The utilities you choose radically affect your Mac experience, and this week Adam reviews the Bayesian spam filter SpamSieve and Matt Neuburg offers a comparison of three Mac OS X multiple clipboard utilities – PTHPasteboard, Keyboard Maestro, and CopyPaste X. Also tune in for a Web resource of supporting information for Mac evangelists. The news brings details of Mac OS X 10.2.4, Safari v60, Final Cut Express 1.0.1, and USB Overdrive 10.2.1.
Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.2.4 Update
Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.2.4 Update — Apple Computer has released Mac OS X 10.2.4, which includes networking enhancements for SMB and AFP file services and improves support for audio applications under Classic and for FireWire audio devices under Mac OS X. The update also rolls in several bug fixes for the Finder, the Classic environment, printing, and the Address Book, and includes security updates to some of the Unix utilities underpinning Mac OS X. The update is available via the Software Update pane in Mac OS X’s System Preferences, as a stand-alone 40.1 MB updater for Mac OS X 10.2.3, and as a stand-alone 76 MB combined updater for any version of Mac OS X 10.2. [GD]
Safari Public Beta (v60) 2-12-03 Released
Safari Public Beta (v60) 2-12-03 Released — Although we usually don’t report beta software updates, Mac OS X users seem to have embraced Apple’s Safari Web browser in a big way, with more than 1 million copies downloaded, according to Apple. The latest update, Safari v60, reportedly performs 30 percent faster, improves the playback of Flash content, adds support for XML, and enhances support for CSS1. The update is available through Software Update or as a separate 2.9 MB download. [JLC]
Final Cut Express 1.0.1 Released
Final Cut Express 1.0.1 Released — Continuing its string of incremental updates, Apple last week posted an update to its intermediate-level video editing application Final Cut Express. The 1.0.1 revision improves performance and stability, links keyframe parameters to the Motion tab, and adds Easy Setup presets for NTSC and PAL noncontrollable devices. The Final Cut Express 1.0.1 updater is available as a 12.2 MB download. [JLC]
Do You Use Software Update?
Do You Use Software Update? Apple’s Software Update utility for automatically downloading and installing updates to the Mac OS and other Apple software generally works well. But some people choose not to use it because it can be a bit of a nag when you want to put off the installation of an update until you’ve heard what others say about its stability. For those with dialup Internet connections, the sheer size of many of Apple’s updates can make scheduling long downloads with Software Update inconvenient. However, there’s no question that Software Update is almost always the fastest and easiest way to get updates from Apple, which leads to our poll question this week. We’re trying to find out whether our brief reports of Apple’s updates are helpful even when we have no information to add beyond a summary of the changes. So, how often do you have Software Update check for new Apple software? Vote this week on our home page!
USB Overdrive X 10.2.1 Crosses the Finish Line
USB Overdrive X 10.2.1 Crosses the Finish Line — Alessandro Levi Montalcini has released USB Overdrive X 10.2.1, a universal USB driver that supports all manner of USB devices, such as mice, trackballs, joysticks, and gamepads (see "Top Mac OS X Utilities: Restoring Third Party Capabilities" in TidBITS-625). Using USB Overdrive, you can configure the controls of multiple devices to perform complex actions or launch applications, in addition to basic actions like clicking. For some people, USB Overdrive X is essential for using devices whose manufacturers haven’t created Mac OS X drivers. USB Overdrive X 10.2.1 costs $20 shareware, and is a 476K download. [JLC]
Tools We Use: SpamSieve
Having to sort through the increasingly repulsive spam that’s rushing into our electronic mailboxes is becoming more unpleasant than ever. You can reduce the flow, though, with one of three basic approaches to filtering spam out of your email stream: Boolean filters, points-based filters, and so-called "Bayesian" statistical filters. Put simply, a Boolean filter looks for string of text, and if it’s found, considers the message spam. Points-based filters refine that approach, assigning (or removing) points for each criteria matched by a given message; they decide if a message is spam or not by how many points that message accumulates. Statistical (or Bayesian) filters, which were most popularly described in relation to spam in August of 2002 (and refined last month) by Paul Graham, use a statistical approach that combines the probability that any given word or phrase (implementations vary) to decide if the message is spam.
