Archive for the 'technology' Category

Mac apps: A beginning

Monday, May 7th, 2007

So I’ve fiddled with my work MacBook over the weekend and installed a lot of crap to cover everything I need. This is a list of stuff I’ve found useful and would likely install in a new Mac, too.

Desktop Manager for more space. It’s a free virtual desktop solution, effectively multiplying my screen estate. Currently I’m using a web browsing, email and office desktop. I can change the desktop by taking the mouse to the screen edge or hitting [Option + left/right]. The software’s kind of old and the Universal Binary (Intel-compatible) version is made by another guy, but so far it’s worked well despite being a little clunky. Any PC user would be so envious of your funky desktop transition animations – I know I was.

Quicksilver for launching apps and finding stuff, which I already recommended in my last post. Really minimizes mouse use and time spent in menus.

Thunderbird for email. The Mac’s native Mail.app does not play nice with the Exchange server we have set up at the office. Thunderbird does. It also feels more like the Outlook I’m so familiar with. Saved searches (like Mac’s “smart folders”) are a godsend – everyone should try them out if you’re unfamiliar with them. I don’t know if the PC version has them, too. I have saved searches for all flagged and unread items.

Growl for keeping me up to date on what’s happening with my hardware, notifying me of new email, new songs on iTunes and so on.

Coda for web development. It doesn’t do anything you couldn’t do with a separate editor, a browser and an FTP application, but it brings them all together in one workspace. Excellent when low on screen space, that is, working on the MacBook.

iTunes for music playing. I like the latest version a lot more than the previous ones. There is the not-insignificant reason that I need it to play with the office AirPort Express, too – I’d have to use iTunes anyway, so it’s a bonus I like it. I used to be very much a Windows Media Player kind of guy, just for reference.

I’m still looking for a calendar solution and remain undecided on the office solution. I’m currently trying out NeoOffice, the OpenOffice Mac version. If it plays well with the Microsoft documents I have to play around with at work, no need to shell out for Microsoft Office. I do suspect I may need the package for the full-fledged PowerPoint, though, as we do produce quite a lot of presentations.

Meeting the Mac (MacBook)

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

I’ve used Windows PCs all my life, with merely cursory looks at Apple computers in various computer classes in school. Yesterday at work I said I needed a new computer and got a little-used MacBook. Not the newest Intel Core 2 Duo model, but an Intel Core Duo nevertheless. After some initial stumbling, I’m beginning to like it. A lot. I am hesitant to completely abandon my Acer laptop, crappy as it was, but at this rate it’s going the way of the dodo next week.

For one thing, it’s a laptop I’m comfortable using as-is, without a external display and even without a mouse. The keyboard feels natural, it doesn’t get too hot, the battery has a life expectancy of more than half an hour. Many of the details make me wonder why PC laptop manufacturers can’t take a hint.

The keyboard looks very simple, like they hadn’t thought about the placement of keys at all, but it’s just natural. I’m comfortable typing on it! The touchpad performs so well that while using it as a laptop, I don’t miss my mouse. I haven’t seen the two-finger scrolling on a laptop before; so convenient.

The display is simply so good that I don’t necessarily need a monitor. But there’s more to it than clarity and resolution. The OS handles multiple applications so economically that so far I don’t see an absolute need for another display, although I’m still sure I’ll plug my secondary monitor on at work – my search engine optimization work does require two full-size applications on at once.

As far as problems go, currently I have two issues. One is navigation in text: I’m so used to the Windows conventions that it’s proving cumbersome. Second is the lack of Microsoft Internet Explorer, which I need for some web applications, like the full-featured Exchange webmail. I still have a Windows PC at home and there are plenty of Windows machines at work when I need one, so no problem there.

The single biggest thing I love is Quicksilver. It’s sheer genius and I don’t understand why there isn’t one for Windows – or if there is, I don’t know about it. The basic premise may not sound like much, but especially when using the MacBook as a laptop it’s a godsend. The idea is that I press a key combination to bring up the Quicksilver dialog (I’m using [alt + space]) and then type the first few letters of whatever I want to do next.

To access my email, ma
To open iTunes, it
To access this site, pos
To access the 9rules site, 9
To open my documents foler, do

And then just press Enter. No fiddling for the mouse and opening menus.

