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Ass Saver Review

I’m getting a bit OCD when it comes to bike add-ons. Apart from a small frame pump, I don’t like lots of plastic brackets and bolt on bits on my bike. If its not needed at that moment, I don’t want to see it, or any evidence of it. What’s more I don’t like mudguards (or have a bike with clearance for them), despite living in a country that has seen nothing but rain for the last few months.

Enter the Ass-Saver. A simple piece of plastic that clips onto the saddle rails, providing a small mudguard that can also be folded away and stored under the saddle.

Ass Saving Techniques from Ass Savers on Vimeo.

It sounded ideal and not very expensive – so I had to try one. It was a bit more fiddly to fit in the Prologo Nago saddle on my Canyon than the Charge Spoon on my singlespeed, but it did fit. When it stayed in place, it did indeed save my ass, but that wasn’t always the case. I’ve found it can get knocked easily, especially when getting on, so I do have to check that it’s straight before setting off.

When you don’t have mudguards, its obviously not going to stop wet legs in a downpour, but it’s ideal for commutes and satisfies my hideaway fetish nicely!

Biologic BikeMount for iPhone

I’d reached that point in my rides, where I wanted some sort of cycling computer to track my progress and show my route, so I recently picked up a Biologic BikeMount to allow me to use my iPhone. Rather than buy a dedicated unit (such as a Garmin, which isn’t really an option financially at this point) this lets me reuse a device that’s already replaced lots of other separate devices like Camera and iPod. Here are my thoughts after 2 months of use.

The phone gets clipped into a sturdy protective hardcase, which is then mounted to your handlebars via a supplied bracket. I’ll let this chap called Josh tell you exactly how it works:

Together with Cyclemeter, I now have a nice clear display to glance at, at the end of the ride, I export the results to Strava. The dedicated Strava app is nice and clean, but a bit basic. I like the features of the Cyclemeter app, such as telling me how many calories I’ve burned (very motivating for me).

The main disadvantage of this setup is the overall size of the kit. While the iPhone itself isn’t that big, by the time it’s in the protective case it’s got added bulk. At least the case gives me confidence that if it does get dropped, the phone would survive.

I’ve managed to get mine mounted on my stem, so that it keeps it out of the way a bit, but there’s no getting over how much it much it dominates the handlebars compared to a dedicated unit like a Garmin. It might make you feel a bit self-conscious!

Other, minor, negatives points are that the home button is a stick-on dome of plastic, which fell off after a few weeks, just leaving the sticky pad. It still works though. Also, the bracket that you put on the bike doesn’t get absolutely tight. Just as you think it’s going to tighten, it loosens slightly again. So you have to tighten again, and stop just before it ‘snaps back’ to loose. However, I’ve not any problems with it falling off, or being wobbly.

Another reason I got the mount, was that I fancied trying to shoot video to capture some of the picturesque parts of my rides (the case has a window for the lens). First of all, it’s a fiddle to get the bracket and phone in the right position so that the camera has a good landscape view, but it is possible. However, the iPhone camera just isn’t up to the job – the picture is just too shakey. There’s a lot of post-processing apps that will take out the shake, but they crop the image a lot. I did try an app called Steadylens, which works during recording, but that wasn’t much better. The overall effect is what I can only describe as ‘swirly and shimmery’ even at very slow speeds. As if its being viewed underwater:

I also noticed on still images, taken with the phone in the case, that it distorts the image towards the edges.

Despite the size, and other little niggles, the BikeMount, along with Cyclemeter, works really well, and do me just fine.

Ten years of Threadless

If you’re looking for something to give you inspiration, not just visually, but on a business level too, this is the book you need to buy:

It’s not often I get so excited about a book (the last one was Jon Burgermans Pens are my friends) but “I’m all over this” as the young people like to say. Threadless: Ten Years of T-shirts from the World’s Most Inspiring Online Design Community could’ve just been a published collection of illustrations from Threadless shirts, and still would’ve been a must-buy. The variety and quality of Threadless designs are stunning, and I’ve always touted them as an inspiration source in talks like “How to be a Creative Sponge”.

It goes much further than that though. The book is lavishly designed by A-Side Studios, and covers the story of how Threadless grew – a backstory I wasn’t aware of. It’s a fantastic read. It also serves as a kind of family album – nostalgically looking back on t-shirts I once owned (but wore until they finally went to t-heaven).

Oddly, my favourite Threadless T of all time (Darkside of the Garden) doesn’t feature! Harumph! Anyway, I won’t hold it against them – there’s too much to love in this, and it’s staying on my desk!

Whitelines + Behance Dot Grid Book

In Squared I mentioned that I’d ordered both a Whitelines pad, and the Behance Dot Grid book to try out. After trying them both for a few days, I thought I’d just post a few words about them.

