PosteRazor is a free utility that helps you create posters by printing suitably high resolution source files onto multiple sheets of paper. You then create the poster by taping the multiple sheets together. While the end result clearly won't rival what you get by sending such a task to a print shop, it will cost considerably less, making it ideal for things such as temporary posters for an office party or maybe for the kid's room at home.
PosteRazor uses a simple five-step process to create a poster: load an image, define the paper size and orientation, define the overlap area (the portion of the image that appears on multiple sheets, making alignment simpler), define the poster size (in number of pages, absolute size, or percentage of original), and save the poster. The end result is a PDF that you can then print using your printer.
I printed one of my daughter's favorite photos as a six-page poster and taped it together for her; she loved it, and it's now hanging on her wall (though given her ever-changing interests, I expect that will last a couple days at best!). Back in my prior cubicle-sitting career, a program like PosteRazor would have made for many interesting practical jokes and reduced the workload required for creating the decorations for various office events.
PosteRazor won't win any Apple Design Awards for its interface, as it's more functional than beautiful. It's also decidedly non-Mac-like, lacking a main menu bar and using button sizes and shapes that won't be found anywhere in the Human Interface Guidelines. Still, PosteRazor is easy to use, making the process of creating a poster as simple as setting a few preferences and then clicking a few buttons. If you'd like to know more about PosteRazor, Dan Frakes covered it in detail last week for the Mac Gems blog over on macworld.com.
A quick Pick of the Week this week -- Ziplight is a free Spotlight plug-in that adds the ability to search for filenames within zip archives. Download the plug-in and add it to the Library » Spotlight folder (your user's Library folder if you'd like to make it available just for your use, or in the top-level Library folder for all users to use). Log out and back in, then let Spotlight update its index. Once the update is done, you can use Spotlight to search by filename within zip archives -- if a match is found, Spotlight will return (via Ziplight) the name of the archive containing the file. If you keep lots of old stuff on your drive, but inside zip archives to ease space requirements, this is a very useful plug-in.
Combine Ziplight with the zip file viewer Quick Look plug-ins as decscribed in this hint and its comments, and you've got a reasonably complete solution for working with zip archives. It'd be nice if Ziplight actually let you search the contents of zipped archives, but this would be impractical -- the program would have to fully expand each zip file in order for Spotlight to index its contents. Usually I know at least some portion of the filename I'm looking for, and Ziplight will help me discover which archive it may be hiding in.
MercuryMover is a utility designed to help you keep your hands on the keyboard. Installed as a System Preferences panel, MercuryMover makes it possible to move and resize windows using just the keyboard. (In many ways, MercuryMover is basically the exact opposite of MondoMouse, a previous Pick of the Week selection. MondoMouse lets you move and resize windows easily using the mouse without having to drag them, and implements a "focus follows mouse" feature.)
You use MercuryMover by pressing one of three defined hot keys -- Move, Resize Right/Down, and Resize Left/Up. After activation, a small pop-up window appears over your window, explaining exactly how it can be moved or resized using various key combinations. Here's what the Move window looks like:
By default, pressing just the arrow keys moves (or resizes) a window one pixel at a time; adding Shift changes that to 10 pixel jumps, Option gives you 100 pixel jumps, and Command snaps a window to a screen edge. However, the settings for each keystroke (unmodified, Command, Option, Shift, and Control) can be customized, to some degree at least. I've set it up on my machine to move by 10 pixels at a time without any modifier keys pressed down (and by 1 pixel with the Shift key down). Unfortunately, you can't specify an exact value for each setting -- you're limited to 1, 10, or 100 pixels. I'd actually like my default "no modifier" value to be 20 pixels, for instance.
Lingon is a GUI interface (10.5 only) to the launchd process in OS X. launchd is a way to run things on a schedule -- previously, cron could be used to to this (and it still can, but launchd is the preferred solution). As a user, I found cron relatively simple (if not somewhat obtuse). launchd, however, was another story -- I couldn't understand the need to write an XML file to handle a simple scheduled task. Lingon takes care of all that, though. Using its GUI, you set the action you'd like to run, the times you'd like it run, and any other conditions under which you want your task to run, and Lingon does the hard stuff.
The interface is amazingly simple -- section one is the name for your task (must be unique), section two is the command or program to run, and section three controls the conditions under which it runs. After you have everything set up, click Save, and you're done. Not everyone may need to use Lingon, but if you need to run a recurring task, it's a simple way to get the job done. (It's also a great way to understand launchd better, as you can look at the XML files Lingon creates to see how things work.) You can read any of the linked hints to get a sense of how it works, or just download it and give it a shot.
The only downside to Lingon is that it makes you logout and login to effect the changes to launchd. If you're comfortable with the Terminal, however, you can use launchctl to do this without a logout/login. I hope the ability to have new events take effect immediately is added in a future Lingon release, however -- it'd be nice to skip the Terminal bits.
