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It’s the Great Holiday TidBITS Gift Guide, Charlie Brown! We’re doing something a little different this year, with some well-considered suggestions from TidBITS staffers along the theme of “bits-not-atoms.” We also have a review of a pair of unusual iPhone and iPad cases from ZeroChroma, along with a review of the Navigon MobileNavigator iPhone app. And then there’s a DealBITS drawing for cf/x alpha, an interesting image processing application. Notable software releases this week include FlickrExport 4 for iPhoto and Aperture, RapidWeaver 5.0.1, Swift Publisher 2.3.3, VMware Fusion 3.1.2, Cyberduck 3.8, EyeTV 3.5, and Google Earth 6.

Adam Engst No comments

Save 50% in Take Control 7th Anniversary Sale

It’s hard to believe, we know, but it was seven years ago, in 2003, when we tentatively announced our first Take Control ebook, Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Upgrading to Panther.” (Remember what was new and cool in Panther? No, we don’t either.) Now it’s time to celebrate Take Control’s seventh anniversary with a 50-percent-off sale. Order any of our ebooks at half-off through the end of December using this coupon-loaded link.

In retrospect, we started Take Control at a particularly auspicious time. The PDF format was nearly ubiquitous, we had all become accustomed to buying things on the Internet, and most of the major publishers hadn’t yet figured out ebooks in a big way. That enabled us to focus on writing, editing, and producing the best possible ebooks we could, constantly refining what we considered a good ebook to be as we went.

Since then, the bar has risen much higher for what is expected of an ebook publisher, and we’ve plunged into an exciting new world, taking our readers along for the ride as we come up with better ways for our books to provide the help you need, when you need it. Most notably, you can now log in to your Take Control Ebooks account to see exactly which ebooks you own and re-download them (on an iOS device, you can even read them directly from your account). For those who need alternative ebook formats like EPUB (for iBooks in iOS, and for other e-readers) and Mobipocket (for the Kindle), we’ve (mostly) made those formats
available in your account for all but our older titles.

We may be pretty good at writing and publishing books, but we’ve had to stretch to learn ever more about delegation, project management, finance, and development. At times, the entire project is exhausting. But we start each day (well, most days), re-energized thanks to you, our readers, who buy and read our books, who write in with anecdotes about what’s working and what’s not, and who give us constructive comments. And we’re by no means done! We have lots of ideas in the works for more account-related capabilities, easier ways for you to read the ebooks, faster publishing of more file formats, and of course, more ebooks on the topics you care about.

As a thank you to everyone who reads the Take Control series and as an encouragement for anyone who hasn’t yet tried our ebooks (so please, spread the word!), we’re holding this seventh anniversary sale for the rest of the month. Whether you want to update a bunch of older ebooks all at once, see what’s new in the Take Control catalog (check out “Take Control of Your Paperless Office” and “Take Control of Mail on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch”), or order a bunch of ebooks to put on a thumb drive as a gift (“Take Control of iPhone Basics” and “Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ” might be especially appreciated), you can save
50 percent on whatever you buy through the end of December.

Thanks again for your support, and our best wishes for a happy holiday season and end to 2010!

Adam Engst No comments

DealBITS Drawing: Win a Copy of cf/x alpha 1.0

I’m about to embark on another calendar production project in iPhoto, and although I generally don’t do much editing of the images I choose, apart from cropping and the basic adjustments iPhoto can make, I’m really tempted to do some additional work in a tool I just learned about, cf/x Software’s cf/x alpha. It’s an image processing tool tweaked toward transparency and blending, enabling a variety of effects that might be difficult to replicate in other programs, ranging from blended collages to mosaics.

In essence, cf/x alpha lets you take one or more images and arrange them into a single new image, using cropping, scaling, zooming, and blending to create a pleasing composition. The software doesn’t just provide basic tools, but has more than 20 customizable blend generators and 70 configurable effects, and it even offers professional composing tools that internalize ways of maximizing impact like the Rule of Thirds and the Fibonacci Spiral. Once you’re done, you can export to many file formats, send images via email, or upload to Flickr.

For instance, the image below is something I created almost accidentally while fiddling with the free calendar templates cf/x Software has available for download; it’s far from polished, but gives a sense of how easy it would be to generate a compelling image. If you’re thinking you might like to spend some of your holiday downtime playing with images, check out the free trial version of cf/x alpha to see what you can do.

There are actually three versions of the software: the $89 entry-level cf/x alpha home that has basic features, the $229 standard edition cf/x alpha that has all the capabilities most people could want, and the $389 cf/x alpha pro with added workflow and automation features.

But for this week’s DealBITS drawing, if you want to win one of three copies of the $229 cf/x alpha 1.0, 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.

Adam Engst 5 comments

ZeroChroma iPhone and iPad Cases Integrate Stands

I’ve had a hard time getting excited about most iOS device cases and stands, apart from the highly functional Hand-e-holder (see “Palm Your iPad with a Hand-e-holder,” 29 October 2010). That’s because I’m far more interested in function than fashion, and I’m pretty good at treating portable electronics gently.

Nevertheless, when Apple was giving away iPhone 4 cases to address the antenna issue, I got the Incase Snap Case, even though I hadn’t experienced any problems with reception. Incase’s shell case turned out to be just about perfect for my situation. It was clear, so it didn’t hide the iPhone’s excellent industrial design or muck it up with garish plastic. It was smooth like the iPhone, so I could still slip it in and out of my pocket easily. It didn’t obstruct any of the iPhone’s ports or buttons. And best of all, it was thin enough on the bottom that I could still dock the iPhone with the case on. Perhaps it didn’t provide much protection, but I didn’t want
much protection.

