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Google features heavily in TidBITS this week, thanks to Adam's look at the release of offline access support for Gmail and Doug McLean's article about the inclusion in Google Earth of ultra-high resolution versions of 14 masterpieces from the Prado Museum in Madrid. That's right, you can fly around a painting and zoom in far enough to see cracks in the paint. But don't let Google Earth distract you for too long - Doug anchors this issue with a far more practical article about programs you can use to get your work done while minimizing distractions. Adam also notes that Coinstar machines will turn loose coins into iTunes credit, and Joe Kissell relates how he managed to get one of his current email addresses mentioned in a song recorded 10 years ago. Notable software releases this week include PersonalBrain 5.0.2, Typinator 3.4, iPhone 2.2.1 Software Update, Apple's iLife Media Browser Update, iDVD 7.0.3, HoudahSpot 2.4, and SpamSieve 2.7.3.

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Coinstar Machines Turn Change into iTunes Credit

  by Adam C. Engst <>

You know those machines that count your piles of loose change and spit out a voucher you can convert into cash? At least around here, most supermarkets have the machines, but I've never used one, since they charge nearly 10 percent for the coin counting service.

Until, that is, I walked by a Coinstar machine at a local grocery store and noticed that it would waive the transaction fee entirely if I was willing to take my money in the form of a gift card or certificate to one of a number of major retailers, including iTunes. That's perfect, since my $46.24 might not seem like all that much were I to spend it at Amazon or one of the other included stores, but when used for songs and iPhone apps, it will provide a significant amount of entertainment. (This is, of course, not news, since the service has been around for some time, but if you pay as little attention to machines in supermarkets as I do, it may be news to you.)

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Apple presumably pays Coinstar the 8.9 percent fee that Coinstar would normally deduct from such transactions. That's a small price to pay for spreading the iTunes meme even more broadly than before, and in areas that might be noticed by people who don't normally think much about Apple.

According to Coinstar's Web site, most U.S. families have about $90 in change around the house, which implies there is about $9.5 billion sitting around in jars and under couch cushions. Apple may not be in need of a federal bailout, but I'm sure the company will be happy to get its hands on some of that petty cash.

If you aren't sure where there's a Coinstar machine near you, the company's Web site offers a locator service that shows you the nearest machines in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Ireland. Not all machines offer the gift card/certificate option, so pay attention to the details when locating a nearby machine.

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Google Earth's Virtual Prado Museum

  by Doug McLean <>

Madrid's Prado Museum has long been a destination for art lovers. In the company of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Prado is home to countless masterpieces of western art. Unfortunately, the options for viewing its contents have always been either hopping a plane to Madrid or thumbing through printed reproductions that pale in comparison to the original works. Luckily, there's now a third option with Google Earth's Prado Museum feature, which offers ultra high resolution photos of 14 of the museum's masterpieces.

While the project isn't an acceptable substitute for seeing the works in person, it is an exceptional upgrade to the sorts of reproductions to which we've become accustomed. The images of the 14 works, which include Velázquez's Las Meninas, Goya's The Third of May 1808, Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, and Fra Angelico's Annunciation, are 14,000 million pixels in size - that's 1,400 times larger than an image that could be captured by a standard 10 megapixel camera! The extreme resolution enables viewers to see not only every stroke of paint, but even the weave of the canvas and cracks in the varnish.

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To produce these exceptional images, technicians at the Prado took over 8,200 photographs of each work over the course of three months (Google apparently footed the bill, whose total remains undisclosed.) The photos were then connected and layered using the same technology Google uses to create the incredibly detailed satellite maps for Google Earth.

Unfortunately, Rodriguez Zapatero, the general manager of Google Earth Spain, has said there are no immediate plans to add additional paintings from the Prado, or expand the project to other museums. Hopefully these reproductions will be enough of a hit to encourage Google to help make more of the world's great artworks available in ultra high resolution.

