Do you own a Mac and a Bluetooth-capable cellular phone? Read Joe Kissell’s review of Salling Clicker to learn how you can control your Mac from the phone in some ingenious ways. If text is more your style, Matt Neuburg slings praise in his review of Hog Bay Notebook. Also this week we see the releases of Snapz Pro X 1.0.8, Dejal Simon 1.2, a Photoshop plug-in that optimizes Photoshop for the now-shipping Power Mac G5s, and AirPort antennas from MacWireless.
Snapz Pro X 1.0.8 Tweaked — Ambrosia Software has released Snapz Pro X 1.0.8, the latest version of their screenshot and video capture utility. Enhancements include a different method of pausing processes for screenshots that’s compatible with iTunes 4 and new Macromedia products, Internet version checking, Panther compatibility, performance improvements, and more. Snapz Pro 1.0.8 is free for registered users, and is a 4.4 MB download. Those interested in capturing video with Snapz Pro X might drop in on the discussion of changes Ambrosia has in the works for the next major release, including capturing of system audio and significantly better video capture performance. [ACE]
Dejal Simon 1.2 Monitors Internet Sites — Joining Maxum’s venerable PageSentry and James Sentman’s powerful Whistle Blower in the server monitoring category is Dejal’s Simon 1.2. Simon can monitor Web pages, FTP servers, and local applications, and it can also perform DNS and ping tests. If a service has failed, Simon can notify you by email, by speech, by playing a sound, by launching a user-specified application, or by performing one of a set of canned actions. What’s perhaps most unusual about Simon is its capability to detect changes in Web pages and notify you of them; sometimes you want to monitor more fine-grained details than merely whether or not the server is working. Although Simon doesn’t offer as many tests as the other products, it’s less expensive, with a Basic edition offering 3 tests for $30, a Standard edition providing up to 10 tests for $60, and a $200 Enterprise edition that allows an unlimited number of tests. A fully featured trial version is available from Dejal’s Web site as a 2.5 MB download. [ACE]
Photoshop Boosted for Power Mac G5s — Adobe has released a free plug-in for Photoshop 7 that is sure to please graphics professionals using the Power Mac G5. The Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1 G5 Processor Plug-in update for Mac OS X optimizes Photoshop to take advantage of the PowerPC G5 processor, and also uses a new Adobe Color Engine component that’s designed to work with the G5. The plug-in is a free 1.4 MB download.
This release coincides with news that the Power Mac G5, which was announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June, is now shipping in its single-processor configurations. According to Apple, dual-processor models are due to appear in late August. Since the introduction, Apple has received over 100,000 orders of the Power Mac G5, which features a 64-bit processor and significant speed increases over previous desktop Macs (see "Apple Announces 64-Bit Power Mac G5s" in TidBITS-685). [JLC]
AirPort Antennas from MacWireless — Want to increase the range of your AirPort or AirPort Extreme network? The Mac-savvy wireless company MacWireless is now selling a number of directional and omni-directional antennas that connect to graphite and snow AirPort Base Stations (MacWireless points at the necessary surgical instructions for these two, which weren’t designed to have antennas added) and AirPort Extreme Base Stations with antenna connectors. Prices range from $70 to $150 and gain levels vary between models. To stick with antennas that are Apple-certified and fit in with the look of the AirPort Extreme Base Station, look at the Dr. Bott ExtendAIR Omni and ExtendAIR Direct, which MacWireless also carries and which Macworld just reviewed. If you’re interested in increasing your signal strength outside or in extreme environments, you might also check out MacWireless’s various outdoor mounting boxes and Power over Ethernet products.
For those unfamiliar with antennas used for wireless networking, you can learn more about it in my book, The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, but, briefly, an omnidirectional antenna is essentially a stick which radiates in a 360-degree pattern, so you’d position it in the middle of the area you want to serve. A directional antenna focuses radio waves in a specific direction, so it’s best placed on the edge of an area you want covered. [ACE]
Back in 2001, after I’d written several TidBITS articles about intriguing ways to store and retrieve information on your Mac, a number of readers attempted to impress upon me that for some folks, simpler is better. It was with that in mind that I wrote "Three Simple Snippet Keepers" in TidBITS-593. And later, in the same spirit, I discussed iData Pro X, hinting that perhaps it was a bit too simple, since its notes were just text, with no fonts, styling, or Unicode awareness (see "The Digital Shoebox: iData Pro X 1.0.5" in TidBITS-675; also see the series "Two Bytes of the Cherry: Unicode and Mac OS X" for more on Unicode). It was in reaction to that article that a reader wrote suggesting that some users were quietly but enthusiastically practicing the cult of Hog Bay Notebook, and that I should be looking into this.
