April 15th is just around the corner, which turns Jeff Carlson’s mind to the financial software necessary to finish his taxes: not Quicken, but Moneydance. The topic of Internet faxing continues from last week, with recommendations for other services and software, and a DealBITS drawing for PDFpenPro, which lets you eliminate paper from a back-and-forth fax process. Finally, Geoff Bronner reviews the Monster iCarPlay Wireless FM transmitter. In the news, Adam and Matt Neuburg pass on news of upcoming conferences, and Sync Buddy 2.0.1 now backs up Palm OS handhelds under Mac OS X.
Sync Buddy 2.0.1 Syncs Palms and Mac OS X
Sync Buddy 2.0.1 Syncs Palms and Mac OS X — Back in the early days of the PalmPilot, Florent Pillet released Palm Buddy (later renamed Sync Buddy), a Mac OS program for backing up data from a Palm OS handheld by opening an active connection between the two machines. Now, Pillet has rewritten Sync Buddy for Mac OS X. Sync Buddy 2.0.1 can back up handhelds via USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connections. It also lets you install files and transfer photos, as well as copy files to removable media such as SD cards. The utility is compatible with Hot Sync Manager (which Palm Desktop uses to synchronize data) and Mark/Space’s The Missing Sync software, automatically disabling them while Sync Buddy is running, and re-enabling them when it’s done. Sync Buddy 2.0.1 costs $25, and is available as a 4.3 MB download. [JLC]
Scripting by the Bay, Redux
Scripting by the Bay, Redux — For those who need to acquire or hone AppleScript skills, Shane Stanley and Ray Robertson will once again be leading their wonderfully intensive AppleScript Pro sessions, 02-May-05 through 06-May-05, in beautiful Monterey, California. I’m slated once again to teach my famous "forced march through AppleScript Studio" class. One source of real excitement is the question of whether Tiger will have shipped in time; if it does, we’ll be able to talk about the new features, such as BLEEEP and BOOOP (sorry, censored by the NDA police). [MAN]
ADHOC 2005 Speakers: Hubbard, Doctorow, Ihnatko
ADHOC 2005 Speakers: Hubbard, Doctorow, Ihnatko — I’m once again planning to speak at ADHOC 2005 (previously known as MacHack), but my interest in attending just went up even more upon learning that the ADHOC committee has lined up some great people to speak at the three midnight sessions, including Jordan Hubbard, Apple’s manager of the Darwin core of Mac OS X, and Cory Doctorow, science fiction author, blogger, and European Affairs Coordinator for the EFF. The final midnight session is the ADHOC Showcase programming competition, which will be hosted by the ever-amusing and effervescent Andy Ihnatko. If you’re interested in learning more about programming from some of the best developers in the business and hearing from some fascinating speakers, the early registration deadline is 15-Apr-05. Hope to see you in Dearborn, Michigan from 26-Jul-05 through 31-Jul-05, and if you need a better sense of the conference, read my article about last year’s event. [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpenPro
About a year ago, in one of our earliest DealBITS drawings, we gave away a few copies of SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen software, which enables you to manipulate PDF files in a variety of ways. SmileOnMyMac has now updated PDFpen to version 2 and released PDFpenPro, which builds upon PDFpen by enabling you to create interactive PDF forms. Both programs let you merge PDFs, rearrange and delete pages, add text (for filling in non-interactive forms) and graphics (such as signatures), and more. PDFpen 2 improves the program’s performance and adds the extremely useful capability of searching for, selecting, and copying text from PDF documents. Macworld gave PDFpen 4 mice in a recent review.
For many people, PDFpen will be at its most useful when dealing with faxes. If you can receive a fax in PDF format from a fax-to-email service, you can use PDFpen to fill in any necessary text, add a graphical signature, and return it via fax using either Mac OS X’s built-in fax capabilities or SmileOnMyMac’s own pagesender fax software.
