Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday Top 5+3

Velma and I are going on a site visit to beautiful Sequioa National Park for a few days and I thought I’d be generous and post some extra distractions for those of you stuck behind desks while we’re backpacking through the redwoods. So here are three bonus links along with your normal five. Don’t say I never gave you nuthin’.



“Barney Miller” on Hulu
I loved this classic sitcom from the ’70s and ’80s, so I was pleased to see Hulu has added every episode. I’ve watched several so far, reliving my childhood with pre-adolescent glee. Plus the show had one of the all-time raddest theme songs (I can say “rad,” it was the ’80s!), and I found a free MP3 at TelevisionTunes.com. Now I just need to find all the episodes of “Taxi” somewhere online.



TelevisionTunes.com
Of course, I then spent half an hour looking up TV theme songs on this site. Best finds were the aforementioned Barney Miller, a semi-good quality version of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” TV theme, and the awesome “Streets of San Francisco” intro, which I’ve been wanting for years.



The Unofficial Apple Weblog’s Mac 101 series
I’ve been a Mac user for almost 25 years now (*whew*) so it’s not surprising that I’ve picked up a lot of power-user tips over the years. But even I learn something new once in a while. For PC-to-Mac switchers, novices, and even old timers, the Mac 101 series on TUAW is a great way to pick up quick and easy tips that will make you more productive and save time and effort. I perused the entire series a few nights ago and there are some great shortcuts and tips that will undoubtedly leave most Mac users thinking, “Aha! That’s how you do that!”



The Evolution of Apple.com
Snapshots of Apple’s home page, from 1997 to today.



Brute force Hubble fix saves the day — again
Play-by-play description of the second time spacewalking astronauts had to resort to brute force to repair part of Hubble on this latest, and so far very successful, trip. Some other interesting play-by-play descriptions of the recent trip are available in other posts on CNET News’s Space Shot blog.



What Would Penis Do?
The artist of these shorts has a new book.



Aerial Virtual Tour of New York
Dizzyingly cool. Switch it to full-screen and be amazed.

“Space Oddity: Steve Lamacq Live’s guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
I recently found this broadcast from BBC Radio 1 about the history of the Hitchhiker’s phenomenon, produced to introduce the 2005 movie. Features interview snippets with Douglas Adams, Simon Jones, Stephen Fry, actors from the original BBC TV series and radio shows, fans, and a bunch of people involved with the movie. Oh, and it’s hosted by the original Marvin, in character of course. It’s actually quite a good show, regardless of the movie being rather a let-down. [31:24 min, RealPlayer stream]

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Opening DiskDoubler files from Mac OS 9



Back in the day
The first external hard drive I bought was a 40 megabyte SCSI device, and it cost about $400. That’s correct, 40 MB for $400. Today you can’t even fit Mac OS X (just the system, with no other program files) on anything less than several gigabytes, but in 1989, when I bought that home-assembled drive from a guy in Scotts Valey, CA, that was considered a pretty big drive. In fact it was big — physically at least; it measured about 12" by 3" by 5" — about the size of 12 DVD cases together.

Back then, most programs fit on an 800k floppy drive, and if you had data files bigger than 800k, you were really pushing the envelope with your computing. In 1988 through 1992, I was publishing Western Front News, and began to scan grayscale photos for the newspaper and impose them on Quark XPress pages for high quality digital output. This was cutting edge for the time, given that large metropolitan newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle were still pasting up their pages by hand using paper, wax, and traditional halftone photos laid in by hand with hairline tape.

Grayscale images could make pretty big file sizes, however, and the layout program I was using to design the newspaper, Quark XPress, could make pretty big files too, unless you split your publication into separate files (e.g. “Front Page.qxd”, “Page 2-3.qxd”, etc.) which I did. But even using these tricks, files were beginning to get bigger than many people had space for, and hard drives were simply too costly for many people. This was also before removable solutions like Zip disks became popular.

Compression technology
Along came compression technology for the Mac like StuffIt and DiskDoubler, which used algorithms to look at the data in the files, close up gaps, and scrunch down needlessly duplicative parts (this is my vast oversimplification of how compression works). This was great for archiving files, but not very useful for files you were using all the time, since a file that had been DiskDoubled was unusable by the original creator program until you un-DiskDoubled it. Just like a ZIP file, which is what today’s modern OS X system uses for default compression.

After an edition of my paper was done and at the printer, I'd compress the Quark XPress files with Diskdoubler and then archive them on a few separate floppies. Then I could delete the originals from my $400 40 MB hard drive and free up a meg or two of space to work on other things.

DiskDoubler
DiskDoubler was great because you could enact it from the Desktop, which was uncommon then. You didn’t have to start it up each time you wanted to compress or uncompress a file, you could just select the file in the Finder and use a pulldown menu from the main Apple menu bar.

I was using DiskDoubler as early as System 6 and 7 (I think I bought it shortly after it was released in 1990), and I was definitely still using it as late as System 8 and 9. By the time I’d finally switched fully to OS X around 2002, DiskDoubler had been bought once or twice by other companies and future development had been shelved. I was still using it occasionally, but by then hard drives had become a lot more affordable, not to mention much larger in capacity.