Bayesian Filters — The beauty of Bayesian filtering is that it works on the contents of your email, which is probably rather different from mine and anyone else’s. That’s because you must train a Bayesian filter with a sample of both spam and legitimate messages, and because the Bayesian filter continually examines new messages, it can adapt to the kind of mail you receive, both good and bad.
Bayesian filters aren’t perfect. Legitimate mail, such as promotional mailings from companies you’ve bought from in the past, can look a lot like spam at first, and it’s also hard to identify spam messages with minimal text accurately. Spam may get through when it’s sufficiently related to your profession; for instance, I get spam advertising translation services because of the TidBITS translations. It’s also possible for spammers to pollute your corpus of good and bad words by including lots of good words in a spam message, thus reducing the accuracy of the filter over time. On the positive side, it’s possible that improved algorithms can address these problems.
There are two main implementations of statistical Bayesian filtering for Mac OS X: Apple’s Mail and Michael Tsai’s SpamSieve, the latter of which I’ve been testing with Eudora 5.2 for some months now.
SpamSieve — Along with its implementation of Bayesian filter, I especially appreciate the fact that SpamSieve works inside Eudora, and also inside a number of other email programs, including Entourage, Mailsmith, and PowerMail. Although it’s not available for Mac OS 9, it does also work with Emailer running in Classic mode. I’m not interested in using Mail, and other spam utilities (such as Matterform Media’s points-based Spamfire utility, which also has many proponents) work outside of your email program, forcing you to scan for false positives in a separate interface). SpamSieve works with any number of accounts and filters mail from any source your email program supports. Once it has identified messages as spam, it can mark or move them, and in some of the email programs, your filters can continue to work on the marked messages.
SpamSieve accomplishes this by using the AppleScript capabilities of these email programs to pass information to and from SpamSieve itself. The integration is relatively seamless, except in Eudora, the current version of which has limitations that restrict SpamSieve to filtering mail that ends up in the In box (not in any other folder). Since the communication happens via AppleScript, you can edit the included scripts to customize them further. Even while I’m waiting for the next version of Eudora to bring SpamSieve’s capabilities to messages I filter out of my In box, I’ve found it extremely worthwhile.
I initially trained SpamSieve with about 600 spam messages from my disgustingly large collection of spam and 600 good messages from my In box (yes, it has been that full, though I’ve beaten it back down into the 300s). If you don’t have spam around, you could either train SpamSieve as you receive it (probably with lower accuracy at first) or wait briefly until you’ve collected a representative sample. I’ve also told SpamSieve to learn from new messages. Since the middle of January, SpamSieve has filtered over 2,600 messages, about 55 percent of which were spam. In that time, it has reported 88 percent accuracy, with a false negative rate of 11 percent and a false positive rate of 1 percent (an alternative way I’ve used to verify SpamSieve’s accuracy came up with lower numbers – 80 percent accuracy, with 19 percent false negatives – I’m working with Michael Tsai to figure out the discrepancy). Most of the false positives were solicited commercial email or messages forwarded to me and a large number of other people, both of which are likely to run afoul of SpamSieve’s filtering until it has been trained to recognize similar messages. Because SpamSieve filters on the contents of your particular email stream, your mileage may vary, as it has for other TidBITS staff members, who have seen somewhat less reliable results.
New features in SpamSieve 1.3 include increased resilience to the ways spammers are now obfuscating common words, the capability to use email addresses in Apple’s Address Book as a whitelist (so mail from people whose addresses are stored in the Address Book is never considered spam), editing of SpamSieve’s corpus of words, type-to-select in the Corpus window, and the capability to see statistics from after any given date.
If you’ve longed for the Bayesian filtering in Apple’s Mail, but weren’t willing to give up your preferred email program for that one capability, I’d strongly encourage you to take a look at SpamSieve. Michael Tsai is developing it actively, and has been extremely responsive to comments and suggestions.
SpamSieve 1.3 is $20 shareware (upgrades from previous versions are free) and is a 1.5 MB download.
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Aiding the Case for Macintosh
We at TidBITS generally try to avoid becoming entangled in the morass of computer religious wars, in particular the long-running battle between the Mac and Windows. We’re more or less functional in Windows, but we prefer using Macs, mostly because we find using the Mac to be both more enjoyable and more productive. Due to our obvious and long-standing preference for the Macintosh, and despite our trying to stay above the fray, people often ask us to help them argue for why their school, business, or family member should buy Macs instead of PCs.
