It’s that time of year

April 20, 2007

Tax time usually means that I remember how much I wanted to organize my finances last year. I’ve used a nice little application called iBank from IGG Software. It has suited most of my needs over the past year and is about half the price of Quicken for the Mac. But this year I had the itch to see if I was missing anything by using independent software like iBank. I purchased Quicken 2007 from my local Apple store and got to work moving all my finances over from iBank.

The real drive for me was that Quicken claimed to be able to link up with my accounts online so that I didn’t have to remember to download my transactions. Well, guess what… no program will do that. Quicken does have one nice feature. It will import your bank info from the account activity. This means that if you import your activity from Wells Fargo, Quicken will recognize that the account is with Wells Fargo. It’s not really that big of a deal.

Both programs allow you to reconcile your account during import, both show all your assets and both show how you use your money. I really can not recommend Quicken over iBank. iBank does everything the average home user needs and you’ll keep some money in that bank account.

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Meander

March 5, 2007

Remember back in the day when you had to BUY mapping software? I can. I plunked down $30 for some mediocre software that was out of date in a year. Then Mapquest saved us. It brought forward free software to find out where we could go and how to get there. Google has since elevated online maps to an impressive level. There is still a major issue with creating waypoints and paths. Recently I came across a great little app that does this one thing really well. It’s called Meander. The principle is simple. It creates a transparent window that hovers over any map window, be it Google, Mapquest, or Microsoft Live. It can even be a PDF of a map. You set the scale of the map as shown, then draw your path over top of your map. It’s that simple.
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What Meander does is create a line drawing (which can be seen with a white background) and measures that line. It’s so simple, it’s amazing.
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I find it pretty handy for all kinds of mapping. Scheduling dog walks, bike paths and even some crazy road trips.

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A band-aid for the Finder

December 29, 2006

Yes, the Finder could be better. I think many of us are hoping that the next OS release brings tabbed finder views and a simple way to deal with moving and viewing files. But until that day comes, there is Pathfinder by Cocoatech (PF4). It’s been touted on 43Folders a couple of times, here and here. Cocoatech have produced a quality product that feels right at home on my desktop. It takes some practice to get used to it though, so I’ll outline some cool features here.

The dropstack is a temporary holding place for files. Think of it as a more useful and forgiving command-select. You just drop files in the square and it keeps track of all of them. Then when you are ready to manipulate the files, you can easily grab each or all of them. YOu can even ctrl-click the stack to compress, burn, or email the lot. I use this for organizing my directories. I just browse through a bunch of folders throwing misplaced files in the dropstack. When I’m ready I just switch to the folder I want them in and unload them all.

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There are a huge number of options when working with files. The contextual menu for a single file allows you to do almost anything with it. Pathfinder not only gives you the option to copy the path of a file but it gives you the option of copying the UNIX, HFS, Terminal, URL, or name as a path. Honestly, it’s more than I have use for, but I’m sure some uber power user out there would love this feature.

PF2

As far as file paths go, PF4 has multiple optional drawer that you can setup to display the curent file path. As shown below, I also like to keep a folder histroy displayed so I don’t have to keep back tracking to folders that I use regularly. You know, those folders that are good enough for favorites, but you might make a desktop alias to.

PF3

The last feature I want to mention is the optional Running Processes tab. It’s kind of like having a mini-dock attached to the window. You can kill a process, switch to an application or bring up a contextual menu with loads more options, such as launching another instance of the application as root.

PF4

These are the kind of features that only a dedicated and Apple Fanboy would think about including. I bet the developers at Cocoatech all love their macs and started making great software that they wanted to use. I, for one, am grateful that the mac community is made by companies like Cocoatech

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Upload your photos

December 26, 2006

Now that we all have a bunch of new holiday photos it’s time to get them uploaded to Flickr and other various photo sharing sites. If you’re running either iPhoto or Aperture on the Mac you have limited choices to automate the upload process. I have used the plugin ApertureExport in the past, but to purchase the full version is kind of pricey for a one trick pony. After trying out some of the options out there I’ve finally settled on PictureSync from uVerse. You can upload to just about any service you can think of (check out this list) with tags, descriptions and complete group control. It will even pull in all the metadata from Aperture. PictureSync is free for the casual user but they ask for $15 for heavy users.

One of the coolest features is the Automator like scripting. This allows you setup rules to control how information gets added to the photos during uploads. For example, if you don’t want your keywords from Aperture added to your photos on Flickr, just create a rule that substitutes new keywords to the photo before uploading.

PictureSync is also application aware. It can pull selections directly from Aperture, iPhoto or Adobe Bridge. It’s pretty universal.

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A close runner up to PictureSync is 1001 from the makers of Ecto and Endo. I really like this application too. It does far more than upload photos, it’s also a photo stream viewer. Similar to using iPhoto to view photostreams, but 1001 allows you to set the time intervals for checking streams as well. It does a good job, but I just liked PictureSync better.

