Monday, November 20, 2006
This evening, I worked that scroll wheel for a good half hour, and while it showed signs of returning to functionality, it never did regain its out-of-the-box glory. Let it be known, I liked the scroll wheel a lot, and it was the main reason I went back to the Mighty Mouse after vowing to go back to the old Microsoft mouse when MM bailed on me the first time.
But Mighty Mouse, you have tested even my stubborn love past the breaking point. I'm sorry, this fighting just can't go on; it's cutting into my sanity and my productivity. The worst thing is I'm probably partly to blame. My jam-covered fingers in the morning and my lunches eaten in your presence were admittedly provocative, but for crying out loud, you're a mouse, you should be used to taking a beating. I'm going back to my old IntelliMouse (though I can hardly believe myself I'm saying this). No, MM, It's doesn't have your sex appeal, but sometimes, a good relationship is more about stability and reliability than flash and good looks.
Damn you, Mighty Mouse, damn you to hell!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
We already own one FM transmitter, an AirPlay from XtremeMac. It's a decent unit but not spectacular. Its pros are that it's small, tunes to any station, and doesn't need batteries. However sound quality is mediocre and it doesn't work with post-4G iPods. Since my wife's iPod is a 1G nano, we needed to find her another solution.
So I did some research, primarily over at iLounge and quickly found that very few FM transmitters get good grades from their review section. One of the few exceptions was the Kensington Digital FM transmitter, which iLounge gave a grade of A-.
And I'm here to say that though it's expensive, this little unit is simply awesome. Audio quality is just as good as if not better than the radio, it charges your iPod, and it works with all iPods with a dock connector (which basically means anything after the very first generation iPod, with the exception of the iPod Shuffle). Since Apple is not likely to abandon its proprietary dock system anytime soon, it means that I won't have to buy another FM transmitter when I buy another iPod. It plugs into your car's 12-volt accessory outlet, tunes to any station and has three pre-sets.
Yes, it's expensive (US$80), but in this case, you definitely get what you pay for. Highly recommended.
Friday, October 20, 2006
When I bought my iPod--a 4th generation monochrome 40 GB model--about 18 months ago, it was mostly an indulgence, a toy to ease me over the 40th birthday blues (40 years, 40 GB, get it?). Oh, I was able to justify it in part by using it as a backup drive, but to say that it was a completely utilitarian purchase would be disingenuous. Even so, I had little inkling of just how thoroughly this diminutive piece of consumer electronics would rock my world, both literally and figuratively.
At first, merely the idea that I could carry my entire not-inconsiderable CD collection around in my pocket was amazing to me. Somehow, this simple fact makes me feel both powerful and free. In any given situation, I can set the soundtrack of my life to whatever music I fancy. And then there is the whole idea of shuffle. When you set your entire music collection--in my case almost 3800 songs from just about every genre you can think of--on shuffle, that "soundtrack" becomes an incredibly varied and unpredictable string of music. Just imagine walking down the street on a crisp October evening, while your iPod jumps from Gesualdo to the Allan Parson's Project to Alessandro Scarlatti to the Yellowjackets to David Bowie to Mahler to Bach to Franz Ferdinand... and on it goes. At first it's somewhat disconcerting, but once in a while, iPod and shuffle create a serendipitous union of moment and music that could never have happened any other way. Plus, shuffle means random (or so they say; I sometimes wonder), so it burrows into your music collection with ruthless objectivity, helping you to discover albums and artists that you had almost forgotten you had.
Another beautiful thing about having your entire music collection in your pocket is that it's always there. I know that sounds obvious, but if your soundtrack is crying out for a certain piece of music, genre or artist, and you know it's just a few clicks of the scroll wheel away, it's an incredibly liberating feeling. If you're on a train in Norway, as I recently was, and you want to listen to what Grieg had to say about the fjords, you can do that, and it's only a matter of time before it brings tears to your eyes.
Of course, the other great thing about the modern digital media player and the new Internet is podcasting. Podcasts have changed the way I listen to radio. To be more accurate, I don't listen to radio anymore. It's all podcasts now. An FM transmitter for my iPod means I'm not a slave to the radio DJ even in the car. Even before I got the iPod, I listened mostly to talk radio anyway, but with the iPod, talk radio has become a much more diverse ecosystem. I'm a huge fan of public radio, and most public radio networks around the world are making at least some of their programming available as podcasts now. Which means I have access to great programming from the BBC, Australia's ABC, U.S. NPR, and of course Canada's own CBC. And then there are the thousands of private podcasters springing up. Sure, there is a lot of chaff, but there are also some really fantastic programs out there that would never have made it onto the traditional airwaves.
Having all my music and talk radio with me in my pocket also makes doing chores and yard work much less tedious. Heck, I even look forward to mowing the lawn now. Walking to the bus or subway station used to be a boring prospect; now I just have to make sure my iPod is updated with my latest podcasts and I'm all set. There's never any reason to be bored with my iPod in my pocket.
And believe me, my iPod is ALWAYS in my pocket. And not just for all the aforementioned reasons. My iPod also serves as my computer backup. Yes, even with my entire music collection and a serious line up of podcasts, along with my calendars and contacts, there is still enough room to do a substantial backup. I generally keep all my work-critical files, along with any personal documents I wouldn't want to lose, and my Mail.app archive. I also keep a backup of my pictures, and of course, my music is backed up just by being on my iPod. So I can leave home knowing that even if my computers are stolen or, god forbid, the house burns down, my most precious data is safely tucked away in my pocket.
