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AcidSearch - Enhanced Google search bar in Safari Pick of the Week
AcidSearch icon The macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
Though I primarily use Firefox for my browsing needs, I do run Safari occasionally -- primarily for Flash sites, as I have Flash blocked in Firefox. But sometimes I also just start using Safari for the day and keep using it (I'm not particularly vehement about my browser preferences). When I do, though, I find myself missing a feature found in Firefox -- the ability to have more than just Google in the search box located in the URL bar. That's where AcidSearch comes into play. AcidSearch is a Safari plug-in that adds a number of pre-defined search engines (including macosxhints), as well as the ability for you to easily add more definitions.

Once installed, Safari works just as before -- except you now have a handy drop-down menu, as seen at left (larger version). Select your search engine, then enter your search phrase and hit Enter, and off you go. If that's not enough for you, you can use the Edit Search Channels option to create your own definitions, change the default engine, and place the channels in any order you wish, complete with separators.

According to the documentation, the last-chosen search engine should remain active until you change it again. However, in my testing, it always reverted to the default engine after one search. I'm not sure if this is particular to my machine or not, but it's a small annoyance -- having multiple engines available is a huge timesaver.
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Lux - World domination made easy Pick of the Week
Lux icon The macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
  • Developer: Sillysoft
  • Price: $20.00 [20 free games trial version]
Growing up, our family and friends used to pass hours taking over the world, again and again ... by playing Risk, the "classic game of global domination." The objective in Risk, peaceful and fun-loving game that it is :), is to control the entire world by taking over the various countries with your armies. No diplomacy here, just world conquest via takeover! Although Risk is a great game, it suffers from the "Monopoly effect" -- games can take literally hours to play, which makes it hard to break out the game for a quick bit of relaxation. Though I haven't played the board game very often recently (usually just at Christmas time with the family!), I've been looking, off and on, for a decent Mac-based replacement ... which I think I've now found in Lux.

Lux is Risk ... and much more. You can choose from the "classic" Risk map, eight other pre-defined maps, or use a map generator to create a random map on the fly. You can even create your own maps, complete with your own background images and more. Up to six people can play, in any combination of human or computer opponents. The computer opponents' skill level ranges from easy to hard, with several "personalities" in each bucket. Even better, there's a network mode that's as easy as clicking a button -- the game finds other servers for you to join automatically (you need to buy Lux to host games). Lux is also available for Mac, Linux, and PC, so you can dominate a cross-platform online world!

The gameplay in Lux is much as I recall Risk -- lots of thoughts on where to put armies, and then battles coming down to the luck of the roll and the number of units in each country. What I really like about this version, though, is the speed with which you can play a game. After you've taken your turn, the computer opponents' battles go very quickly -- it's almost like a fireworks display as you watch the explosions from their skirmishes. The explosions are a very cool way of showing the battles in progress; the image below shows a couple explosions in northern Canada ... or watch a movie of the entire sequence of the five computer opponents taking their turn.

I played against five computer opponents, and the entire group took maybe 10 seconds or so to make their moves each time, as you can see in the movie. As a result, you can play an entire game of Lux in a reasonable amount of time -- 20 to 30 minutes or less, depending on how good you are :).

If all that's not enough for you, there are even plug-ins, such as a game set entirely in California or Hawaii, and quite a few Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings) based maps (again, registration required to use the plug-ins). Quite fun, and well worth $20 in my book.

Site news sidebar comment: We passed 6,000 hints in the database today -- not bad for under four years' worth of work! Thanks everyone for helping make this the spot on the web for OS X tips and tricks!
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Keyword Assistant -- iPhoto keywords made easy! Pick of the Week
Keyword Assistant icon The macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Do you use iPhoto to organize your images? If you do, do you use keywords to help further categorize the pictures? If you don't, you really should. Unfortunately, Apple's implementation of keywords feels somewhat kludgy at best, and it's a bit confusing, especially at first. You have to open a special keywords panel, and also show the keywords in the main library. From there, when you want to categorize an image, you select the image(s), then find the keyword to assign in the keyword panel. Once you've found the keyword, you have to then click the Assign button to add it to the selected photo(s). This works fine, if not somewhat clumsily, if you have two or three keywords. But if you have a reasonable number of images, then you're probably going to have 20 or 30 keywords, which greatly complicates the task of finding the one you're after. And it doesn't help that the keyword panel isn't even sorted!