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The easiest way to print a calendar on a Mac

December 16, 2006

Today I had the need to print out a calendar for my wife. She needed a blank printout to write a schedule to hang on her wall. My first thought was “I think there is a template in Apple’s iWork Pages that could do this.” Well, that was a poor assumption. No such luck. I went to the iWork community site to find a template but nothing was really useful.

Then it hit me! I have iCal. Right there under the file menu I chose print, fully expecting to just get a bland printout of my current view. That’s not the Apple way though. You get a nice print preview and preference panel that allows some great print options. You can select the number of months to print, along with which calendar events to include. Black and white or color? No problem. Even mini-months are included. This is a wonderful surprise built right into iCal.

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Sync two macs at home

December 11, 2006

Thanks to Apple’s aggressive release cycle, many Mac owners have a couple of different machines sitting at home. My particular setup is a Mac Pro in the study and an older 17″ Powerbook in the living room. You would think that this would be ideal. I have a powerful workstation for Aperture and a nice portable for couch surfing. But, eventually you realize that there is a fly in the ointment. Many items only exist on one machine or the other. Apple’s “Sync” utility does work great with a dot mac account. But their Backup application just doesn’t work very well. Sure, all of my bookmarks, contacts, and keychains are all in sync between the two machines, but it just doesn’t handle large data backups very well. Today I was just thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if I could do the same with all of my other documents?” Then I suddenly realized I own the must have application Chronosync by Econ technologies. This application is one of those little gems that just works well.

What it does

It can synchronize two directions, archive deleted files, and even email a log file to you when it’s all done. I’ve been using it for about a year now for nightly backups to an external drive and it works great. As the name implies, Chronosync has a built in scheduler that will run any script at a predetermined time. It only syncs files that have been modified, so it saves time and drive space.

How to do it

Here’s a brief breakdown of how to setup Chronosync to keep two machines up to date. There are some particular caveats that I will emphasize to keep from screwing up either machine.

Mount the remote machine (in this case it is my laptop). The first time you run the script, choose “Left to Right” sync. I am starting with the idea that my desktop has all of the master documents and I want to do an initial sync to replicate everything to my laptop. After the intial sync, you’ll want to setup two way syncing to keep both machines identical. The instructions that follow will outline bidirectional syncing since it is slightly more complicated.

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I find it easier to use a series of Chronosync scripts to sync specific items rather than just doing a sync of the two home folders. While my Mac Pro has 750GB of drive space, my poor Powerbook only has 120GB (upgraded myself). I don’t want to run out of space on my portable. Also, the iPhoto and iTunes libraries are handled very sepcifically. I only sync those one way (from the desktop to the laptop). Make sure to read the Macworld article about using multiple libraries.

I create a new Chronosync script and set the left source as my “documents” folder on  my desktop and the right source as the documents folder on my laptop. Now choose “options” so that Chronosync can auto-mount the remote machine when it is time for the scheduled backup to occur.

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Choose bidirectional sync and check the “Synchronize Deletions” box. I save deletions to an archive which I will go through and remove periodically. This is a nice safe guard to prevent accidental deletions on both machines.

We’re going to be pretty general with the sync triggers. If any of these attributes are different between two files, Chronosync will copy the new version. See the image below for the specific settings I use

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Chronosync has many individual settings for each sync. I will just briefly outline my settings in the images below. In Error handling, I set “Ignore extended attributes and access control errors.”

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Setup the email notification so that any errors are identified.

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I don’t bother with the rule based sync because I want to capture all changed files.

That’s it

Just go try Chronosync. It’s a great application that gets the job done. It has just enough complexity to solve most archival needs but not so much that it is impossible to get anything done.

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Parallels and Apple — Near perfect

December 4, 2006

There’s a whole lot of buzz around the latest Parallels beta release. They have added a new feature called “coherence” which allows OSX and Windows to co-mingle on your desktop. At first, this seems wrong and creepy. But once I appreciated what this will mean for the future, I found peace with Windows on my Mac.

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Here’s the gist, you can drag documents between the Windows and Mac desktops and folders. Sadly, they do not “move” but simply copy from one environment to the other. Hopefully this will be changed in the near future. That’s not all, with the coherence mode turned on you can also drag an OSX window into the MS Windows desktop environment and copy and paste between applications using the default Apple short cuts. This is nothing short of monumental in the evolution of virtualization on the Mac.

I’m imagining a future where you can right click on a document anywhere and choose to open it in either the windows  or the OSX environments. Or better yet, predefine that certain file types always open in the desired environment. The software will just work. No need to worry about the operating system. Web browsde in linux, rip DVD’s in Windows and take care of photo’s in iLife without ever concerning yourself with which environment is actually running.

I am blessed enough to be running dual monitors. This allows me to dedicate one to the Windows VM on Parallels and one to OSX. I couldn’t ask for a better setup for getting my work done. The coherence mode of Parallels allows me to drag OSX windows into the Microsoft environment with no problems (however, you can not drag Microsoft application windows into the OSX environment). The image below shows Microsoft Media Player 11 running overtop Vienna and iStat (both Mac applications).

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