On Mac Organizers & WordPress

Coming soon: a comparison review of five top Mac information organizers…

But first, I want to say how happy I am that my offline experiment is over. The TV part was easy, since I don’t really watch TV. The Mac part was quite hard. I’m happily back online now, with no great lessons learned (other than I prefer to be connected; no great surprise there).

Now, about my impending series on Mac organizers: I agree with those of you who suggest I tackle Together (formerly known as KIT) rather than Evernote. Together is clearly in the same class as DevonThink, EagleFiler, and Yojimbo. Evernote is clearly not. Together is also quite popular, so it’s a good target for this series. Thank you to those who commented for steering me straight.

Of these apps, I have substantial experience using DevonThink and Yojimbo. This will give me a good baseline. However, I have no experience using EagleFiler and Together, so I’ve downloaded the trials to test them out. I want to use them each intensely for at least a week to give them a fair shake. I also have decided I will add VooDooPad to the mix because I use it, I really like it and it’s substantially different from the others. It deserves to be in the lineup.

Now that I have identified the five apps I wish to review, I must say that I’m still pondering how to tackle this series. I just read through some existing review series suggested by reader brab. These reviews are excellent and I highly recommend you give them a read. In fact, these posts were so informative and thoughtful that I have to take a few days to rethink how I want to approach this. I want to write something that is value-added. I don’t want to rehash what’s already out there. I want to try to take a fresh look. More to come.

2008 Mac a’hiki Tech Fest (sponsored by the Hawaii Macintosh and Apple Users’ Society).

The highlight of this gathering was a keynote speech by Matt Mullenweg of WordPress.com fame. Most of his talk focused on the capabilities of WordPress, which I’m already familiar with as a WP user. I did, however learn a few interesting things:

First, WordPress is about to launch an interesting new theme called Monotone that’s geared towards displaying photos in a blog. It is interesting because it’s dynamic: the theme samples your top photo in your most recent post and automatically generates complementary colors for the layout of your page. Each time you post a new photo, your base theme colors change to match that photo. It’s a nice idea, and I expect variations on this dynamic sampling to generate more interesting themes in the future. I look forward to taking a peek at the code behind this.

Next, I learned about Gravatar.com. While I was aware of the Gravatar concept, I was unaware that WordPress hosted the Gravatar service. Apparently Automattic, Mullenweg’s WP.com company, acquired Gravatar last October. If you sign up for a Gravatar, your unique little photo will follow you around the web when you’re posting comments on any site that supports the Gravatar feature. Yet another example of how the web is turning into a more cohesive entity for the individual.

Following that, I learned of bbPress and BuddyPress — two WordPress.com offshoots. The first service is a free package for simple forum hosting. It purportedly makes setting up a forum as easy as setting up a WordPress.com site. I’m curious about how well it will integrate into a current WP installation. The second is a set of WordPress plugins (for WordPress MultiUser) which offers a very simple and easy way to transform any blog into a social network platform à la MySpace. The difference is that you don’t have to sign up for a social service with this — you create your own social center.

BuddyPress is still under construction, and Mullenweg doesn’t recommend you launch into it yet. But he said a stable package will soon be available. I like the idea of segmented user-level social networks. While it’s not a new idea, Mullenweg argued that this package will make it simple enough for anyone to create and maintain — which would be something new.

What this all added up for me was a clearer vision of how WordPress is positioning itself to lead the market with free, simple and easy to use blogging and social forum platforms in a variety of flavors. When I add up the myriad of options presented by WordPress.org, WordPress.com, WordPressMU, bbPress, and BuddyPress (all free services, by the way), I get the sense that this is developing into something very special.

I’m also struck by the aggressive development-and-release schedule of the WordPress team. That I can expect a major upgrade with significant improvements every few months is a tangible benefit that has so far kept me from leaping to another platform. I especially like that I have full access to this platform for free. Since I use the ‘.org‘ version of WP, I can do whatever I like with it. I can even try to make a better commercial platform to compete with WordPress. I like the WP business model. As Mullenweg put it, anyone can use and exploit the open source WP package. It’s up to the WP.com team to make their commercial implementation of this package a top consumer choice (they make money, by the way, by offering premium upgrades).

Finally, Mullenweg showcased a site produced by Ford (yes, that Ford) on WordPress. Wow. I took one look at this site and was inspired to see if I could push my WordPress installation a bit further. I’m amazed that this site is based on WordPress. I’ve toyed with moving to a new platform (recently I tried porting this site over to Drupal — you can see the test result here), but I’m more inclined now than ever to stick with WP. Especially when I consider how much time and energy I’ve put into understanding how this package works (and how little time I have to delve into another package!).

If you’re interested in seeing Mullenweg’s talk, HMAUS is planning to post a videocast of the talk soon. As a side note, I put down five bucks on a raffle at the HMAUS event, hoping to win one of two iPod Shuffles or the Belkin USB hub. I walked away with an extra-extra large University of Hawaii football jersey and a can of Chef Boyardee Mac and Cheese. Hmm.

Going Offline for One Week

I’m pulling the plug on my computer and TV this week. I’ve been challenged by my wife to join her in National “Turn Off Week” — an annual event tied to Earth Day.

I’m not trying to make a point about society’s dependency on all things electronic. Actually, I’m quite fond of electronic gadgetry. It’s more of an experiment to see how a week unplugged affects my life. Aside from that, my wife says I won’t make it…so I naturally have to do it now.

Of course, I’ll still need to use my computer at work. My pledge, though, is to not access anything of a personal nature from the office. This won’t be easy. At home, we’re going to try to minimize use of all things electronic. Should be interesting. Fortunately, we have some good books and board games. We also plan to spend more time outdoors.

I’ll return on Apr. 28 with the first post in a new in-depth series comparing Mac information organizers. I’d like to keep the comparison to a manageable level, so I plan to review a maximum of four apps. Right now, I’m leaning towards dissecting Evernote, Yojimbo, EagleFiler, and DevonThink. However, I’m still open to suggestions if you’d like to see a particular application included in the comparison showdown.