This is where Keyword Assistant (KA from here on) comes into the picture (so to speak). KA installs an additional menu in iPhoto, as seen at left. In addition to some handy utilities, such as Alphabetize Keywords Panel Now (hooray!), the real power is the Show Assistant Panel, which opens a new one-line input window. With this window open, assigning keywords becomes significantly easier: Select the images you wish to modify, and then type the keyword into the Assistant box. When you hit Enter, the keyword is assigned. Want to assign multiple keywords at once? Just separate them with a comma before you hit Enter. What makes this really powerful, though, is that KA knows all your keywords, and auto-completes your entries as soon as you've typed enough letters to uniquely identify them. In my case, I have only one "K" keyword (Kylie, of course), so I can categorize her images with one keystroke.

If you type a new keyword, you'll be asked if you really want to create a new keyword (you can disable this warning in the KA menu), and then presto, you not only have a new keyword, but it's been assigned to the images you selected.

The only reason I gave KA a 9 instead of a 10 is that there's not an easy way to remove just one keyword from an image -- if you have a picture with three keywords, and one is incorrect, you'll either need to use Apple's keyword panel to remove the incorrect keyword, or use KA and remove all three then start over. It'd be nice if something like an Option-Click on the Assign button turned it into Remove instead. But this is a minor nitpick; KA is such a perfect addition to iPhoto, you'll wonder why Apple didn't build it in in the first place!
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Calendarclock - Another menubar date/time solution Pick of the Week
Calendarclock iconThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Having the date and time in the menubar clock is an often-requested hack for OS X -- there have been a number of hints about how to do this, as well as a previous Pick of the Week (iClock). Here's yet one more, this time by Peter Maurer, author of my all-time-fave utility, Butler. Calendarclock is a simple application that places the time and date (or some combo thereof) in the menubar when it's running.

Calendarclock puts nearly any version of date and time in your menubar that you'd like to see -- it uses the syntax from the Unix strftime command to display a format of your choice (with a number of pre-defined options). Do a man strftime in the Terminal and you'll see the various formatting options available. After some experimenting, I settled on %a %b %e %1I:%M%p, which leads to a date/time display of Mon Aug 2 9:03am (I'm usually alert enough to know the current year).

In addition to the date/time display, Calendarclock will display a full-month calendar when you click on the date/time in the menubar, as seen at left. The pop-up menu at top lets you change the month shown, or you can use the small arrows below the calendar. If you double-click a date in the calendar, iCal opens with that date selected. Below the calendar, the selected day's iCal entries are shown (they can be hidden by clicking the circular three-line icon). Alternatively, you can use the preferences to display the entire month's iCal events, but such a list will tend to be quite long. And yes, I do have Kylie's pick-up time scheduled, mainly so I get a reminder that I need to go pick her up! The circular down-arrow icon lets you donate, open Calendarclock's preferences, and launch iCal or the Date & Time preferences panel.

There are obviously other tools that do this, including the previously-discussed iClock and wClock, but I prefer Calendarclock. The only reason it lost a point at all is that it cannot be moved from the top-right corner of the menubar, and I'd prefer to have something else in that corner. However, this is a minor quibble, and the flexibility of Calendarclock more than makes up for it.
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ClipboardSharing - Share clipboard data between Macs Pick of the Week
ClipboardSharing iconThe macosxhints Rating:
10 of 10
[Score: 10 out of 10]
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of July 26th, the current week (whew, caught up again!)]

ClipboardSharing is one of those apps that I didn't know I needed until I found it. If you have more than one Mac and do a lot of work on both of them, it can be an incredible timesaver. What is it? Basically, ClipboardSharing lets you share the contents of the clipboard with any number of additional Macs on your local network. ClipboardSharing is an application, not a preferences panel, so there's not much to worry about in the way of crashing or compatibility. Launch it on each machine whose clipboards you'd like to share, and you'll see a new scissors icon in each machine's menubar. Click the icon to reveal the preferences and options:

ClipboardSharing has no dock icon, so you quit it by using the Quit option in the menubar. In the preferences, you can specify a size limit for data on the clipboard, how many clipboards to remember (yes, it's a basic multiple-clipboard app, too), and whether to store the clipboards on the hard drive between uses of the program. A Sharing tab lets you set up custom ports, enable logging, and specify whether or not to be notified when your clipboard is modified. The Access tab allows you to create rules for accessing the clipboards; I added a simple "Deny access if client is not on my local network" rule to prevent accidentally sharing my clipboards with the net :). Finally, AutoSync will keep clipboards on two machines in sync (I haven't tested this part of the program yet).