First of all, the Dot Grid Book. The packaging was sublime (see my photoset on Flickr), and the book itself has a rubberised card cover, wiro-bound, with good strong stock inside. The rubbery cover freaked some people out that I showed it to, and has the habit of collecting fluff!

There’s no show-through using black ink (maybe just the very, very slightest hint, but not enough to be a problem). The dots work quite well, and provide a lot of freedom. It’s also US letter sized, which is a change from A4. The only downsides are the that the wiro-bound spine gets snarled up (I’ve heard this from others, and experienced it already) and they felt the need to slap their logo on every page, which is a shame. Overall, a good idea, but really rather expensive for what it is (don’t faint -£14!). The more costly and elite a notebook is, the less I feel like using it. Too much pressure! I’ll enjoy using it, but I probably won’t be back for another one.

I found I preferred the Whitelines layout the most. The grid lines are still there, but the use of negative-space whitelines is just enough to draw by, without being too noticeable. The tinting drops out when copying, and every page is logo free! The binding was very good, but the only drawback was the weight of the paper. It’s fairly light compared the Dot Grid Book, and you definitely get show-through. On the A4 perfect bound pad that I bought that’s not a huge problem. It’s not nearly as expensive as the Grid Book, and feels OK to leave one side blank.

Looking over their product lines, my ideal Whitelines notebook doesn’t exist yet. I need one with a heavier no-show-through-paper, perfect bound with similar dimensions as my Moleskine sketchbook (21 × 13.2 × 2 cm). If by any chance the Swedish gods of negative space are listening -any chance of it?

Designing for the Web

Five Simple StepsEver feel that the web design market is over-saturated by books, both coffee-table and technical? There’s too much choice, and “What books would you recommend?” is the top (non cheese related) question I get asked. Depending on the topic required, there are various degrees of ‘hmmm well…you could try…” that’s replied.

This is where Mark Boulton’s new PDF book A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web comes in. I’ve been watching the previews on Flickr and now that I’ve actually had the chance to read the full book, I can declare it a triumph. It doesn’t feel preachy or stodgy, or conversely, too light and insubstantial. Mark’s tone strikes the right balance, and is engaging from the start.

To those who don’t know, I’m not a trained designer – my background is firmly in illustration. As part of my 5 years studying illustration, we covered some graphic design, but it was about 20% or less of the curriculum. Since leaving college, and getting my first job as a Junior Designer for Coventry City Council, I’ve been ‘picking up’ the elements of design ever since, but have never had the benefit of formal training.

For me, this book is the equivalent of ‘Zeldmans Orange book’, taking those bits and pieces I’ve learnt over the years and filling in the gaps, finally creating an overall understanding.
However, it doesn’t just cover design theory, as practical business advice is given to complete the picture. Something that I’m sure all those people who ask me for recommendations will love.

It’s left me wanting the physical book, which if I have understood correctly, is on the cards. Yippee!

Pimp My Mint

You folks may remember (and still use) Shaun Inman’s Shortstats, and its original mission – short and sweet site statistics. Cut through the crap of all the over-burdened packages with more data than you need, and get to the nitty gritty. I loved it, it was just what I’d been missing. Sure I had Urchin to give me the minutae of everything that happened, but I find it far too cumbersome.

Mint logoBack in March, Shaun alluded to the fact that he wanted to start again from scratch, and thats just what he’s done. From next week, all you need to do is sit back, and have a Mint.

Other beta testers have revealed their favourite aspects of MInt: Jason Santa Maria, Kevin Cornell Rob Weychert, Jeff Croft, Mike Davidson, Matt Thomas and Keegan Jones. I have chosen to tell you about the interface sweetness of the Mint.

First of all, I truly despise Shaun for coming up with a better leaf logo than I have, but I’ll try not to hold that against him. He is one of those rare beasts, a combination of designer and developer, with neither skill lacking. I hate him for that too.

The main interface is comprised of a series of panels that resize with the browser window, but also wrap depending on space available. I so want to know how he does that – it’ll make a huge difference to creating fluid designs. Its possible that not everything will fit in your window in one go, so the fixed top navigation will slide you up or down to where you need it to be.

In true Ajax glory, there is no page reloading. For instance, looking at recent, repeat, or newest unique referrers is smooth.

Mint Screenshot

In preferences you can choose to have scrollbars and neat little panels, or to let it all hang loose. Don’t like the default order of the panels? While you’re in preferences, re-arrange them how you like, dammit. Those panels you couldn’t care less about can be disabled here too.

Blimey, I haven’t even mentioned just how well designed it is yet. Like I said, a designer and a developer – you don’t get that very often.