As much as I love the improvements in Spotlight in 10.5, there's one glaring omission from 10.4 that has yet to be fixed (perhaps in 10.5.3?): when you use Spotlight in the Finder, you can only see three columns of data in the results. Those three columns are Name, Kind, and Last Opened, which seems OK at first glance. Until, that is, you want to find all the large files on your hard drive. Sure, it's easy to write the query...but when you get the results, you can't sort by size, nor for that matter, can you even see the size of the found files. In 10.4, you could use the View » Show View Options menu to add in any of the standard Finder columns, and add in Size. One click later, you'd be looking at a size-sorted view of your results, making it easy to identify the space hogs. No such luck in 10.5.
Enter HoudahSpot. Among its many other skills, HoudahSpot will let you customize your search results by adding not just Finder columns, but any column that Spotlight can search on.
No, this isn't a one-day-late April Fool's Day prank -- the Pick of the Week is back, hopefully somewhat more regularly than it has been in the past. To start things off, I've chosen an app that has really changed at least one aspect of my work -- my production of video blogs for Macworld. In the past, I've used Snapz Pro X (a member of the Pick of the Week Hall of Fame) to capture all my video for such projects. However, for my most recent video, I used ScreenFlow, and found it had some very nice features that made for a more user-friendly video -- things like zooming in on windows or cursors and adding callouts. ScreenFlow also keeps track of mouse clicks, key presses, and the mouse cursor, so you can add clicking sounds, display typed keys, and show or hide the cursor as you wish during editing.
The other key advantage over Snapz is that ScreenFlow captures are instant, so as soon as you stop the capture, you can start editing. Only when you're done editing and need to export out the final movie do you wait for processing. (With Snapz, you wait for the render after every capture, then go and edit your footage.) You can read more about ScreenFlow in this Mac Gems entry I wrote about it a couple weeks ago.
I'm now using a combination of Snapz and ScreenFlow in my worfklow, as both have their strengths. (Snapz Pro includes a still capture feature, and you can create "follow the mouse" movies that track the cursor as it moves around the screen.) But for a first-version product, ScreenFlow has a great feature set and performs well, even on slower hardware. I did all my captures on the latest video on a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo mini, and never had any dropped frames or laggy performance.
If you do much at all with screen movies, it's well worth a look. It's not perfect -- you can't, for instance, specify a portion of the screen to capture -- but the combination of instant capture and useful editing tools make it a compelling choice to consider.
Let me say first that (a) this pick is only really useful if you have multiple monitors (though if you've got a 30" Cinema Display, it might come in handy, too), and (b) you'll either love it or hate it.
Wraparound is a little app that removes your screens' hard edges. When it's running, the leftmost edge of your leftmost display is no longer a "wall." Instead, when you cross the leftmost edge of the screen, your cursor will jump to the rightmost edge of your rightmost display. In my case, I've got a 23" LCD as my main display, and a 19" Sony to its right. On the Sony, I keep most of my 'ancillary' windows -- iChat, stocks, iCal -- while I use the main screen for the apps I actively work in.
Without Wraparound, if I'm on the Sony screen and need to get to something near the left edge of the 23" display, it's a really long trip with the mouse (menus excluded -- I use DejaMenu for menu activation via the mouse). With Wraparound installed, I just flick my mouse right instead of left, though, and I'm instantly at the left edge of the main screen. This requires moving my eyes left while my hand moves right, but I really didn't find it hard to adjust to that at all, but your mileage may vary. You can even drag windows across screen boundaries, moving them across many inches of screen real estate with the smallest of mouse movements.
Depending on how many monitors you have and how they're laid out, you specify which screen edges you'd like Wraparound to ignore -- up, down, left, and right. In my case, I have it set to ignore left and right edges, but enforce the top and bottom edges. So you ask, "What about Fitt's Law?" I'm glad you asked. Wraparound's preferences includes an "auto-disable" feature with a definable pixel range. With this option enabled, the pixel area you specify will act as a hard wall in the corners of the screen. You can then fling your mouse to the top left corner of the screen and have it slam into the Apple menu and stop.
You can also specify that you want Wraparound to work in all applications, only listed applications, or all except the listed applications. Finally, there are modifier keys you can set to wrap all edges or wrap no edges. So if I Shift-drag the mouse, I can move out of the top or bottom of the screen, and if I Command-drag the mouse, then all edges become solid again.
As I stated up front, you'll probably either love this app or hate it -- but it's free to try, so if you've got a couple monitors and are tired of long-haul mouse movements, give it a shot. In my testing, it uses a trivial amount of CPU power (though there's a slider that let you vary that to suit your needs), and it's a simple application: if you don't like it, just delete it and it's gone. It's staying on my machine, however!
