Hipstamatic might have kickstarted the retro camera craze with their ground-breaking app, but it was Instagram that famously popularised it. Over 50million Instagram users worldwide use the app to turn otherwise dull looking snapshots into moody creations thanks to the apps simple built-in filter schemes. But what if you’d like to emulate the look of those apps on your Mac or PC? Here’s how.
The health and fitness section of the App Store is one of the busiest areas of the shop, featuring thousands of apps that promise to get you healthier and fitter. It’s also fair to say that the health and fitness section of the App Store has the widest range in quality of those apps outside the wretched ‘Entertainment’ section. With so many fitness apps vying for your dollar-spend and with so much blatant copying going on, it’s difficult to separate the good from the bad, the flab from the fit and the snake oil from the Omega 3.
In this feature we’re looking at a total fitness suite, a selection of apps that will cover your entire fitness regime, from exercise tracking to health monitoring and food consumption. With summer on its way in the northern hemisphere, why not spend a couple of bucks, bust out those trainers and get trim for the warm season.
We live in a time-poor world in which we snatch moments to ourselves with our mobile devices on train platforms, queues, waiting rooms and swingers parties. Quite often we’ll encounter a story or an article or a review or a recipe that looks really interesting, but we don’t have time to read it. Or we’ve got all the time in the world to read it, but the website that features it is a butt-ugly digital car crash of spastic font selections and whacky colour schemes.
It was from such misery that the deferred reading application was born. These are applications that receive URLs from you and save them for later. In addition to simply harvesting those URLs, they also prettify the text content, stripping out the nasty formatting and weird fonts and presenting you with a gloriously unsullied slab of perfectly rendered text. The idea is that instead of hurriedly skimming an interesting article, you forward the address on to your deferred reading application of choice and later on, when you’ve found a quiet cubicle with plenty of loo-roll and a comfortable seat, you can give the article the attention it deserves.
Those of us who began our computing journey with the typed command line interface have always had a penchant for keyboard shortcuts and, many years later, the ability to navigate your system using just the keyboard has always marked out the hardcore Windows users from an easily befuddled point-and-click-only punter. With today’s sophisticated WIMP interfaces and multi-touch displays you’d be forgiven for thinking that the keyboard’s days were numbered. But you’d be wrong.
The app launcher is a pretty unique bit of software that leverages your speedy typing abilities to quickly and simply launch apps and perform other useful desktop related tasks. Typically these utilities are launched using a hotkey sequence that pops up a floating command prompt in the middle of the screen. You then just type what you want the launcher to do – so for instance, typing ‘Word’ and hitting return would launch Microsoft Word. Most app launchers can do a hell of a lot more than that of course.
My son doesn’t have a clue what a tape deck is and while his dad used to earn a living as a DJ, I’m sad to say that he doesn’t have a clue what a record deck is either. Why should he? The sun has well and truly set on that kind of technology and while there will always be hobbyists keeping such things alive, the mainstream moves on. And so it was with with DOS, the operating system that powered all PCs in the pre-GUI interface era. As soon as Microsoft released Windows 95 it was discarded with joy by PC users.
But the fact is that there were some terrific games released for DOS over the years – the formative era of PC gaming. Sure they look pixelated as hell and the sound won’t win any awards for sonic fidelity, but the gameplay’s the key and gameplay’s what you’ll get. Install a DOS emulator and you can wallow in nostalgia until your PS3 or Xbox 360 throws a hissy-fit. There are plenty of games available for download, some of which are considered Abandonware and thus available for download, some of which are still commercial games and can be bought through services such as Gog. And there’s always the third option for getting hold of your games, which I’m sure needs no further explaination.
Far and away the best DOS emulator for the Mac is Boxer which is a free download. It features a slick Mac interface, a customised library and a drag-and-drop import facility that makes running games a snap. It comes with a couple of demos to get you going, including X-Com, Commander Keen, Epic Pinball and Ultima Underworld. To run them, just click on the configurable box art and off you go down memory lane.
Boxer features a number of enhancements to leverage the power of the modern Mac including a CPU setting (as some games will run too fast to be useable), smoothing (Mame or HQX options) and, brilliantly, the ability to use your iPhone as a joypad. It’s an incredibly well designed bit of software and heartily recommended to retro Mac gamers or Generation Y who just fancy a good laugh.
