's expensive and I already had my own copy of Office 2007, which we were all happy with.

In addition, my wife had work to do, which involved an old copy of Microsoft Money - no longer supported by the software giant.

Parallels For Mac Offers A Solution

In the end, I installed a trial version of Parallels Desktop.

This enabled me to copy the entire Windows installation from my PC to the Mac over the local network, with all our documents, etc, intact.

As you may imagine, the copy process took a very long time over Wifi (3 or 4 hours, if memory serves), but it got there in the end.


More importantly, it still worked.

The Parallels software took me through the entire process, including setting up the "disk image" of Windows, before copying it across the network.

Once safely on the Mac, the Parallels wizard asked me various questions about how I wanted to run Windows.


It asked me whether I wanted to share my Windows files with the Mac, and vice versa.

I started it up for the first time - noting that it was quicker booting Windows than it had been on the PC - and voila!


There was a complete copy of my old PC, with everything still in place.

I told Parallels to use their so called "coherence mode", which enables Windows programs to run as though they are Mac programs.


When they run like this, they also save all documents in the same place as native Mac documents.

This means that you can still find everything where you would expect it to be.

This has worked pretty well, for the most part.


In Coherence mode, the Windows Start menu appears as an extra menu in the Mac Dock.

When I click a program such as Word, Parallels automatically starts Windows (if it's not already running) and the Word window appears just as it would on a PC.

Parallels Suspended Animation

Once finished, you can suspend Windows instead of shutting it down.

This means that next time, it will start up quicker, but you can save some processing power in the interim.


- After all, Windows is running as a "machine within a machine", so could slow down your Mac, while it is still active.

We did have some early teething troubles when other user accounts on the Mac were unable to start Windows, but a friend helped me fix it.

For some reason, the permissions on the migrated disk image weren't quite right, but we soon sorted that out.


I think it was related to the iMac being second hand, with previous settings, rather than an issue in Parallels itself.

With that out of the way, we were happy enough with this state of affairs.


I therefore bought the full version of Parallels when the trial expired.

This was just a case of getting a registration code and entering it in the Parallels menu option - no further installation tasks needed.

It Just Works - Mostly

The Mac desktop itself definitely "just works".

It has slowed down a little as I have added more stuff to it, but it has never once crashed on me.

Parallels gave us a reasonably pain free way of running Office 2007.


I have to give proper credit to them for making the migration process seem less technical than I feared.

I think that most non-technical people would be able to follow their wizard without too many worries, but then I am a techie person, so perhaps I am biased.

Just remember, if you want to do the same, make sure you have everything backed up first.


I still feel Parallels is relatively expensive (though still cheaper than Office for Mac, etc), but overall is worth it for the ease with which we were able to move across.

It has occasionally done odd things, such as dropping out of coherence mode with no real explanation, or failing to open up a program first time.


However, a quick restart of Windows/Parallels soon has things going again.

I have also found to my frustration, that the Mac keyboard shortcuts I an now used to, don't always work properly in Word.

I'll let my kids keep using Word for their homework, while I do the odd document in Pages and export it to DOCX format instead.

Aside from those hiccups though, it has performed flawlessly.

Windows running inside a Mac, giving us access to the best of both worlds.

I suspect that we will eventually find full Mac replacements for all the programs we need, but it is nice to know we can do that at our own pace.



Comments

My question for today is:

Have you transferred from PC to Mac and if so, how did you do it?

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Simplenote And The Case Of The Disappearing Note Text

Simplenote has an intermittent issue with text disappearing from notes, but a third party app may be the cause.

Trouble In (Writing) Paradise

Pencil Buddies, by Taco Ekkel, CC-BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr
Problem with disappearing text in Simplenote?

Here's one possibility as to the cause.

I've had one or two "hiccups" in my writing life recently.

One of those hiccups has been the demise of Squidoo and the other has been an issue in Simplenote.

Simplenote is a note taking application which I sometimes use for quickly typing up blog posts and book chapters when I am away from my home desktop.

