FIXING THE ZAGG SLIMBOOK ULTRATHIN CASE (w/Keyboard) FOR IPAD PRO

ZAGG has a reputation for its innovative products. Sadly, however, one of them has a considerable design issue, and one that the company has (so far) refused to acknowledge, despite numerous customer complaints. Fortunately, however, I’ve developed an inexpensive repair for this oversight that I’ll provide in detail later on.

I’ve been very happy with the two ZAGG iPhone screen protectors I’ve owned, initially for the iPhone 6 Plus and then more recently the 6S Plus. They function as well as one could reasonably expect such a product to perform…in the case of the 6S Plus, the screen protector absorbed most of the impact when I accidentally dropped a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup on my iPhone, surprisingly causing no display damage.

I’ve similarly been quite pleased with the ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass Screen protector for my 9.7″ iPad Pro. Considering that the easiest and most often used method to access a tablet device is through touchscreen input, a good screen protector is essential to preserving that touchscreen surface. This item does that, while also providing me with its assurance of quality that it will do its job well.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its Slim Book Ultrathin Case, Hinged with Detachable Backlit Keyboard (referred to from now on as the Case). There exists a serious design flaw that cannot be ignored or, frankly, tolerated.

Some backstory: I purchased my iPad Pro 9.7″ unit with the aforementioned ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass Screen Protector and above-mentioned Case several months ago (August 2016). This was not a bundle–I did considerable research on all available options including both ZAGG products. I read whatever reviews I could find on all of the different choices, all of which factored into my buying decision. While the screen protector received rave reviews, not so much for the Case. More on that in a bit.

The Case consists of two parts: one piece fits around the iPad, providing what appears to be a secure enclosure. I haven’t dropped my iPad Pro, so I can’t speak to its protective qualities. But all the holes do line up perfectly with the various buttons and ports, and it is a heavier-duty plastic than what I saw with other products. Overall I’d say I’m very pleased with this part of the Case.

The other half is the Bluetooth keyboard with its enclosed battery. The iPad portion of the Case fits neatly into the hinge bracket found on this part, creating the classic “clamshell” design. Once installed, the tablet is secured with magnets embedded into the bracket. The magnets provide just enough “pull” to keep the iPad secure but not so much as to make it difficult to remove the tablet for solo use.

It’s a snap to pair the keyboard with the iPad. The included instruction manual provides a guide to setting up the backlighting, which is offered in a variety of colors. There are 14 keys found on the top row (like Function keys) that are tied in to matching features on the iPad…these work very well.

The Case is overall a fine unit. It appears to be well constructed, thought out and engineered. Its keyboard holds up to repeated use well and has a very nice “feel” to its keys. I’ve found that it pointedly does not offer “two year’s worth of battery life,” as ZAGG claims; I hardly qualify as a “power user” as I use my iPad for only several hours each day. Still, I have already had to recharge the battery several times.

So it sounds like a great product: an excellent way to have the best of both worlds, a tablet and a laptop. Well, that’s what I thought too, even after reading through dozens of reviews that were mostly negative. Despite this, I decided to spend the $130 on Amazon to purchase it. (It’s now as of this writing listed at $80.)

Why all the negative reviews? Well, to start with, you’d be correct if you’d be suspicious of just how well a hinge bracket made of plastic can be trusted to stand up to the repeated stress of opening and closing this unit. Most of the reviews I read were not good; many users found that after time–varying from just a few hours to (in my case) several months later–the plastic of the hinge bracket cracks in either or both ends, the result being that when you open the Case to access the tablet and attached keyboard, the iPad abruptly pulls loose entirely from the Case. As this is (at first) unexpected, depending on where and how you are opening the Case, there is a good chance that you’ll drop either or both parts, causing possible damage to at least the iPad. (At that point you’re probably more than a bit disappointed and not too concerned about the keyboard part.)

Obviously this doesn’t provide a very good user experience. Many have asked why ZAGG doesn’t manufacture that hinge from a stronger material, such as metal.

ZAGG’s response is, essentially, “you’re not doing it right”–you’re not opening the Case correctly and/or you’re not transporting it correctly. The company calls the plastic hinge bracket “durable” and recommends that the following procedure be used when opening the Case: put the spine of the Case on a flat surface and separate the left and right halves by pulling each apart and away from the other. Also, they recommend not carrying the Case around as one might a laptop by using its keyboard half (which weighs quite a bit). They claim this can damage the Case’s hinge.

Some of the reviewers claim to be “power users”, frequently pulling their iPad from a backpack or bag many times in the course of a day. Others suffered the hinge damage almost immediately.

(You can read more about this item HERE. Scroll down that page to read the reviews.)

Last week it happened to me as well. Despite carefully opening and closing the Case as described and despite carrying it as instructed, both ends of the allegedly-durable plastic hinge bracket cracked, essentially making the keyboard part of the Case a separate entity.

I was very unhappy and carefully considered my next course of action. I tried repairing the cracked parts using Super Glue, even though I knew that would likely void my warranty…and, while the repair worked for a couple of openings and closings, soon that also failed. I didn’t see any reason to contact ZAGG for a warranty replacement, as that part would eventually likely crack and fail as well on the new one.

What to do? Well, I already said that I really liked the Case, so I set about finding a way to repair it.

What I came up with is both simple and elegant. I’m going to provide the most basic step-by-step instructions, because frankly if you can’t figure out how to do it yourself you probably shouldn’t be attempting it in the first place.

Obviously this WILL void your warranty. So choose your plan of action carefully.

You’ll need the following things: slipjoint pliers, needle nose pliers, a fine point Sharpie, a good straightedge (that means a metal, not wood) millimeter ruler (if you use a t-square you’ll have the best tool for accurate straight lines). Also good sharp tin snips, a small piece of stainless steel sheet metal, a flat metal file, a can of flat black spray paint and some GOOP adhesive. You can find all these things at a hardware or home improvement store, such as Ace Hardware or Home Depot.