Orphaned DiskDoubler files
It wasn’t until around 2006, when I bought a Mac Pro, that I realized I could no longer open these ancient archives I’d made in DiskDoubler. Until then, my trusty Mac G4 desktop could boot OS X and OS 9 at the same time, and while it wasn’t a perfect solution for using OS 9-only apps, there were so few instances that I needed OS 9 that it didn’t seem to matter.

The later version of OS X I had on my Mac Pro, on the other hand, did not boot OS 9. Now that I had this shiny new silver Mac and gigantic hard drives were pretty cheap (and I could fit up to four inside!), I’d moved most of my old files over from CDs and Zip disks and the like, thinking I could finally put old client files and other stuff in some logical order instead of having them all strewn all about. This would be especially helpful on those admittedly rare occasions when a client from ten years ago would call me up out of the blue and ask if I still had a map or logo or something (which happens about once every two or three years).

But even after ditching Zip disks and culling old files from CD-ROMs and putting them all on my Mac Pro, I still had lots of files that were .dd file format; they were DiskDoubled. In other words, I had files I couldn’t open. To make matters worse, I had about 100 floppy disks from waaaay back in the day, which contained some of my earliest client designs and most of my Western Front News archives. And all of those files were compressed using DD.

I had hung on to my older G4 for just this sort of reason. I knew it was the only way I was going to be able to open my old Quark XPress files, since I’d abandoned XPress long ago for InDesign and had no intention of purchasing the costly OS X version of XPress just so I could open ancient files that I only wanted to convert to PDFs.

I booted OS 9 and only then did I realize I’d never installed DiskDoubler on this Mac. I’d been using it at work, and I had it on an older Mac I hadn’t touched in years (and didn’t even have an extra monitor for). Not only that, I couldn’t find the program anywhere on my HDs.

The hunt is on
I tried every modern compression app I could think of, but none seemed to support DD format anymore (this was particularly disappointing of StuffIt, which used to be able to open DD files). I scoured the far-flung reaches of the Internets for a solution, to no avail. I saw random posts on various Mac help forums, people in the same boat as me, with age-old orphan files they wanted access to.

I eventually found one OS X program, The Unarchiver, that claimed to decompress DiskDoubler files, but it never worked. Finally, reading the developer’s support forum, I discovered that he just hadn’t gotten to implementing support for DD format yet.



Treasure found
At long last, yesterday I located an old backup CD of my utility applications from two or three computers ago. The CD is from 1999, but thank bog I held on to it, because it contained a working copy of Norton DiskDoubler Pro version 4.1, which runs under Mac System 9x and actually opens my Diskdoubler files. Hurrah!

A gift for those in need
As I mentioned before, I came across forum posts by other people trying to solve this same predicament over the years. Hopefully they’ll find this post via Google (I’ve tried to pepper the text with as many relevant SEO-able keywords as possible), and get some positive results from it.



Download Norton DiskDoubler Pro version 4.1 for Mac System 9

Recommendations for use
In order to use DiskDoubler you will need a Mac capable of booting OS 9.

The download file above is a ZIP archive made on OS X. You should download and unarchive it on OS X, then transfer the resulting folder to your Mac OS 9 volume (if you don’t have OS X and you can’t open the ZIP (I think you’ll be able to, though), leave a comment and I’ll see if I can use an older archive format).



On your OS 9 volume, open the folder Norton DiskDoubler Pro 4.1, and simply drag and drop any DiskDoubled file onto the application icon (see screenshot above). The file should compress to the same folder as the original, without deleting or moving the original. Those settings can be configured in the application, if you like.

Please comment
If you found this article helpful, have your own recommendations for using the app, or other advice to solve the orphaned DiskDoubler files problem, please leave a comment. If this article saved your life and you want to show your infinite gratitude by heaping mounds of money on me, please contact me directly and I will forward my offshore account info to you.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Checking your Seagate Barracuda drive’s serial number on a Mac

Some people have reported a problem with their Seagate hard drives that can make it look like your drive is gone or won’t mount. The affected products are Barracuda 7200.11, Barracuda ES.2 SATA, and DiamondMax 22. The problem has been tracked to a firmware issue, and Seagate has published instructions on their site to find out if your hard drive might be affected.

As is often the case, if you’re on a Mac, the instructions on Seagate’s website aren’t written for you, so here are the steps to follow:

A) Go to Seagate’s instruction page.

B) Skip Step 1 on that page, since it’s for PCs only.

C) Instead of Step 1, from your computer’s Apple menu (upper left corner of your screen), select About This Mac, then click the button More Info. This will open the System Profiler.

D) From the menu on the left, select Hardware > Serial-ATA, and you will see your hard drives listed.

E) Select each one, and look for the lines for Model and Serial Number. Those are the two you’ll put into the tools on the Seagate website.