For the first post in this series, I’ll present a broad overview of what is offered on the Mac in this category, along with a bit of commentary. I’ll also finalize the selection of four apps.

That’s all for this week. Time to power down.

Quantity vs. Quality? The old Mac/PC debate

Mac or PC?I’ve convinced many people to buy a Mac over the years, but there’s one person I cannot convert. My mother refuses to go Mac. To put this in proper context, you should know that she is not a computer novice. She has no problem fixing driver problems or troubleshooting a PC. She runs several web sites. You should also know that she is not hostile to the idea of using a Mac.

So, she’s computer-saavy and open minded about trying the Mac OS. So why doesn’t she buy one?

I have to admit that I was disappointed when she recently purchased an HP Pavilion DV740US laptop for $1149. This model came with a 1.67GHz Centrino Core Duo processor, 3GB DDR2 RAM, Windows Vista Premium, a DVD±RW/CD-RW drive with Blu-Ray read support, a 5-in-1 digital media reader, a 320GB hard drive, a TV tuner and a 17-inch screen. It has a built-in camera and wireless capability. In short, it’s designed to be an full-featured entertainment center. It weights in at 7.7 pounds.

She did take a look at the Mac options, but only considered the MacBook Pro — the 17-inch screen was a minimum requirement. But at a starting price of $1,999, the MacBook Pro was just too expensive. It also didn’t have as many features. For her, the HP model was the obvious choice. The primary user of this machine, my father, is happy with it. What’s he doing with it? Primarily surfing the web and checking emails. While he might not use a lot of the power and features of the HP, he gets a zippy machine with a big keyboard and large screen. And when he’s not using it, my mother has access to a powerful second computer in the house (her primary is a Gateway desktop).

I’ve tried to convince her to buy a Mac for years. My main points on why I feel the Mac is the best choice will be familiar to most readers of this site:

You may pay more upfront for a Mac but it’ll generally last longer. I think that most low-cost PCs are designed to be disposable, and they are generally made with cheap components. My second generation iBook G3, though, is seven years old and still going strong. Macs are generally well-crafted machines. Also note that Windows may be much more expensive than the Mac OS in the long run.

I also believe that the Mac user experience is superior thanks to the OS and the aesthetics of the hardware design (and apparently just thinking about Apple makes one more creative, which is kind of scary).

Next, I say that the extra bells and whistles of entertainment machines like the HP DV740US don’t add up to much. I think the Mac excels at honing in on the essentials that people need while steadfastly avoiding feature bloat. This is just my personal choice, but I’m wary of everything-and-the-kitchen sink PCs. In my experience, the base capabilities may appear to be great, but in reality they just don’t work that well. And they generally don’t work well together. We Mac users like to say that our machines ‘just work.’ Well, that’s because Macs just work.

Security is generally considered to be much stronger on the Mac. The main counter-argument I hear on this point is ‘Sure, but just wait until the Mac gets more popular.’ Actually, I think that’s a valid point. We shouldn’t take our relative security for granted. The Mac OS is fairly secure, but it’s far from perfect. It is, however, vastly more secure than a machine on Windows. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

I also think that Mac software (both Apple and third-party software) is vastly superior in terms of quality, user experience, and OS integration to what you can get on a PC. This is subjective, I know. But it’s true!

Finally, the Mac is the only platform today that can (legally) run the Mac OS along with Windows and most other operating systems. And Macs Run Windows Vista Better Than PCs according to just-released Popular Mechanics test.

In the end, my arguments lost out. Here were the main points behind her HP decision:

1. She would love to try out the Mac OS, but she is quite content with Vista
2. The 17-inch screen is a must — and the Mac only offers costly options in this category
3. The HP offers many more features for much less money

I have to say that I understand the decision to go with HP, but I think the cost benefit of the cheaper HP will decline over time. I think you get what you pay for. However, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to back this up. Perhaps the HP will stand the test of time just as well as a Mac, or perhaps it doesn’t matter because it’s cheap enough to be replaced without much concern in two or three years.

Despite the fact that I still haven’t persuaded her to switch, she remains very interested in the Mac OS. She noted that she would like the option to install the Mac OS on a Windows machine so she could test it out. She’s not the only one. This happens to be a current hot topic in the Mac community. For more on this, see the April 17 Macworld article, Frankenmac! What’s in a Mac clone?.

Personally, I would love to have the option to legally install Mac OS X on a PC. In fact, I would be tempted to build my own PC tower if I could run Mac OS X on it. Will Apple ever license the Mac OS to run on non-Apple computers? I doubt it, but then again I never thought I’d see Apple switch to Intel. While I’m interested in installing Mac OS X on non-Apple machines, I fear what this might do to the the OS over time. Apple’s decision to lock the Mac OS to Apple computers no doubt helps to maintain control, security and compatibility.

Of course, Apple could also add more products to their line to compete with low and mid-range PC desktops and laptops. While this would surely increase market share, would this be the beginning of the end of Apple’s distinctive quality? I think it might: these cheaper machines would logically need to integrate cheaper components to get the price down, right?

At any rate, Macs today cost a bit more. And they are not as fully-loaded as many PC offerings out on the market. For your money, you get higher-quality, well-integrated components. You get the only machine that (legally) runs the Mac OS. You get more security. You get better software. And, most importantly, you get the Mac user experience — it’s hard to explain this to PC users, but it’s an experience that is worth the price of admission.

Quantity vs Quality. The old Mac/PC debate

I’ve convinced many people to buy a Mac over the years, but there’s one person I cannot convert. My mother refuses to go Mac. To put this in proper context, you should know that she is not a computer novice. She has no problem fixing driver problems or troubleshooting a PC. She runs several web sites. You should also know that she is not hostile to the idea of using a Mac.

So, she’s computer-saavy and open minded about trying the Mac OS. So why doesn’t she buy one?