So it doesn’t matter whether I want to find something or launch an application or whatever – Quicksilver does it all. I am thoroughly impressed!

As for software choices, I don’t know yet. I’m trying a bit of everything to find the best email, word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and web development tools.

Organization and management solutions (Basecamp, Backpack, Highrise)

Friday, March 30th, 2007

37 Signals is a developer focusing on software as service applications. I initially found them via a colleague’s recommendation of Basecamp, their project management tool.

I’ve been using Basecamp ever since, finding it very useful both at work and in my hobby project of managing a videogame developer team. It’s pretty great for to do lists and milestones per project. Actually I have a problem now, because my company forces me to use Microsoft Outlook’s calendar, which does not play with Basecamp. So I use Bacecamp for everything except for meetings that I have with people in my office. I’ve previously tried to use Microsoft Project, but it’s just not good at all, forcing all kinds of clutter on you. Actually MS Project’s former develoment manager has promoted Basecamp, saying it’s first proper project management solution out there. I totally agree so far – it does only what you need it to do and being web-based, is always available.

Their other big solution is Backpack, meant for personal information management. It basically gives you a simple interface to build web pages for whatever need you have. I use it to store passwords and lists of things I want to remember over a long time, something I’ve used GMail drafts for before – admittedly clumsy. Also when I’m working on something that I need to gather notes for over a period of time, Backpack is the right solution. If I was still in school, I’m sure I’d be a heavy user. Professionally I don’t see much use for it, though.

Last week 37 Signals launched Highrise, a combination of a contact manager and simple CRM system. Upon first exposure, I think I like it a lot. There’s some overlap with Basecamp, which makes me scratch my head a bit – like they both have tasks, but you can’t interlink them. I think I’ll need to give it a go and see if it suits my work or not. In any case, it seems like a great place to store personal contacts, too. The basic idea is that you can attach notes to people and form cases to which people can be attached.

These web-based solutions have changed the way I work considerably, and definitely for the better. Basecamp alone has helped my organization troubles immensely.

Laptop-friendly precision input solution (Wacom tablet)

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

My wife asked me to draw a comic for a publication she’s working on. I haven’t done any illustration in ages, and I had to install my Wacom tablet to get started. The same night, I was frustrated over my ergonomics while working on my laptop – I couldn’t use a mouse too well from where I sat and the touchpad is frankly the devil’s tool. Well, at least in all the Acers I’ve used it is.

Today as I sat down to work on the laptop again, it dawned on me to hook the tablet into the laptop to take over the mouse’s functions. It’s worked very well! I have to move my hands only a bit to grap the pen, and it’s much faster and more precise than the touchpad. I can rest the tablet in my lap, with a separate keyboard on my knees – I can’t actually use the laptop on my lap, because it weighs a ton and heats up to very uncomfortable levels. It should be noted, too, that my tablet is one of the small ones, roughly A6 input size.
Still, I continue to dream about a Mac laptop – yes, even with their touchpads.

Folder Share

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

I spent several hours this morning looking for a good solution to sharing files (in this case, art) with my team members in the indie game development group I’m producing for. We haven’t yet taken it into use, but Folder Share seems to be just the ticket.

The service is still in beta. Microsoft acquired them in 2005 and the service now bears the Windows Live brand elements. It is completely free to use. To my surprise, it actually integrates automatically with my Google Desktop.
The interface is clean and unobtrusive, unlike every other similar service I checked out today. It’s completely hassle-free to setup, at least within my home network. It works precisely the way I wanted to: you work as normal, and it keeps all of your team members (and folders) up to date automatically.

The only thing I’m worried about is the web access to your own devices (not the workgroup’s), which is enabled by default, because it lets you see and access all the files you have not shared, too. It is simple to disable, though.

Coffee

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

My wife got me a Krups coffee grinder and some fair trade espresso coffee beans to play with. Beans are actually scarce in Finland, which seems odd to me. Surely there are enough coffee aficionados around to support some beans in specialty stores? Anyway, this fair trade foodstuffs store sports some beans, but you get no selection: it’s the regular or the espresso brand, that’s it.

