OpenDNS and other DNS options


David Pogue explains DNS and why OpenDNS is a great service in this video.

OpenDNS is generally fast, has extra features like anti-phishing, shortcuts, and parental controls, and is run by non-evil people (perhaps unlike your ISP).

Other Options

But you should also check to see what DNS provider gives your particular location the fastest DNS response as we explained in the post Make your Internet faster by changing DNS.

We explained that you can use namebench to test a variety of DNS providers. I recommend running namebench multiple times since results will vary between tests. For me, Verizon’s DNS service actually provided the fastest and most consistent DNS speeds so I’m sticking with them for now for the quickest web browsing experience.

Profit Model

One way to see who is running the DNS on a particular network is to type in a long web address that doesn’t exist. Most DNS providers “hijack” the 404 Not Found response and give you something like the response below from Verizon. It’s annoying that this is a standard practice now, but your ISP and other DNS providers get extra income from search engines for directing people there.

MS Word editing on iPad

I recently needed to do some basic editing of Word documents from the iPad. Looking at the app store, I found Pages ($9.99) by Apple, Documents To Go Premium – Office Suite ($14.99), and QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite for iPad ($14.99) to be the most popular applications for this. I’ll refer to thees as just Pages, Documents To Go, and QuickOffice.

After using these apps, I found file transfers and Word compatibility to be the two major issues.

1) How to Move Files

The Apple iPad is not a traditional computer. It does not have a file system that is designed to be universally accessed. Therefore applications need to be creative.

I wanted to be able to edit and save documents kept on Dropbox, the popular cloud file storage service. This factor ruled out Pages. When used in conjunction with an application like GoodReader or Air Sharing, Pages can import files from Dropbox. The problem comes when you want to save those files you edited in Pages back to Dropbox. It’s a mess. Sure, you can save the Pages file locally as a Word file, sync with iTunes, bring the file to your desktop, then load it into Dropbox. But what kind of workflow is that?

Both Documents To Go and QuickOffice will import and save directly to Dropbox and other services.

There are other ways to move documents to and from your computer. Documents To Go has a program that you can install on Windows or Mac. I prefer Quickoffice‘s solution though. Quickoffice lists an IP address, e.g., which you can type into the web browser of any computer on your local network. From there, you can download and upload files. It’s slick.

2) Compatibility with Word

In general, I found Pages to be the strongest stand alone word processor, both in terms of editing and Word compatibility. Unfortunately, the lack of a good file transfer workflow disqualified it for me.

Both Quickoffice and Documents To Go handled most documents well enough to be useful. Neither did well with multiple columns. Quickoffice appeared to more consistently show page breaks. Documents To Go was slightly better at drawing tables on the examples we gave it.

There were a lot of quirks but both apps worked. And if you made some changes to the document, it wouldn’t screw up the existing formatting. So even if not everything looked right on the iPad, it looked correct when loaded back into Word.

Other Considerations

In favor of Documents To Go:

  • Documents To Go is a universal app, meaning that it will work on iPhone and iPad so you don’t have to buy separate apps.
  • Only Documents To Go can edit PowerPoint files. The editing mode is unusual in that it only occurs in what looks like an outline view. Still, that’s better than QuickOffice which can only view PowerPoint files. Also, only Documents To Go will show you notes saved in PowerPoint.
  • Documents To Go launches with the last document open that you were using. This can be a timesaver.

In favor of Quickoffice:

  • Quickoffice has a more intuitive user interface. For example, in Documents To Go you tap a file in Dropbox once to download it. You tap it again to open it. In Quickoffice, that’s just one tap. Another oddity in Documents To Go is that it creates a “Documents To Go” folder in Dropbox, even though it can use any folders. You can delete the folder but Documents To Go will add it back.
  • The Quickoffice has a simpler layout and prettier icons.
  • Quickoffice autosaves documents.

Both apps can edit Excel files. They are also compatible with a bluetooth wireless keyboard.


The saying goes that the iPad is a great media consumption device, but not the ideal media creation tool. I agree, at least for now. If you need to do serious word processing, photo manipulation, etc, you’re better off with a traditional computer due to it’s full fledged operating system (with printing and file management) and more capable applications. I suspect that in a year we’ll have vastly more capable iOS for iPad. Perhaps there will even be Office apps from Microsoft.

I can’t proclaim a winner between Documents To Go and Quickoffice. They are both regularly updated with new features. If you plan on editing MS Office files a lot, you might want both. I’m going to continue switching between the two since I can’t decide which is better.  If you have any opinions on these apps or others to write documents on the iPad, let me know.

AppleJack for Mac

Macs generally don’t have startup problems, but it’s good to be prepared in case your Mac OS X computer won’t start.

The normal steps for trying to get a Mac to boot involve pressing keyboard shortcuts during the boot process. From Apple’s keyboard shortcuts page:

Startup keyboard shortcuts

Press the key or key combination until the expected function occurs/appears (for example, hold Option during startup until Startup Manager appears, or Shift until “Safe Boot” appears). Tip: If a startup function doesn’t work and you use a third-party keyboard, connect an Apple keyboard and try again.

Key or key combination What it does
Option Display all bootable volumes (Startup Manager)
Shift Perform Safe Boot (start up in Safe Mode)
C Start from a bootable disc (DVD, CD)
T Start in FireWire target disk mode
N Start from NetBoot server
X Force Mac OS X startup (if non-Mac OS X startup volumes are present)
Command-V Start in Verbose Mode
Command-S Start in Single User Mode

My first step to fixing a Mac that is stuck on the gray boot screen is to hold the Option key and attempt to chose the hard drive to boot. If that fails, I will try to either boot into Safe Mode or from an external firewire hard drive, allowing me to fix things.

Extra startup help from AppleJack

AppleJack is a free troubleshooting assistant that you need to install prior to your computer having problems. It gives you a DOS-like Menu of options that can fix common problems. You can repair the disk, repair permissions, remove cache files, validate preference files, and remove swap files.

Download AppleJack from the download page. Run the AppleJack installer. It only takes 74K of space for the current version as of this writing, 1.6.

To start AppleJack, first hold Command and S keys at startup. This starts Single User Mode as mentioned above. Then type one these commands.

Command What it does
applejack start the AppleJack menu (see image below)
applejack auto run through all the menu tasks automatically
applejack auto restart run through all the menu tasks automatically, then restart

Only use AppleJack when your computer will not start because changing these basic parts of the operating system can introduce other problems. Still, I install AppleJack on all my Macs for the extra help it can provide.

For more info, see the AppleJack SourceForge page, this CNET article which explains what each command is doing, or this page of user experiences.

Visualize Your Hard Drive to Free Space

It’s sometimes difficult to find out what’s taking up all your computer hard drive space. That’s why I like these free programs which visually display the contents of your hard drive by file size. These programs make it easy to find and delete large files and directories that you no longer need.

For Windows – Disk Space Fan

Disk Space Fan shows you a beautiful fan of your hard drive space. Here’s a video of how it works. When you install the free version, it allows you to use the Pro version for free for 15 days, then it reverts to the free version automatically. All the basic tools are included in the free version though.

UPDATE: Daniel in the comments alerted me to the fact that Disk Space Fan is a ripoff of the Mac app DaisyDisk available at

For Mac – GrandPerspective

GrandPerspective for Mac OS X is similar to Disk Space Fan but chooses the box metaphor to visually display your files. The first segment of this video explains how it works.

For more ideas on saving hard disk space, look at the Lifehacker article How to Analyze, Clean Out, and Free Space on Your Hard Drive.