RSS feeds are one of the greatest inventions of the web. Rather than having to go from page to page on the web an RSS feed allows you to sit back and aggregate all of the news you want into one place. This one place being your RSS reader of choice. I am a long time Google Reader user and advocate. I love it. All of my news, blogs, and other syndicated internet content in one handy location that is viewable from anywhere I connect to the web. Until recently there have been no desktop RSS readers I was willing to even consider, but then NetNewsWire released its latest version (3.2) which touts full Google Reader synchronization. I had to give it a try, and let me tell you, I’m pleasantly surprised.
First the desktop app is a well designed, sleek looking Mac app. It has the standard easy to use buttons, straightforward configuration that every Mac user looks for and loves. Set up is a breeze and synchronization with Google Reader was simple. It even brings down the folder arrangement I have in Google Reader and allows me to browse by feed, by folder, or by the last 24 hours of news (which by the way is a feature Google Reader should add). I often fall behind in keeping up with my RSS feeds and the 24 hour view allows me to get up to speed on that days news quickly. Then I can go back at my convenience to read up on what I have missed.
Second NetNewsWire has built in tabbed browsing functionality or it easily sends links to your default browser. I prefer to open all of the news stories in NetNewsWire and thereby never leave the app. In fact, after using NetNewsWire for some time, I don’t even realize at that I have been surfing the web from within it. I can click links and browse just like a web browser.
Third is built in functionality to post directly to a blog (via my choice of blogging software) or post to Delicious with just the push of a button. This functionality makes it incredibly easy for me to read a story and immediately blog about it.
Lastly it provides me with reports about the feeds I am subscribed to – how often they update, the bandwidth they take, etc. The stats aren’t that important to me, but it is extremely interesting to see what feeds provide me the most content and which ones I read the most. Absolutely perfect for a guy like me who enjoys the numbers.
Overall, I don’t think I will ever go back to using the Google Reader web interface except when viewing my feeds from a computer other than my Mac. Especially since NetNewsWire also is available as an iPhone app with a much easier interface to use than Google Reader on the phone via Safari. Best part is it’s all free as long as you are willing to put up with a few tastefully displayed adds. If not the desktop app is only $9.99 and the iPhone app is just $1.99.
Download NetNewsWire Mac App
Download NetNewsWire iPhone App
BlackBerry Desktop Software Syncs Your BlackBerry with Macs and PCs [Downloads]: “Windows/Mac OS X: BlackBerry Desktop Software effortlessly syncs your BlackBerry with your Mac or PC, including music, contacts, and appointments. The Windows version isn’t new, but the app just hit…”
I don’t often take to a new application instantly, but this app has been great ever since I installed it. Quick, free, and open-source, Notational Velocity (NV) allows me to quickly create, edit, and search through my notes. I’ve been using TextMate and Spotlight for this purpose, but it gets very difficult to manage all the different text files and often Spotlight doesn’t immediately pinpoint the correct file. NV however has proven to be incredibly fast, stable, and efficient for managing all of those little notes I want to jot down and keep but not manage. While being a very simple app it has a couple key features that I like. First you can choose whether to store your data in an NV database or divided into individual text files. Second you can enable encryption to securely store your notes – allowing you to manage passwords and other more sensitive information without hesitation. Lastly there are a number of easy keyboard shortcuts that help speed the creation, search, and formatting of notes. All in all I’ve found Notational Velocity a complete replacement for my old text file storage method. Unfortunately it is Mac only and currently has no built in syncing (However you can change the storage location for the notational data it would be very easy to sync via a third party app like DropBox or even iDisk). Check it out here and as with any open-source project they are also looking for contributors.
So I played around with VMWare tonight and figured out how to resize the disk without data loss or too much trouble. First time took about 30 minutes. Second time took about 10. I used GParted Live but you can use Partition Magic or any other third party software that comes on a bootable ISO that will do active partition resizing.
BACKUP THE USER DATA JUST IN CASE!!!
- Shutdown the VM and go into VMWare Settings -> Hard Disks -> resize the disk to the desired size. (unfortunately Windows won’t just recognize the increase in space to the boot partition so you must do the steps listed below)
- Download the GParted Live CD ISO (http://gparted.sourceforge.net/download.php)
- Attach the ISO to the VM as a CD/DVD
- At VM boot press F2 to go into setup and change the boot order so that cd is before HD. (This is really hard since you only have about a 1 second window and you have to make sure that you are directing the keyboard input into the VM).