So happy birthday iPod. I'm so glad we met. I can't imagine life without you now.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Some people were predicting Apple would start a movie download service, along with some sort of streaming device, as early as 18 months ago. And let's face it, it's probably going to be another six months before Apple starts selling its "iTV" device, by which time, the company will probably have a few more studios lined up to sell their wares through the newly named iTunes Store.
So, come next March or April, we Mac users will likely have a new operating system in the name of Leopard, a fairly good range of movies in the iTunes Store from which to choose and a way to get those newly purchased flicks onto our HDTVs (we'll overlook for the moment that these movies won't be in HD).
Now I admit I'm not the typical consumer of movies. I rarely go to the movie theatre and rent maybe two or three DVDs a year, mostly because the offerings are decidedly mediocre, and it's a PITA to drive down to Blockbuster (or wherever) to rent a DVD. That said, if I could watch a movie on Saturday night with a click of a mouse, I'd probably be much more inclined to partake of Hollywood's fine products. But a few things will have to change before I jump on this bandwagon (and assuming of course that movies will be available in the Canadian iTS before the turn of the next century).
First and foremost is that I'm not interested in buying movies. I have no desire to own a collection of movies like I own a music collection, and I suspect I'm not the only one. There are those who go out and buy movies at Wal-Mart, but most people rent movies; after all who wants to watch a so-so movie more than once, especially when Hollywood pumps out a seemly endless flow of them? So the lack thus far of a way to rent downloaded movies is a huge drawback for me. I just want to pay a few dollars to watch a movie once, and I might even pay a little extra to NOT have to drive down to Blockbuster to get it. Four or five bucks a pop would be about my threshold. More than that and I'm just not going to bother.
Which brings me to my other main hesitation: price. Even if I were interested in buying a movie, why would I pay $15 for an "almost DVD quality" movie when I can get the real thing at Wal-Mart for the same price and get more features to boot, AND, have the physical DVD (which I cannot have with movies from iTunes)? Ten bucks seems about right to me, so Apple's not that far off the mark, and there are some titles available for that price. I suspect that Steve Jobs agrees with me on this one but had to concede the argument to Disney or risk not launching before Christmas.
I also find the iTV unit a little pricey, but I can see it coming down in price at some point. The fact remains, however, that there are still a number of obstacles to this service becoming really ubiquitous, and I suspect that in my case it will be at least another two years before I'll be downloading any movies from the iTS. But then again, I bought my first iPod 18 months ago, so I'm hardly an early adopter. In 18 months, everyone will be clamouring for an iTV and downloading movies like crazy, and Apple and the movie studios will be making money hand-over-fist, so we'll all be happy as clams. Just you wait, Mr. Cringely. As usual, you're way ahead of yourself.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Technorati Tags: Podcast Review
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
To start things off, I thought I'd write about something dear to my heart: RSS readers. One of my readers suggested I give the open source reader Vienna a try. I usually pride myself on keeping tabs on the Mac open source community, but somehow, this nifty little app slipped under my radar.
I started my RSS journey with Safari and was soon hooked. And while Safari's RSS capabilities are limited, I was quite happy with them--until I gave NetNewsWire a real workout, that is. NNW changed the way I used the Internet; many feel it's the gold standard by which all other RSS apps--Mac or PC--are judged. And with good reason. It's a really excellent, full-featured RSS reader. What makes it so powerful is that along with regular feeds and podcasts, you can also subscribe to tags, scripts, search engines queries and the like.
Now Vienna doesn't have NNW's full feature set, but if, like me, you don't really use most of that fancy stuff, then you might want to consider Vienna. It does pretty much everything that NNW's free cousin, NNW Lite, does, and it does it with style. You can arrange your feeds into groups, you can modify how articles appear and you can create smart groups. However, like NNW Lite, Vienna doesn't do podcasts or syncing, nor does it allow you to subscribe to tags or search engines.
The latest stable release of Vienna is 2.0.4, but this version doesn't allow for manual sorting of feeds; instead, it sorts feeds alphabetically by default. For me, this was a potential a deal breaker; happily, though, the latest preview version, which as of this posting is 2.1, does offer manual sorting, and thus far, it has been quite stable.
The nice thing about Vienna is that because it's open source, it will only get better. Personally, the only main feature it lacks is syncing, and frankly, I can live without it. Give it a try. I think you'll like it too, and you'll be supporting the open source community.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
I went to my first Apple Store opening today, the one opening in Carrefour Laval, just north of Montreal, and, somewhat to my surprise, it was kind of fun. I certainly didn't camp out or anything, and in fact I only arrived at about 8:30--a half hour before the official opening. By that time there were already many hundreds of people in line. I'm glad I went with a couple of buddies or the two-hour wait to get in might have been tedious. As it was, we had a good time chewing over all the rumours about the upcoming September 12 announcement(s).
We got in at about 10:45, picked up our t-shirts (which are very high quality and made in the US "sweatshop free" t-shirts) and bummed around the store for a half-hour. I checked out the new MacBooks, which I had never seen before and I must admit being drawn to them. No wonder Apple can't keep them in the stores.
The staff was very upbeat and friendly, as one would expect, and it was all in all a very satisfying experience. If Apple ever does open up a downtown Montreal store, I'll definitely be there for the opening.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
The number one reason? Speed. Safari is simply the fastest browser for Mac that I've tried. FireFox doesn't even come close. Sure, FF has all those extensions, but I don't use that stuff. And Safari is just prettier than FireFox. Again, the latter has extensions, but for deep-down, natural UI loveliness, Safari is my gal.