Simply put, the steps are as follows: you’ll be measuring the sheet metal with the straightedge, cutting it with the tin snips, using the file to smooth any sharp edges, measuring the crease lines with the straightedge/t-square and marking them with the Sharpie, and then folding/bending it into shape with both sets of pliers. Once you’ve got it so that it fits well (by test fitting it on the Case) paint JUST THE OUTSIDE and attach it to the hinge bracket, using a very small amount of GOOP to secure it into place.

The test-fitting requires patience, as it is a trial-and-error process, so plan on taking your time with this step.

What exactly will you be making? Metal “clips” that fit neatly over the ends of the hinge bracket, providing the necessary reinforcement for opening and closing the Case. You can still remove the iPad, of course, but the seriously flawed hinge bracket problem is solved.

What I don’t understand is why ZAGG didn’t do this in the first place. I’m just a do-it-yourselfer, maybe a little on the advanced side but with no specialized training nor degree, and I came up with this solution after just a little bit of thought and testing. I’m certainly no match for the R&D (research and development) department of a big company. It can’t be that hard to manufacture these parts and attach them to the Case during assembly, eliminating the problem and making it a 5 star product.

Here are some notes and drawings I made (using the Apple Pencil) that provide measurements and other information.

The first one above illustrates the problem using a simplified drawing of the hinge bracket.
The second drawing features the proposed repair clip:


What you are creating are 2 metal strips, 3.5 cm X 4.5 cm, which will become the reinforcing clips. These strips are shown in the third drawing, below. Using the Sharpie, CAREFULLY measure; and using the straightedge/t-square, draw the lines. Again–I cannot stress how important it is that you are accurate in this work, else not only will the finished product look bad but it probably won’t fit properly, and you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to fix that. Some extra effort spent in the pieces’ creation will pay off greatly later on.

Find a suitable straight edge on a countertop, table, desk, etc. Starting with the first strip, bend it CAREFULLY along the dotted line using the countertop straight edge, making sure the result is straight, then double it by bending the two halves together. This is necessary because the one layer of metal is not enough to secure the (cracked) ends of the hinge bracket, but both together will be. Use the slipjoint pliers to flatten the fold/bend point as much as you can. This is important because there has to be enough clearance so the clip will clear the space between the bottom surface of the keyboard and the hinge. You could carefully use a small hammer, but I found the pliers worked well. This first folded edge will be located on the bottom of the Case; the opposite edges will be on the top.

The rest is just bending the strip along the lines you’ve drawn (again, CAREFULLY), using the needle nose pliers. I’m sure there’s other ways that might work better, but again this worked well for me. Start on a side for one bend, then switch to the other side. In this way work on getting a good sharp fold in the metal. (You can hold the section with the needle nose pliers and tap on the other side with a small hammer to get a good crease.)

When that’s all done the next step is to make a slight fold across the center part of the repair clip. You’ll see by studying the spine of the Case that there’s a slight angle to the back of it; the repair bracket should mirror that angle so it will fit tightly against it. The result should be that the top and bottom surfaces are NOT parallel, there must be a narrower gap in the front edges than the back spine, similar to spring clips used for example to hold things like papers together and to keep bags of snack chips sealed tightly. This is so the clips have the same sort of spring action, which will not only keep them in place but also help support the hinge bracket in the opening and closing of the Case.

After you’re done making all the creases you’ll notice that one side of the piece is longer than the other. This is intentional, so you can cut off the excess when you’ve gotten the piece to fit properly. This edge should be on the top section of the clip. You’ll see in the pictures just below how I created my clips and how this bottom edge is a bit longer than the top one, because the bottom part of the hinge bracket is a bit thicker than the top. (Take a look at my finished clips below if you are having difficulty understanding my description.) DON’T TRIM THIS BOTTOM PART, where the fold is! The two pieces will come apart and won’t be as sturdy! While the bottommost part is longer, that’s okay. The TOP part–which is where the cut edges are–can be trimmed so that it doesn’t cause contact with the Case. TRIM CAREFULLY! The second clip I made I trimmed too short, and I wasn’t happy with how it looked. For maximum strength it should extend just to the edge of the black plastic of the Case.

Use the slipjoint pliers to make a very slight inward bend on the bottom edge. This helps the clip stay in place. (Again, study the pictures below–in the last one, this slight inward bend is clearly visible on the left side of both pieces.)

Recall I said before to paint only one side, which is the outer surface…this is because the GOOP won’t adhere as well to a painted surface. Be sure to clean the finished metal with soap and water before painting and then allow it to fully dry. Follow the instructions on the paint can exactly, apply several light coats (so the paint doesn’t run) and then LEAVE IT ALONE to dry completely (at the very least, overnight) before handling. The paint can’s directions might say that you can handle it after an hour or so. DON’T. Be patient! Nothing looks more amateurish than a paint job with runs and/or fingerprints on it.

After you’ve left it dry completely, use a bit of soap and water to clean the inner unpainted part of the clips and the corresponding locations on the Hinge Bracket spine. This is to help the GOOP stick better.

Here’s what mine looked like when they were ready to be installed:



The next step is to CAREFULLY apply the GOOP. Use JUST A LITTLE on both the inner center section of the repair clip and the spine of the Case… GOOP is stronger when applied to both surfaces. It would be a good idea to test fit and mark it so the GOOP doesn’t end up all over the place. After applying, install the clips. (I found that I had to use the needle nose pliers to gently pull out on the front edge of a clip to slide it into place and install it.) Don’t count on the stuff alone to hold the clip on. Both clips should fit tightly without it. The GOOP is there just to prevent the clips from sliding around on the spine of the Case.

