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Jeff Carlson continues his exploration of computerized poker players with a look at iPoker this week. Matt Neuburg then takes a quick glance at Typinator, a sleek new utility for expanding typed abbreviations, and Adam examines both the Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter and Monster Cable's iTV Link. In the news, we cover the releases of Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5.0 and Eudora 6.2.3, explain how to change Tiger's screen capture format, call for more translators, and give away copies of Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro.
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Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5.0 Released -- Now Software has released Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5.0, the latest version of the company's long-standing multi-user calendar and contact management software. New features include a Schedule View for seeing multiple people's schedules simultaneously, a single interface to manage multiple calendar and contact servers, the capability to subscribe to iCal calendars, vCard and iCalendar support, a redesigned interface for a more modern look and improved ease-of-use, and customizable toolbars. The update also provides compatibility with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, and Now Software plans a free update for later in the year to add support for Tiger-specific features like Dashboard, Spotlight, and most importantly, SyncServices, enabling Now Up-to-Date & Contact to share data with any other SyncServices-aware application or device. (Roughly speaking, SyncServices is the system-level version of iSync that promises to provide more generalized synchronization capabilities.) And last, but certainly not least, Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5.0 will feature a new Take Control user manual written by Joe Kissell; it should be available in the relatively near future. The upgrade to Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5.0 from version 4.x costs $50, and there's a 30-day free trial version available as a 13.9 MB download. [ACE]
Free Macworld Boston 2005 Passes -- If you've been thinking about checking out Macworld Expo in Boston this July 12th through 14th, our friends at Peachpit Press are once again offering a pair of free exhibit-only passes (a $50 value) on a first-come, first-serve basis. To request a pair of passes, send your name and postal address in email to <email@example.com> before 06-Jul-05. [ACE]
Eudora 6.2.3 Fixes IMAP Bug -- Qualcomm has released Eudora 6.2.3, a free update designed largely to fix the annoying IMAP bug that could result in lost messages (see "Qualcomm Acknowledges Eudora Bug" in TidBITS-781). Along with that bug, the new version squashes a variety of other bugs, adds a few x-eudora-settings for esoteric needs, and adds a checkbox to send mail through the SMTP submission port (587) in the Sending Mail settings panel. Also worth noting is that Qualcomm has relaxed their approach to requiring payment for new Paid-mode updates 12 months after the last payment; until further notice, updates that change only the third digit (the 3 in 6.2.3) won't trigger the need to pay for a new version even if more than 12 months have passed. Eudora 6.2.3 requires Mac OS X, is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, and is a 7.8 MB download. Finally, Qualcomm has announced that the next major version of Eudora will be a significant rewrite, which is necessary to take advantage of new technologies such as Spotlight and WebKit. [ACE]
How to Change Screen Capture Formats -- Last week, when talking about the new version of Snapz Pro X in TidBITS, I mentioned that Tiger changes the default file format used for screen captures taken with Command-Shift-3/4 from PDF to PNG. Thanks to Paul Schreiber for alerting me to the fact that you can change that default format back to PDF or to another format, presumably as long as it's one supported by QuickTime, such as JPG (extra points for anyone who wants to figure out all the possibilities and send me a list). Follow the steps below to make Tiger save screenshots as PDF.
Copy the "defaults write" line below, paste it into the Terminal window, and press Return.
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type pdf
Log out or restart your Mac to make it pick up the new setting.
