A USB-C Docking Solution for your Macbook and 13” Macbook Pro

When Apple announced the 2015 Macbook with a single USB-C port, Many potential users were put off by the fact that if you plug the machine again to charge it, you had no other connections that you could use on that MacBook.  This made a machine problematic for many things including plugging in an external hard drive for backup.  Fortunately the battery life of the new MacBook was quite good so that you didn’t need to charge very often but it was difficult to imagine not having the need to plug something in, anything in, while you’re charging the machine.

A number of new port extension devices were immediately announced to add additional ports back that Apple removed. One of the first that actually saw the light of day, was from Other World Computing, OWC. OWC’s USB-C Doc was announced right after the new MacBook but didn’t ship for a number of months. When it did ship, users of the new MacBook finally had a port extension device that would allow them to make full use of their new computers.

While it was introduced shortly after the 2015 Macbook, the OWC USB-C Dock is compatible with both the 2015 and 2016 Apple MacBook and 13″ 2016 MacBook Pro  models.  The 2016 15” MacBook Pro is not compatible as per the MacSales website.  I suspect this is due to the higher charging wattage required for the larger screen device.  With a 80w power supply, the dock does not have enough power to charge apples new 15” flagship model.

When paired with one of the compatible machines, the dock adds a plethora of ports for the user to make use of.  These ports include:

  • 5x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (including 1x USB Type-C)
  • High-speed Gigabit Ethernet
  • Front-facing SD card reader
  • HDMI with 4K display support
  • Combo audio in/out port
  • 80W of power to charge your computer and devices

The dock is available in all 3 of the colors that the Macbook is available including Silver, Space Gray, Gold, and Rose Gold for a perfect match with your new laptop.  If you have a 13” Macbook Pro, the Silver and Space Gray colors match your unit too.

Ascetics of the Dock

The dock is made of plastic and metal and weighs enough to keep the unit firmly placed on your desk.  A blue LED light shows from the bottom of the device indicating it is powered up and ready.  A green LED is also on the bottom that shows data connection with the laptop has been made.  The front of the doc has the SD card reader, audio port and a USB 3.1 port that remains powered even when the laptop is disconnected.  This port is high power enough to charge an iPhone or iPad.

The back of the dock contains the majority of the ports including the port to connect it to your laptop.  It is important to note that of the 2 USB-C ports on the back, the one with the small computer above it is the port that must be used with the included cable to connect to the computer. The other USB-C port is an active port for plugging in other USB-C devices.

Also on the back of the dock are 3 USB 3.1 ports, with the left most port also being of the higher power type, an 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a HDMI port capable of driving a 4K display, and a place for the included power adapter to be connected. One item of note is that the use of the Ethernet port required the installation of a driver from OWC that was available on their website but with the release of MacOS Sierra, the driver is no longer necessary.

How Well Does it Work?

In my experience in using the dock with a 2015 Macbook, the dock worked flawlessly.  All of the ports connected fine to the laptop and worked with expected speed.  In fact, I was encouraged by the fact that USB-C seems speedy enough to handle multiple streams of data being copied to devices.  While this was likely not something necessary in the real world where for the most part a single device at a time will be used, it is good to see that for me it worked very well. I did find that if I did not eject some older drives from the Mac before allowing the Mac to sleep, they sometimes did not come back without unplugging them and plugging them back in.  For my use, my laptop is set not to sleep while the power adapter is connected so I do not feel this is a major issue.

From talking with other owners of the dock there may be a problem with some older USB devices plugged into the dock not being recognized.  This may be related to the sleep issue I experienced.  I was unable to reproduce that problem when I did not allow the Macbook to sleep.

I was quite happy with the fact that the dock remained sturdy on my desk and did not move around when the cables were tugged slightly.  Some competing units that are much lighter exhibit this problem.

Even a bonus…

I also used a USB-C to USB 3.1 cable to connect the dock to my 2013 Macbook Pro.  To my suprize I was able to confirm that the USB ports, card reader, audio port, and Ethernet port  worked fine.  I did have some difficulty getting a TV connected by HDMI to connect but for a completely unsupported use of the device, it was very impressive.

Conclusions

OWC has a winner in their USB-C dock for users of Apples smaller laptops.  It works easily and performs very well.  For a Macbook user with only one USB-C port, or a 2016 13” Macbook Pro without touchbar with only 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports, this device adds the expansion that Apple believes users no longer need.  The only recommendations I have are that the USB-C cable proved short for many applications.  In long term use a longer USB-C cable will likely be necessary unless you ar going to position the dock right behind on next to your laptop

OWC provides a 2 year warranty with the dock.

Brinno Camera Sunset and Sunrise

This is a full night time lapse including sunset, darkness with stars, moon rise, and sunrise captured with the Brinno Construction camera. The settings for this capture were to take a photo every 20 seconds and create a movie at 15 frames per second. This equates to 5 hours of time lapes per minute of this video.

