Archive for November, 2008

Black Friday round-up: Great deals on Apple stuff

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Today is Black Friday. If you live outside the US and have never heard of it, Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving and marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. Many retailers, both physical and online, give generous discounts on Black Friday, and Apple retailers are no exception. Here’s a quick rundown of the Black Friday offers reported by various Apple blogs today:

  • MacNN details discounts on various iPods and Macs from Newegg.com and Gainsaver.com.
  • Mac Rumors compares MacMall’s discounts on Apple hardware with Amazon’s.
  • MacTech has a free 6-month subscription to their magazine for the first 100 lucky punters.
  • O’Grady’s PowerPage reports on a 70% – yes, 70%! – discount on Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac.
  • BabyGotMac brings news of Black Friday discounts on the Gracion Enclose file-sending app, the Tables spreadsheet app, and the entire DEVONtechnologies software range, including DEVONthink, DEVONagent and DEVONnote. The site also mentions 1Password’s buy one, get one free Thanksgiving offer.
  • For all iPhone/Touch gamers, Touch Arcade has a list of App Store games with deep Black Friday discounts – many games are as low as $0.99.
  • And don’t forget Apple themselvesApple Stores around the world are currently offering discounts on a wide range of Apple goodies.

Also, if you do live outside the US, many of these deals still apply (assuming the retailer in question ships internationally).

Finally, BlackFriday.info has details of hundreds of Black Friday sales from all sorts of retailers. Happy shopping! :)

iPhone 2.2 hands-on: A worthy update?

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The latest revision of the iPhone software – version 2.2 – hit the streets a couple of days ago. But does it hit the spot?

Well, yes and no. Street View is certainly fun:

…and walking/transit directions could be useful if you live in a city (I don’t). Other Maps enhancements aren’t revolutionary, but they’re useful nonetheless. After you drop a pin, tapping the pin reveals the address at that point:

You can also email a URL of a location by tapping the Share Location button on the location’s Info screen. (more…)

Ocarina: Turn your iPhone into a “real” instrument

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I’ve been playing with Smule’s Ocarina iPhone app for a couple of days, and it’s quite fun. It emulates a real ocarina, an ancient wind instrument with four or more holes for controlling pitch. Instead of holes, you touch four circles on the iPhone’s screen in various combinations, and you blow into the iPhone’s mic to play notes. You can also tilt the phone while playing to add vibrato.

It’s supposed to be easy to learn, though I found it quite tricky to start with (then again I’m rubbish with real wind instruments). After a couple of hours, though, I could play a few scales and Amazing Grace, which was immensely satisfying! There’s a “how to play” section within the app, and a video tutorial online, which helps.

I’ve heard a few concerns about the fact that you have to blow into the iPhone’s mic to play the Ocarina – apparently blowing into a mic might damage it. Not sure if there’s any truth behind this theory – after all, the iPhone’s mic is presumably designed to handle the odd bit of spittle! We’ll see I guess.

Share the love

In keeping with Smule’s other apps, such as Sonic Lighter, you can also view a globe of other Ocarina players around the world, and hear what they’re playing. (It’s not clear whether you’re hearing them in “real time” – I suspect not.) You can also send some “love” to the player if you like their tune by clicking the little heart icon. However I couldn’t find any way to view a list of the most “loved” tunes.

And in conclusion…

Definitely a fun app, but will it end up being used seriously as a real instrument? Time will tell. Meanwhile you can get it on the App Store for a special introductory price of $0.99.

ClickNoMo review: Pain-free mouse clicking

Monday, November 17th, 2008

If you suffer from wrist or hand pain when using your mouse then you know how infuriating it can be. My wife uses the excellent Smart Cat touchpad to alleviate her wrist pain, and finds that just 1 minute of using someone else’s mouse is enough to bring the pain back.

It turns out that a lot of the pain when using a mouse is caused by the clicking action. One way round this problem is to use an application that enables so-called “dwell clicking”. The idea here is that the software senses when you haven’t moved your mouse for a short while, and automatically “clicks” on your behalf.