OK, I'll stop with the hokey metaphor... One thing that the brief switch did do, however, was to make NetNewsWire a permanent fixture in my computing experience. I was using Safari's RSS reader, but after trying out NNW for a few weeks, I can't go back. With NNW, it's so easy to sift through hundreds of feeds for the few readable nuggets. In fact, NNW is almost a browser itself, and surely browsers of the future will have to include a NNW-like interface.
The new Flock browser, just released in beta, also implements RSS, and while it does a better job than Safari, it has a ways to go before it achieves NNW's usefulness. But Flock has the right idea, I think, which is to start incorporating Web 2.0 features such as Flickr and blogging into the browser. I have yet to try out the blogging feature, but again, it appears to be a step in the right direction. (BTW, if anyone can tell me how to put folders into Flock's bookmarks toolbar, I'd be grateful. There must be a way to do this, but I can't for the life of me figure it out.)
Oddly enough, the reason that motivated my short-lasted defection to FireFox-- Quicksilver's Google Calendar module--turned out to be a bit of a bust as far as my workflow is concerned. I didn't use it once, and now that I'm back to Safari, I think it will be more useful to use QS's iCal module instead, which doesn't work quite as well as the Gcal module, but gets the job done.
Monday, May 29, 2006
Though I don't own a mobile phone, my impression is that most of them have a lot of bells and whistles that most people don't use because they are too complicated. Which is where Apple comes in. But I don't think Steve Jobs and Company will, or should, come out with a simple "iPhone," mostly because the competition has too much of a head start in the field.
But while Apple would normally have trouble getting a toe-hold in the mobile phone business, they have a huge lead in the mp3 player side of things, and I think they could become a major player if the next iPod they release has some sort of mobile functionality too. In other words, this wouldn't be a phone that plays music, it would be an iPod that does mobile. With flash memory getting cheaper and cheaper, I think a 4- or 8-Gb flash-based iPod with telephone (and Bluetooth) functionality would be a big hit. And one of the main draws would be simplicity of design. Much of the work is already done, with contact and calendar info already integrated into the iPod OS. Just add a slip-out numeric keypad, or evolve the click wheel along these lines and you're off to the races. Heck, I would even consider getting one.
Monday, May 08, 2006
It all started with an innocuous Quicksilver notification for a new gCal plug-in. I promptly installed it and tested it out. It worked like a charm. Adding an event to gCal via Quicksilver is, like most QS actions, now a matter of a few keystrokes. Great. One problem. I don't really use gCal, mostly because it doesn't play nice with Safari.
So I fired up FireFox and played around a little with gCal (I am of course referring to Google Calendar) and found I quite like it. It's not everything I want in a Calendar, but it's at least as good as iCal.
So I made a decision then and there to try using FireFox as my default browser for a while. There are pros and cons here: I won't need to have two browsers open (previously I had been using FF for a couple of specific sites that don't work well in Safari). On the other hand, I'll need to have a separate RSS feeder open alongside FF, so any CPU usage I'm saving by shutting down Safari I lose by having to run NetNewsWire.
Now all I need is some party invitations that I can add to gCal so I can justify such a grand dérangement.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
As I have mentioned before the CBC's podcast lineup has been woefully inadequate for some time. I say this only slightly tongue-in-cheek, given that podcasting has only really been around for, a couple of years. Given the CBC's chronic underfunding and the fact that most of their resources are going into producing the Stanley Cup Playoff broadcasts these days, I suppose they can be forgiven for not setting the trend. But compared to other public broadcasters, they are definitely dragging their heels.
Well, that has now changed, at least somewhat, with the announcement yesterday that Canada's public broadcaster has expanded its offering to 22 podcasts. They have a series of seven daily podcasts, with a different one updated every day of the week; these include the excellent program Ideas, as well as other more newsy programs such as Dispaches, The Current and As It Happens.
A second series, called "Features" has five podcasts, most of which compile segments of CBC programs around a common theme. For example, the Words at Large podcast features snippets of literary interviews culled from a variety of programs. (Incidentally, I was not that impressed with this particular podcast. The host talked too much, and the interviews were truncated to the extreme. It was more frustrating than anything else. I'll be dropping the producer an e-mail for sure).
A third series has roundups of local news and stories from various regions of Canada.
Overall, I'd say it's a promising start. I'm particularly thrilled that I can now listen to Ideas at my leisure; this podcast will surely be on my weekly must-listen list. Now, if they would only get Writers & Co. for download, I'd be completely satisfied.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Much ink has been spilled over the last 24 hours about the implications of Boot Camp, but so far, I haven't read a single article that really hits the mark as far as I'm concerned. Read on to find out the real reason Boot Camp is good for Apple, and what I think it will mean over the short and medium terms.
First, when Steve Jobs announced the switch to Intel chips--the first salvo of what is turning out to be a barrage--he mentioned that Apple had been building Intel versions of OS X since the very beginning. Many an eyebrow was raised at this, though it was probably the reason behind the long-standing and persistant rumours of the Intel switch. Jobs' purported explanation for the move to Intel was that the Power PC chip was no longer meeting the company's expectations and that Intel's chips provided a better roadmap toward the future. And while there is undoubtedly some truth to this, the real reason for OS X's "secret double life" is now beginning to emerge with the release of Boot Camp and the announcement that this functionality will be integrated into the next update of OS X, Leopard: an all-out, no-holds-barred assault on Windows. Such an offensive is not without risks, but Apple has always been a company that takes risks, especially with SJ at the helm, so it's not all that surprising.
