Mac Gems

If you ever lug around a laptop or a PDA just in case you need contact or schedule information, the $16 BitPal 2.5 (   ; www.bitpal.com), from the company of the same name, may allow you to leave your portable computing devices at home. BitPal is a svelte information manager that keeps track of your contacts, calendars, and to-do lists.

It’s designed to be stored on solid-state media—a USB flash drive or a CompactFlash card, for example. Since the BitPal application and all its data are stored in the same folder, you need to copy only that one folder to your storage medium. When you need access to your data, simply mount your device or card on any computer and launch BitPal. When you’re done, you unmount and remove it, and no trace of your personal data is left behind. The BitPal folder, including your data, takes up only 5MB of space, so it will fit on any flash medium on the market and still leave room for documents and other files.

In case your life is cross-platform, BitPal also comes in a Windows version—you can store both versions on a Windows-formatted media card and have quick access to your information on any computer running Windows or OS X. And since it’s easy to lose a tiny flash drive, you can protect your personal data by encrypting it with the Blowfish algorithm.

If you’re already using OS X’s Address Book and iCal, BitPal can import your data from those applications. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t sync with them.) Furthermore, the Windows version of BitPal can import data from Microsoft Outlook, making BitPal one of the easiest ways to access Outlook contact and calendar information under OS X. Even if you don’t use BitPal as your primary information manager, it’s a great way to keep your data handy in case you need it in a pinch.

An Old Friendship Renewed

Speaking of contacts, last year I told you about one of my favorite OS X utilities, Tynsoe.org’s BuddyPop (   ; October 2003), which gives you quick access to your contacts without making you open the Address Book application—you simply press a keyboard shortcut and type the first few letters of a contact’s name. Over the past year, BuddyPop, which costs 7 euros (approximately $9 at press time), has been updated several times, and if you haven’t yet tried it, the current version, BuddyPop 2.2 (   ), deserves a look—especially if you have a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. Once your phone is paired with your Mac and in range, you can call any contact just by double-clicking on his or her phone number in BuddyPop’s contact window. Even cooler, the utility provides an on-screen Caller ID feature that’s more useful than the one Address Book provides: when someone calls your mobile phone, a window pops up showing the incoming phone number and—if the person is in your Address Book—the caller’s name and picture. You can choose to answer the call, silence the ringer, or deny the call altogether (which with most cell-phone providers will send the caller straight to voice mail).

The newest version of BuddyPop also includes modem-dialing features and many more display options. It’s a significant upgrade to the last version I looked at, and well worth the paltry shareware fee.

Wi-Finder

When traveling on business or just around town, I often find myself wondering if there are any nearby wireless networks to which I can connect my PowerBook for a quick e-mail check. Although there are a number of software products that can search for open networks, using them means unpacking your laptop, turning it on, and launching the application—a waste of time if no network is found (not to mention an unnecessary drain on your laptop’s battery). For frequent travelers, a tool like Marware’s $30 WiFi Spy (   ) can really come in handy. This keychain-size device has a single button and four LEDs; hold the button down, and the LEDs tell you if you’re in range of an 802.11b or 802.11g network and indicate the signal strength. It’s even directional, which helps you close in on the source.

One of the problems I’ve had with other such detectors was that they couldn’t differentiate between Wi-Fi networks, microwave ovens, and cordless phones, all of which use frequencies in the 2.4GHz range. But in my tests, the WiFi Spy correctly identified Wi-Fi networks while ignoring phones and microwaves.

Of course, just because the WiFi Spy detects a network doesn’t mean that network is open—it might use security measures to keep passersby from accessing it. That’s when you’ll need to whip out your PowerBook and give it a try. But at least you’ll be doing so only when there’s actually a network within range.

Contemporary Card Catalog

Our house is full of books:technical, history, fiction, and much more—we like to read. One problem we have is how to keep track of all those books. There are a number of great book-cataloging utilities for OS X, but Deep Prose Software’s $15 Booxter 1.5.3 (   ) has a feature that makes it stand out: the ability to add books to your catalog by “scanning” their UPC codes with an iSight or DV camera. (You can also use a handheld scanner.) You just hold a book up to your camera, make sure the bar code is in focus, and click on the Scan button in Booxter; the program extracts the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and then searches the Library of Congress Web site and Amazon.com for all the details—title, author, publisher, number of pages, price, book description, cover design, and so on—and adds the book to your catalog. You can also add books by manually typing in their ISBNs—one at a time or in bulk—or by importing them from a text file or a spreadsheet.

Booxter also stores all the data you’d expect a book-cataloging utility to: personal rating, price paid, borrowing and lending information, series numbers, and much more—over 30 fields in all. The iTunes-like interface makes it easy to browse your library by any criterion, and you can even create Smart Book Lists to quickly view books that fit particular sets of criteria. If you have books overflowing your bookcases, Booxter might be the tool you need to keep track of them all.

Sound Sorting

Macs have many options for audio output—the built-in speaker(s), headphone jack, USB or FireWire audio, PCI audio cards, and (with G5-based Macs) optical output—but one of the limitations of OS X is that almost all audio must go through the same output. (OS X 10.3 lets you play system alerts through a different output.) Even though you can play games and movies through a set of external speakers to get great sound with bone-jarring bass, you’re also stuck with iChat AV notifications that can scare you out of your seat.

Rogue Amoeba Software’s $12 Detour 1.5 (   ) aims to fix this problem. Using Detour, you can route each application’s sound to a different output; for example, you can send DVD Player’s audio through your Mac’s optical output to your 5.1 home theater system while restricting iChat AV’s notification sounds to your Mac’s internal speaker. You can also control the volume of each audio output separately.

Even if your only audio option is a set of speakers connected to your minijack output, Detour can help by allowing you to control the volume level of each application independently of the others. So you can blast your favorite game while keeping your e-mail- notification sounds subtle. No matter how many audio sources and outputs you have, you’ll appreciate the ability to sort your sounds.

Senior Writer DAN FRAKES ( www.danfrakes.com ) is the author of Mac OS X Power Tools, second edition (Sybex, 2004), and the reviews editor for Playlistmag.com. Send your thoughts on this column, or on things you’d like to see in future columns, to macgemsmacworld.com.

BitPal lets you keep your contacts and calendars handy, even when your laptop or PDA isn’t.The latest version of BuddyPop offers integration with Bluetooth phones.The WiFi Spy tells you if a Wi-Fi network is nearby—but whether or not you can connect is another story.Booxter uses a digital video camera to scan your books—then it adds their catalog information to your library.Detour directs each application’s sound to your preferred output.

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