At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: computer

The Best UPS for Your iMac

"Uninterruptable Power Supply Interrupted." My APC UPS failed its own self-diagnostic… and my iMac began operating without a net. A power net, that is… Time to buy a replacement!

“Uninterruptable Power Supply Interrupted.” My APC UPS failed its own self-diagnostic… and my iMac began operating without a net. A power net, that is… Time to buy a replacement!

A moment of Tech Zen is often a fleeting one… Last week, my Home Zen was shattered by a piercing series of beeps coming from under my desk.

It was my lowly UPS unit… I mean to say my uninterruptable power supply… You know… that big, heavy battery backup box that my iMac plugs into for protection against a power outage.

Computers hate unstable power or the sudden loss of power mid sente

(…just kidding)

Time to Replace My Uninterruptable Power Supply
But seriously, unless you have complete faith in both your electrical grid and Mother Nature, you should expect the occasional brown out or total black out. Providing stable, emergency power for a few minutes, a UPS battery system can really save your computer heartache.

But any battery only lasts for so long, even if you’re not using it. My five-year-old APC UPS (XS 1200) decided it was no longer fit for duty while I was enjoying my morning cup of Joe.

It performed a self-diagnostic and apparently failed the test. That activated a red light in the front and the irritating 30 seconds of its beeping red alert.

Yes, the APC had my attention…

#33
So I jumped onto Amazon to see how much the replacement battery would be.
I tracked down the right model, which was named ‘Battery Cartridge #33.’

#33 was selling for over eighty bucks!

That’s already half the cost of a band new UPS, but many of you would probably still say, “Click” and be done with it.

Not me…
I decided I didn’t want to mess around with tech that’s already a few generations old.
(You know how I get when it comes to reliable power.)

So I began my search for a new UPS.

APC Vs. CyberPower
APC appears to still be the dominant manufacturer of consumer UPS units today, but after a little online research, I found lots of folks talking about how much they liked their CyberPower UPS systems.

So for no rock-solid reason, I decided to go with ‘the other guy.’
(And now all the APC marketing folks are throwing their hands up in disgust with my fickle positioning.)

True Sine Wave Vs. Modified Square Wave
If you’re still reading this paragraph, I congratulate you for your insatiable search for knowledge… or you have my condolences for being such a massive geek…

Either way, you should know, the ‘Sine Wave’ conversation is apparently a controversy in certain tech circles. And it could point to a huge risk in the health of your computer when running off the ‘wrong UPS unit.’

It would be best if you found an electrical engineer to explain,
(Because I barely understand it)
…But here are the basics…

It has to do with the quality of electricity a UPS generates.

Most consumer UPS systems don’t give you a ‘true’ or ‘pure’ sine wave electrical current. They give you something called a simulated sine wave… or a modified square wave… or a stepped-approximation sine wave.
(My body is starting to shudder uncontrollably just trying to type all these words.)

And yes, simulated sine wave UPS systems cost less than the ‘pure’ ones.
(Think of it like organic juice vs. a GMO liquid.)

And that’s fine for lots of computers. Apparently, they can handle the cheaper juice.

However, certain computers use ‘Active Power Factor Correction’ power supplies (Active PFC). And those units are designed to work with true sine wave current.

Active PFC power supplies don’t like the cheap stuff.

Some say those computers audibly buzz as they struggle with the wrong kind of power.
(And that can’t be good.)

Others insist an Active PFC computer won’t run off of a simulated sine wave at all.

But there’s another camp that says not to worry…
Unless you’re planning on running your computer for extended periods on a simulated sine wave UPS, (like with a home media server) there’s no problem. For those few minutes it takes to power down your computer, you’ll be just fine.

So which side should you believe?

Looking for a Sign for the Right Sine
Well, the next question I had was whether my iMac has an Active PFC power supply…

It does.
(gulp)

So I decided to head down to my local Apple Store and speak to the Apple Geniuses. Surely they would have a point of view…

First off, there were no UPS units on sale anywhere in the Apple Store.
(That would have been an easy clue.)

Then, I found an available Apple Genius and posed the question…
A perplexed look slowly spread across his face as if I had asked him about Windows 10.

Can the Apple Genius Save my Sanity?
He did not respond to the words, ‘Active PFC.’ He didn’t chuckle when I mentioned ‘sine wave.’ However, he did act like I might have just teleported over from a different timeline.