It’s a tricky problem, because we like to help those in need, and we generally agree with the sentiment that the Mac is almost always just as good of a choice, if not a better one, than a comparable PC. But at the same time, we hate being dragged into the whole sordid discussion: we’re not zealots, and we simply don’t have the energy to participate in numerous individual efforts to establish Mac enclaves in a world dominated by Windows.
Our advice in this respect has long paralleled that of our late friend and colleague, Cary Lu, who always recommended that you buy the type of computer used by your closest technical friend, the sort of person you could call for help late on a Saturday night. Cary also noted that people concerned about what type of computers students would use after graduation shouldn’t worry about what happens in elementary school, because the rapid pace of computer evolution ensures radical differences by the time an elementary school student leaves college. Back in 1995, we published an article by Cary about the state of the Mac versus PC holy war; its details are amusingly out-of-date in places, but it’s still a trenchant read.
Well-reasoned though Cary’s arguments were, many people attempting to convince others of the advantages of the Macintosh find that they need more ammunition. Numerous news stories and studies have supported the pro-Macintosh position over the years, but it has been almost impossible to track them or find the relevant bits when needed.
Now, however, there’s a single site you can visit for a massive conglomeration of surveys, articles, and factoids relevant to the question of choosing Macs over PCs. The site was created by John Droz as part of a campaign he and a group of taxpayers in Carteret County, North Carolina, undertook to prevent the local Board of Education from switching county schools from Macs to PCs.
John fully admits he’s not a Web designer, so the individual pages, each filled with numerous links, can be somewhat daunting. (He welcomes design assistance, if you would like to help.) Nonetheless, if you’re in the middle of making the case for the Macintosh somewhere in your life, the more-than 400 referenced reports, studies, and news articles that John has collected will be helpful. In some cases, the best approach may be to download the 1 MB PDF version of the entire site, since it’s easier to scan or search for the specific pieces of information that may help your case. It has numerous internal links and bookmarks, along with external links to the Web where necessary. In the right circumstance, it might also be useful to print out the entire 112 pages so you have a stack of paper bolstering your argument.
The amount of work that John has put into collecting and compiling these resources is impressive, and it’s worth noting that many of the articles and reports are from 2002, so the information isn’t terribly out of date, like so much else on the Internet. If you find yourself needing references to support your argument in favor of using a Mac, you’ll find John’s efforts extremely welcome.
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Multiple Clipboards on Mac OS X
We all copy and paste without thinking about it. Can you remember back to when you started using a Mac and were introduced to the notions of copying and pasting, and the invisible but omnipresent "clipboard"? Probably you understood right away, thought to yourself, "good idea," and just moved on. At that time, you also had to internalize the fact that any time you copy, you wipe off the clipboard whatever you copied previously.
This fact is probably by now so deeply internalized that you no longer realize how much it dictates your working habits. You are unconsciously careful, after copying (or even more critical, after cutting, which makes the data live in the clipboard and nowhere else) not to hit Command-C again until you’ve pasted the current clipboard to retain it. Nevertheless, I bet you’ve made that mistake on occasion, each time cursing at the loss of the previously copied data.
Another frequent situation is that you have more than one thing to move from one place to another, either within the same application or between applications. You’re probably so accustomed to inconvenient ways of coping with this necessity that you don’t even think of them as workarounds. For example, knowing that you need to move three sentences from various places within a paragraph, you copy and paste the whole paragraph and pare down the pasted results afterwards. But there are also situations where this strategy fails, and you’ve probably found yourself resigned to going back and forth, back and forth between two applications, copying and pasting, copying and pasting.
Various individual applications assist with these difficulties. Many applications let you split a window so that you can see two parts of the same document at once, which makes it a lot easier to move bits from one general area to another. And more and more applications now provide multiple internal clipboards, or something equivalent: for example, Nisus Writer, BBEdit, and Microsoft Word do this. But what’s really needed is multiple clipboards at the system level, and it’s no credit to Apple that the clipboard of 2003 is so much like that of 1984.