I’m loving the taste of this Mint, and I reckon you will too. Its the spirit of shortstats, but with a far superior execution.

Update “ : Its live! Go try Mint for yourself and see what you think.

Mighty Mouse

As soon as the announcement was made about Apple’s new Mighty Mouse, I was placing an order within seconds. I’d been wanting, not necessarily a two button mouse, but a scrollwheel mouse, for a long time. I’d tried the various PC mice offerings (even the ‘MacMice’) but none of them had that great feel of the Apple Pro mouse. The low profile, and smooth glassy feel was what I wanted, but Mr Jobs had already said he wasn’t for making 2 buttons on his mice. The announcement was a surprise to say the least, but a welcome one.

Anyway, within 3 days, it arrived, and I’ve been using it constantly ever since. Having seen a lot of mixed reviews, I wanted to pitch in and say that I think its well worth it. I’ve not had any of the problems some seem to have experienced with the buttons. The lack of bluetoothness isn’t a concern for me (although the cable is a little short), but I have had 2 issues, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere:

  1. Setting the side squeezy buttons to Expose all windows: Windows became inactive after clicking on them. Expose > select > click on any part of the window, it becomes inactive – unclickable. Very odd. Only keyboard commands would work.
  2. The scroll nipple. Just lIke the balls on the bottom mice of old, I found this can become clogged easily. It doesn’t take much, and suddenly up or down scrolling is prevented. It just needs a wee rub with a tissue to get it working again though. Maybe this is just my extra sweaty finger? Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that one..

Camino 0.9 alpha mini-review

Back in January 2003, when I first discovered that there more options for browsing in OS X than IE and Netscape, Camino (then called ‘Chimera’) became my browser of choice. The first beta of Safari had just come out, and while showing promise, it didn’t become something I wanted to use every day until v1.2 came out the following year, and discovering Saft. For at least a year, it was Camino all the way.

Ever since Saftari though, my Camino usage has become almost zero, although I still pulled down the latest nightly every few weeks to check up on whats been happening. Its been a slow process (let’s not forget that Camino is run and developed by volunteers), but Camino 0.9 alpha is out there, and there are many improvements that demand attention.

When I first started using it, it looked awful, It had ugly, over-complicated toolbar icons, and the interface lacked a little polish. It was this that started my obsession with browser theming. Its come a long way since then. It now sports Jasper Hausers lush new icons and the toolbar uses the latest ‘unified toolbar’ look, which I’m definitely a fan of.

Advantages of using Camino?

First of all it’s fast – easily the fastest browser I have on my Macs. It feels responsive and nimble. All the bookmarklets and apps like TiddlyWiki that only work in Firefox/Mozilla, work in Camino too, but with the added bonus of having a cocoa wrapper with services integration (I’m not clear on Camino’s Applescript support – anyone got a comment on that?)

Its also the only Mac browser to support 10.2, 10.3 and 10.4. If you’re concerned about Safari engine being too closely tied to the OS, Camino may be what you’re looking for.

Finally, they’ve added important features such as autofill, and (what was my biggest bugbear), a global history menu. These 2 were key usability obstacles for me. The browsers tabs finally got their own look (rather than using the system tabs, which were intended for things like preferences), and it makes the world of difference.

Reasons to use Camino over Safari:

  • Option to bookmark all current tabs
  • You can choose a bookmark folder to show up in your dock menu.
  • Midas (Rich Text Editor) support
  • Preference options to stop javascripts changing the window size or position
  • Find as you type
  • Bookmark separators
  • Configurable pop-up blocker (allow pop-ups for certain sites)
  • Basically, all the goodness of the Gecko rendering engine, but in a native cocoa app.

Having said all that, its still not my browser of choice. If you’re looking for just ‘a good browser’, Camino will probably suit. For me, there are a few key things that I miss, such as session saving, that I get from Omniweb, Firefox or Saftari. The lack of extensibility is a drawback for me, although things are looking up on that front. Over the last year or so CamiTools have been evolving nicely, and give hope for the future.

Om Malik stated ‘Camino is Firefox done right for Mac’. Its not quite, but its getting there. If there was such as thing as a Cocoa Firefox, I’d be using it in a flash. Alas, Firefox’s extensions use XUL, and Camino is Cocoa, so its not to be. Camino is definitely one to keep an eye on though.

Rufus Wainwright

Leigh and I don’t get out to gigs as much as we used to. Apart from the rigmarole (and cost) of finding babysitters, Oxford, with the exception of the Zodiac in Cowley Road, isn’t gig central. There’s a thriving local scene for sure, out of which bands like Ride, Supergrass and Radiohead all came, but you really have to go London to see the majority of acts. Also, when you do manage to get out, there’s a heightened pressure to have a really good time – you don’t want to go through all that hassle and cost, just to see a bad movie do you?

