I Needs Me Some Focus

The Internet is an ocean teaming with distraction after distraction, as is the computer you’re sitting near right now. You can easily lose sight of your daily goals when the siren songs of diversion begin. Today we look at two different apps aimed at keeping your inattentive mind on task. To be honest, it might not be fair to call this a showdown because they have different philosophies and approaches aimed at keeping you out of the swamp.

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The two products are Concentrate by Rocket and Vitamin-R by Frank Reiff.

Sameness

First, the similarities. Both apps encourage you to work in short bursts of time, similar to the Pomodoro Technique (which Vitamin-R adheres to more closely). You set a work interval and can attach sounds or voice to the interval (for example, an encouraging statement or a reminder to stay on task that repeats regularly throughout the time block). Both allow you to hide distractions, while you’re supposed to be focused. Both provide a countdown clock so you can see where you are in your time interval. Once you get past these similarities, the two apps begin to diverge.

Differentness



To cut to the chase, Concentrate is the nun with the ruler, hovering over you and keeping you honest. Vitamin-R is the motivational speaker, providing tools for you to set goals and helping you to break those goals into bite-sized chunks.

Concentrate

Concentrate is all about controlling your environment because you don’t have the willpower to to avoid the distractions yourself. When you start it, you’ll see the main activity screen.

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From here, you can begin a concentration session, edit an existing activity, or create a new activity. Basically, an activity is a set of applications and actions combined for a specific task or project.

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From this window, you begin to shape the environment in which you want to work. Along the left side are the different actions that you can link to this activity. For example, you can see that I have created an activity called “Blogging” which, when initiated, opens the three apps I use most while working on this site. Once those apps are launched, you tell Concentrate what to do with the other apps. You can:

  • Hide all other apps
  • Quite all other apps
  • Do nothing

For the purpose of testing, I took advantage of several other options. I told Concentrate to close the DVD Player, block any social networking or video sites, set my Adium status to “Away”, and give myself friendly little reminder:

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As you can see from the edit window, there are other actions that I could have taken advantage of but did not. You then set the size of the time interval along the bottom of the window.

In my testing, Concentrate worked as advertised. Applications were properly opened and closed, statuses were properly set, and distracting websites were successfully blocked. When the session ended, everything was set back to the pre-session conditions.

To simplify setup, there are two group types that you can define.

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You define domain groups to limit your access to the Internet. Since the blocking is based on IP address, you may or may not have success blocking sub-domains (depending on how those sub-domains are defined). You define application groups to link together those applications most commonly used for one or more activities.

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When a session is activated, Concentrate becomes your little gatekeeper, keeping you out of applications or websites that might otherwise keep you from your duties. Once the session is ended, it lets you out of the headlock and you are free to go about your business. If you struggle with staying focused and need a little tough love, Concentrate serves that purpose well.

Vitamin-R

Vitamin-R is a whole different animal. It trusts you to stay focused because it believes you are a goal-centered machine. It will hide apps from view but that’s about it. You can activate any program you want, hidden or not, and no website is off limits. Instead, it provides the tools you need to (in GTD fashion) clear your mind of all those tasks that can be distracting you, focus on one of those tasks, and, if necessary, break that task down further into actionable steps.

One of the tools that Vitamin-R provides is the Now & Later Board. The board can be activated via hot keys, with each of its four boards having its own specific keys. The intent of the board is to provide a space for getting everything recorded so that you can stop worrying about things you might forget and instead focus on small, precise, achievable tasks.

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Now — This is the repository for your current “working memory.” Put those thoughts here that are related to the active task.

Later — This is the place for all of those other things you keep thinking about; those things that need to get done but don’t need to get done right now.

Scratch — As you would expect, this is a place for you to type anything else crossing your mind; anything unrelated to the other categories.

Objective — Your current objective goes here. It serves as a reminder of where your focus should be.

When it’s time to activate a time slice (the Vitamin-R term for your work interval), Vitamin-R will lead you through the process of defining your objective, hiding distractions, and setting the time limit.

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Your objective is text but you can have Vitamin-R read it to you. When you are ready to eliminate distractions, pay attention to the buttons along the right side; they are what will determine what happens to the active applications. Hiding the apps does nothing more than that. You could ⌘-Tab and bring them right back. Finally, you establish the length of the time slice and start your session. Since Vitamin-R keeps a log of all your time slice events, you can also set your motivation and resistance levels before starting the session. When the session ends, you are asked to evaluate your time slice.

