Mac Gems

Although the ability to take unlimited photos allows digital photographers to make sure they get the best shots possible, it also has a drawback: at some point, you have to weed through the 63 pictures of your niece’s first dance recital to find the three or four worth keeping.

I used to import all my photos into iPhoto and then delete the ones I didn’t like. I also tried using Image Capture to import photos—since it allows you to import images selectively—but it still required that I look at a bunch of photos in a window and Command-click on the ones I wanted to import. I tried a few other image-editing and -management utilities, but none of them really made the process any easier.

What I really wanted was an easy-to-use, fast way to review photos before they ever got into iPhoto. So when I spied Stick Software’s $10 PhotoReviewer 1.4 (   ), my eyebrows raised in curious expectation. As it turns out, PhotoReviewer is just what I was looking for.

Although PhotoReviewer uses a standard slide-show mode for browsing photos, its real power is in letting you approve or veto images as you view them, and in making the process efficient. You approve or veto each image, one after another, as quickly as you can click on a button or press a key to pass judgment.

For each review session, you decide what happens to photos as you process them. You can leave approved images in place, copy them to a folder, or move them to a folder. Similarly, you can leave vetoed photos alone, delete them immediately, move them to the Trash, or move them to a specified folder. As you’re viewing photos in PhotoReviewer, you can rotate or zoom in on them to get a better look. You can also use the arrow keys to skip an image and come back to it later. Once you get into an approve-or-veto groove, you’ll fly through your images in no time at all.

Using PhotoReviewer in this way has turned out to be a major time-saver for me, and the software has a number of other useful features worth checking out if you’re looking to streamline your photo-management process. (It even lets you play and review QuickTime movies.) If, like me, you spend a lot of time sifting through your pictures to figure out which ones are worth keeping, PhotoReviewer will pay for its paltry $10 price in no time.

A Solid Background

Every once in a while, I come across a piece of software that’s so simple but so useful that I can’t believe no one has come up with it before. John Haney’s free Backdrop 1.2 (   ) is one of those apps.

As a tech writer, I take a lot of screenshots, usually with the excellent Snapz Pro X 2 (   ; Mac Gems, May 2004). But since I usually have lots of applications and windows open, I have to move a bunch of stuff out of the way to keep it from cluttering the screenshot. And if I’ve got folders and files littering the desktop, I have to clean those up, too. (If you’ve ever taken screenshots for a book, an article, a training guide, a Web site, or a poster or flyer, you know the hassle of which I speak.)

With Backdrop, window cleanup is a thing of the past. Just launch Backdrop, and you’ll see a solid background that fills your entire screen, leaving only the menu bar and the Dock visible. You then bring the desired app to the front and take your screenshot.

As simple as it sounds, Backdrop does offer a few useful options, including the ability to choose a color other than white for your background. You can even use an image file instead of a solid color—an easy way to watermark your screenshots. And although Backdrop’s default behavior is to act as an application layer—meaning that it floats between applications to provide a background that blocks everything behind it—it can also function as a temporary desktop background. This is helpful if you want a standard screenshot, icons and all, but with a different background than your day-to-day desktop image or color.

My one real complaint is that if you have multiple displays, Backdrop works only on your main screen. On the other hand, I tend to take screenshots on the main screen anyway, so I haven’t found that to be a significant limitation. If, like me, you take a lot of screenshots, Backdrop is a must-have.

Mac 411

In my line of work, people often ask me questions about particular Mac models, but despite my years of experience with Macs (and contrary to the misconceptions of my friends), I’m not a walking encyclopedia of Mac specs and information. When I need to look up information, I avoid browsing Apple’s Knowledge Base or wading through Google search results. Instead, I turn to Ian Page’s free (donations accepted) Mactracker 3.0b2 (   ).

Mactracker is a browsable and searchable database of information on almost every Apple product ever made, from the 128K to the iMac G5; it even covers the ill-fated Mac clones from Motorola, PowerComputing, and Umax, and it includes Apple scanners, printers, and displays. Each entry in Mactracker is chock-full of information, down to the most minute detail: processor type and speed, bus speed, drives, memory, graphics card, size, weight, supported OS versions, latest firmware update—you name it. Mactracker can tell you what type of RAM you should buy to upgrade the original 12-inch PowerBook G4 (PC2100 DDR266 200-pin SO-DIMM), how much the LaserWriter 8500 weighed (70.4 pounds), when Apple released the Color OneScanner (1991—the company discontinued it in 1992), and how much power a dual-2.5GHz Power Mac G5 consumes (a maximum of 600 watts).

As a nice bonus, each product entry in Mactracker features an image of the item, a brief description pulled (with permission) from the Apple Museum or www.apple-history.com, and—for computers—an audio demo of the model’s startup chime.

Suffice it to say that if you need information about an Apple product, Mactracker will have it. It’s a great resource for upgrading, and equally useful when you’re buying or selling a Mac, since you’ll have a complete set of tech specs for each model. Mactracker is the most comprehensive and easy-to-use resource on Apple products I’ve seen. The fact that it’s free is icing on the cake.

Where Did I Get That?

Despite several impressive recent entries in the Mac OS X browser market, Safari remains my favorite. But it’s still missing some features. For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer for OS 9 provided a very clever method for keeping track of where you found a particular item: it added the download URL to the file’s Finder comments. When I wanted to find out where I got a file, I could simply use the Finder’s Get Info command to view the download URL. As someone who is lucky enough to get paid to try new software, I’m downloading more stuff today than ever before, and—thanks to developers who don’t adequately document their software— I’m often left wondering where I found a file or disk image. So I was quite pleased to discover Ecamm Network’s free DownloadComment 1.0 (   ). Install DownloadComment (it runs in the background as an OS X Input Manager), and Safari adds the download information to the Comments field of any file you download by clicking on a link in Safari. Déjà vu, indeed.

DownloadComment does have a couple of significant restrictions: it works only with Safari, and it doesn’t currently work for files downloaded using Safari’s Save Linked File As command. (The developer plans to remedy the latter shortcoming in a forthcoming update.) But even with these limitations, DownloadComment is a useful utility that fills one of the few gaps in the otherwise great browser that is Safari.

Photo Filter.  PhotoReviewer makes it easy (and fast) to get rid of unwanted photos before they ever make it into iPhoto. Virtual Rug.  Take better screenshots by sweeping your clutter under Backdrop. Encyclopedia Mac.  Mactracker tells you anything you ever wanted to know about Apple products—and then some. Return Address.  DownloadComment reminds you where those Safari-downloaded files came from.
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