On the PC there are several good DOS Emulators but far and away the best is DOS-Box. It emulates 286/386 CPUs in realmode and protected mode, the Directory FileSystem/XMS/EMS, Tandy/Hercules/CGA/EGA/VGA/VESA graphics and SoundBlaster/Gravis Ultra Soundcard for that authentic ’90s audio. All of which means it’s capable of playing pretty much any old DOS game you throw at it.
Unless you fancy getting truly old school and using the DOS prompt to mount and play your games, DOS-Box is best paired with a front end such as CBoxrun, DBGL or D-Fend. Any of these free downloads will enable you to utilise a simple interface to manage and play your games and, to be honest, pissing around with DOS prompts is one part of a retro gaming experience most people would gladly live without.
If you fancy tackling X-Com again or Bullfrog’s seminal Magic Carpet is calling to you from the mists of time, you can find a full list of compatible games here. To kick off your collection, check out the library at Abandonia.
Writing tools for PCs have really come full circle now. As companies like Microsoft added feature on top of feature, the ‘word processor’ changed from being a simple text tool and morphed into bloated desktop publishing applications. The fact that most people used them to simply write letters to the local council and shopping lists seemed to escape the attention of the software companies for a long time.
Minimalist writing apps are the polar opposite of the Microsoft Words and Apple Pages and Abiwords of this world. Where word processors sport myriad menu bars, they sport none. You will not be able to embed an ActiveX slideshow into your page, add a realtime horoscope or render the page in five shades of gold. The main feature of these apps is a gloriously simple blank canvas.
ZenWriter ($9.95) from Beenokle is equipped with the usual array of writing-centric tools. It has a simple page layout, with a brief menu list on the right. The background can be switched from ‘day’ to ‘night’ modes (black on white or white on black) and you can choose from one of five screen fonts according to your tastes. There’s a selection of tasteful (and not so tasteful) backgrounds and you can toggle typing noises on or off. Text is pleasingly centred in the middle of the screen and there’s a spell checker on hand if required. It’s a great little app – well written and bang on task for hammering out words.
OmmWriter Dāna has enjoyed considerable success on the Mac platform thanks in part to an incredibly uncluttered interface. Windows users can download the original version for free or purchase version two for whatever they choose to pay (the average is $7). The software itself is virtually identical to its Mac counterpart and makes much of the restful sonic soundscapes that can be played while writing – in fact you’re advised that it’s best used with headphones when you first start it. There are a series of tasteful backgrounds, four fonts to choose from, four font sizes and the main window can be scaled according to your tastes. Try the free one and if it appeals, pony up for version two.
Dark Room makes ZenWriter and Ommwriter look like Adobe InDesign. This free application takes minimalism to new heights, presenting you with a stark and gloriously retro green on black interface with the old courier font. This can be changed to any other font in the preferences, but there’s something so utilitarian about courier that suits this app. Maybe I’m showing my age, but it has echoes of the old Amstrad PCW screens. It launches full-screen and can be set to automatically load the last document you were working on meaning you can sit down at your PC, fire up Dark Room and begin working with no fuss or complication.
If Dark Room’s that little bit too stripped down for your liking then WriteMonkey could well be exactly what you’re looking for. It sports a similar green courier text on black interface but is far more configurable. This free app is shortcut and markdown code friendly, meaning you can leave your mouse unmolested while you put your thoughts down onscreen. Extra dictionaries, typing noises, white noise effects, language packs and fonts can be downloaded from the website. WriteMonkey also includes such useful additions as timed writing, a progress screen and (my personal favourite) segment focus so you can concentrate on just the bit of text you’re currently writing. Oh and it’s also designed to be portable too, meaning you could bung it on a USB stick and get busy writing anywhere there’s a Windows PC available.
Given that the idea of these apps is to create a calm and simple writing environment, it’s amazing how much they differ. If I had to pick one app for my desert island, then I’d plump for WriteMonkey – it neatly balances the need for simplicity with genuinely useful tools. That said, all four are great applications and I suggest you take them all for a spin and find the one that best fits with the way you write. Remember, a writer writes always.