I have to admit that I was disappointed when she recently purchased an HP Pavilion DV740US laptop for $1149. This model came with a 1.67GHz Centrino Core Duo processor, 3GB DDR2 RAM, Windows Vista Premium, a DVD±RW/CD-RW drive with Blu-Ray read support, a 5-in-1 digital media reader, a 320GB hard drive, a TV tuner and a 17-inch screen. It has a built-in camera and wireless capability. In short, it’s designed to be an full-featured entertainment center. It weights in at 7.7 pounds.

She did take a look at the Mac options, but only considered the MacBook Pro — the 17-inch screen was a minimum requirement. But at a starting price of $1,999, the MacBook Pro was just too expensive. It also didn’t have as many features. For her, the HP model was the obvious choice. The primary user of this machine, my father, is happy with it. What’s he doing with it? Primarily surfing the web and checking emails. While he might not use a lot of the power and features of the HP, he gets a zippy machine with a big keyboard and large screen. And when he’s not using it, my mother has access to a powerful second computer in the house (her primary is a Gateway desktop).

I’ve tried to convince her to buy a Mac for years. My main points on why I feel the Mac is the best choice will be familiar to most readers of this site:

You may pay more upfront for a Mac but it’ll generally last longer. I think that most low-cost PCs are designed to be disposable, and they are generally made with cheap components. My second generation iBook G3, though, is seven years old and still going strong. Macs are generally well-crafted machines. Also note that Windows may be much more expensive than the Mac OS in the long run.

I also believe that the Mac user experience is superior thanks to the OS and the aesthetics of the hardware design (and apparently just thinking about Apple makes one more creative, which is kind of scary).

Next, I say that the extra bells and whistles of entertainment machines like the HP DV740US don’t add up to much. I think the Mac excels at honing in on the essentials that people need while steadfastly avoiding feature bloat. This is just my personal choice, but I’m wary of everything-and-the-kitchen sink PCs. In my experience, the base capabilities may appear to be great, but in reality they just don’t work that well. And they generally don’t work well together. We Mac users like to say that our machines ‘just work.’ Well, that’s because Macs just work.

Security is generally considered to be much stronger on the Mac. The main counter-argument I hear on this point is ‘Sure, but just wait until the Mac gets more popular.’ Actually, I think that’s a valid point. We shouldn’t take our relative security for granted. The Mac OS is fairly secure, but it’s far from perfect. It is, however, vastly more secure than a machine on Windows. I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

I also think that Mac software (both Apple and third-party software) is vastly superior in terms of quality, user experience, and OS integration to what you can get on a PC. This is subjective, I know. But it’s true!

Finally, the Mac is the only platform today that can (legally) run the Mac OS along with Windows and most other operating systems. And Macs Run Windows Vista Better Than PCs according to just-released Popular Mechanics test.

In the end, my arguments lost out. Here were the main points behind her HP decision:

1. She would love to try out the Mac OS, but she is quite content with Vista
2. The 17-inch screen is a must — and the Mac only offers costly options in this category
3. The HP offers many more features for much less money

I have to say that I understand the decision to go with HP, but I think the cost benefit of the cheaper HP will decline over time. I think you get what you pay for. However, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to back this up. Perhaps the HP will stand the test of time just as well as a Mac, or perhaps it doesn’t matter because it’s cheap enough to be replaced without much concern in two or three years.

Despite the fact that I still haven’t persuaded her to switch, she remains very interested in the Mac OS. She noted that she would like the option to install the Mac OS on a Windows machine so she could test it out. She’s not the only one. This happens to be a current hot topic in the Mac community. For more on this, see the April 17 Macworld article, Frankenmac! What’s in a Mac clone?.

Personally, I would love to have the option to legally install Mac OS X on a PC. In fact, I would be tempted to build my own PC tower if I could run Mac OS X on it. Will Apple ever license the Mac OS to run on non-Apple computers? I doubt it, but then again I never thought I’d see Apple switch to Intel. While I’m interested in installing Mac OS X on non-Apple machines, I fear what this might do to the the OS over time. Apple’s decision to lock the Mac OS to Apple computers no doubt helps to maintain control, security and compatibility.

Of course, Apple could also add more products to their line to compete with low and mid-range PC desktops and laptops. While this would surely increase market share, would this be the beginning of the end of Apple’s distinctive quality? I think it might: these cheaper machines would logically need to integrate cheaper components to get the price down, right?

At any rate, Macs today cost a bit more. And they are not as fully-loaded as many PC offerings out on the market. For your money, you get higher-quality, well-integrated components. You get the only machine that (legally) runs the Mac OS. You get more security. You get better software. And, most importantly, you get the Mac user experience — it’s hard to explain this to PC users, but it’s an experience that is worth the price of admission.

Affordable Tapeless Video Capture

Here’s the second post from guest contributor Brandon who is currently attending the National Association of Broadcaster’s annual convention. Today’s topic is about tapeless video acquisition and how this tech is starting to filter down to consumer cameras. There are also many good tips here for those looking to buy a video camera. Enjoy.

“Day two of NAB 2008 found me exploring yet another hall of the Las Vegas convention center. I know you’re eagerly waiting to find out what cool stuff I found but, unfortunately, there was nothing of direct Mac relevance. Everything I found today was geared (and priced) directly toward the professional video market.

To be honest, I spent the better part of the day evaluating industrial gear cases, and I just don’t think you’d find it that interesting. Unless of course, you’re willing to spend $600 on a camera case… No? Ok, then. In the interest of keeping fresh material coming in, I thought I’d talk a little about one of the trends in professional gear that is making good progress on it’s way down from the halls of NAB to the consumer market: tapeless acquisition.