If you wish to reset the file format back to PNG, just repeat the steps, replacing "pdf" in the "defaults write" line with "png". [ACE]
Call for TidBITS Translators! The coordinators of our intrepid translation teams tell me that it's time to recruit some new volunteers to help translate TidBITS into Dutch, German, and Japanese. Plus, although we have some French translators, we need someone to step into the coordination role (which could be perfect if you want to help but aren't confident of your translation skills). About 6,000 people currently read TidBITS in one of those languages, so if you'd like to help increase that number and bring TidBITS to native speakers of your language, check out the pages below. Thanks in advance! [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Back in early December, we ran a DealBITS drawing for Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro 2.1.1 and gave away three copies to highly deserving TidBITS readers. Since then, the amoebas with attitude have released Audio Hijack Pro 2.5, adding an AAC quality selector, more variables when setting ID3 tags and file names, a "Stop Recording After" option to the Silence Monitor, full AppleScriptability, support for radios like Griffin's RadioSHARK, a plug-in that accepts input from multiple applications, the capability to record all audio emanating from your Mac at the same time, a check to make sure scheduled recordings don't overlap, and more. It's a significant update, and is free to registered users. But if you don't already own a copy of Audio Hijack Pro and want to record Internet radio programs, rip your old vinyl albums, or just about anything else related to recording audio, it's worth a look.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
A few months back, in "Sometimes It's Just Broken" in TidBITS-766, I wrote about my trials and tribulations in displaying video from my 12-inch PowerBook on our television. I had purchased a Mini-DVI to Video Adapter, but the first one was defective and Apple politely sent me a replacement that worked fine. After that article, a TidBITS reader who worked at Monster Cable offered to send me a review unit of Monster's iTV Link cable, which goes beyond the Apple adapter by also providing audio. After a spate of ignoring video entirely, I finally got around to testing the cable in a real-world situation.
On the Macintosh side, the iTV Link gives you a mini-DVI connector and a standard headphone plug; on the TV side you get an S-video connector and a pair of RCA audio plugs. The connectors all feel solid and well-constructed, and Monster claims they have 24k gold contacts for maximum signal transfer. In fact, the iTV Link Web page lists all sorts of jargon-filled reasons why the iTV Link is utterly fabulous - "heavy-duty double shielding 100% mylar foil and 95% copper braid," "nitrogen-injected dielectric," "super fine multi-stranded copper conductors," and even "DoubleHelix construction dual tightly twisted conductors." Honestly, I haven't the foggiest idea what any of that really means, if anything, but I can say that the audio and video signals from the PowerBook to the television are of good quality. It's tricky to be sure, though, since our 15-year-old Sony TV is awfully fuzzy compared to the PowerBook's crisp LCD screen, and the TV's speakers would undoubtedly be laughed at by any home theater aficionado.
The basic advantage of the iTV Link over Apple's Mini-DVI to Video Adapter is the addition of audio, since watching a picture on the television while listening to faint sound coming from the tiny PowerBook speakers off to the left of the screen isn't an ideal experience. Initially, though, the iTV Link was more trouble to hook up, since I had to swap the S-video and audio connections on the back of the television (insert repeated swearing at the rat's nest of associated cables) from the TiVo to the iTV Link instead of just stealing the S-video cable that already ran from the TiVo to the television. Then I realized I could just plug the iTV Link into the TiVo's input jacks and treat it as "Live TV" in the TiVo's interface. As an added benefit, that means I can record directly from the PowerBook to the TiVo, which is a slightly odd sensation. I haven't tried recording with a DVD yet, but it worked flawlessly with a QuickTime movie.
The iTV Link really is a different beast from Apple's Mini-DVI to Video Adapter; it's a complete solution for sending audio and video to your television, whereas the Mini-DVD to Video Adapter is just that, an adapter that makes it possible for you to plug an S-video or composite cable into your Mac. So if you want to integrate your PowerBook or iBook into your home entertainment system, the $40 iTV Link is worth a try; if all you want to do is have the capability to use a television as a presentation screen, Apple's $20 adapter is all you need.
by Matt Neuburg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ergonis software, whose PopChar and KeyCue utilities have been mentioned in TidBITS, now throws its hat into the typing assistant ring with Typinator. The idea is that you provide Typinator with a set of abbreviations and expansions; when you're working in any program, if you type an abbreviation, Typinator substitutes the corresponding expansion. For example, I could type "tb" to generate "TidBITS", or "AS" to generate "AppleScript", and so on for any boilerplate, short or long, that I expect to use.
Typinator's primary competition is TypeIt4Me, which I've also mentioned in these pages. The approaches taken by the two utilities vary radically. TypeIt4Me is an input method; you switch to it using your Input menu (the status menu at the right end of the menu bar whose icon is usually some country's flag), which means that you can't use it in conjunction with any other input method or keyboard layout. Typinator, on the other hand, is an ordinary application. It watches the characters you actually enter by typing - I don't know how - and when you type an abbreviation, it uses GUI scripting to select it and to substitute the expansion. This is done by pasting, which means that Typinator can enter images if an application allows this. It also means that entering a Typinator expansion wipes out whatever was on the clipboard; I don't quite see why this is necessary, since it ought to be possible for Typinator to restore the old clipboard contents afterwards, but in any case you can work around this, if you find it problematic, with a multiple clipboard utility such as CopyPaste or ClipBlock.