I left about a one-eighth (1/8) inch space on the left outside and right outside edges of each clip, respectively, from the corresponding ends of the Hinge Bracket.

Here’s the finished product, installed on the Case:

There’s a good bit of shaping/reshaping, bending/re-bending and filing involved with this repair. Take your time and work CAREFULLY to get a finished product you can be proud of, and that will also last a long time.

While it’s only been several days since I created and installed the repair clips, I’ve had every indication that this will be a lasting and permanent repair.

It’s a real pity that ZAGG could not have engineered such a repair and made it available to its users; more distressing still is that this feature was not included in the design originally. This lack of product responsibility is enough of a big deal to me that I’d have to take a long look at ZAGG products in the future.

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Bravo! Jason Collins is first gay man to ‘come out’ as an active athlete on a US major sports team

It has finally happened, and it’s about time.

A 2011 Gallup poll conducted among US adults revealed that 25% of America’s population is thought to be gay. This estimate is hardly scientific, as there is no empirical data to correctly assess the number of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals in the general population.

Still, the argument has often been made that whatever that percentage might be, if it’s a given that at least some LGBT persons make up the general population, shouldn’t a similar number exist in the ranks of professional athletes? After all, except for superior athletic skill and prowess, these are for the most part average human beings from many different nations and all walks of life. It would seem absurd to believe that there aren’t at least some that would have a sexual preference different from the majority.

There has also been a prevalent belief that these athletes are frightened by the prospect of rejection from their teammates, fans and society in general…should they publicly admit these sexual preferences. Although it’s not the “official” reason, it could be a powerful justification for appearing straight, which at least for some must be the same as living a lie.

So, bravo to Jason Collins of the NBA’s Boston Celtics to be the first to openly admit that he is gay.

Sixty-six years ago Jackie Robinson became a hero to many when he became the first player of African-American descent to play on a professional American baseball team in the modern era. He is remembered fondly as the man who broke the “color line,” opening the door to allow players of any color or nationality to play baseball…and, later, all sports.

Now, it would seem that Collins should be remembered in much the same way.

There is an excellent piece by Dan Levy on the site BleacherReport.com about a recent Sports Illustrated article concerning Collins and his decision to “come out.” Here’s a Collins quote from the SI story:

No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.

Levy makes this point, one of many thought-provoking ones in his story:

Being a minority isn’t easy in this country, but most minorities don’t have the choice to hide who they really are.

We can’t hide the color of our skin or the texture of our hair or the shape of our nose. We can’t choose our skin color or our nose or our hair or any other characteristic that defines who we are physically.

We can’t choose our thoughts and our feelings, either, but they are so much easier to hide, making something like homosexuality very confusing for society and very difficult for those within that community to admit and fully understand.

If you knew you felt a way that would bring ridicule and shame upon you within your community, but you had the ability to hide it from everyone, wouldn’t you do that?

That’s what gay athletes have been doing for years, and until more brave people like Collins and former U.S. National team soccer player Robbie Rogers come out and proudly admit who they are, there may still be the stigma that being a gay man in American sports is something to hide.

It is not.

Being gay should make no difference in judging an athlete’s performance than if he or she is white, Catholic, vegetarian, left-handed–or, all or none of those things.

I’m not a fan of the NBA…but I just became a fan of Jason Collins.

One man’s eloquent thoughts on the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings

As the news has come in about the horrific tragedy today in Boston, we are left with the same feeling we got last December after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings…in the early morning of 9/11/01…or even as far back as eighteen years ago this week–April 17, 1995–the Oklahoma City bombing….

Is there nowhere that we can feel safe?

As of this writing, three people are now dead from the explosions–one of them an eight-year-old child–and the FBI is calling the bombings “a potential terrorist attack.”

I have come to approach these senseless takings of lives in an admittedly imperfect way, almost as if they are out of our hands–like natural disasters such as the Japanese tsunami, Hurricane Sandy or random tornado destruction–where a few poor souls just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the saying goes, “When your number’s up, your number’s up.”

Of course, this is in no way meant to diminish the grief of those who have lost loved ones through these tragedies, or to pardon or excuse the actions of those that caused the injuries and deaths. The fact remains that it could have been prevented, it didn’t have to happen…unlike natural disasters in which the only way to be safe is to be many miles away, because we have no way–at least not at present–to control the forces of Nature.

LIke I said, it was just my way to cope with it, so I don’t just stay inside every day and live in fear of potential terrorist attacks. Even then, one on a citywide scale or in my neighborhood could still fell me in my own home.

One of the only good things about Facebook and Twitter (some would say) is that both allow an individual or group a way to spread a thought or message across the country and around the world. So much the better if it’s a positive one.

This post was on Facebook this late afternoon. I’d like to share it with you. There is some strong language, but it’s not just for show–he is understandably upset and concerned, as I think we probably all should be, at least a little. After all–when will it be a sporting event we participate in or watch…an elementary school our child attends…an office building that we work in?

From Patton Oswalt:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

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Happy Birthday, Lowell George!

Today marks the birthday of one of America’s overlooked great songwriters and musicians, Lowell George.

If you think you’ve never heard of him or his music, I would bet that you’re wrong. His music industry influence in the mid- to late-1970s was far-reaching, and at least a few of the songs that most any radio station will play on any given day are certain to be Lowell George compositions.

A founding member of the band Little Feat in 1969 (along with keyboardist and existing member Bill Payne), George took the band through eight albums until his death in 1979, when “Down On The Farm”–the recording George and the group had been working on–was released. This marked the last studio album with the existing lineup: the 1981 compilation “Hoy-hoy!” consisted mostly of unreleased and live tracks.