F) Go back to the Seagate instruction page and follow steps 2 and 3.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Add search engines to your browser

If you're a Firefox user (or IE7 I'm told), you can search YouTube, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Amazon, IMDb, several dictionaries, and even the global Whois database directly from Firefox by installing simple add-on extensions.

"Search box add-ons" are not to be confused with "toolbars," which — while sometimes useful — generally add more functionality than just search, and also insert a new horizontal bar into your browser's chrome. I prefer to keep my Firefox chrome pretty clean and rarely use toolbars.

Many search box additions are available directly through Mozilla's Add-Ons section. Many other useful ones aren't listed on Mozilla.org, but they are available out on the Internet, if you know where to look for them. They can be pretty hard to locate sometimes, so here's a list of where to locate some of my favorites that I couldn't find on Mozilla.org:

And here's a great long list of other ones.

Tip: By selecting "Manage Search Engines..." at the bottom of the pulldown (see screenshot), you can also organize the list so your more important sites appear at the top.

What's in your Firefox search bar?
Got a good one to share? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Was this how-to tip helpful to you?
Leave a comment. Or a joke.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

How to run multiple copies of (the same version of) Firefox

For the longest time, while using Firefox 1.x I was able to run two or more copies of the application at the same time. This was useful for partitioning my work and protecting it from being lost if there was a FF crash (which there were a lot of in the later Firefox 1.x days). If one instance crashed, the other would still keep chugging along. This was especially necessary because we didn't have Session Restore in back then.

When Firefox 2 came out, this capability was lost. I tried to figure out how to do it again by following several methods I saw mentioned on the the web, but none of them worked, and alas, I'm not nerdy enough to figure out why not. I'd always get a damn error message complaining that I'm not allowed to run multiple instances of the same app.

It didn't work even if you copied the app to a different folder and launched the copy. It didn't even matter if one was Firefox 2.1 and the other was Firefox 2.3.4. No work.

While you can run an old copy of Firefox 1.x at the same time as Firefox 2.x or even a beta copy of 3.x, you can't run two copies of Firefox 2.x on the same machine at the same time, not even if one is version 2.0 and the other is version 2.5.

An. Noy. Ing.

But, lo! I finally found a method that works. As you can see from the screenshot, I'm presently running three instances of the same version of Firefox on Mac OS X.



Here's how to do it:

First, Quit Firefox if it's running already.

Start Terminal and type in the directory path to your Firefox application. It'll probably be similar to mine below. Note that "espd" is my username, so yours will be different. "Firefox_dwOct.app" is what I've named my app, but yours will probably just be "Firefox". It must be followed by the rest: "/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin" is standard for a normal Mac OS X install but it could be possibly be different for you (probably not, though).

espd$ /Applications/Firefox_dwOct.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin -P YourProfileName -no-remote &



If you can't figure out the right path to the app's binary file (the "firefox-bin" part), then here's how to find it: In the Finder, open your Applications folder, find the Firefox icon, and right-click (or Control-click) to get the Contextual menu (pictured below), and select "Show Package Contents." That's how you see the files inside an application bundle.



Now, inside the Finder window that will open, you'll see a folder named "Contents." Double click it, and you'll see a few more icons, including a folder titled "MacOS." Open that one and look for the file called "firefox-bin", with an icon like a Terminal session (pictured below).



Now arrange your Terminal window and the Finder window so you can see them both, and simply drag the "firefox-bin" icon directly into the Terminal session after your username-prompt (pictured below), and it'll instantly fill in the correct path. OS X is pretty neat that way.



So once you've got the path to your Firefox app in Terminal, you'll need to change the example text "YourProfileName" to your actual profile name.

espd$ /Applications/Firefox_dwOct.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin -P YourProfileName -no-remote &

If you don't know your profile name, here's how you find it: In the Finder, navigate from your Home folder (usually your username, like mine in the screenshot below) to the folders "Library > Application Support > Firefox".



Inside the Firefox folder is your "Profiles" folder. You probably only have one profile inside, and it probably has a weird name like "65d7ghtn.default", although it might instead be called something like "qtgfxqc3.YourName".

That "YourName" part will actually be a profile name, not "YourName". You chose a name when you first installed Firefox way back in the Dark Ages, and you've probably never seen it since. Whether it's "YourName" or "Fred" or just "default", you can put that in where I've got "YourProfileName" in the example below.

espd$ /Applications/Firefox_dwOct.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox-bin -P YourProfileName -no-remote &

Now just type the "-no-remote &" part, then hit your Return key and Firefox will launch the Profile Manager (pictured below). This is a part of Firefox most people never see, but it's handy. It's off by default, but the Terminal command "-P" turns it on.



Now you want to un-check the "Don't ask at startup" checkbox, because if you're going to use multiple profiles you want Firefox to launch the Profile Manager each time you start Firefox, so you can choose which profile to use.

If you only have one profile listed, at this point create a new one. Follow the dialog boxes and it'll step you through the process, then it'll launch the browser as normal.

Now go back to Terminal and copy and past the command again, this time using the other profile name you haven't initiated yet. A new Profile manager will launch, you can select the profile you haven't launched a browser for yet, and click the "Start Firefox" button.