Typinator also doesn't require you to type any terminator character to signal that what precedes is an abbreviation; instead, it watches to see whether you've typed an abbreviation at the start of a word, and if you have, it just expands it (and if that isn't what you intended, Undo restores the abbreviation in most applications). Typinator also does some smart things such as letting you use the capitalisation of the abbreviation to dictate the capitalisation of the expansion (useful for ordinary words that should be capitalised at the start of a sentence but not elsewhere). And that, aside from letting an expansion enter current time and date information in a variety of formats, is about all Typinator does; it doesn't permit multiple abbreviation files, or application-specific abbreviation files, like TypeIt4Me.
As usual with Ergonis's products, simplicity and reliability are the watchwords. Like PopChar, Typinator can enter characters from throughout the Unicode repertoire; and like PopChar, it seems to work just about anywhere - I wasn't able to find many applications that give Typinator trouble (though I did quickly find one, Panorama). Typinator requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later, and costs just $20; you can try it out for free (a 500K download), the only limitation being the number of abbreviations the trial version remembers.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Before our May trip to New Mexico, my friend Oliver Habicht asked if I wanted to borrow a Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter, which is one of those little devices for finding wireless networks without needing to pull out the PowerBook. My initial reaction was, "Nah, I like walking around with my PowerBook open!" to show off both the PowerBook and its wireless capabilities, but with a moment's rational thought, I reconsidered and accepted Oliver's kind offer. And in fact, the Digital Hotspotter proved useful to us in Taos, where we desperately needed to find high speed Internet access, since our host for the night was, coincidentally enough, Oliver's mother, who had only a modem connection to the Internet.
What It Is, What It Does -- Physically, the Digital Hotspotter is unprepossessing. It's roughly 2.5" by 2" by 1" (6.3 x 5.1 x 2.5 cm) and is made of gray plastic. Unlike some of the early portable wireless network detectors, which had only LEDs, the Digital Hotspotter sports a 12-character LCD display across which information about the networks scrolls. A single button turns it on and starts a scan; it turns off automatically after displaying available network information to save the power provided by a pair of AAA batteries. It feels sturdy, and I didn't worry about it breaking when it was rattling around in my PowerBook bag.
Like sniffers such as KisMAC, the Digital Hotspotter performs a passive scan that can detect closed networks (they appear as "Cloaked" in the display). In contrast, stumblers like MacStumbler and iStumbler perform active probes that both fail to detect closed networks and show up in KisMAC's display (the Digital Hotspotter isn't designed to detect active probes). For each network it detects, it displays the network name, the signal strength, the channel, and the encryption status (Open or Secure, where Secure means WEP- or WPA-encrypted, although it doesn't differentiate between WEP and WPA). If more than one network is available, clicking the button multiple times cycles through the display for each one.
Real World Usage -- We didn't need the Digital Hotspotter for the first few days of our trip, since wireless Internet access was widely and obviously available. The Albuquerque airport had signs telling everyone that they offered free wireless access, two of the user group meetings at which I was presenting provided access, and Robin Williams and John Tollett of course had wireless access at their house. But once we ventured past Santa Fe on our way to Taos, locating a connection became more difficult. We figured we could eventually find a coffee shop in Taos that would have it, but amazingly, the main one we happened on, the World Cup coffee house, had no wireless network. However, walking a bit further into the Taos Plaza in the center of town and checking regularly with the Digital Hotspotter, we found a network called "made_in_new_mexico" that was wide open and clearly run by the Made in New Mexico store on the Plaza. Using laptops outside in the sunshine isn't the easiest, but we managed to settle on some park benches and take a quick pass through email. Amusingly, a woman saw us working away, Tonya on the iBook, me on the PowerBook, and was ecstatic both that we'd found wireless Internet access and, a moment later, that I knew how to configure Mac OS 9 on her blueberry iBook so it could connect. The next day, before leaving town, we checked mail again, and made a point of stopping in the Made in New Mexico store to thank them and pick up some presents for our parents.