As many others have said before, there is now no reason for the Mac-curious Windows user not to buy a Mac. The ability to boot Windows on the new Macs (and by some accounts at least, Windows runs blazingly fast on a Mac) means switchers can benefit from Apple's solid hardware and stylish good looks and not have to give up all their Windows "legacy" software. And of course there's the added benefit of being able to use OS X when they get tired of Windows' crashing or filling up with malware.
And this is undoubtedly what Apple is counting on: an initial boost to hardware sales as switchers buy Macs, followed by a gradual increase in the adoption of OS X.
So far, this plan sounds pretty solid and may be successful. However some have said that this spells the end of software development for OS X, since developers such as Adobe will simply throw their hands up and force users to use the Windows version of, say, PhotoShop, even on the Mac, since they don't want to spend the time and money developing an OS X-native version. But I don't buy this argument, at least not yet. First of all, in the short term, there are still a lot of power users on PPC Macs that will demand OS X native software, and it will be many years before the majority of Mac users have upgraded to Intel machines (heck, nearly 6 years into OS X, there are still a lot of people who swear by OS 9). This is even more the case now than it was during the last Apple transition because computers have much longer useful lives today than they did five years ago.
Of course, as is always the case with announcements like this, there were those who said Apple hadn't gone far enough. As soon as Bootcamp was announced, Apple forums and blogs began to fill up with comments like "this is great, but if I have to re-boot into Windows to use a Windows app, this is useless to me." And therein lies the crux of this whole issue, as I see it. Boot Camp is not for today's Mac users. It's for Windows users. It is a tool to entice switchers over to the Mac and eventually to OS X. I'm going to make a bold prediction here: Leopard will not have virtualization built in because Windows virtualization, much more than the ability to boot into Windows on a separate partition, WOULD threaten OS X software development. I don't think it's the goal of Steve Jobs and company to blur the lines between Windows and OS X. Apple wants Windows users to adopt Macs, and that includes OS X. Allowing Leopard to virtually run Windows would be a mistake, at least in the short term. If you'll indulge me in stretching a metaphor, letting Windows users have their Windows cake and eat their OS X cake in separate rooms is a brilliant move. But allowing them to have both cakes and eat them too would be disastrous. Of course, third parties will release virtualization software (in fact, it has already started), and there's no reason to think that Microsoft itself won't eventually release a version of Virtual PC that runs at native or near-native speeds. But I doubt Apple wants to make it too easy.
Only if and when OS X achieves a significantly higher portion of the OS market share will it be something Apple might consider. But we're still many years away from that.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
I think we will look back in history and see this day, April 5, 2006, as the beginning of a new era for Apple Computers. As they say in French, c'est de bonne guerre (all's fair in love and war).
Monday, April 03, 2006
In the short history of podcasting, public broadcasters have been among the leaders in the field. While Canada's CBC only has a few podcasts currently available (though they are working on more, apparently), NPR in the US, along with the BBC and Australia's ABC, offer quite a number of podcasts. In fact, ABC offers over 80 podcasts for the avid listener to choose from. And while this is nowhere near NPR's 293, it is a mine that I have yet to properly explore. However, one show in particular has caught my ear: ABC Radio National's The Science Show.
Topic: Science (general)
Length: approx. 45 minutes
The Science Show is a weekly science program broadcast by the ABC. Like most broadcast radio podcasts, the audio quality is generally quite high, as is the overall production value, so the podcast is easy on the ears. The program differs from many other science podcasts, such as the one offered by the journal Nature, in that it's not just a rundown of the week's science stories. The show covers stories that often don't make the science headlines and offers in-depth analysis of stories you probably wouldn't otherwise be aware of. For instance, the most recent program, for April 1, had a fascinating 20-minute segment on fish oil and brain development. But the show also has a quirky side, as evidenced by last week's mock-serious segment on the study of the disappearing teaspoons (no, really, it was quite funny). Occasionally, the program invites contributors to present a paper, or that's how it seems, which is a somewhat unusual format.
Not surprisingly, The Science Show has a perspective that seems more focused on Asia-Pacific stories rather than on North American or European science, though that may just be my impression since I've only been listening for a little over a month. But this is a good thing, to my mind; the Internet and podcasting are all about making the world a little smaller and seeing past our own back yards.
Host Robyn Williams is just funny enough (though he's no Robin Williams) to give the program some real personality without going over the top. I've come to enjoy it just as much as the CBC's Quirks & Quarks, another excellent Science podcast I may review down the road.
Podcritical rating: 5 stars.
If you know of a podcast you think I should review, drop me a line or leave a comment.
Ecto update: Halleluia. The Atom API bug appears to be fixed. Ecto, all is forgiven. Isn't love fickle?
Anyway, over at MacZOT, a website that offers daily discounts on Mac shareware, they're hosting the first "BlogZOT." They have teamed up with the developers of AppZapper with the goal of getting at least 259 people to blog about the site. AppZapper will lower the price of their product by 5¢ for every blogpost registered, until it becomes free (for today only, presumably). Since this is an app that looks like it could be somewhat useful to me, I thought I'd get in on the action (hopefully).