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This information also goes into the log. You can then look at the relationship between motivation, resistance, focus and success. When the session is over, you have the option to take a fixed time break or an open ended break. In the Vitamin-R philosophy, the breaks are just as important as the time slice sessions. Make sure you take a few minutes to refresh, clear your mind, and look off in the distance.

Finally, Vitamin-R provides two additional concepts: Breadcrumbs and priming. Breadcrumbs are little tidbits of information that you need to record as a session is ending. They are meant to act as seeds/reminders for the next session, so you don’t spend too much time trying to remember what you need to do next. Priming is a means for dealing with potential obstacles in future tasks. The idea is that you record information about these obstacles and then let your subconscious mind work on ways to overcome those obstacles.

Which to Use?

If you’re a left-brained, type-A personality, Vitamin-R is probably your tool. If, however, you are more right-brained and are easily distracted by shiny things (like me), Concentrate will help you stay focused. An app that combined the features of both of these programs would be ideal for me. Given the rate at which updates are pushed out for Vitamin-R, perhaps that is a possibility.

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MarsEdit for WordPress

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MarsEdit 3.0.5

MarsEdit came to my attention after reading an interesting article by Daniel Jalkut, founder of Red Sweater Software. In the article, he defended the opinion that there is still value in developing for the Mac (as opposed to iOS). Made sense to me and made me aware of MarsEdit. This got me interested in giving it a try, as compared to MacJournal, which I have been using from the beginning for this blog (except for an initial foray using the WordPress editor, which I didn’t care for).

 

Setup

MarsEdit gets you up and running very quickly.  Start it up and you get this window:

 

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If you have a blog, give it a name and type in the URL. Very, very easy. If you don’t have one, hit the GO BACK button and then it will help you select a blog site. Assuming you already had a blog, one you enter the ID and password, MarsEdit will go out and download your posts for that account. By default, it will download 30 posts. You can change this by editing the settings for that blog.

 

Editing

At that point, you are ready to begin adding posts or pages (if you have a WordPress page).

For each post, you’ll see an entry in the main screen. There is a table view of posts and below that, a view of the selected entry:

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You can look, but you cannot touch. The page view does not permit editing. Double-click the post to open an edit window.

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It’s quite easy to add tags, categories, and to set the server options for the posting.You edit in the main window. The typical word processor formatting options are available. You can drag media into the editing area or you can insert it. The Media Manager allows you to find pictures and supports iPhoto, Aperture and Lightroom. When you drag an image into the document, you’ll get a window like this:

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This gives you more absolute control over the image than MacJournal but MacJournal is easier because you’re concerned with relative image size change, rather than having to calculate pixels. When you select a style, you’re indicating where the image should go on the page. If you align right or left, you may get text beside the image. Center it and you typically will not (unless your image is small).

Although the tool is called a Media Manager, and the icon shows a film reel and a speaker, the utility seems focused on images. Attempts to add folders with video or audio files were fruitless. You can add an enclosure, which allows you to link to other content on the web, but I was unable to add audio or video from my computer. The Upload Utility DID let me select non-image files (an audio file was included below). We’ll see how it posts. Update: it didn’t post. It could not find the audio file, which suggests that maybe I should have uploaded the file prior to attempting to post the entry.

A big difference between MacJournal and MarsEdit is that MarsEdit allows you to also create/edit/tweak your blog postings in HTML. MacJournal does not. You can convert your MarsEdit postings back and forth between rich text and HTML (although this could impact formatting). So, if you’re a control freak or you just love dipping down into the HTML, MarsEdit gives you this flexibility. Even further, you can tell it which text editor you want to use for doing the HTML work, if you don’t want to use the editor provided with the product. Here is a posting converted to HTML.

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Another potential reason to want HTML access (if you use WordPress) is that WordPress gets rid of extra spaces in posts. To avoid this, you need to add HTML. With MacJournal, I have to add the spacing HTML from the WordPress editor, after uploading the posting. With MarsEdit, you could add the space while creating the blog posting and know that what you’re seeing in the preview is really what you’re going to get.

 

MarsEdit vs. MacJournal

So, how do the products compare?

