Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

AppleTV 3.0 Review

Posted: July 17, 2015 by Mike Hubbartt in Hardware Reviews
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By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Vendor: Apple (www.apple.com)
Price: $99

We owned the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of the AppleTV, and like both of them as they were reasonably priced and functioned as we needed. We mainly used the Apple TV 1.0 to watch digital content we bought – as standalone or as part of a blu-ray movie, since streaming was not very good with our setup. We use the AppleTV 2 to stream movies from iTunes or Netflix, as well as watch digital content. The AppleTV 1.0 worked best with digital content stored on the AppleTV hard drive, whereas the AppleTV 2 streaming is far superior and so all content is streamed with few or no problems most of the time.

We were happy with our AppleTVs, but decided to buy the AppleTV 3.0 because we wanted the 1080p video resolution instead of the 720p offered by the AppleTV 2. We bought our new AppleTV at a local BestBuy store, brought it home and the installation was simple and fast. I added it to our main television, moved the AppleTV 2.0 to our second television, and retired the AppleTV 1.0 to the parts closet.

The higher resolution is better, but honestly not so great that we wanted to toss the AppleTV 2 and buy a second AppleTV 3. The video is good, and the streaming is also much better than the AppleTV 1.0, so it a good addition to our environment. I would recommend replacing an AppleTV 1, but don’t think I could recommend replacing an AppleTV 2.0 just for the video res improvement. If Apple adds more features, like gaming for example, I’d replace the remaining AppleTV 2 in a heartbeat.

The streaming with the AppleTV 2 and 3, from our in-house comparisons, seems to be the same. Since the AppleTV 2.0, Apple updates the devices, which can include patches or enhancements to services offered. One service I like is Apple Events, where you can stream WWDC (Developer Conferences) from this year as well as past conferences. Being able to see the sessions each year (keynote as well as information) is very educational for us developers without the time or money to travel to San Francisco to be there. To be honest, these sessions tend to be glitchy when streamed over the internet, so I prefer to download them in iTunes and then stream them locally.

Two other services Apple recently added are HBO GO and Showtime Anytime. Both allow people with out cable (me) to get HBO and ShowTime. We are going to subscribe, but have not yet, so I can’t give any performance info on either service yet, but will update this article once I try one out. I believe this move by Apple shows how networks may unbundle themselves from providers like cable companies, so we subscribers get to chose the channels we want to purchase, instead of taking many unused and unwanted channels for a few prime channels. Sounds liberating to me.

One last thing. The AppleTV 2 and 3 devices use the same remote (the newer one is slightly lighter than the older one) and so both remotes work with both AppleTVs, which is convenient. And both remotes have replaceable batteries, which is also nice. So far, I have only replaced the battery in the AppleTV 2 remote, so the battery life for both remotes is excellent.

OVERALL RESULTS

One negative comment: The reason we decided to upgrade from AppleTV 2 to AppleTV 3 was the enhanced video. We knew the 2.x version only supported 720p, so we wanted better quality. What we didn’t know, was that the AppleTV 3 supports 1080p, but NOT 1080i, which is the highest resolution of our current monitor. Not good, as we could not anything better than 720p even with the AppleTV3.

One positive comment: We have been using the AppleTV 3 since it was released, and Apple continues to update the device regularly. Being able to just get HBO and Showtime on demand, without needing cable, is a huge plus in my book. I had cable, a long time ago, and will never again as long as there are other options like Satellite or AppleTVs.

RECOMMENDATION

Buy the AppleTV 3.0 if you don’t own an AppleTV product, if you own an old AppleTV 1.0, or if you want the best resolution for your home theater.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Title: The Object-Oriented Thought Process
Author: Matt Weisfeld
Edition: 1st (2000)
ISBN: 0-672-31853-9
Publisher: SAMS Publishing
Price: $29.99
Length: 226 pages (9 chapters, 2 appendices)

This book, according to the author, is ‘an introduction to fundamental O-O concepts’. It is not a book aimed at people already familiar with OO concepts, so bear in mind it is not intended for people that already understand OO development. I read the first edition of this book in 2000 and enjoyed it, but it sat on my bookshelf until last summer. I had a class in grad school at UST and the professor recommended this book before taking the class so I decided it was time to reread it. I read 3 chapters per day, so it only took 3 days to finish it, even though I took notes from each chapter. Like the 1st ed K&R, this book is not huge – 226 pages including the title page, table of contents, index, and acknowledgments – but it explains how procedural programmers can make the move to OO development. Let’s look at the book chapter-by-chapter.

Chapter 1 – Introduction to Object-Oriented Concepts

This chapter explains classes and objects and how they differ. Encapsulation, one fundamental advantage of OO programming, is covered nicely in this chapter, as is the introduction to the difference between a class interface and implementation, polymorphism, constructors, and overriding.

I liked the code samples included to demonstrate some of the concepts like overriding. I also liked the UML class diagram showing how class elements are displayed via UML – very easy to follow. I would have liked more code samples covers more concepts introduces in the chapter.

Chapter 2 – How to Think in Terms of Objects

This chapter teaches how to think in an OO manner. This chapter goes into the introduction of public interface and private implementation portions of a class. Very nice, clear, simple explanation. Not over or under covered – just enough to introduce the material that will be covered in more depth later in the book.

Chapter 3 – Advanced Object-Oriented Concepts

This chapter covers object creation and initialization, plus error handling. Very good explanation of constructors – what they must and must not have – and how there can (and often should) be more in some classes. Exception handling, which is a topic that could fill a book, is introduced here. There was a bit of source code showing how to use exception in Java code. I liked how the author covered static attributes, which can be used to allow multiple objects to share attributes.

Chapter 4 – The Anatomy of a Class

This chapter explains the differences between the implementation and interface of classes. This is the meat-and-potatoes section of the book. Where a class is broken down using Java to show the implementation and interface sections, as well as constructors. Very clear and my favorite chapter of the book.

Chapter 5 – Class Design Guidelines

This chapter explains that classes must interact and it covers the iterative nature of class design. This goes into design considerations, covering a safe constructor to initialize a class, serializing (deconstruct a object), persistence (maintaining the state of an object), and stubs (minimal implementations of an interface). More good Java code examples, although C++ concepts are also covered.

Chapter 6 – Designing with Objects: The Software Development Process

This chapter explains how to identify class responsibilities and class collaboration. This goes into the way to design an application, covering statements of work, requirements documents, and CRC cards. This was my least favorite chapter of the book – I liked the issues to take into consideration during the OO design process, but I’d rather have more OO concepts than requirements gathering information.

