end kvetch

Macs, productivity, &c.

An Update on the Firefox Switch

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So, I’ve been using Firefox for the better part of week now. Honestly, I’m a little surprised I’ve lasted this long.

I’ve made some progress with a couple of the issues that I mentioned in my earlier post about the switch to Firefox. However, some new problems have also arisen.

The Good

Predictably, as time went on, credentials became less of an issue. I am now to the point where authentication is no different than it is in Safari.

Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler has also assured me that contextual menus will be much improved in the next update.

At Download Squad’s advice, I also installed the GrApple Delicious Blue theme which makes Firefox look very much like Safari. Overall, it’s certainly an improvement and, best of all, the ugly blank favicon icons have been replaced with the same nice globes that Safari uses.

I still have no complaints about Firefox’s speed.

The Bad

Unfortunately, as I’ve used Firefox more, its faults have become more apparent.

My biggest beef with Firefox is its download management. I hate the popup that comes up whenever I download something asking what I want to do with it. I also miss the nice little files that Safari had with the progress bar right on the icon. Firefox just plops the actual file in your downloads folder and leaves you to guess when its complete. Of course, I could check the download’s progress in Firefox itself, but Download Statusbar seems totally incapable of giving accurate information (this isn’t Mozilla’s fault, of course, but still).

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Firefox also lacks Safari’s PDF handling. I like the ability to just look at a document without having to download it, but in Firefox, there’s no such option.

Firefox’s history menu also really bugs me. To view anything from more then a couple minutes ago, you have to open up the history sidebar. In Safari, you can access days of history from the menu alone.

Considering that I left Safari to escape a text entry bug, it’s ironic that I’ve run into another (much less annoying) text entry bug in Firefox. On Facebook (and maybe other sites, but I haven’t found any), I get an annoying little line coming off the cursor which makes it look like I have an extra apostrophe. As you can see below, the some affliction doesn’t affect Google (and other sites which I tested).

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I’m not sure who’s at fault, but it’s a pretty annoying bug, especially when using Facebook Chat.

Even considering all this, I don’t think I’ll be switching back to Safari anytime soon. Especially with version 3.1 on the way and a growing number of Add-Ons, it seems that Firefox can only get better.

Filed under: Apple, , , , , , ,

Autofile: Using Hazel to Enhance Your Digital Card Catalogue

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Earlier, I described my transition to a digital card catalogue filing system. While I could certainly file everything manually or use Quicksilver, I wanted a snazzy, alternative method.

hazeltitleI was playing around with Hazel and I realized that I could use it to route folders and files from a specified landing spot to the proper folder in the card catalogue. The rule is extremely simple and, as long as you are careful about how you name folders that you drop into the autofile folder, it’ll work like a charm.

Before I begin the instructions, I’m going to suggest that you grab a cup of tea or something; you’re going to have to create twenty-six rules and it’s probably going to take about twenty minutes.

The Process

First, you’ll need Hazel. It costs $22 but there’s a two week trial available. Install Hazel and create the folder you’ll want to use as your autofile dropbox. I created a subfolder in my To File folder and, very creatively, called it Autofile (I also began the file name with a space so it would always be at the beginning).

Now, add your autofile dropbox to the list of folders that Hazel watches and create a new rule. The rule simply needs to say that if the file’s name begins with A, it should be moved to the A folder in the card catalogue.

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Optionally, you could also configure it to give you feedback via Growl when an item is filed. However, I’m good with it just making the move silently.

That was the easy part. Now, duplicate the rule so you have one for each letter. If it helps, play the Jeopardy theme song while you work.

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Once you’re done, not only will you have a great sense of relief, you’ll have a fully functioning automatic filing system. Just drop a folder or file into the autofile dropbox and within seconds it will be whisked off to the proper location.

Filed under: Productivity, , , , , , , , ,

My Experience with Chumby

chbablk_side_500x450I’m one of those people who dreams of the days when, upon waking, a pleasant, synthesized voice announces the weather, our schedule for the day and all that business (think Jarvis in Iron Man or S.A.R.A.H. in Eureka).