So I was initially dubious when a PR rep contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in checking out the new Vario case for the iPad and Teatro case for the iPhone 4 from ZeroChroma. But I become more intrigued when I saw their industrial design: both shell cases include a truly clever stand that flips out and holds the device at a variety of angles in both portrait and landscape mode. Both are made of rigid matte plastic, and are just a tiny bit less slick than the Snap Case. Neither is perfectly smooth.


The $44.95 Teatro case for the iPhone 4 is slightly wavy on the sides, for a better grip, and it has a recessed dimple in the back, right where you’d want to put your index finger normally, again to improve the grip. It also has a hard rubber rim around the back edge that prevents the case from slipping when propped up, and a few tiny shock-absorbing rubber bumpers inside.

The $69.95 Vario case for the iPad lacks those grip-enhancing features and slip-resisting rim, but sports internal hard rubber shock absorbers and hard rubber bumpers at each corner. Due to the curvature of the iPad and the case, the bumpers don’t touch the surface when the iPad is laying flat, but they could provide some protection from a short drop (no, I didn’t test this). The bumpers also keep the iPad from slipping when it is propped up.

What sets both cases apart from the crowd is the integrated stand. Many iPad cases, in particular, flip around in some way to provide a stand of sorts, but most are limited to a couple of angles. ZeroChroma’s cases provide many more angles by incorporating a fold-flat hinge that can assume either 14 (iPhone) or 16 (iPad) positions. Even cooler is the way the two-piece hinge is inset in a rotating circular piece of plastic that clicks into place every 90 degrees, so that you can prop your iPhone or iPad up at nearly any portrait or landscape angle you wish. In my review units, the iPhone case’s stand was both easy to operate and sturdy; the iPad case’s stand was quite a bit stiffer to operate because of its thicker plastic, but was
still perfectly sturdy. (If I can find some graphite, I might lubricate the iPad case’s stand with a tiny amount of it.)

ZeroChroma claims that the Vario case for the iPad works as a hand-holder, and while it’s better than nothing in some situations, if I wanted to hold the iPad for more than a couple of minutes, I’d use the Hand-e-holder instead. Speaking of which, the Vario fits nicely over the Hand-e-holder’s 3M Dual Lock ring that’s attached to the back of my iPad. The Vario case has another nice touch: I can flip the iPad over and insert it face-down in the case to protect the screen when I put it in a bag or backpack.

Despite the ZeroChroma company name, both the Teatro and Vario cases are available in three two-tone models: black with a gray stand, white with a gray stand, and pink with a lighter pink stand.

The only significant downside to both cases is that they’re too thick to allow the iPhone or iPad to be docked. Since Incase’s Snap Case allows the iPhone 4 to dock, it seems as though the Teatro could have just slightly thinner plastic on the bottom to allow docking. The Vario, however, would require a more-significant cut-out to allow an iPad to dock.

Despite the inability to dock the iPhone or iPad while they’re in these cases, I’m quite happy with them. Although entire days may pass when I don’t pop out the built-in stand, when I do find myself wanting to prop up the iPhone or iPad, the stand is right there, waiting to be used. When I use cases that lack integrated stands, I find myself either wandering around trying to find a stand or just giving up and propping up my device on whatever object happens to be handy, which usually results in an unsatisfactory reading angle and always leaves me with the nagging worry that I’ll accidentally knock the device over and damage it.

ZeroChroma also makes a version of the Teatro for the 3rd generation iPod touch ($34.95) and for the 5th generation iPod nano ($24.95)—that’s the previous generation—and a landscape-only case stand for the iPhone 3G/3GS called the Projeto ($34.95). There’s also a version of the Vario for the Kindle II ($59.95). Versions of the various cases are also planned for the 4th generation iPod touch, the Kindle III, and the Galaxy Tab tablet.

Adam Engst 40 comments

Navigon MobileNavigator App Bests Standalone Devices

Perhaps my favorite piece of consumer electronics over the past five years has been the car navigation GPS device, and I’ve reviewed a slew of them in TidBITS in that time (see our series “Find Yourself with GPS”). But don’t go looking for most of those models because they likely aren’t available any more—the field moves quickly, rendering older models obsolete.

My dirty little secret is that although I recommended these devices to friends and relatives, I never bought one for myself, since they were never quite perfect (though I liked the Garmin nüvi 255W quite a lot). I could see that the state of the art kept changing, and I didn’t want to get stuck with a model that suffered greatly in comparison with later incarnations. You’ll also notice that the last review in that series compared the device to early iPhone GPS navigation apps, G-Map and AT&T Navigator. I didn’t feel that I could quite trust either of those in stressful driving situations.

Hence my gift suggestion this year, for anyone who has an iPhone and could use navigation help when travelling in unfamiliar environs, is a GPS iPhone app I’ve tested extensively and feel comfortable recommending: Navigon MobileNavigator (hereafter referred to as Navigon). Put simply, Navigon is as good as or better than every standalone GPS device I’ve used, with only a few minor qualifications.

I hope by now that most people understand what car GPS navigation is about. You enter your destination, and are given the “best” route. As you drive, you’re given turn-by-turn directions complete with street names, spoken aloud so you can keep your eyes on the road, not on the constantly updated map. If you take a wrong turn or if the GPS makes a mistake (hey, both happen), it calmly recalculates and gives you new directions.

