Posts in category apple - page 7

Pixelmator for Mac released

One of the things I love about Apple is the way they enhance Mac OS X with great features for other developers to leverage. Built-in spell-checking, incredibly rich edit controls, development environment and the recent Core frameworks are such additions. Core Image allows applications access to real-time hardware-accelerated graphic effects and is used within some of Apple’s own apps for various effects.

Pixelmator screen shotPixelmator is the product of a two-man team that provides Photoshop like abilities for $59. Apple would not ship such a product for fear of further upsetting Adobe.

Whilst Pixelmator bears a resemblance to Photoshop and will happily open PSD files the user interface is very clean and easy to use and the Core Image filters and correction tools deliver their results in real-time. No more of the tweak-wait-look cycle Photoshop forced us into and gazing at CPU benchmarks working out which combination of processor and OS would be better.

The GPU is king.

Pixelmator also delivers the usual array of painting, manipulation and selection tools, a variety of brushes, layers, gradients, support for 100 file formats, metadata access etc. It integrates with other Mac technologies including the iSight (new layer), Spotlight (search meta), iPhoto, ColorSync, Dashboard (file conversion), Automator and leverages various open-source technologies including ImageMagick, Gradient Panel, Cairo, Sparkle (software update).

If you need convincing download the demo and/or watch the introductory screen cast.

Future versions will include integration with Aperture (yes!), RAW file support, .Mac syncing (brushes, swatches etc.) and perhaps even vector support (probably utilizing Cairo).

Gruber had concerns Pixelmator was just vapourware which is now obviously not the case. I’m still waiting for Delicious Library 2 and Midnight Inbox 2 although I have a pre-release of OmniFocus I am allowed to write about if people are interested…


In search of the perfect keyboard

I started programming at 12 and have been fortunate to carve out a successful career in something I love to do. People find it strange when I talk with passion about IDEs, fonts, color schemes, mice and keyboards.

To me it seems perfectly natural when you consider a writer has strong preference and passion for pens and notebooks and photographers spend a small fortune on specific lenses and cameras to get the shot they want.

For years I was happy with my Apple Pro keyboard and then one day found myself messing around with my Amiga A600 and realized my typing was faster and more accurate on the Amiga than on the PC.

Some prefer “ergonomic” split-keyboards, others are impressed by back lighting, LCD screens or even an OLED display in every key. Most reviews skip over the most important aspect – what it is like to type on.

IBM Model M

IBM Model M keyboardI have fond memories of typing away on the IBM XT, AT and 5150 terminals and I found myself at eBay eyeing up an original unused IBM Model M keyboard similar to the ones those machines used.

Whilst the keyboard uses a membrane each key has its own spring that buckles as the key is pressed. This gives a satisfying tactile click that saw typing speed further accelerate than on the Amiga. Each key comprises of two plastic parts, the main body and the outer shell or key-cap. This means you can easily re-arrange the keys or put on specialist caps.

The Model M is a joy to type on but isn’t without fault. I can live without the Windows keys but the keyboard sports a huge surround taking up masses of desk space, is incredibly heavy and sounds like a machine gun when you get going with it.

Matias Tactile Pro

The Mattias Pro keyboard Apple produced a legendary keyboard too, the Apple Extended Keyboard but this has some immediate drawbacks in that it uses the Apple Desktop Bus, so would need an adapter, and is also tricky to get hold of.

I settled on the Matias Tactile Pro which uses the same Alps switches for each key but comes in a more friendly USB version. Designed for the Mac it has some extra keys and helpfully each key shows the various extra symbols available with the Alt key.

The Tactile Pro is great to type on however it is even louder than the IBM Model M and only available in the US key-map which means it is a couple of keys short. The enclosure mimics that of the Apple Pro keyboard but uses an inferior plastic that feels cheap and does nothing to dampen the volume but does helpfully feature a two port passive USB hub.

Note: The Matias Tactile Pro is an OEM version of the Strong Man SMK-Power989X. Matias now have the Tactile Pro 2.

DAS Keyboard II

DAS 2 mechanical keyboard I’d heard some good things about the DAS Keyboard II which unlike it’s predecessor is also mechanical but uses individual switches from one of the original keyboard manufacturers, Cherry.

The DAS II is USB and is a little quieter than the other two keyboards but is still loud enough to annoy nearby co-workers and yet nicer to type on than the other two. One of the selling points of the DAS II is that each key is totally blank resulting in one black keyboard but I could take or leave it.

Where the DAS does fall down is the large echo-inducing enclosure and the cheap-feeling plastic used for both the keys and the surround.

Note: The DAS Keyboard is effectively a custom OEM version of the Cherry G80 series.

Apple ultra-thin wired

Apple aluminum scissor-switch keyboardI only picked up this keyboard a few days ago so my experience with it is not as extensive as the others which all got a fair work-in. Impressions so far are very good despite it being a scissor-switch like most laptops and not mechanical like the others.

The surround is an absolute minimum which is fantastic and it looks great. Noise levels are sufficiently quiet and the feeling very enjoyable despite the low-profile and gaps between the keys. The addition of a built-in USB hub is useful but MacBook Pro style light-sensitive back lighting would have been great.

Where next?

I’m sticking with the Apple at home for at least a couple of weeks and will continue to use the DAS at work for now. The Model M and the Matias are currently gathering dust in the cupboard.

I have already modified my DAS II by removing it from the enclosure and placing it on a soft sponge material. It is immediately much quieter with less echo and a soft wrist rest which solves some of the issues. Replacing the keys with a softer rubberized plastic would be great but injection molding is rather expensive.

Check out the GeekHack keyboard forum for like minded chat.


