Monday, November 5, 2012

Alternative to Apple TV?

My brother's school is looking to pilot iOS devices as a teacher device in its language division, so he called me with a few questions - I'm only addressing one in this blog. He began asking about mirroring the iPad through the projector wirelessly (to not have to deal with the annoying little VGA or HDMI adapters and to be able to walk about the room). I immediately brought up Apple TV as the only obvious way to mirror your device through projection. He then surprised me by questioning my vast amount of iPad knowledge by simply discussing two software programs about which he had been reading. I, as the techier of the two brothers, was shocked that I had somehow missed these products. Every time a student in an iPad class asks how to get their iPad projected wirelessly, I tell them that Apple TV is the only option... Not any more.

The products: AirServer and ReflectionApp. Both computer software programs - not apps.

[Update: It is now called ReflectorApp]

I naturally thought that these had just been released, and I must have simply missed the announcement. Nope. AirServer has been around over a year and a half. ReflectionApp is nearly a year old. How on earth did I miss these? Perhaps they were so poorly made, that no one gave them press because they were more headache than beneficial. It was time to try them.

Test Run
I started with AirServer because, frankly, the website looked more impressive. I installed the trial version. I was getting more excited by the second as it downloaded. I began the testrun. I made it about three seconds before my computer completely froze (a mac less than a year old, running lion with 4GB of RAM). Dang. When my computer restarted, I realized I had a ton of programs running. That must have been the problem. (Sidenote: my hard drive was also re-indexing itself at this point - never a good sign). I quit every program except Chrome and retried. This time I made it 10 seconds before a full freeze. So much for AirServer. I was beginning to think there was a reason I had never heard of these options. On to ReflectionApp...

After a restart (and indexing was complete), I ran Reflection App with only Chrome running. Worked like a dream. It doesn't display full screen on my laptop (see screenshot below), but who cares? I now might have an alternative to the $99 Apple TV. Maybe it was only good when I was running minimal programs. Time to fire up the six programs that were running when I tried AirServer. Flawless. Next test. Will it run video? I went into Sock Puppets to play one of my previously recorded creations - no go. I then tried to stream a show from the ABC player app. Worked great! AND (get ready for this)... audio came through my computer speakers! Tried Sock Puppets again and it worked just fine. Must have been a small hiccup.

Wrapping up
Please understand how rarely I use the exclamation mark. I usually reserve it for significant life events (e.g., my sister is having a child, a friend finished the Boston Marathon in the top 200). I used this punctuation mark twice in the last paragraph. I am extremely excited by an alternative to Apple TV that doesn't require schools to purchase more hardware and strap them up to projectors. A way to mirror the screen with full audio...amazing. If you have any friends that have been hesitant to spend the full $99 on an Apple TV (still a solid investment), please share this software with them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

To signature or not to signature

Since the inception of mobile mail applications, we started to see things like this show up at the end of emails:

Sent from my iPad
Sent from my Blackberry Wireless Handheld
Sent from my iPhone

This is called an email signature. Many of us have used the email signature for a long time to include details like contact information, title, etc. Many mobile devices default the signature to something like those listed above - I think for obvious advertising space.

If you're like me, the first time you saw something like "Sent from my iPhone 4S," you probably thought of many adjectives to describe the person that sent said email - namely: smug. However, I'm convinced that this appears at the bottom of most emails because many people 1) Have no idea how to get rid of it, or 2) Don't want to spend time figuring out how to get rid of it. Rather than spend time teaching you how to get rid of it (you could find a link from Google in 3.4 seconds), this post has more to do with the philosophical side of signatures. When I first got into the iPad game, I immediately took off the signature to eliminate the smugness factor. Then I heard some reasons (that you'll see below) that made me rethink it, so I put it back on.