To view the works, you must first download the Google Earth application. After launching the program, select the 3D buildings layer on the bottom left panel, then enter "Prado Masterpieces" in the search bar. When the Prado Museum result appears, click it to fly to the museum, where a white tile appears. Click that to view the paintings. If nothing else, it's astonishing to zoom into a picture and not have it pixelate or get fuzzy until you're so far in that you can't tell what you're looking at anyway. (The screenshot is an eyeball from Rogier van der Weyden's Descent of Christ from the Cross, the full painting of which measures 7.2 by 8.6 feet (220 by 262 cm)!)

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DealBITS Drawing: Win a Copy of MathMagic 6

  by Adam C. Engst <>

Do you need to create mathematical equations for papers, reports, or other publications? If so, you'll want to enter this week's DealBITS drawing to win one of three copies of the $89.95 MathMagic Personal Edition 6, which enables you to create complex equations and export them in PDF, MathML, LaTeX, EPS, GIF, JPEG, and PICT format for use with word processors, presentation programs, and graphics software. MathMagic can also read MathML, TeX, MathType, and wiki equations for importing work done in other programs. Entrants who aren't among our lucky winners will receive a discount on MathMagic Personal Edition, so be sure to enter at the DealBITS page. All information gathered is covered by our comprehensive privacy policy. Remember too, that if someone you refer to this drawing wins, you'll receive the same prize as a reward for spreading the word.

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Gmail Gets Offline Access with Gears

  by Adam C. Engst <>

While I've been laid up in bed, I've taken the opportunity to set up Google's Gmail to retrieve a copy of every message I receive at my main email address via POP, leaving the messages in place so I can also retrieve them via Eudora as I do normally. I wanted to give Gmail a real-world test, and since I can also configure Eudora to access my Gmail account via IMAP, I can manually sync up work done in one place with work done in the other if I decide to move entirely to Gmail or to refocus on Eudora. Of course, my other goal was to be able to access my email on the iPhone.

But even in the short time I've been testing Gmail, I've been annoyed to see its "Still working" status banner appear when, for some reason or another, my browser couldn't connect with Gmail. The problem has always resolved quickly enough, but there are plenty of times when I'm in an airport, on a plane, or just somewhere where there isn't Internet access. (I realize this may come as news to those who live in large cities, but in most of the world by area, Wi-Fi connectivity is difficult or impossible to find, and even cellular connectivity is often flaky or nonexistent.) In such situations, Gmail has been, well, completely useless. It can't work for more than a moment or two without contact with the mother ship.

Luckily, Google has at long last announced Gears support for Gmail via a Gmail Labs feature called Offline. Google Gears is a technology that enables Web applications like Gmail and Google Docs (and apps from other companies too) to operate offline, storing changes locally and then resynchronizing them once you reconnect to the Internet (see "How to Use Google Docs Offline in Safari", 2008-09-01); Offline ties Gmail into Gears.

Offline should now be available in the Gmail Labs tab for everyone. Needless to say, Google calls this "experimental" support, so it may not work flawlessly. Then again, Google hardly ever takes anything out of beta, so the fact that it's public at all means they think it's sufficiently functional.

Gears, which requires a separate install, needs at least Safari 3.1.1 or Firefox 1.5 running on Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later. Although that's an entirely reasonable requirement, it will likely pose at least short-term problems for people who use a site-specific browser like Fluid or Prism, or the Gmail-specific Mailplane client, which I'm also testing. That said, while researching Mailplane's compatibility with Gears, I heard via Twitter that the developer has created a theoretically Gears-savvy build of Mailplane, so hopefully he'll be able to add Gears support to the shipping version of Mailplane without much difficulty.

Now that Offline has appeared in my Gmail Labs tab, I've had a chance to give it a try. The installation process works as you'd expect. Assuming you have Gears already installed in Safari or Firefox, you click the Offline link in the upper right corner of the Gmail page. What's next is interesting - Gmail evaluates your email volume and tells you how much recent mail it will download.

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In my case, it told me that it would bring in mail received in the last three weeks (which is about as long as I've been using this account) but it wouldn't synchronize my Spam or Trash mailboxes, reasonably enough. Nor would it synchronize mail to which I'd applied the TC Orders label - lots and lots of Take Control ebook order notification messages from eSellerate. There's no control over what you can and can't synchronize as far as I can see, and it's clear that this makes offline access worthless as any kind of a serious local backup of your mail.

