Saturday, March 24, 2007

iClip - Mini Review

MacZot is having a ReviewZot, where every review of the featured app will decrease the price of the app until it is FREE as in beer. Yes, this means free advertizing for the developers, but it is a fun way to get a free copy of an app. 

I got iClip orginally through MacZot and another copy through the MacHeist bundle. iClip (by Inventive) sits in your menu bar and stores multiple copies of your clipboard. It's keeps a memory of those things you copy or paste, and lets you call up those clippings later on when you need it. The clippings can be for graphics or text, and you can save customized clipping sets that you will use frequently. For example, when grading pdf papers from students, I paste the grade breakdown as a template via the comments function in Preview. iClip lets me keep a set of paper grade templates I can call on easily.

You can call up iClip by either mousing to the menubar icon an clicking, or mousing to the hot area of the screen you assign. The iClip app has a 'pop-up' window with the clippings. The app looks very slick and cool, with these lens-looking clip portals. You can customize these portals' size and shape (round or square). The previous version of iClip used rectangular panels instead, and while visually inferior to the current version, it seemed to be a better use of space, particularly on small screens. The developer should consider an option to return to the simple pop up window interface for those who might prefer lower resource usage.

Although I don't activate the app all the time, when I do use it - it has been very fast and stable in nearly all cases. The only time I had any problems was trying it on an Intel Mini with Parallels Desktop, trying to copy and paste from the Windows virtual machine. My recollection is that iClip quit or crashed - but my memory is a bit hazy. Never-the-less, that particular situation is not very common for me, so it's not a big deal.

The only other complaint I have is that the full price ($29) is a bit steep for iClip, so the only way I've obtained it was at a discount. This is a very slick app, but pricing it at $10 or $15 might be a better marketing ploy. 

I've not compared this app with any other similar utilities, so I can't really contrast iClip with them. However, if you can get a copy of iClip - I recommend it highly.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

iTunes Alternative often picks up some interesting finds for free software, but today's pick really caught my eye. It's an open source iTunes alternative called "Songbird" that is also cross platform (Windoze, Mac, & Linux). I haven't had a chance to try it yet (I will), but the screencast looks very interesting and shows some advanced features.

Get Songbird

Songbird will play many kinds of music files (except purchased iTunes AAC files) as well videos (though I'm not sure what formats). The coolest thing about Songbird is that it has a built in browser function that allows you to search the web for music of your likeing, and play right inside songbird. It will find all the media on a particular page, and list them in Songbird just like they were media in your iTunes browser. You can even download media for future use, so that you don't have to go back to the original web page.

The interface is similar to iTunes, but skinable. And the app is still in development, supposedly using the FireFox platform (whatever that means). There are nightly builds you can install. Give it a try, because it looks very cool.

Update: The Developer Preview version may not work correctly after the first start up. The first time you boot the app, disable all the suggested add-on check boxes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cool Screensaver Animations

Check out this site and the free Quartz animation files which can be used as screen savers. The Japanese developer, Futurismo Zagakousaku, has had some commercial success too with some of his work. Very cool stuff!

Thanks to TUAW for the tip on this site, though I apparently have seen his stuff before.

(Note: you can find a few more .qtz files on the opening page of the site.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is there an Intel Mini in the house? Part I

About a month ago, I decided I would finally get myself an Intel Mac, mostly because I needed a reliable computer in the DNA lab to run some molecular analysis apps via Windoze. But I admit having Intel Mac envy that I couldn't quite satisfy with an overweight MacBook.

I had gone back and forth trying to decide between a 17" Intel iMac and the Mini. I felt the new 17" iMacs were a better deal, given the faster Intel chips and the built in monitor. However, my desk space in the lab is very limited, and there is already a monitor I could switch to the Mini when needed. I also felt better about spending under $1000 US on a Mini, with the idea of getting a truly compact MacBook Pro in the coming months. Now the problem became getting one in Japan for a decent price.

Apple refurbs in Japan are tough to come by. If you check the Apple Japan refurb page often, you'll see jack shit there 99% of the time. They usually have a MacBook or two, but only once int the last 6 months have I seen anything else offered. And those disappeared quickly. I also considered purchasing a used Mini (or even iMac) from the retailer SofMap. But the problem there was the lack of more than a month's warranty on anything bought used.

So, I asked my brother in the US to order a refurb Mini from the US Apple store and send it to me. At that time, they had plenty - but I knew supplies were limited. My brother checked with a MicroCenter near his work place, and found that they had a 1.83Ghz Intel Mini for a comparable price as from the Apple store. Apparently, it was a return, but it came with a full warranty and was supposedly 'complete'. They also gave us a good price on upgrading the RAM (to 1.28 Gb total). He bought the Mini and was able to send it quite quickly to me via my APO address.

When I brought the Mini home and unboxed it, I was amazed at the small size of the CPU, but a little dismayed at the size of the power brick. ('Brick' is appropriate in this case, BTW.) I was also disappointed that the MicroCenter people forgot to include the DVI to VGA adapter - so I couldn't use it out of the box on my spare VGA monitor. Strike one. I wasn't able to get a replacement adapter for another couple of days, due to my work schedule - so I had to wait further. After getting an adapter, I hauled it all to the lab and happily set it up. I really enjoyed the looks from my lab mates when they saw it set up and running next to their boring Epson desktop machines.

Unfortunately, I became aware that something was wrong... namely, that the freaking fan was constantly on. I downloaded all the OSX updates, including a firmware update for Intel Macs.
No change. I followed the instructions to reset the hardware manager (shut down and unplug everything for a few minutes). No change. I then came to the conclusion that something was very wrong - and began to worry I and my brother had been hosed with a lemon Mac.

At home, I found no evidence of a warranty for the Mini in the box, further increasing my stress. And a quick search on the internet for fan problems with the Mini suggested all kinds of horror stories. However, one article on MacWorld's site struck a chord. The venerable Chris Breen had taken apart a Mini and reassembled it, but forgot to connect a cable correctly. He found that reseating it completely solved the fan noise problem that appeared after he had upgraded the RAM. Breen went so far to say that anyone who got their RAM upgraded recently with fan problems should check out this cable, and even shows the location of the plug. A quick peek through the vents of the Mini and poking around with a dissecting probe (I'm a biologist...) showed me that, sure enough, this cable was not connected.

So, these idiots at MicroCenter didn't do their job. They closed the case without connecting the plug. Is this what we should expect from Apple certified techs? Strike two.

Now the problem was opening the case. The Mini is not supposed to be opened by customers, only by Apple service people. So, all RAM upgrades have to be done by service people. In fact there aren't any screws or bolts to open the case. When I started reading about how to crack open a Mini, I saw all sorts of horror stories about dinging up the case with the recommended case opener - a PUTTY KNIFE! This didn't sound good at all. Without a clear warranty, I was reluctant to take the Mini to a Japan Apple store. Yet I didn't want try this procedure myself
and mess up any chance at having any warranty. I had almost decided to pack the thing up and send it back to the US for a refund.

Then, a Pizza cutter changed everything. Continued in part II.