NosillaCast 08/06/2006 Show #54

Caribbean trip review, OSX screensaver objective-cocoa.org, Accessible Google Search labs.google.com/accessible, MacBook speed test creativemac.com, Parallels now on sale at the Apple Store $20 rebate on Parallels, Jers Novel Writer jerssoftwarehut.com, Snakes on Plane fun at snakesonaplane.com, Seismac and ToneTester from suitable.com, Remember the Milk to remind you of stuff rememberthemilk.com, use Drag and Drop more often.

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Well, I”m back from sailing the West Indies – did you miss me? Did you enjoy Ron David’s interview of Fay Wells? I sure hope so. I was glad I was able to leave you in his capable hands, or voice…

Our trip was pretty fantastic, we took the Windjammer Barefoot cruise, which was on a 275 foot 4 masted schooner called the Polynesia. the Poly was originally christened the Argus when it was built in 1936. The clever math hounds amongst you have figured out that this ship is 70 years old, which means that the crew were constantly doing upkeep on her – varnishing, painting, they even did some arc welding at one point! We sailed out of a beautiful island called Antigua, from there to the island of Guadalupe, the gorgeous Dominica, and then to the French-owned Isle des Saintes.

If you want to go on a cruise, but you don’t like the idea of having to dress for dinner, or even brush your hair or wear clean clothes, then this is the cruise for you. The food is mediocre, the islands gorgeous, the opportunities to explore exotic places endless, and only during the final night’s Captain’s dinner do you have to wear a clean T-Shirt! I should warn you that these trips can be a bit bawdy, and there is definitely a lot of drinking on the trip by all (the drinking age was 16 at one point!) so it’s not for everyone.

Probably my favorite part of the trip was that afterwards we stayed back on Antigua at the Antigua Village condos, and were able to meet up with this terrific family we met on board – Jan, Pam, Scott and Max Carritt. For 3 days we waddled over to eat right in front of the ocean, waddled over to the water to bob about in 80 degree water, relaxed on lounge chairs actually IN the water, waddled over to get drinks…you get the drift! the most energetic thing we did one day was sailed Hobie Cats out on Dickenson’s Bay. It was glorious and relaxing.

One thing I didn’t anticipate was my complete and total lack of interest in technology on the trip. Everyone told me I’d be unplugged, but every other vacation I’ve been on I’ve taken my laptop and at least gone on line to email pictures back to my friends every day to annoy them with how much fun I’m having. this trip, even though my Blackberry worked most places, and on Antigua we actually had high speed wireless access and I had my laptop right there, I just couldn’t find any enthusiasm to leave the beach to go play with my computer. Hard to believe.

Ok you’re probably getting sick of hearing about my trip by now, but if you want to see a few pictures I threw some up on the website. I do have one philosophy on vacations, when you get back you don’t want to start up working too hard, you can pull a muscle you know. I’m using that philosophy at work and for my podcast, I’m going to ease back into it here. Luckily research department Niraj was very busy in my absence so I have some good links for you this week, and my buddy Ron contributed as well.

Allison in her lifejacket during the safety drill:
your host in her lifejacket looking like an idiot

The Polynesia:
the Poly resting at anchor

Steve and Allison relax at the railing:
nice shot of Steve and Allison looking out to sea on the deck of the Poly

Sunset through the davits:
sun setting off the railing with the davits that hold up the launches in the foreground

Fenetres volantes
Let’s start off with a free OSX screensaver from Ron. It’s called Fenetres Volantes from objective-cocoa.org. If I remember my high-school French from 30 years ago, Fenetres Volantes means flying windows, and that’s exactly what this is. This screen saver takes whatever windows you have open on your screen and floats them around in space as though they’re three dimensional. It’s a really interesting effect, especially if you have a lot of windows open like I always do. I wish I could tell you what else objective-cocoa has to offer, but the whole site is in French and I am REALLY rusty! If anyone does know French and finds some cool tools there be sure to let me know.

Accessible Google Search
Ron also sent in the latest in Google Search tools, they now have a search tailored for the visually impaired, at labs.google.com/accessible. I played with it for a bit, and even if you’re not visually impaired, you might want to use it. The major difference I could find between the accessible searches and regular Google search was that there’s way less clutter in the search results. The ads are gone down the right sidebar, gone are the ads at the top that are normally shadowed in blue, and also when there’s a secondary link for a result, instead of being indented to the right it’s in line on the left side. What I couldn’t figure out was whether the results were in some way filtered for accessibility, but I suspect not. Even though the results were different in many cases, I did a search on “podcasts” in both regular Google and in the accessible Google, and iTunes actually came up higher on the accessible search, and as we’ve discussed before, iTunes is extremely difficult to use if you’re visually impaired. If you go to labs.google.com you’ll see a link where they’re requesting feedback next to the accessble link, so go check that out.