- You should now be able to boot to the GParted ISO. Go with the default settings for booting into the ISO.
- Launch GParted and click move/resize disk
- Resize the disk to the new size you want Windows to see and apply the change.
- Disconnect the ISO, reboot and check in Windows to ensure that it recognizes the change. Chkdsk should run before Windows startup which is normal since Windows recognizes a change to the boot disk.
***Be sure to take a snapshot prior to making these changes so that you can roll back if necessary. I did test the snapshot functionality with rolling back after the change and it does work.***
I think I like VMWare Fusion. Still not sure about Windows though…
During my time at the University of Oregon I spent a large number of hours maintaining our computer lab. The Honors College maintains 8 iMacs with dual-boot 10.5 and XP along with 7 other Mac computers that run 10.4. Maintaining dual-boot lab machines has proven to be fairly time consuming. Once a term I would apply the most current patches to the OS and software, and once per year I would update our image and completely reimage the lab. This proved to be quite time consuming, but necessary due to our use of roaming profiles. For management of the 7 Macs that did not dual-boot we used Radmind. In ths case I would update the Radmind image on the server once per term to patch the OS and software and then simply reboot the client computers. The updates were then applied and all was well. In the last three terms I have only had to solve network connectivity issues with those computers. Otherwise, they consistently work as needed and maintain a steady, stable OS that is not bogged down by the roaming profiles.
Radmind is designed for Unix workstation managment and is very similar in function to Deep Freeze (a Windows workstation management software). When run, Radmind will completely examine the client file system and return the workstation to its original state. This is incredibly useful in a Lab environment. At the same time it allows you to pick and choose which files you want to be managed by Radmind, thus allowing you to enable users to have selected preferences.
Configuration of Radmind is by no means simple. In fact, it takes hours and the process is poorly documented. You first begin by installing the Radmind Server software on whatever machine is going to act as your server. The box you install it on should be able to handle (at worst case) all of your client machines connecting simultaneously. Therefore if you are only going to use it for a few computers you can use just about any computer as a Radmind server. Best practices of, course, would be to install it on server grade hardware to prevent failure of the system. The next step is to load the Radmind client software on the client machines and create the main transcript files. There are two types of transcript files – positive and negative. The positive transcript contains the information for all of the files on the client machines that should always be equivalent to what is stored on the server. The negative transcript lists the files that should never be touched by the Radmind software. For instance, you want Radmind to keep your main OS files the same regardless of what a user may do to them, but at the same time you may want the list of printers to be managed by each user. Once you have created the transcripts you then create a command file that tells which transcripts to apply and to which machines. This allows you to manage multiple computers and have different software configurations on different groups of computers. Thus if you have a computer lab that is supposed to have a certain software set and a group of office computers that are supposed to have a different software set you can set Radmind to differentiate the two groups and maintain their software accordingly. Finally you install the Radmind client side software on the client machines and connect them to the server. The machine will then be updated to the configuration pushed down by the server.
I really like Radmind. It is an effective solution to mass computer deployment, but it requires some serious tech chops. If you decide to use Radmind be prepared for some long days of frustration and suffering as you learn how it works. I have been working on a wiki posting concerning Radmind, but that is slow going and done only in my free time. If you have questions feel free to post and I will do my best to help you out.
The Creative Commons License (CC) is starting to gain traction amongst many different artists, developers, and various other creative types. You will notice that I recently joined the league of CC license holders (see the very bottom of every page on my blog). Licensing your content takes literally minutes and embedding the CC image is as simple as adding code snippet to your page template. The main thing to understand about the CC license is it is a method of waiving some of your rights as a copyright holder to allow others to use your work. The CC license provides a very simple rubric by which you can gauge what level of copy protection you would like to maintain. In most all cases your original work is protected by the standard copyright laws – only you have the right to use and distribute your work as you please. Others do not have the right to use and distribute your work without your permission. Thus, by using a CC license you can specify exactly what others can do with your work, making it easy for people to legally recognize that they can use your work and then do so. The CC license has become very popular and is beginning to be used by many different people – from recording artists to software developers. So far the CC license has held up in court, although the cases are very few and far between. To use the CC license for your content simply visit the CC license page.