Voila! Two instances of Firefox running, using two different profiles.

PS> I should note that it's the magic "-no-remote" Terminal command that allows you run two or more instances of an app. You can do it with many other apps too, if you like (not all will work, your results may vary).

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Syncing your home and office Macs

I was leaving my job and had accumulated three-plus years of contacts, website bookmarks, emails, etc., that I wanted to keep and transfer to my home computer, but I didn't necessarily want to use the same apps at home that my company used. For example, Mac users in my office used Microsoft's Entourage (the Mac equivalent of Outlook) for address book, shared calendering, and email.

Despite two or three super-annoying bugs that Microsoft never fixed in the three-plus years I used it, I actually liked Entourage more than any Microsoft software I've used since the old System 9 days when the Mac version of Internet Explorer was the only really decent browser on the market for a few years (obviously this was before Safari, Netscape had been swallowed whole by AOL and was beginning to suck pretty bad, and Firefox hadn't even been invented).

But why would I splurge for Microsoft's Entourage at home when my Mac comes with three great free apps (Address Book, iCal, and Mail) that do fundamentally the same things Entourage does, and all work together too?

So I needed to figure out a way to sync data from the work computer with the home computer, while also switching from some apps to different ones. There were a lot of tips on the web about how to switch from Entourage to Address Book or how to go from Outlook to Entourage, but these tips all required that you were either doing this on one computer, or had the two computers in the same room.

I needed solutions that would work between work and home. It took me a few days of researching and experimenting, but I came up with some solutions that worked well.

Read on for solutions to these problems:
Problem #1: Can I export my Entourage contacts and email?
Problem #2: How do I get my IM contacts to my home computer?
Problem #3: How do I sync that newly exported data from work to home?
Problem #4: How can I take my web browser's bookmarks home?
Problem #5: I don't want to lose all my web site passwords saved in my browser!
Problem #6: How do I open Word documents at home?
Problem #7: Can I consolidate my home and work iTunes libraries?




Problem #1: Can I export my Entourage contacts and email?



Entourage to Address Book
This was easier than I expected. Entourage on OS X lets you export your contacts as vCards, which is a cross-platform text format (.vcf) that is recognized by almost any contact app (like Apple's Address Book). It's simple: In the Finder, make a new folder called vCards. In Entourage, select all your contacts, and just drag them all to the folder (it may take a couple minutes if you have a lot of contacts). Then, in Address Book, simply select File > Import > vCards... from the menu (see picture below), and navigate in the dialog box to the vCards folder you dumped your Entourage contacts into.

After that, I could sync my Address Book with .Mac to get them to the home computer. But more about that in a moment.








Entourage to Mail
This bit was unexpectedly simple too. Similar to the previous scenario, if you just drag an Entourage email folder or your entire in-box from the program to the Finder, all the data gets exported and packaged into the popular .mbox format. It even includes attachments, much to my surprise.

After that, all you have to do is transfer all those .mbox files to your home computer, and if you're going to use Apple's own Mail app at home like me, you simply open Mail and select File > Import Mailboxes... from the menu (see picture below).



Next you'll see a dialog box named Import (see picture below), in which you'll want to select Other from the list and hit Continue. Then you just use the ensuing dialog box to navigate to the .mbox files on your hard drive and then Mail will churn through them all (it may take a while if you have a lot of email) and put them in a new folder titled "Import."






Problem #2: How do I get my IM contacts to my home computer?



I use the excellent, multi-service, open source Adium X at both work and home, but Adium stores some of its contact data locally. So if you've added a nickname to a contact to remember that, for example, pirate2am is Hilary, then you only have that notation on the one computer, and the next time pirate2am IMs you while you're on the other computer, you may not remember who that is (don't you hate having to ask somebody "Who are you?" on IM?).

So my solution concentrated on finding a way to export my contact list from Adium at work and then syncing it with my contact list at home. There's no built-in function for this, and sadly there's not even an export function in Adium (although the latter is on their development roadmap), so I couldn't just export a tab-delimited or CSV file to take home and import.

At the same time, I also had duplicate contacts in Adium and Address Book, but in the IM client you normally have little more than their username, their IM service (AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.), and maybe an avatar. In Address Book, you obviously have a lot more fields. But if you're like me, for some people's entries you don't have their IM, you always just have that in your IM client, so why bother? And perhaps you want to capture their avatar from the IM client and copy it into Address Book's nifty picture field.

Doing a Google search brought me (eventually) to Adium Book, a little OS X AppleScript app made by a Brazilian programmer named Aurelio.

This little app worked great, looking at Adium X and Address Book at the same time, comparing records, and giving me a simple interface for resolving conflicts (see picture below) like duplicate names and/or differing data for the same name. It even let me copy avatars back and forth, and if I had two different ones for a single person, it let me choose which one to use, or to keep a different one in each app.



Now that I had all my IM contacts copied from Adium X to Address Book, I still needed to get them home. So it was time to sync using .Mac.




Problem #3: How do I sync that newly exported data from work to home?