Chapter 7 – Mastering Inheritance and Composition

This chapter covers the differences between composition and inheritance. Very good coverage going into important means of code reuse: inheritance and composition. The author has nice UML diagrams to cover the concepts, and the text explanations are clear and accurate. I also liked how the book explains abstract classes and methods – very clear.

Chapter 8 – Frameworks and Reuse: Designing with Interfaces & Abstract Classes

This chapter covers frameworks and abstract classes vs Java Interfaces. Another good chapter, which covers APIs. I liked the code sample for an abstract class, and the author includes nice UML diagram that demonstrates a interface, inheritance and composition. A short chapter but good material and worth the time spent to read it.

Chapter 9 – Building Objects

This is where you learn how to use objects to build other objects. This goes into both types of composition: aggregations and associations. The author also goes into cardinality (a familiar concept to DB developers). I liked the material here but would gladly give up all of chapter 6 for more information in this chapter. Good, but I’d like more.

Conclusion

A very good book that is well illustrated, deep enough to explain the material without overwhelming someone new to OO development, and a good starting point for more advanced/in-depth books on OO development.I like how the author goes into UML enough, but not too deep to obfuscate the topic of OO development – the appendix is a good starter for people new to UML, but I wouldn’t recommend it as the source for programmers needing to gain more mastery of that topic.

Recommendation

I enjoyed reading it and will pass it along when I find someone that could benefit from it. The most current version of this book is the 3rd edition, which was published in September of 2008. I would recommend this book to undergrad computer science majors that learned to develop with any non-OO language, or for procedural programmers moving on to OO development. I would not recommend this book for an intro to UML

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyFi Wifi to Serial Adapter
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com/index.html)
Price: $149.95

Introduction

SkyFi is another fine product from Southern Stars, who sell SkySafari software for mobile devices and Mac computers, as well as other telescope-related hardware products. SkyFi uses WiFi to connect the RS232 control data flow from a telescope controller to an device (iPod/Phone/Pad apps as well as computer applications).

Setup

Figure 1 - SkyFi

Connecting the SkyFi to your telescope controller isn’t difficult. The package includes a couple of adaptors which will work with the mosre common telescope setups. The connection on the SkyFi itself is an RJ11 telephone jack. You can make a cable that connects the SkyFi directly to your telescope controller, use the included adaptors, or purchase a cable specifically for your computer from Southern Stars. Once connected to the telescope controller, you turn it on and it creates a wireless network.Your remote device needs to be connected to this network and also needs to be running software that can send and receive telescope control and data using the TCP IP. The connection scheme is the same as the one in the previous article. The Southern Stars web site has a nice explanation and pin out of the cables you need, in case you want to make one.

The SkyFi device itself is a bit larger then a cell phone. It is powered by 4 double-A batteries and can accept a power brick as well (6 to 12 VDC). There is no on/off switch, but there is a switch that selects either external or internal voltage source. Switching to external voltage source disconnects the internal batteries. (Which acts like a switch). A piece of velcro can be used to attach the SkyFi to the telescope mount, out of the way of motion. It is very light and once running, you won’t need to adjust it at all.

Once on, the SkyFi makes a wifi hotspot available. Firmware on the device controls the IP address and security. There is a standard IP address which is printed on the SkyFi, but you can change this and security settings if needed. I didn’t bother changing the default settings, as they worked well. I could find no fault with the defaults!

Using the Product

Before you begin using the SkyFi, you need to be sure that the telescope control software you use can communicate to the telescope using TCP IP. I Didn’t know some programs do not support TCP IP. On my MacBook, I have Voyager 4.5 and a copy of Sky Safari Beta that will work. The Starry Night Pro Plus that I like using doesn’t do TCP connections to telescopes. The people at Starry Night were unaware of a solution that would work on the Macintosh. For Windows users there are a couple of shareware applications that create a virtual com port that can be tied to the TCP connection, so I imagine this would work with a Window based machine and Starry Night or any other non-TCP controller application.

Figure 2 - SkyFi with a Telescope

If you are controlling with your i-device, you will need the Southern Stars Sky Safari package. (I am unaware of any other astronomy app that controls a telescope). We looked at these Apps a bit in the last article. In the App’s settings, you choose to use TCP IP to connect to the telescope controller. The default address is the same as the default on the SkyFi. (No surprise there!) Select to control the telescope and you are in control using your iPod/iPad/iPhone.

Working with the Voyager software, I had no issues controlling my telescope computer at all. Commands were instant as was feed back. The only issue I had was with me forgetting to choose the SkiFi network rather then my own home wireless network. You also need to make sure the controller software has the same TCP address that the SkyFi has. In Voyager 4.5, there is a box to enter this address. The default address is printed on the SkyFi device, which is another good reason for keeping to the defaults. However, if you need to change it, you can always re-label the back of the unit.

When I first read about the SkyFi, I thought that it was a wireless device and that it would log onto the local wireless network and make the telescope available on that network. It doesn’t do that. Rather then logging onto an existing network, it creates one of it’s own. So I couldn’t use this device to control my telescope with my desktop computer, since it doesn’t have a WiFi card. Nor would one be able to use it to allow access to the telescope from a remote site. You need to be in range of the SkyFi’s wireless netwrok to connect.

Figure 3 - VSP3 Screen

Since the computer you are controlling the telescope with is connected to the SkyFi network, it won’t be connected to your regular one. While observing I usually listen to Internet radio and I will often pop onto some internet site to inspect images and information about the object I am seeking. So I don’t get to listen to the Internet Radio, but I can still do my research by logging back onto my home network, do the research, then re-connect to the SkyFi. Luckily, this isn’t a big issue. Once the telescope is aimed at an object, the onboard controller takes care of compensating for the movement of the earth. Once connected back to the SkyFi, the data stream identifies the slightly changed location and all is well. It is just an added step in the process.

Conclusion

The biggest issue I had with the SkyFi is that it doesn’t come as a package. You buy the SkyFi and then need to find some compatible software. If the software you already purchased isn’t compatible, then you need to consider this as part of the purchase cost. It would be a whole lot nicer if the SkyFi came packaged with either SkySafari or Voyager. However, if you are into astronomy, you probably already have some package that will work with the SkyFi.

Much to my chagrin, I had expected that using the SkyFi would remedy the tangle of cables that I “need” to deal with when observing. However, I found that I still need to bring an extension cord to power the AutoStar (or use the battery adaptor). Since I had the power cord there, I went ahead and plugged in my MacBook Pro, so I still had the extension cord cable and the power supply cord to the MacBook. Thus, the tripping issue wasn’t really resolved. I suppose I could run the Scope on battery and bring the extension cable to the MacBook Pro, but that would cost me a lot in the battery budget.

