App Review: Sparrow for iPhone

2012-03-15 by . 7 comments


I’ve been a longtime user of Sparrow for Mac. As a Gmail user and a fan of its Tweedie-inspired interface, it just felt like a much better fit for how I like to interact with my email than the stodgier or Postbox, providing nearly all the benefits of the Gmail web interface in a beautiful native app. So I was very excited this morning to discover that, after months of waiting, Sparrow for iPhone has finally been released.

First Impressions

Sparrow for iPhone looks good, and it’s mostly consistent with Sparrow for Mac. This isn’t a great surprise, as Sparrow for Mac takes its design cues from the now-defunct Tweedie for iOS. The whole interface is very fluid and responsive as well, unlike the official Gmail app for iOS which can be laggy and slow. One thing that I like from the Mac client that I was pleased to see that they brought over to Sparrow for iPhone is showing the avatars of the senders next to their messages in my message list. more »

Filed under App Reviews, iOS

Razer Naga Review: A Keyboard Lover’s Mouse

A bit over a year ago I switched from the Apple Magic Mouse that came with my iMac to a Razer Naga as my primary pointing device. I bought it because it wowed me with its sheer number of buttons– seventeen! I didn’t really know what I was going to do with seventeen buttons, but I knew I was going to do something. Well, it’s been a while, and I can confirm that the buttons turned out to be very useful. But the Naga is more than just a bunch of buttons; it’s a pretty nice mouse in every respect. more »

Vote, vote, vote

2012-03-09 by . 7 comments

Last Tuesday was Super Tuesday in the United States, an odd part of the even odder ritual whereby Americans rather indirectly select who will be their President. How much a particular person’s preferences count toward the final results depends a lot on their party affiliation and the specifics of the timing and structure their state party’s primary or caucus.

But here on Ask Different, your vote always counts. You can vote up to 40 times every day. And the more people vote, the better the site works.
 You don’t need to be an expert in all things Apple to make the site a better place by voting.

It’s about the questions

Upvoted question

If you find a question useful and clear, and think it shows enough research effort to be not completely obvious, you can vote that question up. See a question you’ve wondered about? Vote it up. See a question whose answer could help someone you know, or someone you can imagine? Vote it up. See a question you think explains someone’s problem clearly? Vote it up.

You don’t have to know the answer to vote for a question. Anyone with 15 reputation points and a sense of what questions you find interesting or helpful can vote for questions. If you think

  • “I’d be interested in seeing an answer to that question,” or

  • “I can answer that question,” or

  • “That could be helpful to someone I know,” or

  • “Someone put a lot of thought into that question,”

you should click the little up arrow next to the question. Reward the asker, promote the question, and help the community improve.

Voting for questions helps us identify the most useful questions, and it also rewards users who ask useful questions. It also helps the site, because the more users have lots of reputation points, the more smoothly the site can operate, and the more the community can run itself without moderator intervention. Ask Different has more visitors but less voting than many Stack Exchange sites, and we’d like to change that.

And the answers, too

Upvote accepted answer

Now answers are a bit more complicated. You just need curiosity, not knowledge about content to usefully vote on questions. But there is a little bit of a bar to vote well on answers: you need to be able to judge whether an answer is a good one. It doesn’t help the site if wrong answers get voted up.

If an answer looks like it would actually help you, or someone you know, or someone you can imagine, go ahead and give it a vote.

If you voted for a question, and the original poster accepted an answer, signifying that the answer solved the OP’s problem, please consider voting for the answer; you thought it was a good question, reward the person who put work into answering it.

Any time you have the expertise to know an answer is right, vote it up to help correct answers stand out.

Just vote

All in all, the site works best when we go out and vote, vote, vote. There’s even badges for using all up all your votes. So go out there, find what you think is interesting or helpful, and give it an upvote.

And come back later for my next blog installment on Advanced topics in voting: downvotes. But don’t wait for that to start voting for whatever you find interesting or helpful.

Filed under Op-Ed

Minimal Mountain Lion

2012-03-05 by . 3 comments

The recent announcements regarding the forthcoming addition to the menagerie of clawed operating systems from Cupertino was very interesting to me for a number of reasons.

Chief amongst them is “Wooo! New toys!”, closely followed by “Yay, more consistency!” and finally the slow dawning of realisation that an idea which has been floating around in my head for some time can now be put into action: Project Minimal Macbook! But first, some background…

When I first got my Macbook Air I was delighted with it, but had to rigidly enforce some new ideas about how I used it compared to my previous Macbook which had considerably larger storage capacity. I couldn’t even get close to restoring my data onto it, I had too much stuff, and so I had to work from a fresh install and keep in mind that I needed to be at least mindful, if not downright picky, about what software (and importantly “data”) I could afford to allow into its hallowed SSD halls.

Straight away out went iPhoto and iTunes. I could fill my puny 128Gb of space with my music and photos alone. Co-incidentally around about the same time that I got the Air I picked up my first non portable Mac, and my iPhone 4. That’s another story, but still, off you go dear data, there’s a nice fat spinning platter just waiting over there inside the iMac… But I couldn’t banish it forever; I may as well not have it if I can’t access it. So thank goodness for iTunes Home Sharing, and iPhoto Sharing. They might not be ideal solutions, but they allow me enough functionality to get by with only the occasional massive tantrum.

more »

Filed under Op-Ed

Keyboard Ninja: Working With Text – Screencast

One thing that everyone does on their Mac is write. Whether you’re working on an essay, writing code, or composing an Ask Different answer, you spend time working with text.

I’m one of those people who think that keyboard shortcuts are awesome in general: they allow you to do things much more quickly than you could using the mouse. While entering text, though, keyboard shortcuts are especially important. Since your hands are going to be spending most of the time on the keyboard anyway, switching to the mouse costs even more than usual.