It might be under assault from services like Twitter and Facebook, but the humble RSS feed remains one of the most compellingly useful ways of extracting useful content from sites and displaying it in a readable format. The majority of websites have RSS capabilities, thanks to default integration in services like WordPress and Blogger and most web publishers understand that it’s a useful way of getting your content out there.
The RSS feed received a welcome revitalisation when Google created their own web based Reader and enabled users to add predefined feeds from a large selection of user-created content or to just add feeds from your favourite websites on an ad-hoc basis. Google Reader quickly became a de facto standard and is the preferred method by which many news feed readers manage their subscriptions.
There has of course been a long history of good application-based news readers for the Mac, though most people will only have encountered RSS feeds in Mail, with Apple’s own obligatory news updates. In recent years terrific applications have evolved and you have plenty of choice when it comes to getting your news fix. We’ve taken a look at five of the best applications – free and commercial.
The Internet has brought revolution to the worlds of music and films, altering forever the commercial landscape and bringing once mighty chain stores to their knees. Books took a kicking too, but it wasn’t online sales that killed the book shops, but eBooks for devices like the Kindle and the iPad. Now that same revolution is sweeping through the world of comics – whether it will affect the already niche world of the comicbook store remains to be seen – but it is certainly opening up the world of graphic novels to a whole new audience.
There are plenty of comicbook readers available for both Windows and Mac and we’ve tried most of them. Some, like ComicBookLover for the Mac have received a fair bit of coverage on the other blogs, but we found that particular application seriously lacking in just about every way. So we’d like to introduce you to the best comicbook readers for Windows and for Mac.
One of the most welcome upgrades on the iPhone 4 was the camera. Yes, it’s still ‘only’ a five megapixel chip, but it produces high quality images that belie its capabilities. It’s also now one of the world’s most popular cameras – in fact the iPhone 4 recently became the most popular camera used to take images uploaded to Flickr.
As good as the built-in technology is, however, there are plenty of ways of improving the quality of the photographs that you take with it. With the addition of an accessory or two, you can drastically improve your photos or open up whole new areas of photography to enjoy. Here are five iPhone accessories that will transform your iPhone photos.
Bubo for iPhone 4 – $169 – OWLE
The Bubo is a neat looking case that totally envelops the iPhone 4 and enables it to use a full size lens to greatly enhance image quality. It also comes with an external microphone for capturing high quality audio. The case is equipped with four mounting points to enable you to securely mount it to a tripod in any way you like.
Perhaps one of the case’s most useful features is the integrated cold shoe mounting point which enables you to use lights or directional microphones. The unique double-grip style of the weighted case lends itself well to action shots and hand held shooting. For your $169 you get the aluminum uni-body Bubo mount, a silicone case , a wide-angle/macro combo lens, a carrying pouch and a cleaning cloth.
Here’s an incredibly innovative iPhone accessory that recently got funded through Kickstarter. The Dot is a 360º (panoramic) lens attachment and app for the iPhone 4. It enables your iPhone to capture immersive, fully navigable, panoramic video in real-time. So instead of recording static two dimensional videos that have one viewpoint, you can record an entire scene in all its detail. I know – sounds terrific, doesn’t it?
To get an idea of just how cool this lens is, check out the videos on the Kogeto website. The developers will also be bundling their own ‘Looker’ capture software with Dot, to enable you to instantly upload your videos to the web and share with your friends via Facebook and Twitter.
GorrilaMobile – €39,95 – Joby
Joby were one of the first companies to produce the flexible leg style of mini-tripod. And while you can go on eBay and buy knock-offs for $10, once you try a real Joby tripod, you’ll never go eBaying again. The GorillaMobile is designed specifically for the iPhone 4 and features the trademark bulbous-legged tripod design which you can use in traditional upright fashion – or wrap safely around any nearby object.
The stand weighs 350g and utilises a rail design which enables you to switch from portrait to landscape orientation and position your phone for your needs. If your images suffer badly from camera-shake, or if you’d like to get into the photos yourself with a few delayed timer shots, you need one of these.
The iPhone Telephoto Lens- $35 – PhotoJojo
So one of the main problems with the iPhoto camera is that it’s a fixed lens. Sure you can use the digital zoom, but as you’ve probably found out, it only degrades the image and produces a pixelated mess. So if you want to get a bit closer to the action, your only option is to, ermm, get closer to the action. Unless you’re packing one of those funky little zoom lenses.