It really is simple to use and has a clean interface, without loads of bells and whistles.

It also has an iOS app, so I can write on my iPod Touch on my lunchtime walks in the park.

To be honest, I tend to use Evernote more for my blog posts at the moment, just because I am so used to it being part of my standard workflow.

Simplenote And Scrivener

However, Simplenote has one thing going for it that makes me want to move all my writing there: it synchronises with Scrivener.

If you've not heard of Scrivener, then know that it is one of the best pieces of software out there for writers, some would say the best.

I'm still using the (fully functional) trial version of Scrivener at the moment, but I know I will end up buying it eventually, because it is so much better than Word for writing books.

It allows me to order - and reorder - my thoughts as much as I want, make changes to the text while keeping snapshots of how it was before, keep character studies, research and ideas alongside my draft ...and so on.

The only problem is that Scrivener is currently desktop only (I have it on Mac. There is a Windows version too, but the last time I looked, the sync I am talking about here was not available).

The saving grace here is that I can set up some chapters to go across to Simplenote, edit them while I'm away from my desk, and then sync the changes back again on my return.

Trouble In Simplenote?

I'll get round to telling you more about Scrivener another time, but let's get back to the point.

I've been working on some short stories, which I have been publishing individually on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing.

I've been happily splitting the stories into smaller scenes in Scrivener, to make them more manageable, and then syncing them with Simplenote.

The sync appeared to work perfectly, but recently I have found text disappearing from individual notes in Simplenote.

I would open it up and find a note was completely blank: it was present as a note, but there was nothing in it.

Losing work is obviously every writer's nightmare, but to be fair, it wasn't too big an issue for me, because I was able to use Simplenote's "time slider" to restore the previous version.

It happened a few times, but only intermittently, so it was difficult to work out what was happening.

It wasn't the sync itself, because the notes were disappearing hours or even days after a sync had taken place.

So I had a small mystery on my hands.

Finding The Culprit

Then one day, I opened up a note, checked its settings (I couldn't remember whether I had formatted it to use Markdown or not) and on closing the dialog, wham - the text disappeared.

I carefully restored the previous version and then checked again.

Sure enough, bye bye text!

Now I knew how to reproduce the issue, I sent an e-mail off to Simplenote support.

I was surprised when they came back with, "do you happen to use Lastpass?"

Well, the answer to that was a definitive, "yes".

Lastpass is my go-to application for all my online security needs, generating and remembering passwords for me, so I don't have to.

Surely, Lastpass couldn't be the culprit?

Support asked me to go into my Lastpass vault, find the entry for Simplenote and then untick the auto-login feature for that site.

I followed the instructions, went back into Simplenote and tried it out and everything was fine.

Third Party Apps

So there you have it.

A third party app, in this case Lastpass, was causing my woes.

I have contacted Lastpass to find out their opinion on the matter, so when I hear back I will let you know.

Don't let that put you off Lastpass, by the way.

It's the best password manager around in my opinion, and it's never let me down.

In fact, it has saved my bacon on several occasions and I have written about it here and here.

In the meantime, if you have a problem in Simplenote, don't be too hasty to lay the blame.

Have you encountered similar issues with Simplenote or another note taking app?

What apps do you use for your writing and note taking needs?

Let us know in the comments.

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Friday, 15 August 2014

How To Make Disqus And Blogger Work Well Together


Blogger and Disqus work well together - once you've got it configured correctly.

I recently posted about changing Timbo On Tech over to the Disqus comments system.

I'm happy to report that it is working well.

I'm not sure whether I am receiving any more comments than before, but the quality of comments appears to be going up and I since the change, I have had zero spammers (long may that continue).

Installing Disqus into Blogger was simple and it was up and working within a few minutes.

However, I did come across a couple of minor issues in the first 2 - 3 weeks, which might catch other people out, so I thought I would share them here.

Photo credit: MBE Small Business Stakeholder Meeting (cropped), courtesy Flickr.