As far as distance, the SkyFi does pretty well. I walked around the yard with my MacBook and had to get pretty far away to loose the connection. I think I was able to move slightly father then the expected 100 feet from the device. I was also able to put the MacBook on my dining room table and still control the telescope in the yard. I can see this as a real advantage in the winter as it would give me a chance to warm up between observations.

SkyFi is available through the Southern Star’s web site as well as many other astronomy stores. Southern Star also sells Sky Safari for MacOS X in three flavors, the Plus and Pro versions includes telescope controls ($20 and $50 respectively). The version for the iPod/Phone/Pad can be purchased through iTunes store again, you will need either the Plus or Pro version to control the telescope. In the next installment of this series, I will look specifically at the Sky Safari applications for the Macintosh.

Recommendation

Overall, the SkyFi works very well. If you are looking for a wireless connection to your telescope, this is the device you want. I don’t think there are many other options. I had no issues controlling my telescope using the device. If you have an iDevice and want to control your telescope, this is again a terrific solution.

By Ted Bade,  © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: iBank 4
Company: IGG Software (http://www.iggsoftware.com/)
Price: $59.95 USD (single user license)
Available at: http://www.iggsoftware.com/ibank/ (Also available through the App store)
Required OS: Mac OSX 10.5.7 or higher

iBank is a terrific alternative to any version of Quicken. It is robust, has an intuitive easy to use interface, and offers a lot of useful tools for managing your personal finances. If you are looking for an alternative to the old Mac versions of Quicken and/or find you cannot stomach the pathetic “Quicken Essentials”, you won’t go wrong with iBank.

I will be looking at iBank from the viewpoint of a person who has been using Personal Finance applications for well over ten years. This also means I have many habits and expectations about a financial program (both logical and illogical ones ☺), as well as a LOT of financial history. Also, my data needed to be transferred to iBank manually, not imported from an old Quicken file, because I did try using Quicken Essentials for a time before moving to iBank. There is no way to import QE saved data into iBank. However, iBank will import files from the older versions of Quicken, including Windows versions. The import process brings in your various accounts, transactions, investment account information, and budget categories. It won’t bring in scheduled transactions, reports or budgets.

Getting Started

There is one issue to consider with regard to importing from Quicken. iBank doesn’t use the Quicken save or backup file to import, but it imports from an exported QIF file. In my case, I had already converted to Lion (MacOS X 10.7), and had been using QE for a while, so there was no QIF export available for me. If you don’t export from Quicken before you convert to Lion, you might not have any way to run the old version of Quicken to perform the export, which means that you will have to do the import manually. I expect that the same thing would be true if you were previously a Windows user, and didn’t manage to keep your old machine (perhaps it died, which is the reason you are converting financial applications). I imagine a Window’s user would have one option of running Quicken for Windows in a virtual Machine on the Mac to perform the export file creation.

Author’s Note: Being a curious kind of guy, I asked iBank’s customer service what my options are. I was pleasantly surprised by the reply. Essentially, their customer service department offered to do the conversion for me. They provided a small script app to grab the data and to create a secure file that could then be emailed to customer service. For QE files, they suggested asking Intuit to do the conversion. So, even if you made the jump, there are options. Great job IGG Software customer support!!

If you have a QIF file to import, the process is pretty nice. iBank analyzes the file you give it, and then asks you to verify the the account types. This is mainly due to the fact that iBank offers more account types than Quicken does. You can choose to change an account type to one of iBank’s more specific choices. iBank then translates the date into a new iBank file. Once it is done, you need to go through your accounts and make sure they are correct. In the case of the file I imported, it has a muddled history going back to early 2001, so the import would probably have required more work then just stating over. This was my fault, since I did a poor job of cleaning up my Quicken files and they had issues. I don’t expect there would be any real issues for people importing with only a few clean years of history, or even ten years of well kept files! Ideally, it would be terrific if you could run iBank side by side with Quicken (or any of the other financial applications it can convert from), to verify account data.

 One thing I have learned about financial programs (and it actually applies to any program), is that the people involved with creating it decide on a method for doing whatever it is that the program does. This method may or may not be exactly the method you are familiar with. When I attended elementary/high school, there wasn’t a course covering personal finances. So most of my methods have been monstered together from what I have learned from various sources, friends, books, and financial applications. Consider also, there is an element of anxiety in moving to a new financial application. A simple mistake might mean an important loan payment is forgotten or a checking account is over drawn. Because of this, one needs to pay particular attention to what actually happens when you use a new program. Don’t assume anything.

In my case with iBank, years of complacency using one version or another of Quicken left me expecting an application would respond in a particular way. iBank is not a clone of Quicken, and so it follows it’s own set of rules and processes. I say this not to criticize, but point out the way it does business. I want to point out iBank works differently than Quicken, and new users need to consider each action taken while learning the software. Once past this awkward application learning period, people should find that iBank is very intuitive and easy to use.

iBank provides a view of your finances when it initially opens. On the left side there is a column that gives access to various things, such as accounts, websites, and other functions. The right side is a window showing information about the item selected on the left side bar. For instance, if you have selected an account, the register is shown, if you select a web site, the browser function opens to load it, or if you select a report, the report is displayed. The side bar offers a lot of choices, more then will show on the screen, you will have to scroll down to find everything. Accounts occupy the top of the list, which makes sense, since you will spend a lot of time working with them. The side bar offers areas for Accounts, Websites, Reports, and at the bottom a Manage area providing a variety of functions (including syncing with the mobil version of iBank, which I didn’t test). Accounts are organized in order of creation, but the user can drag the icon to any position. I personally like to keep my most active accounts near the top, for easy access.

Transaction registers offer three views. The regular register looking view, a cover flow view, and a reconcile view. I am not totally sure what functionality the cover flow view actually provides. It allows one to slide along through the transactions in the account in a cover flow like method (displaying the icons related to the accounts). It also provides a chart on the bottom showing the value of the account over time. Clicking on the chart brings up the transaction you clicked. The chart lets you visualize the account value over time, so you can see the rise and fall of a checking account from paycheck to paycheck. It also shows the minimum and maximum values in the account. For a credit card, you can easily find the periods of most charging.

One things I really like about iBank is that it can be very visual. For instance, iBank uses icons for various category types to make it easy for you to recognize them in a register. You can use the ones included in iBank or find those of your own to use; the process is as easy as cut and paste. You can also set a color to a category, then the register line for a transaction of that type is tinted with the color. For instance, I use green for grocery transactions. When I look at the register, it is easy to locate all the grocery transactions by finding the green tinted ones. Both of these methods are a big benefit to people who are very visual.