So, giggling like teenagers let out for the night, we went to see Rufus Wainwright play at the New Theatre Oxford. No worries about a wasted night out, Rufus was engaging, compelling and moving. Somehow, he manages to keep going for hours, with his voice still as powerful at the 3rd encore as it was when he started. And what a voice.

The performance came to a real peak during ‘Oh what a world’ when the band strips down to lingerie or codpieces and don witches’ hats and cloaks. Some members looked more comfortable with this than others though. The contrast between Rufus (who also had a shiny pair of bright red high heels) and the blonde backing singer was very distinct.

I ‘really enjoyed’ listening to Rufus before – now I would count myself as a fan. Huzzah!

Lists of 2004

It’s that retrospective time of year again. Looking back over all the highlights of the year and recording them for posterity.

Albums:

Antics by Interpol

  1. Antics by Interpol
  2. Everybody Makes Mistakes by Starflyer 59
  3. Good news for people who love bad news by Modest Mouse

Quite simply, I’ve not been so excited, enthralled and addicted to an album as I have with ‘Antics’ in a long time. ‘Everybody makes mistakes’ didn’t actually come out in 2004, but I didn’t manage to get a copy until this year, and I’ve played it to death, so in it goes. Then end track “The Party” is a perfect song to finish the day on. Honorable mentions go to Wilco’s “A Ghost is Born”, Tanya Donelly’s “Beautysleep” (again, not actually released this year) and ‘I am the Portuguese Blues’, also by Starflyer 59 (which was released this year).

OS X Browser

Omniweb5

  1. Omniweb 5.1b4
  2. Safari (+ Saft + PithHelmet + Stand + Safarisource)
  3. Firefox

Ah, Omniweb how I love thee. The latest beta build is an almost perfect balance of features and performance. When I use other browsers, it just makes me pine for its doing-anything-with-them tabs, form editor and oodles of other things I can only do in OW. The interface isn’t perfect, but hopefully that’ll be improved in the future. Safari came in at a very close second. Depending on which day you ask me, numbers 1 and 2 can change places). Sorry Firefox, you’re not quite there yet on the mac, although you’re close. Maybe after 1.1? Camino has possibilities, but is still too bare bones for me. I’ve been really impressed by the latest Opera, with its combination browser/email/rss reader, but while being fully featured, it looks like a dogs dinner.

Site design I wished I’d come up with first:

  1. Airbag
  2. Jason Santa Maria
  3. Justwatchthesky

Blog Posts

  1. A story about someone else’s ass – Dooce.
    I cried with tears of joy
  2. Screen Grab confab – Cameron Moll.
    Fascinating insight into peoples work.
  3. I would RTFM if there was an FM to FR – Design by Fire.
    Andrei, I wish you blogged more often.

Events:

  1. The very first Geekend
    A very special time, and we’ve even managed to fit in 2 more before the year was out. Nice to finally meet you all chaps.
  2. Firefox
    I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
  3. Being called the 13th most influential design blogger. I’m nowhere near, but it was flattering all the same, thankyou Cameron.

finally…

Samantha and Daniel

Thankyou Samantha and Daniel. You’re the highlight of every year

Looking forward:

Before the year is out, the family of Hicks is heading out to Sydney for two and half weeks. Its 0 degrees as I write this, and 42 over there. I’m just gonna melt, but I can’t wait. I love living in England, but the weather can really lower your spirits sometimes. It can be like living in Bladerunner – always dark, always raining.

So…

Using the same categories, name your top 3’s!

Textmate - first impressions

I never thought in my days using Dreamweaver, that I’d be excited about a new text editor coming to OS X. However, I’ve been looking forward to trying out Textmate, as some very bold claims were being made about it. These claims irked me a bit, as it seemed to ignore some very good text editors already available, such as skEdit, SubEthaEdit and, of course, BBEdit. I use all 3, with the emphasis on skEdit (especially for writing css).

So, today Textmate is out, and a surprising number of people have written to me, asking me what I think of it. I found this a little odd, maybe everyone knows I’m a new software junkie, willing to try out every new release of anything. Anyway, I thought I would post my initial thoughts here. This will be slightly unfair, as I’ll be comparing it to other editors that have time to mature and develop.