Hog Bay Notebook, which recently reached version 2.0.1, certainly is worth looking into. It is indeed simple – you can learn to use it in about a minute – and has an elegance and visual clarity that is simply stunning. At the same time, it’s powerful, mostly because it has an amazing search engine build into it. If you have snippets of information and you want to give them a modicum of organization and incredible searchability, Hog Bay Notebook might be the solution.
Taking Note — The essence of a Hog Bay Notebook document is the note, which is exactly like a TextEdit document. You can give it a title, enter text, and add character formatting and paragraph formatting, including alignment, line spacing, paragraph margins, and tabs, by means of a ruler, just as in TextEdit. You can paste in pictures, and even drag in other documents, such as PDFs or HTML files, to be stored inside the note as an attachment. (If you didn’t know TextEdit could do all those things, you haven’t been playing with your computer enough!)
In fact, Hog Bay Notebook notes are TextEdit documents. Hog Bay Notebook’s documents are bundles, and its notes are .rtfd files, which are one of TextEdit’s native types. Indeed, if Hog Bay Notebook vanished from the universe tomorrow, you could open a document with Show Package Contents, and presto, there are your all notes, safe and warm, ready to be opened by TextEdit. All that would be missing is their titles; but these are stored in an XML document that any text editor can read. This structure adds to your sense of confidence and security when you use Hog Bay Notebook.
Getting Organized — Notes themselves can be further organized within your document. If you like, you can create virtual folders in your document and put notes (or folders, of course) into them. The resulting hierarchy is displayed in an outline view. You may also set a few attributes of each note: a status, done or not done, which appears a checkbox; a label, which appears as a color (as in the Mac OS 9 Finder); and a rating of 1 to 5, which appears as a row of stars. The attributes are displayed in a table view of your note titles, where you can sort on any column.
Hog Bay Notebook also provides a couple of organizational extras. Selected text can be highlighted, and you can then jump from highlight to highlight within a note (but not through the document as a whole, which is a pity). And you can make wiki-style links: any capitalized word with inner capitalization, LikeThis, is taken to be the name of another note, and you can jump to that note, or create it, by clicking on that word. Also, you can navigate backwards to recently viewed notes, as in a Web browser.
Seeking and Finding — Hog Bay Notebook’s tour de force is its inclusion of a free, open source, search engine, Lucene, which does a live batch search of your entire document while you type into the search field at the top of the window. The results appear in the table view, showing each matching note’s title and a bar whose length ranks the quality of the match. By default you’re doing a whole-word search, but you can do partial-word and wildcard searches, boolean searches, phrase searches, proximity searches, and even weighted searches. To keep things simple, titles are automatically included in the searched material. This magic depends upon an index, of course, which is maintained live and adds somewhat to the size of your document.
In an attempt to push Hog Bay Notebook to its limits, I imported my entire diary into it – over 3,000 notes. Hog Bay Notebook wasn’t fazed. I did unearth one bug: in the table and outline views, note titles stop appearing beyond some number of titles; but you can work around this by clumping your notes into folders. Everything else – the search engine, sorting, navigating, opening and closing a document – was as fast as if had been just one note – namely instant.
Taking Stock — I did run into a couple of little issues. Hog Bay Notebook isn’t at all scriptable with AppleScript, which is a pity. You can’t customize the names and colors of the labels. Selecting a note in the outline view displays it, but doesn’t also show it in the table view, so I don’t understand how you are supposed to find out what attributes it has (its status, label, and rating). And you can’t navigate from a note to its folder – when you’re reading a note, you have no way to know where in the hierarchy it lives – which seems to me like an oversight.
As weighed against this, however, one can only be astounded by how clean and compelling Hog Bay Notebook’s interface is. It’s a kind of poster child for Cocoa, taking advantage of what seems like every widget and every technology Cocoa provides. The outline appears in a drawer. The table appears in a split view, where the split can be horizontal or vertical. You can edit a note in its half of the split view or in a separate window. The clipboard contents in another application can be pasted into a Notebook without switching to it, through the application’s Dock menu; selected text can be copied in through a Service. There’s spell checking, which can be inline, and a note can read itself aloud. It has a Finder-like toolbar you can collapse or customize to display text, small icons, or large icons. In fact, things are customizable to a fare-thee-well, plus there’s extensive Undo. It’s as if the author’s intent were to give every Cocoa feature a workout.
It would be wrong, though, to give the impression that Hog Bay Notebook is a mere Cocoa kitchen sink. It’s not like a Liszt tone poem; it’s more like a Mozart symphony. The interface is clean, clear, well-behaved, with a sense of rightness throughout. To the user, it seems easy, obvious, light as a feather – but if you have some Cocoa programming experience, you know that, behind the scenes, this apparent artlessness is not at all easily achieved. What’s really impressive here is Hog Bay’s evident thorough dedication to doing Cocoa right. This, too, gives the user confidence that, with Hog Bay Notebook, your snippets are safe.