Lastly, remember our new way of increasing your chances of receiving a prize. On the confirmation Web page and in the email confirmation message entrants receive, you’ll see a custom URL that you can send to friends and colleagues so they can enter the drawing, too. If one of our randomly chosen winners entered using your referral URL, you’ll receive exactly the same prize. The more people you refer, the more likely it is that you’ll receive a prize, so feel free to distribute your referral URL widely (without spamming, of course!)
Even More Fax, Ma’am
My article last week about setting up an account with MaxEmail to receive faxes in email (see "Replacing eFax with MaxEmail" in TidBITS-774) generated a number of suggestions from readers for other services.
Faxaway — Hudson Barton, who wrote about Internet faxing for us a number of years ago, recommended Faxaway, which charges $1 per month for an account and a per-minute fee that varies by country for outgoing faxes, but provides unlimited incoming faxes for no additional charge. That makes Faxaway slightly cheaper than MaxEmail for receiving faxes ($12 per year versus $15 per year; both charge a $10 activation fee that I forgot to mention last week). In terms of sending faxes, the rates vary by country, but in my spot check, MaxEmail’s rates were cheaper. Overall, the two services seem quite comparable, though my impression is that MaxEmail’s Web interface is more sophisticated and easier to use.
K7 — Oddly, the same company that operates Faxaway also runs K7, which offers truly free fax reception. The numbers are all in the 206 area code (Seattle), and K7 delivers all faxes only in TIFF-F format. You must use the account at least once per month or it will be cancelled, although you can sign up again, perhaps with a different number. If your incoming fax needs are modest, K7 may be just the ticket. Thanks to Sebastian Rueckert for turning us on to K7.
Innoport — Trisha Miller suggested another similar service from Innoport, which, while not free, has served her well. Innoport offers a variety of plans from $4 per month to $8 per month; the highest end plan lets you pick your area code (which is also true of MaxEmail’s more expensive plan). There are no setup fees, and with the least expensive account, you can use up to 350 minutes of inbound call time per month, which is likely more than sufficient for anyone who needs only incoming fax capabilities. At $48 to $96 per year (there’s no activation fee, and the first month is free), Innoport is more expensive than MaxEmail, but potentially worth a look.
Fax Service List — Edward Reid passed along a link to the Internet Fax Service Reviews and Discussions site, which brings together links to a vast number of Internet fax-related services and anecdotal information from users about them. It’s a good resource if you’re still researching fax services.
J2 and International Area Codes — One potential problem with MaxEmail and many of the other services mentioned so far is that they provide incoming fax numbers primarily in the U.S. (MaxEmail also offers numbers in Japan.) If you need a fax number elsewhere in the world, Przemyslaw Jablonski recommends jConnect from j2 Communications, which also runs eFax. jConnect costs $15 per month with a $15 activation charge. Receiving faxes is free; sending them costs $0.10 per page in the U.S. and varying rates to international destinations.
Roll Your Own — Greg Scown of SmileOnMyMac couldn’t resist noting that his company’s fax sending and receiving software, the $30 pagesender, could serve as the front end for sending faxes through MaxEmail (or any other service that lets you fax via email). In essence, you print to pagesender, which images the printout in TIFF-F format, creates and addresses a new email message, and sends it to the fax service using your email program. Greg noted that imaging the fax locally sometimes provided better results than other email-to-fax services when working with two-byte characters and esoteric fonts. And of course, SmileOnMyMac’s $50 PDFpen, which appears in this week’s DealBITS drawing, will help you fill in and sign received faxes (without printing) before returning them via pagesender; pagesender can also send and receive faxes directly via your modem,
If you’re rolling your own, remember that Mac OS X 10.3 Panther has built-in fax capabilities, too. You’ll need a modem and a phone line, and you’ll pay normal phone charges for your faxes. Receiving faxes requires that your Mac be turned on and awake. Search for "fax" in Mac Help (from the Help menu) to learn more.
