Without fail, every few weeks it seems I'd get an email or iChat from a relative that went something like this: "Hey, I just shot a QuickTime movie with my digital camera, but I did so with the camera rotated. Can you use QuickTime Pro on it for me, and rotate it the way it's supposed to be?" So they'd then email me a large file, I'd take two seconds to rotate it in QuickTime Pro, save it, and email it back to them. I figured there had to be a better solution, and after some web searching, I stumbled on TransformMovie.
This simple app lets you rotate -- in any increment of degrees that you like -- movies, as well as flipping them horizontally and/or vertically. You can also scale them, preserve the date stamp, and optionally choose to overwrite the original movie. All of these values are set in the program's preferences.
To set the rotation angle, you move a slider anywhere from 0 degrees to 360 degrees. While this works, I wish there were indicators on the slider for 90-degree increments, which would make these often-used values easier to find. Still, if you always rotate your camera one direction, you'll only have to set this value once, so it's not too bad. (If you use anything other than 90-degree increments, TransformMovie adds a black frame around your video.)
Once you've set the preferences, you use TransformMovie by simply dragging and dropping video clips into its small window. It will prompt for a destination (you can also set that in preferences), then apply your specified transformation. It's simple and fast, and works quite well.
While it's not free, $10 is much nicer than $30 for QuickTime Pro, and paying for any one of Limit Point's utilities gives you a license for all of their utilities. Since pointing my relatives at TransformMovie, I've spent a lot less time rotating videos for them, and that's a good thing!
Note: This week's Pick marks a change -- the picks are no longer rated. Several readers have pointed out that if a given program is chosen as a Pick of the Week, that implies at least a certain level of usability and features. (The reality was that the majority of Picks scored either 8 or 9, with the occasional 10 and the even-rarer 7, so we effectively had about a three-step scale anyway.)
After mulling it over, I've decided I agree with them. I'll still try to point out any problems I spot in a given program, obviously, but I'll no longer be assigning an actual rating to each one.
A couple years back, I selected the original Professor Fizzwizzle as a Pick of the Week. In 2007, Grubby Games released Professor Fizzwizzle and the Molten Mystery (PFMM from here on), and it was just as addictive as the original. Given that I've been enjoying it for over a year now, I figure it's time to give it a Pick of the Week selection.
Like the original, PFMM is all about puzzle solving, and moving the professor from point A to point B in the process. (You can read the original PotW write-up for a fairly detailed explanation of the gameplay.) PFMM is more of the same -- 210 levels in all, spread across Kids, Regular, and Advanced puzzle types -- with some nice new features. First, and most welcome, is an undo key. If you accidentally push a box too far, for instance, just press U and the last move will be reversed. No longer do you have to start from scratch on a complex puzzle because of a simple error.
There are also some new gameplay elements: Bat-Bots will see and follow you, and destroy you if given the chance; Bridges are made of old wood, and crumble the first time you use them; and Teleports move you (or any movable game object) from one location to another. Added to the existing mix of crates, barrels, magnets, gates (and inflatable versions of many objects), the puzzles in PFMM are even more involving (and occasionally frustrating) than in the original.
Although the game is still very low-key (there's no time or life limit for solving a level, nor a traditional score of any sort), PFMM has added a new step counter as a way of creating a measurable value. As you play, the game records how many steps it takes you to solve each level, you can submit your low step counts to an online database if you wish. The map view, where you select a level, also shows the step count for each level you've completed, along with a button to show the online lowest step counts for that level. Just like the original, you can see the solution to a puzzle at any time with a button press, in case a given level gets too frustrating.
Overall, I've found PFMM to be just as fun and addictive as the original version, and that's a fine compliment.
I just finished another video project for Macworld (an overview of Sun's VirtualBox virtualization app for Macs), and as I finished the project, I realized just how pleasant it is to work with Final Cut Express -- and that I'd never given it the Pick of the Week nod here on macosxhints.com. Yes, it's relatively expensive, but if you have more than a passing interest in video editing on the Mac, it's well worth the cost of admission.