You can choose to have a tool bar near the top of the iBank window, below the menu bar; the default tool bar option has buttons for several common features. The tool bar can be changed to satisfy your way of doing things. For instance, iBank has a calculator function, which can be added to the tool bar if you find it useful. Alternatively, you might not want the tool bar and be content to use the menus.

Finally, the iBank window offers a summary area (Summary Page) showing how much you have and how much you owe, it will also turn into a “Net Worth” bar graph if you click it’s top bar. This summary gives a quick overview of your financial picture. This area covers the lower portion of the side bar, and you can choose to hide it if you would rather see more of that area.

Before you start using iBank, you will need to create (or import) all your accounts. If you are in a position to import from another financial program I highly recommend doing this. Although you should spend some time making sure the translation was correct, you won’t have to spend the time it takes to create each account individually.

One improvement I would like to see with iBank’s manual is a section giving a logical method for people moving accounts in manually. Their manual is written with the view point that all accounts have been created and all you might need to do is create a new account to add to the picture. While the manual explains quite well how to create new accounts, it doesn’t suggest an order to create them in if you start from scratch. I highly recommend that you begin with the checking (or whatever other) account you use to pay the majority of your bills, followed by any others you use for this purpose, then create credit card accounts, loans, and finally investment accounts. The reason for this is simple, if you pay your bills, credit cards, loans, and investments from one or two accounts, it is a good idea to have them created before your download transactions for these other accounts.

iBank easily downloads data from your financial institutions. When you create an account, after naming it, you choose which type of account it is, savings, checking, credit card, and so on. Then iBank downloads the current list of institutions that fit into this category. Hopefully you will find your institution in this list. If not, then you can enter the company’s web site manually or enter all your transactions manually. iBank checks for new financial institutions every time you create a new account, unless you create several of the same type one after another. While this is a safe method of business, it does prove a bit tedious waiting the short time for it to check. I found myself tapping the screen muttering, “Hey buddy, I saw that company in the list yesterday, you don’t have to check again”.

In case your financial institution isn’t in the list iBank downloads, there is an option to select: “Other financial Institution”. If you select this option, you can either provide iBank with the company’s web address (where you can download account information), or choose to enter transactions manually. iBank puts this choice, alphabetically, within the list of the several hundred other institutions that are downloaded. Although it is selected by default, one might forget this or choose a different company option, then forget what it was called. It would be a lot nice if this option had a permanent space of it’s own, not part of the list, for easy location and selection when needed.  (Note: a recent upgrade to iBank now keeps the “Other” choice in the list even when you search for the name of your financial institution, which is almost as good as having a dedicated Other button!)

 One VERY cool feature iBank offers is an in program web browser. While some companies allow iBank to download data directly, many others require that you log into your account and download a file. While it isn’t a big deal to run Safari and get the files, the neat thing about iBank’s browser is that when the file is downloaded, iBank takes it in. You don’t have to save it, then open the saved file with iBank. I ran into one odd issue, more with my bank then with iBank. One of my banks requires Safari 4 on the Mac, which means that neither my Lion hyped Mac nor iBank can get transactions from this bank! I did manage to get the transactions using an old version of FireFox. While I can almost justify not having tested Safari 5 yet, I was aghast at needing to use Firefox 3.x!

Logging into the bank with iBank is identical to what you would do with Safari. You will still need your passwords and user name and any other pieces of information the bank might require. There is one issue with iBank’s browser. One financial institution required that a second browser window be opened to initiate the download. iBank’s browser cannot open a second window. In this case, you need to use a regular browser to get the data. Overall, it is very convenient having a browser built into iBank.

Day to day usage of iBank is simple. iBank keeps track of how you do transactions and uses auto fill to reduce your work. For instance, I download my credit card transactions. iBank opens a two pane window, the top showing the newest downloaded, the bottom showing the current register for that account. You look at the transactions and choose to accept them or not, when done you click to bring in all those you accepted.

As you begin using iBank, you teach it which categories various transactions refer to. iBank allows you to create a “rule”, that says something like, all payments made to a specific grocery store go into the category of “Groceries”. Now when iBank sees a transaction with that grocery store, it fills in the category for you. However, some stores have multiple purposes. You can choose to either not create a rule, which means you enter a category every time you download a transaction, or you create a rule, then change the category when the need arises. One issue with not creating a rule is that iBank asks to create a  rule every time a transaction from this company shows up, until a rule is created. Ultimately, this autofill feature saves a lot of your time.

I like to verify that a credit card transaction matches the receipt that I have. There are a variety of reasons for doing this. iBank doesn’t provide a check box or space to indicate that a receipt was verified. Sometimes I need to make sure that one or another transaction was actually made. I have been hit twice by transactions not made by the household showing up on a credit card. I like to take action quickly!

iBank comes with a lot of pre-made categories. As you type a name in the category field, iBank provides a list of categories that fit the letters you type, the list gets smaller as the word completes. While this is a real time saver once you know all the correct names, iBank doesn’t search for the string anywhere in the name, only from the beginning. This process could be made a lot easier if they had used a Keyword search, rather then a Browse search method. So there is a learning curve here. If you choose to use their method, you need to learn it.

iBank organizes categories in groups, then by sub-categories. There is a group called “Utilities”, with sub-categories such as Utilities:Cable, Utilities:Cell Phone, and Utilities:Electric (notice the use of the colon to designate the sub-category). I download a transaction that shows a payment to my cell phone company. If I type “Cell phone” into the category field, iBank finds nothing, since iBank lists this as “Utilities:Cell Phone”. You need to understand their syntax/structure to find the correct category. This is only an issue the first time the transaction comes up. Once you create a rule, iBank fills it in, so you don’t have to type anything unless you need to change the category. It also gets easier as you become comfortable with iBank’s category naming methods. When you need to find how iBank names a category, you can use the menu option to “Change Transaction Type”. Clicking on this menu item opens a list of all the category names, and you can visually search the list to find the appropriate one.

If you enter a category that iBank doesn’t already have, it opens a window to allow you to create a new category. You need to enter various bits of information about the category. iBank’s category organization structure is efficient and I recommend staying with their format. The need to locate a proper category occurs early on. Once you set up a rule or become familiar with the scheme, it becomes easy, however you can easily create all your own categories in a way that makes the most sense to you. This demonstrates another reason why iBank is a great choice for tracking your finances: there are so many ways to modify the application to get it to suit your personal methods.

