Hurricane Katrina rules the news, with Jeff Carlson providing an overview of how Internet users and sites are helping with the aftermath of the devastation. On a more prosaic front, Adam looks at a free conference call service, Glenn Fleishman covers the main improvements in Timbuktu Pro 8.5, and we present an excerpt on making menus from Kirk McElhearn’s just-released "Take Control of Customizing Microsoft Office." In the news, we look the releases of iKey 2.1, Default Folder X 2.0.2, and Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5.0.4; revisit the preferred AirPort network issue; and welcome Maxum Development as a sponsor.
Maxum Development Sponsoring TidBITS — We’re pleased to welcome our latest long-term sponsor, Maxum Development. I’ve known John O’Fallon of Maxum for many years, ever since Maxum got its start in the heady days of the mid-1990s Internet by creating the essential add-ons NetForms and NetCloak for Macs running the WebSTAR Web server. Nowadays, Maxum is best known for Rumpus, their industrial-strength file transfer server. Although transferring files around is conceptually simple, setting up an FTP server and training everyone to use it can be time-consuming and frustrating. Rumpus improves on the standard FTP server by providing simple installation and setup, email- and AppleScript-based file upload notices, real-time activity graphs, built-in log rolling, folder-by-folder access restrictions, Web-based user administration, automatically expiring user accounts, user account size and transfer restrictions, and more. From the user standpoint, Rumpus is easier to interact with because it works with all major FTP clients and also provides Web File Manager, a built-in Web server that enables users to upload and download from any Web browser using a customizable interface that’s far better than standard browser FTP support. Rumpus also works in both Mac OS X and in Mac OS 8/9, making it easy to press an older Mac into service as a file transfer server. So, if you want more file transfer power, flexibility, and ease-of-use for you and your users, be sure to check out the free trial version of Rumpus. (And if you’re running a server of any sort, Simon, from our other new sponsor, Dejal Systems, can help you monitor it.) [ACE]
iKey 2.1 Moves to iApp-like Interface — Script Software has updated their Macintosh automation utility iKey to version 2.1, adding a few features but mostly streamlining the interface to make it easier to create and edit shortcuts, menus, and palettes that automate repetitive actions. iKey 2.1 now features an iApp-like interface, with a left-hand pane that displays the applications in which particular shortcuts, menus, or palettes are active, making it easy to see which items are available for editing in the main pane. Also new is a Library window that contains all the commands (the basic functions iKey can perform for you), launchers (the ways you invoke shortcuts, most commonly by pressing a hotkey), and contexts (the applications in which shortcuts are active) that you’ve defined. The Library window simplifies the task of reusing already defined commands, and it also lets you see and delete commands, launchers, and contexts that aren’t currently in use. iKey’s programmer, Philippe Hupe, also added some new commands and options to existing commands, enabling iKey 2.1 to wake a sleeping Mac after a delay or at a specific date and time, to repeat the last or next-to-last shortcut executed, to choose items from hierarchical menus more flexibly, and more. Last but not least, iKey 2.1 resolves a few compatibility problems with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. In the interests of disclosure, note that I use iKey daily, that I make design suggestions during development, and that the update contains the 1.1 update to my "Take Control of iKey 2" ebook, which documents the entire program and covers all the changes. The iKey 2.1 update is free to those who have registered the $30 iKey 2.0; it’s a 3.7 MB download. [ACE]
Default Folder X 2.0.2 Now Available — St. Clair Software has released version 2.0.2 of their essential Mac OS X utility, Default Folder X. The new version improves compatibility with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, fixing potentially crashing problems with Safari, System Preferences, and other Cocoa applications. Support for QuicKeys, Trans Lucy, and iClock has also been added. We’ve written about Default Folder several times in TidBITS, because it still improves basic Mac OS X Finder behavior (see "Tools We Use: Default Folder" in TidBITS-475 and "Default Folder X Improves Mac OS X Open/Save Dialogs" in TidBITS-617). Default Folder X 2.0.2 is a 4.1 MB download, and is free for registered users; a full license costs $35. [JLC]
Now Up-to-Date & Contact Updated to 5.0.4 — Now Software last week released version 5.0.3 and then 5.0.4 of their powerful calendaring and contact management suite, fixing a number of bugs and cosmetic problems, improving performance, and adding a few small capabilities, such as Snooze All/Dismiss All buttons in the event reminder dialog, several new toolbar buttons, support for Word 2004 in QuickMerge, and more. Plus, our "Take Control of Now Up-to-Date & Contact" ebook manual is now included in the distribution package; it’s in the Now Up-to-Date & Contact Docs folder in the Applications folder. The upgrade is highly recommended and is free for all registered users of Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5. [ACE]
Tiger Still Resists Showing Preferred Networks — Last week, I explained how to force a Mac OS X system upgraded from Panther to Tiger to display a list of preferred AirPort networks in the Network preferences pane that you could edit, remove, add to, or rearrange by preferred order of connections (see "Adding Tiger’s AirPort Preferred Network List" in TidBITS-794). Several readers wrote in to say that their upgraded Tiger systems still wouldn’t provide a preferred list.