Tapeless acquisition is a technology that is just now really beginning to realize its potential. A few years ago it was only available in high-end professional cameras. We’re talking cameras that cost more than the gross national products of many small South American countries. More recently, though, the technology has found it’s way into lower-end field cameras such as Panasonic’s P2 and Sony’s XDCAM lines. These are the cameras that serve as the primary tools of documentary crews, independent video journalists and anyone else who needs to move fast and shoot broadcast-quality footage. Essentially, they are BMWs compared to the higher-end ‘Ferraris’ of the camera world. The good news this year is that we’re beginning to see pro technology (such as quality tapeless acquisition) filter down to the consumer level at a Chevrolet price point!

So what does this mean for you? No more spending $5 for a single 60-minute DV cassette. Great! But wait, there’s always a catch isn’t there? Let’s take the JVC Everio line as an example. These cameras can store up to 37.5 hours of standard definition footage onto their 30GB hard drives, so the issue is not how much drive space you will need.

The first major issue is the compression used to obtain that very tempting specification. A great number of internet reviews of the Everio line indicate that the video produced is soft and exhibits obvious artifacts. This is not exactly what I would like to see in my preserved-for-posterity memories. The other issue is compatibility for playback and editing on your computer. Unless you intend to use the bundled proprietary software to chop your precious memories into bite-sized YouTube morsels, you’ll need to carefully check the compatibility of the camera with your editing software before purchasing.

For the readers of this site, you should know that the JVC cameras don’t bundle any Mac love. While the JVC website states that “third-party software is available for Macintosh,” I spent nearly 15 minutes (all my ADD would allow) searching for exactly what “third-party software” was available. Guess what…I need to keep looking. Now, in fairness to the little Everios, every report I’ve read indicates that the ‘direct from camera to DVD burner’ feature worked simply and flawlessly — but that really takes the fun out of the whole process.

While I’ve picked on JVC cameras here, these are issues that should be considered and researched when considering offerings from any of the major manufacturers.

But let’s get back to the main benefit of tapeless acquisition. No capturing tapes! It’s really that simple. Not only do you no longer need to buy the expensive little things, you don’t have to spend all that time capturing them into the computer in order to work on your upcoming Academy Award-nominated cinematography. Assuming you do your research and get yourself a great little camera that works perfectly with your Mac, transferring video from you camera will be as simple as copying files from a thumb drive. If your camera is really cool, it will even utilize super-secret CIA scene detection technology to break your happy little trip to the zoo into distinct clips of monkeys, panda bears and tourists falling into the polar bear pit. You may not realize now how great of a time saver this is, but it is. Put it this way: the pros utilize modern indentured servitude (interns) so they don’t have to do it themselves. Most of us have to do it ourselves.

In summary: do your homework. Look for documented compatibility with your Mac and software. Pay attention to the little stickers that tell you what size CCD the camera has; more megapixels + bigger CCD = higher quality video. HD is cheap — and all HD cameras should give you the option to shoot standard definition as well, so look for HDV or AVCHD format cameras. Finally, be sure to buy a case to protect your investment…and remember: with video gear you really do get what you pay for.”

Live from NAB 2008!

I just received a dispatch from Brandon, a friend of mine lucky enough to be at the NAB Show in Nevada this week. He’s going to be sending in some items of interest to share from the convention this week. Here’s what he had to say about Day One:

“The National Association of Broadcasters annual convention is a massive event filling all four halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Having spent an entire day thoroughly exploring just one of the halls, I’d like to share a few items that caught my eye:

1. Logic Keyboard Refresh

First off are new keyboards offerings from Logic Keyboard. Switching from the old G5-style Apple keyboards to the newly redesigned Apple USB slim style, Logic Keyboard provides input devices with shortcut markings for many major creative applications such as Photoshop, Final Cut, Aperture and Avid. If your are frequent user of any of these programs but haven’t yet memorized the shortcuts, these keyboards are an excellent visual aid. The new style keyboards will be shipping in about a month and will maintain the previous model’s $50 price markup over the standard Apple keyboard.

2. Flip4Mac News

Next, I’d like to share a little information I received from a Telestream rep regarding Flip4Mac. Since upgrading to Leopard, I’ve been experiencing serious problems with WMV playback. When trying to play any WMV file larger than 7-8MB, I get a status bar, the “spinning beach ball of doom” and a very, very, long wait. I’ve posted over various forums looking for help with this issue but it appeared I was the only one experiencing it. Thanks to the very helpful Telestream reps, I learned today that mine is not an isolated occurrence and they have received reports from many other users with same or similar issues. According to them, it is a (currently) unresolved conflict between Flip4Mac and any version of QuickTime more recent than 7.4.1. So how do you fix it? At this point the only options are to roll back QuickTime to 7.4.1 or live with it in the hopes that the next QuickTime update does the job. An ideal solution this isn’t, as many of the changes in the recent QuickTime updates are critical security fixes. I should point out that, as a long time user of Telestream’s professional products, I have found the company to be very quick at resolving issues I’ve had. Initial problems that arose after the release of Leopard resulted in an update within two or three short days. I’m confident that if a fix is not available in a reasonable time that the issue is beyond their control. My next conversation about it will be with Apple.

3. New offerings from LaCie

Last note of interest for today is a preview of new portable hard drive offerings from LaCie. Large capacity, small form and bus-powered! Everything a road warrior media producer could ask for! A new model of the Little Big Disk Quadra gives you 500GB from two drives in a RAID 0 configuration for read/write speed with eSATA, FireWire 400, FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 connections to get all that data to and from your computer. If you’re running FireWire, you will won’t even need the included power brick — so you end up with a package that would fit in my overly style-conscious girlfriend’s Italian purse, with room for all the mysterious things she carries in there! Of course, if you’re afraid she might hit you with said purse, as I often am, you may choose to go with the new Rugged Hard Disk with rubber bumper that surrounds a metal enclosure containing a shock absorber-mounted 320GB drive! In any case, now you can worry more about your head than your hard drive.

Hopefully day two will bring plenty more interesting and exciting things for me to drool over. If so, and provided I don’t electrocute myself with my slobber, I’ll be back tomorrow with some more fun ideas for spending your tax refund from NAB 2008!”