First, two screenshots. Although MacJournal allows editing in the main window, MarsEdit opens a separate window for editing (and a third preview window). The first screenshot shows the main windows. Since the MarsEdit main window doesn’t show the editing environment, the second screenshot shows the MacJournal main window again, beside the MarsEdit editing window. It should be noted that MacJournal allows you to view your entry in a browser as well. You select it from the Share menu.

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This is purely subjective but MarsEdit does seem leaner and “snappier” than MacJournal. Unfortunately, there is very little substance I can provide to back this assertion, other than the fact that MacJournal comes in at 71MB and MarsEdit is a svelte 14MB. Clearly, all of the additional functionality provided by MacJournal comes at a cost of disk space and speed.

Both provide similar editing tools but the editing tools in MacJournal are more convenient to get to, especially if you modify the toolbar to reflect your needs. Although MarsEdit provides the opportunity to modify your toolbar, there are far fewer options:

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Both apps do well with tags. They remember past tags and help to speed that along. I have never had luck with categories in MacJournal. As I’ve worked on this post, I learned that in MacJournal you must refresh the categories in WordPress. To do this, you edit the blog settings. Tab 3 has a slide out drawer that should display the existing categories. Mine was blank. Hitting the refresh button updated the drawer and the categories now display. As you can see from the second screenshot above, MarsEdit displays the existing categories, allows you to add more, and properly transfers them to the posting within WordPress.

If you want to do video or audio from within the app, MacJournal is your only choice. It will let you record audio or video directly into your posting. MarsEdit will require that you perform those duties separately and then upload the file. If you want a client on the iPad/iPhone/Touch that will synch with your Mac app, you’ll want MacJournal.

The important point to consider is that the apps serve different purposes. MacJournal is a journaling application (whether that be text, audio, or video journaling) that also provides blogging tools. MarsEdit is a blogging tool. If you want to journal and you want to password protect and encrypt your genius, you’ll want MacJournal. If you want focus primarily on text blogging and want a lean client that lets you create your posts whether online or off, MarsEdit is an excellent choice. If you want complete control over your postings and like to dabble in HTML, you’ll need MarsEdit over MacJournal.

Here is the obligatory table. I tried to make it as accurate as I could. I will certainly update any errors if notified:

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As I have played with MarsEdit, I like it very much. It would be nice to be able to tinker with the HTML and feel like I have more control over how my posts look. The Media Manager is nice for dealing with images, especially if you’re using iPhoto, Aperture, or Lightroom. Since I’m not really into journaling, nor do I care about podcasting or videocasting yet, it would probably be the better choice for me. However, both products come in at $39.95 and I already own MacJournal. At this point, I can’t see a compelling reason to drop another $40. If I did more with HTML (and maybe I’ll get there), I would definitely opt for MarsEdit.

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Silverman vs. Munn Smackdown

OK, so part of the reason for doing this posting is to test  MarsEdit, a blogging app. The title sounds like a mud wrestling competition that a fair piece of geekdom might be interested in, but this is really about their respective books.

 

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One day I found myself looking for something to read and was hoping to find something funny. I stumbled across the Olivia Munn book and was excited to get my hands on it. Munn has geek cred and, in the limited exposure I’ve had to her, seems funny. Plus, with a title (and cover) like that, how could I help but be interested? Then, after my encounter with Ms. Munn, I found the Sarah Silverman book. Since I’ve sort of made a habit of contrasting two different products, it seemed like a worthy entry.

Here is the  expected table:

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In a rundown, Olivia’s title certainly beats out Sarah’s. It doesn’t have the soul-searing honesty of Sarah’s but it has a certain “imagery” to it that is more attention getting. The cover picture is a toss-up. Olivia is going for the cleavage angle but Sarah looks damn cute as one of the Beatles (or whatever the hell look she was going for).

Neither of these young ladies should kiss their mommas with those mouths. If you rate a book based on the number of references to penises, poop, farts, and vaginas, Sarah’s book may well be the book of the decade. If you are turned off by a constant barrage of expletives, these are not the books for you. I’ve heard that “The Hiding Place” and the Little House on the Prairie books are light on blue language but they also aren’t nearly as funny.

Both books provide an abundance of pictures. I flipped a coin and Olivia won. Without question, Olivia wins on the flip book front. Sarah can’t touch that ingenious little addition to Suck It. It’s like buying two books for the price of one.