Once you've given Gears permission to store and access information on your computer (do this only on a computer you own, for obvious reasons), it starts the synchronization process. That can take a few minutes, but once it's done, you can disconnect from the network and use Gmail much as you normally would, but with the addition of a little icon in the upper right that tells you your connection status: online, synchronizing, offline, and "flaky connection mode." Synchronization takes place continually in the background, making it easy go offline any time you want.

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Flaky connection mode is interesting - you enter it manually by clicking the status icon and clicking Go Into Flaky Connection Mode. Once in that mode, mail will be read from your local database even if you're online, which provides better performance if you have a slow or flaky connection. Gmail will continue to synchronize mail in the background when it can, and if it can't, it will switch into offline mode entirely.

Not all things work the same offline. Most notably, there are no ads along the right side of the page, and certain Gmail Labs add-ons, like Canned Responses, don't work, presumably because they load data only when needed. Many settings, such as filters, are also unavailable while you're offline. But for the most part, I was able to read, write, and search through my email with no apparent loss in capability while offline, and other Gmail Labs add-ons, like the Quick Link box that stores frequently accessed searches, continued to work properly.

We'll see how Gmail's offline support continues to work in real-world usage, but for now it appears as though it will provide access to the messages and capabilities that most people need while working offline, if not one's full email archive.

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Log In to Me

  by Joe Kissell <>

I'd like to tell you how I retroactively got my email address mentioned in a song that was recorded 10 years ago, and simultaneously saved a Canadian band from having committed an egregious grammatical and/or technical error. I'm rather proud of this feat, though I realize the only people who will genuinely think it's cool are Canadian MobileMe members who listened to the music of an obscure comedy folk trio a decade ago. To both of you: yes, I rock.

The Arrogant Worms have been recording funny songs since 1992. Some of their best-known hits (and I use the term loosely) are "Carrot Juice Is Murder" (iTunes - lyrics), "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" (lyrics), "Jesus' Brother Bob" (iTunes - lyrics), and "The Mounted Animal Nature Trail" (lyrics). Morgen turned me on to them way back when, and we went to two or three of their concerts during the years we were living in Vancouver.

On their 1999 album Dirt was a track called "Log In to You" (iTunes - lyrics), a goofy love song consisting mainly of mildly suggestive computer terms. A few weeks ago, I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and for some reason I couldn't get that song out of my head. You know how it is. In particular, I kept thinking about the following sequence of words that's repeated several times in the song:

Naturally, you can't hear the line break, so even though there's a beat between the two parts, it's not clear whether they were intended to be thought of as a single unit or as two units.

When the album came out, I read a number of complaints about that part of the song, to the effect that it made the band sound computer-illiterate. The sequence "" sounds like the beginning of a Web URL, but there being no .love top-level domain, it's sort of left hanging. It sounds weirdly incomplete, like someone saying "" with nothing following it.

The second part, "," could of course be a valid email address. But given the proximity to the "" bit, listeners were forced to draw one of two conclusions. Either the two parts were intended to be understood as disconnected (in which case you get the incomplete-URL problem) or the two parts were intended to be understood as a whole unit (in which case you have an awkward blend of the start of a Web URL with the end of an email address that doesn't make any sense). One way or another, it was clear that the song had problems. Some fans even suggested that the "@" was actually "and," which would have made the whole string "" - a reasonable interpretation if true, but careful listening proves without a doubt that it's pronounced "at" and not "and."

Well, as I was wrestling with insomnia that night, I realized a few things. First, anything ending in is theoretically available as a MobileMe email address. Second, the string "www.loveyou" is a perfectly well-formed email user name that could go in front of the part. And third, as a MobileMe user I can add up to five free aliases that point to my main address. What are the chances, I wondered, that I could actually add the alias "www.loveyou" to my account? I had to find out, so I got out of bed, logged in, and 30 seconds later, the deed was done.