Finally, he acknowledged that he didn’t know what I was talking about, but he warned me that some UPS manufacturers have been known to use bad batteries that can expand. So I should be careful…

I looked around for someone to recognize the irony of that comment.
(By the way, my old MacBook Pro’s replacement battery is still behaving and hasn’t grossly expanded like my first one did.)

Am I the only nerd in the universe who wants to buy the proper battery back-up solution for his computer?!
(This shouldn’t be so difficult…)

Pure Sine Wave Creation isn’t Actually that Costly
My original web research suggested that pure sine wave UPS systems cost ‘significantly’ more. But when I came home and sat back down to check out the CyberPower models, the Pure Sinewave Series wasn’t that expensive. Only about $35 more…

Really?

I’d say throwing away thirty-five bucks is worth the peace of mind that I’m feeding my iMac ‘quality’ backup power!

From there, this annoying tech rabbit hole began to quickly disappear…

Choosing my CyberPower
I zeroed in on-

  • CyberPower PFC Sinewave Series CP1350PFCLCD
    1350VA/810W Pure Sine Wave UPS
    $189.95 on Amazon

It’s slightly beefier than my old APC UPS, and it sports 5 battery back-up plugs and 5 surge protection plugs without the back-up power.
(Yes, UPS units are great for surge protection too.)

Depending on how much power you need, there are less expensive choices-

And there are also a couple more models in between these two.

But remember… Reduced power is going to give you less time to maintain and shut down your computer equipment during a blackout…

How Much Power Do You Need?
Of course, the next question is how much juice do you really need…?

I admit that even with a few extra external hard drives and my iMac, I’m supersizing it with the 1350VA/810W model, but you never know what kind of hungry tech might come home in the next five years…
(Plus UPS batteries do lose capacity over time.)

Click.
(I actually did the deal with B&H with the free ‘expedited’ shipping…which is usually next day for me!)

A Smart UPS
I unboxed the UPS, slid it under by desk, plugged it in, and tethered my iMac to it. All done?

Not quite…

When you plug in the included USB cable to your iMac, the CyberPower’s status is automatically recognized by the computer. You can find it in your Energy Saver’s settings in the System Preferences icon on your bottom menu bar.

Without installing any extra software whatsoever, you can schedule when your Mac should sleep or power down while running off of the CyberPower unit.

And if you want, you can choose to show the UPS’s battery status in your top menu bar.

Sweet!

Suddenly this UPS had become more than a soon-to-be forgotten troglodyte battery gathering dust by my feet. Now, it had become an integrated member of my desk’s tech team.

Drum Roll Please
So it was time to do a test. I unplugged my new UPS… and as soon as I di

.

.

(…kidding again)

iMac UPS Alerrt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything was fine.

  • My iMac warned me that it was running on battery back up.
  • The remaining battery time popped up on the UPS’s front LED panel.
  • And the battery percentage indicator on my iMac’s top menu gave me oodles of confidence that my digital companion was in good hands with its new CyberPower friend.

CyberPower in Action

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound of Silence
I plugged my CyberPower UPS back in, sat in my chair, and took a deep breath…

  • I looked around
  • Listened for any unusual sounds
  • I cleared my mind…

Tech Zen restored.

…And then my printer ran out of ink.

D’oh!

Printing Photos: How to Match the Look on Your Screen

Quick… What are these six colors? Now print them. If you can’t make your home photo printer spit out a matching copy, you’re not alone. But don’t throw out your printer just yet. There’s still hope.

Quick… What are these six colors? Now print them. If you can’t make your home photo printer spit out a matching copy, you’re not alone. But don’t throw out your printer just yet. There’s still hope.

A friend of mine complained to me recently she finds it impossible to print a picture from her computer and match what’s on her screen.

Whether it’s from the original JPEG photo on your camera or a slightly enhanced version that you’ve tweaked in your photo editing software…
The hard copy never looks the same!

How hard can it be?!
Difficult enough for this home-tech everyman to struggle with the same problem.

I usually avoid the issue by boosting the chroma and brightness of the photo I’m about to create, because my Epson Artisan 837 typically prints it looking a little flat by comparison.

But it’s still never perfect.

Shouldn’t this seemingly simple task be WYSIWYG?
(What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get)

Then, we could move on to the next home tech challenge.
So what’s the problem?

$99 Can’t Buy a Window to the Soul
First off, reproducing color is complicated.
And it turns out the sensors in our eyes are really hard to replicate.

All of today’s remarkable technology that displays or prints a photograph can’t reproduce every shade of color Mother Nature gave the puny human race to enjoy.
(especially if it’s a $99 photo printer)

Each device has its own limited range of color representation or “gamut.”

