Blog Move

Posted December 30, 2008 by curtjester
Categories: Other

Discontinuing this blog and moving to a new blog called Techtemptions.  This is a more general tech blog, but will have a Mac focus.  I wanted to have the full power of WordPress and not be limited by WordPress.com and so installed WordPress on my server.

I haven’t updated this blog all that much anyway, but am more likely to do so with a less tightly focused tech blog.

Kissphrase

Posted March 24, 2008 by curtjester
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

There are a number of text expanding utilities available in OSX such as TextExpander that let you define keywords that are automatically expanded after you type them so that repetitive phrases can be rapidly entered.  While TextExpander has lots of options it costs $29.95.

I really don’t like to pay that much for a utility and so was happy to come across a utility that does text expansion and is free.  Kissphrase is a preference pane and as the name implies it really does “Keep it simple stupid.” No fancy features you just enter your keywords and their matching phrases and when you enter the keyword it automatically expands after you also enter a space, tab, return, etc.

One caveat is that it does not seem to work if the very first thing you enter at the beginning of a line or text box is a keyword.  But as long as you have any characters (including a space) preceding the keyword the phrase expands just fine.

This is great for those often used phrases and for snippets of text such as URLs or HTML tags.

Bookpedia

Posted March 19, 2008 by curtjester
Categories: Uncategorized

As someone who loves to read I have long been looking for a decent book catalog program that can keep track of the information I want to keep track of.  I have downloaded dozens of programs and they have all fallen short in my criteria.  There are also several web sites that do are good for cataloging of books, but they two are not as flexible as I want.

  • For one I wanted a program where could easily catalog hardcover/softcover books, books from Project Gutenberg that I have listened to by converting them to speech, Audio books from Librivox, and novels that are podcasted.
  • A wish list function where I could track books I would like to read and be able to able to export a list of them.
  • Flexible enough that I could track information such  as what books I have reviewed.
  • Record the date I finished a book.
  • Keep series information such as for example the order of a book in a trilogy.

I had even at one point wrote a program in C#  that handled most of the functions I wanted and maintained them in a database.  But to really develop it to the point I wanted would take a considerable amount of time.

Today though I found the program that performs all the criteria I wished for.  Bookpedia by Bruji is a Mac OSX program that is quite beautiful in its functionality.

The interface is very similar to iTunes and is fairly intuitive. It is quite easy to add books and you can do it is several ways.  You can type in a title and then have it search locations such as Amazon to get all of the metadata and cover art for the book.  You of course can enter a book in manually if it is nowhere to be found  A real cool feature is that I could use the built in iSight camera in my iMac to read the barcode from a book.  Once it successfully reads the bar code it looks up the book and enters all of the information.  Since I already had a database of books I have read over the last couple of years it was important that I could import that data.  Bookpedia will read the export format of several popular programs and has a variety of import templates.  I was able to convert my database to CSV and then have it import all of my old records.

The Collections pane contains your main library, but you can also add special collections, smart lists, and a borrowed and wish list collection.  The smart list lets you define data critera from any field with a number of options and is very flexible  I was able to quickly put together a collection of all the books I read last year and this year and was able to find out that I read 160 books last year.  When you import a collection it creates a new collection so you can massage your data if necessary before adding it to your main library.  You can also export your data in a number of ways to text, html, ftp, and to an iPod.  The iPod export functionality works quite well. In the program I wrote I would export a report of wish list items and then manually copy it to my iPod.  This way when I was at a bookstore or used bookstore it was quite convenient to refer to the iPod notes to lookup books I wanted.

The metadata for each book entry is extensive and also allows for you to define custom fields for other information you might want to track.  There is also a tab for selling information  and another that allows you to store links for the specific book or to contain other images.  The searching feature works well and includes spotlight information. This works quite well so I can type a name in Spotlight and then select it and have it open the program and display the entry for that book.  There is also a full screen mode where you can navigate the covers and select them for more information along with another screen that shows a bunch of statistics along with charts.

This is just a very impressive program and at a price of only $18 is quite a deal.  As someone who writes software for a living I was quite happy with the flexibility of this program and how you are able to setup the views just as you want.  With most programs there is pretty much always a feature missing that the only thing in Bookpedia that I would want is the ability to import a Amazon wish list.  This is just a great Mac program.

I have only been using a Mac since October, but when my Windows machine died last week it didn’t upset me too much even thought the machine was only about 15 months old.  I now do everything on my iMac including ironically Windows software development with Visual Studio 2008 via VMWare Fusion which offers great virtualization and I can run XP and Vista at pretty much native speeds on my iMac.

 

File Management

Posted December 13, 2007 by curtjester
Categories: Hardware and Software

Part of the transition to OSX is of course leaning to use Finder since file management is always such an important part of life in a operating system.  Finder in Leopard is definitely improved, but since I often  move files around from one folder to another I wasn’t finding the experience to my liking.  In Windows though I almost never use Explorer either.  I guess I just don’t like single pane file managers.  In the days of DOS I use to love Norton Commander which was a dual pane file manager and Windows 3.1 and before also use to have a dual pane file manager.  When Windows 95 came out I started looking for a Norton Commander clone to suit my needs and for over a decade I have been using a program called Servant Salamander.  Silly name, but very powerful and has a ton a features I use often.