Well, Navigon does all that brilliantly. Its voice is clear and understandable, its map is extremely readable and accurate, and while I can’t say that it has always directed me perfectly, it has always gotten me to my destination along a reasonable route. (One tip: if you know an area well, the GPS’s directions will inevitably disagree with your favorite routes, although in an urban environment it might also teach you some previously unknown shortcuts.)

What sets Navigon apart are its extras. You can enter addresses manually, find them from your contacts, search for built-in points of interest, and—this is huge for when the points of interest database fails you—do a Google Local Search right from within the app. Once you’ve specified a destination, Navigon tells you what the weather conditions are there, and lists nearby points of interest that may be useful. Tapping Start Navigation then presents you with several possible routes, which is nice when you have a rough idea of which
way you’d like to go.

You can even tell Navigon if you’re biking or walking, so it calculates speed correctly, and walking directions are presented in a way that makes more sense when you’re strolling city streets. Speaking of speed, there’s an option when driving to alert you (with the single word “Caution”) when you exceed the posted speed limit by more than a user-specified amount; you can even set that amount separately depending on whether or not you’re in an urban area. Navigon works well in both portrait and
landscape modes, unlike some other GPS apps I’ve used. I also really appreciate the fact that Navigon can automatically silence music or pause an audiobook or podcast to speak its directions, rewinding a few seconds in audiobook mode so you don’t miss anything. Finally, Navigon looks and works like a true iOS app, with native controls and integration, rather than the truly funky interfaces that many other GPS apps have ported from their companies’ standalone devices.

Although Navigon isn’t perfect, the mere fact that it’s an iPhone app means that it keeps changing and improving. In fact, that’s part of why I haven’t reviewed it before this; every time I’d get close, a new version would force me to revisit the entire app. In various versions, its displays have improved and changed, live traffic information has become available as an in-app purchase (I haven’t tested this; there is no traffic where I live), connections to Facebook and Twitter have been added (I don’t use this, since I don’t want to clutter my followers’ brains with where I am at any given time), and more. And because it does receive updates, map changes can also be built in, whereas they’re often an extra purchase
for standalone GPS devices.

I have only a few real criticisms of Navigon. First, it’s somewhat slow to start up, which used to be more of a problem before iOS 4’s multitasking and fast app switching, although it’s still annoying when I can’t start driving until I have directions. Plus, if I launch it immediately after leaving a building, it can sometimes take longer than I’d like to get a GPS lock, forcing me into a useless and confusing simulation mode until it catches on. A single screen for entering addresses would be easier than the multi-screen approach now, with one screen for each aspect of the address. And finally, sometimes it can be a bit chatty; I’d like an option to control how often it speaks. But as I noted, because Navigon is an app,
these criticisms could be eliminated by updates; previous annoyances I’ve had with the software have disappeared.

You will likely want some sort of a device to hold your iPhone in a good viewing position in the car, along with a car charger (like the standalone GPS units, an iPhone running a GPS app has a battery life of only about two hours). Lastly, although I have no experience with this, Navigon theoretically works on the iPad and iPod touch as well, though I imagine it would require a 3G iPad or, for the iPod touch, the Magellan Premium Car Kit for iPhone and iPod touch, which provides a GPS receiver for the iPod touch (though its reviews on Amazon are decidedly mixed).

Navigon comes in a variety of editions that differ only by their internal maps. A full United States and Canada version costs $59.99 right now, a U.S.-only version costs $49.99, and there are three versions for the Eastern, Central, and Western areas of the United States that are $29.99 each. Prices for versions with maps of other countries range from $59.99 to $119.99.

While all those prices may sound high for iPhone apps, they’re notably lower than a standalone car navigation GPS device would be, and for something that works better, improves regularly, and won’t leave you with another device in your drawer in a few years.

TidBITS Staff 1 comment

TidBITS Gift Guide 2010

By now you’ve no doubt seen a few gift guides for the holiday season—not counting the barrage of advertising that saturates November and December each year. We’ve offered TidBITS Gift Guides since 1993, and we encourage you to look at recommendations from recent years, because in many cases the suggestions are still good, like the perennial stalwart software Solitaire Till Dawn. In particular, the 2009, 2008, and 2007 Gift Guides should still be relatively useful.

This year, however, we’ve taken a different approach. While we certainly like shiny new gadgets—TidBITS covers Apple and technology, for goodness sake—we don’t need even more physical stuff cluttering our offices and houses, and inevitably migrating to the back of a drawer or a closet before eventually being donated to the Salvation Army or sent to the landfill. So this year, we’re emphasizing bits over atoms with a variety of recommendations from TidBITS staffers, focusing on virtual goods and services that don’t add more plastic and metal to the pile. That’s not to say that each of the recommendations below is entirely based on flittering electrons, but those that aren’t are listed with an eye toward improving
our virtual lives.

We’d also like to hear your suggestions of gifts along this theme in the comments for this article!

Navigate with Navigon (Adam) — Perhaps my favorite piece of consumer electronics over the past five years has been the car navigation GPS device, and I’ve reviewed a slew of them in TidBITS in that time (see our series “Find Yourself with GPS”). But don’t go looking for most of those models because they likely aren’t available any more—the field moves quickly, rendering older models obsolete.