Some transactions move money from one account to another. When you download transactions, iBank compares the downloaded transactions to those already in the register. If it finds one that already exists, it automatically un-checks the accept check box, since the transaction already exists in both registers. If you did import it, there would be a duplicate transaction. When importing transactions, you need to look over the list and make sure that only the transactions you want to import have the check box checked. Had I known this when I first started downloading transactions, I could have saved myself a bit of time. Luckily, if you do duplicate a transaction, you need only delete the duplicate. The issue is realizing that it was done, which is a good reason for reconciling an account on a regular basis.

I found a few inconsistencies with how iBank works with respect to transactions. The default transaction type often doesn’t make sense for the account type. For instance, when I download a new credit card transaction the type defaults to “Withdrawal” not “Charge” as I expect. For a new checking transaction that I enter manually as I write a check, it defaults to “POS”, not new check number. However, if I change the type to Check, it automatically chooses the next check number in my sequence. Note that if you create a rule with a particular store, the type of transaction is included in the rule, so the next time you download a transaction from that company, it is correct.

 iBank does a very good job of tracking investments. Overall, the process is very simple and intuitive, although there are a few things to remember. If you set up a new investment account to hold shares of various stocks, you need to enter the number of shares you own manually. The number of shares wasn’t transferred from the account I own. Once you enter the total number of shares, iBank will track the share value, provide a chart of the value over time, and even keep track of the cost basis of the stocks or mutual funds.

When you manually bring an existing account into iBank, there are a few things to be aware of. First of all, any past account history is not brought into iBank. While some companies will provide cost basis for an account for iBank, many do not. You can add this information manually. iBank shows only the cash available in an investment account in the register, so if your account has only shares of stocks or funds, it will show as a zero value. The actual value of the account, based on share values as of the current quote download, shows up in the accounts side bar. The value is kept up to date by downloading stock quotes (which includes mutual fund quotes).

Reconciling an account with iBank is easy. You choose the start and end dates and balances, then choose to either reconcile manually or automatically. In the auto mode, iBank accepts all the downloaded transactions between the two dates you gave it, marks then as reconciled, then you verify if this list matches your statement. Manually, it displays the entire register of unreconciled transactions, and you need to click on each transaction to indicate it was on the statement. Once you have a good reconcile, you click a lock icon to lock the transactions as reconciled. If you use the auto mode, you see only those transactions within the dates of the statement, but you need to create a manual method to record that you verified each transaction on the statement. I ran into a small gotcha when I forgot to use parenthesis around the negative balance of a credit card statement. iBank considers any number inside a parenthesis as negative and without a parenthesis as a positive value. When you enter a credit card, you need to be sure the negative balances are within parenthesis, or you get some unusual results. ☺

During my tests I found that for accounts for which you download transactions, the auto method almost always creates a register that looks exactly like the statement from the financial institution. This is a real time saver, as all you need to do is enter the numbers, make sure the difference is zero, and you are done! If there are issues, you then need to figure things out, but this method is significantly faster then the manual method of adding transactions.

Once you get all your accounts into iBank, there are two other things you might want to do. Track where your money goes and how much you have, and create a budget to help you better manage where your money goes and how much you save. iBank offers the tools to help with these items as well.

While recording transactions is a very important part of any financial application, it isn’t everything. Some people like to look at where their money goes, how much their savings is worth, and to keep track of tax related transactions. iBank offers some built in reports as well as a set of very useful tools to create reports of your own. The reports themselves are interactive, so you can easily dig deeper into them if necessary (or if you are curious). The best way to explain this is to consider one of iBank’s included reports. The report called “Last month to date expenses” is an income and expense report. Click on the report icon in iBank’s source list (the left side bar) to run that report. The program’s main window changes to show the report, and there are two pie charts on the top: one for expenses and one for income. Below the pie chart is a key, showing the names associated with the colors of the pie chart. Below the pie charts is a list showing the categories that make up the charts.

Both the pie charts and the list of text data are interactive. When you click on a piece of the pie chart or an area in the list, iBank generates a sub report showing the accounts and/or transactions that make up this section. For instance, if the category is $500 on groceries, you can click on this then see a list of the different grocery transactions which make up the total. If you are inclined to keep precise records of your finances, this is a good way to make sure you didn’t accidentally include a transaction that doesn’t belong. It is also a good way to see where the money goes. You might find that most goes to a particular store. People who might use iBank to take control of their “Fun”spending, as they will easily see where the money goes if they keep good records!

If you find reports useful, you will want to create your own reports. iBank makes the process relatively easy, yet offers the tools to do some very complex things. iBank lets you create reports by walking through a series of screens, each part setting up a different aspect of the report. You start with a report type, then specify specifically what items will be included and the dates to be covered. For example, one report I always set up is a list of charitable contributions I have made in the past calendar year. To create this report I choose Category Detail, include all accounts, but limit the category to charity contributions, set the date to last calendar year, and finally give it a name. Then, when I am working on my income tax, I can run this report, which will provide me with a nice list to print and include in my tax records.

When creating a report, you can get pretty complex using iBank’s “Smart Rules”, which essentially is a group of nested “and” and “or” statements that limit or extend the included items. I have to admit I am not really a report kind of guy, so my use of reporting is very limited. However, it is easy to see that there is a lot of power in iBank’s report wizard to do some very specific things.

Finally, you can easily create a budget for the next year using iBank’s budget tool. Just like the report tool, it is very easy to do. You predict your income first, then predict how much you will spend on various items in the budget. Obviously, any budget is only as good as the validity of the data you use. Often it is easier to create a home budget after you have collected a year or more of data on where your money goes (however, you might need to control the budget before collecting this data ☺). Also consider that people prone to spend too much might well served by creating a budget on specific “fun” or entertainment items.

Once the budget is created, iBank offers two ways of looking at the information. First is the traditional view, which is a window that lists your incomes (on the top of the screen) and expenses (on the lower part of the screen), showing the budget, actual to date, and  amount remaining (over). Each line is followed by a bar graphically showing how much of the budget is remaining (or how far past the value you are). The bar is green for under and red for over and yellow for getting close to the limit. Using this chart, you can easily monitor where you are. The bar graphs give a quick visual review of items. The middle of the screen shows a “remaining cash to spend” as a total, along with a bar graph, and a summary of total incomes/expenses, budgeted versus actual. This is a very useful to easily monitor and keep an eye on the budget.