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Shockingly, I've received not a single spam message at that address yet. (Don't feel obligated to be the first, either. Really.) But I'm proud to say that, as of now, if anyone were to listen to that song and type those two lines into their email client as a single literal email address, it would not only work, it would go to me, a bona fide computer geek and Arrogant Worms fan. (And, to answer the obvious question, of course I tried to get "" too, but unsurprisingly, it wasn't available.)

So, Worms: you're welcome. No charge. That's nothing for nothing!

(Everyone else: Buy my book on MobileMe. Ten bucks, and well worth it!)

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Minimize Desktop Distractions

  by Doug McLean <>

I've always been an easily distracted person. In college I discovered the glory of the engineering library's basement: a pseudo fallout shelter whose bare bulbs dangled over solitary study cells, with nary a distraction in sight for an aspiring art major. Even the bookshelves lining those monastic spaces were unable to tempt me given their investigations of geological dullness and computational obscurity (subjects, I'm sure, that would titillate a more scientifically inclined mind).

It was only there, in the bowels of the university, that I was able to get any serious writing done. So where did I find myself a few months ago? On the TidBITS editorial team, with news to research, articles to write, and a desktop full of wildly entertaining time bandits. I was in serious need of intervention.

I decided to search for tools I could utilize to reduce distractions. I should note that, as an artist, I'm principally a visual person: I learn best by looking at pictures, and I work most sluggishly when there's too much in my line of sight. If I see an email message enter my Inbox, an iChat window pop up, or a Twitter account update, I simply must check it out. According to a 2005 study conducted by the research firm Basex, I'm not alone: interruptions now consume 2.1 hours a day, or 28 percent of the average person's workday. What I needed was a way to reduce the amount of visual noise I was exposing myself to, and to transform my desktop and screen into a more Zen-like state.

I also considered taking measures to block my Internet roaming - a principal offender in my time wasting - but decided I'd probably ignore anything that told me how much time I was wasting or turn off whatever was keeping me from where I wanted to go. The problem for me isn't so much that I don't know when I'm wasting time, or that a certain site is zapping productive energy, it's that I get off track in the first place. Thus, I needed to figure out how to induce tunnel vision to the task at hand.

Word Processing circa 1987 -- Writing being my main occupation, I began my search by trying to find a minimalist word processor. I discovered two very similar programs: JDarkRoom from Code Alchemists (freeware) and Hog Bay Software's WriteRoom ($24.95). Both programs reduce your screen view to just a solid colored background with the text and cursor on top.

Both programs also have normal window modes, to enable users to switch to other applications without having to quit first. However, when you leave JDarkRoom's fullscreen view, only a small dialog asking you to click OK when you want to reenter remains visible, while with WriteRoom the document appears in what looks exactly like a TextEdit window.

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WriteRoom's approach is more useful if you need to work between programs simultaneously, though presumably if you're using WriteRoom or JDarkRoom it's precisely because you want to reduce multitasking. Still, being able to copy and paste from multiple documents before returning to fullscreen mode to edit would be useful; in JDarkRoom to do the same thing you have to copy text, enter fullscreen mode, paste, then exit fullscreen mode to do it again. All that back and forth is a pain in the butt.

The programs are nearly identical when in fullscreen mode. Both simply present a cursor on a solid colored field. There are no formatting palettes, rulers, or other interface elements to distract you. Both programs also let you alter aspects of the appearance, namely the background color and text color. So you could pretend you're working on an Apple ][ with green on black, or typing in Doogie Howser's diary circa 1989 with white on blue. Both programs are capable of a wide range of color combinations.

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The main difference between JDarkRoom and WriteRoom is the user interface. JDarkRoom, while only slightly less flexible than WriteRoom, initially appears to be extremely basic due to the lack of any menu bar or friendly graphical interface. Instead its menus are key-activated: F5 brings up the Help menu, F6 brings up the Preferences window, and so on. At first, I admit, I wanted my familiar drop-down menus, but soon I became accustomed to the key-based menu and command system, and even came to appreciate the speed it offered.