These notes make it increasingly clear that we’re encountering a larger bug than I originally suspected, one that suppresses this option of seeing which network your computer "prefers" based on whether you agreed to remember the network in the future when connecting to it. Another way to work around this bug is to create an entirely new location setting and set up AirPort from scratch within that location, but even this workaround isn’t always effective.
One reader with an otherwise perfectly functional Tiger system sees a blank list of networks. Clicking the plus (+) sign doesn’t bring up a dialog. Creating a new location setting didn’t fix the problem either. At a loss, I suggested reinstalling Mac OS X, which is such a Windows thing to do, but I can’t see how he might otherwise be able to resolve the fundamental networking issues. [GF]
DealBITS Drawing: MathMagic Personal Edition Winners — Congratulations to Harvey Jeffries of mac.com, Orion Protonentis of noiro.org, Robert Rennie of anscom.af.mil, Robert Wildblood of erols.com, and Scott Ellsworth of alodar.com, whose entries were chosen randomly in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who each received a copy of MathMagic Personal Edition, worth $119.95. Even if you didn’t win, you can still save 20 percent on all the different versions of MathMagic (Personal, or Pro for both Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress) through 14-Sep-05 by ordering from the page below. Note that the 20 percent discount even applies to the academic discount, making MathMagic an even better deal for students, staff, and faculty of educational institutions. This offer is open to all TidBITS readers. Keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings, and remember that telling your friends, family, and colleagues about new drawings is a great way to increase your chances of receiving a prize; over 9 percent of our 375 entries this time came from people who learned about DealBITS from a friend. [ACE]
Watching the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it unleashed upon Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama has been exceedingly difficult this past week. I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around the fact that New Orleans, a major metropolitan city, was effectively destroyed in a matter of days. However, I’ve been heartened by the many online efforts by people who are coming up with innovative ways to help those in need, no matter where they’re located around the world.
You’ve no doubt heard pleas to give money and assistance in any way you can, and we at TidBITS want to echo that call; to put our money where our mouth is, we’re donating 10 percent of proceeds from September sales of Take Control ebooks to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund. The hurricane itself may have passed quickly, but the need for aid and assistance will continue for quite some time.
Financial Aid — Sending money still seems to be the best way of providing support; based on reports we’ve received from people in that area, the American Red Cross was one of the earliest organizations providing support. Many other organizations are mobilizing their resources and accepting contributions; Charity Navigator, an outfit that evaluates the financial health of charities (and therefore helps steer people away from slimeballs – oops! I mean, the unscrupulous people who are already trying to get people’s money by sending email messages pretending to ask for hurricane donations) includes a list of charities that are helping to provide disaster relief.
Housing Assistance — With so many buildings damaged by the hurricane and the related flooding, thousands of people are without homes. In this category, the Internet is making a big difference. Katrina Volunteer & Housing Opportunities enables people with beds available to post their information, and displaced people to locate housing assistance in their area. As I write this, nearly 31,000 beds are available. MoveOn has also set up HurricaneHousing.org for the same purposes, with over 125,000 beds currently available.
Another great resource providing housing is Craigslist, which includes housing notices as well as posts for temporary employment, volunteer opportunities, and other services in Baton Rouge, Houston, Jackson, Mobile, Montgomery, New Orleans, Shreveport, and Pensacola.
People and Pets Search — Each of the cities served by Craigslist also includes forums for finding people who have not yet appeared following the hurricane. These listings are worth scanning if you haven’t heard from someone, as there are a few "found" postings noting that people are alive and well.
Another novel project, PeopleFinderVolunteer, has been created to take a lot of the raw data coming in about missing people and organize it into a useful, consolidated database. It provides a way for people across the Internet to help out by donating their time: log in, claim a listing (such as from Craigslist), and fill out an online form to put as much data into fields that can be searched by others.
Looking at the problem from the other side, CNN has begun compiling a Hurricane Katrina Safe List, where survivors can post their details as another method for friends and family to know that they’re okay.