Unfortunately for Olivia, when you actually start reading the book, Sarah wins. Hands down. Both women clearly love their families and both are comfortable with admitting their foibles. They each have a self-deprecating way about their writing that keeps things light. But…Olivia’s book reads like it was written by a high-school girl. It was an absolute chore to read through. In fact, in full disclosure, I could not finish the book (if someone can get me a signed copy, I’d be happy to give it another shot…). This is in contrast to Sarah’s book, which I completed in less than 24 hours. Although she dealt with some dark subjects (quickly), like bed-wetting and depression, they did not bog the book down. The book remained light, funny, and interesting from beginning until almost the end. There were two events in the book that were a little disgusting. The first revolves around Sarah and Louis C.K. dropping their clothing, one item at a time, into an apartment lobby from high up. They then get into the elevator, naked, and run around retrieving their clothes. I have to admit that the image is interesting, even compelling, until a naked Louis C.K. steps into the frame. At that point, my gag reflex is triggered (but I’m just not that into naked, balding, middle-aged red-headed men, YMMV). The other is a picture of a guy’s penis with a hair clip on it. In context, it’s funny but…

Perhaps it makes sense that Sarah would have a more “mature” “professional” book since she’s 10 years older and has earned her living as a writer, but I expected more from Olivia’s book. I wanted to love the Munn book. Too bad. Seriously, get me that signed copy and I will force myself to read it and revise this as appropriate…

 

 


Updates

Various Updates


Ultimate Ears 5vi

The link to the previous post is here. After spending more time with the 5vi, I like them very much. Contrary to my original intentions, I really haven’t played much with the foam. Even after weeks of use, the silicone tips continue to feel like small acorns jammed into my ears; they don’t annoy me as much as they originally did but it still isn’t terribly pleasant.

Magic TrackPad

The link to the previous post is here. There is no question, the Magic TrackPad, combined with BetterTouchTool, has become a huge time-saver for me. Not once since my original posting have I missed my old faithful Logitech MX Revolution. Here are my favorites:

  • Four finger slide left or right to bring up the app switcher, then two fingers left or right to select the app, then four finger tap to activate. Standard drivers.
  • Three finger tap to send ⌘R, primarily for refreshing websites. BetterTouchTools.
  • TipSwipe Left Finger Left to send ⌘⇧[. With three fingers on the pad, slide the left-most finger to the left a bit. This moves me left one tab. BetterTouchTool.
  • TipSwipe Left Finger Right to send ⌘⇧]. With three fingers on the pad, slide the left-most finger to the right a bit. This moves me right one tab. BetterTouchTool.
  • Five Finger Tap to show the desktop. This is one command that I’ve missed from Windows and BetterTouchTools makes it easy to bring to the Mac.

Magic TrackPad for Windows

Go here for instructions on how to extract the Apple Magic TrackPad Windows drivers from the BootCamp installer that Apple provides here: 32-bit or 64-bit.

The instructions will tell you to find the Bootcamp3135* folders. You can ignore the #Bootcamp3135* folders. I have to say that this did not work with my POS Dell Latitude D620. It proves nothing, though, since the Dell was able to locate my Mac on Bluetooth but could not discover the Magic TrackPad OR my Plantronics Voyager Pro headset.

Magic TrackPad for Ubuntu

In VMware Fusion, the Magic TrackPad works just fine as a standard trackpad. Two fingers to scroll in FireFox also works. Here is information on pairing with Ubuntu. Since I’m using Fusion, I did not have to do any pairing. Here is another page that includes a link to patches (it’s in the main body of posting).

Airport Extreme

The link to the previous post is here. There have been no complaints from the family about web access since installing the Airport Extreme. It does provide more reliable iTunes streaming to our Airport Express, which is about as far from the router as you can get in our house. By more reliable, I mean that we don’t get the cut-outs and buffering lags that we would get in nearly every song using the DIR-825. Unfortunately, as anticipated, it has NOT resolved my problem with losing my Internet connection. It’s no longer a daily event (more like every 2-3 days), but it still happens. The issue is that my Internet connection will just disappear. Adium stays connected but web traffic completely disappears, as does the Mail connection to my ISP’s e-mail. If I have VMware Fusion running Ubuntu, it retains its connection. This has been happening since I upgraded to Snow Leopard. Based on feedback on the Apple forum I have tried:

  • Changing my DNS server to OpenDNS or Google
  • Flushing the DNS cache
  • Renewing DHCP

Only a reboot resolves the issue. This seems not to happen with the MBP’s in the house but they aren’t on all the time like the iMac, so I guess I’m not surprised.