MacBook speed test
Niraj sent in an interesting article from creativemac.com that covers some speed benchmarks they performed on the new Apple MacBook up against the MacBook Pro and a Dual core G5. All of the tests were performed using Universal Binary applications such as Final Cut Pro, Motion and Compressor, all of which are highly CPU intensive applications. Universal again means that the applications are compiled to run under both the PowerPC and Intel processors. Shockingly, the MacBook performed extremely well, in most cases out performing the dual 2 GHz G5 tower. This is pretty surprising since the MacBook is not being targeted at all to the professional community. If you’re interested in looking at the test results and reading about how they ran the tests, head on over to podfeet.com and find the link in the shownotes, as it’s too long and annoying to read!

First audio feedback
A few weeks ago I finally got a gmail account (nosillacast@gmail.com) so you could begin sending in audio feedback. well, we got our very first audio feedback finally, let’s take a listen.

Thanks Steve for your nice comments. Appreciate you taking the time to send that in, always love a compliment! My friends know that a pat on my little punkin’ head goes a long way towards motivating me to continue.

Parallels at the Apple Store
It looks like Apple is really embracing Parallels as the solution of choice for running Windows on a Mac. As you recall, Apple came out with it’s Boot Camp solution just one day before Parallels started their public beta. For a long time Apple only talked about Boot Camp, like on their website next to the ad campaign they had a link that said to run Windows on the Mac you need Boot Camp. Recently however, the link changed to say “Purchase of Windows and Parallels software required.” That was a rather subtle change, but now there’s a bigger hint that they’re on board with Parallels because they’re actually selling it at the Apple Store.

The announcement I got on this from the Parallels team also explained that through their retail partners, you can get a $20 rebate if you buy both Parallels and Windows from them. not quite sure how it works, but I put a link in the shownotes to the page that explains it if you’re interested. As I mentioned a few shows back, the most cost-effective way to buy Windows with a MacBook is to buy they both through MacMall, but if you already have your machine this might be a good way to go. $20 rebate on Parallels

Jers Novel Writer
Research Department Niraj really outdid himself on this next one, he found a really interesting piece of software called Jers Novel Writer from jerssoftwarehut.com. Jer is a novelist who has discovered that he has some deficiencies in his writing process, so he wrote a piece of Macintosh software that accommodates those human failings and allows him more freedom to create. For example, he has trouble remembering the names of some of his more obscure characters, and he would find himself having to reread tons of pages to find the name he was looking for, and when he was doing that he’d find himself rewriting those passages, and completely lose the thoughts of where he was working originally. Jers Novel Writer includes a terrifically simple way to note names of characters, places and things and jot down a quick explanation of them. these people places and things all end up in a handy sidebar automatically for easy reference, and you can make your own categories, and even have things be in more than one category – so for instance if you wanted to remember that Sue was in the tiki bar, you could have her referenced both as a person and with the location of tiki bar.

another problem he has that is VERY near and dear to my heart is that when he’s got his creative juices flowing, he’ll realize that a particular sentence might not flow right, or maybe isn’t exactly conveying what he wanted, so he’ll slow down and spend a bunch of time perfecting that one sentence and lose the flow of his creation. To combat that inadequacy, he created a powerful capability called margin notes. let’s say you’re writing away and you want to remember to come back and fix a sentence. You simply click in the sentence somewhere, and then click in the margin to the left, and type the note to yourself. The note automatically has a pointer over to the spot in the sentence where you first clicked so you know where the note applies. You can do all kinds of fancy things with how margin notes are displayed, from making them really distracting with colors and shading to making them subtle and only highlight when hovered over. the margin notes can be dragged up and down, and also it’s really easy to move where the margin notes point.

I read his entire Read Me, and it’s very entertaining. Let me give you an excerpt from the Read Me. He broke it up into three parts, Things you really should know, Things I’d like you to know, and a bit at the end about registration. When i got to the “thins I’d like you to know”, he wrote:
“If you’re still reading this you are either captivated by my inimitable style as a read me artist or you are genuinely curious about how to get the most out of Novel Writer. In either case, hurray!”

Anyway, back to the review. Jer’s Novel Writer lets you easily break your novel up into chapters and sections and to create an outline on the fly. The outline function is another technique to find the section he’s searching for, by having it in an outline as he goes along, he can find things much easier. He points out that if creating an outline is hard to do, you simply won’t do it, so it’s important that this feature is trivial to use. He uses standard Apple menu bar items, so you can customize your tool bar just like in an Apple-written tool, moving those most used functions up there for easy access.

