Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two Mac quickies

Just a short post today. Wanted to share two cool OSX Leopard hacks that I've found today that are definitely on the useful side.
  1. Add "beautifying" icons to the default Stacks. I have the Applications, Documents and Downloads stacks in my dock, and they show the first item in the stack as a miniature icon. Not especially useful, or good to look at, especially because my first document is an all black picture (called black_169.tif).
    This hack from LifeHacker shows you how to add nice "drawer" icons to the top of these stacks, helping you to clearly differentiate them from application icons, and make the entire Stack much better looking.
  2. Add a "Recent" and "Favorites" dock icon. This hack, again over at LifeHacker, creates a cool icon that allows you to access 5 things:
    • Recent applications
    • Recent documents
    • Recent servers
    • Favorite volumes
    • Favorite items
    All right from the dock. Very slick

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wither RSS?

People always come up to me at parties, on the street, or during laps in my F1 racecar*, and compliment me on my blogs here, here and here.

"But, Ian," they ask, "what blogs do you read? What catches your fancy during the downtime between skydiving naked and snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef?"*

Well, kiddos, here today is my listing of the blog feeds I read on a daily basis:


Ars Technica - Reviews and news on a more techincal bent
Autoblog - The best of what's in automobiles
Boing Boing - The old granddaddy of the internet tech blogs; news and views you can use
Digital Home - Canadian technology news. Brief but occasionally informative
Download Squad - lots of cool software news and trials. Most of the software I've blogged about has come to my attention courtesy of DS
Engadget - Gadgetry, computers, cool tech; winner of best technology blog for the last 4 years
Engadget HD - a sister site to Engadget, dealing primarily with High Definition TV and DVD news
Planet DB2 - DB2 coverage; keeps me up to date on my day job
The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) - Coverage of all things Mac; one of my favourite resources

Personal improvement
Lifehacker - lots of quick ideas to help make your work and home life more productive and enjoyable
zen habits - a blog of self-improvement advice and assistance. I don't read it all very often, as I'm too lazy, but I'm sure I'll get around to it

Entertainment (News, Movies, Sports, Shopping, Gossip)
Edmonton Journal - News - My local Edmonton news site

ESPN Feed: Bill Simmons - ESPN's The Sports Guy
From the Pressbox - Elliot Freedman's blog, he works for the CBC and covers NHL hockey, CFL football and a few other lesser sports.
Melt Your Face-Off - A hockey blog
With Leather - Sports news and gossip with more than adequate amounts of scorn; an absolute favourite

Cinematical - Keeps me up to date on the happenings of Hollywood.
My Boring Ass Life - Filmmaker Kevin Smith's personal blog
Pajiba - Hollywood news with equal servings of wit and sarcasm
What Would Tyler Durden Do? - Celeb gossip with a helping of attitude
WWdN: In Exile - Former ensign Wesley Crusher's fantastic personal writings, covering technology, entertainment and his personal doings

seems Artless - A photo blog from my friend David Sky - Latest Deals - Deals for Canadian shoppers; my bank account and wife hate me reading this site

Penny Arcade - A fantastic web comic

There you have it gang -- get out and explore my world so you can be just like me.

(*activities depicted may or may not actually have occurred)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Dvorak, when the walls fell

I'd heard of the Dvorak keyboarding method years and years ago, but I never really got a handle on it or why it was better for me. Then last week, I came across this post on boingboing linking to a very informative e-comic that outlined exactly why I should switch.

So I hitched up my pants, spat into the brass spittoon and said "Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin'. I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy."[1] Metaphorically, of course.

Literally though, I set up the Dvorak keyboard on my Thinkpad (it's included as a option in the Regional Settings portion of the Control Panel), took an old keyboard apart and reassembled it Dvorak-style -- for referral purposes only, you don't need a new keyboard to learn Dvorak -- and went online to find some typing tutorial software that would help me learn. I eventually went with Ten Thumbs and their cool viking cartoon helpers.

I dug in with both hands (ha!) and began to see why Dvorak can be such a blessing for touch typists. All the main letters (s,t,n,a,d,o,e,i) are on the main "home" row. A lot less finger movement means more efficient and presumably faster typing.

Then I started to run into the problems:
  1. O.M.G. was I slow. I'm a pretty fast touch typist on QWERTY, roughly around 75-90 WPM when I really get it going. With Dvorak, I went back down to 18-25 WPM and I could not stand it. Emails, chats, writing technical documentation -- I do a lot of writing in a day, and I literally kept forgetting what I was trying to type because it was taking me so long to type it. I know that it's idiotic to think that I would be as fast a typist right away, and I certainly was improving after only a few days, but it was giving me headaches to try and rewire my brain like this.
  2. Copy/Paste - on your normal computer keyboard, CRTL+C and CTRL+V are the copy and paste shortcuts. But in Dvorak land, C and V aren't beside each other anymore (for the record C goes in the "I" position and V is in the ">" position, QWERTY-wise). I wound up losing efficiency with my keyboard shortcuts.
  3. Multiplicity - I work with a lot of computers. A lot. I have 5 systems in my office, plus my wife's iBook, and literally dozens and dozens of other virtual machines both here at home and remotely at work. That's just too much pain to set each and every one of those up with the Dvorak layout (not to mention that my wife was having none of this madness, so there'd have to be both layouts on several systems to support both of us).
  4. Keyboards - I mentioned that I took apart a keyboard and set the keys up in Dvorak layout, but most keyboards today are "formed" to a physical design and you can't just move keys from one location to another on the keyboard and have it look normal. The alternative is to paint or tape over the letters and put the Dvorak keys in place. Way too much hassle.
So in the end, I pulled the plug on the Dvorak experiment. I think for someone just learning to touch type, or someone who only has one computer, it's definitely a great choice, and I admire all the proponents who swim against the stream to keep this alternative alive. But I've got deadlines to keep and miles of documents to write before I sleep.