My dirty little secret is that although I recommended these devices to friends and relatives, I never bought one for myself, since they were never quite perfect (though I liked the Garmin nüvi 255W quite a lot). I could see that the state of the art kept changing, and I didn’t want to get stuck with a model that suffered greatly in comparison with later incarnations. You’ll also notice that the last review in that series compared the device to early iPhone GPS navigation apps, G-Map and AT&T Navigator. I didn’t feel that I could quite trust either of those in stressful driving situations.

Hence my gift suggestion this year, for anyone who has an iPhone and could use navigation help when travelling in unfamiliar environs, is a GPS iPhone app I’ve tested extensively and feel comfortable recommending: Navigon MobileNavigator (hereafter referred to as Navigon). Put simply, Navigon is as good as or better than every standalone GPS device I’ve used, with only a few minor qualifications.

In the interests of space, we’ve continued the discussion of Navigon in a separate article—“Navigon MobileNavigator App Bests Standalone Devices,” 6 December 2010)—since, unlike many iPhone apps, it’s sufficiently deep and capable to warrant significant exploration and commentary.

Netflix Watch Instantly and Hulu Plus (Adam) — In another bits-not-atoms effort, allow me to recommend a Netflix Watch Instantly account and a Hulu Plus account, which enable the account holder to watch an unlimited number of videos streamed over the Internet. Each account costs $7.99 per month, making even the combination cheaper than purchasing or renting individual items from the iTunes Store for most people. These accounts are even more economical than purchasing DVDs of movies or TV shows, with the added benefit that you don’t have to store yet another DVD box in your house.

The only significant downside of the Netflix Watch Instantly account is that it doesn’t include many recent TV shows and movies, but it’s safe to say that Netflix still offers thousands of hours of streamed entertainment for just about anyone. And, if you want to edge back toward atoms just a little bit, $9.99 per month adds a single physical DVD at a time, which could be perfect for the person who wants to see the occasional current movie.

Netflix in general lacks current TV shows, but that’s where Hulu Plus steps in, offering every episode of dozens of popular TV shows from the current season, along with past episodes from numerous other shows. Hulu Plus currently boasts more than 200 seasons and 2,400 episodes. I have to admit that we don’t subscribe to Hulu Plus since Netflix provides us with far more video than we have time to watch anyway, but many people feel the need to stay up with current TV shows. Be warned, even after paying for a Hulu Plus subscription, shows still have ads, whereas shows streamed via Netflix’s Watch Instantly service are ad-free.

Catalog Choice Unlisting Service (Tonya) — Although I enjoy browsing through paper catalogs, my overall appetite for catalogs is modest—give me one with schlocky Christmas decor, a couple of clothing catalogs, one with products like laser-based bug zappers, and a few arty catalogs with high production values, and I’m happy for months. A few years ago, the catalog load became so heavy that we were getting a year’s supply each week—we’re talking actual poundage of paper.

Fortunately, we found a simple way to manage our catalogs in the form of a suggestion from TidBITS reader Matt Henderson. Matt pointed TidBITS readers to a Web site run by a non-profit organization called Catalog Choice. Since signing up in late 2007, Adam and I have opted out of receiving catalogs from 176 merchants! (To read our original write-up, see “Stop the Catalog Madness with Catalog Choice,” 3 December 2007.)

Turning someone on to Catalog Choice would be a nice thing to do, but it’s not quite a gift. However, you can give a special Catalog Choice annual subscription, which includes removal from higher-level lists maintained by third-party marketing services that supply the catalogs with fresh meat, er, names. Catalog Choice is presenting this gift subscription as a “Gift of Less.” What you buy is a code that you can email to your recipient or that’s included in a card that you can print from the Catalog Choice site. Whether you also give a laser bug zapper is up to you. But I’m betting they don’t really work.

Give the Gift of Sleep (Tonya) — When it comes to sleep, forget the whiskey, the hot milk, and the sleeping pills (though a little nookie is never a bad thing). For chronic insomnia, a well-chosen audiobook is the ticket to dreamland. The trick is to play it on an iPod (or iPhone) with the sleep timer set for 15 to 30 minutes. The sleep timer automatically turns the audio off at the appointed time with no click (Adam discussed this back in 2005, in “iPods Defeating Insomnia,” 28 February 2005).

This gift means you’ll be providing the necessary tech support to help your recipient connect an iPod or iPhone to an external speaker (an older, hand-me-down device works admirably for this single-purpose function), fully understand how to operate the sleep timer, and put some audio on the device. To the best of my knowledge, all iPods except for the iPod shuffle have this function. The sleep timer in the iPod touch and the iPhone is available in the Clock app’s timer; the Sleep iPod option is at the bottom of the list of alarm sounds in iOS 4.2.1. The iPhone 4’s built-in speaker is loud enough that you likely don’t need an external speaker.

The trick is choosing the right audio. It must be interesting, but it can’t be too scary or funny, or too closely related to personal worries, or read with an overly perky voice. My all-time top pick goes to Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” which is available at Amazon and iTunes, but costs less at Amazon. We’ve listened to a number of other books (make sure to get unabridged versions—you want these to go on as long as possible), but have recently become fond of iTunes U class lectures, most notably Donald
Kagan’s Ancient Greek History class.

iTunes U offers a treasure trove of free audio (and video) from college courses. You have to pick carefully because sound quality can vary, and classes with many student questions can prevent you from dropping off. I also recommend Paul Bloom’s Psychology 110 at Yale University, a course that was among the iTunes U picks reviewed recently in the New York Times article “Audit This: 12 Online Courses Worth Watching” (individual reviews are linked to below the article’s main body). I want to emphasize that we listen to these audio files repeatedly until we
have absorbed them, and we like them a great deal, even if they do put us to sleep.