Even Apple says it’s a hard trick to pull off.
Here’s a little quote I found buried in one of Apple’s printing support pages-
“Because computer displays are illuminated, images displayed on computers will tend to look more luminous than when printed.”

So my friend and I aren’t alone in our quest for a printed photo that actually looks the way we want it to.

(I feel so much better.)

Why Your Photo Prints Don’t Look Right

There are three main factors that contribute to this pesky problem:

#1 – RGB Vs. CMYK
Today, much of your home technology puts color together using two very different color models.

  • Your computer screen uses an RGB color model:
    Red/Green/Blue
  • Many home printers use inks that follow the CMYK color model:
    Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Key (black)

So how does one color language talk to the other?
Through translation, of course.
(more on this in a moment)

My Epson Artisan has four CMYK ink cartridges, plus a light cyan and a light magenta cartridge
(which would seem to make the color translation from my computer to printer even more confusing!)

And to further complicate matters, many CMYK ink printers actually operate in RGB mode.

So how many levels of color translation do you have to get through before your printer even starts its dance?
(That’s a rhetorical question.)

#2 – Your Monitor Is Part of the Problem
Yes, it may not be your printer’s fault at all.

Your monitor may not be perfectly adjusted.
In fact, it probably isn’t.

So if that’s the case, your fabulous looking picture will always look different everywhere else in the universe, including on your prints.
(And what good is that?)

All computer monitors and TVs natively display their images with slight or sometimes significant differences.
And to make the problem worse, their base color and luminance levels will drift over time as they age.

Unsupervised, your computer screen will continue to display its own evolving versions of reality.
So it’s up to you to teach your display how it should look.
(more on that in a moment)

#3 – Your Computer Is From Venus. Your Printer Is from Mars.
Back to the translation question…
How does your computer translate its RGB color road map to your CMYK photo printer?

ICC Profiles
Back in 1993, some big-brain folks tackled the translation problem.
They created the ICC, which stands for International Color Consortium.
(Sounds a bit like S.H.I.E.L.D. from “The Avengers.”
Keeping the world safe from out-of-control color. Ooooh!!)

The ICC developed a vendor-neutral color management system (CMS) that would work across operating systems and software.
The resulting ICC profiles allow for matching colors when moving between applications, operating systems and devices.

And this system is supposed to match the colors between your monitor and printer.
This sounds really complicated, right?

Apple Simplifies with ColorSync
So Apple, of course, came up with its own color management system and called it “ColorSync.”

This is how Apple explains it:
“Devices such as scanners, displays, digital cameras, and printers each handle color differently. Matching color from one device to another can be extremely difficult and time-consuming. ColorSync takes care of color matching automatically.”

Automatically?
Now, that’s not so hard to understand, is it?

So ColorSync is Apple’s own color management system that interprets the different ICC profiles assigned to your devices.

Perfection Is an Art, Not a Science
So arithmetically, the translation piece is handled behind the scenes by your friends from S.H.I.E.L.D. (I mean Apple)
…while you go about your life happily printing out photos of your cat.

But as we all know, in reality, nothing is ever truly automatic.
You’ve got to help the process along if you want it to work exactly right.

Here’s What You Can Do to Help:

#1 – Calibrate Your Display
Even Apple admits, “You should calibrate your display regularly to ensure accurate color.”

There are two ways to whip your computer monitor into shape.
Control it with software tweaks or hit it hard with hardware.

Display Calibrator Assistant
Apple’s OS X offers a calibration assistant utility that can be found buried in:
System Preferences/Displays/Color
Click the ‘Calibrate’ button, which then opens up the utility.

And how good is this software ‘assistant?’
Invoking a little Jekyll and Hyde, I decided to take a dose of my own medicine and tried out the Display Calibrator Assistant on my 2010 iMac.

The experience felt uncomfortably like a recent trip to the eye doctor.
(“Does this lens make you see sharper and blacker, or blurrier and more confused about your home tech?”)

But in a few minutes, I had easily created a new display profile that was slightly different that my default iMac screen profile.
It was a bit warmer with a tad more chroma.
Voila!

But was this an improvement, or simply a color shift in the wrong direction?
Who really knows?!

And that’s the problem.

I suppose if your monitor looked way off, this utility would be more helpful.
But if you’re looking for minute improvements, there’s really no way to confirm the veracity of your results.

So ‘eye-balling it’ can only get you so far.