Blog Author (Me) Appearing As The Commenter

I noticed the first issue when I was sent my first automated e-mail from Blogger to say that I had received a comment.

Although the comment was clearly from someone else, Blogger thought that I had written it.

I checked new comments in the Disqus dashboard and Disqus knew it was me, so what was going on?

It turned out that the problem was due to my Blogger comments settings, which were somehow interfering with the synchronisation between the two.

To correct this, all I had to do was update the Blogger setting for "Who can comment?" to "Anyone - includes anonymous users" (see screenshot below).

Blogger Settings

This seems a little counter-intuitive to me, but it works.

I must also report that Disqus support were good, responding reasonably quickly when I emailed them about it.

They also took the extra step of updating their online help.

Merging With My Own Comments

Disqus is an interesting system, because as well as providing an administrative interface for blog writers, it also provides a central location to view all your comments as a reader.

I was keen to see how this would work, as I regularly comment on Squidoo as well as on other blogs where Disqus is also used.

Once again, the initial setup was simple enough: I went to my account profile and checked the Merging section (see help article).

Sure enough, there were some comments listed there, so I clicked the button and a short while later, all my blog comments were listed in my profile.

...Except for my Squidoo comments.

Initially, Disqus support indicated that there was no way to merge in those comments.
They thought that it was because Squidoo was hosted within Wordpress, but with its own authentication method.

So I thought that was that. - Not terrible, slightly irritating, but liveable.

Fix My Comments

To their credit and unprompted, Disqus support came back to me several weeks later with a solution:

The issue was that the merging of profiles is based on e-mail address - and I had registered with Squidoo under a different e-mail to the one I use for Blogger.

The fix was simple:
1. Temporarily change my Disqus profile to the "Squidoo" e-mail
2. Validate the address via the automated e-mail from Disqus
3. Go to my Disqus profile and perform the Merge
4. Change the e-mail address back to the original and re-validate

Worked first time!

Have you had any issues integrating Disqus into Blogger?
What did you encounter and how did you fix it?

Like what you read here and want to stay up to date?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Blog Changes To Disqus Comments System

Timbo On Tech is now using the Disqus commenting system, making it even easier to take part in the conversation.


Comments Please

You may have noticed that the comments area at the bottom of posts on Timbo On Tech looks a bit different to how it used to be.

That's because I have changed the comment system over from the default Blogger comments to Disqus, a popular third party application.

In this post, I will explain why I made the change and what it means for you, my dear reader.

Don't Panic!

First of all, don't worry if you have participated here previously.
The full history has been migrated across to Disqus, so your contributions are all safe in the new system.

Don't Leave Me This Way

So why have I changed things over?

The main reason is that while the Blogger comments system works, it is a little restrictive.

From an admin point of view, it is awkward responding to people under the default set-up, as I can only write replies by viewing the live post first.

When I have written replies to people, then sometimes my comment has appeared as though it was a general comment, not a reply to the person I was talking with.

There are other details I won't bore you with, but all in all, it was rather disjointed and not very conducive to a proper conversation.

From a user perspective, it wasn't always clear how to take part and to my mind, was all rather impersonal.

Join The Disqus-sion

With the Disqus tools, it is easier to see where everything is and who has responded to who.

You can login to Disqus using whatever profile you like, including your Google+ and Facebook/Twitter identities.
Or you can set up a separate Disqus profile, if you prefer.

As an added bonus, you can keep your Disqus profile across other blogs and websites that use the system.
- Disqus is the most popular 3rd party comment system on the web, so this can be a huge help.

However, if you're not comfortable with logging into Disqus, you can still leave a message as a "guest".

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to this site.

I value all your comments, feedback and encouragement.
I hope you'll like the change and continue to take part.

I couldn't do it without you!

Disqus-ted?

What do you think about the new way of doing things?
Do you love it, loathe it, or somewhere in between?

Let me know ...in the comments.

Want to know more about Disqus?
Then check out their website.