If I wanted to have my computer talk to me in the morning, I could do something like this. However, there’s no way to have my MacBook rattle off the weather or my agenda (although, if I told it to say “School: 8:15 AM to 3:45 PM. That is all.”, it’d probably be right 90% of the time). Also, if you’ve played with your Mac’s speech settings lately, you’ve probably noticed that none of the voices really fall into the “pleasant” category.

Considering that Pipe Organ is the zenith of our current progress in the synthesized voice field, it might be best to stick with a less chatty morning briefing system for the time being. Short of hiring a personal assistant (I would totally settle for my own Pepper Potts), Chumby seems like a pretty slick system. Basically, you keep the cute little duffer by your bed and it makes a lot of noise when you tell it to (i.e., it’s an alarm clock) and then it plays a stream of information including weather, your email inbox, Facebook updates, Google Calendar agenda, and, of course, Chuck Norris facts. In theory, it sounds pretty swell, but there’s a couple things that make this $200 alarm clock sub-par.

The biggest problem with the Chumby is its internet connection. Since basically everything is stored on the Web (rather than on the device itself), the Chumby can only do four things without an internet connection: 1) display the time, 2) do its whole alarm thing, 3) play music from your iPod or computer and 4) be cuddly. This wouldn’t really be that big of a deal if the internet connection wasn’t so flaky. My Chumby loses its connection much more often than my computer or iTouch and when I try to reconnect, it frequently doesn’t work.

Even when I can get the Chumby connected, another problem presents itself. At 6:00 AM on a weekday in the pitch black and freezing cold of a winter morning, I suddenly find that squinting at my calender or the weather isn’t as fascinating as I thought it was (especially when the latter is easily summarized as “damn cold”). Granted, this isn’t really the Chumby’s fault, but I can’t help but think that a nice big LCD monitor next to my bed would improve on the concept.

The default clock (i.e., the only one which works without a Web connection) isn’t too hot either. It’s low contrast and fairly small, so I can’t see what time it is from across the room (without my contacts, at least).

Of course, Chumby has his good qualities, he can play Pandora (often haltingly due to a poor wireless connection), he can play music from my iPod (although, it doesn’t work with my iTouch, just my old Nano. Oh, and it can’t play anything with DRM). My Chumby’s coolest function (arguably) may also be the creepiest: With the right widget, you can view the feed from random security cams around the world.  While the footage of snow-covered Helsenki streets isn’t exactly exciting, there are some more interesting feeds mixed in.  It’s great preparation for a career as a security guard.

Really though, after seeing just how bad things can get when S.A.R.A.H. malfunctions, maybe I should be counting my lucky stars that the cute little Chumby doesn’t holler at/try to kill me when it malfunctions.

Filed under: Kvetching, , , , , , , , , ,

Look Under “K” for “Kvetch”: A Card Catalogue for Your Computer

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Recently, I was browsing Productivity501 and I came across a post by Arjun Muralidharan about a simple alphabetical system for your computer (specifically, your Mac).

The Old System

As of an hour ago, my filing system was based on two branches: documents and pictures. While, for some things, the distinction was clear-cut (essays or digital photographs, for instance), the line had a tendency to blur. Many of my projects have graphics associated with them and, while I could split every project into two segments, that’s not particularly intuitive. In reality, the Documents folder usually ended up containing documents and any graphics associated with them while the Pictures folder contained only projects that were entirely graphical.

The New System

So, I decided to try out Arjun’s system and start filing things alphabetically rather than by media type. I replaced my Archive folder (which contained the two branches I mentioned earlier) with an Index folder which contains another folder for every letter in the alphabet (twenty-six for those of you keeping track at home). Then I began to mercilessly rip my older directories apart, removing folders from their subject-related comrades and placing them into alphabetized group (for example, under the old system, I had a School folder which contained a subfolder for each class which I take. Now, the classes are spread across the filing system based on their name.

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A short while after I’d implemented the new system, a friend needed me to pull up an essay I’d written for one of my classes. I attempted to use Finder to locate the file, but the new system threw me for a loop. At this point, I realized that I needed to reconcile myself with Quicksilver.