In Ecto news, the Blogger Atom API bug is still alive and well as of this posting.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
But today is April 2, and I also have something serious to blog about. My love affair with Ecto may be waning. There seems to be a bug that prevents Ecto from properly retrieving account info from Blogger's Atom API (though to be fair, the bug seems to be on Blogger's end, not Ecto's). Read the Kula support thread and the Google developer forum thread for more info about the bug. Until now, this desktop blogging app has worked really well for me, so I sure hope the bug gets fixed soon.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
On the other hand, Wordpress does support categories and trackbacks, which is nice. You can also create separate pages to organize the information on your blog a little more coherently. Thus, on the Blogger version of STA, I have things like my profile, computer gear and blogroll listed in the sidebar, while on the Wordpress version, this is all accessible via what look like tabs at the top of the blog. This appeals to my neat and tidy side. I could do something similar with Blogger, but I'd have to create separate blogs for my account and then link to them via the sidebar... I might get around to it one day too. (yeah right)
But perhaps the best, and most addictive feature of Wordpress that Blogger lacks is integrated stats. On a good day, it's gratifying (a little too gratifying in fact) to see how many people read your blog. On a bad day, it's depressing, but then you remember that you're blogging because you like to write, not because you care how many people read your words... right?
So for now, I'll keep up the mirror. Frankly, the individual blogging interfaces have become much less important since I've been using Ecto. I'm pretty sure I'll pony up the registration fee when my trial runs out in a few days.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
In fact, I was speaking to my dad the other day about podcasting (in truth, we were text chatting), and he wasn't quite sure what it was, even after I explained it to him. I think the concept of on-demand media will always seem a little foreign to people who grew up huddling around a radio that only picked up one station to get their news.
In any case, I was googling for podcast reviews and found a few sites (dailypodcastreview.com, podcastreviews.net), and they are alright, but it's not like the Internet is brimming with them, so I thought I would start reviewing the odd podcast myself. Nothing pretentious or systematic, just a periodic description and overall rating of a podcast I listen to.
I'll start with Jay Ingram's Theatre of the Mind. Get the podcast feed here. Get the iTunes Music Store URL here.
Length: approximately 15 minutes, though the early shows were much shorter.
Subject: Consciousness and the brain
Sponsored by HarperCollins, the podcast is, it would seem, primarily a way to promote Jay Ingram's new book of the same title. But if so, it's a pretty soft sell. The show is co-hosted by David Newland, a Toronto-area singer-songwriter. The two make a good team and have a nice rapport. The podcast is non-technical yet interesting to those with a knowledge of science. Ingram is articulate and funny, yet obviously very serious about the subject. The show is well-produced and the sound is excellent. And yet in my opinion, part of what makes the podcast work is that it isn't over-produced. Ingram and Newman seem to be two people having a regular conversation over coffee. And you can tell some of the questions Newman asks are not rehearsed, because Ingram frequently just shrugs and says, "I don't know the answer to that," which is actually quite refreshing.
This is not one of my absolute must listens ever week, but it is an enjoyable podcast that is worth listening too, and it's not so long that it gets boring. I rate it a solid 4 stars out of 5.
If you have a favourite podcast you think I should listen to and/or review, please let me know either by leaving a comment or e-mailing me.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
The contest stipulates that I write an entry on my blog about my five favourite posts on FMW (in other words, the five freeware apps for Mac that I like the most). Let me tell you, it was not an easy job to whittle it down to five. Indeed, I could have easily posted 10 freeware apps that I use on a daily or weekly basis. But if whittle I must, then here are my five favourites:
- Without a doubt, Quicksilver is the single most useful piece of software on my Mac (not counting the OS, of course). The beautiful thing about QS is that, like a great piece of literature, the more you delve into it, the more astounded you become. In fact, I think I might like QuickSilver more than Mac OS X. It's that good.
- Adium. A wonderful multi-protocol chat client. It's easy to set up, wonderfully customizable and supports pretty much every protocol out there, including jabber. File transfers can be a problem, and it doesn't yet support audio or video, but it's a lean, mean chatting machine, and it's my main chat client.
- Mail.appetizer. This little mail plug-in does wonders for my productivity. When mail arrives, a preview window pops up that gives you various options of replying, dismissing, deleting and so forth. The great thing is that you can specify which mailboxes you want notification for, which I'm sure Merlin Mann, of 43 Folders fame, would love. In conjunction with Mail.app rules, I have set it up so that only mail from my clients interrupts my work.
- FlickrExport. Now that I own a digital camera, I frequently post photos to my Flickr site. And the easiest way by far is using this iPhoto plugin. It just works. Is there anything else to say?
- And last, but not least, iBackup. This is an easy-to-use backup app. I use it every week.
- Honourable mention: As I said, I could have mentioned 10 apps, but at least one other deserves mention. Textpander is a great little app that allows you to program keyboard shortcuts for frequently used sequences of letters or words. I find it especially useful for HTML tags and e-mail.
There you have it. I'm sure others will have their own favourites, but these are mine, at least until FreeMacWare tells me about some other indispensable free Mac app. Ahh... the joys of being a Mac user.
Friday, March 10, 2006
When Apple came out with it's "two button" mouse, the Mighty Mouse, I ordered one the very same day. Generally, I was pleased with it, though I thought it was overpriced. But we Mac addicts take such things in stride, and I have been happy to use it. I especially like the scroll ball, and it's amazing how fast one can come to rely on horizontal scrolling.
The mouse hasn't been problem free, however. That same scroll ball I love sticks on occasion. I have usually been able to get it to work again by moving it in a circular motion. But the last time it happened, five minutes of circular scrolling didn't help. So I unplugged it, wrapped it in its little cord and it's sitting beside my computer waiting to be taken to the shop, since it's still under warranty.
The thing is, in what I thought was a stop-gap measure, I plugged my old Microsoft mouse back in and... well, I almost hate to admit it, but it felt like and old friend. It's slightly bigger than the Mighty Mouse, but fits my hand better. The two separate buttons work better than Apple's cute touch-sensitive "buttons." The only thing I don't have is horizontal scrolling, but the vertical scroll wheel has a nice solid feel to it.