For me, this is a big timesaver, as between working on the book, Macworld articles, and hints, I'm constantly jumping between the two machines to test something on one or the other, and usually taking a screenshot in the process. Now I can just shoot the screenshot to the clipboard and have it instantly accessible from the other Mac. There are probably some good uses in a work group situation, too, to share info across the team quickly and easily.
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Mail.appetizer - Better new mail notification Pick of the Week
Mail.appetizer iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of July 19th]

Mail.appetizer is a plug-in for Apple's Mail that provides a much more informative "new mail" preview than the standard "red number in the dock icon." With Mail.appetizer installed, you'll instead see a semi-transparent pop-up displaying the message sender, subject, mailbox, and a bit of the content of the message, along with a count of new messages. If you click in the window, you'll see the next new message, or (if there are no more) close the window. If you control-click the window, the current message is read; shift-control-clicking deletes the message. If you click on the subject, you'll open the email in Mail. Finally, you can dismiss all notifications by clicking the close widget, or dismiss the notifications for the current box only by control-clicking the close widget.

Mail.appetizer installs with a double-click, and works directly from Mail. It adds a new Mail preference (Notification), through which you control its behavior. You can specify a font family and size, degree of transparency, whether or not to show the header titles and mailbox name, and if you'd like it to automatically advance to the next message after a certain amount of time. About the only thing you can't do is pick which mailboxes are subject to Mail.appetizer's pop-ups, although that's promised for the next release. It does, however, run after all of your rules have been processed, and it skips the Junk mail folder (whew!).

If you ever get sick of the pop-ups, you can either just turn off the notification, or run the installer again, which includes an Uninstall option.
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breve - A 3D visual simulation engine Pick of the Week
breve iconThe macosxhints Rating:
10 of 10
[Score: 10 out of 10]
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of July 12th]

Shamelessly lifted from the website, breve is "a 3D simulation environment designed for the simulation of decentralized systems and artificial life." In other words, breve is a tool for people who are much smarter than I am! breve basically allows you to program a "world," complete with entities who respond to the rules you create. The world is created with a simulation language called "steve" (no relation to Jobs, I'm sure!). You then run your program, and you can watch your population (and its behaviors) evolve over time in an OpenGL rendered view of the world. You can zoom, rotate, and interact with obejects in the universe through this view, creating an interactive environment. There are people doing some amazingly interesting research with breve, but that's not why I chose it as a PotW.

When you install breve (it's a full GUI app; a simple drag and drop does the trick), you'll find a whole suite of demos installed with the program. To a non-scientific-type such as myself, these demos provide a glimpse into the world of simulation, and they're quite fun to watch. They range from the quick and simple (fireworks; try it with the Speed menu on Slow) to the complex and very slow to run (the "walker" examples in the Physics section should be run for 12+ hours, in order to let the walkers evolve and learn to walk). You can record any simulation to a QuickTime movie, too, so you can come back later and watch the entire progression.

When you run the demos, you'll also see the source code that creates what you're seeing on screen. If you're so inclined, you can change the variables and re-run the simulation to see what effect your changes have. If you've got the time and desire, you can even learn "steve" and write your own simulations. That, of course, is beyond my skill set, but I do enjoy running and tweaking the demos. Thanks to Sean Luke at George Mason University for pointing this one out to me!

Note: breve will stress your system -- running some of the more complex demos maxed out both CPUs on my G5 -- so don't be surprised if other tasks on your machine slow down a bit when the demos are running.
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GeekTool - Useful and fun info on the desktop Pick of the Week
GeekTool iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
I've been playing with GeekTool for a few weeks now, and the more I use it, the more fun I'm having with it. We've run a couple of hints involving GeekTool (cal output on the desktop and today's iTunes song title in the menubar hint), but I felt it was worth a PotW as well.