WriteRoom, on the other hand, has a typical menu bar with drop-down menus and an attractive and easy-to-navigate Preferences window. I found WriteRoom's controls and menus to be more intuitive. Also, WriteRoom is slightly more flexible than JDarkRoom, enabling a little more customization and control over appearances and layout. However, while the difference between what the programs are capable of is small, the difference in how to activate those capabilities is significant.

To change your font in WriteRoom, you go to the Preferences window and pick your font from a list, as you would in Microsoft Word or TextEdit. In contrast, JDarkRoom's font list contains only four standard fonts; to add more you must make adjustments in a configuration file (bleh!).

The only other major difference between the two programs may not be in place for much longer. WriteRoom has a feature called Edit in WriteRoom, which acts as a system-wide plug-in that places the Edit in WriteRoom feature in the Edit menu of other applications. Thus, when working in Apple Mail, BBEdit, or other programs, you are supposed to be able to export that text, work and edit in WriteRoom, and then import back into the original program. Such a feature would be a real advantage over copying and pasting from the other applications.

This would give WriteRoom a big leg up on JDarkRoom, but it doesn't work in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Jesse Grosjean, head of Hog Bay Software, says that Leopard users should instead use the replacement program QuickCursor (freeware) to perform similar tasks.

QuickCursor, like Edit in WriteRoom, is a system-wide application that enables users to edit text in their favorite text editor. However, what's interesting here is that the QuickCursor development page says, "In future releases you will be able to change you preferred editor from WriteRoom to BBEdit, TextMate, Smultron, or any other text editor that supports the ODB Editor Suite." Does this mean that QuickCursor could eventually support JDarkRoom? If so that would eliminate one of the few major differences between the freeware JDarkRoom and the $24.95 WriteRoom.

Either way, both programs work well to reduce visual distractions and keep your focus on your writing. I would recommend JDarkRoom if you're on a budget and don't mind a little less overall control, key-activated menus, and somewhat annoying configuration commands; and WriteRoom if a more standard user interface, slightly extended controls and options, current access to QuickCursor, and overall ease of use are worth $25 to you.

If you're not quite ready for the supreme minimalism of JDarkRoom or WriteRoom, check out the free Writer from QI Software. The program doesn't limit visual distractions as fully as the other two, but instead dims all applications running in the background and utilizes a simple interface. My favorite features are the two easy-to-access buttons; one for muting all of your computer's sounds, and another for blocking your network activity.

A More Flexible Focus -- While these word processors worked well and were fun and easy to use, I still needed something that I could apply when I wanted to work in another program such as Mail or BBEdit. Enter Isolator and Menu Eclipse (both freeware).

Isolator works on the same principles as WriteRoom and JDarkRoom, minimizing your Desktop's visual noise to create a kind of tunnel vision. However, instead of turning your screen into a diving bell, Isolator maintains the appearance of the program you're working in and just blocks everything else out.

When activated, Isolator pushes the application you're working in to the foreground, either reducing everything else to minimal visual noise or completely obscuring it. Isolator's strength is the degree to which you can control what happens to these background programs.

Within the preferences of the current development version - 3.40beta - Isolator lets you choose the background color and its transparency level, ranging from faint to opaque. Choosing opaque with a tint of black results in the foremost application being surrounded by a solid black background.

However, that kind of curtaining can be too extreme for some tasks. Sometimes you may need to move between several different programs at once, in which case it makes sense to use a fainter tint. Beyond tinting you can also apply a filter.

Isolator has four different filters: Blur, Bloom, Pixels, and Crystals. Blur, as the name implies, blurs the background. Bloom creates a kind of soft focus on the background, distinct from and less extreme than the blur effect. Pixels, again like the name, pixelates the background. And finally Crystals is a more organic-looking version of the Pixel effect. My favorite filter is definitely Blur; it gives your desktop the feeling of being underneath frosted glass and just looks terrific.

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What's great about these filters is that, when used in combination with the tinting, they cause the background to drop away from sight and mind, while still remaining visible enough to jump into another program easily if necessary.