Hog Bay Notebook costs $20 shareware, and is available as a 700K download.
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When Apple first announced Bluetooth support in Mac OS X, I thought it sounded like an interesting and useful technology, but one I probably wouldn’t experience anytime soon, since I couldn’t justify the cost of replacing my existing peripherals, PDA, or cell phone with Bluetooth-enabled models. But while working on my latest book, I found it necessary to talk about this short-range wireless cable replacement technology, so I broke down and bought a pair of D-Link Bluetooth adapters and a Bluetooth-enabled Sony Ericsson T68i cell phone. Soon I was synchronizing my contacts and appointments wirelessly and even using my phone to provide wireless Internet access for my PowerBook. It took almost no time for me to become addicted to the convenience of Bluetooth.
Then a new piece of software arrived on the scene that everyone seemed to be talking about: a $10 shareware utility called Salling Clicker. With this software, anyone with a Bluetooth-enabled Mac and a compatible Sony Ericsson phone (T610, T68, T68i, R520m, or T39m) can use the phone to control their Mac. (Nokia 7650/3650 users can get similar functionality by installing Veta Universal on their phones and using it in conjunction with Arboreal Software’s Romeo.) At first I thought Salling Clicker was little more than a geek novelty, but I soon found it to be highly useful. Others agreed, and Apple even gave it two Apple Design Awards (see "Apple Announces Design Awards 2003" in TidBITS-686).
Installation, Actions, and Triggers — The Salling Clicker installer adds a preferences pane and a system-wide menu to your Mac. After pairing your phone with your computer using Mac OS X’s built-in Bluetooth software, you use the preferences pane to configure one or more menus consisting of AppleScript actions. You then publish the menu to the phone, and it appears on your phone under the Accessories menu. With this symbiosis established, you can send commands to your Mac from the phone, as well as receive information back from the computer.
The basic functional unit in Salling Clicker is the action – an event or series of events on your Mac that you want to trigger with your phone. You build actions using AppleScript, but Salling Clicker includes a rudimentary GUI scripting capability that can send keystrokes to non-scriptable applications. Actions come in several varieties. Simple actions are commands that require no user interaction or feedback. There’s also a slider control (to adjust volume, for example), as well as a text entry field, a list of selectable options, and two kinds of message displays that can return output from the AppleScript script.
In addition to actions that appear in a menu on your phone’s display, you can set up keypad configurations such that each button on your phone triggers a different action – just like a regular remote control. Although this requires you to remember key assignments, it is usually more convenient than scrolling through a menu.
The main menu of actions you publish on your phone can contain up to 12 items, each of which can be a single action, a menu of actions, or a keypad. By nesting one menu within another, you could put hundreds of commands on your phone. A typical arrangement might be a main menu with a few frequently performed actions (such as changing your system volume), along with submenus for each of your favorite applications.
The most innovative method of triggering an action is proximity: you can provide a list of actions that occur automatically when your phone comes within Bluetooth range of your computer, and another list of actions that occur when it goes out of range. The usual example of how this would be useful is pausing iTunes when you leave the room and resuming play when you return, though one can imagine numerous other uses – activating a password-protected screen saver when you leave, for example, or timing the length of a break for those who bill for their time by the minute.
Proximity sensing does work, but not as cleanly as I had hoped. For one thing, the distance that constitutes working range can vary widely depending on what type of phone and Bluetooth adapter you own, how your computer is positioned, interference from other devices, and so on. I found that under different conditions, effective range within my home could be as little as 6 feet (2 m) or as much as 20 feet (6 m) – and in many cases, my computer still thought I was "in range" even though I was in the next room. For another thing, the computer doesn’t always sense that a phone has entered or left working range immediately; delays before activation of proximity scripts ranged from less than a second to more than a minute.
Working with Actions — Salling Clicker includes a wide variety of built-in actions for programs such as DVD Player, iTunes, Keynote, and PowerPoint, as well as a handy utility for browsing an online collection of actions and adding to your collection or updating existing actions. One of the most interesting actions is a keypad configuration that lets you use your phone as a mouse – moving the pointer, clicking, dragging, and even Control-clicking objects on screen. Besides the actions Salling Software makes available, more than a dozen Web sites offer their own collections. For many users, these ready-to-run actions will be sufficient. But where Salling Clicker really shines is in its capacity for customization. Using AppleScript, you can trigger almost any activity by modifying an existing action or writing your own.