I recently tried one such app, ClickNoMo ($29). Fire it up, and it presents you with a floating palette of option buttons (shown at right).

Menu displays the app menu (which is usually hidden). On/Off toggles the dwell clicking feature. The remaining 4 buttons determine what happens when you stop moving the mouse: Select Click and a “click” action is made; select Dbl. Click and a “double click” is sent, and so on. By default, ClickNoMo reverts back to Click after a double-click, drag, or right-click action.

A nice touch is that the option buttons themselves can be “dwell-clicked”, even if ClickNoMo is currently off. So you never have to click that mouse button again!

The app’s preferences let you change things like the palette transparency, the amount you have to move the mouse to register a new “click”, and the time delays before a click is performed and before dragging ends.

In practice

ClickNoMo is especially welcome when using the stubbornly mouse-intensive Mac OS. You’d have thought that “downgrading” your mouse by not using its buttons would be awkward, but in fact there’s something strangely liberating about not having to click (even if, like myself, you don’t generally suffer from mouse-related pain). You just have to remember not to do things like idly moving the mouse while in the middle of typing!

Some apps, such as Photoshop, don’t lend themselves too well to the dwell clicking concept, but for things like Web browsing and document editing it’s great.

Issues

The downsides? For one thing, it’s a PowerPC app, so it’s a bit sluggish to start up on Intel Macs (which most folks have these days). It could use an update. Secondly, I’d like to see an option to enable some sort of audio feedback so you know when you’ve “clicked”.

The app also seems somewhat pricey for what it does. Still, if you suffer from any sort of mouse-related pain then it can’t hurt (pun not intended) to download the trial and take it for a spin!

[Found via ATMac]

5 handy Address Book tips

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Leopard’s Address Book is easy to use and, at first glance, appears pretty basic. However, scratch the surface and it has all sorts of neat features to improve your productivity. Here are just 5 ways to be more productive with Address Book.

Smart Groups

You probably know that you can organize your contacts into groups by clicking the + button at the bottom of the Group list to create a new group, then dragging contacts into that group.

However, Address Book also lets you create Smart Groups. These work pretty much like Smart Playlists in iTunes. Choose File > New Smart Group, then specify your search criteria in the dialog that appears:

The Smart Group automatically updates its list of contacts whenever you add, remove, or edit contacts in Address Book. Select the Highlight the group when updated checkbox, and whenever a contact is automatically added to or removed from the group, Address Book highlights both group and contact in purple.

(By the way, if you hold down Option while a contact is selected in the contacts list, Address Book highlights the group(s) they’re in – including regular groups as well as Smart Groups – in yellow.)

Smart Groups are great for grouping all the people who work at a certain company, or who live in a certain town, for example. (more…)

Things: Elegant task management on the Mac and iPhone

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Before I get into reviewing this app (or rather, apps), a bit of background is in order. I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which I have been using on and off over the years with my trusty combo of my iMac with iCal, a Palm Tungsten T2, and Missing Sync to glue everything together. It’s worked well enough, though I find it can get a bit overwhelming once you start having lots of actions and projects.

We don’t need no stinkin’ To Dos

Being a bit of an Apple convert, I’ve obviously been interested in this thing called an iPhone for a while. If you’re a keen follower of this blog, you’ll remember that I was put off buying an iPhone by its inexplicable lack of a To Do list system, which makes it kind of tricky to replace my Palm with an iPhone. (Mind you, it’s hardly the only feature missing from the iPhone.)

So before rushing out to buy an iPhone that would have less functionality than my 4-year-old Palm (ha ha), I started researching third-party To Do apps for the iPhone to see if I could close the gap that way. That’s when I came across Things. Not only is it a To Do app, but it even follows the GTD methodology of projects, contexts, Someday/Maybe actions and areas of focus. What’s more, it’s available for both the Mac and the iPhone, and the two apps sync together over wi-fi.

In fact, the whole setup sounded so impressive that Things ended up being the catalyst that led to me finally buying an iPhone. So was it worth it? (more…)