Amid all the talk about the human suffering, we often forget about pets struggling to survive after the hurricane and flooding. The United States Humane Society and other sources are helping to scour the area for lost animals.
Wikis Prove Timely and Useful — Although the mainstream news media has been following the tragedy, some of the most effective information has appeared online in various wikis. Wikipedia’s Hurricane Katrina entry is a constantly updated collection of news, resources, and statistics, documenting facts as they appear. It also includes lots of related information such as the impact of the storm on the space shuttle program and Internet infrastructure damage.
And for a good general reference, the Katrina Help Wiki includes information for people in need, people who want to help, and links to other resources.
The latest release of long-developed Timbuktu Pro remote control software appeared last week. Version 8.5 adds several options designed to improve security and provides support for viewing multiple monitors remotely.
Several new modes are available in this release, including:
Lock-down or "Help Desk": A computer can’t initiate remote sessions, but is available for remote viewing by, for instance, in-house technical support.
SSH-only: Timbuktu Pro can be prevented from connecting using the old, less secure protocol, after which it will allow only SSH (Secure Shell) connections.
Remote screen blanking: The remote computer’s screen goes blank when being controlled from afar by Timbuktu Pro. This "secures" the activities of that user from casual observation.
Two monitor sharing: Timbuktu Pro now provides a view of two monitors on a remote system.
Hide from scanning: You can suppress the appearance of a particular computer running Timbuktu Pro from local network lists.
Timbuktu Pro 8.5 finally includes an option to check for an upgrade automatically on launch – a key tool in these days of frequent upgrades for utility software. And Netopia claims in the release notes that screen sharing for Control sessions is much improved, especially over local networks.
Be sure to read the multi-step process for successfully upgrading a system with Timbuktu Pro installed – it works for me every time, but it requires adherence to a detailed sequence of operations. Timbuktu Pro 8.5 is a free upgrade for registered users of version 8.0. (The link below takes you to the download authorization page.)
Do you like menus? Menus tend to be overlooked in the desire to show every possible option at once in a toolbar or palette, but the nice thing about a menu is that its there when you need it and out of the way – but not gone entirely – when you don’t. Typically, a program comes with certain commands on its menus, and you, the user, are stuck with them. Microsoft Office doesn’t suffer from this particular limitation, at least in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In this article, we share with you an excerpt from our latest Take Control ebook, Kirk McElhearn’s "Take Control of Customizing Microsoft Office." It explains how to make your own menus in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (both v.X and 2004), and how to take advantage of Word’s Work menu. Take it away, Kirk!
Create a Menu — In this brief tutorial, I explain how to create a menu that contains a handful of frequently used commands. (I use Word in this tutorial; the procedure is nearly identical with Excel and PowerPoint.) To make your own menu, follow these steps:
Display the Menu Bar toolbar so you can work with it: Choose Customize > Customize Toolbars/Menus. If the Menu Bar toolbar does not appear along with the Customize Toolbars/Menus dialog, click the Toolbars tab and select Menu Bar in the list of toolbars.
Put a new menu on the toolbar: In the Commands pane, at the end of the Categories list, click New Menu. In the Commands list you’ll see just one command: New Menu. Drag it to the position where you want it in the Menu Bar toolbar.
Name your menu: You don’t want the name to be too long, since it takes up space in the menu bar. Double-click the New Menu button in the Menu Bar toolbar to display the Command Properties dialog. Enter a new name in the Name field, and then click OK.
To copy commands from other menus to your new menu, click a menu in the Menu Bar toolbar, and Option-drag a menu command from that menu. For example, to begin copying the Format > Font command to the custom menu, click the Format button to display the contents of its menu. Hold down the Option key and drag the Font command toward your new menu. (If you hold down Option when dragging, the command will remain in its original location and copy to the new menu; if not, it will move. It’s much safer to copy commands than move them.) When you reach the button for your new menu, move the pointer over the button to display the menu). Release the mouse button when the command is in the desired location in the menu.
If you don’t find the commands you want in the existing menus, go to the Commands tab of the Customize Toolbars/Menus dialog and in the Categories section, click All Commands. You can then look through the list of commands to find the ones you want.
Rename long menu items: Commands that you drag from menus have concise names, but ones you drag from the All Commands list may have awkward, long names. To make the change, double-click a menu command in the menu from the Menu Bar toolbar to display the Command Properties dialog and change the name by entering a new name in the Name field.
Organize your menu with a separator: To help group commands, insert a separator above a menu item. Double-click the desired menu item in the Menu Bar toolbar to display the Command Properties dialog and select the "Begin a group" checkbox.