George had reportedly become disenchanted with the direction the band seemed to taking, as evidenced by his departure from the stage during the live performances of “Day At The Dog Races,” a jazz fusion piece reminiscent of the band Weather Report. As a result, he had been working on a solo album (the brilliant “Thanks I’ll Eat It Here!”) and rehearsing for the subsequent tour when he passed away on June 29 from an apparent heart attack.

According to a story that appeared in The New Musical Express on July 7, 1979, there were some unanswered questions as to the events of the morning after George’s death:

IT WAS cruelly ironic that Lowell George, former leader of Little Feat, should die, aged 34, in the Twin Bridges Hotel, Marriott, Arlington, Virginia, across the river from the only town in America that embraced his talent.

The night before he died, George performed before a standing room only crowd at the Lissner Auditorium in Washington. It was the first time he’d been back there since Little Feat split up two months ago.

Observers said the performance was a great success, better in many respects than the recent Little Feat shows.

George had grown extremely fat, partially as a result of the debilitating hepatitis that laid him low for much of last year, he probably weighed close to 300 lbs. The nights of the Lissner show he wore his ubiquitous white overalls and one fan said that he seemed to have a dangerous amount of energy for a man of his size and health record, performing for ninety minutes and an unusually long encore.

George was officially pronounced dead on arrival at Arlington Park Hospital at 1.10 p.m. Friday afternoon. The circumstances behind his demise are coloured by inconsistencies. Marion Perkins, Warner Brothers spokesperson, said that he died of a heart attack. A spokesperson for Arlington County Police affirmed this but Arlington County Hospital officials and at least one other police official said the cause of death was not known.

The body was white-lipped and the bluishness around the eyes, observers said, were consistent with post mortem symptoms of a drug overdose.

One police official said that was why an autopsy was being ordered while officer Mark Nell, the policeman who responded to the call, said that the reason an autopsy was called was because of George’s age.

Nell, the officer who filed the report on George’s death, said that the case was strictly routine. He continued. “I did not find any drugs and there was no evidence that the room had been cleared of drugs either.” There was no sign of any blood or foul play he said in his report.

A post mortem report later stated that heart failure was the cause of death.

According to Perkins, George had complained of chest pains after Thursday’s show and again on Friday morning. “Around 10 am,” she said, “George’s wife called road manager Gene Bano to their room after George complained of breathing problems. When the singer/songwriter said that he was feeling better his wife and Bano left the room to get some breakfast.

Hotel officials said Mrs George returned from breakfast with her two children some time after 11 am to find George lying unconscious on the bed. She called the main desk saying that her husband was very sick. A rescue squad of police were despatched and a Hotel Engineer, certified in first aid, was sent to George’s room to offer immediate assistance.

The engineer said that by the time he arrived George had stopped breathing. He tried to administer mouth to mouth rescuscitation but “it was no use he had been dead for a while.”

Arlington County Rescue Squad’s No.75 arrived shortly afterwards. According to one of their officials they tried administering cardiac respiration but it was futile. The Squad officer in charge said George had been dead for at least 45 minutes and maybe two hours. This contradicted Mrs George’s report to the police that said he had been dead for ten minutes before the squad arrived.

Bano was present in the room with Mrs George when the police arrived, Nell said, along with the Rescue Squad and the Hotel Engineer. Nell said that he did not ask many questions because Mrs George and Bano looked “very distressed”.

It is not clear what George did after the show. One hotel official said that some members of the band were partying until seven the next morning but a waiter who brought food up to George’s room said there was nothing peculiar happening there. “They didn’t even order any drinks; Mr George asked me where the game room was and that was it.”

The next morning a maid accidentally walked into George’s room around lOam to clean the room. Her employers said she saw George’s body curled on the bed and was immediately told to leave by George’s wife, who said that her husband was sick.

The most baffling question is the presence of drugs on the morning of George’s death. Rescue Squad officials and police said that they found no evidence of drugs but the engineer who was supposedly the first person other than Mrs George and Bano to enter the room said that he saw a “Large phial of white powder about one half the size of a tennis ball cannister which was practically empty.” He also said that there were about four or five containers of prescription drugs, all of which were out in the open but none of, which were present when police arrived minutes later. The engineer said that he left the room once before police arrived and another hotel employee said that in his absence there was a flurry of activity in George’s room prior to the police’s arrival with “Lots of people walking in and out of his room.

Band members, family and friends checked out of the Twin Bridges Hotel at 6.30 p.m. Friday hopping on a bus that was headed back to LA -the band’s hometown.

Lowell George was cremated in Washington DC on 2nd July 1979. His ashes were flown to Los Angeles and, in accordance with George’s wishes, his mother, wife and children will scatter them into the ocean from a fishing boat.

Lowell George is succeeded by his wife Elizabeth, three sons, Jed, Forrest and Luke, and a daughter, Inara.

From Mark Brand’s biography of Lowell George, Rock and Roll Doctor: Lowell George: Guitarist, Songwriter and Founder of Little Feat:

Brend excerpt edit

There are four men who have passed on that I wish I could have spent some (more) time with: Jesus Christ, because of the inner turmoil and emotional chaos he must have faced, and how he was able to come through it; Abraham Lincoln, for the same reasons; my father, because I did not know him very well as I was growing up….

…And Lowell George. He was an amazing talent. Bonnie Raitt–a musician who has been around a while and for whom I have great respect–would be a good judge of that.

Happy Birthday, Lowell. Rest easy, man.  You might have left us, but you’ve passed on, through those that knew you, a great legacy.

How-to: Quickly transferring your choice of data from an old Mac to a new one

Not long ago I purchased an older Macintosh computer for use as a desktop machine. I depend on a MacBook Pro for my everyday use, but there are times when I need a second computer, running concurrently with the MBP, for research. I needed to find a relatively fast and easy way to transfer certain files and folders from my workhorse machine to my recently-obtained older one.