The situation is particularly surprising in view of the fact that Mac OS X’s clipboard underpinnings are considerably more sophisticated than in previous systems. The clipboard is now the responsibility of a background daemon called "pbs" (for "Pasteboard Server"). This daemon is perfectly adequate to provide multiple clipboards (pasteboards), and in fact already does so. You may have noticed, for example, that the text you enter into the Find dialog in Safari then shows up in the Find dialog in BBEdit; that’s because pbs maintains a separate Find Pasteboard. In fact, pbs maintains five pasteboards, and applications are free to add others. Thus, if you were the developer of two applications, you could allow each of them to copy and paste extra data by way of a sixth pasteboard, which other applications could use too if they knew about it. At present, however, only one of pbs’s pasteboards is the General Pasteboard, the one that all applications know about and share during Copy and Paste operations. To implement multiple pasteboards at system level would be simply a matter of adding more General Pasteboards, and providing an user interface to them. (Look at BBEdit to see how such an interface might work.)
Anyway, until Apple wakes up to these possibilities, there are third-party utilities to provide multiple clipboards on Mac OS X right now, and this article describes three of them: PTHPasteboard, Keyboard Maestro, and CopyPaste X.
PTHPasteboard — PTHPasteboard’s chief virtues are its simplicity and its price (free!). It’s an ordinary application that runs in the background; it has no Dock icon, but rather appears as an icon in the rightward part of the menu bar. Every so often (I believe it’s every half-second) behind the scenes, it polls the clipboard, and if the clipboard’s contents have changed it adds them to a list. Thus, as long as you don’t copy too frequently, all your copied material (up to a user-configurable limit) finds its way into this list. From here it can be recovered and pasted.
To see the list, you do one of three things. You can click on the PTHPasteboard icon in the menu bar; you can type a user-configurable hot key combination; or you can choose from the Services menu, in those applications that support services. Any of these brings up a floating window listing the currently saved bits of clipboard data; clicking one pastes it at the insertion point in the current application, or you can hit the Escape key to dismiss the window.
PTHPasteboard doesn’t work well with Classic applications – it doesn’t paste at all, though it does seem to see copied material correctly, and it can usually at least alter the contents of the clipboard even if it can’t make them appear in a document. Its menu item in the Services menu uses the keyboard shortcut Shift-Command-V, and this can’t be changed – a minor point, since it doesn’t interfere with any other application’s use of this shortcut, but it does mean that such an application overrides PTHPasteboard’s use of it, and in any case user-configurability would be nice. Its appearance as an icon in the menu bar is often useless to me, since typically my real menu items crowd out any extra menu bar icons, and it’s unnecessary because the floating window can be summoned with a keyboard shortcut instead. (The menu bar icon can be removed, but then you have to keep the floating window always visible; I don’t see the logic behind this.)
But these are quibbles. PTHPasteboard is robust, it’s simple, it has a small footprint in memory and CPU time, it does the job, and it’s free.
Keyboard Maestro — Keyboard Maestro, by Michael Kamprath, is actually a sort of macro utility. It revolves around the notion of attaching a keyboard shortcut to an action or sequence of actions; such actions can include things like hiding applications, opening a particular file or folder, running an AppleScript or Unix script, typing text, and changing sound volume or screen brightness. It’s an application switcher, too. And it also functions as a multiple clipboard utility, which is why it has found its way into this article.
Keyboard Maestro’s multiple clipboard interface is somewhat similar to PTHPasteboard’s, and is also reminiscent of John V. Holder’s QuickScrap, which I remember using on Mac OS 9 some years ago. It responds to particular user-configurable keyboard shortcuts for cutting, copying, and pasting. When you cut or copy with one of these keyboard shortcuts instead of the standard Command-X or Command-C, Keyboard Maestro puts up a window with a list of clipboards; here, you choose either to append a new clipboard to the existing list or to reuse one of the existing clipboards. The clipboards can be assigned names, and you can get some idea of what’s in them through a tooltip that appears when you hover the mouse over one of them. Keyboard Maestro performs the cut or copy back in the application you were originally in, puts it on the normal clipboard and in its own clipboard list, and returns you to what you were doing. Pasting works similarly; Keyboard Maestro shows you its list of clipboards, and you pick the one you wish to paste.
Keyboard Maestro has the advantage of being extremely clean and simple. It’s also free, as long as you don’t want more than four clipboards at time (and just $20 to get as many as you like). Plus, of course, you get Keyboard Maestro’s other macro and application-switching features, which you can use or disable as you please. It doesn’t work well with Classic; in my tests, copying or pasting with Keyboard Maestro in Classic applications caused the current selection to be changed, so that the wrong material was copied or replaced in the document. On the other hand, PTHPasteboard doesn’t work well with Classic either, so between the two of them it comes down largely to a choice between very different interfaces and overall approaches.