Round up of interesting things

Here are a few items that caught my interest this week:

1. MacHeist Bundle

They’re back. MacHeist announced a $49 bundle today (a variety of 12 apps offered during the past two Heists). If you bought the previous bundles, this isn’t for you. If you didn’t, you might find something here to pique your interest. The apps that stick out from the pack for me are Cha-Ching and DevonThink Personal. To my surprise, I’ve grown quite fond of CoverSutra, too.

2. Apple news aggregator debuts

Apple Enthusiast is a new, unimaginatively named Mac site launched this week. It strives to be your one-stop-shop for all things Mac, the page refreshing every 15 minutes to keep you up to date with the latest. Me? I don’t care for it. It’s too busy. Too crowded. It reminds me of CNN’s Situation Room, which I can’t stand. There is such a thing as too much when it comes to presenting information. I prefer to subscribe to feeds of individual sites of my choosing using the free and excellent NetNewsWire. Speaking of feeds, you can’t subscribe to an Apple Enthusiast RSS feed (which makes sense given that RSS is how they are aggregating all of these links).

3. Keep your day job

The last episode of MacBreak Tech was very interesting. The topic was making your Mac your business. Lots of great tips, including the best advice of all: “Don’t quit your day job.”

4. One phone number to rule them all

 

Also featured on the above-mentioned podcast were a couple of powerful phone services. One you’ve probably heard of (Grand Central from Google), one you’ve probably not (k7.net). Grand Central is currently an invite-only Beta (anyone?), but you can now sign up with your preferred area code and see what happens. The features of this service are amazing — one more example of how Google is taking over the world. The other service, k7.net, offers to send your faxes and voicemail straight to your email inbox for free. The only downside is that you can only choose from a Seattle area code.

5. SpaceTime

Here’s a new application that I couldn’t resist trying out. SpaceTime is a Windows-only 3D web search browser (currently in beta). The Mac version is in the works. I fired it up via VMWare Fusion and…I was underwhelmed. It’s an interesting idea, but I just don’t see myself using such a tool. At least not in it’s current form. It did raise an interesting question, though. What’s in store for the Mac in terms of the 3D user interface? I haven’t seen any app hit the streets yet using the full-blown, Leopard-powered 3D capabilities embodied in Time Machine. I think user interfaces that embrace 3D will walk a fine line between utility and eye candy. One could make the argument that Time Machine is a bit heavy on the eye candy, after all. But I kinda like it; I think the Time Machine metaphor is uniquely suited for 3D presentation. Still, I wouldn’t mind an alternative 2D Time Machine interface option, similar to what we have for the 2D or 3D Dock (just because I’m always for customization options). But I digress. All I really can say at this point is that I’m eager to see how Mac developers integrate 3D ideas into future UIs — I’ll bet the most successful ventures will use it sparingly.

6. Get IRCed

Internet Relay Chat is still going strong. I haven’t used IRC for a long, long time, but I recently came across an app that spurred me to once again tap into the conversation. It’s a top-notch free client called Colloquy.

 

7. Cocoa links

Here’s a small ‘aggregator’ of sorts that I really do like. It’s Cocoa Dev Central, a collection of links that are quite handy if you’re interested in learning how to program for the Mac and don’t know where to begin. Make sure you check out Cocoa Lab’s free online book.

RapidWeaver Vs. WordPress IV: Wrap Up

Realmac’s RapidWeaver and WordPress, two popular web publishing choices for the Mac. I would have posted this sooner if not for the recent releases of WordPress 2.5 and RapidWeaver 3.6.6. I’ve now spent a few days with these new versions, so I’ll recap what’s new and provide my impressions here.

As I’ve worked on this comparison, it’s become even more apparent how different the two tools are: in terms of user base, RW is a flea to the WP gorilla. In terms of the platform, RW is a Mac-only application that is tied to the desktop, while WP is a free roaming, web-based platform comfortable on a variety of operating systems. And in terms of usage, RW attempts to be an all-inclusive website creation tool while WP specializes in blogging and dynamic content management. Still, I maintain that this is a handy comparison, mainly because RW is more than capable as a blogging platform — and it seems to be gaining in popularity for Mac users. And for bloggers and those who want to blog, WordPress is known to be a widely popular and flexible choice. So I hope to place both tools in context to help you make a better-informed decision. To get the most out of this, I recommend you start by reviewing the other entries in this series.

Now let’s wrap it up:

1. RapidWeaver | Developer’s site | full review

RapidWeaver Inbox

Recap:

RapidWeaver targets people with little to no web design experience seeking a simple way to produce a professional-looking, standards-compliant, and highly customizable mixed-content website. It’s a stand-alone, client-side web design tool. As a content management tool, the built-in capabilities of this app are easy to use; and the user interface is much friendlier than most other web-based content management systems. It’s also easy to set up and maintain. It’s used by experienced developers, too, because it’s a handy way to quickly build and deploy a site with minimal fuss, and it’s fairly easy to create custom templates.