The Return of Quicksilver

Since the souped-up version of Spotlight included in Leopard accomplished many of the same things that I used Quicksilver for in Tiger (admittedly, I never got used to using its more advanced features), I had gotten rid of it when I upgraded. The new system is a bit unwieldy when accessed from Finder, but Quicksilver and its ability to search and drill down into folders quickly went a long way in smoothing things out (the larger folder previews also allow me to take full advantage of the fancy icons I use to further clarify the contents of folders).

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(The lovely theme pictured above is Julius Eckert’s Showcase theme).

The Ribbon

I also decided to use DragThing to create an easy-acess “ribbon” for my card catalogue. I created a new dock set to display only the object name (i.e., no icon) and dragged all my letter folders in it. Then I turned the absurdly long ribbon into a drawer that sits right below my menu bar. When I click the screen edge, it comes sliding out and I can click a letter to jump to that folder. If I use Quicksilver effectively, I shouldn’t need to use the ribbon much, but it’s still pretty cool.

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(The ribbon uses StefanKa’s very attractive SimpleOne theme).

Arguably, since you’ll be searching for (almost) everything rather than retrieving it manually, you could do away with the lettered folders (which, really, are just a vestige of the paper filing systems this is based on) entirely and just throw everything into one big bin. You’d lose the ability to minimize certain letters groups and it wouldn’t be nearly as cool, but it wouldn’t take nearly as long to set up.

TIP

pse commented on the the original post at Productivity501 saying this:

Actually generating the folders just takes a few seconds if you use Terminal to do it: Type

cd Reference; for i in {A..Z}; do mkdir $i; done

and you are all set.

This will create all twenty-six folders in your home directory.  Simply sweep ’em up and put them in the folder you want.

Filed under: Productivity, , , , , , , ,

In Defense of Nadya

OctupletsIt’s pretty rare that a true hero comes along. However, not so long ago, one such shining bastion of humanity came to the public eye: Nadya Suleman. There are so many people out there, people who do have jobs and money and husbands, who wouldn’t put themselves through the agony of pregnancy. However, Nadya recognized that unless we all chip in, the human race will go extinct. With diseases such as AIDS and cancer running rampant and wars raging across the world, underpopulation is clearly a very real concern. We need people like Nadya and her brood to keep humanity from simply dying out. If there had been a Sulemanosaurus, I think it’s safe to say that the dinosaurs would still be around today.

angelina_nadyaThe giving doesn’t stop there though, oh, no. It’s a well-known fact that Nadya has undergone plastic surgery in order to look more like Angelina Jolie. It is truly impressive that she would go under the knife in order to provide that world with another Angelina. While some would say she’s a deluded, obsessed crazy, Nadya is simply doing what should be every patriotic American’s duty– to model themselves after our favorite celebrities. Not only does two Angelinas double the fun, it provides us with a backup. In a world where terrorist attacks are on the rise, our greatest national resource– celebrities– is in grave danger. We are so fortunate that, if anything were to happen to Angelina, Nadya would be there to take her place. I sincerely hope that Obama makes it a priority to designate an understudy for every A and B-list celebrity in the United States.

Never before have I seen such a loving, selfless person. Every woman in America should make it her goal to have fourteen children. If each of these children is assigned a celebrity to model themselves after since birth, we’ll be able to outlast even the most thermonuclear of wars. As the Russians and Chinese die out due to low birth rates, America will plant one foot on the writhing mass of infants that has formed in the Atlantic Ocean and cackle until it can breathe no more.

Filed under: Everyday Ramblings, , , , , , , ,

Desktop Extras: Pry

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Some time ago, I made the decision to move past David Lanham’s Agua folder set (as lovely as it is).

I settled on Pry by Jonas Rask (who has a variety of excellent work). Pry was designed for Leopard and therefore includes all the necessary icons (downloads, etc.). However, the folders are not front-on (something I mentioned about Agua v.2), so they don’t really jive with CoverFlow. This problem is solved by the Pryspective set by Vibe Star AKA Sander van der Heijden. While making the Pry folders CoverFlow-compatible is certainly a good idea, I’m not a huge fan of the Pryspective icons. Unless you’re a big CoverFlow user, I’d go with the regular Pry set.

Jonas created a number of variants including both etched and overlaid versions (I prefer the more colorful overlaid Pry Aluminum set). He has also made matching hardware icons and CS3 and MS Office-specific folder sets. MacThemes members have also made a variety of versions including “Pry Ply” (wood), white, red and chocolate.