I'd been avoiding getting a .Mac account for years, since I couldn't justify paying $99 a year for things that I can already do on my own website (e.g. web pages, blogging, webmail, etc.), or through other services that have more robust features (e.g. photo sharing, bookmark syncing, etc.).

But because I've avoided .Mac, I've never been able to take advantage of the easy-to-use sync features that are built into all Macs. Because I had a deadline by which I needed to have my work data backed up and transfered to my home Mac, I thought it was time to give .Mac a whirl. Plus I could take advantage of the 60-day free trial and accomplish everything I wanted to do, and then if I still didn't think .Mac was worth it, I could drop it before having to pay for a full year.

There are actually two or three features of .Mac that I really like, and that are difficult to reproduce using other services (and certainly not in the easy and built-in way that .Mac works). Those features are: 1) Sync, 2) iDisk, and 3) Back to My Mac. That last one is only available to Leopard users, so until I upgrade I can't use it. But in the meantime, the first two make .Mac worth a try, and I must admit that Sync works so effortlessly that I'd almost be willing to pay for .Mac just because of that.



With .Mac you can sync your Safari bookmarks, Address Book contacts, email, calendars, keychains, and more (Leopard adds Dashboard widgets too). I wish it also worked with Firefox bookmarks, but I have other methods for that, described later.

Once I signed up for the .Mac trial period, I could suddenly sync my Address Book at work (which remember now contains all my contacts from Entourage and all my IM contacts), to .Mac's servers, and then go home and sync .Mac with my local machine(s). Suddenly I have exact copies of all my contacts at home as well as at work, plus I've got them on the web with .Mac, so I can access them from almost anywhere.




Problem #4: How can I take my web browser's bookmarks home?



.Mac also syncs your Safari bookmarks, but I primarily use Firefox, so .Mac wasn't going to cut it in this regard. Luckily, it's extremely simple to export/back up your Firefox bookmarks. Just select Bookmarks > Organize Bookmarks... from the menu (see picture below).



Firefox will bring up the Bookmarks Manager, in which you simply seelct File > Export... (see picture below), and you save the file as something like "Bookmarks_Firefox_January2008.html" on your hard drive. Then you move the file to your home computer, open the Bookmarks Manager in Firefox again, and select File > Import... from the menu.



There are some apps out there to help you resolve any duplicates, but that's a long, involved, and therefore separate tutorial, so I'm going to save that for another time. At least you now haven't lost all your bookmarks you collected on your computer at work.

Oh, and while I'm thinking of it, it's a pretty good idea to regularly export those bookmarks on your computer anyway, as a backup. I keep several years' worth of them in my Documents folder, all dated and organized by browser. I lost several years worth of bookmarks once in a hard browser crash, and I'm not going to risk that ever again.




Problem #5: I don't want to lose all my web site passwords saved in my browser!



If you're a Firefox user like me, you probably like Firefox's useful ability to store usernames and passwords at the many sites you have to log into every day, week, or month. If you're not using it, you can turn it on from the Firefox > Preferences... menu, then click on the Security icon/tab in the prefs dialog box that comes up (see picture below).



Obviously this functionality is only viable if you're not on a shared computer, and if you are using Apple's Keychain to securely store your master password. Otherwise, other people will see your username/password combination when they go to log in to Yahoo! or places like that.

I was switching from the work computer to full-time on the home computer, and I dreaded having to remember — and re-type! — all those passwords that I regularly used on the work computer. I searched in vain for an app that would export these from Firefox (which does not support this function itself, although it should) so I finally had to bite the bullet and type them all into a text file (you can't even drag and drop them out of FF's list!) which I then transferred to home and will have to re-enter.

Update: I don't know how I overlooked the Firefox extension Password Exporter when I was first looking for a solution. I've installed it now, but haven't tried it out yet. The documentation leads me to believe it can import as well, which would by useful.




Problem #6: How do I open Word documents at home?

This wasn't actually a problem for me, since I've avoided Word for years, and there are already plenty of alternatives to Word on the Mac, and even several web apps you can use instead. But for sake of completeness and because I predict there will be people who find this article who do use Word a lot, I'll mention some solutions.



TextEdit
This app is free and comes installed on every Mac with OS X, but most people don't realize it opens Word's .doc format. I use TextEdit for almost every simple text document I need to write that will eventually get printed or made into a PDF. You can drag-and-drop or cut-and-paste images into it with ease, and I think you can even drag-and-drop tabular data from other apps into it (I never need this, however, so I'm not positive). It lacks many of the vast "features" that make Word the worst of the bloatware in my book, but I never have any need for those features, and if I need to do complex layouts, why in hell would I use a text editor anyway? That's what layout programs like InDesign or Illustrator are for.