Luckily, OS X has tons of keyboard shortcuts built in for working with text. This screencast will familiarize you with all of these shortcuts, as well as walk you through the process of creating some shortcuts that should exist but don’t. It will also introduce the idea of clipboard managers and how to take advantage of them to be more efficient.

more »

Filed under Screencasts

Podcast #24: Filtering, Mountain Lion, iCloud Documents

2012-02-27 by . 0 comments

This is the twenty-fourth episode of the Ask Different Podcast. Your hosts this week are Kyle Cronin, Jason Salaz, and Nathan Greenstein.

  • High on that list is How can I block specific telephone numbers on my iPhone 4?, with more than 146 thousand views at the time of this writing. Jason’s solution is to create a contact with all the numbers that he wants to block and assign a silent ringtone and empty vibration pattern to it.

more »

Filed under Podcast

Taking Screenshots is a Snap

2012-02-24 by . 10 comments

Screenshots, pictures of a computer screen, are often used to illustrate software reviews and workflow tutorials. They’re particularly useful to the Ask Different community. It’s sometimes difficult to explain multiple settings in a preference pane or application dialog box.  Many questions and answers can be improved by including images. Best of all, it’s free and easy. Mac OS X includes all of the tools you need to take great screenshots and the process is painless once you develop an efficient workflow.

The specifics of this tutorial are geared towards Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. The basic steps for taking a screenshot are the same for previous versions of Mac OS X going back as far as I can recall, but some details and the capabilities of Preview will vary according the version of the OS you’re using.

Desktop Shutterbug

Taking a picture of the entire desktop is simple. Press ⌘(command) + shift + 3 simultaneously on the keyboard and you’ll hear a shutter click (assuming your Macintosh audio isn’t muted). In a moment, an image file will appear on the desktop. If you want to copy the captured image directly into the clipboard without creating a file—to paste directly into another application—use ⌃(control) + ⌘(command) + shift + 3.

This is a screenshot of my desktop. That’s a screenshot file in the upper right corner.

more »

Filed under Graphics, Tutorial

App Update Review: Hanging With Friends

2012-02-22 by . 77 comments

Completed Mission Indication Zynga’s hit Hangman and Scrabble fusion ‘Hanging With Friends’ updated with a new feature! From their version 4.14 update notes:

Hanging With Friends now has Missions! Level your way through over 100 missions that test your Hanging skills, and rescue the Princess! On the way earn coins and unlock exclusive content.

No longer do you simply play an asynchronous game of Hangman, but now you can coerce your play habits into accomplishing missions at the same time! The princess won’t save herself, you know. All of this on the heels of the introduction of micro-transactions into Hanging With Friends, allowing you to buy virtual coins with real money in order to buy (drum roll please) character and balloon customizations, or hints for use during the word building and solving phases. We all know how much Zynga among numerous other companies like their virtual goods and currencies, and just how many horror stories come as a result of a young child playing this simple game and deciding that they need more coins to accomplish their objective; and what luck, all it takes is mommy and daddy’s password to do it!

more »

Filed under App Reviews, iOS

Share community insights! Post, share and get gifts.

2012-02-20 by . 2 comments

This week the Apple universe is filled with hints about an impending iPad 3 announcement, speculation around what incredible product developments are next, and serene celebrations of Steve Jobs’ birthday. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time for Apple and Ask Different.

In our own corner of the Apple world, we want to honor you, the community, who dare to take a deeper look. Apple users around the universe continue to resolve their inquiries by referring to the comprehensive body of knowledge you are creating here. We thank you on our behalf and theirs.

This week, people who write 5 posts (questions and/or answers) and share those 5 posts (on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook) will receive Ask Different gift swag (shirts, stickers…) and will be entered into a raffle for an iPod Touch.


  • Posts should have a score of 2 or more.
  • We can only track shared posts that were clicked on at least once
  • You should use sharing buttons embedded in the question page on the left side or the link below the question (to make sure we can accurately share gifts with everyone who shares their insights!)
  • Posts should be written and shared between now and 11:59pm UTC on Friday, Feb. 24.


Thank you again for continuing to create this incredible community. If you have any input, suggestions or musings about current, past or future site promotions or anything ping me anywhere.

Filed under Contest, Site News

Of Mountain Lions and Men

2012-02-17 by . 0 comments


I awoke yesterday morning to a sea of posts about Apple’s latest operating system, Mountain Lion. Instead of holding a press event or waiting until WWDC to announce the next Mac OS X, Apple chose to secretly meet with an indeterminate number of journalists in both California and on the east coast to provide presentations of Mountain Lion to journalists individually. The journalists were then given a MacBook Air with Mountain Lion preloaded and an embargo not to publish until yesterday. My feelings about this were long a little angry, so I cut them from this article and posted them here.

In any case, I am not a journalist. I didn’t attend a presentation and I don’t have a pre-release copy of Mountain Lion. I’m also not in the developer program, so I’m unable to download and install Mountain Lion on my own hardware. I do not have the ability to run this software in any capacity. My impressions and opinions in this article are necessarily influenced by reading the articles and watching the videos produced by the people that have; namely, news sites like The Verge, Macworld, and Daring Fireball. However, this has not stopped me from already forming an opinion…

First impressions (from reading

My initial impressions from reading Apple’s overview page on Mountain Lion were that the new features were a bit underwhelming. I initially felt that by featuring apps like Reminders and Notes so heavily, it betrayed the fact that the rest of their updates were comparatively weak as well. Then I flipped over to the features page and saw that there were a few other, more significant features. Here are my thoughts on them briefly:

more »

Filed under Op-Ed