An Unusual Use for Panorama
I’m in the process of cleaning up some LetterRip Pro-based mailing lists in preparation for moving them to Web Crossing, and in doing so, I was faced with the age-old problem of determining which bouncing addresses to remove. After all, if an address bounces a few times, it’s probably bad, but if it bounces only a single time, the problem is probably temporary. LetterRip Pro automatically generates lists of addresses that bounced after the last list message went out; the trick is figuring out which addresses appeared more than once. I pondered the problem briefly before realizing that ProVUE’s Panorama database was just the ticket. (See "When You Need a Panoramic View" in TidBITS-770.) After all, what were these email addresses but records in a very simple database?
I started the process in Eudora by selecting some recent bounce list messages and dragging them to the Finder. That action created a text file with all the messages in it. I then opened the text file in Nisus Writer Classic, whipped up a simple macro that found each line containing a bouncing address, copied all those lines to a new file, and then stripped everything but the email addresses.
Next, I opened the text file in Panorama, which created a new database containing a single field with a record for each address. I chose Group Up from the Sort menu to collect identical addresses into groups. Then I changed the outline level so I saw only the summaries, and I chose Count from the Math menu to count the number of records within each summary (that caused the summary record to show the count instead of the email address). Choosing Sort Up from the Sort menu sorted the records such that I could easily delete those addresses that appeared only once (I deleted them manually; it wasn’t worth the effort to write a procedure to automate anything). Next, I removed my count summaries and did another Group Up to collect the addresses into groups again, and again I reduced the outline level so I was looking only at the summary records (which now showed the email address of the summarized records). This time, instead of counting the records, I used the Remove Detail command from the Sort menu to delete all my raw data, since it held all the duplicates. That left just the summary records – one per set of email addresses – which Panorama automatically converted into normal data. Finally, I made a quick trip to Panorama’s Text Export Wizard to create a text file that I could reformat in Nisus Writer Classic with the email commands LetterRip Pro needed to unsubscribe the addresses.
I’m sure there are many other ways to accomplish this task, and someone who was sufficiently skilled with grep could perhaps do it all in BBEdit with a text factory, but since this was a task I don’t anticipate performing again, I didn’t want to put any effort into learning something new and debugging a complex process. By using Panorama’s built-in capabilities, all accessible from obvious menus, I was able to do some surprisingly complex text processing in very little time. Of course, now that I’m contemplating what I did, it strikes me that with some programming, Panorama could probably automate all the necessary actions from start to finish, even tracking bouncing addresses over time. But I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.
Moneydance Eases a Tax Burden
Like many people in the United States right now, I’m putting together my taxes. My wife and I have a few investments and a shared money market account through Morgan Stanley. I needed some information from the money market account (how much we paid for health insurance last year). Although we have lots of paper statements at home, I figured it was time I put all of it into Quicken, where I keep track of my checking, savings, and credit card accounts. I’ve been lax about digitizing that information, because most of the time it’s all taken care of by our financial planner at Morgan Stanley. The company offers online access to my account, so I thought I would download my data, import it into Quicken, and run a report that would spit out the figures I needed.
But I’m using a Mac, which almost – but not quite – derailed me.
Write Once, Run Nowhere — First off, Morgan Stanley’s ClientServ Web site uses a Java applet for its navigation interface within the site, which doesn’t work in any browser on my computer. As far as I can tell, that navigation could easily be replicated using CSS or even plain HTML. Not only is this useless technology, it’s not even implemented well, because there are no alternate links to get to the same information – Morgan Stanley’s help files instruct me to click the Download Activity link, which doesn’t exist on my machine. So the first step, simply getting to the page that allows me to download my statement, is a brick wall for Mac users.
I headed to my office to access the site using a Dell laptop I bought a couple of years ago for testing purposes. Not surprisingly, the navigation works just fine in Firefox under Windows XP, but then I hit another problem.
Not Intuit-ive — One great thing about Morgan Stanley’s site is that you can download statements back to 2002, a marked contrast to some banks that keep only the last three or six months of data available. I had committed myself to setting up new accounts in Quicken to start tracking the activity, so I wanted to download more than just the most recent month of activity. This appeared to be a simple process: click the checkbox saying you want a custom date range, and then change the range in the boxes provided. But checking the box did nothing; the fields remained dimmed and uneditable.