Sharing USB Drive with Windows

As mentioned in the original posting, connecting a USB drive to the DIR-825 was pointless. The software that D-Link provides for OS X was worthless. Going back to the original developer version helped make the drive recognizable but it still couldn’t be used reliably. Files of any size bigger than a few hundred KB would time out. The good news is that sharing the USB drive with Windows from the Airport Extreme was extremely easy and seems to be quite reliable so far.

  1. Go into the Airport Utility and find the IP address for the Airport Extreme.
  2. Go to the Windows machine and run Windows Explorer.
  3. From Windows Explorer, go to Tools->Map Network Drive.
  4. Select an unused drive letter.
  5. In the “Folder” field enter \\IP_address\USB drive name. Example \\192.16.8.0.1\My_HD.
  6. Check Reconnect at logon if desired.

Snag-bagging Songs on the Sly

Having a large music selection is a great thing. If you’re looking to evoke a certain mood, nothing works as well as music. With apps like iTunes, that allow you to generate Smart Playlists, you have a very flexible means for matching almost any mood…assuming you have the collection to back it up. You can build up your collection with the iTunes store or Amazon, but even at $1/song or $5/album, the costs build up quickly. This brings us to two programs that seek to help you build your music collection using Internet radio.

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Radio Gaga and Snowtape are two apps that help you build your music library from a wide variety of internet based radio stations. Each has its strengths and each would serve the purpose for a different group of people.

Interface

When it comes to the interface, neither program screams sexy but both are clean and relatively intuitive.

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Radio Gaga has an interface that is a little more attractive. By using buttons or frames, you get a graphic representation of the genres available. Double click on a genre frame to see a listing of the stations. The lower left corner has a controller and there is also a mini-controller available.

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Snowtape is a bit more utilitarian. It also allows you to select based on genre, but without the pretty icons. It provides an additional link that allows you to buy a song that you are listening to in iTunes. This can be handy if you’re trying to support a specific artist or you have found a song that you want to get in pristine condition.

Radio Stations

Both apps provide a large collection of stations. They both will allow you to add stations via a URL or by dragging it from iTunes. Snowtape can go a bit further and can also load based on a playlist. Below is a listing of the genres available, as well as the number of stations/genre at the time that I was gathering the data.

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In terms of station volume, Radio Gaga is the clear winner. However, bear in mind that many of the Radio Gaga stations that make up this huge selection are operating below 128 kbp. Those stations are great if you’re running with limited bandwidth. If you have a high-speed connection, the stations below 128 kbp sound like crap. If you’re using the app as a radio, it might be ok. If you’re trying to capture songs, forget it. The recordings will sound like an AM radio playing in a big metal cabinet.

As internet radios, the apps are pretty evenly matched to me. You may find a genre more readily in one app over the other (if you want Metal or Disco, you’ll have an easier time with Radio Gaga) but the both allow you to play and add stations.

It’s at this point, though, that the apps head down different evolutionary paths, which we’ll get to soon.

Setup

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Here you can see the setup options for Radio Gaga. Pretty straighforward stuff. It does let you limit recording based on available hard drive space, which makes a lot of sense for Radio Gaga, as we’ll see.

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Snowtape is more integrated with iTunes (allowing recommendations), has hot keys, permits you to set the format for recordings (AAC or MP3–various quality levels), limit bandwidth, and will let you use your Touch or iPhone as a remote (another point we’ll get to soon).

Recording

Both apps will let you record to your heart’s content and both will export the songs to iTunes with whatever tagging info is provided by the station. Radio Gaga does not provide the option to set the format (it saves to MP3) while Snowtape allows you to choose from four levels of AAC or three levels of MP3.

Radio Gaga

Radio Gaga provides more flexibility in recording. It allows you to set a schedule for recording (as long as the app is running). It allows you to filter for specific words in an artist name or song title. It also allows you to record multiple streams at once.
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This screen shows that Radio Gaga organizes recordings by day. You can play the songs from here and you can export to iTunes from here. As mentioned, it only exports MP3 to iTunes.

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Here you can see how the scheduling works. You select one or more stations and then pick a menu option to “Record On Schedule.” You control the date, the length of time for recording, and on which days it repeats. This can be very handy if you have a particular radio show you want to catch.