Oh, and a word to the wise about Word's .doc files: On a Mac (and on PCs too, for that matter), there's never any reason to save anything as a .doc file, which is proprietary to Microsoft and just means that anyone you send the document to is almost always going to need Word to open it. The simple alternative, which supports 99% of the functionality anyone will ever need in a .doc file, is the .rtf format. Just save everything as .rtf and the whole world will love you.

xPad
I've been using this little notepad app for years and I can't live without it. xPad does everything TextEdit above does, but it also auto-saves and adds an extremely handy tray to the side of your document window and keeps all your docs listed there, making organizing your frequently-accessed text documents incredibly easier. I keep to-do lists in there, five or ten half-written blog entries at any given time (I wrote this tutorial in it, screengrabs and all!), drafts of emails, link lists, and much more (see picture below).






Problem #7: Can I consolidate my home and work iTunes libraries?



Now this was a big one. I worked in a place where lots of music was available (Download.com has over 100,000 free MP3s, for example), and I occasionally happened upon treasure troves on the net that I was all too happy to queue up for download on the fast connection at work.

Eventually I had amassed quite a collection of songs that I didn't have at home, and when it came time to leave my job I certainly didn't want to lose those. It would be simple enough to copy them all to a hard drive, bring them home, and then drag them into iTunes to import. But I'd spent a lot of time building playlists to listen to at work, not to mention rating most of those songs. I wanted to retain that metadata!

I saw two vendors at MacWorld Expo who offered a potential solution, and I picked SuperSync because it seemed to offer a lot more robust features, even if the interface on the other one was a little cleaner and easier to understand. Plus I met the actual developer there at the booth, hawking SuperSync, so I was able to spend 10 or 15 minutes asking him "Will it do..." and "What if..." until I was satisfied that it'd probably work great for me.

That said, I purchased SuperSync but I haven't actually had time to try it yet, so I'll have to update this post after I've given it a whirl. ; )






Conclusion
I hope some of these tips come in helpful to you. I'd like to hear from you if they do. Or, if you have any additions, corrections, or alternative methods you'd like to share, please post them in a comment below, or write them up for your own site and post a link here.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

How to merge Blogger accounts

I actually have six Blogger blogs, and until today they were spread across two separate Blogger accounts. But I finally tracked down a way to merge accounts. Well, actually it's not merging, it's transferring permissions from one to another, but it accomplishes the same thing.

Until a few months ago this was not possible, according to this helpful post on the Google Groups site. Read post #4 by dancingbrook for the method. It worked like a charm for me, and I was able to move three blogs from one account over, merging them with my primary blogs on my main account.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday top 5

Big Rig Jig
This sculpture is going to be at Burning Man. Waah! I wanna go.
www.bigrigjig.com

Spoon's "Don't You Evah" (featuring Keepon)
Heh heh, cute dancing robots.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPdP1jBfxzo

How to take a product-shot photo on a white background
A pretty simple method. I tried it out the other night, and while it's a little harder to get a really good result than it might first seem from this tutorial, it works pretty well.
www.sxc.hu/blog/post/133

Horn guy
www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5x5s3xo6tI

Original Design Gangsta
"No widows, ya heard?!" Okay, only the design geeks are gonna get this, but what the hell.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJexyQT0l1c
BTW, the video's by illustrator Kyle T. Webster.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gettin' hitched, part 1: branding your wedding

After Velma and I decided to get hitched, I started thinking about some of the cool things we'd get to make as part of the process, like invitations. I also harkened back to a post I'd seen a year ago on a blog by a designer whose work I admire, Jason Santa Maria, who had made a website for his wedding and had posted similarly about "branding" his wedding and the associated collateral material he'd made.

I googled it to find the post again, and was duly re-inspired. Jason's an excellent designer with an extremely good sense of how typography works on the web and in print. He's responsible, among other things, for last year's excellent redesign of A List Apart.

Over the ensuing months, I had lots of ideas about what we could do, and kept notes in the little Moleskine notebook I carry everywhere.



From the very beginning we called it a "hitchin'." I'll get into the choice of wording a little more in a later post about the whole process of deciding to get married, but suffice it to say: it wasn't odd to us at all to call it "Mark & Velma's Hitchin' Party," since we'd already been asking each other for months if we really wanted to get hitched.

The save-the-date

Being the excellent event planner that she is, Velma had worked back from our October 7 hitchin' day to select a date to send out the save-the-date announcement.

Usually for a design project I have at least a few days to sketch ideas and browse through some magazines or something for inspiration. But it turned out that I had about a day to plan and execute the save-the-date design, and Velma starts getting antsy (read: annoying) when I let a deadline slide by much.

So, since I had a reasonably good idea of the design style I wanted to project (a little quirky, a little pop-art, and somewhat organic in texture), I just threw something together in about an hour and a half.

The save-the-date postcard was never actually a printed postcard, since we emailed it to everyone, and called the small handful of people who we couldn't email. This has several benefits, such as: postage savings (none), faster delivery, cheaper to produce (free), and the ability to use a totally custom design.



So, while it was never actually physically printed, the postcard intentionally looked like a printed piece. I used real paper for a textured background, and made the type look like it was actually printed on the paper. The stamps look real, down to the authentic postmark, but in reality every single item on the card was composited in Photoshop. I thought it'd be clever to use the "I love you" stamp, and then threw in a twist by using a postmark from Estonia instead of a U.S. one.