Before I could investigate this problem further, however, I ran into the final nail in this digital coffin: I can’t connect to Morgan Stanley anyway with the Mac version of Quicken, because (according to Morgan Stanley’s FAQ), "Quicken doesn’t support OFX downloads from Macintosh computers, at this time." I’m running Quicken 2004 and would have gladly upgraded to Quicken 2005 if it offered that functionality.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply download some OFX file and rejigger it using BBEdit, because Morgan Stanley’s access is set up to work directly only from Quicken for Windows.
Mac Dead End? So, let’s recap: Morgan Stanley doesn’t want to serve all its customers, making the blind assumption that Mac users are an insignificant statistic. And, Intuit can’t make its Mac software work in parity with its Windows software. Of course, Intuit has a terrible record of Mac support. The company even killed Quicken in 1998 – at the time, the market leader on the Mac – before Steve Jobs allegedly showed them the iMac and made them reconsider three weeks later.
If my wife and I didn’t already have a good investment (not just in dollars, but in time and a great relationship via our financial adviser), Morgan Stanley would have lost my business. As for Quicken, it was time to try the competition, Moneydance, which seemed to support the OFX format.
Doing a Little Jig — If ever there was a difficult market to throw your hat into, it has to be financial management software. Quicken owns the market, especially on the Mac (where Microsoft has never developed a Mac version of its Quicken competition, Money). But that dominance also provides opportunities for niche players, which is where Moneydance and I intersected.
I downloaded a free trial of Moneydance 2005 (a 3 MB installer), which provides all of the paid version’s features but is limited to 10 hand-entered transactions. (Moneydance 2005 is also available for Unix variants, Windows, and even OS/2.) After installing it, I created a new investment account and stepped through an easy wizard that let me choose Morgan Stanley ClientServ as the financial institution. After entering my account number, login, and password, Moneydance connected and displayed all of the account’s transactions (which dated to mid-2003).
Honestly, I was stunned that it was so easy. The only downside was that I wasn’t able to accept all the transactions into my Moneydance account at once; I could select them all, but clicking the Accept button grabbed only the first one in the list. With a few hundred transactions staring at me, I wasn’t thrilled about clicking the mouse button for each one.
Instead, I put QuicKeys to work and created a short script that clicked the button for me as many times as I specified. Just when I had resigned myself to locating the paper statements and spending hours entering transactions by hand, I was able to store all of the transactions on my Mac in the space of a few minutes. I promptly went to the Moneydance Web site and registered my copy, which at $30 was half of what I was expecting to pay to upgrade to Quicken 2005.
I haven’t used Moneydance enough to determine whether I’ll migrate my existing Quicken data (which encompasses several years), but for now I’m perfectly happy to use it for these Morgan Stanley accounts. I was able to run a quick report telling me the figure I needed for my tax return, printed it out, and sent it on its way to my accountant.
An FM Transmitting Monster
I finally added a third generation 15 GB iPod to my gadget collection last year. I don’t have a long commute but since my wife and I often drive more than two hours to visit friends around Boston or New York, I wanted to get an FM transmitter to use the iPod on road trips. But, I kept procrastinating and eventually my wife solved the problem with a holiday gift.
Being observant, she knew what would be important to me in terms of features: it had to be able to work for hours at a time; had to sit idle in the car for weeks in the winter cold and the summer heat (i.e., no batteries); had to connect to the iPod while in its case (a Marware SportSuit Convertible); and had to be a single item, not several accessories. She found the perfect match, the Monster iCarPlay Wireless.
Design — Perhaps because it is made by Monster Cable, the iCarPlay looks like an adapter cable and is very simple. One end is a plug for a car power adapter, and the other end is an iPod dock connector. In the middle is an oval-shaped controller and transmitter with a single button. When plugged in, it turns on automatically and transmits on one of eight FM frequencies from 88.1 to 89.5. The current frequency is indicated with a red light; clicking the button switches through the channels in order.