So once the Mighty Mouse comes back from the shop, I think it will get thrown on the pile of computer junk I have sitting beside my desk. In retrospect, I think Apple got just a little to cute with this mouse. This is one piece of Apple gear I probably should not have purchased.
[posted using Ecto to both Singing the Apple--Blogger and Singing the Apple--Wordpress]
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
So I'm writing this post using Ecto, a desktop blogging tool. We'll see how it goes after I hit publish, but so far, I'm VERY impressed with the interface and options, which include tags for blogger (we'll see how those work out too). You can download a 21-day trial, but the program itself costs US$17.95, or C$21.81. I've been waiting for Bleezer to work the bugs out, but after seeing this, I think I might be in love. Of course, love is fickle, and my love hinges on how well this post works out. If there are no edits to this post, it means "head over heels."
The other tidbit I wanted to mention was the very cool QuickSilver comma trick recently posted over at TAUW. I've been wondering if QS could do this. Now I know. The TUAW post actually links to a 43 Folders tutorial (to give credit where credit is due) and it's well worth a look if you're a QS user. The usefulness of this application never ceases to amaze.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
One of the first things I notice with WP is that I can't fiddle with the template (or I can't figure out how to fiddle with it right now), which is no fun. On the other hand, Blogger doesn't offer me categories (something that continues to baffle me). I'll be sure to note which platform I'm using for each post until (and if) I make a definitive choice. Obviously, I've created this one in Wordpress, and the URL of the new blog is--tada! http://singingtheapple.wordpress.com.
In other news, I just posted an article in my newsvine column entitled Advertising I can stomach, about a subtle form of promotion I recently came across. Check it out.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
I love public broadcasting, and Canada's CBC is a pretty fine broadcaster. But on the podcast front, it's sorely lagging behind its British and Australian cousins. Granted, they say they are about to expand their podcast line-up. I, for one, can't wait to get programs like Ideas and Writers & Company on podcast.
On a side note, I learned about the ABC podcasts via Newsvine, which went public yesterday. This means you can now read my Newsvine column at http://petergarner.newsvine.com. Not that there's anything so very newsworthy there that I wouldn't also post in my blog...
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Oh Apple, where did it all go wrong? Where did all your design engineers go? Where did your aesthetics go? And your plain good sense?
In case you're wondering, Apple today introduced a "fun" new product: the iPod
They also introuced this leather case for their new iPods. In and of themselves, they're not bad, though you can't access the controls or view the screen unless you take the iPod out of the case (I wonder how long it will be before someone sues Apple because they dropped their iPod while removing it from one of these cases). No, the bad thing is the price: US$99. Give me a break. I bought my leather case for about $25, and I can plug it in, access the controls and view the screen without removing the iPod. Come on Apple. You can and must do better than this.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Of course, now the tip in my previous post is worthless, but what the heck...
On a side note, I'm posting this using Bleezer. Experimenting with the program, I have found that it works fine if you're posting text only, but as soon as I try to post any HTML, it doesn't get posted. I still have high hopes that the next build will work better because I really like creating my posts outside the Blogger text edit window.
Edit: Another Bleezer note. I tried to use the tags field in Bleezer and got a post error. After removing the tags, it posted fine. More growing pains, I guess.
Tags: iTunes iPod science+podcast CBC Quirks&Quarks Bleezer
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Not that I'm not so naive as to think that the hosts are entirely to blame. The show's producers and/or writers also have a lot to do with this dubious popular science tradition. The question is: "Why?" My personal theory is that science has been elitist for so long that those in the media who bring science to the masses feel it incumbent on themselves to try and make the uninitiated feel more comfortable. And punning, being such a base form of humour (though admittedly some view it as the highest of art forms), is apparently the magic ingredient. God forbid that science ever stand on its own as entertainment.
Anyway, now that I've got that off my chest, let me also offer up a little tip for Q&Q listeners who listen to the podcast on their iPods. For whatever reason, Q&Q is downloaded into iTunes as separate mp3 files rather than one long show. Apparently for those people who use non-iPod players (all 7 of them), these files will play sequentially without any problems, but the iPod treats them as separate podcasts, meaning you get kicked all the way back to the main menu after each segment--a PITA to be sure. Here's my trick to solve this little problem:
- You'll need QuickTime Pro, which will cost you some bucks, unfortunately (Bad bad Apple).
- Go to Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes and download his Join Together v3.2.1 script.
- Download podcast Chapter Tool (direct download link from Apple site).
- Install the Join Together script and Chapter Tool as per their respective instructions.
- Open iTunes, go to your iTunes library and select the Quirks & Quarks (or any other podcast) segments you wish to join together (you can't do this from within the podcast list).
- Choose "Join Together and Chapterize" from the iTunes scripts menu, follow the instructions and let the script do its magic.
Voila! You should now have a single file in your iTunes library that contains all the segments of the Q&Q podcast. The one hitch is that the file won't appear in your podcast directory, but you can easily create a smart playlist called, say, Q&Q, then set the playlist rules to include files for which the artist is Quirks & Quarks and for which the genre is not "podcast."
I contacted the show's producers about this little bug, and they blame it on Apple breaking the podcast standard (whatever that is). Jim Lebans, of Q & Q wrote, "we can either satisfy the Apple owners, or everyone else, but not both without using two feeds, [...] which is a lot more work for us." OK, so I can sort of understand this, but I must say it irks me a little. Apple aficionados are constantly getting the old "we'd love to develop [insert application or service here] for Mac but there are simply not enough users out there to make it worth our while. But with the iPod, Apple users are for once vastly in the majority and should therefore (and often do) logically enjoy the benefits of content producers tailoring their output to iPod users. In this case, however, what would appear to be an anti-Apple bias has the tail wagging the dog.