Pro:

great themes from RW and third-party developers; customization options are outstanding for most themes; dedicated user base; great forums and customer support; outstanding third-party add-ons; easy to modify a site for beginners; frequent updates and improvements; Snippets library makes it easy to drag and drop bits of often-used code

Con:

Not free like WordPress; blog commenting is handled by HaloScan, so it’s not well-integrated with the app; many third-party plugins are relatively expensive; some paid plugins seem like they should be core features; occasional quirky and/or buggy behavior; loading up a large site is slow; publishing a large site is still a bit slow and occasionally doesn’t work (see next paragraph); some of the site customization/configurability options are not very obvious or well-explained; not easy to mix and match dynamic/static content on a page; doesn’t integrate with MarsEdit for blogging

Latest Update:

RapidWeaver 3.6.6 is now out. While this is a relatively modest update, the developers claim that upload speed is now significantly enhanced. I tested this claim out on my wife’s site by inserting some custom javascript for her blog page and then publishing the changes with the previous version of RW (this forced an update on 140 files for her site). I then deleted the change, updated the site again, then applied the update. Finally, I reapplied the javascript update and published changes again to see if it was substantially faster. In this case, publishing speeds were marginally, but not significantly, faster. On 3.6.6, I had to publish changes twice because one of her pages failed to upload. Once this happens, RW times out and simply stops updating. The only way to get out of the publishing mode is to Force Quit. So I’ve concluded that progress is being made, but I’m still seeing a bit of bugginess with my wife’s large site. My wife still maintains that she must quit all open applications on the Mac prior to publishing her RW site in order to minimize the odds of a publishing error. Perhaps we have a third-party conflict. It’s hard to say. All I’ve concluded is that most times the site publishes without a problem, but sometimes it fails. Final word: Realmac quickly released 3.6.7 to address a Tiger-specific problem days after 3.6.6 hit the streets. The developers recommend that Leopard users also update to this latest iteration. The catch is that Leopard users are not notified of the update through RW’s software update feature. You can get it here.

The Verdict

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (preferably without referring to documentation)?

Like chess, RapidWeaver is easy to learn but hard to master. It takes some time and dedication to learn how to customize sitewide preferences, page-specific preferences, sidebar content options and meta options. This is mainly because it takes a while to get used to the wide array of pop-up menus that contain all the customization and optimization tools. While it’s easy to get a site up quickly, most users will need to dig into the manual and online forums to take advantage of all that RW offers.

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?

Oh yeah. I really enjoy using it. It may be daunting for newcomers to grasp how some aspects of the program work, but it’s still much simpler than most other tools out there relative to the sheer amount of user-control possibilities.

3. How easy is it to modify?

It’s among the best. The coolest part is how a user with no CSS experience can robustly adjust site appearance (to include drop-dead easy manipulation of sidebar location, as well as page width for many themes). The developers have clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into creating a user interface that makes it possible for novices to customize a site beyond what most other website creation tools offer; added to this, the developers freely share developer kits to give more experienced users complete control over their sites, or to develop commercial plugins and themes.

4. How easy is to set up a website and publish content?

Quite easy, but you will need to have a web host and know how to set up an FTP account (you can also publish to .Mac).

5. How well does it handle lots and lots of pages and blog entries (scalability)?

I’ve previously noted that I have some concerns about this. According to the developers, this issue is a top priority for future releases. I’m confident they’ll work it out.

6. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?

This is where RapidWeaver really stands out. I think the developers do a great job at striking a balance between simplicity and power to meet the need of most users. The design is clean. Mac users will find most controls are familiar since the tool is built with Mac OS X’s native language. That also means that it integrates tightly with the Mac OS. I say it’s as slick as Apple’s iWeb, just twice as powerful.

7. How many plugins, add ons, etc. are available (expandability)?

Better by the day. Check out the Add-Ons on the developer’s site for a taste of what’s available.

Overall, I think RapidWeaver is a wonderful tool. It focuses on simplicity, minimalism, and style — but it packs a lot of choices, features, and customization options within. While there is certainly room for improvement, RW is rapidly evolving: since version 3.6 launched at the end of last May, seven significant updates have already been released. And version 4.0 is just around the corner. If you want to get a great-looking site up fast and want a simple way to maintain it, this is probably the best tool out there for the Mac.

 

1. WordPress | Developer’s site | full review

WordPress

Recap:

I reviewed the WordPress.org open source package (not to be confused with the WordPress.com installation), which is a free blog publishing system for Mac, PC, or Linux. It is first and foremost a tool for the weblog, designed to support things that bloggers need most. If you don’t want to pay any money upfront, flexibility and customization options are important to you, and you have some (or great) knowledge of CSS and HTML, it’s a solid choice. If you don’t know anything about web design, you will still get a lot out of it because the basic administration tools are robust and there are tons of plugins and themes available to make your site unique. Also note that there is a multi-user WordPress option if you want multiple blogs from one installation.

Pro

free; easy to set up; tons of free templates; plugins abound; edit your site from anywhere, or mail in updates; great integration with MarsEdit; fairly easy to upgrade; newly redesigned Dashboard much cleaner and easier to use; one-click updating now available for most plugins; great online documentation

Con

theme modification difficult for those with no web design experience; limited support if you use WP.org installation; the multitude of site settings may be daunting for some users; web interface is great, but no match for simplicity of RapidWeaver

Latest Update:

A major new version of WP was released hours after I posted my review. I posted a summary of the big changes and have spent the past week getting used to the new features. The big news with WordPress 2.5 is certainly the Dashboard (admin Panel): it’s completely different. I have to say I think it’s much better than the old design. The starting page of the Dashboard is now much more useful and is now user-customizable. Another nice feature is that you no longer need to update plugins manually, which saves time and effort. I also like the new built-in function that enables easier gallery creation. And if you upload images with EXIF data, WP now reads this metadata automatically so you can integrate it into your template. Check out this WP blog entry for a full list of new features and a great screencast.

The Verdict

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (preferably without referring to documentation)?

I initially had to refer to online documentation to set up my site and to learn how to upgrade it, but it’s not too hard. If you need help with the installation, many web hosts now offer automatic installs. With the release of 2.5, the Dashboard (Admin Panel) is now much easier to grasp, mainly because all of the plugin management and back end settings have been moved out of the main Admin area to, appropriately, a separate ‘settings’ section. I think most users will find the basic admin tools are very easy to use. Fine tuning a site’s settings takes a little more patience and time to get right.

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?

Certainly. I’m still using WP for this site. I have long thought I’d like to switch to different platform called ModX, but I’m reconsidering this now. One reason is that I have a lot of time and energy invested in my WP site and it would be a major inconviencence and time-sucker to make the switch. Second reason is I’m not sure how I’d migrate over the posts and comments to this new platform. Last reason is that the new version of WP offers a lot of nice new features. Like RW, WordPress releases updates quite frequently, so I’m optimistic that this is a platform that will continue to get better and better over time.