Photo credit: Discussion, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Over 20,000 Visits!

Summary: 20,000 pageviews is a real achievement for me. Thank you all for reading!

Because I'm Happy

I'm Happy
This week has been a great week for me.
I have fulfilled one of my goals to become a published author with my debut short story on Amazon.
Even better, Timbo On Tech has surpassed 20,000 visits in the time it has been running.

I know from the Google stats that a number of you have come back to the site on multiple occasions.
So I want to thank you all for reading and being a part of things here.

Top 5 Posts

To celebrate, here is a list of my top 5 most popular posts of all time for your enjoyment.

It seems those hard disk file transfers have got no easier for Xbox 360 owners.

The ultimate mouse is vertical - or is it?

These little beauties may help stop your hands hurting.

Everything for the desktop, from break timers to app launchers

Flip a mouse on its head and what have you got?

So as you can see, there's a bit of a theme here.
On the one hand, it saddens me that so many people suffer in this way.
On the other hand, I guess my original vision (to help people) must be happening somewhere along the way.

Which is your favourite article?
Leave a comment to let us know.

Meanwhile, here are the links to my new book (shameless plug ;).



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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

SwiftKey Note Review - and Top Tip!

SwiftKey logo copyright, SwiftKey
Summary: SwiftKey Note is an iOS app for quickly getting notes into Evernote via predictive typing. What they don't tell you is that you can get your notes out of Evernote too.

Slow Note To China

As much as I love Evernote (and I do), one of my frustrations with it is how slow it is to write notes from my iPod Touch.
I don't have an iPhone, so I take my Touch with me wherever I go and if I think of an idea or need to jot something down, then I would naturally want to do it in Evernote.
However, it takes Evernote such a long time to open, then synchronise my notes, then add new new note and finally allow me to actually start typing that I'm sometimes left hanging.

To be fair, Evernote recently updated their synchronisation engine with some massive performance improvements, but I'm still left with an app that displays the loading "splash" screen - a bright green background with a white elephant silhouette - for far too long.

Previously, I have managed to get round this by using the built in iOS/iCloud Notes app, which opens almost immediately and allows me to get typing.
If I really needed to keep and categorise those notes, then I would copy and paste them into Evernote later.

This works fine for short notes, but what if I want to write longer notes?
I'm thinking specifically about the text of my blog articles, which are easy to update from a desktop PC, but not so easy to add to from my iPod.

Enter the Dragon

Enter SwiftKey Note, an application for iOS which appears to kill two birds with one stone.
The app itself is deceptively simple, giving you access to your Evernote notes, notebooks and tags, with a replacement text editing and keyboard screen.

It's the sister of a similar app that SwiftKey has for the Android phone, although "Note" doesn't have the same bells and whistles as its sibling yet.
It starts up quickly and after authorising the app to access your Evernote account, lets you add a new note and get typing extremely quickly.

Predictive typing in action
Nonetheless, speedy typing alone is not enough to get me to move from Evernote over to another application, particularly when they are installed on the same machine.
But SwiftKey has another ace up its sleeve: as you type, it tries to predict what you want to write and displays 3 words in the area between the keyboard and the text (see right).
Simply select the one you want and the program puts that word in the right place, so you can carry on typing.

The app is intelligent enough to place spaces and punctuation in the right locations and is supposed to get better at guessing what your next words will be, the more you use it.
In addition, when it links to your Evernote account, it analyses the text in your existing notes, so that should place me at an advantage with nearly 3000 notes in my account.

Return To Sender

I have only just started using it in the last week, so I can't promise amazing results as yet.
However, I can report that it is already learning and on a few occasions has successfully predicted 2 words in a row - that means 2 taps to write 2 words, where it would have been a tap for each letter before.

The downside to all this, as an iOS user, is that SwiftKey Note only works with one app at the moment.
While it taps into Evernote, there is no integration with the built in Apple apps, such as Notes or Mail, or any other apps for that matter.

