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FolderGlance - A contextual menu drill-down tool Pick of the Week
FolderGlance imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Every so often, a little utility comes along and instantly makes me wonder "how the heck did I get along without this one before?" FolderGlance is just such a utility. It's a contextual menu that lets you, among other things, drill down into the currently selected folder in the Finder. Why might this be useful? Well, for one, it's a lot faster than using even column view with multiple clicks; it's just one ever-expanding drill-down menu. But two, and of more interest to me, is that it will drill into bundles just as readily as it will folders. So instead of getting a new window open to Contents every time I use 'Show Package Contents," I can simply navigate to my final destination directly from the contextual menu (click picture for larger version):



Once you've reached your destination, you can do quite a bit. Open a file within the folder, move it, copy it, make an alias of it. You can even 'pick up' the selected item, so that you can drag it to another location. Very slick. You can even add your own folders to the FolderGlance menu, and these will appear as their own entries in the contextual menu -- this is a fast way of navigating into often-visited directories.

The prefs (FolderGlance has a preference pane front end) have other settings, as well. You can specify which files to include, how to sort at the top level (by kind or alpha), how to sort within kind, whether or not to always show package contents, and much more. There's even an option to reduce the font size for the contextual menu itself (the whole thing, not just FolderGlance's portion).

The only thing I wish FolderGlance could do that it won't is to open the chosen folder in my current Finder window; it pops up a new one, as would happen with Show Package Contents. But that's a minor quibble. Given how often I look inside bundles for my work with hints, FolderGlance is a big timesaver!
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Word Counter - Count words and characters in text Pick of the Week
Word Counter imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
This week's Pick is a niche selection, but I find it quite useful, and maybe others will as well. I will mention, however, that the author has some other interesting apps on his site, so it might be worth a visit to see what else he's got...

In my job, I obviously have to write a lot. But much of the time, I have to write much less -- as in "Rob, we only have 500 words for this blurb, and you've given me 10,250; you'll have to cut it back a bit." Yes, word counts play a crucial role in what we write, as there's only so much space in the magazine each month. While writing in Word, obviously, there's a handy word count feature that I rely on. But there are times when I want to go back and look at something I've written in the past to get an idea of its length. During lunch hour today, for instance, I was writing a strange little blurb for my robservatory.com blog, and needed to get a word count for the entire Panther tips book.

The book exists in 18 separate Word files, one per chapter, as well as 18 'ready to print' PDFs. Counting the book's total words in Word is a chore--you have to open each file and run the word count command, then manually add all the pieces together. (I didn't think I could do anything with the PDFs, so I just ignored them.)
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Cast Away - Gain control over iTunes' podcast aging Pick of the Week
Cast Away imageThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
As some of you may know, when the whole podcasting phenomenon first started, I wasn't the biggest fan. In the months since I wrote that bit, I'd say my thoughts on podcasting have become somewhat more positive, but I'm still not a big convert. I have, however, managed to accumulate a few subscriptions to interesting things. My problem, as noted in the original writeup, was that I just don't have much time to listen to them. And that's when I ran into an iTunes limitation on podcast management -- basically, you only have a global setting for handling your podcasts, and there are no "by date" options available to control retention. Since I don't listen regularly, I found myself wanting to keep some older podcasts, while trashing others. For instance, I only wanted to retain my 'funny video' podcasts for a few days, but I wanted to keep every episode of Science Friday.

Enter Cast Away. This $7 shareware app gives you fine-grained control over your podcasts. You tell iTunes how long to keep each podcast, how long to keep them active, and whether or not to archive the podcasts before removing them. Once everything's set the way you like it, Cast Away will set up a recurring task to update your podcasts at the same time each day.

You can read more about Cast Away in today's Macgems article at macworld.com. I found the program to be a useful and relatively easy to use...though I really think Apple should (and probably will) incorporate something like this in iTunes in the future. But for now, Cast Away gets the job done...
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CryptoQuote - A quick and fun cypher solving game Pick of the Week
CryptoQuote imageThe macosxhints Rating:
10 of 10
[Score: 10 out of 10]
I was Googling for something completely unrelated the other day, and (as is often the case), wound up finding something I wasn't even looking for. In this case, that something happened to be CryptoQuote by John Haney, whose utility Backdrop was a previous Pick of the Week selection.

Back in the day when I still had most of the hair on top of my head, my workday didn't start at 4:30am, and there was no "Kylie factor" involved in my leisure time, I used to enjoy solving cryptoquotes in the daily paper. (A cryptoquote is a simple letter-substitution cypher, with each letter of the alphabet randomly replaced by some other letter.) But then, times changed, the paper dropped the cryptoquotes, and I generally lost interest in them. Until I stumbled on John's wonderful CryptoQuote app.