First, starting with the positive, What I like:

  • Project view in a drawer. This is something I would like skEdit to adopt, particularly the function buttons at the bottom of the drawer giving access to things like adding new folders. my only complaint here is that the text looks slightly cramped compared to other drawer displays.
  • ‘Folding’: Tags or css rules can be collapsed and expanded to hide them. This is something I can imagine myself using quite a bit.
  • Clipboard history: A nice idea, and works similar to Quicksilver’s function with the same name

What I don’t:

  • Preferences: Or rather the lack of them. Settings are meant to stick, but thats not a behaviour I’m comfortable with. The first thing I do when first open any new app is look though the preferences and see what’s available.
  • Fonts: Despite the fact that a standard system font panel is included as a menu item, only fixed width fonts are supported. I’m one of those bad people who like to code in Lucida Grande, and it looked awful. Apparently, support for non fixed-width fonts is not planned in the future either. If this is case, the font panel should be removed.
  • The icon. I feel bad for picking on BBEdit 8.
  • I didn’t find the snippets function as easy to use as skEdit. I prefer setting key combos to trigger my snippets.

Features I missed from other Text Editors (with the proviso that I may have missed these somehere):

  • Code hinting was the thing that turned me onto skEdit. It speeds up coding so much, I’m not sure I could go back to not using it.
  • No code navigation. BBEdit, SubEthaEdit and skEdit all provide a single menu for jumping to a particular tag or css rule.
  • Images aren’t previewed when selecting them in the project view, but you get garbled code instead. It should either preview them or not display anything at all.

So will it replace skEdit as my main development tool? No, but, I get the impression that Textmate is aimed at serious programmers, people who deal with ruby/perl and the like, not those like me who just want to bash out HTML and CSS. skEdit is still the right tool for me, but I’ll keep an eye on Textmate.

Textpattern 2 months on

Two months after migrating to Textpattern, I thought I’d go over some of my thoughts since then. In particular, I’ve heard some people mention that they might migrate too, because it was ‘good enough for me’. So that no one blames for me for a move that they then regret, I’ll be honest about my Textpattern experience.

First of all, the things I’ve loved about using TXP so far:

  • Setting up new sections, links, RSS feeds and editing templates and entries are quick and easy.
  • I still love the XML style tags that it uses. I find these intuitive and pleasant to use (with a couple of exceptions – see below).
  • The Textpattern community are great at coming forward with useful plug-ins. They make it worthwhile.
  • The admin interface is just great. Simple and clean and delightful to use.
  • For some reason, I’ve posted far more regularly with TXP than I ever did with MT. I used to spend ages writing and re-writing posts, some would take months before I made them live. Whether this means more posts but with less quality, is for you to judge!

Its not all sunshine and tweety birds though, and there are few things that niggle me.

  • My main beef is that some (though not all) of the tags output the XHTML for you. E.g with MT, the permalink tag outputted only the link path, but Textpattern does the whole tag. So if you want control over it, you have to hack the textpattern php files. In particular, there were various unnesessary classes and small pieces of inline css that TXP generated. I’ve hacked a lot of these out, so I dread the next upgrade! As I understand it, Wordpress suffers from similar problems, and only MovableType really offers that flexibility.
  • It doesn’t have XML-RPC support (yet) so you can’t use something like Ecto to post entries. Especially as the next version of Ecto will include Textile previewing, my desire for this has grown. The admin interface is well designed, but drafts can get easily lost in the list of articles. With a weblog editor, Drafts are separated from the list of live articles, and previews are created live to save switching between ‘text’ and ‘preview’. Generally, a desktop client will always have the edge. In fact, I’ve missed this feature so much, that I’ve considered using Wordpress or reverting to MT for just the blog section. As I said previously, my reason for not going with Wordpress, was that it didn’t handle mutliple sections. Its excellent at what it does though – running a blog. The problems with php5 and Wordpress have prevented me testing this as a solution though. MT 3.1 also looks promising, with its support for dynamic pages solving my main MT bugbear – long rebuilds when fiddling with templates.
  • Navigating links in the admin interface can be painful if you have a lot. I use ‘links’ for my sidenotes, browser news and destinations links, and you don’t get the easy search facility that you get with articles.
  • I’d also like to see a way of getting clean url’s on categories built in.

Please don’t take this as a ‘woe is Textpattern’ statement, its far from it. – more of a report of my experience so far. Whether features like XML-RPC support will be added in the future or not is hard to say. Dean is a busy man who needs to earn a living (which doesn’t come from TXP!), and communications from him on where Textpattern is going is scant.

Update 20.9.04: Metaweblog support is going to be added in the near future, and a clearer vision of Textpattern’s future is emerging. I had a brief dalliance with Wordpress again – and confirmed my belief that it so isn’t the right tool for me. MT 3.1 looked improved, but Textpattern is most definitely where its still at for me.

Newsfire 0.1 beta

There seems to be more choice of RSS readers for OS X than browsers these days. Stalwarts like NetNewsWire (my favourite) and Shrook, are sharing the aggregator pool with relative youngsters like Pulp Fiction.