This is in stark contrast to SwiftKey's Android app "Keyboard", which I understand will work with any 3rd party application.
One can only hope that they will update Note to mimic Keyboard - and that they do it soon.

There is obviously much promise here, but not much indication as to where it will lead.
I will update this article later to let you know how things go!

Top Tip

In the meantime, one oddity I have found with SwiftKey Note is that it is easy to get a note into Evernote from SwiftKey (just add a note in SwitKey and will magically be there when you next sync Evernote), but it's not so obvious how it can work the other way around.
Even the help text doesn't explain it, or at least, I couldn't find anything that told me.

The answer lies in the tagging that is used in both SwiftKey and Evernote.
When you first open up SwiftKey, it grabs all your existing Evernote tags and notebooks, so you can add them to new notes that you create.
If you watch closely, you will also see that any new notes you add are also given the tag "SwiftKey" automatically (see Screenshot, below).
SwiftKey Note adds "SwiftKey" tag to all notes

It turns out that this this is all we need to do: just go into Evernote on any device, add the "SwiftKey" tag to any notes you are interested in and then sync.
After that, go back into SwiftKey Note, sync it by swiping down on your screen and voila, the tagged notes will appear in all their glory, ready for you to wreak havoc.

You can get SwiftKey Note from the App Store.

Do you have a top tip for SwiftKey Note or Evernote?
Let us know in the comments.

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Friday, 24 January 2014

Squidoo Stories: I'm The Video Game Rockstar!

Summary: Squidoo has invited some of their members to be Contributors in a number of niche areas - and I'm one of them!

We Blog

In a previous article, I discussed the merits of writing on Squidoo, versus your own blog and came to the conclusion that it is worth doing both.
Well, now I have even more reason to continue with that policy.

One of the problems of writing a blog is that you are pretty much on your own.
You write articles about the things which interest you and hope that readers will come and well, read what you've written.
If you've written something really interesting then your readers may even participate by leaving a comment.
This is great, because all of a sudden, what started as a monologue becomes a conversation.
However, it does take time and a lot of effort to get to that point and there is no-one there to tell you if you are doing it right or not.

Squidoo You?

Squidoo is different because it is a website created by writers for the community of writers and since it has been around for a while, it already attracts a large audience.
I have been writing on Squidoo for just over a year and am at the stage where I am earning a few dollars here and there.
In that short time, I have become a "Giant Squid" - a trusted member of the Squidoo community - and have over 35 articles to my name.

More importantly, I have made friends with a number of other writers from all sorts of backgrounds who I can ask to critique my work, discuss the latest Squidoo developments with, and so on.
I have been able to take the lessons I have learned and apply them back to my blog and other writing.
In short, I'm loving being on Squidoo and would recommend it to anyone.

Super Niche
See my reviews on Squidoo...

But wait - there's more!
Squidoo HQ (the team that run the site) recently announced a new program where Giant Squids can become contributors to a specific niche areas.

The idea is that the Contributors will become leaders in the Squidoo community within their niche area.
They will build up and promote their niche with articles and reviews and create opportunities and challenges for others to join in too.

There are all kinds of niches, everything from Country music and knitting to "Spot on UK".
And I'm now the "Video Game Rockstar" contributor!

I'm planning on covering as many aspects of games and gaming as I can over the coming weeks and months.
I'm an Xbox 360 man myself, but will endeavour to give fair coverage to all platforms, from Playstation to PC to Steam box.

If you are at all interested in video games, then check out my page "I'm The Video Games Rockstar Contributor"
If you would like to write a review, then why not join Squidoo here (just click the "Join Us" button at the top of the page - it's free) and then try out penning an answer to my challenge Review Cut Price Video Games?


I'm an official Squidoo contributorHave you written an article on Squidoo yet?
Do you want to join the Video Games community on Squidoo?
Then let me know by leaving a comment below.
Update: now it's even easier to take part in the Squidoo community - just click "Join Me" in the image to the right!

Photo credit: all photos mine and you can see them over on my Video Game Rockstar page too!

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