As with many other screens in iBank, this one is interactive. If you click on an item, you go into an edit mode, allowing you to modify the budget item (come on, no cheating here, this is really important!!).  I do disagree slightly with their handling of incomes. People are paid on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. This means that for income, you will be under budget until some time near your last pay period, giving a negative impression for a normal sequence of events. However, budgets are more about watching where the money goes rather then where it comes from. Unless, of course, you are in a field where you have to create income and need a little push to get you going.

iBank offers another method of monitoring budgets, called the envelope method. This is a very practical method for people who don’t use a program iBank does a great job implementing this process. Using this method you have an envelope representing an amount of cash to spend on different budget items. There is one for food, one for housing, one for keeping the car going and so on. When you need to pay for something, you take money from the envelope for that item. You can also move additional money into an envelope if necessary. The idea behind this method, is that you can see how the envelope empties as you spend money. It is a very visual method and has been used by a lot of people to help them take control of their finances.

iBank shows a screen of envelopes; nice green bills stick out the top of an envelope and the envelope shows a black positive number when it is positive. For over budget items, the envelope is closed, the number is red and in parenthesis. The lay out is similar to the the first method with incomes on the top, expenses on the bottom and the middle with some summary information. With this method, it doesn’t show you where you are relative to the period, but the income area shows how much unspent money you have, while the expense area shows how much of each envelope’s total you have spent already. The summary area show how much over or under budget you are and offers a table of days left to the period (usually a month), how much is available (positive or negative), and how much reserve cash you have.

The vendor is very active in updating and improving this program. They host a very active forum where people can ask questions and get answers from users and staff. Their tech support was quick and very helpful. They appear to listen to the comments made by users, and act to modify the program when it makes sense. There were a couple of things that changed while I as working on this review, making the program even better. This commitment to customer service is another great aspect of iBank.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this program. Overall, iBank is a terrific program. Having used it for a while, I find that it is actually more comprehensive and logical than my previous version of Quicken. iBank offers tools for importing your data from other programs, and gives you a wealth of tools for controlling your personal finances. I found iBank to be very easy to use and relatively easy to covert to. The vendor even offer a free download with a 30 day trial period, so how can you go wrong with that?

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Tides Calculator
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $.99

Wolfram’s Mathematica (now version 8.0.4) is a mature product used by many professionals and academics, and the past couple of years Wolfram has started getting developing mobile applications. I’ve already reviewed their Astronomy and Chemistry course assistant apps, which are excellent and inexpensive products for students. This review is on Wolfram’s Tides Calculator, one of their new Reference apps for the iPhone/Touch and iPad.

The tides are relevant to many people around the world that live on or near the coast, or that make a living on the sea. Wolfram provides a low cost ($.99) app that is easy to transport and provides good information about the tides, including Current Tide, High Tide, Low Tide, Average Tide, Tide Forecast/History, and Extras.

Getting Started

I downloaded the Tides app from the iTunes store and it was a typically easy install onto my iPod Touch. I selected the first option (Current Tide), and and the default location was set to Current Location (handy of you are on the go and want the tide info for your current site. As tides are not as much of an issue for us in Minneapolis, MN, I entered Maine for the Location and pressed the Compute button. In a couple of seconds, the app displayed a chart for the tides covering 24 hours, with the time and height of high and low tides for Maine. As I entered the search in the afternoon, the returned results covered the current and next days which is better than forcing one to go to a different path to get the tide info for the next day. One thing to note: this data was computed based on historical data and did not include weather-influenced factors like hurricanes, so take this into consideration if you need current information and bad weather impacts your location.

There is other useful data on the same screen. The tide reporting station for Maine is at Bangor, at the Penobscot River, and the coordinates of the station are included (good for using with Google Earth), along with the relative position of the station in relation to the state of Maine. Another bit of useful information on the screen is sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. Not all of the screen information is visible at the same time, but it is easy to move around or zoom out as needed.

Next I checked out the High Tide and Low Tide information. I again used Bangor Maine as the location and essentially saw the same information displayed as I saw at the Current Tide screen, although the graphs highlighted the high and low tides respectably. I used Bangor again for the Average Tide option, and there were a few extra bits of information (range of tide, average high tide, average of high and low tides, and average low tide), but had mostly the same information as was shown at the Current Tide screen.

The next option I tested was Tide Forecast/History. Using my favorite (Bangor, Maine) location, I retrieved the tides forecast for 11/24/2011 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) and saw a nice 24 hr graph of the expected tides, with times/heights of high/low tides along with sun/moon rise/set times. Good data for a forecast. Next I left the location alone and changed the date to 11/24/2010 and the app downloaded the historical tide data for last year – also, good data.

Finally I checked out the Extras options and they were: Sunrise and Sunset, Sun Exposure, UV Forecast, Weather and Forecast, Moon Phase, and Properties of Oceans. For Sunrise and Sunset, I retrieved the information for my current location (Minneapolis, MN) for tomorrow and saw the data, plus the duration of daylight (good to know as we edge closer to the shortest day of the year), the altitude and azimuth for my location, a nice graph of the sun path for tomorrow, some cool (to amateur astronomers) star properties, an image of the current Earth/Moon/Sun configuration (science teachers, paying attention?), and the 10 closest stars (including Wolf 359, mentioned once or twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Excellent information for educators and astronomers.

Another Extras option is Sun Exposure, where you can enter your location, date, and skin type to compute the most appropriate sun tan lotion needed to protect your body. Nice. With my skin type, I will need an SPF 15 if I head outdoors tomorrow. I like the UV Forecast option too – it gave the current UV conditions, along with a map of most of the country that showed this data, along with the expected time to get a sunburn (based on skin type and exposure), and the recommended SPF factor for sun tan lotion.

The next Extras item I checked out was the weather forecast. I regularly check weather when I fly, and I’m just as interested in the weather when driving in Minnesota in January and February, so this is one of my favorite extras.The forecast for the current day and next day is useful, and the graph for the temperatures for the upcoming week is also good to know (especially as the highs and lows for each day is also included). I also find the precipitation rate and wind speed forecast graphs to be very useful and both enhance this aspect of the app. I should add you can get weather forecasts for other locations than current location, so this could be a nice assistant when planning a vacation.

The next option in Extras is Moon Phase, which provides good info if you’re wanting to look at the Moon. The last Extras option is Properties of Oceans and it provides Ocean Information, Ocean Properties, Speed of Sound in the Ocean, and Pressure Under Water data. Good information for planning a dive, don’t you think?

Likes

  • The price is excellent, and the UI is simple yet functional.
  • This is a good tool to use to help plan a vacation.
  • The app does what good apps do – it retrieves information over the internet (from Wolfram servers), reducing the footprint of the downloaded/installed app.
  • I like how the locations default to the current location (great for lazy mobile device owners like myself).
  • The amount of information in Extras is excellent and really expands the app. Weather is my absolute favorite option in this app.