One thing we discovered while playing with the Digital Hotspotter during the trip was that it is more sensitive than our laptops, and I've always considered Tonya's white iBook as the gold standard of laptop sensitivity. If the Digital Hotspotter reports a network as having only a single bar of signal strength, laptops may not be able to lock onto the signal sufficiently.
Although I'm not into wardriving, I recently took the Digital Hotspotter with me while driving to a chiropractor appointment here in Ithaca. On the drive, which is about four miles through rural and lightly populated suburban countryside, the Digital Hotspotter detected eight networks, though some may have been too weak to use for real. All but one lacked encryption, and four of the eight had default network names ("default" or "linksys" in these cases). Interestingly, there may have been even more networks that it missed; Canary Wireless is up front about the fact that there are some access points that the Digital Hotspotter has trouble seeing. In fact, it can see my old Linksys BEFW11S4 wireless gateway, but not if I disable SSID broadcast, thus making it a closed network.
(Public service note: Even if you wish to leave your wireless network open such that anyone can use it, I strongly encourage you to change the network name and admin password. If you leave them at the default settings, it's trivial for anyone with a modicum of experience to take over and reconfigure your wireless gateway. And if that happens, you'll have to - at the least - reset your gateway to factory defaults and reconfigure it properly.)
Given that it costs $60, I don't personally have enough use for the Digital Hotspotter to buy my own. However, anyone who travels regularly and needs wireless Internet access would find it useful, as would anyone who works with wireless networks for a living and needs to perform security audits, since it's good for verifying where your network is available and for identifying rogue access points.
by Jeff Carlson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
If your knowledge of poker comes from watching television shows such as the World Series of Poker or Celebrity Poker Showdown, you might think that the only type of poker game is Texas Hold 'Em. (See my article from last week's issue, "Trying My Hand at Poker: DD Tournament Poker," for more details.)
However, Hold 'Em is just the current popular variation in the United States (and to my surprise, poker still seems to be primarily a U.S. game, as one of our Japanese translators pointed out to me). Variations were played as early as the Civil War, and spread across America as settlers moved west.
If you're looking for more than just Hold 'Em on the Mac, you're looking for Scenario Software's iPoker. It features 101 poker games that range from simple 5-Card Stud to some that entail a bewildering array of rules, wildcards, and antes. For example, take a look at the iPoker description for the poker game called Baseball:
7-Card Stud is played with all threes and nines wild. When a three is dealt face up, the player must either match the pot or drop. When a four is dealt face up, the dealer immediately gives that player an additional face-up card. With eight wild cards and the ability to have more than seven cards in your hand, you'll need at least four-of-a-kind to win this game.
If that weren't enough, you can customize the rules to each game to an extent that I didn't realize was possible for a card game. Want to honor a three-card straight instead of the normal five cards? Use joker cards? Award chips to a player for being dealt a specific card? All easily done.
The Buy-In -- With so many games to manage, iPoker doesn't try to mimic the layout of a real poker table, aside from the look of the cards, the table surface, and the chips - all of which can be customized. Instead, players are listed top to bottom at the left of the program's single window. Cards are dealt in horizontal rows left to right, making it easy to see every player's cards.
iPoker also takes a more general approach to the game overall. It's one long ongoing marathon poker session, which you happen to be able to jump into and out of at will; when you quit the application, the current standings are saved, so that the next time you play every player has the same amount of money as before. This approach can be exhilarating if you've managed to hand out some bad beats to your opponents and stored up a mountain of chips, but it's depressing when you're thousands of dollars in the hole and fighting to just break even. Unfortunately, in this case the only way to start fresh is to delete iPoker's preferences file.
Having a rolling session simulates what you'd likely be doing at a casino, carrying your winnings (hopefully) from table to table trying different games, or simply playing a home game. You can choose the game type yourself, or enable a preference so that the dealer chooses the game. Unless you're familiar with all 101 games, or are comfortable losing a few hands to see how it's played, you can also limit the dealer's choice to just recent games.