I'll be the first to admit that I've got no aspirations (nor skills to succeed) as a pro video editor. For my needs, iMovie HD was always more than sufficient -- I even used it for a near-hour-long project for a company party. Overall, I was happy with iMovie HD, other than the occasional crash, and the slow interface speed as project size increased. Still, I wasn't looking for another solution...until iMovie '08 was released.
Despite the raving by Jobs about iMovie '08, I couldn't ever adjust to its completely bizarre approach to editing video -- no true timeline, an odd visual bin that becomes unwieldy with more than a few clips in it, minimal support for multiple tracks, etc. I spent many hours with the program, trying to adjust to its way of editing video -- I even created a couple of my Macworld videos using it. But I literally hated every second I spent in the program, and my videos seemed to take forever to complete. So I set out to replace iMovie '08 ... and yes, I know I can still use iMovie HD, but it's clear that the program has no future, and I'd rather not use unsupported tools.
This week's Pick of the Week is somewhat unusual, but I think highly deserving. Instead of picking any one product, I've chosen to give the selection to Apple's new iPhone/iPod touch App Store. After using the App Store quite a bit over the last few days, I believe it truly is a paradigm-changer for the mobile applications business -- much as the original iTunes Music Store was when it opened years ago.
Prior to my iPhone, I owned and used a Palm Treo. One of my frustrations with the Treo was finding and installing software for it. Although there's a huge universe of programs for the Treo, I never managed to find the best way to discover, install, and keep up-to-date with the various programs I wanted to find. With the App Store, all of those difficulties have vanished.
Whether I'm on my iPhone or my Mac, the App Store makes it simple to find and install anything in the universe of (Apple-approved) iPhone applications. One button tap is all that's required to see any updates that have been released for programs I've installed. It really doesn't get much simpler than that.
Developers seem to have embraced the App Store as well, with over 500 applications at launch (and over 225 more added since then). For the most part, I've been impressed with the pricing of the applications -- many are free, and there's a huge selection available for $4.99 and less -- including a number at the "iTunes standard" of $0.99, which is clearly in the "impulse buy" price range for many users.
The App Store isn't perfect, of course. I'd love to see a "view by date" on the iPhone version of the store, along with some method of doing batch installs on the iPhone, instead of the currently-required click-buy-download-install-repeat cycle that's in place now. However, those are relatively minor quibbles -- the App Store is a game changer for both users and developers of software for mobile devices, and for that, it's this week's Pick of the Week.
If you've ever wanted to modify a number of events in iCal, you'll soon find it's basically not possible. That's where CaliBrate comes in, which I discovered last week when it was written up as a Mac Gem on macworld.com. I'd never heard of the program before, so I downloaded it and gave it a trial run.
Over the years, my iCal calendars have become something of a mess. There were near-duplicate calendars (Personal and Home, for instance), as well as calendars that contained events that I'd originally placed on one calendar but really wanted to have on another. CaliBrate made short work of all these changes. It's got an intuitive interface with four tabs, one of which is the About tab.
You start by specifying a Search, to find the events you'd like to modify. After running the search, click on Results to see which events were selected (as well as unselected events, and you can drag between the two types to create the ideal set of events to modify). You then click on the Act tab to choose the action to apply to the selected events. There are many different actions, including Delete, move or copy to a new or existing calendar, changing the events' dates and/or times, searching and replacing in title and notes, adding attendees, and much more. Click Perform Action, and the changes are made.
In my testing, CaliBrate worked perfectly, and helped me clean up a mess of calendars and events in a hurry. It may not be a utility you need every day, but when you do need it, it seems well worth the $8.00 asking price.
Kent Sutherland, author of Chax, has come up with another gem. Warp is a System Preferences panel that offers some new features that make working with Spaces simpler. First, you can switch spaces simply via mouse drag -- you don't have to be dragging a window; just drag the mouse to the edge of the screen, and after a user-settable delay, you'll switch to the adjacent space. (You can optionally add a required modifier key to the mouse-drag, if you like.)