In practice this simple design works well. The dock connector plugs into the iPod through a hole in the bottom of my Marware case, avoiding the need to unplug the remote and headphones. While in use, the iCarPlay charges the iPod’s battery. If I get radio interference and need to change the frequency, I can hit the button and then tune the car radio one station higher without having to take my eyes off the road. I can also tuck the iPod away and use the iPod remote to pause and change tracks by touch.
When not in use, the iCarPlay can be rolled up and stuffed into the glove compartment or some other spot in the car.
The power plug on the iCarPlay has a large cap on it with a glowing red Monster logo. In my car this is not a problem, but the plug can be a tight fit in some cars with recessed power outlets. It would have been better if Monster had made it longer and narrower. Likewise, the dock connector on the iCarPlay is thicker than Apple’s cables, so it can be a snug fit when using it with an iPod case.
The iCarPlay is done in Monster’s signature black/silver/red colors so if you like all your iPod accessories in matching white plastic this might be annoying.
Performance — This product seems to avoid the some of the inconsistent performance that Travis Butler describes in his TidBITS reviews of other FM transmitters (see "Getting Better AirPlay" in TidBITS-771 and "Taking an iTrip: Three FM Transmitters" in TidBITS-681). The signal is steady once you select an open frequency. The location in the car doesn’t seem to matter much; some transmitters exhibit poor performance if the radio antenna is at the rear of the car, for example. The volume level is fixed since it uses the dock connector, but the level that is broadcast is a bit soft and I have to turn up the volume on the radio higher than I do with a normal radio station. A truck next to me in traffic with an FM transmitter on the same channel stepped on the signal once, and my Depeche Mode was replaced with country and western music until the light changed.
Like other transmitters that have a fixed number of frequencies, the iCarPlay might not be able to find a clear frequency in a major city, but this has not been a problem for me so far in the heart of Boston. Having eight channels to choose from may help, as compared to products like Belkin’s TuneCast which feature only four. But if you are worried about this limitation, Monster now also sells the iCarPlay Wireless Plus, which tunes digitally to almost any frequency and has three preset buttons.
Pros and Cons — The radio stations where I live are all terrible, so I have started using the iCarPlay even on short trips. It works well in the semi-rural area we live in, as well as in built-up urban areas in which we travel. I especially like the fact that I can drive for several hours while using it, and then get out of the car – at the airport, perhaps – with a fully charged iPod.
That convenience comes at a price: the iCarPlay Wireless has a recommended price of $70 and the iCarPlay Wireless Plus is $10 more. This is double or even triple the cost of many competing products, but if you consider the cost of a transmitter and an iPod power adapter for your car, the price starts to look a little more reasonable. I consider the all-in-one design worth the additional cost.
The iCarPlay is purposely built for use in a car; if you want to use an FM transmitter in other places, this is not the right product to buy. It also requires a newer third or fourth generation iPod or iPod Mini with a dock connector. If you have an older iPod or another MP3 player, you can buy the RadioPlay version of this product and plug it into the headphone jack of any device.
The iCarPlay is simple and just works… like the iPod. The price could be more competitive, but I was certainly happy to receive it as a gift.
[Geoff Bronner is webmaster for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He listens to a lot of 80s music and The Hour of Slack on his iPod.]
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/11-Apr-05
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be faster.
Guest PC — A reader solicits opinions on using the PC emulator Guest PC. (3 messages)
PowerBook-using cats — Matt Neuburg’s April Fools article about a cat accidentally downloading the next version of Mac OS X prompts other cat owners to relate tales (tails?) of cat-inspired Web browsing. (2 messages)
iPod double-shuffle — Holy duplication, Batman! Our April Fools announcement of the iPod double-shuffle (which has a Wrigley’s Doublemint gum design) is one thing, but you can actually order gum-themed decals for the iPod shuffle. (1 message)
DVD Jon vs Apple — This active discussion about copy protection evolves into a look at copyright laws and how extended copyright periods affect works. (50 messages)