The Rocks and the Fish -- iPoker can pit you against as many as 10 other players, though your screen resolution and processor seem to determine just how many are possible. On my 15-inch, 1.25 GHz PowerBook G4, I can play comfortably with five opponents using a Bigger Graphics setting, or eight opponents with a More Players setting but with slower performance. iPoker won't even let me choose 10 or 11 players.
Unlike the computer opponents in the current version of DD Tournament Poker, the players in iPoker retain their own skill characteristics. Claire Voyant (just one of several entertaining names) possesses the same playing traits each time you go up against her, making it easier to guess when she might be bluffing or holding a strong hand. You can tweak those traits, too, by double-clicking the player's icon and moving sliders that determine the strength of skills such as Poker Mathematics, Psychological Deception, and Betting Courage.
The players exhibit some personality as well. Each player is represented by a photo of a real person, which is animated if you enable QuickTime player movies. Watching them furrow their brows in concentration, grumble when they lose, and smile when they win is a fun addition... for a while. But there are only so many little facial QuickTime movies included for each person, so their antics became a distraction and I turned off that feature.
A clever, if unnecessary, feature is the capability to use an iSight or digital camera to project video of your own face on your player's icon. After a few minutes, though, you realize that you're looking at your cards and not yourself, and are likely to turn the feature off. If iPoker were a networked game, and I were playing against real people, it might be fun to see video of my opponents, but that's not the case.
The Sound of Winning -- One well-implemented aspect of iPoker is its animation and sound. I'm not a fan of whizzing graphics just for the sake of whizziness, which is why I think Scenario Software has done a good job of spicing up the play of the game with minimal, but effective, effects. Cards spin as they're dealt, with a subtle whiss sound of a card's surface sliding against another card. The chips sound as if the developers recorded real chips clicking together (although larger chip values hit the table with a heavier thud, which doesn't seem realistic but adds weight to the fact that you just tossed in a $100 chip instead of a $5 one). There's even some calculated whimsy: if it's your turn and you're taking too long to act, the icon of the dealer's hand snaps its fingers once, then twice, then three times to make sure you're paying attention.
Best of all, you can control the speed of the animation via a slider, which by extension speeds up play overall. I don't need to wait for Rhonda Voo to figure out which move to make (especially considering that the decision was probably made in a few nanoseconds).
However, I quickly turned off the dealer's narration of the action. And although I like the sound effects, there's no in-game volume control. So, if I'm listening to music using iTunes at moderate volume, the sound of shuffling cards is louder than it needs to be. I'd like to see a simple volume control in an upcoming version, instead of having just the choice of enabling or disabling sound effects entirely.
Shuffle Up -- iPoker is a program that loves the game's seemingly unlimited capacity for variety. It's great for trying out different poker permutations, or just for those days when you have a few minutes to spare and want to pick up a few hands without investing the time in playing a full tournament-style game. iPoker 3.4.1 requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later and is a 36.2 MB download. The unlicensed version offers unlimited play, but only of 7-Card Stud; a license costs $30 and unlocks the full version of the game.
by TidBITS Staff <email@example.com>
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be faster.
What IMAP server did Mac OS X Server 10.1-2 use? Who needs Google when you've got the TidBITS Talk brain trust? A query about IMAP servers leads to discussion of migrating email services. (8 messages)
Do inexpensive color laser printers exist? Printing problems lead a reader to ponder buying a color laser printer, while other people suggest tips for solving the issues. (42 messages)
What would an Apple tablet be like -- A new portable tablet computer elicits thoughts on what Apple might produce if it decided to get into the tablet computing market. (1 message)
Fixing Snaps in a Snap -- Readers react to Charles Maurer's article on improving snapshots, suggesting other software and discussing the limits of the TIFF file format for use in adjusting photos. (3 messages)
Poker on the Mac -- Jeff Carlson's first article on poker software brings the closet poker players out of the woodwork and sheds light on the differences between playing against computer opponents and real people. (3 messages)
Steve Jobs's Commencement Speech to Stanford -- A reader provides a link to Jobs's recent speech to college graduates. (1 message)
Cross Compiling with Intel -- A reader inquires about the capability of Apple's development tools to compile PowerPC code into Intel code as part of the upcoming transition to Intel-based Macs. (2 messages)
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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