What is GeekTool? A simple description would be it's a program (technically, it's a preference pane) that allows the output of a Unix command, the contents of a file, or an image from the web or your hard drive to be displayed on your screen. These commands and images can be updated on varying schedules that you can set for each item. Within that simple description, though, there are a ton of possibilities. Here's a simple example of some of what you can do (click the image for a larger version):

I've got five separate GeekTool tasks running in the above image. At the very bottom of the screen, the output of the uptime command is displayed, and it updates automatically every 15 minutes. In the left corner is a calendar, courtesy of the cal command (as discussed in the linked hint above). The calendar output is only updated once per day. To the right of the calendar is a three-month Apple stock chart, updated every five minutes. The top left image is the Portland Doppler radar, which gets refreshed every 10 minutes, and to the right of that is an infrared image of the sun, updated every four hours. And no, I don't normally devote this much screen space to GeekTool toys; my usual set is just the uptime display, cal output, and (on interesting weather days) the weather map.
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Tofu - A unique way of reading chunks of text Pick of the Week
Tofu iconThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
Tofu is an interesting application -- it's basically a column-oriented text reader. Basically, Tofu will work with text (pasted, grabbed via a service, or in an opened file) and reformat it to display in multiple columns, all fully justified. This can make reading long, text-heavy documents much easier -- many websites (some would say including macosxhints!) display text on a few long lines, instead of multiple shorter lines in columns. Magazines and newspapers use shorter lines and columns because they're much easier for the reader to follow, especially in long, multi-page articles. Tofu provides a similar service for any text you care to feed it.

I use Tofu quite a bit when reading articles that are long on text and light on images (Tofu can display them, but since the layout gets modified, they may not make much sense where they show in the reformatted text). Just copy and paste a bunch of text into Tofu, and you're ready to go. The text flows into justified columns, fitting the window size you've chosen, and you're ready to read, scrolling left to right as you go.

Tofu includes a "live search" feature, too, so you can jump directly to any spot in the text just by typing a few characters that you'd like to search with. And if you use services-aware applications like Safari or OmniWeb, there's a service available (View in Columns) to make the process even quicker (though it opens the new window behind any existing Tofu windows, which might make you think it didn't work at first). You can set your preferred font, background color, and other options in Tofu's prefs, and there are a variety of keyboard and mouse-based scrolling shortcuts. If you find yourself with tired eyes after reading long articles on the web, give Tofu a try...
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Preferential Treatment - Test XML preference files Pick of the Week
Preferential Treatment iconThe macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
  • Developer: Jonathan Nathan [Click on Preferential Treatment in left frame]
  • Price: Donationware / Open source
One of the subtle causes of OS X crashes and behavioral oddities is corruption in an XML preferences file. Normally, discovering this corruption is a bit of a trial and error process -- you notice an app is misbehaving, so you trash its prefs and see if things get better. Apple, however, included a Unix tool (as of 10.2 and newer) to help automate the process -- plutil. Using the Terminal, you can check your user's Preference files, for instance, by typing sudo plutil -s ~/Library/Preferences/*.plist.

This will generate a report showing which, if any, preference files have syntax errors. It's run as root because some preference files (such as TechTool4's) are owned by root, due to the way the apps run). The -s switch tells plutil to suppress output on successful files (those that test OK), leaving just the troublesome files in the output report. At that point, you can delete, move, or try to fix the flagged files (plutil was covered in more detail in this previous hint).

While this is handy, not everyone loves the Terminal (shocking, I know!), which is where Preferential Treatment comes in. This AppleScript Studio application wraps a nice GUI around plutil, and it lets you easily test both the user-level and system-level preference files. The output is an easy-to-read table showing the filename and a description of the problem.

Advanced users can even edit the preferences to add additional preference directories, change the script that's run, and modify the application used to edit a corrupt preference file (which you do by double-clicking any item in the output). A handy smart button reveals flagged files in the Finder, moves them to the trash, or lets you choose an app with which to open the file. There's a button to give the app admin privileges, too, so it can test those root-owned user and system-level files.

If you're handy in the Terminal, you probably won't need Preferential Treatment ... but if you'd rather have a nice GUI wrapper and an easy way to test all your XML preference files, give it a look.
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