Google Makes NIK Photo enhancement tools FREE

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 4.57.23 PMIf you are a user of Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Aperture you owe it to yourself to download these plug-in tools from Google.  These are true high end enhancements for all these products and now, Google has made them free.

the Nik collection It includes Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, and Dfine.  Each of these are fine additions to the adobe products but together and for free they add a major enhancement to the ability of these products, particularly for Lightroom users.

  • Analog Efex Pro – Explore the look and feel of classic cameras, films, and lenses.
  • Color Efex Pro – A comprehensive set of filters for color correction, retouching, and creative effects.
  • Silver Efex Pro – Master the art of black-and-white photography with darkroom-inspired controls.
  • Viveca – Selectively adjust the color and tonality of your images without complicated masks or selections.
  • HDR Efex Pro – From natural to artistic, explore the full potential of HDR photography.
  • Sharpener Pro – Bring out hidden details consistently with the professional’s choice for image sharpening.
  • Dfine – Improve your images with noise reduction tailored to your camera.

Start by looking at Define and Sharpener Pro.  These are the best noise reduction and sharpening tools I have ever used.

Brinno Timelapse Camera

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 11.27.30 AMFor the last few days I have been working with a new time-lapse camera called Brinno. The Brinno camera is a self contained camera with the main purpose to create time-lapse video.The particular model of brine I am working with is intended to be a construction camera.

Brinno has been a recognized leader in Time-Lapse Cameras. With the industrial-Grade professional construction camera, BCC200, a wire-free, weatherproof camera bundle, offers quick and easy installation, without cumbersome wiring or power requirements. It illustrates the entire project, no matter how many days, months, or years taken, in few minutes instant HDR time-lapse video which presents the project with a high publicity factor on project and marketing management.

The camera is quite easy to setup and configure for the particular need that you want to capture.  You set the camera to take a photo at a particular time intraval and you set the frame rate of the final video the camera creates from the photos.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 11.27.19 AMThe example below was taken with a 20 sec image intraval and the final video was created at 15 frames per second.  SO the video takes 3 photos per minute and uses 15 photos, or 5 minutes of time to create 1 second of video.  The video is created automatically in the camera.  Unfortunately, it creates a windows AVI video but iMovie can import and convert it to video you can then edit.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the result considering the limitations of the capture such as a cloudy cold night and the capture being done in the city with quite a bit of ambient “city” light.  I also used a UltraWarmer warming pad around the camera to prevent the condensation but unfortunately it did little good.

I will be continuing to work with this in the hopes of being able to get more comfortable with the settings.

Clean up your Mac with Disk Doctor


Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 7.45.25 PMFor years I recommended a product called CCleaner to clean up all the cash files on your Mac computer. Unfortunately, the company that made that product quit updating it for your releases of the Mac operating system. Recently I’ve run across the another product that will do very similar things.

Disk Doctor, available from the Mac App Store, is a very simple utility that can clean up all of this I needed information.
With just a few clicks, Disk Doctor can empty the following:

– Applications Caches
– Application Logs
– Browser Data
– Mail Downloads Folder
– Downloads Folder
– Large Files (files within your user folder that are greater than 100 MB) *Mountain Lion Users only*
– Trash Can

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 7.45.36 PM
And while the product is someone of a one trick pony, it is very inexpensive costing only $2.99.  Running this utility takes only a few minutes and will certainly get rid of a lot of information that you have no reason to keep. Running it once a month will ensure that your Mac is running as fast as cleanly as possible.

Bose SoundLink Mini: Great Sound in a Small Package

more_featuresSometimes you just need to rock to your tunes. You may be at a picnic, a hotel room, or even in the car. The easiest way to be able to do this is to connect your phone to a Bluetooth speaker. But there are so many on the market, which should I try?

If your in the market for a bluetooth speaker with great sound, I recommend looking to the Bose Soundlink Mini.

The SoundLink Mini speaker is small and light enough to tuck into your bag. It weighs in at just 1.5 pounds. Its low profile lets you place it almost anywhere and provides a low center of gravity that makes it nearly impossible to tip over.

The rechargeable lithium-ion battery delivers up to seven hours of playtime. And at home, you can listen even longer—the charging cradle lets you listen while it charges. An empty battery usually fully recharges in three hours.

The speaker has a range of about 30 feet, so you can enjoy the sound you want without wires. It pairs easily with your smartphone, iPad® or other Bluetooth device. And it remembers the most recent six devices you’ve used, so reconnecting is even simpler.

There are even more features:

  • Charging cradle recharges the battery and serves as a convenient home base for your speaker, and it lets you play while it charges
  • Wall charger can be plugged into the cradle or directly into the speaker
  • Auxiliary port lets you connect other audio sources, like an MP3 player
  • USB port allows for software update to ensure ongoing Bluetooth device compatibility
  • Soft covers are available separately in red, blue, green or orange. Pick a color to match your style

There are many of these on the market these days but I really like the sound technology Bose uses. Take a look at this one if you are looking and judge for yourself.