One more thing. Although we plug in Adam’s iPhone 4 beside the bed every night for this purpose, you can get an external speaker for the iPhone 3G or 3GS that does not use batteries or cables. It’s called the Griffin AirCurve, and I adore mine. You just plunk the iPhone into it, and the shape of the device conditions the sound waves to add about 10 decibels to the volume. It doesn’t work with other iPhones or the iPod touch, unfortunately, and although there’s an AirCurve Play to amplify the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4’s speaker is itself louder than the iPhone 3GS with the AirCurve.

Flickr Pro Membership (Jeff) — Digital cameras encourage us to take more photos than we ever did when shooting film, but how are people going to see them if they’re stuck on a computer’s hard drive? Of the many services that let you publish and share photos on the Web, Flickr has long been my favorite. I appreciate its clean interface and easy photo sharing and embedding controls.

Flickr is also free, but a free account is restricted to 300 MB of photos and two videos (which must be shorter than 90 seconds) per month. Your photostream is also limited to the most recent 200 images, you can post to up to 10 group pools, and you can’t re-download higher-quality originals that you uploaded.

For friends or family members that want to share more than that, a great gift idea is to purchase a Flickr Pro account for them at a yearly cost of $24.95 (or $47.99 for two years). They’ll get unlimited uploads (up to 20 MB in size per photo, or up to 500 MB per video), the capability to show HD video, unlimited storage and bandwidth, and archiving of high-resolution originals. They can also replace photos, post items to up to 60 group pools, and get view counts and referrer statistics.

If you’re a grandparent who wants to encourage more online photos of grandchildren, or if someone you know has recently delved into photography, a Flickr Pro membership is something that can pay off every day throughout the year.

Words with Friends (Glenn) — Words with Friends is an iOS board game that bears a resemblance to Scrabble. That resemblance is called “identity,” coupled with a few strategic shifts of the board layout, which you’ll have to learn. I made some boneheaded moves initially by thinking of the triple-word squares being in the corners, instead of indented.

Since I installed Words with Friends HD four months ago, I’ve played several dozen games with a variety of buddies. I nearly always have a move waiting to respond to. I have both the $2.99 iPad version and the $2.99 iPhone/iPod touch edition, so I can play with whatever device I have in hand. (The developer offers a free version with ads for the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch, too.)

Words with Friends’ key advantage over the licensed Scrabble iOS app is that the developer has its own network for connecting with others. You don’t need to use Facebook, which is a turnoff for some people—you can get a friend’s Words with Friends handle, send an invite via email, or be hooked up with a stranger (casual text, anyone?). Facebook and Twitter matchups are also available.

If you prefer the authorized Scrabble app, it has a fair amount going for it, too. There’s a built-in dictionary to check—but not find—words, including a list of all legitimate two-letter words. You can play against the computer from easy to advanced. It creams me at the advanced level, but it’s a great way to learn to play, and play fast games.

The Scrabble iPad app also pairs with the free Tile Rack for the iPhone and iPod touch where each player in a game can flick tiles from their device onto a shared iPad to play them! Scrabble also has a pass-and-play mode, and a local network mode in which you can play with other people using the app.

Scrabble also lets you cheat: a Best Word feature, which can be disabled, suggests up to four words per round based on your tile rack and the current game board. (Scrabble comes in an iPad edition for $9.99—which seems steep only relative to Words with Friends, but not to the number of hours you’ll use it—and a $2.99 iPhone/iPod touch version.)

Both Scrabble and Words with Friends have a feature that purists won’t like: you can place words on the board, and have the app tell you that one or more of the words isn’t valid. In real game play, an illegitimate word may be played unless challenged. If challenged and found in a dictionary—one you’ve agreed on or that happens to be lying nearby—the challenger loses a turn; otherwise, the player who placed the word removes his or her tiles and loses that turn. (The Scrabble app lets you choose among a couple of dictionaries; its computer player plays only legitimate words.)

Of course, word challenges lead to hard feelings, destroyed friendships, and family turmoil; perhaps it’s best that the apps act as the arbiter of word legitimacy.

Kindle Gift Certificates (Glenn) — When the Kindle first shipped, I was dubious that people would spend piles of money on books that could be read on only one device. I was wrong about that—plenty of regular commuters and frequent travelers switched to the Kindle to avoid carrying around piles of paper books. And Amazon has opened up the Kindle ecosystem broadly since the first device, while dramatically improving the reader and lowering the price of the 7-inch model.

You can now get free Kindle software for iOS, Mac OS X, Windows, and other mobile platforms. The same ebook may be read on any Kindle device or software, and the last-read place, notes, and bookmarks are synchronized as well.

This makes a Kindle gift certificate a highly reasonable option in place of a paper book. The upside: your recipient can immediately purchase and download whatever they want, or even apply the gift certificate towards the purchase of a Kindle reader. The downside: books can’t be transferred after purchase, unlike a printed book that might make its way through family and friends.

You can also give specific book titles as Kindle gifts; if a recipient doesn’t want that particular book, he or she can convert the gift to a Kindle gift certificate. Also worth noting is that your friend receives an email message when the gift is purchased, so if you want to keep it a secret until December 25th, you’ll need to place the order on that day.