[Those of you wondering about this post's title: see here]

Monday, November 12, 2007

A post to talk about no posts

I know your all waiting for the follow-up to the gmail post, and it's coming, but I've also started learning Dvorak typing, so I'm too slow right now to do a long post.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Leopard prints

My copy of Leopard came in the mail on Wednesday, and although I was excited to get my hands on it and upgrade my Macbook Pro to the latest and greatest, I confess I was a bit apprehensive. After all, I'm a long time Windows and Linux user, so operating system upgrades are, in my mind, never easy or clean.

I'm used to backing up my entire hard drive, erasing and then installing the new operating system, then I spend days reinstalling various applications and getting my settings back to normal. Needless to say, a highly frustrating experience.

Leopard blows this out of the water.

Everything was well set up for the OS upgrade. I popped the Leopard disk in, clicked one icon, and then ran a complete erase and install (because I had a backup, so I wanted to see how well a completely clean install was going to work).

The install took about 45 minutes, after which it detected my backup drive, and asked if I wanted to import my applications and settings from my earlier backup. Now that's intelligent software design. Impressed, I said yes, and in less than 20 minutes the installer moved all of my existing documents, applications and settings into the new Leopard system. And what's more -- everything works!

Chalk another one up for the lads at 1 Infinite Loop.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I want one

I know I just bought a $2k MacBook Pro. I know that I have 9 computers in the house now (in my defense, 3 of those are not in working order).

But, man, would I love to have one of these:

The Eee computer from ASUS is a perfect, "take along" laptop. Going out for coffee or to watch the kid's soccer game, need to write a quick email, or want a computer for journals and uploading pictures while on vacation?

Take this puppy along: at less than 2 pounds, you'll barely feel it in your bag, and if -- horrors -- someone walks off with it, you're not out a huge wack of cash.

I think I'll be putting this on my "nice to have" list. If you want to buy me one, here's a link.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Great Email Adventure, Pt. 1

You may have heard that Google has enabled IMAP for all users on their free Gmail web-based email application. What does that mean? I turn to for an excellent summation:
Why does IMAP matter again? Because unlike POP, IMAP supports back and forth communication between your offline email client and Gmail. If you set up your iPhone, Outlook, or Thunderbird client to read your Gmail using IMAP, every time you read a message it will be marked as read on the web interface. If you delete a message on your desktop, it will be deleted from the web. If you use POP, you'll have to repeat all of those actions twice.

Naturally, since it's a cool new technology, and my personal emails have been web-based (as opposed to a local application like Thunderbird or Outlook Express) for years now, this interested me.

And I must admit, ever since I saw the cool features that are in the new OSX Leopard mail client, I've been thinking about how nice it would be to have all of my email accessible and synchronized from both my laptop AND via the web.

After careful thought this week, I decided to plunge in and get everything up to my primary Gmail account. Unfortunately, this is where I hit the big snag. My primary personal email account has been on Yahoo! for years and years, but ever since 2002, Yahoo! has not allowed you to get to your web email from a local client, unless you paid a premium. I never cared that much, so I never paid the cash. Now, however, I'm tired of Yahoo and their old, outdated email interface (don't even get me started on their new, bloated email interface), so I was willing to pony up the dough to get off. But when I tried to actually go and pay for the premium service, I was greeted with this error from Yahoo!:

We Apologize
The service you are requesting is not currently for sale.
We apologize for the inconvenience.

User experience -- Google: 1, Yahoo!: 0

My next step was to track down a method to run through getting Yahoo! emails down from the server. Sure enough, lots of folks have solutions, the most popular being a program called YPOPs!
which installs a little mail server on your system that can interact with Yahoo! mail server and retrieve the messages in your account. This does require a local client to download the messages, so I fired up my old Thunderbird email client and followed these easy setup instructions.

Once the account was configured, I ran a "Get Mail" on that account, and sure enough, the email from my Yahoo! Inbox came pouring down into my client! Success!

Unfortunately, YPOPs! won't delve into my Yahoo! mail folders (where I've archived lots of stuff) to get old mails, so after I moved my "Inbox" contents to a "temp" folder in Thunderbird, I had to go through this laborious process:

  1. Move the contents of a Yahoo! folder to the empty Yahoo! inbox, but no more than 40 at a time (the limit for downloading seems to be 40 -- I don't know if that's caused by Yahoo! or YPOPs!).
  2. Rename the Yahoo! folder (so I knew which ones were done, usually by appending an "_" character to the front of the name)
  3. Run "Get Mail" in Thunderbird to get these messages from the Yahoo! inbox.
  4. Create a new folder in Thunderbird, and move the messages from my Thunderbird inbox to this folder.
  5. Move the emails from the Yahoo! inbox back into the (renamed) Yahoo! folder.
  6. Repeat, rinse and lather.

As you can imagine, with 1000's of emails, and Yahoo!'s 25-at-a-time viewing and 40-at-a-time download limit, this took a bit of time. But finally, all the emails were down onto my local Thunderbird client, properly organized in folders with the senders and dates intact.

Next time, I'll go over how to upload all these from the local client application, into Gmail!