You can also have the cursor warp into the new space, which changes its position in the new space -- it's hard to explain but easy to understand when you see it in action. A wrap-around setting lets you move from, for instance, the leftmost space to the rightmost space by dragging to the left edge of the screen.
Finally, and perhaps most usefully, if you enable the "Click screen edge to Warp" feature, you'll get a preview of the destination space before you activate it -- click in the small preview window to then switch to that space. This feature, though, didn't quite work right on my dual-monitor setup. The preview window would only show windows that were on the primary screen of the space being previewed.
If you use Spaces a lot, you may find Warp a valuable addition to your toolkit.
Last year, I gave a PotW award to JollysFastVNC, a speedy VNC client. That product was actually a spin-off from ScreenRecycler, which is interesting in its own right. Just what is ScreenRecycler? A program that lets you use another computer -- Mac or Windows -- as an additional screen for another Mac. In other words, it's a virtual second monitor. This is actually something that I'm asked relatively ofen: "Hey, I've got this old Mac, can I somehow connect it to my main Mac to use as a second screen?" My typical answer has been "no, that's not something you can really do." But now, with ScreenRecycler, you can actually do just that. ScreenRecycler uses JollysFastVNC to connect two machines together, but sets up the second machine as an extended desktop for the first machine, rather than just controlling that machine's screen.
There's a video on this page of the ScreenRecycler site that shows the program in action, using a PowerBook G4 as an additional screen for a MacBook Pro. It really is a pretty impressive solution, and works well for most programs. The exception are those programs that require hardware accelerated graphics; they may not work at all, or may not work correctly, when used on a second display that's running through ScreenRecycler. But for non-intensive tasks such as displaying palettes, editing text, writing emails, and even watching videos, ScreenRecycler works quite well (the faster the connection between the two machines the better, obviously). While it's not cheap, it's a heck of a lot less expensive than a second monitor.
For years, I've used Raging Menace's free MenuMeters (Pick of the Week write-up) to keep an eye on my system. Although I've tried other apps over the years, this week's Pick is the first one that has me seriously considering changing my system monitoring utility. As with MenuMeters, iStat menus lets you monitor various system activities via menu bar icons. Also as with MenuMeters, you can monitor CPU usage, disk space, memory usage, and network activity. Buy you can also add icons to watch temperatures, fan speeds and power usage, Bluetooth, and even replace the stock date and time feature.
You can customize the appearance of each menu bar icon, as well as disable those you have no interest in seeing. When you click on a given menubar icon, you're given more information about that particular category of activity. For instance, when I click the CPU icon, I get a breakdown on usage between user, system, nice and idle processes, a live graph of CPU usage over time by core, the top five CPU-using processes, some data on loads and uptimes, and an icon to launch Activity Monitor. MenuMeters, by comparison, shows uptime, a task and thread count, and load averages (and buttons for Activity Monitor and Console). You'll get similar detail on the other options in iStat menus.
The replacement date and time function is a nice addition -- when you click the time, you'll get a full month's calendar in the menu that appears, and options to open the Date & Time System Preferences panel or iCal. (You can't, however, see any iCal events or to-do's on the calendar; for that, I really like MenuCalendarClock for iCal.)
iStat menus is a very useful system monitoring tool, and at the moment, I'm trying to decide exactly which to keep using--I prefer some of the icon display options and appearances in MenuMeters, but I like the additional tools and features in iStat menus. (If you'd like more info on iStat menus, including a number of screenshots, Macworld covered it in this recent Mac Gems entry.) As both are free to use, though, there's no cost to trying both and sticking with the one that works best for you.