Developer Membership Fee (Matt) — Got a budding developer in your life? You probably do, because the advent of the iPhone (not to mention the iPad) has brought a torrent of newbies eagerly swimming down Cocoa Touch Creek, tumbling over the Waterfall of Nerdliness and happily getting their feet wet in the Pool of Programming. iPhone apps, in particular, are often so simple and single-minded (and, let’s face it, frequently downright trivial and silly) that they bring out the programmer in all of us, that little inner voice that says: “Hey, I bet I can do this!”

But there’s a catch, as new iOS programmers quickly discover: although the Xcode developer tools are a free download, and although developing an app on your computer and testing it in the Simulator is free as well, if you want to move an app off the computer and onto an actual iOS device, whether it’s for the pleasure of carrying it around with you and playing with it, or to share it with friends or beta-testers, or to make it available in the App Store, you have to be a member of the iOS Developer Program, which requires an annual fee of $99.

This season, help someone over that fiscal hump by giving the gift of one year of developer-hood. You probably can’t actually pay the fee directly, because that requires signing in and enrolling as the developer. But you can give the $99 in some other way, earmarked as your contribution to the recipient’s Developer Program membership. This is a great way to say you care. It’s also a great way to express confidence and support for your recipient. When you give a Developer Programmer membership, what you’re really saying is: “This is just an investment; I expect you take this money, enroll in the iOS Developer Program, write a killer app, sell gazillions of copies of it at the App Store, and make me rich!” After all,
reciprocity is the essence of gift-giving, as anthropologists are fond of reminding us.

Seriously, a developer membership is a great gift. When I first signed up for my membership, that $99 seemed a mighty tall hurdle. But in the end, even though all my apps are free except for one, and even though that one hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, I did make enough back in the first year to pay for the membership (but no, not for my iPod touch).

And speaking of shamelessly self-promoting plugs (we were speaking of that, weren’t we?) another way to help your budding developer over the learning curve is with a good book about how to program for iOS. I’m writing one for O’Reilly Media at this very moment, and even though it isn’t finished yet, the bulk of the book is in place, and you can obtain it now in digital form in an Early Release edition, as an EPUB or PDF, or via the Web through Safari Books Online. Just like our own Take Control books (see elsewhere in this article), an Early Release edition has the advantage of mutability: as I write new chapters and revise earlier ones, the changes get pushed out
and incorporated into the digital book automatically. Honestly, the programming world changes so fast these days that if it weren’t for this Early Release feature of O’Reilly’s, I don’t think I could have been persuaded to write the book at all.

Backup Products and/or Services (Joe) — I’ll spare you the sermonette about backups; suffice to say that there are many ways to accomplish this essential task, and making backups easier for a loved one—in whichever way—is a wonderful gift. I’ve used many different backup programs in writing “Take Control of Mac OS X Backups, Fourth Edition,” and “Take Control of Easy Mac Backups,” and I have at least three running regularly on my Macs. Of these, I have a special fondness for CrashPlan, which lets you store your backups in the cloud (via an inexpensive service called CrashPlan Central), on a local hard drive, on another computer you own, on a friend’s computer anywhere in the world, or any combination of the above. Although the standard version of CrashPlan is free, I recommend the not-free CrashPlan+, which (as of 7 December 2010) offers continuous backups rather than a single backup run per day, backup sets, and a built-in subscription to CrashPlan Central. Alternatively, if you want an online-only backup system that’s extraordinarily easy to set up, and inexpensive too, give the gift of Backblaze ($50 per computer per year).

If you choose CrashPlan, you may want an extra hard drive to go with the new backup software, and the one I have my eye on this holiday season is the first 2.5-inch, bus-powered drive with a 1.5 TB capacity: the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex ($184.99 at with a USB 3.0 interface; add a FireWire 800 interface and cable for $24.55 or an eSATA interface and cable for $16.24). Yes, it’s made of atoms, but it packs lots of storage into a very small space—and is quieter than a full-size drive. And, as a bonus—if
you’re buying CrashPlan+ for a loved one—you can offer to back up their files over the Internet so they get a great gift that takes up no room for them.

Another space-saving storage option is a Drobo storage device. Drobos hold from four to eight hard drives, and let you freely add or upgrade drives (to increase your available storage space) at any time, with no manual reconfiguration required—so they help you reduce clutter both now and in the future. Of the many Drobo models, I’m most drawn to the five-bay Drobo S, which is reasonably inexpensive at $799 and, thanks to its USB, FireWire, and eSATA interfaces, lets you use it for bootable duplicates if you like.

Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner (Joe) — If you want to reduce physical stuff in your home or office, those thousands of pages of paper files are a good place to start. Convert them to searchable PDF files to get all the advantages of digital storage (you can back up your paper files!), and clear out some clutter in the process. There are lots of excellent Mac-compatible document scanners, but if I were buying a new one for myself today, I’d go for the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300, which I reviewed in TidBITS (see “ScanSnap S1300 vs.
Doxie: Two Portable Document Scanners
,” 24 July 2010). It’s not the fastest scanner on the market but is still reasonably zippy, scanning both sides of each sheet simultaneously at up to 16 pages per minute. It’s inexpensive at $295, has a 10-sheet feeder, includes OCR software, and is compact enough to take with you on business trips. And you can learn all about how to use it as part of a complete process for going paperless in “Take Control of Your Paperless Office ($10).”