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The limitation here is to an artist name or song name. As a test, I selected several rock stations and filtered on the band “The Kinks.” I selected several comedy stations and filtered on “Hedberg” to see if I could get Mitch Hedberg recordings. In fourteen hours of recording, I got one Kinks song and no Mitch Hedberg. Your mileage may vary. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about this capability. If I had a song that I desperately wanted, and I felt like having the app running all the time, I might use this functionality. I’m typically not that patient and I’ll have to think about any songs I might want that could be hard to find. Since I don’t know of any compelling Internet radio shows, the scheduling doesn’t do much for me either. For the right person, this seems like an excellent set of options that Snowtape does not provide.

Snowtape

Snowtape provides no scheduling or filtering capabilities. It cannot record multiple streams. What it does differently is: it finds artwork for the song and it allows “overlap recording.” Why is this important? Both programs do a decent job of getting the songs. The problem is that they key off the tagging information provided by the station. If there is a lag between the beginning/end of the music and the sending of the tag info, you may lose part of a song or may get extra. With the overlap feature, Snowtape will add 5 seconds to the beginning and end of recordings. You should be less likely to lose part of a song if you enable this option.

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This screen shows a selection of songs that have been recorded, along with the artwork that was captured. Don’t like the artwork? Pick a song, then hit the “Change Album Artwork” button. You’ll get this window:

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From here, you can select something else that suits your fancy. Of course, if you’ve picked up Pollux or TuneUp (Song Scrubber Showdown, Song Scrubber Showdown Updated, Genre Tagging — Pollux vs. TuneUp, Pollux vs. TuneUp Update), this isn’t terribly useful or relevant.

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In recognition of the fact that this recording ability is not perfect, Snowtape provides an editor. When used in conjunction with the overlap function mentioned above, this provides your best bet of getting a full song by letting you record the extra and then delete if before exporting to iTunes.

Final Thoughts

I can’t really pick a winner on this one. Both apps provide an excellent means of beefing up your song library. Snowtape gets you the artwork and gives you a better shot of getting the whole song. Radio Gaga provides much better tools if you have radio shows you want to grab or if you want to go on hunting trips for specific artists or songs. Which product you choose will depend on your needs. Both will meet your needs but in different ways. If you want to stream to an Airport Express, Snowtape is your choice. And, if you do so, it will allow you to use your iPhone or Touch as the control, much like iTunes does. Here is a final matrix for your consideration.

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In researching this, I saw that Snowtape is on sale “this week” for 50% off. Since it says “this week” and doesn’t actually set an end date, I don’t know how long the offer will last. To me, Snowtape has a slight edge in this contest. At $14.95, it looks even more attractive.


Magic Trackpad

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Let’s get this right out in the open…try as I might, I can find no magical properties in this device. Food left on it does not stay preserved for an unnaturally long time. Razor blades placed under it do not resharpen themselves (Google “pyramid power”). Rubbing it produces no Genie. Offering sacrifices to it seemed to have no impact at all, except in neighbor relations since my neighbor is now missing his prized goat. However, in a pinch, it might serve quite nicely as a kitchen chopper; just remember that it does have a glass surface so you don’t want to go all Ninja Chef with it.

The box is quite small. In it you will find the non-magical trackpad, a small manual, some other paperwork. Two non-rechargeable batteries are included in the unit. The manual was totally unnecessary but it covers all the basics. The most useful component, aside from the trackpad itself, is the bottom of the box, which shows the various gestures available.

When you pair the thing with your Mac, it will realize that a software update is required to get the trackpad drivers. This was a quick process that, I believe, also required a restart. Prior to the restart, the trackpad worked fine as a mouse but the two/three/four finger actions were not functional. Once the drivers are installed, System Preferences will include a new entry for Trackpad.

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This is where you set the attributes for the trackpad. As you hover the cursor over the settings, that setting will highlight and a how-to video for that setting will play, showing you how it works (in the shot above, the Rotate feature is highlighted).