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of October 15th]
It's not often I write about pre-beta software, but AppFresh was so useful to me, I felt it worthy of a PotW selection. AppFresh is a program to help you keep your other applications up to date. Both VersionTracker and MacUpdate have similar apps, though you'll need to register with MacUpdate for their app to work, and VersionTracker's requires a paid subscription. AppFresh, on the other hand, just works out of the box. It uses data from osx.iusethis.com, as well as being ablt to see some applications' built-in updaters to check for updates.
Before we go any further, the biggest downside to AppFresh right now is that it won't work for all your apps. I've got about 900 apps installed on the Mac Pro (I test a lot of stuff), and AppFresh only sees about 500 of those. MacUpdate lists all of my apps, but it won't update all of them (as not all are in its database). For the 500 AppFresh does see, however, it works quite well. AppFresh also checks for updates to widgets, preference panels, and even Apple's own software. You'll have to use its preferences to add in non-standard application locations -- I keep most of my apps on another hard drive, and it didn't see them until I did this.
When you run the app for the first time, it scans for programs, and then lists them in categories: All, Updates, Up to Date, and Unknown. It also sorts your programs by type: Applications, Plugins, Widgets, and Preference Panes. In any of those areas, you can choose one or more programs and then download updates. Updates are available in two ways: there are certain apps that can be automatically downloaded via a progress dialog, and others that you have to do some manual work to get. When I first ran the program, it showed 125 apps that needed updating, and 85 of those had the automatic updates available. Since I'm a chicken about anything automatic, I set AppFresh's preferences to download, but not install, these updates. It then set to work, and some time later, I had a folder with 85 subfolders, each containing an update to one of the apps.
[This is the Pick of the Week for the week of October 8th.]
This is a non-standard pick of the week, in that it's nothing more than a pointer to an article that Dan Frakes wrote over on Macworld, and it covers programs I don't use myself. However, given how often people ask me about this (more often than I would have though possible!), I felt it worth a pointer. Dan wrote up a couple of applications -- Shades (free) and DarkAdapted Pro ($10) that give you more control over your monitor's brightness settings (he also notes Brightness Control, which he covered in a previous Mac Gem).
The three apps all have different features to offer, and Dan does a nice job of summarizing their various features. DarkAdapted Pro seems to be the powerhouse of the bunch, though the other two offer good functionality at the right price -- Shades even lets you assign keyboard shortcuts to increase or decrease brightness.
I haven't personally used these programs (I've found the stock slider acceptable for my needs), but if you need more brightness control, check out these apps and give Dan's Gem entry a read if you want more info on what they have to offer.
Back in 2002, I wrote about Cocoa Gestures as a Pick of the Week. This app let you use mouse gestures to perform actions in Cocoa applications. Since that time, Cocoa Gestures has evolved into CocoaSuite, a more fully-featured (but not free) program that has some other neat tricks up its sleeve. If you're just looking for a simple mouse gestures application, however, FlyGesture is an excellent replacement, and it's completely free. (Note that this more recent hint covered xGestures, another mouse gestures solution that works in many apps.)
FlyGesture is a background application that watches for a hot key (or alternatively a mouse button press) and then goes into action. When it sees its trigger key or button, FlyGesture puts a nice translucent interface on the screen that both shows the gesture you're creating, and tells you (when it sees a match) exactly what will happen, as seen at left. The screenshot shows an "F-like" gesture I created to launch VMWare's Fusion. Gestures are easily added, and can contain any number of steps with many possible actions. For instance, you can open applications, files, folders, and URLs; execute AppleScript code or Automator worflows; type some text; delay for some period of time; activate Dashboard and the various Exposé modes; and even sleep, shut down, or restart the computer. You can string these actions together, much as you would in Automator, to build complex actions based on simple gestures.
FlyGestures is just an application -- you run it when you want it, and there's nothing to install at all. It works in every application I tried it in, including Word and Excel. You'll be able to do more if you know some AppleScript and are using an AppleScript-aware application, but the basic ability to type text with modifier keys (i.e. Command-P for Print) means you can add some functionality to most any program. FlyGestures comes with about 35 or so pre-defined gestures, covering things like opening Mail, iChat, and iTunes; controlling iTunes song playback; opening various web pages, and hiding applications. If you try to define a new gesture that already exists, FlyGestures will put up an alert indicating that the gesture you've chosen is already in use.
I'm primarily a keyboard user, but with FlyGesture, at least I can make my mouse do more when I reach for it...and in some odd way, it's actually kind of fun to make things happen by dragging patterns out with the mouse (or trackpad, obviously). I also like that it's just an application, and can be quit when needed without having to disable it in some other manner. The interface is well thought out, and I'm fairly amazed that it's completely free.