PTHPasteboard doesn’t require any special action on your part in order to remember what you copy; it simply remembers everything that passes through the system’s clipboard. That’s great for those times when you realize after the fact that you need some material copied earlier, but it also means that everything you copy is remembered whether you like it or not. Thus, if you set the list size at ten, and you realize that you need the data from eleven copies ago, you’re out of luck because it’s fallen off the end of the list. You get no choice between copying to PTHPasteboard’s list and just copying normally. Keyboard Maestro, on the other hand, offers exactly this choice. That’s good, but now you face the opposite disadvantage: if you don’t remember to copy something with Keyboard Maestro explicitly, it doesn’t go onto the list. Also, having to pass through a window every time you want to copy to Keyboard Maestro’s list might strike you as helpful or might deter you from using it at all. It’s all a matter of your particular needs and your peculiar psychological makeup. The best way to see how you feel about the interface is to try it.
CopyPaste X — CopyPaste X is the descendant of the Classic extension I reviewed in TidBITS-364 from 1997. In Mac OS X, it’s an ordinary application, which means it’s more compatible and reliable than ever before. It also means you don’t have to run it all the time; I frequently don’t, and then when I want it I can launch it from anywhere, using a universal contextual menu item that it optionally installs.
Once CopyPaste is running, it provides ten numbered clipboards, accessible most simply by keyboard shortcuts that work within any application: Command-C-1, Command-V-1, Command-C-2, Command-V-2, and so forth (the trick is to hold the Command key while striking first the letter, then the number). You can turn these shortcuts off, or replace Command with Control. Furthermore, these ten clipboards constitute a set, and you can switch among any number of sets, again using a universal contextual menu, or with CopyPaste’s Dock menu, or by means of a floating palette. Furthermore, every time you copy or cut in the ordinary way, the data goes onto a Clipboard Recorder list (similar to PTHPasteboard), accessible in the same three ways.
These features are supposed to work across the Classic boundary, in cooperation with the Classic CopyPaste extension (version 4.5). When this cooperation is working, it behaves just as you would expect: what’s copied with Command-C-1 on one side of the X-Classic boundary can be pasted with Command-V-1 on the other side, and whatever is copied in the ordinary way on one side ends up in the Clipboard Recorder on the other. Plus, the CopyPaste X palettes can be used to copy and paste in Classic applications. My experience, however, is that this cooperation is rather flaky. You must start up CopyPaste X before you start up Classic, and the Classic extension loses its ability to list the ten clipboards hierarchically in the Edit menu. More important, sometimes Classic will crash, and often CopyPaste X will freeze up and stop working altogether (and at this point it can even interfere with the ability to do ordinary copy and paste). For stability, therefore, I find it best to disable CopyPaste Classic altogether, which is a pity.
CopyPaste also contains a surprisingly full-featured word processor (the "clipboard editor"), and implements a number of text-munging functions (changing to lowercase, for example). I regard these features as unnecessary bloat. Text-munging would be better implemented separately, as a Service perhaps; properly speaking it has nothing to do with the clipboard at all. Word processing should be left to the user’s choice of dedicated word processor. Instead of these ancillary features, I’d prefer to see attention paid to better reliability in the cooperation between the Mac OS X and Classic versions.
The manual is pretty good, but it requires the built-in word processor, and has not been always been correctly or completely translated from the original German. This adds to one’s overall sense that many areas of CopyPaste suffer from a rather amateurish quality. Nonetheless, at $20 CopyPaste remains a bargain, and its implementation on Mac OS X is a significant achievement. Personally, I like its interface the best, in particular the keyboard shortcuts Command-C-1 and Command-V-1 and so forth, which allow me to communicate with each specific clipboard numerically by means of the keyboard alone.
Picking a Paste Pot — Whatever utility you choose, you owe it to yourself to try multiple clipboards. You’ll wonder how you ever got any serious work done without them. Having only one clipboard is like being able to use only application at a time; it’s downright primitive, the sort of thing we ought to have left behind back in the days of System 6. Thanks to these utilities, you can save your Mac OS X machine from this Dark Ages holdover.
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