I think one of the basics a file manager should have is the ability to bookmark folders and then easily access them.  This way you can easily move to your most used folders rapidly.   Servant Salamander allowed you to use keyboard shortcuts to these folders and I found this indefensible.  Unfortunately the file management program that come with OSs just don’t give you this capability and have very little flexibility as far as customization.

So I started looking for a file manager for OSX that had the flexibility and the power I wanted.   I looked at a couple of dual pane file managers for OSX, but didn’t find any too my liking.  Forklift is pretty good and had some of the features I wanted, just not enough of them. There is a freeware dual-pane file manager for OSX and other OS’s called muCommander that gives some basic features, but it doesn’t give you  a solid OSX interface and has limited features.

Looking around I started seeing Pathfinder recommended by many users.  When I looked at the screenshots I wasn’t much impressed with it looking like a standard file manager.   But I ended up downloading it to check out the trail.  It has a lot of features and is highly customizable and has a real enjoyable interface.  It was the drop stack though that really sold me on it.  The drop stack is an area that allows you to drag one or more files into it from multiple folders if you want.  You can then easily change to another folder and drag the files from the drop stack into it.  This gave me a much better experience in moving around files like I was use to in a Norton Command clone.  I also like that it has multiple ways that you can access frequently used directories.  There is a shelf where you can just drag favorite folders to, a tab bar where they can be placed, and even a Folder History panel that you can use that shows you a list of the last folders you have accessed.

So I ended up buying Pathfinder when my trial expired and wouldn’t you know it just a couple of days later it shows up as 20% off at MacSanta.  Oh well.

Muliple Monitors Redux

Posted December 2, 2007 by curtjester
Categories: OSX

There are so many things that I have learned to love about OSX and have had a very pleasurable experience doing so.  Though one thing drives me crazy.  While OSX has native support of Multiple Monitors and has some features that Windows doesn’t have in this regard – there are some abilities that are totally lacking.

One thing is that many dialog boxes don’t come up in the screen you are working on.  They normally come up in the monitor designated as your primary screen.  I have found that  I will click on something and wait for a dialog box, not realizing that it has come up in the other screen.  In Windows almost always dialog boxes will come up in the same screen as the application you are current using.  There is no way that I know of to change this behavior.  I did end up moving my menu bar and dock over to my main monitor to rectify part of this, but it is still annoying.

The other problem is that the menu bar when used with multiple monitors is a pain.  If you are using an application on a monitor without the menu bar, you have to mouse over to the other monitor to use it.  This is totally inconvenient, especially if you are doing a lot of menu bar interactions.   Luckily in this case their is a program called DejaMenu that allows you to have a popup  attached to a  keyboard shortcut appear. This popup contains all of the  menu items displayed as a contextual menu.  This program is useful even if you don’t have multiple monitors.

I would have thought that OSX having such a large community of artists and others that take advantage of multiple monitors would have come up with some simple fixes for these problems.  In my research I came across many others who were griping about the same thing.

It seems to me that it would be nice even if they simply allowed you to mirror your menu bar and dock for each monitor.  Even better would be docks you could customize for each monitor. That plus fixing where dialog boxes appear would make everything much better.

Multiple monitors is not something just for geeks either.  Where I work they have long gone to multiple monitors for pretty much every employee.  There have been some studies showing just how much more productive people are when using them and my own experience would agree.

Alex

Posted December 2, 2007 by curtjester
Categories: Uncategorized

I have long been a fan of text-to-speech capabilities.  The Commodore 64 had SAM (Software Automatic Mouth) which was amazing for the time, but not that useful.  Later on Windows had SAPI which could be used to listen to text, but it had a tinny robot feel to it.

A couple of years ago I bought Text Aloud with two of the AT&T Natural Voice.  These voices were quite good and I have probably listened to over a hundred novels using them.  It is great to take older and many time classic texts from sources such as Project Gutenberg and convert them from text to listen to on my computer or iPod.

OSX Leopard has introduced a new voice named Alex that is a leap ahead of their previous voices.  I have used it to listen to a couple of novels and the Pope’s new encyclical Spe Salvi and it is certainly of good enough quality for these purposes.  In my opinion the AT&T voices are slightly better, but not by much.

One thing that I really like though is that I was able to build a Automator script that would take whatever text I had in  TextEdit, convert it using the Alex voice and then have it import into iTunes.   This is just so convenient that I will probably just use the Alex voice instead of the AT&T voices on my PC.

Considering the fact that this voice is free in Leopard this is a real bargain.  TextAloud costs $35 and it you need to add $25 for the AT&T natural voices.  Currently software such as AbleReader for the Mac which uses AT&T voices won’t work on Intel Macs. But I see no real reason that Alex is not perfectly suitable.

Feeling stupid

Posted December 2, 2007 by curtjester
Categories: OSX

When I installed Leopard I did a clean install.  After install I noticed that I no longer had some apps such as Garage Band, iPhoto, etc.  Looking on the web I found that they are part of iLife.  I knew that the iWork apps installed on my iMac were just a trail version and I made the mistake of assuming that the iLife apps were the same.

Recently on some blog post I noticed that it referred to iPhoto as being free and then it finally dawned on me was that I just needed to reinstall these apps from my Tiger install disks that came with the machine  by simply selecting the Bundled Apps to install.

Well I guess I would have felt more stupid if I had ordered iLife.


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