Archive for May, 2007

iTunes: DRM-free at last

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

So we have our DRM-free iTunes in May (just). This is a really good move on the part of Apple and EMI. I’m now buying stuff on the iTunes store for the first time ever! Wonderful to be able to buy and download .m4a files from well-known and classic artists that I can play on practically anything. Fantastic stuff. 🙂 (Though I still love Bleep and Magnatune for more esoteric tuneage.)

The tracks are at 256k whereas the old DRM’d versions are 128k. The DRM-free tracks are 30% more expensive, but the albums are the same price (which suits me – I prefer buying albums, Luddite that I am). 256k is great – that’s indistinguishable from a CD as far as I’m concerned. And cheaper than a CD, too – at least here in Aus. The albums average around AUD $18 on iTunes.

In case you’re wondering, the DRM-free (and, lest we forget, higher bitrate) stuff is called “iTunes Plus”, and you access it from the iTunes Plus link at the top right of the store homepage (at least on the Australian store). The basic idea seems to be you can browse the DRM-free music from the iTunes Plus page. The iTunes Store also offered to set a preference in iTunes ensuring that I’m always shown the DRM-free versions of any songs I browse. I clicked Yes; however this preference appears to be non-existent in iTunes>Preferences>Store (anyone know where I can find it?!) (UPDATE 31 May: Found the bugger: Store>View My Account>(enter password)>click Manage iTunes Plus.)

The other oddity is that search appears to be completely borked – how can they not have any Coldplay on the site?!

No search results in iTunes

(Not that I’d buy any Coldplay, but still…)

Apart from these slight weirdnesses, it all looks pretty encouraging. Now we just need the indie labels, as well as the other majors, to follow suit!

Hands-on with screenshots over at Engadget.

iTunes on Windows: A glass of ice water in hell

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Jobs can always be relied upon to entertain in one form or another, but in his interview with Walt Mossberg at the D5 conference today, he gave what has to be his best soundbite yet. Check it out at the end (around 10:08):

I’m looking forward to the Jobs/Gates double whammy later on – should be just as entertaining 🙂

Taking super-quick screenshots

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Camera lensScreenshots are great when you need to illustrate an article, troubleshoot an app, or even just show off your cool  desktop. To take screenshots of your Mac screen, you can fire up the Grab utility (in Applications/Utilities), which does a pretty good job. Or you can use built-in keyboard shortcuts to take instant screenshots at any time:

  • To take a screenshot of the whole screen, press Command-Shift-3.
  • To capture a selected area of the screen, press Command-Shift-4. The mouse pointer changes to a crosshair. Now drag out a selection rectangle over the area you want to capture, and release the mouse button. (If you decide you don’t want to capture anything after all, hit Esc.)
  • To grab a specific window, the menu bar, a menu, or the Dock, press Command-Shift-4 then hit the Space bar. The mouse pointer changes to a spiffy looking camera. Move the mouse over the item to highlight it, then click the mouse button to grab it. (Again, you can press Esc if you want to back out.) You can even capture a pop-up menu like this: right-click (or Control+click) to bring up a pop-up menu, then follow the above steps to highlight the menu and click.

By default, the Mac saves your screenshots as .png files on your desktop (as opposed to Grab’s TIFF files). If you’d rather save the screenshots straight to the Clipboard, ready for pasting into Photoshop or a similar app, hold down Control at the same time. This saves cluttering your desktop with temporary screenshot files.

Unfortunately, neither Grab nor the built-in keyboard shortcuts can capture your mouse pointer as well. (Well, Grab sorta can, but you have to choose from a limited range of pointers in its Preferences; you can’t grab the actual active pointer.) If you need to do this, check out third-party utilities like Snapz Pro, which offers mouse pointer grabbing, and all sorts of other goodies besides.

Instant management bollocks generator widget

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Corporate Ipsum widget screenshotCorporate Ipsum is a handy new Dashboard widget whose purpose in life is to belch forth reams and reams of management waffle. Simply choose the number of paragraphs of drivel you want to create, then copy and paste the results straight into your new VC pitch or management report. You can get it to insert HTML paragraph tags around the blurb if you’re pasting into a Web page.

Very handy for those times when you need to “energistically engage synergistic e-markets through pandemic vortals.”

Much more useful (in the real world) is its added ability to generate standard Lorem Ipsum Latin text, for inserting as dummy text into designs. I particularly like the way the widget turns from “yellow post-it” to “stone tablet” while the Lorem Ipsum mode is in effect.

[Via 43 Folders]

Finder: Working effectively in Column View

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Finder’s Column View is a bit of a black sheep amongst many Mac users, who tend to eschew it in favour of the more traditional icon and list views. However, Column View has its uses. It lets you see exactly where you are in your folder hierarchy, and it’s great for quickly drilling down through a deep folder structure, as you only need to single-click a folder to open it. You can also use it to quickly preview items such as movies and images.

Here I’ll share a few tips for making Column View a more pleasant experience.

Smart column resizing

One annoying quirk of Column View is the way that long file and folder names get rudely cut off.