Dislikes

  • Didn’t like seeing the same information in Current Tides duplicated in the High, Low, and Average Tide screens. I’d rather have buttons at the Current Tide screen that would provide the additional information. I think it might have been better to release a Weather App, which includes Tide information, that a Tides App with weather information.

Conclusion

The information is useful to a lot of people, not just sailors. As a fiction writer, I may need to know past or future tides that affect the characters in some of my stories, and this inexpensive app would be an excellent resource. While I know many people (including me) prefer free apps, it is hard to argue with the low price for this app.

Recommendation

Buy it. Skip the burger on the McDonald’s value menu and buy this app. It is interesting information, and good, inexpensive apps need to be purchased to encourage vendors to continue to provide quality apps at a low price. Wolfram currently has another 8 Reference Apps available, and the next one I’ll review is their Fractals App.

Please let our readers know if you’ve tried this app and your impression of the software. Sharing experiences on expensive apps is important, but so is telling others about good, low cost applications.

Be well.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: General Astronomy Course Assistant
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $4.95

Many modern students use their smart phones in school, and Wolfram understands this so they are releasing a series of course assistant applications for smart phones and devices like the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. I’ve already looked at Wolfram’s Course Assistant for Astronomy, and I wanted to look at Wolfram’s General Chemistry Course Assistant when it was released since I initially majored in Biochemistry when I first started my undergrad degree.

This Course Assistant is sold through the Apple Apps store for $4.95, and I downloaded and installed the app through iTunes, which was flawless. The data (just like in the Astronomy Course Assistant) was organized by categories:

  • Atoms, Molecules, Ions
  • Atomic Structure & Periodicity
  • Reactions & Stoichiometry
  • Gases
  • Chemical Bonding
  • Liquids & Solids
  • Acids & Bases
  • The Nucleus
  • Units & Chemical Properties

Atoms, Molecules, Ions

This category has these subcategories: Find an Element. Find an Isotope, Atomic Properties of Elements, Abundance of Elements, Properties of Monoatomic Ions, and Ion Groups.

I went to the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory and entered 8, and then pressed ‘Compute’ to see the information on Oxygen, which displayed the element name,the location in the periodic table, an image of the element, some basic element properties (symbol, atomic number, electron configuration, block, group, period, and atomic weight), thermodynamic properties (melting point, boiling point – in centigrade and fahrenheit – critical temperature and pressure, molar heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, specific heat at STP, and adiabetic index), material properties (density, molar volume, refractive index, sound speed, and thermal conductivity), electromagnetic properties, reactivity (valence, electronegativity, electron affinity, ionization energies, atomic properties (term symbol, atomic radius, covalent radius, and van der Waals radius), abundance (universal, crust, and human), nuclear properties (half-life, isotopes), and identifiers (CAS and PubChem numbers).

In addition to searching for elements by atomic number, you can also use the number of protons and electrons. My favorite subcategory of this category of the course assistant was the ‘Atomic Properties of Elements’, because the search criteria you can use to find information include atomic number/weight/radius, number of protons/electrons.neutrons, and the Lewis structure.

Atomic Structure & Periodicity

This category has four subcategories: Light & Matter, Electron Configuration, Periodic Properties of Elements, and Ionic Radii.

The ‘Light & Matter’ subcategory lets you compute EM Radiation, the energy of a photon, and photon energy. The ‘Electron Configuration’ subcategory lets you compute configuration information for atoms or ions. The ‘Periodic Properties of Elements’ calculates information for elements and element groups. The ‘Ionic Radii’ subcategory computes radii for monoatomic and polyatomic ions.

Reactions & Stoichiometry

This category has eight subcategories to Solve for Mass/Volume, Convert Mass/Volume, Calculating Molar Mass, Composition of Compounds, Concentration and Solutions, and Equations and Reactions. My favorite subcategory was Equations and Reactions, which lets you plug in data to compute Reaction Enthalpy, the Reaction Equilibrium Constant, balance chemical equations, and calculate theoretical yields. Each section lets you specify 1 to 4 reactants and 1 to 4 products. Very useful.

Gases

This category has nine subcategories to solve for Avogadro’s Law (V or n), Boyle’s Law (V or P), Charles’s Law (V or T), Gay-Lussac’s Law (P or T)/Density or Molar Mass, the Ideal Gas Law (P, V, n, and T), Graham’s Law, Average Kinetic Energy, and RMS Velocity.

Chemical Bonding

This category has two subcategories: Bond Properties of Chemicals and Lewis Structures of Elements. The ‘Bond Properties’ include dipole moment, bond types and bond lengths for water, ethanol, acetic acid, acetone, and chloroform.

Liquids & Solids

This category has three subcategories: X-ray Analysis of Solids (Bragg Equation), Boiling Point of Liquids, and Liquid Vapor Pressure. I really liked how the second subcategory lets find boiling points based on city, elevation or mountains.

This was the only area of the app that I saw an error. I went into all three subcategories and all were blank, even though I waited 10 minutes. I quit the app and after I went back into it I was able to see each subcategory, but then the app locked up for a minute. I was able to restart the app, but I have notified Wolfram about this issue and will update this review as soon as I hear back from them.

Acids & Bases

This category lets you look up properties of acids and bases, calculates the ionization percentage of a solution, determine acidity and basicity of solutions (calculate pH and pOH, H+ and OH-, and look up the pH of a chemical), calculate pKa, and solve for pH or pKa.

The Nucleus

This category lets you look up information on isotopes (get element isotopes, look up nuclear properties, and find isotope half-life), as well as compute carbon-14 dating (if you believe that the earth is actually older than 6400 years). I went into the ‘Isotopes’ subcategory and looked up the isotopes for Oxygen, which showed all of the stable and unstable O isotopes. My favorite subcategory of this section was the ‘Isotope Half-Life’, as you can easily use element name or mass numbers to compute the half-lives of elements, which was interesting considering the reactor problems currently being experienced in Japan (as well as in Chernobyl).

Units & Chemical Properties

This category contains five subcategories: Unit Conversions, Physical Properties, Thermodynamic Properties, Element Properties, and Chemical Properties. The ‘Unit Conversion’ subcategory allows conversions based on length, mass, temperature, and volume. The four types of ‘Physical Properties’ are molecular weight, density,boiling point, and melting point. The types of properties found using ‘Thermodynamic Lookup’ are enthalpy of formation, entropy, free energy, heat capacity, enthalpy of fusion, and combustion heat.