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For those who don’t know, the best way to apply new icons (such as the Pry and Agua sets) is to use Panic’s CandyBar. While you can do it manually (some icons more simply than others), CandyBar is much, much simpler and its integrated icon organization features make it worth the $29 price tag if you’re really into customizing your computer. Of course, there’s also a fifteen day, somewhat limited trial (you can only have 250 icons in your library) available.

Filed under: Apple, Desktop Extras, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Confessions of a Firefox Convert

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve recently transitioned from being an ardent Safari fan to using Firefox. While the plugin-ability of Firefox is certainly nice (even if many individual plugins are rather clunky), that’s not the reason I switched. As I also mentioned before, I was experiencing an extremely obnoxious text entry bug in Safari (on the bright side, it taught me a lot of ways to get rid of text without the delete key) and I figured it was time to get away from it.

The Transition

import1I was kind of dreading having to manually bring all my Safari bookmarks across to Firefox. However, Firefox offers a handy little import wizard that allows you to bring just about all your data from Safari (or another browser) into Firefox. While it worked as advertised, I was left with the bookmarks in Firefox in addition to the ones that were imported from Safari. While deleting the duplicates wasn’t as much work as entering them all manually, the transition still could have used some smoothing out.

Even with 1Password integration, most credentials need to be reentered for the new browser, but I suppose that’s to be expected, and it’s not a terrible pain.

The Interface

Obviously, I’m a pretty big interface junkie: The AHIG is practically my bible, and I like all my applications’ interfaces to be as coordinated as possible. Since it was developed by Apple, Safari is pretty clearly on the top of the heap as far as interface matching with the rest of the OS goes. While Firefox 3’s interface is a massive improvement over its predecessor, there are still some elements that don’t sit too well with me.

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Firefox relies pretty heavily on favicons: They show up in the address bar, the search bars, the tabs. Now, on a conceptual level, I have no problem with this; favicons are a nice visual aid to navigation. However, the realty is, most favicons are pretty ugly and I would rather not have to stare at them constantly. I’m also something of an interface minimalist, and since I can get on just fine without favicons, I prefer the cleaner look you get without them. Also, considering how much time I have to spend looking at them, I wish Mozilla would provide something other than an ugly document icon for the blank favicon.

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It’s a minor issue, but Firefox’s non-standard contextual menu also bugs me. I’m willing to look past the squared edges and such, but what really gets to me (since it’s what I use the contextual menu for most often) is the spell checking– it just looks so much worse than the layout the rest of the system uses.

Once you consider plugins, many of which are pretty disastrous interface-wise, Firefox can be something of a visual train-wreck on a Mac (and believe me, themes don’t help).

Performance

One of the main reasons I’ve been so resistant to Firefox is its speed: I’ve always thought it was a slowpoke compared to Safari. While I’m pretty sure the benchmarks still indicate that Safari is snappier, I haven’t been noticing much of a difference in my everyday browsing. When it comes to load speeds, it seems like the two browsers are pretty evenly matched.

Features

Admittedly, Safari does not have a whole lot that Firefox lacks in terms of features. Off the top of my head, I think the ability to resize text boxes is the only thing which Safari has and Firefox doesn’t.

With a plethora of plugins available, Firefox is pretty much set for features. While it would be nicer if it had things like private browsing and easy user agent switching out of the “box”, installing plugins is easy enough that I don’t really mind.

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Ad blocking, one of my favorite features in any browser, is really quite impressive in Firefox thanks to the Adblock Plus plugin. While AdBlock for Safari is very unobtrusive and does the job 90% of the time, Adblock Plus, while slightly more obtrusive, offers more effective, fine-grained control.

Conclusion

Firefox is a nice browser, sure, it wouldn’t be gaining users like crazy if it wasn’t. It has great features, especially with extensive plugin-ability, and although the interface isn’t everything it could be, Firefox is just as fine a browser for OS X as Safari is. That said, if that pesky text entry bug were to resolve itself, I’d be back to Safari in a jiffy. Some things just feel right.

Digg!

Filed under: Apple, , , ,

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