I already have two Mac desktops–an iMac Indigo model from early 2001, which has a slower processor (500MHz); and a 2002 iMac G4 (Flat Panel) (the cool looking flatscreen-monitor-on-a-stalk machine known as Sunflower), which has a not-much-faster 800MHz processor.

Let me take a few moments to try and explain why one might have so many computers.

It’s a sad fact of personal computers that a sort of unplanned obsolescence takes place. Moore’s Law–which is really not a law but more of an observation–states that processor speed will double roughly every two years. Since everyone wants the newest and best available and not yesterday’s models, and computer manufacturers don’t design a way to add fasters processors or allow most circuit board components to be upgradeable, these older computers have much in common with the rusted and decaying hulks of metal, glass and plastic that are the abandoned automobiles one often sees in vacant lots grown up with weeds.

The difference is that these computers still function. While older cars possess moving parts that eventually give way and wear out, ending their operational use, computers nearly always still function much the same as new. While the reason for this is obviously that computers have very few moving parts, there is another more important element.

To continue the automobile analogy: it would be as if every other year cars were made to go twice as fast. While this is an interesting idea in itself, further imagine that as this was taking place, both the maximum and minimum speed limits on highways were increased, to coincide with the release of the newer, faster automobiles. This would likely mean changes in the way these roads were built as well, to accommodate the advanced vehicles.

Therefore, a car that was several years old and had a top speed of 70 mph, for instance, would soon be legally unable to even get on the highway once the minimum speed limit was increased to 75.

So it is with personal computers. While all parts might still function as originally intended, software that was once less complex and smaller in data size soon increases in both complexity and relative size to meet the heftier demands of the newer and more powerful machines.

Imagine that you get a raise at work and go out and buy new furniture. Well, the new furniture is bigger and has more pieces that the old, so now you have to move to a new home because you need the extra space. The furniture is that new software that you want to or have to run…your aging computer is your old home.

Simply put–older machines can’t effectively run newer more advanced software as well. They become sluggish and are generally unresponsive–if they are even capable of running it at all.

Sadly, my most recently acquired Mac will eventually fall by the side of the road as well…but for now, it works well and does what I want.

It’s a PowerMac G4 FW800, and the first machine to have a Firewire (FW) 800 port, which allows data transfer of about 800 megabits per second (Mbit/s)–actually 786.432 Mbit/s. This is almost twice as fast as USB 2.0 (at 480 Mbit/s), which up until recently was the data transfer most often used by Windows-based computers.

I tend to be attracted to computers that hold some kind of milestone or signpost in history. The Mirror Drive Door Macs (of which this is one) were only around a short time, but were among the fastest and most powerful of all computers for that span.

Another plus is it is one of the first of the older models that will run OS X 10.5 Leopard, the last OS available for PPC processors (Apple switched to Intel in 2006). I’ve always been fond of this version of the Mac’s operating system.

I wanted to transfer my personal settings, files and folders from the MacBook Pro to this machine. Apple has created an application to do just that, called Migration Assistant.

Migration Assistant’s opening window (click to enlarge). Credit: Apple Inc.

One of the very good reasons to utilize Migration Assistant is that it allows the use of Firewire to transfer data from machine to machine. This Mac has USB 1.1, which is okay for most things…but it has a top speed for data transfer of 12 Mbit/s, and if I used that to transfer the data it would be a long and arduous process…and depending on how much data I have, it could take somewhere on the magnitude of days to complete.

One of the problems with Migration Assistant is that it doesn’t allow you to select individual files or folders. The app’s twin, Setup Assistant–which appears when you first install a new OS or start up a brand new Mac–is great for the initial transfer of information, and works quite well. But it won’t allow you to choose individual files and folders either. Maybe you have an external hard drive filled with hundreds of gigabytes of pictures and family videos. If you wanted to transfer only certain data from that drive, neither Assistant could help you.

Another problem is that Migration Assistant isn’t designed to try and transfer data from a newer OS to an older machine–you’ll get the “There is no version of OS X on this machine” message on the older computer (“this machine” meaning the one with the newer OS).

So, if you’re trying to accomplish what I am–in either or both examples–there has to be another way.

Fortunately, there is. The trick is to allow the app to make the Firewire connection for you…then just transfer the information yourself. If it sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s actually not much harder than copying and pasting from one to the other.

The first thing you’ll want to do is disable FileVault, if you use it. FileVault is a way to keep your Mac’s data more safe and secure, should it fall into the wrong hands. It encrypts that dataconverts it to a special type of code–that makes it extremely difficult for anyone that doesn’t know the code to translate it. Chances are, if you have this you already know about it. It’s a special option and is something that you could not turn on accidentally. If you have questions or need assistance in turning it off or learning more about it, you can find instructions here for OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, or here for 10.7 Lion and 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Next you’ll want to start Migration Assistant on the Destination Mac–the one that will be receiving the information. It’s found in the Applications folder>Utilities subfolder. (Full instructions for using the app can be found here.)