Spin the Web of Control with a Spyder
Your other choice is to buy a third-party software/hardware solution.
Typically, you place a sensor device over your monitor and then do the adjustments from your computer.
(Kind of like forcing your computer screen to comply via an
“Alien” facehugger.)

A friend of mine, who is a graphic designer and animator, bought
the Spyder by Datacolor a year ago, and swears by it.
Currently, there are three flavors of Spyder display calibrators on the market:

If you only need to calibrate one monitor, the Express version seems perfectly adequate. (I may splurge on this cool device in the future, if I want to explore further down this rabbit hole.)

But unless your monitor is clearly the smoking gun, you should also focus on other solutions to the printing dilemma…

#2 – Use ColorSync Utility
This is another native color adjustment utility in your Mac that checks and adjusts the ColorSync profiles automatically assigned to your devices.

I’d never opened up this utility before, and I took a peak in researching this post.
If your photo printing capabilities have really imploded, this is a good place to do some research.
But unless you’re really in trouble, I would steer clear of messing with this utility.
(It looks like a huge time suck!)

#3 – Choose Your Printing Presets
This is where you should focus your efforts after you’re done dealing with your monitor.
You may not know this, but the limited powers you yield as a mere tech mortal suddenly reveal themselves after you select ‘Print.’
Here, you’ll find the more pedestrian adjustments that you may or may not be applying correctly.

The ‘Presets’ dropdown allows you to choose the type of paper you’re using.
Your choices will depend on the printer driver you’re using.

Most importantly, select the exact type of paper you’re using.
If you have the option of buying your printer’s branded paper product-
Just do it! (Different brands of paper absorb ink in their distinct ways.)
It can make a huge difference if you’re hoping for exact results.

#4 – The Holy Grail of Color Matching
Color Matching allows you to select between two important choices:

• Whether your printer should use the color profile assigned by your Mac’s ColorSync settings
• Or a generic color profile assigned by your printer, which you can then adjust

If you’re a believer in what your monitor is showing you, go with ColorSync and don’t look back!

Otherwise, you can go with your printer’s brain.
But be prepared to suffer the fate of endless tweaking.
(You’d better have extra ink and paper on hand.)

You can locate the Color Matching option in the third or fourth drop-down in the Print menu. (depending on what program you’re printing from)
Choose your ColorSync profile that includes your printer model and paper type.

From there, all that voodoo digital translation takes place that hopefully creates an accurate hard-copy replica of what’s on your screen.

Misinformation Courtesy of Your Friendly Luddite?
I know a bunch of big brains out there are shaking their heads right about now after reading my woefully inadequate diatribe on the world of color photo printing at home.

Hey, I’m just trying to get along here.
I’m not seeing the button that says
“Click here to print the perfect photo.”

Because it’s not there.
And there’s no official manual out there to follow.

That said, if anyone out there knows an easier way out of this prickly digital forest, I’m all ears!

The Quest for the Perfect Print: Don’t Forget to Pack a Lunch
How are you doing? Any of this making any sense?
(I barely understand it!)
I feel like I just consumed an eight course meal, and I’m still hungry!

After 1703 words, I’m not sure how much closer we are to creating the perfect photo print.

But we are closer.
(And don’t you feel better knowing S.H.I.E.L.D. is on your side?)

Remember, reproducing color is complicated.

So it’s okay if this is all digital voodoo to you.
Just rely on the automated ColorSync system,
plus your few manual (but important) tweaks in the Print menu to improve your photo’s look.

For the intrepid tech rebels out there, you are free to dig deeper down the rabbit hole in search of the truth to set your printer free.

But be warned:
The Spyder4 may not be enough to help your find your Tech Zen.
For starters, you’ll need to better understand the language of color.
Like what the word Gamma refers to.

Heck, you might even have to ignore everything I’ve said and instead begin a long and rewarding journey to other blogs containing their own
tried-and-true recipes for correct monitor color calibration.

Which will in turn will reveal little known
websites that display LCD reference images
you can use to perfect your calibration process even further.

Second Warning:
Be prepared for this quest to be a long and hazardous one.
Before you know it, the year could be 2019.

Let me know when you return from your deep space voyage.
I’m sticking with the digital voodoo.

My photo prints won’t be perfect.
But they’ll be close.

And At Home with Tech,
Close is often just perfect.

The Art of Inaction, Part 2

To Lion or not to Lion? I’ve already pressed the button. Here we go!