Tags: iTunes+tip iPod science+podcast CBC Quirks&Quarks
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
In other news, I finally snagged an invite to the private beta of Newsvine (though there's not much point clicking on the link unless you have been invited). Pretty cool so far. I also received an invite to CoComments, but I haven't got it to work yet, for some reason. It's supposed to work with Blogger, but I haven't had any luck except in posting the little tracker code to my own blog. I wonder if a distinction is being made between Blogger blogs and Blogspot blogs. Anyway, I don't have time to futz with it right now.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Back in the early days--and by that I mean early days of today's ubiquity, i.e., mid-90s--the Internet was a really neat place. Yes, we were stuck with dialup speeds for the most part, and there wasn't that much content, but everything was free, and there was a sense of community, or so it seemed to me. Then around the end of the decade and in the early part of the new millennium, things started getting silly. Everyone was out to make a fortune; every second site was subscription based. Then the dotcom bubble burst, and we all know what happened.
But today, the Internet seems to be regaining some of the old sense of community. AND bandwidth we didn't dare to dream about 10 years ago is now as cheap as water in Canada (well, maybe not quite that cheap, but you get my picture). Part of what makes the "new" Internet so appealing and interesting is the tonne of resources and applications that are available to "Internautes" (as they say in French) today. So I thought I'd make a list, in no particular order, of what I feel make the Internet a fun place to hang.
- Podcasts and podcasting (even if I dont have one myself)
- Blogs and Blogging
- Open source software and freeware in all its guts and glory (and yes, I'm posting this using Bleezer)
- del.icio.us and Digg
- RSS/Atom/XML and on-line news in general (if anyone has a spare subscription to newsvine, I'd be eternally grateful)
- iTunes and the iTunes Music Store
- IM, Skype, and video chatting
- Wifi (especially free wifi)
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
No worries, Larry. I'm going to keep using Bleezer for a while yet. It has a lot of potential. You'll make a million... oh, wait...
A more serious issue was that Bleezer froze after I sent the post. The post showed up on my blog fine, but I had to force quit the app. Maybe something to do with the image not being the right size? Well see how this one goes.
I should add that I learned of Bleezer through D'arcy Norman Dot Net. One of D'arcy's complaints was that the preview editor doesn't show line and paragraph breaks. I haven't used any HTML to indicate paragraph or line breaks in this post, so we'll see how they show up on the web site.
Edit: This one posted fine and Bleezer didn't hang. However, I discovered a new problem. Bleezer is supposed to be able to fetch the other posts from the blog and allow you to edit. However, when I tried to make this update from within Bleezer, I got an error (something to do with Atom). Ahh... growing pains
Right now, it's a little short on how-to/help documentation, but the developer has only been at it for two months and seems pretty eager to improve Bleezer. Hats off to him, anyway. This is one of the things I love about the "new" Internet.
Now, as a test of how it works posting images, I'm posting a picture of my Mac setup. I tried this before but my post just showed a broken image link. Maybe I didn't give it enough time to upload the image. This time, I'm resizing it so it's smaller.
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The only thing I don't like about it is that the fan runs continuously while the drive is operating, and I'm not convinced that's necessary. It also makes more noise accessing the disc than my mini, but that's to be expected, I suppose, with a 3.5" drive.
On the plus side, I have the mini booting off the external drive, and its faster 7200 rpm speed does seem to give my poor over-taxed computer a bit of a boost. It's not a huge improvement, but it's noticable, especially when launching applications and accessing preference panes.
I also love the extra USB and Firewire ports the miniStack enclosure has; and the drive powers up and down along with the mini.
Thus far I have partitioned the 300-gig drive into three sections: a 35-gig scratch disc for Photoshop Elements (not sure if this will improve things--any suggestions would be welcome), a 150-gig main boot partition, and a 95-gig backup partition. I love all the breathing room, and I feel so much more safe and secure knowing that I have a daily backup of all my critical files and a more extensive weekly backup. Plus I'll be cloning my boot drive (hopefully once a week too) to the mini's 80-gig drive.
Now I can free up a bunch of space on my iPod to install a boot copy of OS X for emergencies. Am I becoming a backup fanatic? Perhaps, but I've been burned once...
Friday, January 27, 2006
Maybe Microsoft has been looking for that iPod killer in the wrong place? Maybe they need to think outside the (ice)box instead.
Am I right in thinking bad puns are a step in the right direction from tasteless metaphors?
The guy had 80 percent of his wealth tied-up in Pixar. That kind of holding is very difficult to sell on the open market. A $4 billion sell order? I don't think so. Remember this is someone who less than two years ago had a form of pancreatic cancer that has only a 50 percent five-year survival rate. I'm not saying Jobs is going to die, but I AM saying that he is in a position where he has to think about these things and his financial position at Pixar was untenable for his family, and left him too exposed if Cars turns out to be a lemon.
So according to Cringely, the Pixar deal was all about Steve's retirement and/or planning for his family's future. OK, I'll buy that as much as any take.
But that also re-raises the awful spectre of Steve's close brush with death in 2004. By all accounts, his cancer was nipped in the bud, but let me re-ask the question that has been raised many times since then: What happens if SJ leaves Apple, or, worse, kicks it? If you're like me, you can't imagine Apple today without Steve Jobs at the helm. How many companies that you can you think of have made the kind of dramatic turnaround over 5 or 6 years that Apple has? It may be just an illusion, but is sure seems like SJ is primarily responsible for that turnaround. Some may say he's an evil genius creating white computers to cover up a deal with the devil, but I'm a believer, and I'm not ready to see my saviour sacrifice himself so the computing world may have its sins forgiven.