Confusing co-workers, family and friends for fun

Everybody enjoys a good laugh and there are some fun simple things that can confuse your co-workers, family or friends for a few minutes.

Here’s a few tricks that may… or may not cause some amusement. Just make sure you step in before they need to call their IT support guy!

Simulated operating system crash

An operating system crash sends a shiver up the most confident of spines.

Windows Blue Screen of Death

Install the SysInternals teams BlueScreen Screen Saver complete with genuine looking reboot sequence.

Mac OS X Kernel Panic

Try out Doomlaser’s Kernel Panic Screensaver although be prepared for genuine confusion at their first exposure to an operating system crash ;-)

Confused keyboard

If they are a hunt-and-peck typist confuse them by swapping a few keys around on their keyboard (make sure it lets you pull the tops off, some of them don’t and leaving them with a broken keyboard isn’t fun at all).

An alternative if the keyboard doesn’t allow you to remove the key tops or if they’re a touch-typist is to change the keyboard map to one similar but not the same. Favorites include US for Brits and and British for Americans if you want something very subtle that may take a few hours to be noticed (when they hit some symbols, pound signs etc.) or German for something a bit quicker (W and Z reversed).

Head to the Windows Control Panel or Mac System Preferences to activate.

Permanent hourglass (Windows)

A simple trick that just involves heading into Control Panel > Mouse Properties then choosing the Pointers tab and double clicking on Normal Select. From there choose hourglas.ani

Google goes abroad

Google remembers which language you you last used so simply head to something like (Russian), (Welsh) or (French) then close the Window and walk away.

Any further visits will show in that language, even searches made from the built-in boxes of Internet Explorer and Firefox. To set back head to (English) or whatever language you normally use.

Swap short cuts (Windows)

Choose properties on either the desktop, start-menu or quick launch icon they use to launch their favorite applications and change the target to a different but perhaps similar application. i.e. iTunes and Windows Media, Word and WordPad, Excel and PowerPoint. They’ll probably think they hit the wrong icon or that something has messed up the file associations.

Change the display gamma

Head into Control Panel > Display (Windows) or System Preferences > Display (Mac) and adjust the gamma or color profile for their display. No amount of fiddling with the displays brightness or contrast settings will get it quite back to how it was.

Jeff Atwood has further suggestions for people who don’t lock their machines. Remember kids, WindowsL is your friend.


iPod refresh and ring-tones

iPod shuffle

New colors. Zzzz.

iPod nano

iPod nano really is just a smaller version of the iPod now, full video and games (Vortex and two others included plus others available to buy) on a full metal stubby device that has a large 200ppi 2.0″ display. Now available in $149 4GB and $199 8GB models. Yummy.

iPod classic

Thinner than the old video iPod but with new UI, full metal enclosure, 80GB and 160GB models and with 30 and 40 hour music playback battery life respectively. Nice, would probably make a great backup device in that 160GB format in fact has more storage than my laptop…

iPod touch

Essentially a cut-down iPhone that retains WiFi and the Safari browser (including “made for iPhone” sites), YouTube videos and iCal on top of the traditional iPod music, video and photos and unlike the iPhone is available worldwide with a 22 hour battery life.

The real new feature here is the buy directly from iTunes music store over WiFi without a computer. The clever bit is next time you dock it the sync will add it to your computer – bi-directional music sync!

Curiously they have partnered with Starbucks so that when you walk into a store you get an extra tab showing you what they are playing in-store and the last few tracks and then directly buy-it… It’s a little odd but will probably extend to other stores especially if they are getting a commission. Shame you can’t order coffee with a couple of taps and bill it to your iTunes account ;-)

There are a few disappointments – the storage options are $299 8GB and $399 16GB which prevent it from being a real high-end music or video player. The other disappointments are the stripping back of the notes, maps, stocks and weather applications and the complete removal of the built-in camera.


Dropping the 4GB model and cutting the 8GB model from $599 to $399 and adding the iTunes WiFi store. I guess they managed to persuade AT&T and other forthcoming providers that buying music has nothing to do with the mobile provider (or perhaps are giving them a cut?)

With the iPhone being so much richer in functionality and only costing $100 more than the equivalent iPod touch 8GB you have to wonder who will be buying the 8GB touch at least within the USA.

Those who already paid $599 may be lucky – Apple offer a 10 day price match so you can get a credit to the tune of $200 if you bought one within that time frame. Failing that there is a 14 day returns policy that would net you a $160 credit after the $40 restocking fee. Some people at TUAW are having luck with Amex price matches and AT&T offering line credits.

Ringtone rip-off

Quite how a seemingly endless number of people are prepared to pay 2-3 times the original cost of a song for a few seconds of it when they own the original has always amazed me.

With Apple moving away from DRM with iTunes+ and now producing a mobile phone this was always going to be an interesting development but sadly Apple believe the “your music how you want where you want” doesn’t extend to using a song as a ring tone and instead will charge you another 99 cents on top of the original price of the song to use it as a ring tone.

Sadly the music selection seems to be limited to specific songs and they don’t seem to want to let you use any music you required elsewhere, e.g. your own CD’s and legally acquired MP3’s. Thankfully there are charge-less ring tone makers available for the iPhone.

Where next?

Sadly I find that there is nothing in the line-up for me and it seems I’m not alone.

If the iPhone had GPS, 3G, 16GB flash and was available here in Guernsey (fat chance) I’d buy one. If I’m going to carry a second device alongside my phone it better have great storage (32GB+) but the iPod touch doesn’t. This leaves me with a choice of iPod nano or iPod classic and as my current iPod photo has just died what now but neither has a screen suitable for wide-screen movie viewing.

It is strange how the devices in Apple’s line-up with large wide-screen displays that would make them great portable video players don’t have the capacity to match.