Isolator is incapable of blocking only one element: the menu bar. So, if that remaining visual detail is throwing off your concentration, there is a way to eliminate it from sight. Menu Eclipse, like Isolator, has a few options and controls for how the menu bar appears (or disappears). Primarily, you can set the level of tint or blackout, and whether or not the menu bar will appear when you mouse over it. Combining Menu Eclipse with Isolator produces a fully focused Desktop - the perfect place to get some work done.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil -- Once I figured out how to focus my visual attention, I realized I was still contending with another serious focus-zapper: auditory distraction. Even after disabling audio notifications in both Apple Mail and iChat (hearing those bleeps and bloops was more distracting than I realized), I still craved more silence.

Whether working in a coffee shop, bus terminal, or at home when the television is on in the other room, I find myself derailed by the sounds of a place. The belly of the beast that was the engineering library always had the gentle hum of air conditioning or the constant hiss of the heating system. I realized I needed some portable white noise. Some searching revealed the White Noise MP3s Web site.

Spending $10 for about an hour of whooshing and sprinkling sounds might seem a little steep. But these tracks really are well produced and stand above all the other commercial white-noise collections I looked into. With these, you really get a richer and more peaceful backdrop to work within, especially compared to free white-noise tracks available online.

The track descriptions on the site read a little bit like J. Peterman meets a wise-ass ninth grader, and although the latter personality is a bit off-putting, the products deliver. I downloaded and have been listening to Dreamstorm; its description was merely "DUDE." The site also provides fairly long sample clips of the tracks so you can get a good sense of them before purchasing.

Distraction-Free, or at Least Distraction-Reduced -- As I type this article I have Isolator tinting and blurring my background applications, Menu Eclipse obscuring my menu bar, and Dreamstorm playing in my ears. While of course distractions still abound - a couple of squirrels are playing tag outside my window - I am definitely working in a more focused state.

Good luck with these applications, and let me know if there's anything out there I've missed or should know about.

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TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 02-Feb-09

  by Doug McLean <>

PersonalBrain 5.0.2 from TheBrain Technologies is the latest update to the visual information manager that comes in Free, Core, and Pro versions. This minor update offers increased speed and improved memory usage. Specific bugs have also been addressed, including one that causes non-responsive bookmark importing, one that causes re-linked thoughts to lose their link labels, and one that prevents a closed brain from opening without a different brain being opened first. (Free/$149.95/$249.95 new, free update, 26 MB)

Typinator 3.4 from Ergonis Software is the latest update to the popular auto-typing and auto-correcting utility. New features include options to suspend Typinator temporarily and maintain the height of the set list when the window size changes, and the capability to expand text in floating windows such as Spotlight's. The latest version also includes several minor enhancements and bug fixes, such as resolving a bug that caused the software's memory usage to increase over time. (19.99 euros, free update, 2.7 MB)

iPhone 2.2.1 Software Update from Apple provides bug fixes and specifically addresses two issues with the iPhone's operating system. Overall stability of Safari has been improved, and an issue where images saved from Mail do not appear correctly in the Camera Roll is fixed. The update is available from within iTunes when the iPhone is connected. (Free update, 245.7 MB)

iDVD 7.0.3 and the iLife Media Browser Update, both from Apple, "improve overall stability and address a number of other minor issues." Unfortunately, that's all the concrete information Apple has provided, although we've since learned that the iLife Media Browser Update fixes some problems with Spotlight. The iLife Media Browser enables users to access their photos, music, and videos from Aperture, iLife, and iWork and is thus recommended for users of those programs working in Mac OS X 10.5.6 Leopard or later. The iDVD update is most likely related to the recent QuickTime 7.6 update, as the former relies heavily on the latter. Both updates are available via Software Update, or from Apple's Support Downloads page. (Free updates, 27.4/2.6 MB)

HoudahSpot 2.4 from Houdah Software is an update to the file search tool that provides an alternate front end to Spotlight. This version adds a new feature called Text Preview, which provides a dedicated preview feature for text files. Within this preview, search strings are automatically highlighted for more efficient searching. It is also possible to search the text preview itself. ($25 new, free update, 2.6 MB)