I liked the ‘Element Properties’ subcategories, because it returns a ton of information for each element (the element name, periodic table position, an image, basic element properties, thermodynamic properties, material properties, electromagnetic properties, reactivity, atomic properties abundances, nuclear properties, and identifiers), but that seems to be the same as the data returned in the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory option in the ‘Atoms, Molecules, Ions’ category of the app.

Conclusion

Wolfram has expanded their offerings beyond the first 6 course assistant apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. I tested this app using my iPod touch and was satisfied with the amount of useful information as well as the content layout. I did have a problem at one point and had to exit the app, but it then functioned normally.

As much as I enjoyed this app on my iPod touch, I’d love to be able  to retrieve all of the ‘Element Properties’ (in the ‘Units & Chemical Properties’ category) using a GUI image of the periodic table instead of the keyboard that was implemented in the app. To select elements not included on the keyboard, you just need to highlight the element that begins with the same first letter of the alphabet, then select the desired element. Preferring a GUI for this UI is a person preference and not a bug or error, but it might be more appropriate on the larger screen on the iPad.

Recommendation

A good value. Good data that will preclude the need to look up technical information in a textbook, which is handy for high school or college students.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyWire Serial Accessory
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com)
Price: $79.95 USD
Shipping: varies according to destination

SkyWire Serial Accessory is a simple cable that makes it a breeze to connect your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone to your computerized telescope and control it with an app called SkySafari. Set up and use is really easy, although you need to use Southern Stars SkySafari version 2.1 app (or later) to take advantage of this cable.

Years ago I purchased a computerized telescope mount (and telescope), and found it was a serious step up for the rank amateur sky observer. Nowadays, rather then dealing with the frustration of using guiding stars to target in on a celestial object, I can now let a computer do all the work. Although the process isn’t perfect, it was an improvement over the tasks I needed to follow to get setup in the past. The Meade Autostar computer controller on my mount has a funky red LED display, which has issues like being completely un-readable when temperatures are in the lower 30 degree F. While it does know the position of a fair number of objects, it is also a bit of a process to select one. Not to mention that, before you begin to search, there is no indication  that an object is currently in the sky until after you select it. It didn’t take me long to look for a more intuitive interface.

From my previous articles here on our Space page, you see that I use my MacBook Pro along with different Astronomy software to make the process even easier. But what if you are starting out like most people today, you may already have one of Apple’s i-devices. SkyWire used with the SkySafari software makes it easy to step a telescope up. Additionally, most of these devices make use of the compass and GPS features, so you can use them to assist with locating the general area of the sky your object of choice might reside.

SkyWire is a cable that transfers the serial data (RS232) signal from the telescope controller to the i-device you are using. The SkyWire cable ends in a DB9 connector. If your telescope controller doesn’t use this connector, you will need a cable to convert the DB9 connector to whatever your ‘Scope” uses. In my case, the Meade LXD75 uses a standard telephone connector (RJ11). It came with a cable that has the RJ11 on one side and a  DB9 on the other, so all I had to do was plug the SkyWire DB9 into the telescope’s DB9 connector and plug the RJ11 end into the AutoStar. Note that I mention all this cable detail because it is specific to my set up. Hopefully there is enough detail so that someone with a different set up will understand what to do.

The current version of SkySafari is version 3, and you need version 3 plus to gain the telescope control features. I was pretty impressed with SkySafari. It is a very comprehensive piece of astronomy software with lots of features. It is a great standalone product and worth considering even if you don’t have an interest in the SkyWire feature.

With SkySafari 3 Plus running on my iPod Touch, I plugged in the standard i-device connector into it and an alert box in the software told me I am connected to the SkyWire. By default SkySafari 3 Plus has the telescope control set to “demo mode”.  You need to go into the settings and select your telescope controller and mount type. This system will work with a wide variety of telescope controllers (those that use the RS232 interface), but some do not. Check the products web site to see if your controller is included.

Once you have selected the telescope controller, bring up the telescope control and select connect. If your controller is on and ready to go it should immediately connect. Now all the power of SkySafari 3 Plus is available to control your telescope. And there is a lot of power in this program!

I have both an iPod Touch and and iPad, so I used both to control the telescope. The iPod Touch is a bit smaller then my Meade Autostar controller but it is infinitely easier to find objects in my sky and slew the telescope to them with this setup. The display is huge compared to the Autostar’s display. Secondly, I am looking at an image that represents what the sky looks like where I am currently located, so by looking at the display I know if the object is above or below the horizon. Using the iPod’s compass feature, I can actually locate the part of the sky tof he object I am interested in viewing, and it is easy to see if there are obstructions that would prevent viewing. SkySafari 3 Plus provides information about the object as well as an image, so I have an idea of magnitude and have data I can read about the object, and can even see what it would look like using a larger telescope. It would be truly cool is there was an easy way to mount and align the iPod on the telescope, so that it could be set to show what was in that part of the sky the telescope is currently pointed toward!

A benefit of any piece of software to aid in observing the sky is its ability to help find objects of interest. Like most astronomy packages, SkySafari show solar system objects, many stars, and puts symbols on the screen where deep space objects are located. It also has two features that point out interesting objects in the current sky. First of all under the search menu there is a “Tonight’s Best” selection, which lists a number of items that should be viewable in your local night sky. You can go through the list and create an observing list of objects you would like to view, or just select one and go to it. The observing list(s) in SkySafari are accessed using the search menu.

The other feature requires an internet connection, it is Sky & Telescope’s SkyWeek feature. This weekly list provides a sky observing task or suggestion for each night of the week. Scroll through the weeks list, choose the correct day and you can read their suggestion. There is also a “View” button that when clicked, centers the object in SkySafari, so you can see where it is.

Using the iPod is nice, but the screen is small. The iPad has a larger screen, and I find this more effective when displaying the night sky. However, it is a bit more awkward to hold up to the sky, (but just only a bit more difficult). One issue I have had with connecting my MacBook Pro to the Autostar is tripping over the cable. The cables I have aren’t long enough to easily string around to protect from an accidental pull and unplug. One advantage of the iPod is that it is small enough to just hang on the telescope mount, so the cable stays out of the way, just as the Autostar cable does.

The SkyWire coupled with SkySafari and your i-device is a cool way to control your telescope’s computer. It is easy to set up and simple to use. I am certain any user will discover that using the data, display, and easy interface of an i-device will be far superior to what came with the telescope. If you have a telescope, and i-device, and want to make the connection, this is definitely the way to go.

Author’s note: In the next review, I discuss Southern Star’s SkyFi, a device that lets you wirelessly connect your telescope computer to your WiFi enabled computer.