This isn't an overly complex application, given the relatively simplicity of cryptoquotes. Still, the interface is well thought out. You can play the game entirely from the keyboard, for instance. Type a letter you see in the puzzle, and then type its replacement, and you see it appear. Undo a selection by hitting Delete. Stuck? Get a hint, and those letter appear in another color, letting you know just how lame your brain was for that particular puzzle. Need some help with letter counts? You can slide out a drawer showing the distribution of most-commonly-used letters for both English in general and the puzzle being played.

In the free version, there are 75 puzzles to solve, along with the daily puzzle and monthly 'big one' from cryptoquote.com. You can also enter a custom puzzle (if you've got one in print, for instance), or convert a quote into a cryptoquote (see the Pick of the Week box, for instance!). For your $5.00 registration, you gain access to 1,524 puzzles, as well as any historical daily or monthly puzzle from cryptoquote.com. Not a bad deal for $5.00. Perhaps best of all, CyrptoQuote is easy to fire up and play for a few minutes, and obviously doesn't tax your CPU or graphics card -- it's a perfect PowerBook game for travel, in other words. And at only $5.00, it was a pretty painless purchase decision...
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Celestia - Explore the universe Pick of the Week
Celestia imageThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
If you're fascinated by stars, planets, moons, comets, and the universe in general, you owe it to yourself to check out Celestia. This amazing free Java program lets you zip about the universe, displaying amazing pictures of various celestial bodies -- there are some great shots in the Celestia Screenshot Gallery. The program knows about our solar system, comets, over 100,000 stars, and even additional galaxies. If that's not enough, you can download even more from the Celestia Motherlode site.

To get a sense of what you can see in Celestia, launch the program, and then press 'D' to enter Demo mode. Then just sit back and watch the show.
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10.4: Use Widget Update to keep widgets current Pick of the Week
Tiger only hintWidget Update imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
  • Product Page
  • Price: Free (Donate button, but non-nag, non-limited program)
I'm not a huge Dashboard user, but nonetheless, my collection has managed to grow to something like 30 widgets since Tiger was released. And since Dashboard is a new technology, it seems most of these widgets are updated on a weekly basis -- keeping current is really time consuming, and to be honest, is something I haven't been very good about.

Enter Widget Update, which Dan Frakes covered in last week's Widgets of the Week. This handy free widget looks at your installed widgets, tells you which of them are out of date, and includes a link to the widget's download page on Dashboard Widgets, VersionTracker, MacUpdate, or Apple's Dashboard Widgets page.

Due to inconsistencies between widgets, Widget Update may not be able to automatically find updates for all your installed widgets -- it's not a given that Widget Update will be able to find info on 100% of your widgets. For troublesome widgets, there's an Advanced settings screen, where you can manually insert URL info that would allow Widget Update to check for updates. You can also use the Advanced settings area to handle version inconsistencies. For instance, one widget that I have didn't update its version number, even though a newer version came out. As a result, Widget Update kept telling me to update the widget. Using the Advanced screen for that widget, I manually set the version number to match, and now Widget Update knows I have the current version.

Widget Update is easy to use, has a well-designed interface, and helps me keep up with a housekeeping chore that had been slipping between the cracks. It's well worth the minimal download time if you need help managing your widget collection.
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PCalc - A well-done calculator app ... and widget Pick of the Week
PCalc imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
PCalc is a shareware calculator, written by James Thomson, author of another long-time fave of mine, DragThing. And yes, there are many, many calculator apps out there, including a couple freebies from Apple, but PCalc is one of my favorites -- especially in its new Version 3 release. It does everything you'd expect of a high-end calculator, including tapes, scientific functions, and even includes an RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) mode, first popularized on HP calculators. I've used HPs for so long that I find it hard to work in anything but RPN, so that's a big selling point for me. For those who don't grok RPN, there are now parentheses buttons, as well, so that you can control the order of operations. PCalc even tells you how many parentheses are presently open, which makes entering complex formulas much easier.

But beyond the feature set, PCalc is also the nicest-looking calculator app I've ever seen. The interface is very nice, and a 'nicer digits' option creates (in my opinion) a better looking display. PCalc even includes a super useful Widget version (for 10.4 users) that contains most of the features of the full-blown app, and hides itself quite nicely when not in use.