The lens is a fixed telephoto iattachment which gives your iPhone a whopping 8x zoom. The lens comes with a case and a cool little mini tripod that can twist to shoot from any angle. The lens itself attaches to the iPhone via a special case that is bundled with it – once it’s in place you just twist to focus manually and then take your photos.
Zgrip iPhone PRO – $295 – Zacuto
The main problem with the iPhone camera is one of handling. Firstly, to take a photo you have to let go of one side of the photo to press the touchscreen shutter button. Secondly, holding it to film video is uncomfortable and fairly impractical for longer periods. What you need is a cool harness that would safely hold the iPhone and give the photographer a comfortable and stable grip. Just like the Zgrip iPhone Pro in fact.
One look at this gizmo and you’ll see that’s a pro-grade product in every way. It features an adjustable, quick releasable handgrip system that enables you to shoot professional looking video. The handgrip fully articulates and the levers enable you to adjust every angle to get the shot you want.
There has been something of a backlash against bloated writing software. Not so long ago you had a couple of options when it came to writing on the Mac – you could use one of the big box brand name word processors (such as Word or Pages) or you could fire up a basic text editor (such as BBEdit or TextEdit). Neither of these options was particularly adequate.
Thankfully a new breed of writing tool has burst onto the scene in the form of the distraction-free editor. These applications strip everything down to its basics and concentrate on the simple act of actually writing. Formating of text is largely ignored, menu-bars are banished, all uncessary embellishment is discarded.
For the purposes of this round-up we’ve decided to take a look at three of the better distraction-free writing tools available for the Mac. They are iA Writer, ByWord and OmmWriter.
If you’re like me, then one of the first things you do after installing some software is to have a poke around inside the application’s preferences window. Well don’t bother looking for that in iA Writer because it doesn’t exist – what you see is what you get. There are some options you can toggle on and off in the menubar, but that’s about as sophisticated as it gets.
iA Writer employs a clean, paperlike writing surface in the default full-screen mode. Words are incredibly clear and crisp and stand out beautifully against this background. Nothing else is displayed in the text window – no word or character counts, no file information – nothing. It’s only once you [escape] out of full-screen mode that you can see a word and character count and also (interestingly) a suggested reading time indicator.
This minimalist white work environment is further enhanced by the software’s innovative Focus Mode. In Focus Mode, only the sentence that you are currently working in is displayed at full opacity – all your previous sentences are greyed out. This enables you to concentrate on the words you’re currently writing and not stress too much about the ones that went before. This means that you spend less time flitting backwards and forwards through your text changing things and more time actually writing. It’s a great system that works brilliantly.
iA Writer utilises its own very basic form of markup. Put asterisks around some words to make them bold, make a header by put an asterisk and then a space in front of the words. Ultimately this is all you need to work on your text – you can worry about things like fonts and graphic embellishments once you’ve actually finished writing. After years of horrendous Microsoft interfaces I must say I found this writing environment to be near-on perfect, but it is worth noting that it’s three times the price of OmmWriter.
While iA Writer takes the spartan distraction-free environment to its limits, OmmWriter actively seeks to enhance your mindset. It can be set up in a very similar way – plain white with clear black text – but offers more options. The fonts, while looking very crisp are not, however, as clean as iA Writer’s and look slightly bitmapped. Moreover, several font sizes are offered to enable you to customise the environment to the size of your screen. You can also choose a simple sans serif font, a serif font, an old-school script font or a blocky courier style font.
OmmWriter makes a couple of minor concessions to the interface, but these remain hidden until you move the mouse. When you do move the mouse you’ll see a configurable text entry box, a word count and some icons placed on the right side of the window. The size of the text box can be altered to cater for your personal requirements – some people like to write in smaller column based layouts, others prefer wider text windows – you can use either. You can also alter the height of the text entry window meaning you can have a traditional paged based layout or a very slimline paragraph based look.