3. How easy is it to modify?

This is perhaps the weak link in WordPress. While content management is easy, WP themes are not as easily customized as they are in RapidWeaver. To be fair, some themes do offer some easier-to-use style editing options (e.g. Kubrick offers a fairly easy way to modify header image, fonts and color), but choices are limited. In order to access all theme customization settings, the Dashboard Theme Editor presents your theme’s style sheet and PHP page code within a text window; the problem is that most novice users probably won’t be comfortable modifying this code. Still, I’d bet that most users are probably quite happy with picking a theme and sticking with it, and those who want to create a custom site will likely know what to do. What’s nice about the built-in view of your site pages is that you can remotely make changes if you’re away from your Mac. I personally never use the built-in WP theme editor functions. I maintain and adjust my theme on my Mac using CSSEdit and TextMate. For novice users who take the time to learn a little bit about CSS, simple color and font changes can be made relatively easily within the WP Dashboard.

4. How easy is to set up a website and publish content?

It’s quite easy if you’re using the web-based Dashboard editor (version 2.5 now offers a greatly improved WYSIWYG editor that works better and is expandable so you don’t have to work within such a tiny window. It’s even easier if you use MarsEdit. The nice thing about WP, of course, is that it’s a pretty simple to use Content Management System — all of your core content is easy to get at and relatively easy to modify via the Dashboard’s Write, Manage, Design, and Comments tabs. I can’t speak for uploading images, video, etc. via the Dashboard. I upload all external files using Transmit, an FTP client. I should note that version 2.5 now offers multi-file upload with progress bar indicators, so it sounds like it’s now easier than it’s ever been to upload files via the Dashboard.

5. How well does it handle lots and lots of pages and blog entries (scalability)?

I’ve never heard any complaints in this department. My site, while not huge, is still fairly large. I’ve never had any issues or problems that I’ve associated with the size and complexity of my site.

6. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?

If I were managing my site design and content solely via the WP Dashboard, I don’t think I’d be as happy with WordPress as a blogging platform. However, adding in some additional tools, as I noted in the main review, makes WP fly. It’s no small thing that some of my favorite Mac apps (CSSEdit, TextMate, MarsEdit, Transmit) work seamlessly with WordPress, so this makes managing my site a real pleasure. As for the Dashboard, it’s better than ever with version 2.5. And it’s better than most web-based CMS panels. But in comparison to the third-party apps I use to manage this site, the Dashboard just doesn’t compare. All I really use the Dashboard for, in fact, is to manage my plugins and check my WP stats. Regardless, the best thing about it is that I can access all of my site anywhere, anytime. That’s something I can’t do with RapidWeaver.

7. How many plugins, add ons, etc. are available (expandability)?

Enough to make your head spin. If you want a feature in your sidebar, chances are a widget already exists to meet your needs. The built-in Text widget also allows one to cut and paste HTML, text, and javascript on the fly to create new widget functionality. It couldn’t be easier. There are a mind-numbing array of themes freely available. As for plugins (beyond the Widget), there are tons of options to choose from. Plugin variety and ease of use are the killer feature of WordPress.

In summary, WordPress is hard to beat for blogging. It’s powerful, adaptable and simple enough to use. One of the best parts about it is that the user base and plugin/theme developer base are huge, which means that an answer to a question you may have or an extended feature that you may want are only a quick web search away.

 

Conclusion

I started this series because I noticed that a lot of people were reaching the site upon searching for a comparison of these two applications. What’s apparent to me after taking a closer look is this: if you want the easiest possible solution and you don’t mind paying $49, RapidWeaver is the way to go. If you want open-ended flexibility and care primarily about blogging, you may prefer WordPress.

And now, a message from our sponsor. Just joking. There are no sponsors. I’m looking at these two web publishing tools solely because I want to and I’ve used both of them quite extensively. I have no ties to the developers. Of course, there are many other website creation tools, blogging tools and CMS platforms out there. My recommendation: try out two or three before making up your mind. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: you can easily test out a variety of web-based platforms locally on your Mac using the freely-available MAMP. And, of course, RapidWeaver offers a timed trial (as do almost all Mac third party apps) which will give you plenty of time to make up your mind.

If you were expecting a clear winner between these two publishing platforms, you may be disappointed by my conclusion that WordPress and RapidWeaver are both great choices.

In fact, you might consider using both tools: WordPress for your blog and RapidWeaver for everything else. This great suggestion came from reader Brab, who runs Moveable Type in tandem with a RapidWeaver for his site. It’s a good way to go if you’re looking for total blog control but also want the style, ease and flexibility of RapidWeaver. The idea of combining the best of both tools is very appealing. My biggest concern is how well I could integrate the two, but I came across a tutorial which indicates it’s entirely possible to make WP and RW coexist seamlessly. I might have to try this out.

So, that’s about it for the RapidWeaver Vs. WordPress series. Hope you get something out of it.

Radiolab: top iTunes Podcast

Here’s one more audio-related post. I suppose it’s now officially ‘audio week’ on this site (this wasn’t planned, but I’m on a roll).

I just listened to the latest episode of a my favorite radio show. The topic: an exploration of the relationship between biology and human engineering. Sound boring? Not interested in science? Listen to this show before you make up your mind. This just might be the best radio program in America. It’s Radiolab from WNYC in New York.

Of the many things that make this show special, the most apparent to me is the production quality. It’s not over-produced. It’s more about how cohesive and engaging the stories are in each episode. You know when you see a really great documentary or movie that just grabs you? The kind of show that draws you in? When you lose track of time? Radiolab is like that — for your ears.