I haven’t mentioned pricing yet, and that’s where it gets interesting. Jerry has a bulletin board he calls the Hut, which has active discussion of improvements of this 0.6 release and improvement suggestions. He has a section on pricing where he suggests that it’s going to be possible to haggle on the price. He’s thinking of $50 when it’s done, but if you participate in the beta by adding suggestions then you can haggle! isn’t that cool?

Okay, so remember I said this guy had a great writing style? the funniest thing he’s written may just be his End User License Agreement, or EULA. If you’ve never read a EULA before (most people just click ok ok ok let me install the darn software!) you’ll know that they’re not usually something interesting to read! They have to cover liability indemnification, usage writes with big words, and all that. Here’s an excerpt from Jerry’s EULA:
“By accepting this agreement you promise not to be a scumbag software pirate robbing hard-working programmers of their livelihood. Sure, I have fun doing this, but if I’m going to keep it up I have to put groceries on the table, you know?” and “Heck, you’re not reading this anyway. I don’t know why I bother. Other companies put all kinds of stuff in their EULA’s, and some of them are downright nasty. It’s never stopped you before, though, has it? You’ve already clicked “accept” like a good little robot. I’m glad I went with the cheap lawyer.” I don’t want to ruin it by reading you the whole thing, it’s worth downloading the software just to read it! In fact, he has a EULA for his EULA in case you like it so much you want to use it for YOUR code! He says “I will give you the right, however, to make as many copies of this agreement as you want, and modify it and use or sell it to your heart’s content. If you publish it somewhere, I would appreciate credit. (I can see my EULA-writing career blossoming now.)”

I asked Jerry to send me some info on other things he’s written, so I’ve got links in the shownotes you can follow. My favorite so far was to a website called pikerpress.com, which by itself is interesting, the tag line for the site is “Literature without the nutritive value”! If you’re a writer yourself and are interested in a cool Mac app to help keep the creative juices flowing, I would definitely recommend you give Jer’s Novel Writer a whirl, but remember to back up often, he provides no warranty beyond his sympathy!

Snakes on a Plane
I have to apologize in advance for the following tip. Have you heard of the upcoming movie “Snakes on a Plane”? It’s a bad b-rate movie starring Samuel L. Jackson about…well…snakes on a plane. they tried to change the name to something more sophisticated, “flight 121”, but Jackson said he’d quit the film if they changed the name from Snakes on a Plane. For some reason, this caused the plane to jump to cult status, even before it has been released! It isn’t due out for a couple of weeks yet, and the music video is at the top of the charts. I can’t wait for it to come out, I think it’s hilarious that this film is going to be a blockbuster hit with a plotline of
“On board a flight over the Pacific Ocean, an assassin, bent on killing a passenger who’s a witness in protective custody, lets loose a crate full of deadly snakes.”

Okay, this is a tech show, so why am I talking about Snakes on a Plane? Here’s the high tech piece. go over to snakesonaplane.com and wait for the flash to load. Now on the right side you’ll see a picture of Samuel L Jackson with a vicious snake in one had and a cell phone in the other, and below it it says “get a call from Samuel L. Jackson”. this is where it gets good. You can actually have Jackson call one of your friends with a personalized message! YOu tell the website your name, your friend/relative’s name. there’s pull downs for your friend’s likes, business they’re in, physical characteristics, and what kind of car they drive. All of these are incorporated into an actual phone call from Jackson that incorporates all the things you’ve told it. this sounds so lame when I describe it, but it’s hilarious when you listen to the call! Even if you don’t play with the phone tool (there’s an email version too, but then it’s not Jackson’s actual voice), you should set aside August 18th to see….Snakes…on a Plane. Thanks to my son Kyle for this sophisticated tip…

More fun with the accelerometer in the MacBook Pro
Remember a while back I talked about how the MacBook Pro’s (and other models) have a sensor in them that tracks the motion of the laptop so that if too much acceleration is found, it can pull the head away from the hard disk, preventing a disk crash (the really bad kind that is unrecoverable). Clever folks have been writing apps to the output of the sensor, and I demo’d the best in breed, which was MacSaber which turns your laptop into a light saber. This next one isn’t quite as fun, but for the data lovers out there, it’s fun for a few minutes. SeisMac gives you a readout like a strip chart recorder showing graphically the readouts of the x, y and z motion. I don’t know why, but it makes me smile to shake my laptop and watch these graphs, and to try and isolate motion in only one direction. My son Kyle made fun of me, he said he could draw squiggly lines on paper for me if it made me so happy! Seismac is available from suitable.com that’s suitable.com.