Luckily, I have no qualms over the bean quality. Good stuff! I do not consider myself a coffee elitist, but man, the on-demand grinded coffee is such a big thing. Of course it is simply a very fun ritual to get some beans and grind them yourself, but the aroma of the grinded beans… mmm! I’ve drank quite a bit of store-packaged espresso grind and dare say it’s a whole different thing.

I’ve used the self-grinded coffee both in an espresso machine and a drip-feed coffeemaker and it works both ways. Recommended! The basic grinder does not cost much, I don’t see much use for the fancy version with adjustable grind coarseness and whatnot.

(It was a good christmas, by the by. Can’t wait to try out the pasta machine next!)

Better living through technology

Monday, December 4th, 2006

Sports, or the lack thereof

I regret to say I’ve slacked off on sports. With first snow I stopped running and while the snow has melted away, I haven’t been to the track since. I’m not sure why. Partly because of being tired and stressed out at work, partly because I just can’t bother myself. With that said, I realized the situation last week and decided to go running again. We’ll see how it goes, I’m hoping to do a run three times a week. That way it would maybe become routine and not something extra I have to bother myself to do after a tiring day at work.

Delivered

I’ve been a little active in other ways. I set up a forum for my class from 1999, as I promised. I chose BBPress, which isn’t really that suitable for us, but I’ll see if it’s worthwhile to tinker with it. I do like it how it’s very stripped down.

I’m not posting the URL because the forum’s not closed to outsiders and I rather wouldn’t have to deal with spammers.

Bakkanaalit

I set up a forum for my friends, too. We’ve spoken about it many times, but now it felt like a good idea, with the hosting already available. I don’t really know if we’ll learn to use it, but it’s there, now. There have been quite a few times I’ve felt like posting about something, but not really considering it worth an email or a call. I chose Simple Machines, which initially feels alright. There are troubles with updating it, though.

If I know you, especially in real life, you’re likely welcome on the forum: bakkanaalit.mcmuumio.net. It does require registration and activation by a member.

I’m not really active in any other forums these days, apart from my roleplaying association’s rather active forum. I do post in the comments of Kotaku and Eurogamer, but they’re not societies like forums are.

Nine Inch Nails, Sony CMT-CPZ1

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails is coming to Finland to conclude their 2007 European tour in April. Cool, that, and I’ve got tickets with my wife (and friends). NIN was one of the really big groups in my teenage years and I like them still, which is easy, since they’ve only released good albums. I hear from last time’s witnesses that they are really very good live, which is of course a good thing, too.

Sony CMT-CPZ1

Related to music, we got a new stereo set last night, a Sony CMT-CPZ1 mini-system (weighing in at 300€). We’ve been without a set for years, settling for portable players and TV output and I have to say that it feels good to hear music properly again.

It’s only a mini-set, as I can’t fathom putting 200€-plus on just an amplifier, let alone some speakers, but an audible revelation it is, nonetheless. We went with Sony due to it sounding better than the other sub-500€ sets.

It was also the only not hideous-looking set on the shelves, which is just weird. You’d think they’d design 200-600€ worth of electronics a little more pleasing on the eyes. I see now that the set has got favorable reviews and general praise for sound quality, which is always nice. So far I have no problems with it.

Update and SketchUp

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

I’ve progressed somewhat in the fitness game. It’s mostly noticeable in the speed of recovery after a run; I breathe easier. I’m trying to add one minute to the run to make it six, but yesterday my legs began to cramp up and I had to stop early. I suspect it’s because I ran faster than what I’m used to. It may also be lack of intake of fluids, coffee notwithstanding.

Regardless, I’ve managed to stick to my every other day -plan. Also, my social rule has stood. This week’s “dosage” is still in the air, though.

And now for something completely different

I was thinking where I’d put this, but I suppose I’m not going to publish a separate “arts and hobbies” blog (aside from gaming), so here it goes. I read about Google’s SketchUp in Edge. It’s very near revolutionary, I’d say.

I’ve dabbled in various 3D software packages, but they’ve all been so hard to use that I’ve given up. SketchUp is designed for normal people. I guess it could be easier still, but the basics are very easy to grasp and the presentation is not intimidating – on the contrary, it invites you to model.