Salling Clicker includes an integrated AppleScript editor, along with templates for several kinds of actions. These templates provide the AppleScript structures for creating basic menu commands, pop-up messages, slider controls, lists, and so on; all you need to do is fill in the blanks. This turns out to be less convenient than you might expect, though. Even though the integrated script editor has a button to check syntax, it doesn’t provide a way to test your scripts without installing them on the phone, so as a practical matter, it makes more sense to write and test your scripts in Script Editor, where you can test easily, and then copy and paste them into Salling Clicker’s preferences pane for publishing to the phone.
Although these capabilities intrigued me, I was initially hard-pressed to find a practical use for Salling Clicker. The most natural application for such a mechanism is controlling Keynote or PowerPoint presentations without having to stand right in front of a computer, but that’s not a major concern for me, and there are other devices dedicated that task. Other common uses, such as controlling iTunes, didn’t impress me either, because of the way my home is arranged. If I can hear my computer, I’m able to reach the keyboard too; a remote control wouldn’t make things any simpler. In other words, the software seemed like a great solution looking for a problem.
Finding My Own Killer Application — A few weeks later, though, I was setting up a microphone to do a bit of recording using Cubase SX. My makeshift micro recording studio is a closet with padded walls; recordings made in any other room of my home pick up too much noise from traffic, birds, or neighbors. But my problem was that the microphone picked up the noise of my PowerBook’s fan. I needed the microphone inside the closet and the computer outside – but I still needed to press the record, stop, rewind, and play buttons, among other things. Then the light bulb went on: maybe I could do that with Salling Clicker.
My first step was to figure out how to control the necessary actions with AppleScript. Unfortunately, Cubase SX is not scriptable, so sending direct messages was out. Next I tried using Salling Clicker’s built-in GUI scripting support to send keystrokes to Cubase SX, but for some reason they didn’t work correctly. Fortunately, though, Apple’s beta GUI scripting tools did the trick. I had to tweak the Cubase SX preferences for one or two of the commands I wanted to use, but after that it was a simple matter of telling Apple’s System Events background application to send the keystrokes. I duplicated the script several times and modified the keystrokes for each action, then assigned the new scripts to buttons on my phone’s keypad and published the menu. I went into the closet, put on the headphones, and tried some sample recordings. Amazingly enough, it worked perfectly and with no perceptible delay.
Even though this may sound complicated, the whole process – from figuring out what effect I wanted to achieve to the final working solution – took me less than half an hour. Had it not been for Salling Clicker, the only way to achieve noise-free recordings would have been to jump out of the closet every time I needed to press a control – a huge hassle at best.
My success in getting this setup to work inspired me to think about other potential uses of Salling Clicker. The first thing that came to mind was basic server administration without the need for something as complex as Timbuktu Pro. One of the many user-created actions for Salling Clicker displays a computer’s uptime on your phone; you could easily create scripts to display other interesting statistics, restart your computer, or kill troublesome processes. It also may provide an alternative for people who want to listen to their iTunes collection in the living room but don’t want the expense of a remote playback device such as the SLIMP3 (see "SLIMP3: MP3, Get Thee to the Hi-Fi" in TidBITS-676). As long as you can run audio cables from your Mac to your stereo, you can control every aspect of iTunes from your phone, including viewing playlists and even assigning star ratings to your songs. The catch, though, is that this works only if your phone is close enough to your computer. Bluetooth range is limited enough that you may not have adequate coverage even in a small apartment.
Home automation is another interesting application whose usefulness is hampered only by the limited range of Bluetooth. Findley Studios, publisher of HomeRun automation software, provides a set of Salling Clicker scripts that enable you to turn lights on or off and adjust their brightness using your phone. (This requires additional hardware: X-10 modules for each lamp, a controller, and a USB adapter to attach the controller to your computer.)
I wondered what would happen if I tried to use Salling Clicker with multiple machines. If you have more than one Mac with a Bluetooth adapter, you can publish a menu from each; as your phone moves out of one computer’s range that menu drops off, and as it comes in range of another, its menu automatically appears. This capability can be useful for those who have Macs in several different rooms. I was disappointed, though, to find that only one Mac’s menu can appear on a given phone at any one time, even if more than one is within Bluetooth range. This may be a limitation of the phone or of Mac OS X, but it means that you can’t easily use Salling Clicker to control both a primary computer and a server, for example, if they’re both in the same area.
Click It! If you already own a compatible Bluetooth phone and a Bluetooth-enabled Mac, Salling Clicker is almost a no-brainer at $10; a free demo version provides full functionality for 30 clicks. Is it reason enough to invest in lots of new hardware? Maybe not, but the range of capabilities it opens up – especially for people who give many presentations or do home recording in a closet – is worth considering if you’re already in the market for a new cell phone.
[Joe Kissell is a writer and Mac developer living in San Francisco. His most recent book is 50 Fast Mac OS X Techniques, published in April of 2003 by Wiley. You can read his daily articles on the "Interesting Thing of the Day" Web site.]
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