The save-the-date not only introduced the M&V circle monogram I used as the mainstay of the brand, but was for some people the first time they heard we'd decided to get hitched!

The website



This was going to be my favorite part, but also the most time-consuming. I'd originally planned to create the entire site as a Movable Type blog so Velma and I could both administer posts, and so visitors could comment right on the site. However, it was already going to be a massive undertaking to just design and build the entire site in a little over two weeks, plus I wanted to do it as an entirely CSS-based layout. So I shelved the MT blog idea and decided I could revisit it when it was all done to see if I had time to convert the static pages into dynamic MT templates. It turned out I didn't.

After the save-the-date postcard's somewhat rushed beginnings, this would be the first item to have a full-blown design, and it would serve as a visual touchstone for the rest of the collateral items to follow, such as the all-important invitations. So, as with any design project, I needed to do some sketches, consider typefaces and styles and colors, and seek inspiration from other people's designs. I also needed to collect and create visual assets like the M&V monogram, the type-based logo and its shield, the green wallpaper pattern background, and the little print-inspired flourishes.



At the same time, Velma was outlining and writing most of the content. When she handed it over to me it was about 85% done. I reorganized a few things to make them work better in a website environment, edited some things and injected a little more strange humor here and there, and started styling some of it for coding it into xHTML. I usually begin in xPad or TextEdit, inserting a few tags here and there, mostly for styling the fonts, and inserting HREFs if I have URIs already or by looking them up in the browser on the fly.

I iterated a few designs before I settled on one that I really liked. And it was a good thing, because I was beginning to run short on time. Luckily, I'd decided to take a week off from work because I was seriously exhausted from the pace at work during the Webshots redesign process, so I had a week I could dedicate to designing, building, and testing the website.



I chose a lively color scheme of bright greens and light yellow to invoke our nature-inspired theme and to emphasize our somewhat nontraditional take on the concept of a wedding. I counterbalanced that with black and red as more traditional print and ink colors, and chose old-style wood type fonts to give a somewhat retro old-timey feel. I used Georgia for all the HTML text, which is a gorgeous serif font even on the web (most serif fonts are atrocious on screen), and I used several gothics and slab serif fonts to invoke a feel of artisan printing techniques. Last but not least, the tiny flourishes and the minute lines and dashed lines are in orange, as a nod to my bride's hair color and to throw in a fall color for our autumn wedding. The orange thread we used to stitch the invitations later was not just a coincidence.

After finalizing a design template that would be generally unchanged for most pages, I created some header variations for the content area in the center. Some of the pages needed simple headers and some needed headers with sub-headers. I used HTML text for the headers in keeping with good web-standards techniques, and spruced them up by bookending them with graphic flourishes.



After the basic page template was designed in Photoshop, I created the Photos, For Out-of-Towners, and Gifts pages next, since their content would vary most from the other pages, which are largely just text pages with nice styles and spacing applied. I knew I wanted to make something special for the Photos page, but that it had to be pretty fast and easy to implement, and needed to be updatable later with wedding and honeymoon photos. I liked what Jason did on his site but I didn't want to mess about in Flash and didn't know what he'd used.

I decided to experiment with Lightbox, a fairly new and very cool JavaScript library that seemed like it would be fairly pretty easy to implement. I hoped, anyway. Turned out it was easy, and I had our photo gallery up and running in an afternoon once I started building out the xHTML pages.



I spent most of the weekdays on my week off building the xHTML framework for all the pages and the CSS to make it all look good. I use Dreamweaver to do all this stuff, since it just goes about a million times faster than hand coding used to. During the process of making a fairly complex three-column CSS-based layout without tables, I relied heavily on Dan Cederholm's excellent book Bulletproof Web Design, which I can't endorse highly enough.

Most astonishingly, I was able to build a site for the first time that validates for xHTML 1.0 Strict instead of just Transitional. I rather surprised myself by being able to do it.

Later I'd enlist the help of Jason Ables, who gave me his handy little PHP script for the RSVP page. And while I spent an hour or two looking into Perl- and PHP-based scripts to create an interactive poll for our Surname Survey page, I simply ran out of time and had to use a simple "email us your suggestion" link.



I spent a lot of time and effort on the website, and I'm very happy with how it came out. Being the perfectionist that I am, there are of course a few minor things I would have done differently or better, given more time, but all in all it came out about 98% perfect, which is more than I can say about almost any client project. So I'm very pleased with it.

The site was recognized by a number of CSS galleries, sites that serve to inspire other designers and to showcase exemplary use of design and web-standards coding.



The invitations

I'm a pro at doing invitations, I've been designing them for all kinds of events and parties for over 15 years. But this was actually the first time I'd designed a wedding invitation. Designers love to show off how clever they are when making their own wedding invites, and I'm no different in this regard.

Given more time and money I would have made them exceptionally elaborate, with letterpress printing, tipped-in sheets, and other fancy printing techniques. But it was actually more important to make them by hand for two reasons: I wanted to show the personal care and effort we were making with each one. Also, it was important to us to plan and execute a wedding that was fun but not incredibly expensive. It would be against our principles to spend $50,000 so frivolously when you can have a wonderful, memorable time for a fraction of that cost.