David Watanabe (who created the P2P app Acquisition) has released the very first public beta of ‘NewsFire’, an RSS reader that takes a slightly different approach. Rather than imitate the Apple Mail style interface, you get a single minimal metal window that makes it feel at home with Safari.

Newsfire window

It positively drips with OS X beauty – not just in the visual effects, but in the way the interface is pared down to the minimum. Its delightful to use. There are few things I’d like to see added, with the only change to the current set up to make the site name the larger headline (this is currently smaller grey text, while the most recent article is a large headline). It is still very much a beta (features/functionality not final) but its certainly stable. Its shallow, but I love the way that news feeds reorder themselves – the same effect used in iChat when buddies change status!

Download NewsFire from here

Shiira

As if I didn’t already have enough choice in OS X browsers, along comes another. Shiira is an open source browser, built using Safari’s webkit, that the Japanese developers intend to be “a browser that is better and more useful than Safari”. As it uses the latest verson of webkit, it will only run on 10.3.

The interface, at first glance, looks a lot like Safari. The tabs implementation are almost identical (although tab labels aren’t bold), and the preferences window layout shares many similarities. However, unlike Safari’s interface, Shiira uses a fully customisable Aqua toolbar and bookmarks/history are displayed in a sidebar drawer instead of replacing the window, just like Camino 0.7. Most importantly, it doesn’t have Safari’s elegance or good looks in the toolbar icon department. Take a look at this screenshot and the various icon options being offered. The Jade stone set is the default.

Elements like the icons on the toolbar folders are unnecessary, but like all these things, can be themed however you like! So, to make it more pleasant to use, I’ve thrown together bits from my Camino and Omniweb themes and made a temporary one for Shiira:

Screenshot of my shiira theme

If you’d like to try this theme too, download it here (if your browser doesn’t understand .sitx files, you may have to control-click the link and choose ‘save file as..’). All you have to do is go to Shiira’s icon preferences, choose ‘load icons’, and navigate to the ‘ShiiraIcons.plist’ inside the Hickstheme folder. This will load the main toolbar icons. If you want a plain folder icon, these have to copied manually into > Shiira (ctrl-click to choose ‘show package contents’)> contents> resources>. I haven’t redone all the icons, but the main ones are there

There are several advantages in using Shiira:


  • Re-orderable Tabs. This is my main reason for feeling excited by Shiira. I use this a lot in Ominweb, and I’m looking forward to when Camino gets the function (soon).
  • New Tab button situated to the right of the tabs is quite handy.
  • Its fast. Runs faster than Safari for me, and it’s level-pegging with the latest Camino builds for speed. It seems to use the least amount of CPU of all my browsers.
  • Customisable search bar, out of the box.
  • Option is given to switch between metal or aqua appearance.
  • Pace of development seems quite fast.

It shows great promise, even though the interface might not quite be there yet. On one hand it feels a little basic, but then throws in some great features like the drag and drop re-orderable tabs. Another one to keep my eye on…

extending Safari 2: saft!

One of my niggles about Safari is that I’ve always felt it’s a little short in features. As mentioned before, Pith Helmet (Advert blocking), Sogudi (Address bar searches) and Safari Enhancer go someway to improve it. I want to use Safari – I love its clean, elegant interface and speed, but sometimes it feels a bit lacking.

I’ve been testing and enjoying the radically more stable Omniweb 5 (beta 3) for a few days now, and enjoying its workspaces feature. This reminded me that Safari is about the only Mac browser that doesn’t let you save a group of tabs. However, Saft v6.5 was released today, and amongst its many new features – the ability to save tab groups. I’d never looked into Saft before, as I’m not that bothered about full screen or kiosk mode (which was its original purpose) so I was surprised to see that its developer was busy adding more functionality.

Even better than tab group saving though, is the option to save a browser window – its tabs, window size and screen position. Previously saved windows are accessed through the File menu, as well as the ability to delete saved windows. Saft also features the same shortcut searches from the address bar as Sogudi, but adds those search engines to the google search bar menu as well. Nice.

Add to this PDF export/back/forward commands in the context menu, a preference to force new windows to open as a tab, type-ahead searching and suddenly Safari starts to feel like a fully-featured browser.

The only possible downside to all this, is that you have to pay $10 (£5.89 in UK money) for all this extra functionality. Some may feel its not worth paying to extend a free browser, especially when Apple might get around to adding these features someday. Its up to you, but personally I felt that it was a pittance for functionality that I would enjoy every day.

I’ve asked for bookmark menu separators in the next version – you never know…

Finallly, a quick mention for Safari Sorter, which will organise your bookmarks alphabetically for you.