You probably know that you can drag a column’s resize handle – that little double bar at the bottom of the column’s vertical divider – to the right to expand a column and view your full file and folder names. But did you know you can double-click the handle to automatically “maximize” the column to fit the width of your longest file or folder name?

Long filename truncated in Column View

Maximized column view

Changing default column widths

Talking of resizing columns, you can stretch or shrink all the columns in the Finder window at once by Option-dragging the resize handle of one of the columns.

Even better, Finder remembers this width when opening new Finder windows; Option-drag your columns nice and wide, and they’ll stay that way for evermore.

The same is true with the file selector dialog used when opening or saving files in applications; in this case, Mac OS remembers the column widths on an application-by-application basis. For example, open a file in Firefox with File > Open, and Option-drag a column handle in the file selector to change the width of the columns. The next time you open or save a file in Firefox, the file selector retains your chosen column width.


The iPod: does it actually suck?

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Sad iPodLuddite that I am, I’ve never owned, or even used, a digital music player, but I’m seriously thinking about getting an iPod at some point. As well as the obvious ease of integration with my Mac, they seem to be widely regarded as the best music players out there.

So I was intrigued by this recent article. Or rather, not so much the article itself, which lists three minor iPod user interface grumbles, but the torrent of comments after it, most of which are from iPod users frustrated by a whole range of hardware and interface annoyances.

Targets for users’ vitriol include:

  • No on/off button (seriously??)
  • Hard to select a song that’s in a long list
  • Freezes and lock-ups
  • Hard to jump to a specific place within a song or movie
  • No quick way to toggle repeat or shuffle modes
  • Backlight problems
  • Non-replaceable battery
  • Warranty issues
  • Screen scratches
  • Various podcast gripes
  • Weak headphone sockets

Is the iPod really that bad? Have “smug” iPod owners been storing up their anger all these years, only to vent spleen on this article, now that they’ve been given the chance? And if iPods suck this much, how come they’re the best-selling music players?

The mind boggles!

Keep your secrets safe: securely delete your files

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

You probably know that dragging a file to the Trash icon doesn’t actually delete the file; to do that, you need to empty the trash by:

  • right-clicking the Trash icon and choosing Empty Trash
  • choosing Finder > Empty Trash, or
  • pressing Shift+Command+Delete while in the Finder.

However, you may not know that emptying your trash doesn’t delete the file either! Like most operating systems, Mac OS merely deletes the pointers to the file’s data on your hard drive; the data remains, and is recoverable if you know what you’re doing (for example, if you’re a hacker looking for credit card numbers!).

Really emptying the trash

Luckily, Mac OS provides a way to not only delete the pointers to the files in the trash, but also to overwrite the files themselves with garbage data. To do this, switch to the Finder and choose Secure Empty Trash from the Finder menu. It may take a while to overwrite all the data. Once done, your deleted files really are history.

Apple has a help page about deleting files and using Secure Empty Trash.

Wiping the whole disk

If you’re selling your Mac and you’re extra paranoid, you may want to wipe all the data on your disk beforehand. You can do this using Disk Utility’s secure erase options. More information in this Apple document. The truly hardcore will want to choose the 35-Pass Erase option, which takes forever, but makes the data nearly impossible to recover using current technologies.

Enjoy your privacy!

How to make your Mac look as ugly as possible

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Rugged Mac MiniIf your new Mac Mini looks just a tad too gorgeous with its sleek white curves, never fear – just contact these guys. They’ll take your Mac, along with all its peripherals, and encase them in ruggedized aircraft grade aluminium. All housings come in one timeless colour: PC beige. I particularly like the 1970’s style keyboard, not to mention the “submarine intercom system” style speakers (they’re “impervious to EMI”, dontcha know).

Go on, you know you want to. You may end up with the ugliest Mac on the block, but at least you know it’ll withstand fire, flood and asteroid impacts.

[Via Engadget]

More 3-D printers!

Friday, May 11th, 2007

An object created by the CandyFab 4000Yesterday I talked about a new, semi-affordable desktop printer that was capable of “printing” 3-D objects.

Apparently these guys aren’t the only ones messing about with 3-D printers: check out the wonderful sub-$1K CandyFab 4000! This baby creates 3-D objects out of regular household sugar, using a motor-controlled canvas flatbed, a heat gun composed of an off-the-shelf heating element and aquarium pump, and of course, bags and bags of sugar.

There’s only one thing to say really: Sweet!

[Via Engadget]

3-D printers

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

A 3-D printer making a duckThis rocks! I’ve always assumed that creating a 3-D object by “printing” it was in the realm of science fiction, but apparently boffins have been at it for years in the industrial arena. And now a company called Desktop Factory is starting to market an almost-affordable (USD $4,995) desktop version. Coming to a Mac or PC near you in the not-so-distant future! Here you can see it creating a little plastic duckie out of thin air.

I can see this being really useful for replacing spare parts that have been lost or broken. For example, one of the plastic latches on Isaac’s cot is somewhat the worse for wear. I’d love to be able to design and “print” a new one…