So I turned to long experience with designing great-looking collateral materials for nonprofits who never have any budget for printing. I've become somewhat of an expert at this, and I called on all that experience to create a design that was totally professional looking but also totally unique. To top it off, we assembled the entire thing ourselves and probably made and mailed them all for less than $300.



I used a ream of paper I'd had left over from a client project about eight years ago. I used another ream of paper we'd picked up at a surplus store for about $2 (retails usually for about $30). I bought a matching ream of cover stock for the CD inserts and the RSVP postcards, and a box of envelopes.

Velma carved the block designs for the front leaf pattern from oak leaves she'd collected. Velma and I did the block printing in one evening, and by morning they were all dry. I designed the cards in Adobe Illustrator and intentionally made them fit two-up on a normal sheet of letter paper, so we could print everything in-house. The only exception was the RSVP cards, since I couldn't get the heavy card stock to feed through the printer. Instead, I took those to Kinko's and they were copied and cut in about ten minutes.



I hand-cut and folded all the other pieces and then our friend April assembled them while Velma sewed the orange stitch in the spine using her sewing machine.

We stuffed the 70 or so invites ourselves and Velma hand-addressed them, and affixed the special stamps I'd ordered from Stamps.com a few weeks earlier. The stamps turned out to be the most costly part of the whole invite, probably around $150 or so — one on the outer envelope and one on the RSVP postcard inside. The rest of the invite's printing cost nothing since we did it all in-house. Needless to say, the design was free : )



I'm extremely happy with the way they came out. They're very distinctive and definitely match our personalities, and they were a collaborative effort through and through (even if Velma felt for a while like I was hogging all the work).

The rings

I don't know where Velma came up with the idea of getting tattoo rings, but I liked the idea instantly. I've been considering a tattoo for a couple years now, and I was pretty close to getting one last winter, but never really got around to it. Actually, until two years ago, I'd never really considered it at all. I didn't dislike tattoos, but was never that interested in them either. At least not having one permanently on me.

But that's one of the reasons I liked the idea of tattooed wedding rings. Its permanence. After all, it would be a strong statement of our commitment to say to each other that we'd permanently wear our wedding rings.

We made sketches of patterns over several weeks, trying to come up with a design that would be personally meaningful and also simple enough to do in such a small space. We played around mostly with ways to try to entwine the letters M and V, but never came up with one we were both enthusiastic about.

Nearing the hitchin' date and needing to decide on something, I took a black felt tip pen out of my drawer and sketched a simple leaf on my finger — just three lines — and showed it to Velma. We had our ring design. The leaf is a significant symbol for both of us as environmentalists and lovers of nature, and the design also happened to be aligned with the design of the invitations and website too.



The other benefits, by the way, are that you never have to worry about losing your ring, and tattoos are a lot cheaper than diamonds ; )



The favors

I had all sorts of ideas for wedding favors I wanted to make, and was probably being way too ambitious considering we didn't have months and months to plan and execute them all, and some of them would've taken a considerable amount of time (like mini photo books).

At some point Velma remembered a post I made in January about a website where you could print custom messages on MMs. She'd also come across a similar site where you could personalize the printing on Sharpie pens. We'd half-jokingly discussed filling in the ring tattoos with a Sharpie at the ceremony, since we'd have to get the tattoo a week before so it'd have enough time to heal.

We were running low on time, and the Sharpie website didn't have anything saying how long it took to fill and ship orders, so we decided to just get the MMs, which we could get with time to spare.



We'd made a huge playlist of awesome songs to play on an amplified iPod at the park, and I wanted to make DVDs with several hundred songs for everyone, but Velma was concerned that some people would want a normal audio CD to play in their cars. That, and the fact that we had less than a week to go at this point, limited us to a playlist of 22 songs on about 75 audio and MP3 CDs we burned over the next few days.



I made two special insert cards that showed which was an audio CD and which was an MP3 CD, and had the song titles and artists on the back. For any guest who didn't get one, we have some extras and I can mail you one, or you can stream Volume 1, a bunch of extra songs we played during the day that didn't fit on the CDs, using this handy little player I found. And if you're savvy enough, I bet you can figger out how to download the ones you like.

The photo & recipe book

This part's yet to come, so I'll update the post when it's actually finished : )

Update: Regarding the oak-leaf motif used throughout the design of our Hitchin' website and invitations:

I recently learned (from a post by J.K. Rowling, interestingly) that the Oak is the Celtic tree associated with the birthdays of both Velma and myself (June 10 through July 7). I'd like to say that I'd pre-planned this symbolism in the design stage, but I didn't. The use of oak leaves was connected to our selection of the Oak Grove picnic area in Huddart Park, and was symbolic to our overall love of nature and fondness for oaks in particular.

But the Celtic birthday association is a pleasant bonus.

tags: hitchin', Velma, personal, friends, music, design, web design

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