When you first start OmmWriter, the splash screen advises you that it is best enjoyed with headphones on. Surely this is the first case of a text editor making such a claim? The reason for this is that the software comes with a selection of ambient sound environments that are designed to help isolate your brain and let you concentrate on the matter in hand. While I’m happy to work with the right kind of music in the background, none of these sonic environments did much for me – however if I was in a busy office I’d probably have a very different opinion. There’s also a configurable keystroke sound that I personally found very distracting and turned off immediately.
To complement the sonic soundscapes, OmmWriter also includes several page environments beyond the default plain white paper look. There’s a barren white snowscape, a dark grey textured cloth, a light spring green abstract look and even one that cycles gently through a pastel palette of colours. If you find all these settings a bit distracting (or, you know, pretentious) then you can simply turn them off.
Lying somewhere between the design and features of iA Writer and OmmWriter, ByWord incorporates features of both these other apps. It has a preferences window for a start, but there’s so little in there that you do wonder why they didn’t just use a toggled on-screen options layout.
There are two colour schemes – Light and (yes, you’ve guessed it) Dark. Use of either is, of course, a personal preference but I found the dark screen a bit too imposing and quickly switched to the light paper-styled option. Unlike iA Writer and OmmWriter you can also use any font you have installed on your system. After a bit of experimentation I switched from the built-in fonts (Cochin, Courier and Georgia) to Helvetica Neue with a nice big 18point font size.
There’s an implementation of iA Writer’s Focus Mode in ByWord but it doesn’t work nearly as well. You can pick the size of the focus from one to nine lines in length, a paragraph or completely off. I definitely preferred iA Writer’s sentence mode. Also ByWord faded out the non-focused text that little bit too much so that if you did want to quickly glance back at a previous paragraph you practically had to squint.
ByWord includes some basic text formatting options which are accessed either from the menubar or from a popover window. Neither of these worked very well for me and smacked of the old word processor. However the main problem I had with ByWord was that text eventually sank to the bottom of the page and there was no way of moving it to the more comfortable centre eyeline position without sticking a load of carriage returns in.
Ten Fantastically Indispensible Mac Utilities
The Mac world might not be drowning in software the way Windows is, but that’s not to say there’s a shortage. No, the OSX software scene has never looked healthier. Moreover this is one journalist who’s constantly amazed at the quality and inventiveness of Mac developers. Here at Geekosity, we’re huge fans of simple software simply made and so, to kick off our new website, here’s 10 of our favourite Mac utilities.
We’ve all been there. You download a file to a random location on your hard drive and then spend the next 15 minutes searching for the bloody thing. Fresh is here to fix that particular very irritating issue. It keeps track of all the new files and folders that are appearing on your Mac and enables you to go straight to them with a click of the mouse.
Fresh is made up of two bars. The top bar is the list of files that have most recently been saved to your hard drive. The bottom list (called The Cooler) is where you can drag and drop files that you’d like to keep track of. To work with a particular file you can either double-click on it to have it open in the default application – or drag it to the desktop or an application.
The Dashboard has never done that much for me. I can kind of see the point of it, but the reality is that if I want a sticky note on my screen I want it there all the time, not just accessible only after pressing a hotkey. However there are some superb Dashboard widgets that I always wished I could run off the desktop and not just in Dashboard mode. And while I know abou the developers toggle where you drag stuff off the Dashboard and onto the desktop, it’s not the most flexible solution. So when I chanced on Amnesty Singles I was a very happy chappy.
What Amnesty Singles enables you to do is transform Dashboard widgets into full blown applications. The process is simplicity itself – you just drag the .wdgt file onto the Amnesty window and, with a deft sleight of hand, the program makes a transportalbe executable that you can put in the Applications directory with the rest of your stuff and run when you want. In the example above, I transformed the excellent BBC Radio widget into an executable.
There have been plenty of solutions to fix the problems with OSX’s Dock, which tends to get cluttered very quickly. None of those solutions are as simple or effective as Overflow, however, which is like having a (whispher it) Windows start button in your dock.
To add applications, files or folders to Overflow you simply click the Edit button and drag them into the window. Categories can be created in the bar on the left and the size and grid dimensions of the window can be altered to suit.