Follow the step by step directions found on the display. Briefly, this is what you’ll do (I would advise reading the instructions found at the above link if you are unfamiliar with the procedure). Click the Continue button on the Destination Mac after each step:

  • Connect the appropriate Firewire cable to both machines (either FW400 or 800–the cables aren’t interchangeable).
  • Set the Source Mac up in Target Disk mode. This essentially involves making it into a giant hard drive.You do this by restarting it and holding down the “T” key as soon as the screen goes black. Continue to hold down the “T” key until you see the big Firewire symbol appear.
  • When the message “Firewire connection established” appears, STOP.
  • You can now minimize the Migration Assistant. We won’t be needing it for the remainder of the transfer, but don’t close it completely or you could disrupt the connection.
  • By now you should have the icon of an orange rectangle bearing the Firewire symbol appearing on the Destination Mac’s display. Its name will be the same as the Source Mac’s hard drive, and is a representation of it. (You might have more than one, depending on how many drives you have in the Source Mac.)
  • Now, all you have to do is double-click on the Source Mac’s drive icon found on the Destination Mac’s display to find what you’d like to transfer, open the Destination Mac’s hard drive icon to locate where you’d like to put it, highlight and drag the files and folders you want from one to the other.
  • It’s important to remember that you’re only copying the files and folders, not actually moving them.
  • This is the easy part–you wait for the transfer to complete.
  • Once you’re done copying all the data you wanted to transfer, highlight the Source Mac’s hard drive icon and drag it to the Destination Mac’s Trash. This ejects the drive.
  • DO NOT DISCONNECT THE FIREWIRE CABLE UNTIL YOU HAVE EJECTED THE DRIVE! It’s possible you could damage the Source Mac’s drive if you don’t eject it first from the Destination Mac’s desktop.
  • Once it no longer appears on the desktop, you can disconnect the Firewire cable from both machines.
  • Restart the Source Mac by pressing the Power button to turn it off. After a few moments, press the button again to start it up.
  • You’re done!

By following these instructions you can enjoy the higher speed of a Firewire data transfer, which is especially good if your machine is otherwise only capable of the snail’s pace slooowwwness of the older USB 1.1 standard.

(Note: it is also possible to connect the computers directly with a short length of ethernet cable, which should provide the same results. While I have not attempted this transfer method, more on it can be found here–almost at the end of the article. Click the link marked Wireless (Wi-Fi) or Ethernet Migration.”)

Before ‘The Simpsons,’ there was ‘Life in Hell’

Matt Groening is perhaps best known for creating Fox’s animated hit “The Simpsons”…but from 1977-2012 he drew a comic strip called “Life In Hell.”  While it shares a lot of the Simpson’s dark and absurdist humor, it’s still a little…different. It’s probably not something you would have found in your Sunday Comics section…unless you lived in a very progressive community.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about the strip:

Life in Hell is a weekly comic strip by Matt Groening, which was published from 1977 to 2012. The strip features anthropomorphic rabbits and a gay couple. Groening uses these characters to explore a wide range of topics about love, sex, work, and death. His drawings are full of expressions of angstalienationself-loathing, and fear of inevitable doom.

A few months ago I responded to questions regarding the origin of the name “Brood Coffee Talk.” I talked about how it was from a 1992 comic strip called “The Fusco Brothers,” drawn by J.C. Duffy. I also mentioned Bill Griffith’s “Zippy the Pinhead,” Max Cannon’s “Red Meat”…and Matt Groening’s “Life In Hell” as comics that I enjoyed in the early 1990s.

While going through some old files the other day I found the comic I’ve reproduced below. For years it has hung on the walls of various jobs I’ve had, as the tape marks I’ve tried to mask off will attest…now, after rediscovering it, it hangs proudly on my home office wall.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have…for more than 20 years.

LIH-Stress

.

(Note: the last word in Panel Six is partially obscured. It’s “self.”)

Review: Seven laptop cooling pads from Logitech, Belkin and three others (with revisions)

Sometimes in the course of using your laptop computer it can turn into a miniature heating pad in your lap. Not only can it get uncomfortably hot against your skin, but it’s also not a good thing for your laptop.

The Santa Fe Times reported on a recent user survey of laptops and the heat they can produce:

Laptop users reported that they consistently face issues with the heat generated from their computer. In fact, nearly half (47 percent) of laptop users surveyed have had to temporarily quit using their laptop because the heat became unbearable. Surprisingly, a majority (62 percent) agree that the bottom of their laptop gets so hot that they could fry an egg on it. Desperate solutions that people have tried including a pillow (27 percent), towel (19 percent) and magazine (15 percent)–don’t adequately address the problem.

Computers in general produce a lot of heat, especially when they are hard at work. In the business world, companies that have a lot of computers usually have a “server room” which is full of more computers that the others are connected to. This room is kept very cool–50 degrees Fahrenheit or below–because computers like it much better when the surrounding temperature is approaching freezing. Even for personal use they are better able to meet the high processing demands of watching video or playing graphically-intensive games, for example, even simply writing an email–when they are kept cooler. They run more efficiently and produce faster results.

There are many types of laptop “cooling pads” available that not only keep the laptop’s heat away from your skin, but many also have USB-powered cooling fans built into them to cool down the underside of your computer.

Recently while at a Starbucks I became concerned because my MacBook Pro’s (MBP’s) cooling fans both revved up to 6000 rpm (which is the highest I’ve ever seen them go) with no good reason to do so, other than a slower-than-normal Wifi connection with the store.

I decided to explore which laptop cooling pads were available in the marketplace and what features each offered. I purchased and tested seven of them for suitability. This is what I was looking for:

  • It should be of sturdy construction, but not overly heavy. Plastic is okay, as long as it’s good quality. (All of the ones tested were made of plastic.)
  • It should be comfortable on one’s lap. Isn’t that the whole point?
  • It should not only keep my legs and lap cool by distancing them from the bottom of the laptop, but it must also have a cooling fan or fans to cool it down as well.
  • It should be ergonomic in design–i.e., it should angle the laptop forward (higher in the back than in the front) to help aid in typing/accessing the touchpad.
  • The MBP’s CPU and graphics chip are located just below the 4-5-6-7-8-9 keys on the keyboard. Therefore, a fan that doesn’t properly cool that area–for example, one located in the center of the pad–would not be suitable, unless the pad was contoured in such a way to direct air over that area. Fans at or near the top would probably be better, at least for my needs.
  • It would be great if it offered a pass-through USB port so you aren’t forced to give one up (although small external USB buses offering four more ports are often less than $10, should that become an issue later on.)
  • It should, ideally, offer another power source besides USB. (None of the ones I tested offered this feature, though.)
  • It should offer several fan speeds and even a turnoff switch, for use when your battery starts to get low. (I came to this realization at the end of the testing…and admittedly, just pulling out the USB plug could also function as an OFF switch.)