SpamSieve 2.7.3 from C-Command Software is a maintenance update to the powerful Bayesian spam filtering software. Changes include a rewritten manual intended to make setup and troubleshooting easier, improved Entourage capacity for handling uncertain mail, refined blocklist rules for enhanced accuracy, and a more robust Apple Mail plug-in installer. The update also fixes several bugs including one that makes parsing multipart messages difficult, one that sorts in rules windows, and one that marks incoming Entourage messages as Junk. ($30 new, free update, 5.7 MB)

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ExtraBITS for 02-Feb-09

  by TidBITS Staff <>

Details of iPhoto '09's Flickr Support -- Frasier Speirs, who develops the FlickrExport plug-in for iPhoto and doesn't pretend to be unbiased, offers a detailed look at just what iPhoto '09's Flickr support provides in this blog post. Our take: iPhoto's built-in support will be sufficient for basic uses, but serious Flickr users will stick with Fraser's FlickrExport or one of the competing plug-ins. (Posted 2009-02-02)

Alternatives to MobileMe -- Joe Kissell wrote the book on MobileMe, but also knows it's not the best solution for everyone. In this Macworld article, Joe explores other ways of getting a similar range of features. (Posted 2009-01-30)

Choose Individual iTunes Tracks to Upgrade to Plus -- Apple has changed its iTunes Plus upgrade policy, allowing you to pick individual tracks and albums to upgrade and remove digital rights management protection for songs you bought with DRM enabled. Upgrades are still $0.30 per song and $3.00 per album in the U.S. market. (Posted 2009-01-29)

iPhone Apps for Designers -- The App Store really does contain more than just games and novelty programs. Jeff Carlson spotlights eight applications that designers will find helpful in this article at (Posted 2009-01-28)

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Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk for 02-Feb-09

  by Jeff Carlson <>

DVI/HDMI adapter confusion -- Trouble with an HDMI to DVI cable points to an issue with HDCP content-protection mechanisms. (8 messages)

Reading SMART status on external hard disks -- Is there a Mac OS X application for reading SMART diagnostic information from external hard drives? (6 messages)

Diagnosing weird hard disk problems -- Apple's Hardware Test (accessible from a Mac OS X installation disc) could provide a clue about whether a hard disk is salvageable. (2 messages)

Opening OneFile files -- The Opera Web browser may be able to open this file type, but a better approach is probably to ask the sender to create a PDF file instead. (2 messages)

The Mac Turns 25: Best Mac Ever? Readers debate Adam's contention that the Mac SE/30 was Apple's best Mac. (12 messages)

The Mac Turns 25: Our First Macs -- We shared the stories of our first Macs. What was the first Macintosh (or other computer) you owned? (2 messages)

iLife 09 caused Spotlight issues -- Readers discuss an issue with Spotlight and iLife '09, as well as general impressions of the suite. (7 messages)

Yet Another Reason Not to Pirate Software -- News of Trojans embedded in pirated copies of Mac software leads to discussions of online security and the difficulty of managing passwords. (28 messages)

Geolocation in searching -- Is there a way to specify that search results (and other Web destinations) be limited to a single country? (4 messages)

Unpacking the old tarball -- Installing Python 3 requires Xcode, as one reader discovered when trying to decipher a cryptic set of installation instructions. (6 messages)

Worst Apple Products -- Adam's Macworld article on Apple's worst products in the Mac's 25 year history spurs suggestions of other unworthy products. (22 messages)

Google v Apple, cloud v local -- As more data is floated in "the cloud," are we expecting better service, security, and reliability? Or does a traditional local (on your computer) model work better? (27 messages)

Apple Drive Modules for Xserve RAID? Now that Apple no longer offers the Xserve RAID, it seems nearly impossible to buy replacement drives. Any workarounds that you know of? (8 messages)

Partitioning large drives -- Does it make sense to partition a large (1.5 TB) hard disk, or leave it as one volume? Readers also discuss combining large drives in RAID arrays. (12 messages)

iPhoto Faces -- Readers comment on their experiences with the Faces feature of iPhoto '09. (4 messages)

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