Tagged: Helpful Applications

Saving My Bacon

I never used to be a fan of auto-saving.

The last time I really experienced it was with Word, probably back on OS 9. The documentation for Word said that auto-saving would make your file bigger, since Word would not save the whole file, but only a log of your most recent changes. And there was a noticeable pause each time the auto-save occurred that was really annoying.

No thanks, I thought.

But when a perpetrator in my household who shall remain nameless jiggled the power strip enough to turn it off when I was writing a blog post in MarsEdit, after the cursing was over, I did think to myself, “It would be nice if MarsEdit had auto-saved that.”

I hadn’t read the MarsEdit documentation, and I hadn’t experienced any pauses while I worked, so I had no inkling that MarsEdit was in fact auto-saving my drafts.

When I reopened MarsEdit, it notified me that it had detected an auto-saved file, and showed me that file.

Rock on!

A brief survey of the MarsEdit documentation doesn’t reveal anything about this feature. I should know this, but can Cocoa do this automatically now? Is it so mundane that it doesn’t warrant mention?

More interestingly, does the auto-save only kick in when there’s a lull in user activity? That would be cool. Otherwise, I guess I can chalk up the paucity of pauses to faster processors and hard drives.

Sound of Silence

I have enough feeds now, in NetNewsWire, that I didn’t notice when a couple of them went silent.

Some bloggers just stop posting…ahem, not like anybody here. So when I scanned the lists of feeds, day after day, a few quiet ones seemed normal to me.

But upon going through the feeds manually, I discovered that their Web sites still had lots of new posts, but I wasn’t getting them. In each case, this was due to the feed URL having been changed.

If I recall correctly, there are ways of specifying redirects to new feeds. I don’t know if any of these sites actually did that. Certainly the last posts that I did receive from them didn’t mention it, so maybe it was due to some adjustment in the blog service they were using that even the authors didn’t know about?

I do know NetNewsWire doesn’t seem to have UI to show me that sort of information, if it’s returned at the HTTP level. It has a “dinosaurs” page, but that just tracks the last time it thinks people posted, not if it got an error message from the server. Or, more accurately, I did see error messages from some servers in the Errors window, but that seemed to be for more usual kinds of errors – server isn’t currently responding, etc.

Hm, looks like one of the bloggers might have manually changed her feed due to problems. That would explain it.

The manual run-through works for now, since I have less than 100 feeds, but what if I get to 500? 1000? I would hate to lose posts from weblogs I find interesting, though I suppose if I get over 1000 feeds, I won’t have time to read them all, anyway.

You’re Soaking in It!: MarsEdit

Considering I’ve already paid for NetNewsWire, it didn’t make much sense that I hadn’t downloaded MarsEdit.

1) It’s free for NetNewsWire users, but only for “all 1.x versions.”

Being upfront about future charges, unlike the Bare Bones‘ switcheroo from BBEdit Lite (free) to TextWrangler (not free), is the right approach in my book.

2) It supports the weblog publishing system I’m using, though there does appear to be some missing functionality.

3) It has the conveniences that local applications usually have over Web applications, such as local saving of documents, easy maintenance of multiple windows, and dedicated UI.

This will be my first post written in MarsEdit, so let’s see if it works!

Update: There were some technically difficulties, as evidenced by the multiple posts, lack of category, and some formatting errors, but it seems to be going better now.

MarsEdit’s Help is exceptionally detailed for a beta application, though of course I didn’t turn to it at first!

There’s also an interesting combination of document-based and non-document based user interface. Each post is like a document, but there’s also a main window, for seeing all the post “documents” and managing your weblogs. I believe Brent Simmons refers to it as the “email model.” Still, I don’t yet equate multiple weblogs with multiple email accounts. Maybe it will after I use MarsEdit enough.

More Shareware: Snapz Pro X 2, SpamSieve, and NetNewsWire

I used to buy a lot of shareware.

Mostly because there weren’t free software alternatives on the Mac platform for the common utilities.

For example, I bought ZipIt, which puts a nice, Mac-like UI on top of standard Zip archive functionality. Remember when you had to do that to get out a Mac port?

I contributed to the Mac version of Opera, though I was disappointed with the result (and especially the attitude.)

But the high water mark was when I paid for Netscape Communicator. Yup, I bought the crappiest Netscape browser ever, which the vast majority of users treated as freeware anyway, less than a year before they made it freeware in name as well as fact. I guess I thought I could support them in the Good Fight against Microsoft. Yeah, that worked.

When OS X came out, it seemed like all the free command-line Linux/Unix utilities that were now available would destroy the market for Mac shareware. Apple would squeeze out the rest with free, polished GUI applications in its bid to remain competitive with Microsoft.

But perhaps the tide has turned. I’ve gotten out my wallet again, for more than just one app here or there. The difference these days is that I don’t need these apps – there are always freeware or built-in alternatives. But they improve my life, and that’s worth something.

Snapz Pro X 2
http://ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox
Goofy name, good product. I’d used it before as part of the OS bundle that comes with new Macs, only to lose it when I upgraded to the next version of OS X. I used the movie capture feature at one point; it was a good way to see what was going on in the first few moments of window initialization in one of my projects.

So I had to decide, this time around, whether to splurge for movie capture or not. It was an extra $40, not a trivial amount.