Congratulations! You’ve set up a custom menu. If you want to delete it, simply drag it off the Menu Bar toolbar.
Use the Word Work Menu — Word offers a special menu called the Work menu. Located between the Window menu and the Help menu, this menu is designed to store a list of your commonly used files. Unlike the recent files list at the bottom of the File menu, Word doesn’t add documents here automatically; you must add them manually. If you regularly use the same files, the Work menu saves you a trip to the Finder. Just select your document from the Work menu and get to work.
All you have to do to add a document to the Work menu is open the document and make sure it is frontmost. Then, choose Work > Add to Work Menu.
Word is pretty good at finding documents that you have moved after you added them to the Work menu, as long as you move them somewhere on the same volume or disk. If Word cannot find the file, it displays an alert asking if you want to locate it. Click OK, and you’ll see a standard Open dialog. Navigate to find the document, and Word will open it and update its path so it can find it again next time.
To remove a document from the Work menu, press Command-Option-Hyphen. The pointer changes to a thick, black dash. Choose the document you want to remove from the Work menu, and it disappears.
Go Further with the Ebook — Although this excerpt focuses on menus, the 82-page "Take Control of Customizing Microsoft Office" doesn’t stop there, teaching you how to put commands on a toolbar for one-click access or how to assign memorable keyboard shortcuts to frequently used commands. It also shows you how to insert frequently typed pieces of text, explains how to use templates so you don’t have to create every document from scratch, and more. It costs $10, and note that we and Kirk are donating 10 percent of the proceeds from the September sales of this ebook to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund.
Widely distributed groups often need to meet via telephone rather than attempting to travel to a single centralized location, so for some people, regularly scheduled conference calls have become a way of life. In the past, setting up a phone bridge, as these systems are sometimes called, was an expensive proposition. Large companies would sometimes have their own service, but if no one in the group had access to a phone bridge, an independent service was required, and the costs could be quite steep.
A few months ago, I had a conference call with the Web Crossing folks, and when I received the online RSVP, I was intrigued by the domain in the sending address: www.freeconference.com. A quick trip to my Web browser revealed that FreeConference.com was indeed an entirely free conference call service. When I quizzed the Web Crossing folks about it later, they said that they’d been using the service happily for years. Somewhat shocked, I asked, "And how is this free?"
Business Model — The answer would appear to be that FreeConference.com offers three types of conference calls: Reservationless, Web-Scheduled, and Web-Scheduled Premium 800. The first two are entirely free, but with the third, you pay $0.10 per minute for callers to use a toll-free 800 number when calling in. You might expect there to be significant other limitations on the two free services, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. For instance, the Web-Scheduled Premium 800 service supports 150 callers for a maximum time of 5 hours, but the free Web-Scheduled service drops that only slightly, to 100 callers for a maximum of 3 hours. There are a few other differences, most notably the option for conference recording (with MP3 download and telephone playback) for an additional fee, but the option for toll-free dial-in numbers is the main distinction. The Reservationless service has more limitations (25 callers for a maximum of 3 hours), but you don’t even need an account to set one up, making it quick and anonymous.
In other words, FreeConference.com itself is free, but any given conference call placed through the service may not be, since each participant must pay his or her own long distance phone bill. However, in this day and age of flat-rate long distance plans (which is what I currently have) and cell phone plans that treat long distance calls no differently than local calls, FreeConference.com can be effectively free for many people.
How It Works — Intrigued, I signed up for a free account and set up a call for the next time I needed to talk with several people at once (my normal phone service allows three-way calling, which is usually all I need). Once I had an account, it was simple to walk through the steps to schedule a call. These steps include:
- Choose the number of participants (up to 100)
- Pick a date and time
- Set the likely duration of the call
- Create or accept a participant access code
- Set conference controls
- Send email invitations
The conference controls are interesting. You can toggle entry and exit chimes, have the conference start and end with the arrival and departure of the organizer, and choose from three possible conference modes. Conversation mode allows anyone to speak at any time. Presentation mode goes in the other direction, automatically muting everyone but those with an organizer access code. Q&A mode is in between, allowing participants to un-mute themselves to ask questions.
Although FreeConference.com doesn’t offer an option for a recurring call (many organizations have regularly scheduled weekly calls, for instance), you can create groups of contacts, making it trivial to run through the setup steps and choose the same contact group at the end.
Similarly, you as the organizer receive a confirmation message in email, summarizing all the settings, and providing you with organizer-specific information like your own access code and a cheat sheet of all the additional controls you can access from your phone during the call. Overall, FreeConference.com provides a smooth and elegant interface, and after the first time or two, you can probably set up a call in less than five minutes.