But don't take my word for it -- Dan Frakes likes it, too, and covered it in this week's MacGems, with lots of additional details...
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ColorTagGen - Simple HTML color converter Pick of the Week
ColorTagGen imageThe macosxhints Rating:
10 of 10
[Score: 10 out of 10]
This week's PotW is a simple, free, and amazingly handy utility for those of us who dabble with colors on the web. As most of you probably know, when setting a color in HTML and/or CSS, you can specify it by one of a handful of names, or reference it by its hex-encoded RGB value. So instead of "blue," you could use "#3300FF." Getting these hex-encoded values for a given color is simple in almost any graphics program. In my case, I use Photoshop Elements; select a color in the color picker, and its RGB value shoes up in the window.

However, Elements is a relatively large program, and I don't always have it running. Also, after picking a color, you also have to then select and copy the RGB value if you wish to use it. So I went looking for a third-party (freeware) RGB color selector that was faster to load and use. After looking at about 15 of them, I found one that really works perfectly for me -- ColorTagGen. This simple little app displays the standard Apple color selector, as well as its own dialog box. Choose a color in the selector, and you get an instant display of its RGB value, as well as the hex-encoded RGB value. There's also a very handy Copy HTML button, which puts the hex-encoded value on your clipboard, saving some mouse and keyboard work.

A simple little program, and there are probably another 25 like it that I didn't find in my brief search ... but ColorTagGen seems to be perfect for my occasional needs outside of Photoshop Elements.
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Spotless - Gain some control over Spotlight Pick of the Week
Spotless imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Spotless is a simple little app that gives you a bit more control over OS X 10'4s Spotblight, er, Spotlight, feature. As you all probably know, Spotlight indexes your hard drives, theoretically making it easy to find everything on your machine. Personally, I don't use it much, as I find it's lack of easy-to-access boolean functions quite limiting. However, it has come in handy a couple of times when looking for a few obscure files on my machine, so I let it keep indexing my drives.

Despite my settings to the contrary in the Spotlight Privacy tab, however, Spotlight insists on re-indexing my two backup FireWire drives every time I reconnect them. This means that every search I run finds three (nearly identical) copies of every hit. Arghhh! This same glitch seemingly hit Dan Frakes, so he went solution hunting and found Spotless -- his full-blown writeup goes into great detail on the program and its features. Here's my exeuctive summary version:

Spotless will let you easily and permanently disable Spotlight indexing on any drive -- even if you move that drive to another machine after disabling indexing, Spotlight will still leave it alone. You can also turn off Spotlight completely, if you wish, and delete individual index files from each of your drives. I love it; I turned off my backup drives indexing, trashed their indexes, and then re-mounted them -- as promised, Spotlight is no longer indexing or searching those drives; hooray! This aggravation-saver is well worth $7.95, in my opinion (though I hope a future OS X update resolves the removable-drive issue, and gives us eaasier boolean searches!)

As an aside, I noted in last week's pick that I'm now working with the Mac Gems column at Macworld. Some picks, like Textpander last week, will be mine, and I'll do a longer writeup on Mac Gems. Others, like this one, will come from apps I've read about on Mac Gems. In both cases, I'll include a link to the longer Mac Gems article...
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Textpander - Reduce finger wear and tear Pick of the Week

Welcome back, Pick of the Week! After a few months spent exploring the outback of Australia, paddling the fjords of Norway, strolling the Champs de Elysées in Paris, and generally not working, the Pick of the Week (PotW for short) is back and ready to get to it.

During his time away, there have been some changes, of course, so things will be a bit different around here now. Since Macworld has an excellent feature called MacGems that focuses on interesting and useful OS X programs, we've decided to combine the PotW with MacGems. What that means is that you'll still see a PotW here each week (typically on Monday), but you'll see a mix of stuff that's newly discovered by yours truly, as well as pointers to stuff that other Macworld editors have uncovered that I find worth mentioning.

In both cases, I'll post a short summary of the program here, and then link to the full review in the MacGems section of Macworld's site. So while the blurbs here may be a bit shorter than they have been in the past, the articles that I'll link to will provide much more detail, as you'll see if you keep reading.

-rob.

Textpander imageThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
This week's PotW is from Peter Maurer, author of my all-time-fave utility Butler, which was a PotW way back in December of 2003. One of the features of Butler is a relatively simple macro utility that lets you create text strings that can be inserted with the press of a 'command-key' keyboard shortcut (i.e. shift-control-H, or whatever). While this works quite well, I was looking for something that would automatically expand simple typed shortcuts into full text strings. For instance, if I typed !!rob, I wanted the program to insert the text string With best regards, etc. into the currently active application. I tried TypeIt4Me, but I didn't really like the way it worked. Then someone poined me to Peter's Textpander.

After installing it and using it for only a few minutes, I was hooked. This program has already saved my fingers miles of typing, given the number of things that I type over and over again. It worked great in Carbon, Cocoa, and even Java apps; I was suitably impressed.

For the full story on this very useful program, read my writeup on yesterday's MacGems.
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