OmniWeb 5

For the past year I’ve been dithering between Camino, Safari and Firebird as my default browser on OSX, unable to settle with one. They’re all really good, but each one has something that niggles me or leaves me wanting. In Camino its the lack of autofill and its centered tabbed browsing. In Safari, it’s the lack of toolbar customisability, its icons and non-configurable pop-up blocking. Firebird is the one that comes damn close, but at the end of the day, its not a cocoa app, so no native form widgets and (more importantly) I can’t use the funk in the services menu like ‘subscribe in NetNewsWire’ or ‘Encode into HTML’ (Character Convertor).

One other browser that I’ve been really impressed with was Omniweb 4.5. Its heavily laden with features, but that doesn’t seem to slow it down. It now uses the WebCore Framework (Safari’s rendering engine), so its CSS and Javascript problems are in the past. One of my favourite features is its form editor. Everytime you come across a textfield, you’ll see a small icon the scrollbar -click that and a larger editing window zooms out. This is particularly useful when fiddling with MovableType templates. I’m not keen on OW’s back/forward/stop toolbar icons, but that can be changed. The real drawback was the lack of tabbed browsing. Why pay $30 for a browser, when all the free ones supply this important feature? So I’ve been waiting for news of the next version, in which the Omni Group promised to bring in Tabs.

Finally, details have been released of Omniweb 5, but I couldn’t help give a huge sigh of disappointment (and feel a little angry) when I saw how they were going to implement tabs. The Omniweb way is going to be a side drawer with thumbnails of each site. If you’ve ever opened a multi-page PDF in Apple Preview, you’ll have an idea of how this will look.

This seems a very odd move. For a start, its screen-hungry. It might not be too bad on a widescreen PowerBook, but on normal proportion monitors it looks as if it’ll steal far too much space. Also, if there are more thumbnails than there is space for, you need to scroll down and then select one. Traditional tabs mean that everything is just one, easy click away. They obviously felt the need to be different – now that it uses the safari rendering engine, they have to work harder to convince users to buy something they effectively already have.

There are some interesting new features, such as an in-built RSS reader and ‘workspaces’ which allow you to save a set of tabs. There’s a google search box to compete with the others – but they’ve also included an interface to add your own search engines. (Safari and Camino require fiddling to do this, while Firebird has a wide selection of add-ons available from Mozdev’s Mycroft). The new page marker feature looks like Safari’s ‘snapback’ in all but name, but the ability to save preferences for each site (pop-ups, text size etc) looks handy. It all looks really promising, with just the tab-thumbnails dampening my enthusiasm.

Having said that, I’m slowly starting to come around to this new approach to tabbed browsing. When the public beta becomes available in February, I’m going to be eager to try it out.

Update: If you want to see how the new tabs work, have a look at this movie. This shows that you can view sites as a list, rather than thumbnails, as well as resize the thumbnails.

Update II: Omniweb 5 was previewed at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco this week, and Your Mac Life have a video interview with David Kasprzyk from the OminGroup. The video shows that it has the ability to resize the tab thumbnails, from huge to tiny. Looks even more promising….

YML at MWSF – Omniweb 5 Movie

InDesign CS

InDesign CS icon

Adobe recently updated their main product range as the ‘Creative Suite’ (CS), and with it, what would’ve been called InDesign 3 – InDesign CS. InDesign is their flagship desktop publishing/graphic design application, created as a rival to Quark Xpress, which had been without competition for years. I’ve been using v3 (sorry ‘CS’) for a few weeks now, and I offer here my initial thoughts.

InDesign 2

For all its negative points, Quark has never been a hungry app. It has a low minimum spec. Conversely, ID2 ran sluggishly on my G4, the beachball was a regular sight. For users with OS X however, running Quark in the classic environment was never a happy experience. Problems with screen redraw were partly solved by a free plug-in, but general erratic behaviour made InDesign a more inviting choice. ID also offered many features tha Quark users could only dream of – Multiple Undos, Open Type support, PDF output, native PSD support, transparency… the list was huge.

Quark still inhabits a price range normally reserved for high-end 3D applications – for less than the price of Quark, you can buy Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat! Add to that the delay of an OS X version and the offensively dismissive comments from Quark’s CEO towards Mac users, and you get a lot of unhappy Quark users converting to InDesign. Judging by the strong Quark presence at this years’ MacExpo, they realise they need to recover some ground.

My main problem with using ID has been that most other studios and printers are still on Quark v4 (released 1997). Printers able to take files as press-ready PDFs tend to only be very large outfits. If I create a design spec for another designer or typesetter, I can’t use ID and expect them to buy new software and learn it. Hopefully, this will become less of a problem in the future, as PDF workflows become more commonplace. For now, I use InDesign whenever I can, and resort to Quark when I have to. Anyway, onto the new version…

InDesign CS (or v3):

First of all, the packaging and branding, redesigned by MetaDesign, look amazing. The Creative Suite CDs come in a ‘fat DVD case’, an improvement on the all the seperate jewel-boxes they used to use. However, its seems that what was the last bastion of printed manuals has now given in. The Adobe CS comes with the dreaded ‘getting started’ leaflet with all the manuals provided as PDFs. To their credit, they do include a ‘Video Training CD’, but I couldn’t get this to work. Its sad, Adobe were always the reliable ones. Nothing beats a printed book to get information quickly.