Previously on At Home with Tech…
Barrett blogs about finally upgrading to Apple’s Lion operating system so he can use iCloud as a replacement to MobileMe to share his pictures and movies.

He admits his jealousy towards new tech adopters.

He explains his fear about his iMac losing its ability to edit on its old Final Cut Pro platform with Lion.

And he reveals his unrequited love towards Apple.

Barrett sits down to press the Lion “Install” button. The sweat drips off his forehead. He hesitates for another moment.

Close up shot of Barrett’s finger clicking the white wireless Magic Mouse. Shot cuts immediately to black, and we hear the piercing click. The final word of his blog is cut off without explanation.

And then silence.

His readers are left without resolution.

They immediately move on with their day without giving it another thought. There are a trillion more pressing problems to occupy their brain space.

But the smallest morsel of concern is left behind.
Buried deep, the struggle for technology survival at home lurks in all of us.
Finally, their tech curiosity emerges, forcing his readers to return.

Inception achieved.

And now…

Episode 2, Scene 1
We see total black for another three seconds.

Finally, the black slowly dissolves to a fuzzy white. The white starts to come into focus as the shot zooms out slowly to reveal the screen of a 27” iMac.
And we see the little logo.

Joy.

Barrett’s computer is rebooting. It takes its sweet time. An eternity.
Finally the Milky Way Galaxy appears as the desktop background.
Lion has arrived.

Roll opening credits and theme song!

After the Commercial Break
My precious iMac still has a heartbeat. I begin breathing again.

I immediately begin checking the functionality of all my software.

Word- Check.
Entourage- All there. (I know I now need to upgrade to Outlook)
QuickTime- Good.
Safari- No problem.
Aperture- All photos present and accounted for.

Final Cut Pro 7-
I look at the FCP icon. This is the moment of truth.
I wait as it loads.
And wait.

Then…
IT’S THERE!
My family history timeline. Still intact.

To celebrate, I think I might listen to a little music. Click it.
…and then… NOTHING.
Instead, an error message pops up.
“iTunes cannot open, because it was created by a newer version”

Newer version? What does that mean?!
Usually the problem is having an older version of software… not newer!
I start to panic.
My music! My videos!! OMG!

What should I do?! The room starts spinning.
Life is so fragile.

And then I remember to check Software Update to see if my new Lion needs any updates to the other programs in its kingdom.

I check Software Update and see there is indeed an update to iTunes standing by -10.6.1.(7). Plus a couple of other ‘improvements’ like a firmware update.

I immediately perform the downloads, and my iMac automatically reboots.
All good so far.
I click iTunes again and cross all my toes.

THERE IT IS!
As if nothing had ever gone wrong.
I think I hear my iMac say, “What’s the problem?”

Never mind.

I continue the functionality check and notice the batteries on my wireless Magic Trackpad are a little low. So I reach for my Magic Mouse to take over cursor control. My mouse often lies dormant, because I love my trackpad so much, and…

…NOTHING.

Here we go again.

The good news is I don’t panic again.
This is more of an inconvenience than potential disaster.
I’ve found Apple’s Bluetooth devices to sometimes act a little glitchy. It’s one of the reasons I originally bought both the mouse and trackpad. And yes, I even have an older wired mouse that serves as a triple back up. (I don’t mess around!)

I jump online and see a whole bunch of people with Lion and Magic Mouse problems. And there are multiple home remedies offered.

So I get to work.

I try re-pairing the mouse to the iMac. Nope.
I re-verify disk permissions in Disk Utility. No go.
I delete the mouse in Bluetooth and re-introduce it to my iMac. Nada.

Then I reboot my iMac and go back to Bluetooth. The mouse is still listed. Strange.
I thought I had successfully deleted it.
Should I just reconnect it? Maybe third time’s the charm?
BINGO!

Don’t ask questions. I tell myself to just move on.

While the going is good, I run Time Machine to capture all the goodness.
It is curiously a huge back up, since I ran it right before the upgrade. But I’m not sweating the small stuff.

Happy Ending
So that’s pretty much my Lion tale.
With the exception of a couple skips of my heartbeat, I’m still here.
Not so horrible.

But my adventure is just beginning…
Remember, the end game is get to iCloud. And the clock is counting down on that one. Plus, I’m planning on upgrading Office for Mac 2008 to the 2011 version, which includes Outlook. Stay tuned…

Oh yeah… and how does it feel to be running with the pride of cool current operating system users?

Apple’s newest operating system, Mountain Lion is due out this summer.
Here we go again!

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