All of the following were purchased at either my local Fry’s Electronics or a nearby Target store. Why only those two choices? Simply put, Best Buy, Walmart and Office Max each offered a good selection, but most everything was only available online. Considering that I ended up returning all but one of these, buying something online that I could not examine or “test drive”–then possibly return–was not a viable option. I like buying online as much as anyone else, but I still consider it a better option only when you’ve bought the item before and already know what you’ll be getting.

I researched all the models online and found that those two locations had most of what I was looking for in stock. I expected that Fry’s would offer a good in-store selection…but was surprised to see that Target did as well.

I looked at almost every cooling pad available in each location. Many were dismissed immediately…some were given consideration for a few minutes but ultimately returned to the shelf. The list below is made up of the only ones I thought worthy of bringing home and testing.

With that said, here are my cooling pad choices…with pictures, a link to more information, purchase location and the selling price. These are arranged from the least to most suitable. Following that I provide a breakdown of each unit’s good and bad points.

The candidates:

GearHead 2 Fan Black Notebook Cooler CF3200U                                         Fry’s / $14.99

CoolMax NB-410                                                                                               Fry’s  / $14.99

Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand F5L001- White (w/compartment)                        Fry’s / $19.99

Bottom view. Credit: http://www.amazon.com

Belkin “CoolSpot” F5L055                                                                 Target / $29.99

Bottom Lap Pad. Credit: www.coolermaster-usa.com

Bottom Lap Pad. Credit: http://www.coolermaster-usa.com

Removable fan cover. Credit: http://www.coolermaster-usa.com

CoolerMaster LapAir Notebook Cooler R9-NBC-LPAR-GP                              Fry’s / $29.99

Rear view. Credit: http://www.belkin.com

Belkin Cooling Lounge – White F5L041                                                           Target / $37.49

Rear view. Credit: http://www.amazon.com

Detail of three-position switch. Credit: http://www.amazon.com

Logitech N200 Laptop Cooling Pad  (Target’s online price = $33.49)          In-store / $29.69

The breakdown:

Let’s dismiss the first entry right away–the GearHead 2Fan Black Notebook Cooler CF3200U. I had second thoughts about buying it, and I was right. Its plasticky feel makes it seem cheap and flimsy–it reminded me of a child’s toy. The fans were louder than most of the others, and were positioned too far below the MBP’s processors to be of much help. The notebook slid around fairly easily on it…and it also didn’t have good ergonomics–i.e., it didn’t have enough of the elevation from front to back that I was looking for.

The CoolMax NB-410 was a step up–the fans were positioned higher, it was made of a medium-grade plastic so it didn’t feel as unsubstantial as the GearHead unit. Its problem is that it’s completely flat on the bottom, there’s no elevation of the notebook’s keyboard at all. This was a tougher choice to eliminate, but compared to the others it didn’t make the cut.

Belkin‘s Laptop Cooling Pad F5L001 (white) was the first one I liked right away. Belkin has a solid reputation as a maker of quality products, and for the most part this one did not disappoint. The overall construction was sturdy, the design is such that the four corners are elevated above the plane of the rest of the unit, with the area between the top and bottom surfaces dipping into a valley about an inch or two deep. The region between the upper two and lower two corners also dips a bit, so if your notebook can sit on all four corners there’s lots of room underneath for air circulation, no matter where the processors on your computer sits.

As with all the Belkin cooling pads reviewed here, there is just one single fan in the middle of the pad. This particular model was especially noisy, although it did put out more air than most of the others. Sadly I could not test another unit, as this was the only one that Fry’s Electronics had in stock throughout my ten-day testing period.

Which brings me to the sole problem that I found with this cooling pad. The USB cable is stored in a compartment near the uppermost edge of the bottom of the unit. When opened, the compartment’s door is supposed to fold down and serve as a support to elevate the keyboard. This doesn’t work very well. First, the door doesn’t lock into place, so if you push the cooling pad away from you even a few inches the door collapses, so then does your notebook. Now, if the door opened toward the front edge of the unit instead of toward the rear edge (If you can visualize that), then pushing it away from yourself would keep that door open. Instead, the opposite happens, and I’m far more likely to push the notebook away than pull it toward me.

Also, it tended to close when I was trying to use the notebook on my lap–it also felt flimsy, and gave me the impression that it wouldn’t take much to break it off.

The collapsing door is enough for me to say “no” to this choice.

The next offering, Belkin‘s F5L055 (black), is a much better choice in that it doesn’t have the faulty door and compartment. A molded channel serves as a guide to store the USB cable (this feature is used in several other models as well). In place of the door to raise the back section, there’s a flattened arch support made of sturdy plastic, and resembles the wing or fin found on the rear of many sports cars (see photo).

The fan on this model was much quieter than the F5L001, despite its nearly-identical construction. There didn’t seem to be a lesser amount of air despite the quieter fan, however.

The problem comes with that bottom-mounted support. While it’s suitable to use on a table or desktop, it doesn’t work so well on your lap. And, since there’s a good possibility that you’ll be using the cooling pad away from a flat surfaced and on your lap, it should be comfortable and make it easy to use your notebook. The support, while a vast improvement over the hinged door, gets in the way when you are sitting on a chair on sofa. If you sit with your legs together it invariably pushes them apart…if you sit with one leg under the other in a semi-squat position (one foot propped behind the opposing knee), the support kind of pushes its way down into the center of your lap.

This turned out to be a feature I could not live with, especially when I was considering the other options in our list.