Give a Kiva Loan (Rich) — I admit to having the terrible habit of buying things I want and need as I find them, making gift-giving holidays ridiculously complicated for my friends and family. Odds are that you have a few similar people on your holiday list. When my wife and I got married, we solved this by asking people to donate to our favorite charities, rather than giving us yet another duplicate kitchen item. The problem with charities as a gift is all you usually get is a nice letter, and it isn’t like you can play with your donation. Kiva changes all that by mashing up a charity, video game, and financial management

Kiva isn’t a charity per se; it’s a microcredit program that provides small loans to startup businesses in developing nations. The participants are all financially vetted and required to pay back the loans. But rather than sending your money off to some unknown face to make all the decisions, Kiva allows you to choose who you provide loans to, and how much, through a dynamic Web application. You browse entrepreneurs, their proposals, and funding requests and choose to provide financing to the ones of interest. As you invest, and loans are repaid, you manage your portfolio and can choose to continue loaning to new projects, donate money for Kiva operating costs, or remove the funds via PayPal.

Since the average repayment rate is 99 percent, and Kiva has funded over 460,000 entrepreneurs, your gift can go a very long way. Kiva can also be addictive, thanks to its portfolio management and lending interface. It may feel like a financial game, but with every click you’re helping small businesses and local economies throughout the world.

Books, E- and Otherwise (Michael) — I’m a book person—big time. So big time that I not only have bulging shelves of books around me, but a storage locker a few miles away from my home bursting at its seams with even more books. Yet, as much as I love the talismanic power of a bound hardcover codex, I have also become a big-time fan of ebooks, and have loaded my iPad and iPhone with them. And not just ebooks from Apple’s iBookstore, but from Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and several other ebook publishers and vendors (like Take Control!). If you happen to have family members or friends who have iPads, Kindles, Nooks, or other ebook readers, and you happen to be
reasonably clueful about your gift recipients’ tastes, an ebook or two, or a gift certificate for the same, can make a great gift. What’s more, there’s no wrapping paper to end up in the landfill once the gift is received.

With that said, here are two books I’ve recently enjoyed that might make a good gift for the right person on your list.

  • “The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1”: Published 100 years after Twain’s death, the autobiography consists of an enjoyable and highly readable set of free-wheeling recollections, reminiscences, and ruminations that Twain dictated from his bed in the last years of his life, and to which he added newspaper clippings, letters, and various other items at need or on a whim. Twain wanted the work withheld until he had been in his grave for a century, and although portions of it have been printed over the years, the University of California’s Mark Twain Papers and Project has prepared this authoritative edition and published it in both paper and electronic form (and that latter
    format Twain himself had even foreseen!). A Kindle edition of it is available for under $10, and can be purchased as a gift from Amazon’s site.

  • “CryoBurn”, by Lois McMaster Bujold: For the science fiction fan on your holiday list, this most recent self-contained novel in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga from the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Bujold is a satisfying science-fiction mystery adventure that touches upon issues of deep philosophic and political import while never failing to entertain. What makes it a good addition to this bits-not-atoms gift list, though, is the CD-ROM included in the Baen Books hardcover edition, which contains ebook versions of almost all of the Vorkosigan Saga novels and stories (including “CryoBurn” itself) in a variety of formats: EPUB, Mobipocket, HTML, RTF, and others. What’s
    more, there is no digital rights management imposed on these ebook versions. The hardcover with CD-ROM is available from Amazon as well as most bookstores (remember those?).

Take Control Books — Obviously, we highly recommend our Take Control ebooks, which consist of easily transferred bits instead of bulky atoms, offer thousands of pages of great information on a wide variety of topics, and feature free or discounted updates.

To buy one as a gift, you can buy the ebook as you would normally and then either send it via email (for instant gift-giving satisfaction) or copy it to a CD or thumb drive and deliver it the old-fashioned way (postal service, delivery service, or right jolly old elf). It’s not quite in keeping with bits-not-atoms, but you could order a print version using the Buy Print Book button located on each ebook’s Web page. If you go this route, do it Real Soon Now, because the printed books, unlike the ebooks, don’t ship instantly and can’t be updated.

If you want to give something tangible, while staying within the theme of this article, perhaps reference it in a simple holiday card: “Dear Steve: This year, I bought you an ebook that will answer all of your questions about reading email on an iPad. I’ll help you install it when I visit you next week. Love, Eudora.” Then you can send the actual PDF (or EPUB, or Mobipocket file, for most titles) via email later.

Whether you’re shopping for a loved one or looking for ideas to put on your holiday list, all the ebooks sold from the Take Control site are 50-percent off through the end of December, in honor of Take Control’s recent seventh anniversary.

That’s it for our recommendations for this year, but as always, feel free to contribute your favorite bits-not-atoms gift suggestions in the comments!

TidBITS Staff No comments

TidBITS Watchlist: Notable Software Updates for 6 December 2010

FlickrExport 4 for iPhoto and Aperture — Connected Flow has released version 4 of FlickrExport for iPhoto and FlickrExport for Aperture. Both the iPhoto and Aperture versions now sport refined interfaces and support multiple Flickr accounts, along with the capability to upload photos to multiple photosets at once. The updated version of the iPhoto plug-in introduces support for video upload and setting license terms for images as you upload them. Also new in the Aperture plug-in is the capability to perform metadata-only uploads, for when you want to
update Flickr’s metadata without replacing the photos themselves. (iPhoto plug-in: £12 new, £6 upgrade, 1.5 MB; Aperture plug-in: £14 new, £7 upgrade, 1.8 MB)