 

Perfect Photo Suite Offers Low Cost Focused Tools for Photographers

PPS BoxesPhotoshop: the gold standard for photo work is a terrific piece of software.  People who know the ins and outs of Photoshop can do literally anything they want to enhance or fix a photo.  But that’s the problem for us mere mortals.  Photoshop is not simple to learn.  It requires years of experience to get good at.  That is part of the learning process for someone in the photography industry but many people like myself need something to give us some of those dramatic effects possible in Photoshop without the large time investment.  Even Adobe sees this in its Photoshop Elements program that adds recipes for a number of these photographic effects.

There are many people who end up in the middle.  They have mastered organization programs like iPhoto or Picasa and want to take that next step.  One good place to start  is with Lightroom, as I have written about before.  But even Lightroom has its limitations particularly if you want to make changes to a portion of an image rather than the entire image.  There are a lot of good tools to assist you in these next steps including a few plugins for Photoshop and Lightroom but OnOne Software has a tool set that not only gives you some needed enhancements, it integrates with the tool you may already use.

Perfect Photo Suite 7 includes modules that allow photographers to focus on specific needs with tools that are created specifically for that workflow.  These include, Perfect B&W to develop black and white images, Perfect Portrait for easy portrait retouching, Perfect Effects and FocalPoint for creative effects, Perfect Mask for replacing backgrounds and Perfect Resize for image enlargement. This toolset also allows for a layered workflow without Adobe® Photoshop®, so you can combine the best parts of multiple photos, create composites, and quickly retouch portraits and landscapes. All of the products in Perfect Photo Suite 7 work together seamlessly as integrated modules to assist you in creating the images you envision.

With Perfect B&W you can achieve classic black & white looks instantly with a library of expertly crafted effects or customize your own unique look using powerful, darkroom-inspired controls that replicate old processing techniques. Enhance tone and contrast by boosting shadow and highlight details or bring back a touch of selective color. and control the exact appearance of your image using a set of adjustment brushes.  With Perfect B&W, you’ll infuse the artistry of black and white photography and create your own masterpiece.

Perfect Portrait lets you improve skin texture and color, remove blemishes, and enhance eye, lips and teeth. You’ll find that it’s never been so easy to create terrific  portraits

Perfect Layers lets you enjoy all of the benefits and creative power of a layered workflow, allowing you to combine, composite, and blend images—all without Photoshop.

Perfect Effects provides an easy, fast and powerful way to create images with impact with Perfect Effects 4. Choose from a robust library of photographic effects to add professional looks to your photos instantly, including the popular HDR and retro looks. You can also recreate the look of film and darkroom techniques, add glows, vignettes, borders, and correct common photography problems. With the ability to stack, combine and blend effects, and paint in effects to specific areas, your creative options are endless.

Perfect Resize, formerly known as Genuine Fractals, increases image size faster and without the loss of sharpness or detail that you might normally expect. The same patented, fractal-based interpolation algorithms that were in Genuine Fractals are at the heart of Perfect Resize with several improvements. Faster processing speeds, new presets that optimize clarity and detail of different image types, built-in output presets, and the redesigned user interface add to the power of Perfect Resize.

With Perfect Mash you can create high quality masks quickly and easily with new automated functionality and powerful tools. Automatic Background Removal, Drop and Refine Brushes, and clean-up tools make selecting subjects and isolating backgrounds for removal extraordinarily accurate.  You can create some amazing effects using this tool that really make you subject pop.

FocalPoint can create realistic selective focus and depth-of-field effects you would think could only be done in camera. Choose from a selection of lens presets to produce a specific effect or adjust controls to adjust the amount and kind of blur you want. You can even paint in sharpness or blur exactly where you want. It has never been easier or faster to focus your viewer’s eye and minimize distractions. This is like choosing you lens for the shot from an infinite lens bag and doing it after you take the shot.  It is really very cool.

Many folks will say, I can do all that in Photoshop.  Sure you can if you know how and want to spend the cost of using (not owning) this tool on a monthly basis.  You can even do some of these effects in Photoshop Elements or Lightroom but I will say you can’t do them as easy as you can with this toolset.

PPS PlatformsPerfect Photo Suite 7 is designed to meet specific workflow and budget needs with three different editions. It may be used as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Apple Aperture, and also works as a standalone. You simply choose the method that works best for the tools you already use.

Now for the best part.  These tools are truly inexpensive.  The complete professional suite for every workflow. Works with Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and as a standalone is just $199.  The same toolset for your Lightroom or Aperture workflow and as a standalone is only $129.  If you don’t have Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Apple Aperture, a stand-alone only version runs just $79.  Perfect Photo Suite is available for Windows or MacOS and offers a 30 day free trial from the company’s website.

Pro Photographers will scoff at the need for tools like this but those of us with ambitions for some of those Pro looking effects  in our photos but without the time to dedicate to learning advanced Photoshop techniques will grow to love this toolset.  When you can produce the look you want from an image, photography takes on a new light for you.  These tools are a great bulb to help turn on that light.