Last.fm and Pandora are my two absolute favorite streaming music players. Pandora set the standard for streaming, near commercial free, music and Last.fm has brought a social networking aspect to the same service. As I develop my Internet presence, I have come to prefer Last.fm for its social networking services. I have linked my Lifestream to my profile to pull down my scrobbled tracks. It also allows others to see what songs and artists I have enjoyed. The one downside to Last.fm (and Pandora, for that matter) is the web browser controls. I hate having to leave a browser tab open to keep the music streaming and then when I want to change the station or skip a track, I have to navigate to that window and make the change. So I went hunting for a Last.fm client for my Mac and I stumbled across this article by Download Squad about Amua – a Mac Last.fm client. Of course I downloaded Amua immediately, entered by Last.fm credentials and started listening to music. So far I am very pleased with Amua; it hides in the menu bar nicely, the controls are simple to use, and I can quickly access it. The one major downside is it links to Last.fm via iTunes, which means you have to have iTunes open. Thus if you aren’t an iTunes user, or you like to keep it closed since it is a terrible resource hog, Amua probably isn’t for you. Check it out on the Amua Sourceforge page.
Check out this TED talk – Ed Ulbrich talks about the creation of the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Brad Pitt’s head for the entire first hour of the movie is completely computer generated! CG software has come so far in just a few years. I’m absolutely amazed since I was unable to tell that Brad’s head was well…, not his head.
Mac OS X has built in screen shot capabilities, but those capabilities are very limited. I spent quite a bit of time testing different screen capture software and when I had finally had enough I found that Skitch was the easiest to use, most functional screen capture program out there. Skitch is currently in beta, but from what I have experienced it is an extremely stable beta. I have yet to have Skitch crash on me, nor has it ever given me any sort of error. I honestly like Skitch better than its competitors because of a couple very handy features which I use practically every day (all screen captures I display on this site have been taken with Skitch).
First, and absolutely most important, Skitch allows you to easily integrate your screen captures with any program – the goal of screen captures. At the bottom of the Skitch window there is a simple “Drag Me” button that allows you to drag your current screen capture into another program or in a folder instantly saving it. You can save in six different file formats .jpg, .png, .tif, .pdf, .svg, and .skitch and Skitch automatically keeps a history of your most recent screen captures. Second, you can quickly and easily doctor your screen captures inside the Skitch window with a variety of tools including arrows, shapes, text, and a pencil tool. It took me literally 20 or 30 seconds to create the screen captures below. Finally Skitch flawlessly integrates with OS X simply overriding the built in capabilities. Based upon user preferences the Skitch icon sits in the Dock, the menu bar, or both. When you minimize Skitch it disappears into the menu bar and will reappear when clicked on. Hotkeys make quick screen captures quick and easy.
One last note about Skitch is the social network that is being built to function with the program. To download Skitch you must join the Skitch network which is a place to host your screen captures for sharing with friends or simply for access later via the web. So far I have not found any real use for the Skitch network, probably because I have so many other places I can save images. However, the idea is an interesting one, and I am intrigued to see if there will be much user support of the Skitch social network.
If you are interested in Skitch, take a look at a couple screen shots below and visit their site.
While I’m on the subject of customizing the OS X desktop environment there is another nifty little piece of software that can do great things for you. Tinker tool is simply a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows access to a wide variety of neat customizations not available through the standard OS X GUI. Tinker Tool is completely safe because it does not modify the OS in any way. It simply accesses the the apple .plist files (preference files) and modifies the defaults. The functionality is already built in, Apple just has not made it available to the general user. The same functionality that is made available through Tinker Tool is also accessible using .plist changes from the Terminal – very doable, but if there is a GUI why mess around?
I’ve used Tinker Tool for quite some time now and have found a few customizations that I really hate to function without. My favorite customization by far is in Finder and causes the selected items path to be displayed in the title bar of the Finder window. Another great customization deals with sheets – the dialogues that pop up when you click print or save. Tinker Tool allows you to prefer expanded save sheets and expanded print sheets, which saves me the extra click needed to expand the sheet so I can save to the location of my choice. A couple of changes that make Leopard slightly less annoying are the ability to remove the “always in foreground” preference that is default with the Help dialogue box and the ability to keep Time Machine from always asking if you want to use a newly connected drive for backups. One last change that I make is adding the Develop menu to the menu bar in Safari (the Develop menu is where you find the console for debugging in Safari – a must for web development).
If you like the sounds of it, Tinker Tool is available from Marcel Bresink’s site.