There are lots of utilities out there to help with batch file renaming, including Apple's own Automator, which includes some renaming actions. One of my favorite tools is Name Mangler, which has a (relatively) intuitive interface, and some powerful renaming features. Using a drop-down menu, you tell Name Mangler what you'd like it to do -- find and replace, number sequentially, change case, set extension, add prefix/suffix, or remove/insert characters. There's one more option here, Advanced, that I'll discuss in a bit more detail later.
The left half of the Name Mangler window shows the list of files that you'll be modifying. You can populate the list by drag-and-drop from the Finder, or by clicking a button to add the current Finder (or Path Finder) selection to the list. Next to each file is an example of how it will look when renamed, based on your chosen conditions. Those conditions are shown on the right half of the window, and are based (obviously) on which type of renaming you've chosen from the drop-down menu. The pre-defined change types will meet most of your needs, but for those times when you want to do more, the Advanced option offers a tremendous amount of power. Using Advanced, you can construct your own replacement rules, using Name Mangler's name conversion description language (NCDL). With NCDL, you can create your own rules with constants, variables, and functions. There's an Examples pop-up menu you can use with Advanced to see some sample queries, and the help file has more info on using NCDL. It's quite powerful, though building advanced NCDL tasks isn't for the faint of heart.
Once you've created a set of renaming rules, you can save them as a "droplet," which is basically a file that launches Name Mangler, activates your settings, acts on the files you've dragged to the droplet, then quits Name Mangler. (The behavior differs if you launch a droplet when Name Mangler is already running; check the help file for more details.)
I don't need to batch rename files all that often, but when I do, I find that Name Mangler works well for my needs.
I've never been a huge fan of download manager applications -- for my needs, I really felt that Firefox plus the Download Statusbar did everything I'd ever need relative to downloads. Then I spent some time using Many Tricks' new lightweight download manager, Leech. Leech is really best for those who download a lot of files; if you usually only download a couple of files a week, then your browser's built-in tools will probably meet your needs. But if you download a ton of stuff, you may find Leech quickly becoming an indispensable tool.
What does Leech offer that you don't get from your browser's built-in download tools? The biggest issue for me is that downloads are now independent of the browser (once they've begun). So if your browser crashes, you don't then have to start all over with a big set of downloads. Beyond that, though, Leech keeps a fully-searchable (and sortable) history of the files you've downloaded with it, making it easy to find an old download and (among other things) download it again. Leech's dock icon serves as a simple progress indicator, with the arrow icon filling in as downloads progress (and a badge shows how many downloads are in progress). You can limit the number of concurrent downloads, target files for downloading while offline, tell your Mac to shut down when all downloads are complete, use rules to control where downloads wind up based on certain conditions, and much more. Dan Frakes covered Leech as a Mac Gem last week; you can read his detailed write-up if you'd like additional information on the program.
Leech will work as either a standalone application, or as a well-integrated add-on with Safari, Camino, OmniWeb and Firefox (using an add-on named FlashGot; Option-click will send download links to Leech). It works as an add-on by using an Input Manager (in all but Firefox), which some people don't necessarily like to install on their machines. Leech is very clear about how it does what it does, however, explaining in advance how the integration works, and offers an easy uninstall option. (Browser integration is not installed by default; you have to choose a menu item within the program to integrate Leech with your browsers.) I use Leech primarily with Firefox, and the integration via FlashGot works quite well, though it's not quite as seamless of an experience as it is in one of the Input Manager browsers.
If you're using Leech in standalone mode, one annoyance (and one that Leech probably has no ability to overcome) are sites that use redirection links for downloads, such as you'll find on versiontracker.com. Sending these download links (via drag and drop) to Leech won't work properly, though they'll work just fine when Leech is integrated with the browser (except in Firefox, that is).
This minor issue aside (I use macupdate.com for most of my downloads, as their download links work fine with Leech in either mode), Leech is a great tool if you download a lot of stuff. It takes minimal RAM (it's running with 17MB of real RAM right now), has a clean and effective UI, and offers enough features to make it worth the cost -- at least for a serial demo downloader like me!