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RapidWeaver 5.0.1 — If you’re disappointed that Apple’s latest iLife update neglected iWeb, here’s some news that may cheer you up: Realmac Software has released version 5 of its award-winning Web design software RapidWeaver. New in version 5 are a Projects Window, a Bookmarks Manager, six new themes, stat-tracking support, HTML and XML sitemap generators, integrated Safari Web Developer Tools, and what Realmac calls a “bucketload of UI refinements.” Also new in this version is an Addons area to make managing RapidWeaver plug-ins much simpler—see the Realmac Software site for a full list of additions.
($79 new, $39 upgrade, 34.0 MB)

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Swift Publisher 2.3.3 — BeLight Software’s desktop publishing software Swift Publisher has been updated to version 2.3.3. Starting with this version, Swift Publisher can automatically check for (and download) new updates automatically. Several bug fixes are also included in the release: object dimensions are more accurate when viewing pages at the 100-percent zoom level, page order when printing in Imposition mode is fixed, and several bugs with tool buttons under Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard are also corrected. If you already own version 2 of the software, you can download a much smaller update (instead of the full application installer) from BeLight. ($44.95 Standard Edition/$54.95 Retail Edition, free update, 40.4 MB full download, 8.3 MB update download)

Read/post comments about Swift Publisher 2.3.3.

VMware Fusion 3.1.2 — When you must run Windows or another Intel-based operating system, it’s nice that VMware Fusion at least lets you do so without leaving the comfy confines of your Mac. Now, the virtualization software has been updated to version 3.1.2, which resolves many bugs and security-related issues. Fixed problems include one where you’d encounter errors when attempting to resume virtual machines with DivX Player installed, video display issues with Slingbox Slingplayer, and windowing issues with Microsoft Office applications. Many other bugs—problems with volume, connected handheld devices, full
screen mode, the Samsung Galaxy S, Outlook 2007, and Mac OS X Server—are also addressed; the complete list is available at VMware’s Web site. Beyond all those fixes, version 3.1.2 includes patches for a small handful of security vulnerabilities that could allow local users to access files that they shouldn’t be permitted to see. ($49.99 new after $30 rebate from VMware, free update)

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Cyberduck 3.8 — The field of powerful file transfer tools has expanded significantly over the years, and perhaps the most capable of the donationware tools is David Kocher’s open-source Cyberduck. Cyberduck 3.8 packs in a variety of new features, including some specific CDN options for users of Amazon CloudFront, importers for FireFTP and CrossFTP bookmarks, improvements for the display of file sizes and dates, and plenty more. Also included in the update are more than a dozen bug fixes that provide speedier SFTP transfers, reduced upload preparation time, and better handling when accessing
Google Docs through Web proxies. (Free, 20.4 MB)

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EyeTV 3.5 — Before Hulu, the number one way Mac users could watch TV with their computers was with Elgato’s EyeTV, and even now it remains popular for recording TV from cable (see “Recording TV to iTunes with Elgato’s EyeTV Tuners,” 19 August 2010). The software has now been updated to version 3.5, which is the first Intel-only release; PowerPC processors are no longer supported. While the new version of the software works on Macs running Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard or better, Elgato recommends Mac OS X 10.6.5 Snow
Leopard or later.

EyeTV 3.5 offers enhanced performance and stability with the EyeTV Netstream Sat. Numerous bugs are fixed, among them: recordings from IceTV are now properly labeled as Movies or Series, missing thumbnails are now created, and subtitle position when switching between SD and HD now works correctly. Also corrected are issues with invalid characters being displayed on the new Apple TV, and an issue with iPad playback on devices running iOS 4.2. ($79.95 new, free update, 104 MB)

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Google Earth 6 — You’ve got the whole world in your hands—or at least on your Mac—with Google Earth. Google has bumped the globetrotting software to version 6, which is now available for Intel-based Macs only. The new version adds access to a variety of views, including Street View, 3D trees, and historical imagery. Other additions include ground-level navigation, 3D measurements, and improvements to the Tour Recorder. Google Earth requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later. Note that Google Earth 6 turns out to be a beta, something that wasn’t initially clear; it may be worth waiting for an official release to upgrade.
(Free, 53.3 MB)

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TidBITS Staff No comments

ExtraBITS for 6 December 2010

We have just a few must-see links this week, including a music video (really!) that provides fabulous commentary on disassembling a laptop, news of the new MacTech Boot Camp conference for consultants and support professionals, and a link to an article by Glenn Fleishman about the future of Mac networking.

Laptop Disassembly Music Video — No, really, it is a music video by Jayme Gutierrez about how hard it is to take his laptop apart to clean the fan. It’s remarkably well done, with tons of music video tropes, a catchy song, and a nod to Apple at the end (not that Mac laptops are necessarily all that easy to take apart either!). And you have to love the disclaimer: “This is not a definitive maintenance video.”

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MacTech Boot Camp Offers Support Training — Building on the success of November’s MacTech Conference, which was aimed at IT professionals and Mac developers, MacTech has announced another conference, with a twist. Called MacTech Boot Camp, it’s a single-track, hotel-based seminar designed specifically to help Mac consultants and other support professionals. A single-day event, it will be held in San Francisco on 26 January 2011, the day before the Macworld Expo show floor opens, making it easy to combine travel costs. MacTech Boot Camp costs $295 through 15 December 2010, or $495 afterward.

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Future of Mac Networking — Glenn Fleishman lays out the future of Mac networking standards in Macworld, including USB 3.0 and upcoming 802.11ac and 802.11ad wireless flavors, and the seemingly inevitable removal of FireWire.

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