Ugh! did I really just write such a tasteless metaphor? I think I need to focus more of my energies on writing poetry again; I'm losing my touch.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I've already come out of the closet and said that I like to use Safari as my RSS reader. Whether it's because that's what I'm used to or becasue I like having my RSS feeds in a browser so I don't have to tax the already limited resources of my mini by having another app open all the time, I'm not sure, but unless it gets really bad, I'm sticking with Safari.
That said, I think Safari's RSS support could use some improving, so here's a short wishlist:
1) Make it less flakey. I hate it when, for no apparent reason, the articles for a subscription re-load, even though I've already read them. I get all excited when I see I have 11 unread articles, only to deflate when I see it's just a bunch of old "I, Cringely" posts that Safari has apparently decided I need to read again.
2) Make updating more flexible. As it stands, I can set Safari to check my feeds every 30 minutes. For an addict like me, that's not enough. I want it to check every 5 minutes, because hey, we all know that on the Internet, 30-minute-old news is, well, old news. And I want a button that lets me force check too.
There may be other things (feel free to chime in), but these are the biggies for me.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Could it be possible that I was contacted because I have a blog and posted something about the bug? Nah... That would be a cross between a conspiracy theory and delusions of grandeur. Let's simply chalk it up to that rarest of commodities these days: good tech support.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
If you haven't listened to the TWiT podcast this week, you really should. I usually find it entertaining (and somewhat informative), but this week the show, taped live at MacWorld Expo, is hillarious. John C. Dvorak is especially goofy and funny. Highly recommended. Too bad they aren't this funny every week.
It would appear that the latest Tiger update (10.4.4) has wreaked havok with my RSS feeds (something to do with synching Safari bookmarks with my .Mac account), so I downloaded the trial version of NetNewsWire to ensure I get my RSS fix. And while everyone swears by it, and I can't really say anything negative about it (except that it's one more app that I have to have open), I really prefer getting my RSS fix from Safari. So until Apple fixes the .Mac bug, I have disabled bookmark syching. And yes, I realize that I'm probably just about the only person in the world who likes Safari's RSS support. But there you have it. [Cue David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel"]
While MicroSoft announced a 5-year committment to Office for the Mac last week, they also announced they were discontinuing support for Windows Media Player for Mac. Instead, a new version of Flip4Mac (2.0) is being offered for free. So, intrepid soul that I am, I installed it right away. Bad move! Not only did they have to release 2.01 within nanoseconds of the original release, I have found--after an evening and morning of fiddling--that 2.01 prevents me from importing .AVI files into iMovie. So long Flip4Mac. See ya 'round.
Much hay was made of Steve Jobs' slip when he said the new iPhoto "scrolls like butter." I think a new idiom has entered the English language. Henceforth, the savvy will refer to the smooth gliding of a page as "scrolling like butter"--indeed, I think the quotation marks will be gone within a month.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Anyway, the new Intel Macs look nice, but the iMac's the same machine as it was before, just faster (so they say) and from what I've been reading, the (ahem) MacBook Pro may not be ready for the show just yet.
You know you've witnessed a mediocre keynote when the most exciting thing announced was an update to iLife. Personally, I'm quite interested in the new iPhoto and iMovie programs, and am thrilled that the new iDVD supports third party burners (since I don't have a superdrive). I'm sure my parents would love the "photocasting" feature of the new iPhoto, and I'm very interested in the card and calendar features too. They look pretty slick. I doubt I'd use iWeb though. I don't have a website, but if I did, I'm sure I'd rather use something like Rapidweaver. I'll wait for some more in-depth reviews before deciding whether to fork over the $89.
But now everyone's asking what they had to take out of Steve's keynote and when whatever it was will be announced. Ahh... let the rumour mill begin churning yet again (as if it ever stopped). One nice thing is that they didn't announce a new iBook, which means that I made the right decision in getting my mother to buy hers after Christmas.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I'm still learning to use it, and that will take some time. It's been many years since I took an artistic approach to photography. As with most of these smaller digicams, they don't do all that well in low light, so one of my first accessory purchases will be a light tripod. If my reader(s) have a recommendation or warning about tripods (or some other must-have accessory), I'd be very happy to hear it.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Especially when you have to deal with Telus. Ugh! I won't go into the gory details in an attempt to avoid driving my readers away even more than usual, but sufice it to say that it took three long days to get her DSL hooked up. Once that was done, setting up the iBook was (as I expected) a piece of cake.
I set her up with an AIM screen name and now we're video chatting every day (and often several times a day). I'm sure the novelty of it will wear off eventually, but right now, it's kind of neat to see her discovering the possibilities of the Internet.
My sister recently bought an HP laptop for the family and I had the dubious pleasure of playing with Windows XP for the first time. I guess I'm jaded by the simplicity of OS X because I found XP to be unbelievably and needlessly complicated, especially when you have to deal with things like a Spyware filter and Norton AV. Too bad, because other than that, it seems like quite a nice machine. I think my nephews are a little jealous of Grandma's iBook though.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
The mod has performed really well. It clips and unclips really easily and yet is very secure--as secure as the D-ring and leather strap, at any rate. It also hangs down a little lower than the belt, which means it's not in the way of seatbelts or airline seat armrests and such.
I give it the full five stars, and not just because it's my wife's idea.