This is one of those cool little utilities that you wonder how you did without. Shovebox, as the name implies, is a program designed for the storage of miscellaneous ’stuff’. Found an interesting web page but don’t have time to linger on it? Capture the link in ShoveBox. Written a shopping list on a post-it and want to save it for later? Hold it up to the iSight and save it instantly in Shovebox. Collating some text for an article you’re writing? Just add them to notes in ShoveBox.
ShoveBox lurks on the menu bar until you need it. It can capture text, images (both pre-saved and captured via iSight) and whatever the contents of your clipboard are. Notes are saved in the Inbox and, if you wish, you can organise them into folders or export them. The program even has a rules system whereby entries complying to certain features (a word or url for instance) have actions automatically assigned to them – such as placing them in a specific folder.
OSX’s Finder is undoubtedly the best window/file manager on any operating system, however like most aspects of the operating system – it does have its flaws. Default Folder X vastly improves the default Open/Save dialog box by giving you access to recently used folders without the painstaking slog downwards through your file heirachy.
The core of the program lies in the five buttons arranged vertically on the right of the dialog box. These give you access to default folders (per-application), computer (your whole Mac heirachy), favourites (folders you’ve added), recent (folders you’ve used recently) and finder view. If you’re not sure where a file is, you can search within Spotlight right from the Open/Save dialog window too.
Billed as ‘Time Machine for your Clipboard’ – CopyPaste Pro is indispensible for anyone who juggles lots of text. As you cut and paste everything you do is recorded and stored by this utility and, should you need it, you can call up those prior copies. CopyPaste Pro stores your clips in newest-first format, with everything easily accessible from the menu bar.
One of the most powerful features of CopyPaste Pro is the ability to store clips you’ve made in archives. You could use this, for instance, for selecting important sections of a text – just work your way through the document copying anything that interests you and at the end you have all your choices neatly stored in one archive. CopyPaste also has various tools for cleaning up text – it can remove email quotes, fix word-wrapping and indentation and sort out upper and lower cases.
The first time I downloaded CoverSutra it was because I wanted to achieve one very specific thing – I wanted one of those cool album covers on my desktop which changed according to whatever I was listening to at the time. CoverSutra fulfilled that requirement but I soon discovered it was far from a one trick pony.
CoverSutra excels as an iTunes controller. It enables you to background iTunes to the dock and use a simple pop-up window when you want to change tracks or volume levels. The software integrates with Last.FM to record your average track change and has a very cool music search tool available straight from the menu bar. Rock on.
3. Google Notifier – Google – $free – v1.10.4 – Download
If you use Gmail (and if you’re not – why not?) then this little utility is a god-send. The notifier reguarly checks in with Google for email and forthcoming calendar events and displays the results on the menu bar.
When you receive an email via Gmail there’s an audible notification, growl notification and the menu bar icon gets highlighted. The number of unread emails in your inbox is displayed over the top of the Gmail icon. To read a specific email all you need do is highlight it the notifier and you’ll be taken directly to it in Google Mail.
If there’s one program that I’d be absolutely loathed to part witih, then it’s this one. 1Password has not only brought a considerable degree of simplicity to my online life, but it has saved my arse on more than one occasion. At its simplest it is a password recorder – every time you visit a website and login it can record those details and play them back when you revisit the site in question. All of which means that you can use long and hard to crack passwords without having to worry about remember them all, because all you need to do is remember 1Password’s one password.
1Password can remember and play back passwords you enter in Firefox or Safari. It can remember multiple passwords for the same site. If you want you can also use it for complete form filling by using its Wallet feature. It can safely store your credit card details too, so that when you’re desperate to make the online purchase everything’s to hand.
Spotlight is a god-send, there’s no two ways about it, but it’s not the best designed tool in Leopard’s armoury and it’s far from exhaustive. No – if you want the be-all and end-all of OSX search tools, then you need Leap. This incredibly powerful tool enables you to quickly track down a file or folder – even if you can’t remember what it’s called, where it was saved or when you made it.Leap enables you to be as vague as you like about searches – and still find what you’re looking for. It’s incredibly easy to narrow things down once you have a basic search in place. You can discount files by date, or type or tag. You can bookmark common searches and you can output the results of search data. Want a record of all the word documents you created between February and June 2002 – easy. Need to find all the .psds on your Mac created since last week – easy. It’s a leap forward, that’s for sure.