I finally decided against it. Ambrosia played it right, I think, to make the purchase of the lower-end product plus upgrade not more expensive than buying the high-end version all in one go: I can spend the lesser amount that’s in my comfort zone without feeling I’ll be ripped off if I upgrade later.

I’ve been taking a lot of screen captures lately, since the side project I’m working on requires that I compare pixel measurements to be sure I’ve gotten it right. Apple’s built-in screen capture feature only does PDF files, which don’t scale crisply when you enlarge them. You can convert them to other file formats in Preview, but that’s an extra step, an extra step I finally got tired of. And little touches like being able to set the file owner (in my case, I like GraphicConverter), show or hide the cursor, and turn off the (on repetition) quite annoying camera click sound, were also a nice incentive.

SpamSieve
http://c-command.com/spamsieve/index.shtml
Not strictly a programmer’s utility, but every programmer uses email, eh?

On my copy of Mail, junk mail filtering died mysteriously. Nothing was being marked as junk. I tried the freeware JunkMatcher, but eventually got tired of how it hung Mail when processing large amounts of spam. Sometimes you just gotta pay to get the quality.

Is $25 worth not having to reinstall my OS, and/or tinker and tinker and tinker to get Mail’s filtering working again, and get better filtering to boot? You bet. Less time sorting through mail means more time programming.

NetNewsWire
http://ranchero.com/netnewswire
Also not strictly for programmers, but blogs are definitely the best way to keep up to date with a wide variety of very smart techies and programmers, most of whom post more frequently than I do. That reminds me, I should update my blogroll, I’ve found a few new good ones.

Heh, am I blazing trails by recommending these two already very popular Mac products? Probably not. But an extra vote of confidence can’t hurt.

One problem I’ve had with NetNewsWire Lite, which I’ve been using for a while now, is that it seems to crash when trying to load some feeds at some times. Not always reproducible, and it happens too fast for me to see which feed it is.

It’s an interesting situation. Do I try to hit up Brent Simmons before I even pay for the software? After all, it’s a show-stopper. Do I move to a different app? PulpFiction seems to have problems with my feed list, too.

I finally decided to pay first, and ask questions later, and here’s the lesson: Brent’s presence on the Web conveys competence, stability, and reasonableness. This is a person I will most likely be able to work with to resolve this, if it continues. Nice guys finish last? Well, this nice guy just got $40.

Does it hurt that NetNewsWire 2.0 has been promised as a free upgrade? Not at all.

Note that the extra features in the non-Lite version didn’t entice me at all. I’m paying to support a good product. If he gets bought by AOL, though, I’m gonna be pissed.

WWDC from the Back, and Anthracite

So guess which one of these webloggers is me (Also see the full post. The picture pages have a lot of links to Mac webloggers.) This may be the only picture of me you get, so enjoy. I’m afraid I crashed the event, having found out about it only an hour or two beforehand.

Not pictured, but sitting to my left for most of the evening: Joe Pezzillo, founder of Metafy. The interface of his star product, Anthracite, looks really cool. Go see what it does for yourself, it’s difficult to explain. But aren’t the screenshots purty? Despite the name, somehow I don’t think it involves carbon.

PDF Browser Plugin, SafariNoTimeout, Pacifist, and Iconographer (and Filthy Hypocrites)

Welcome to the newest Helpful Tiger category! Here’s where you’ll find out about the utilities I’ve found most useful in my programming endeavors.

PDF Browser Plugin
http://schubert-it.com/pluginpdf
In-browser viewer for PDF documents. Uses Apple’s PDF engine, so not a full-featured as Adobe’s viewer, but certainly very convenient, and it gets improvements when Apple’s engine improves. So, for instance, on 10.3 it can open Postscript documents.

I’ve found this plugin extremely useful for looking at documentation that I may not need permanently, but is only available in PDF format, such as the Unicode code charts.

Despite the fact that it’s free and Shubertit’s Web site also features shareware apps the poor man actually gets paid for, currently his Support page is mostly about PDF Browser Plugin and very informative.

He also has another free plugin for Microsoft Word.

And, err, some other stuff. Go look at that, too.

SafariNoTimeout
http://unsanity.com/haxies
A free Unsanity “haxie” that removes Safari’s 60-second connection timeout limit. Very helpful with Apple’s mailing list search pages, which I’ve talked about most recently in this post.

What!?, you’re saying to yourself. Didn’t I spend all that time telling you how to bypass Apple’s search pages? Don’t I “eat my own dog food”?

Okay, I admit it! I am a filthy hypocrite. I do use my own downloaded archives. Honestly. But– Apple’s site allows you to search for unrelated terms in a way unavailable to the client applications that I use to search the archives. If anybody is aware of an application that allows such OR-style searching, let me know. (And I’m not talking about grep, helpful as that can be.)

Also, if you’re on a new machine without the archives for a particular mailing list handy, it’s much easier to download this than wait 8 hours for all the archives to download, eh? It’s nice to have both techniques available when you need them.

Pacifist
http://charlessoft.com
A $20 shareware utility to open Mac OS X .pkg package files and allow you to extract individual files and folders out of them, as well as many other features.

This one’s a bit more special-purpose than the others, but I’ve found it helpful in the past when I’ve dealt more with OS X installer packages.

Iconographer
http://www.mscape.com/products/iconographer.html
A $15 shareware icon editor, especially useful for OS X-style icons.

I’ve found Icon Composer, the editor included with Apple’s developer tools, wanting in several respects, and Iconographer is in my opinion the best alternative for the money.