Once you’re in the actual call, sound quality is excellent. The one call I’ve been on that had an audio problem was related to the phone of one of the callers. In this respect, FreeConference.com is doing well – I’ve been on plenty of paid conference calls where the equipment introduced audio feedback or a whine that required help from an operator.
International Versions and Private Labels — Often, these sort of services are limited to the United States. Not so with FreeConference.com. In the United Kingdom, there’s ConferenceUK, and in Germany, FreieKonferenz.com. All three are run by Integrated Data Concepts, a 20-year-old telecommunications firm that claims to be the first distributor to deal exclusively in computer telephony products. In fact, IDC even has an option for other firms or organizations to relabel, resell, or adapt the FreeConference.com site and service.
Give It a Try — Historically, and largely due to the expense, conference call services have been aimed exclusively at businesses, and I’m sure they’ll continue to be used primarily by companies and other organizations. However, FreeConference.com really is good enough and sufficiently close to free for many people that it could help extend the concept of conference calling beyond the business world. I could easily see families setting up weekend calls where the entire family could participate in the same call rather than calling each other separately.
Although computer telephony is improving rapidly thanks to programs like iChat and Skype, people don’t need a fast Internet connection or even a computer to participate in conferences set up via FreeConference.com. Plus, my experience with computer telephony is that when it works, it’s generally fine, but there are still far more hiccups and other problems (every time I want to use Skype or iChat, I have to fiddle with the input and output settings in the Sound preference pane, for instance) compared to the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) network.
So do yourself a favor, and the next time you think that it might be nice, or at least more efficient, to have several people on the phone at once, set up a call via FreeConference.com.
New Ebook Helps Readers Customize Microsoft Office — I’ve been working with author Kirk McElhearn for nearly a year on this title, and neither of us can believe how long it’s taken to explain clearly how to customize the toolbars, menus, and keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Office. What began as a simple effort to show users how to work with the Customize dialog became more complex as we realized the many nuances that had to be carefully explained in order to help readers customize Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, in both Office X and Office 2004.
"Take Control of Customizing Microsoft Office" is the fruit of our labor, an 82-page ebook that explains how to issue your favorite commands faster, whether that means that you put them on a toolbar for one-click access, stick them on custom menus where you can find them easily, or assign them keyboard shortcuts so that your fingers can do the work. The ebook also covers tips for arranging toolbars, ways to insert frequently typed text, how to work with templates, how to bring back the Word 5 menu layout, how to set up the Word Work menu, and more. A special appendix lists 20 favorite Office customizations, which were contributed by other Take Control authors and a variety of Macintosh experts. Take a look!
Take Control Donates 10% of Proceeds to Hurricane Relief — To support the relief efforts aiding the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Take Control team – publisher Adam Engst, editor in chief Tonya Engst, and all the authors of Take Control ebooks – have joined together in donating 10 percent of proceeds from the sale of all ebooks in September to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund. We encourage you to help in whatever way you feel appropriate.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be faster.
iTunes Vs. The Titans — Rumor has it that the major music labels want to charge more than $0.99 per song, even though Apple’s pricing has proven enormously successful. Is Apple powerful enough to stand up to the majors on price? (2 messages)
How to use Spotlight to search file and folder names quickly — Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger’s new Spotlight search feature is attractive, but it seems to miss what most people search for first: filenames. Here’s how to work around the limitation. (9 messages)
iPhoto Blog integration — What’s the best way to get pictures out of iPhoto and onto a weblog? (7 messages)
Virtual memory swapping problem — Virtual memory, which uses hard disk space in place of RAM when RAM is getting full, can dramatically slow down your Mac (especially with an older, slower hard drive). Find out how you can tell if Mac OS X is swapping VM files and what to do about it. (5 messages)
Professionals switching — Apple has been appealing to average computer users in its switching campaigns, but what about professionals? Readers share their experiences with Windows-based graphics professionals picking up the Mac. (3 messages)
Problems with Kensington DC Laptop/iPod adapter — A power supply with interchangeable adapter tips causes problems for a few readers. (3 messages)
Annoyance level of different ad types — Glenn Fleishman’s article about Flashblocker software to control Flash-based online advertising prompts a discussion of how intrusive advertising has become. (7 messages)
Timbuktu "Secure" Connection and Certificates? A representative from Netopia explains how Timbuktu handles secure connections. (2 messages)
Hurricane Relief — As Hurricane Katrina ravaged the southeast coast of the United States, TidBITS Talk readers provided links to aid organizations and other resources. (5 messages)