All the gestures work as advertised. It responds just as quickly and accurately as the trackpad on a MacBook Pro. The button click can be managed two ways. The default is mechanical. The two feet on the front bottom of the device are buttons that will register the click or you can set the device to allow Tap to Click. I’ve read complaints about the button click but, so far, it has worked quite well for me, especially from near the center of the trackpad. Get too close to the bottom edge and more effort is required to activate the buttons (not a great deal more but the difference is noticeable). The multi-finger gestures are the reason I wanted this thing. The two finger scroll and three finger page back/forward are much more intuitive, responsive, and efficient than performing similar actions with a mouse.

My biggest beef is the application switch feature. Four fingers to bring up the app switcher works just fine. The problem is that the cursor does not automatically go to the switcher window. If your cursor was in the lower corner of the screen when you activated the switcher, it will still be there and you’ll have to navigate up to the window to choose the app you want. Having said that, you can use the arrow keys to move among the app options, so it isn’t a deal killer. I’ve also read complaints about click and drag but I’ve had no issues. I tend to use one finger to select and then slide another finger to move the object and this works quite well. If you find yourself running out of real estate with the finger that is moving, it seems to work well to switch which finger is stationary and which one is moving and the action continues without missing a beat. (Addendum, it was pointed out to me that you can use four fingers to activate the switcher, two fingers to navigate the switcher window, then a four finger tap to activate your app of choice. Thanks, jfm429!)

I have an image of Ubuntu in Fusion that I play with a bit. Without any Fusion update, the trackpad works just fine as a mouse and the two finger scroll works. The more advanced features do not work. Although I would like to report the results with a Windows image, my XP image got corrupted by viruses and I ended up deleting it. There is an additional download required for Boot Camp to activate more of the features for Windows. It seems to be a Boot Camp specific update and is not something you can run on your Windows PC to make use of the trackpad. In very limited testing, my Dell Latitude D620 did not find the trackpad. It found my iMac, my wife’s laptop (upstairs), and my BlackBerry. No sign of the Magic Trackpad. I tried turning off the bluetooth on the iMac to see if it had some exclusive hold on the trackpad and this did not resolve things. So, I don’t expect it to work with Windows (XP, anyway) yet.

Is it worth it? For me, yes. On those occasions when I could get my mits on my wife’s MBP, I lusted hard for her trackpad and the multi-touch gestures. Having that ability now with my iMac makes me much less interested in getting my own MBP (which is great because I can’t afford it). If you have limited real estate and you’re jonesing for the multi-touch features, I highly recommend the Magic Trackpad. As a comparision, I find it much more useful, intuitive, and responsive than the Magic Mouse, which I absolutely hate to use.

This is not a Bamboo. You can use the surface to draw, just like you can a trackpad, and you have a large surface to work with, but it won’t have the erase or multi-button features that you get with a Bamboo. If you’re looking for those features, invest your money with Wacom. I was really interested in trying Inklet but it appears that it needs to be updated to recognize the Magic Trackpad as a trackpad. It’s a shame because it looks like a nice alternative to the Bamboo if your needs are simple and the handwriting recognition would be fun, especially if it works as expected with their Pogo Sketch. If you want to extend the abilities beyond what Apple offers, look up the Better Touch Tool. Very limited testing suggests that it will work quite nicely. I set a three finger tap to ⌘R so that I could easily reload web pages without navigating or heading to the keyboard.


Airport Extreme 2.4 vs. 5.0

After seeing that there have been a number of searches for Airport Extreme comparisons between the 2.4GHz and 5.0 GHz modes, I decided to augment the original table with iStumbler readings at 5GHz also. This is only for the Airport Extreme. With the DIR-825, the 5.0 GHz band was useless in rooms 5, 6, 7 so we turned it off. Those who are interested can interpret the results for themselves (or feel free to post your thoughts below).

As a follow-up, we have been using the Airport Extreme for two weeks now and I have been very pleased. The USB drive share has worked very well and I haven’t experienced any of the other weird symptoms that we had with the DIR-825. The weirdest symptom was that most days my iMac would lose its connection with the Internet and I would have to reboot. I tried changing the DNS from my ISP to OpenDNS to Google DNS (along with a variety of other things at the promptings of folks on the Apple forums). So far, with the Airport Extreme pointing only at my ISP DNS, the problem has not resurfaced. I’m not prepared to conclude that the problem is gone but it has certainly been nice not to have to deal with it for the past few weeks.

Also, after switching the MBP back to 5.0 GHz, it has been very responsive. Seeing how much better it works than the DLink, I’m going to leave it on and see how things go. If I start getting complaints, I’ll switch back and post here.

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