Monday, February 25, 2008

Software Review: Serene Saver 2 HD

Serene Saver

Serene Saver 2 HD

While at Macworld, I usually pick one product I simply can't wait to try until I get home. When I saw Serene Saver, I knew it would be the product I'd try that very night. The booth's location was in the "low rent district" as I like to call it. These are small kiosks usually staffed by the writer of the software. There aren't sales people or flashy presentations because there isn't any room. The quality of the product needs to stand on it's own and Serene Saver doesn't disappoint. Of course, when I saw "Serene Saver", I immediately remembered the Seinfeld episode of a similar name. Ironically, that episode was inspired by "The Net" which was filmed at a Macworld Expo I was at.

The program really has three components. First, there are "live" backgrounds. Instead of static images, the program has stunning scenes that loop on the full desktop complete with sound. Your desktop could be a gentle moving waterfall, or the swaying of grass in a meadow. Of course, some of the scenes I don't like. I never quite get why there is a carnival scene, but to each his own. Unfortunately I haven't seen my desktop in about four years because it's always hidden by my active work. In addition, I'm usually listening to music, so the background music isn't always helpful. The program is configurable so that you can have the live backgrounds without the sound. Fortunately, the live backgrounds really encourage me to move my current work to the side, turn off the dance music and chill out.

The most useful aspect of the program is the way it request you to take a "Automatic Serenity" break. I work so fast sometimes I think my keyboard starts smoking like it did in Superman. These breaks can be configured to occur on a regular interval or up to four specific times during the day. The program chimes and gently reminds you it's time to take a break. You can snooze the break if you wish, though each time I do I feel guilty. When you take the break, your current work goes into the background and the live background comes to the foreground. I love it...I really try to sit there for a few minutes and do the "Serenity Now" meditation ala Frank Costanza. If you are a type-A person like me, you can press escape and get back to work before the break is over.

Of course, the background scenes act as a screen saver, but that's really a tiny aspect of the program, notwithstanding the fact that screen savers are considered superfluous in these days of LCDs and Energy Saver monitors.

My only major concern with the program is it does take up quite a bit of CPU cycles. I do notice a slight slowdown while running the program, especially with the "sharper image" mode. Obviously this was more noticeable on my slower laptop I brought with me to Macworld. My MacPro had no problem with the processor hit of the program. Fortunately you can download the free demo and see how your computer holds up to the extra work. Who knows, maybe it's a feature, as it might force you to work a bit slower.

I don't expect to reach some higher plane of existence with this program, but it's indispensable to anyone who gets lost in their work and loses focus on the day. Depending on my day, I set the Serenity breaks to remind me to take a lunch or simply to stop working on a project and move on to the next. Heck, I've set the Serene desktop to show while I'm waiting on hold with tech support. Annoying tasks are more tolerable when you are viewing a peaceful nature scene.

I highly recommend this program to anyone who wants to maintain focus and balance during a hectic workday.

Pros: Keeps you remembering that you work to live, not live to work. Great visual and auditory cues to take a break and gives your keyboard a rest.

Cons: Some scenes a bit goofy and it does slow down less powerful computers.

If all you do is check email and surf the web on the computer, you may not need a Serene break. However, if you tend to keep your nose to the grindstone, wonder where your day has gone, and feel your blood pressure rise throughout the day, Serene Saver helps make the fact your stuck in front of a computer for 4, 6, 8 , 10 hours at a time more tolerable.

Four out of Five DogCows

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Book Review: The iPhone Book: How to Do the Things You Want to Do with Your iPhone

iphone book

You know that one episode of Family Guy where Peter makes some seemingly random reference to something that connects him to Generation X'ers and then the sketch goes on for too long. You don't quite get the reference, it's bearing to the story, or why Fox didn't let sleeping dogs lie. Oh yeah, that's pretty much every episode.

However, this reference to pop culture does actually have some bearing on my review of "The iPhone Book". This was a series of disjointed short "tips" about the iPhone that included way too many pop culture references that made you scratch your head and want to put on Futurama instead. The book was cowritten by Scott Kelby and Terry White and their styles mixed like oil and doorknobs. In the intro the authors warn the book is "quirky.", and if you want "quirky" buy this book. If you want a great book on how to use your iPhone, put this book back on the shelf.

Writing a cohesive and comprehensive review of a book that is neither is actually quite difficult! Every topic is was exactly half a page. On the top is a picture of the iPhone or other item and the bottom has a paragraph or two of verbage. Flipping the "silent mode" switch is given about the same attention as troubleshooting the connection to a wireless network? Huh? The saving grace of their book is the admission that they stole some tips from David Pogue in spite of the fact that he writes for a competitor to Peachpit. Why accept a substitute when the Pogue's book is a few clicks or steps away. You could drive a semi through the gaps in coverage. Complex topics are left to the reader to figure out for themselves and Windows users are completely left in the dust: there are no screen shots or tips for Windows users. Discrimination!

The book had both a poor table of contents, but at least a decent index. While I was able to find the topics a majority of people care about, the coverage was so weak in some areas that I would classify it as one step above useless. Does an entire page need to be devoted to clicking the Safari button to open the browser and only a page to setting up your email?

Unless this is the only book on the shelf regarding iPhones and your helping a freind on a gameshow, skip this book and go to the source they acknowledge as the true master: David Pogue

Pros: They are probably pros at technology, just not writing books together
Cons: The reader is conned out of the $25 they spent for the book. Book is difficult to follow and sorely lacking on explanations

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right