I thought Seismic was cool, so I went to Suitable.com and poked around and found that the developer Danile Griscom had written another single use app that’s also interesting, and it’s called ToneTester. Evidently musician friend of Daniels had an ear infection that left him with an odd problem, the sound coming into his left ear would appear to be a half semitone higher than the same sound coming into his right ear. Daniel wrote ToneTester to allow you to test your own ears using your Macintosh. The interface is simple and elegant, there’s a volume slider, a base pitch slider (to set the pitch you want to test), and then the left/right pitch offset slider. When you hit the start button, a tone at the selected pitch hits your left ear and right ear alternating at an adjustable switch frequency. So you hear 440Hz in the left then the right and back again, and while you’re listening, you can slide the pitch offset until they sound exactly the same in both ears to you. I found that my pitch at 440Hz was off by about .13 semitones, higher on the left side. I know this isn’t a really important tool, but as Daniel says in his read me, you can use it to entertain at parties. check it out at Suitable.com.

Remember the Milk
I know there’s a lot of tools out there to remind you of things, you can set alarms on your cell phone, your PDA, your computer, but we all still forget to do stuff, don’t we? Here’s a website that designed to help you to get a handle on all the stuff you’re supposed to do. It’s called rememberthemilk.com. Registration is free, and I tested it using Camino as my browser, which is the least likely of my browsers to work it seems, so I’m sure it will work with Firefox and Safari as well. The first thing you do is start adding tasks for yourself, which is done by simply clicking the very obvious Add Task button. Once you’ve added it to the list, over on the right are some details you can add to the action, such as time for a reminder, whether to repeat it, how long you will need to complete the task and how often you’ve postponed it (they’re realists at least!)

You can define categories for your tasks, they have prepopulated it with Personal, study, work and sent (I guess you can send someone else an action item, I like that!) There’s a selection at the top right called Settings, and in there you can define how you’ll be reminded, and this is what I thought was really cool. You can have it IM you on AIM, Googletalk, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, Skype and even something called GaduGadu that I’ve never heard of. You can also have it email you at addresses you define, as well as send a message to your mobile phone. You can add as many of these as you like, so if it’s your wedding anniversary you can have every device you own ringing away to remind you!

Remember the Milk is in beta right now, and i thought it had some real flaws (like it wouldn’t send me chat messages) but I read the help files (I know, it was hard for me) and I found the problems. In chat, you have to add Remember the Milk as your buddy, and they have a list of how the buddy name is formatted by the service you’re using. For example, in AIM the buddy name is rtmremind. I never did get it to send me emails, even after I added Remember the Milk to my Address Book so that it wouldn’t be rejected by spam filters or something.

they also have the ability to put these reminders into an online iCal calendar (only useful for Mac types), and I was able to subscribe to my own online calendar to review my events on my iCal, but no events actually showed up! Clearly I have a time zone set wrong or the year wrong or something like that, but I’ll be darned if I can see my mistake! I’ve had enough time reading help files, maybe one of you guys can figure out how I messed up.

anywho, you can search your database, you can add contacts to share tasks with (they have to be registered with a free account at remember the milk of course), and they’ve got a lot of good information up on the forums where you can report bugs, and make suggestions and just generally commune with other forgetful people. The interface on Remember the Milk is very clean and intuitive, and I found it pretty darn easy to navigate my way around the site, so go check it out!

Drag and drop
This final comment isn’t really about any tool in particular, but more of a praise for the whole concept of drag and drop. My brother Kelly who was an avid Mac fan used to tell me to always try dragging and dropping as a default maneuver because you’d be shocked at how often it really works. This week as I was writing up the show notes and posting pictures online to be referenced as links, I had great drag and drop success. First I organize my photos using the tool iView Media Pro. I don’t think I’ve reviewed it here because it’s very expensive for the capability I need but it is a pretty cool tool. anyway, so I’ve got all my photos showing in iView, and I want to move a low resolution version to my website. I right click on the photo in iView, and select Open With, and choose Mail from the list of applications. this puts the photo in the body of an email. Seems like an odd thing to do I bet, but the coolest feature in Apple Mail is that there’s a pull down on the bottom right where you can choose small, medium, large, or original as the size of the attached photos. I selected medium which makes it just about perfect for the web. The reduced file has actually been created, but NOT stored anywhere, so I don’t have to go back and delete it later.

so then I launched Transmit, my FTP client, and log into my site. On the left it shows “my stuff” and on the right “their stuff” which is the website. I simply dragged the photo from the email to the right side of Transmit and voila! the small file is over on my site so I can now link to it. this sounds more complicated as I describe it in such excruciating detail, but it really is about a 10 second process to shrink and upload photos.

Well, it looks like that’s going to wrap it up for this post vacation episode of the NosillaCast, please email me questions and comments at allison@podfeet.com or send me voice comments at nosillacast@gmail.com. thanks for listening, and stay subscribed… now where IS that cabana boy with that Mai Tai?
now this is true relaxation

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1 thought on “NosillaCast 08/06/2006 Show #54

  1. Phil - August 17, 2006

    Great pics Al, especially the sunset.

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