About a day after adding the signature, it was included in an email to a family member. At the end of his reply to my email he inserted the following:

Sent from my laptop

- confirming my initial thoughts on the whole subject. I then sent this email back to him:

All right...the "Sent from my iPad" takes a little explanation (and I deserve a "Sent from my laptop"). I had taken that signature off for a long time because I was always a little annoyed when people had that on the bottom of an email - somewhat braggy. Or I just thought that perhaps they didn't know how to take it off of there. I later heard someone say that there is some etiquette when emailing from a mobile device. If you leave that on there, people are slightly more forgiving on spelling/punctuation errors. They also know that you may not be able to respond quickly because you sent it "on the go." I thought those were reasons enough, but after your response, you've confirmed what I've thought all along. I'm taking it off again. Thank you,

To which he replied:

People should never be forgiving about speling / punctuation errors:
I thoroughly enjoyed your well-rounded reasoning...

To which I replied:

Eye ugreee aboat knot forgiveing spehling airors...
Sent from my Dell Latitude E5520

So if you agree with some of the reasoning stated above to include a signature, perhaps you could consider changing your signature to "Sent from a mobile device" (a colleague of mine does this). Or perhaps you believe that the ten hours you spent waiting in line for your mobile device deserves the reward of including the device name in your signature. So be it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Google Documents Picture Problems

In an attempt to move most of what I did in the classroom over to Google Drive/Docs, I decided to start creating quizzes in Documents. Things went fine until I needed to start inserting pictures all over the page. For those who have been using picture functionality, you know that Documents can be frustrating/infuriating at times. There are times when you can't even click on the image you've inserted, but have to click where the image used to be, etc. There are other times that you can click on the picture, but can't move it at all. Then when you spend way more time than you'd like to admit, you finally have things in place (like this):

But along the way, things can go crazy like this:

I've found that this issue (which is getting considerably better all the time - thanks Google) has everything to do with the menu options that you see in both screenshots above - the "In line with text | Fixed position" options. If you have some of the issues I mention above, I've found that choosing "In line with text" and then choosing "Fixed position" again (which is what I wanted all along) gives me the ability to select and move the picture. Not always, and there may be more formatting to do, but this usually gave me the ability to move pictures again.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chromebook VGA adapters

Have you recently opened your new Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook only to be surprised that you couldn’t hook it up to your projector? That’s because Samsung/Google decided that they would only allow output through a little connector called DisplayPort++. The older Chromebooks had an entirely different port for output. If you go to amazon today and search “chromebook VGA adapter,” you will get a page full of items you aren’t looking for. What you need to search is “DisplayPort to VGA adapter” or “DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.” If you do this, you will get many options that will work with your chromebook, but plenty that won’t. The issue is that Apple calls their output a Mini DisplayPort, which is different than the DisplayPort on the chromebook. To simplify the process for you, I have tested three adapters that will be compatible with your chromebook:

Dell DP to VGA Adapter - This is a DisplayPort to VGA adapter that worked flawlessly with the chromebook. When refreshing the output (Ctrl + full screen function button), it even cycled through the normal options for outputs (1. just projector,2. just monitor, 3. both). A very nice option.

Cables to Buy DP to VGA Adapter – This is another DisplayPort to VGA adapter that worked flawlessly. Even with shipping, this is still less than half the price of the first adapter. So now the obvious question: Why would I buy a more expensive adapter (i.e., number 1) if they do the exact same thing. Here are two things to consider: 1) The VGA cable connects directly to the adapter, which can weigh it down and loosen the connection, which may cause the adapter to fall out of the port. 2)Because it is rather wide, the two ports next to the DisplayPort (USB and Ethernet) are tricky to access. The Ethernet is still accessible, but the USB port is impossible to use. There is still another USB port available on the other side of the Chromebook.

Cable Matters DP to HDMI - This adapter is DisplayPort to HDMI, which is nice because it brings sound with it through the connection. The problem is that this connection had the most troubles interacting with the projector. The first time it was plugged in, the screen on the chromebook flashed repeatedly and would not stop. The second try worked fine until I tried to refresh the output; then the screen started flashing again and wouldn’t stop until I unplugged it.

Summary: If you want to spend a little more money to have access to a second USB port, go with number 2. If you want to save money (like me) and still be able to project your chromebook, go with number 1. If you really want audio running into the projector, go with the HDMI and number 3, but prepare to deal with screen refresh issues (I would avoid this option). Conclustion: I’m going to recommend number 2 to anyone that asks.

Happy Chromebooking!