What makes the show stand out? It’s hard to pinpoint. It has an experimental edge to it. They do things that I’ve never heard before on other ‘educational’ shows. They interview people (just like any other radio show), but the way they integrate the interview can be quite jarring and unexpected. Example: they often let the interviewee introduce him or herself — interviewers for radio/video usually ask the subject to ‘state your name and title.’ This typically never airs. It’s a method to ensure that the hosts get the name and title correct. On Radiolab, they often use this pre-interview audio to introduce the subject expert. This wouldn’t work if they did it every time, but my point is that they are willing to present a story in very untraditional ways.

Moreover, the storyline is sometimes nonlinear, which is relatively rare in audio stories. Interview sound clips can show up again later for effect (for humor, for emphasis). They also create and embed really interesting sound effects to illustrate visual elements. Some work, some don’t. It’s always entertaining and usually pretty funny, though. They also frequently use ambient sound to create tension, suspense and mood better than any show I’ve heard. In short, few shows know how to use sound as well as Radiolab. Few shows are as willing to push traditional boundaries to tell a story.

This experimental edge combines with the best part of the show: top-notch story telling. I don’t have much to say about this other than this: they spin a good tale. They take a potentially dry ‘science’ topic and bring it to life. They do this by finding amazingly interesting story segments.

I also think a part of what makes it work is that the co-hosts seem to genuinely like each other. They sound like they’re having a chat. It comes across so naturally, you might be fooled into thinking the show is effortless and spontaneous. That’s the kind of flow I’m talking about here — the kind you might expect in great video, but rarely find in an audio production.

I’m a big radio fan (the geeky ‘public radio’ sort of fan) and I’ve been listening to radio stories for a few decades now. I think what I’m trying to say is this: Radiolab is breaking new ground and raising the bar. It’s tossing aside traditional rules of documentary audio and opening up the medium. It’s 21st century radio. While This American Life (another amazing show) perhaps led the wave of alternative story telling and has done wonders to push the radio documentary envelope, Radiolab builds upon this. It takes it to a new creative level.

It’s worth going back in the archives to hear past shows. If you don’t, you won’t hear about fighter pilots with out of body experiences, the sound of a sleeping cat brain, the man who takes two hours to wipe his nose and thinks it only took him a moment, the guy who has had the same sound stuck in his head for over a decade, the woman who is really two women in one. In short, there are some great (and fascinating) stories to be found here.

Also check out The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania — it’s not a Radiolab program, but it was produced and hosted by Jad Abumrad (Radiolab co-host, co-creator). Abumrad is an outstanding storyteller — and this is one of the best audio programs I’ve ever heard. If nothing else, this show will surely answer all of those enduring questions I know you’ve had about Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

If you’re looking for a Mac connection here: Radiolab is available as a free podcast on iTunes. And the show is produced on a Mac.

Mac Hearing Aids

I decided to stick with the audio theme today because there’s a new Mac sound enhancement app on the streets. It’s called Hear, it’s from a company called JoeSoft and it’s now available for $49.95.

Here’s the hype about Hear (from the developer’s site): “Hear greatly improves audio quality in movies and music throughout all of your Mac OS X applications. With Hear, music is richer, movie sound and dialog is clearer and games will blow you out of your chair!”

Here’s what you need to know: Hear appears to be a repackaged, more polished and (according to forum reports) less buggy version of a Mac app called OSS 3D. OSS 3D is the creation of Dmitry Boldyrev, the developer of MacAmp (now defunct) and WinAmp (still a popular Windows media player, now a Time Warner AOL subsidiary). As I understand it, OSS 3D development has now ended with the release of Hear.

I tried the OSS 3D demo last Fall (which, incidentally, costs $20 less than Hear; you can still buy it, but there is not and never will be a Leopard version). I also downloaded the new Hear demo today.

What do they have in common? A scary number of users options that may intimidate you. I tweaked some of the various and plentiful manual controls for a while — long enough to convince me I didn’t know what I was doing. Then I headed for the presets. I tested Hear with a range of music and a video using built-in settings optimized for various types of musics, scenarios, 3D, etc. I listened to some sound with my built-in iMac speakers. I listened with my headphones. I listened with my plug-in JBL desktop speakers.

My preliminary conclusion is that this product has potential, but I’m not convinced many people will dish out $50 for the potential of enhanced sound. I say ‘potential’ because my results were mixed — I achieved some pleasant results, some painful results. I was surprised that some of the presets just didn’t sound very good to me. I had some distortion issues. When I chose a ‘rock’ genre song from my collection and then chose the ‘rock’ preset in Hear… I have to say it sounded better without it.

If you are a serious audiophile, an audio professional, and/or more knowledgeable about audio settings than me, you may love this. Reading through the OSS 3D forums, it appears that there are (were) many passionate OSS 3D users who swear by this digital enhancement package, and Hear appears to be the new face of OSS 3D.

It would be unfair of me to say this isn’t a good product after such a short trial. More likely, it’s user ignorance. Still, what I look for in a good Mac app is usability right from the install. I didn’t get that sense here. I also didn’t get adequate user documentation. But I’ll end on a positive note: it did sound good when I ran it straight through my iMac speakers. It produced a solid subwoofer sound and made my built-in speakers sound better (wider, deeper, more robust). It also produced some noticeable and nice 3D enhancement with the video I tested out.

If sound is important to you, why not give Hear a try. They offer a 30-day trial. You may have a better experience than I.

I’ll close by noting that I currently use SRS iWow ($19.99), a plug-in for iTunes. It improves the sound of iTunes music quite significantly — especially for laptop speakers. It also simulates 360 degree sound for headphones. I use it with my iMac and it makes a noticeable difference. I like it. Mostly because it’s very easy to use and the results sound quite good to my ears (I immediately know when it’s not turned on when listening to my music). The one thing it doesn’t do, though, is work outside of iTunes. That’s a big shortcoming. I’d like to see this tool integrated into all of my Mac’s audio output.

Until that day, it appears that Hear is the main game in town for system-wide audio enhancement. If anyone knows of any other similar app, please let me know.