These are the new features I’m excited about:

  • Bleed setup – Its about time this basic feature was introduced, InDesign got there first.
  • Preview separations and flattening – All the stuff that could go wrong at the last stage can be caught earlier, without having to wait for proofs.
  • Mixed ink support - This is something that Quark had been able to do since v3.
  • Speed - The sluggishness of ID2 is much improved. Page zooming was a particular problem area, but now much better.
  • Options palette – There is now a Photoshop style options bar at the top, giving easy access to all the common tools. This is context-sensitive, and changes depending on the tool you’ve chosen.
  • Side palettes – these can be hidden and shown like drawers on a single click, which helps de-clutter the palette frenzy. The only downside is that the palette headings are vertical, and those ‘in the background’ are very hard to read.

All of these features work exactly as you expect, and make working in ID that little bit easier.

The downside:


According to the manual, you can save files back to InDesign 2, but they have to be exported as ‘InDesign Interchange Format’ . ID 2 users then have to install a Scripting plug-in and the XML Reader plug-in. These are apparently downloadable from the Adobe site, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. Then I found this little note after a lot of searching on the Adobe site:

Saving InDesign CS documents for use with InDesign 2.0
The InDesign CS user guide and help documentation includes information on using the InDesign Interchange format export option to save documents for use with InDesign 2.0. This information should be disregarded, as this export option does not support InDesign 2.0 compatibility. Opening InDesign CS documents is not supported in InDesign 2.0.

Eh? ‘This information should be disregarded’?! A polite way of saying “we cocked up’! So if you want to use InDesign CS, you’ll have to wait until your suppliers/repro houses have caught up!

However, an Illustrator eps can be saved for previous versions, using ‘export as illustrator legacy eps’ (read ‘save as some old crappy thing’). Incidentally, Illustrator CS is also noticeably snappier, apparently this is something that was addressed with this upgrade. Its still my preferred illustration package to Freehand.

Summary

InDesign has continued to be more refined and powerful with an emphasis on elegant typographical control and integration with other Adobe products. In short, this is one of the few upgrades I’ve bought recently that I felt was really worth it. Just one major flaw: no way to save files back to version 2. Surely they’ll have to do something about this if they want to encourage more users to convert to it.


Oh, and a printed manual would be nice…

The Postal Service 'Give Up'


// SP CD 595 // Sub Pop Records

the Postal ServiceThere’s something comforting about the way Jimmy Tamborello (LA’s Dntel) and Ben Gibbard (Seattle’s Death Cab For Cutie) collaborated to make this record. After initially working together on Dntel’s ‘(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan’, Gibbard started receiving CDs from Tamborello with beatsy electronic music, which he then manipulated in his computer, adding melodies and vocals along the way. A fellow Seattlite, Jen Wood, also added her vocals to tracks such as ‘Nothing Better’. It’s a mixture of new recording technology and old-fashioned communication that works like a dream – ‘Give Up’ is fresh, original and immediate.

The sound is best described as ‘delicate electro pop’, with elements of The Human League or early Depeche Mode, but also artists like Ben Folds and Ween. Don’t let those references put you off – the ‘bleeps’ might come straight of the 80’s, but the beats and guitars are contemporary. The final track ‘Natural Anthem’ wanders into drum and bass territory – it manages to avoid being too much of one genre.

Standout tracks are the delicious opener ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ , the single ‘Such Great Heights’ (available as a free mp3 download from the bands website), the dreamy ‘Recycled Air’ and ‘Brand New Colony’. However, this is an album with no filler, everyone is a gem in its own right. There’s also the added delight of Jeff Kleinsman’s beautiful sleeve artwork (these things are important!), a collage of decaying Art Deco and 30’s black and white photographs.

While both are continuing with their respective bands, the duo have made plans to record again in the future. Can’t wait…

Rating: 5/5

Links:

The Postal Service official website

hail to the thief

Hurrah for the new Radiohead album ‘hail to the thief’. Its not a return to the OK Computer days (I can’t see that ever happening), but it’s definitely an album of good tunes. The packaging of the special edition is beautiful, created by Stanley Donwood and using ‘Mrs Eaves’, a lush serif font from emigre. The lyrics are different matter however:
“Dance you f****r/flan in the face” – quite.