Next we have the CoolerMaster LapAir Notebook Cooler R9-NBC-LPAR-GP. I really wanted to keep this one. It’s got a soft foam pad that spans the uppermost third of the base (see photo), which makes using it both on a flat surface and your lap equally pleasant. It fits nicely in or on your lap, depending on how you sit, cross-legged or legs together. This foam pad feature is found on the remaining three models–it was one of the things I was drawn to after my first exposure here.

Another plus was Its removable fan cover, which when detached exposed the fan blades for easy cleaning. And, it had a pass-through USB plug, handy so you don’t lose a port (but I think I said that already).

Its biggest failing was that it was too big. It’s designed for a 17 inch laptop, and I have a 15 inch model. Normally that wouldn’t make a difference, and the MBP had no problem perched atop the pad. But it was too big for my computer bag…in fact, all my computer bags going back 20 years! I couldn’t get it to fit inside either horizontally or vertically. I tried a backpack I used before when my job involved a lot of air travel, but even it couldn’t handle the excess width–I couldn’t zipper it shut.

So, as much as I liked it, and even though I seriously contemplated it, I wasn’t going to go out and purchase a new bigger bag just to accommodate it. I rejected the CoolerMaster LapAir.

The Belkin Cooling Lounge F5L041 (white) is basically just a larger CoolPad. Its top surface doesn’t have the more exaggerated slopes that the F5L001 had, so it didn’t do as good of a job cooling my notebook. And while not as big as the CoolerMaster above, it’s still good-sized and can accommodate a 17 inch laptop.

It too has a large foam pad on its bottom, which was comfortable enough, but its top surface could use more nonslip material. In fact, while all of the Belkins have nonslip rubber pads that span the upper and lower sections of the top surface, there is still nothing to hold the computer on the pad. All the others have some sort of lip–or recessed areas–that would catch the rubber feet of the notebook and help prevent it from possibly slipping off the front.

This wasn’t a bad choice, but I wished I could put the CoolPad and the Cooling Lounge into some sort of a machine and combine them somehow. The CoolPad is nicely sized, but has that annoying support at the bottom. The Cooling Lounge has a nice padded area underneath, but it’s too big and doesn’t have enough nonslip rubber on top to secure the notebook better so it doesn’t slide around when you shift sitting positions.

Finally, we have the Logitech N200 Laptop Cooling Pad. This has most of the features I was looking for…and, some I didn’t realize at the time that I’d like. The only negative could  be a question of availability, which I’ll get to in a minute.

It has a lip or front stop that the notebook fits nicely up against and into. The MBP has a front-loading optical drive, and I had some concern as to whether I’d be able to insert and remove CDs and DVDs with the computer on the pad. Much credit must be given to the Logitech engineers for making the front stop low enough so that the slot would not be blocked.

It has a very quiet cooling fan, located in the center of the grill area…in fact, the MBP fans on highest rpm are much louder than this one. The grill covers almost the entire top surface, and has removable rectangular rubber “feet” (see photo) that you can position most anywhere.

And, this fan is controlled by a three-position slider inline with the USB cord. The choices are 0 (OFF), 1 (LOW) and 2 (HIGH). There is a red status indicator in the slider for OFF, but HIGH and LOW are both marked with the same green color. The switch has good tactile stops so selecting isn’t a problem. I personally have had no need for the middle (LOW) stop, as I keep the pad on HIGH all the time when the notebook is powered on.

The good news is that the fan doesn’t draw much power…the only way I’d turn it off is if I was running low on juice and needed all I could squeeze out of the battery. I’ve closed the MBP’s lid to put it to sleep with the fan on and off, and it hasn’t hampered the process in either case. I’ve even forgotten to turn it off during its sleep, and powering it down later hasn’t caused to computer to awaken.

The channel the USB cord fits into has both a left-hand and right-hand approach, so you can route the cord however you wish for what suits you best. I’ve got two USB ports, one on the right side halfway down and one on the left. I generally plug the external USB RAID enclosure that I use for backups in the right port. The pad’s USB cord can be routed around the back, where it emerges from underneath and can just make it to the left port. The switch is about two inches from the plug and faces down, and even though I can’t see it I can easily go by feel as to its position.

(Update: I’ve discovered that it is possible to remove the grill portion of this unit to access the fan’s blades, allowing both parts to be cleaned. It’s not immediately obvious, but by carefully prying along the top edge using a small blade such as a paring knife the grill portion can be easily pulled apart from the base.)

If you read the reviews on Logitech’s on website they’re almost all bad–complaints that the fan stopped working, the USB cord went bad, and so on. I’ve been using this daily for several hours a day every day and haven’t had any problems. I’ve even transported the computer a few times with no durability issues.

(Also: As of this writing–August 20, 2013–it’s still working fine with none of the apparent problems the other reviewers experienced.)

Target’s website says this isn’t available in stores…but when I went into my local Target there were two. I bought one, as well as the Belkin Comfort Lounge I’ve also reviewed here. When I returned the Belkin later on I went back to the electronics department and saw that there were now three on the shelf.

After careful consideration of the other choices I would recommend the Logitech N200. Despite its bad online reviews I’ve had no problems with it. It has many pluses–it’s made of a durable and sturdy plastic construction, the front lip acts as a stop to keep the computer more securely on its surface, a two-speed adjustable fan–with an “off” setting–is a nice touch, and the soft cushioned pad as a base–all combine to make this a great choice for me.

I hope that this review helps you make a better choice by giving you an idea of what’s available.

(UPDATE: Belkin’s site says that this model is no longer available. If you have an interest in taking a look at this, I’d recommend you go fairly quickly to your nearest Target store and see what’s there. Also, Best Buy’s site says it’s on sale [as of March 2013] for $24.99. Check availability locally at http://bit.ly/XYogmg .)