Mac Gems

In August 2004, I introduced you to Carsten Blüm’s Plain Clip (   ), a useful little app that strips text of all formatting so you can copy formatted text and then paste it as plain text. Reader response to that recommendation was very positive—it’s clear that some people spend a lot of time cleaning up text.

Unfortunately, styled text is often the least of your concerns; a bigger issue is messy text—text copied from an e-mail, a Web site, or a PDF, and littered with odd characters, hard returns, unnecessary spaces, and who knows what else. If this sounds familiar, you need to check out unmarked software’s $25 textSoap 4.0.7 (   ).

True to its name, textSoap cleans your text—much faster than you can with your mouse, arrow keys, and delete key. Simply paste your text into the textSoap text window and then select your favorite cleaner —a set of rules that tell textSoap exactly what you want done with your text—and your text is ready for pasting. The available cleaners range from the simple to the comprehensive. For example, Spaces replaces multiple contiguous spaces with a single space; Forwarding removes the pesky arrow characters (>) from forwarded e-mail text, and cleaners such as Uppercase, Capitalize Words, and Straighten Quotes let you manipulate case and formatting. More-complex cleaners include Scrub—which strips spaces, forwarding arrows, and line feeds; rewraps paragraphs; and converts Hex designations (such as %20 and the similar gunk you often see in e-mail messages) to their ASCII equivalents (turning the aforementioned characters into a space, for example). It’s quite pleasing to see a mess of forwarded text instantly transform into nice, neat paragraphs.

All of these cleaners are very useful, but what won me over is the ability to create custom cleaners. And in case having to paste your text into the textSoap window sounds like a hassle, textSoap can also work in other ways: via a contextual menu; through OS X’s Services menu; from within supported apps (such as BBEdit, Mailsmith, and Eudora); and using AppleScript.

If you frequently work with messy text, a little textSoap makes cleanup easier.

Better Battery Monitor

If you’re a laptop user, you need to be aware of your battery’s status: whether or not it’s fully charged, how much time you have left before it runs out of power, and so on. OS X provides a battery-status item for the menu bar—you enable it via the Energy Saver preference pane—but it has two drawbacks. First, it takes up a lot of menu-bar space. Second, it doesn’t provide many options. If you have an iBook or a PowerBook, you should check out Colin Henein’s free (donations accepted) SlimBatteryMonitor 1.2 (   ).

What makes SlimBatteryMonitor better? As its name implies, it’s slimmer than OS X’s built-in battery-monitor display, giving you more room for other menu-bar items. (It also looks nicer.)

But its customization options are what I like best about SlimBatteryMonitor. Unlike Apple’s battery monitor, which shows the same information at all times, SlimBatteryMonitor has three display states—while running on battery, while battery is charging, and when battery is charged. Each state provides different, independent options, so you can get exactly the information you want for each state. (SlimBatteryMonitor uses the same data as Apple’s battery monitor, so the gauges are equally accurate.)

I also like SlimBatteryMonitor’s custom color settings for providing visual cues as to my PowerBook battery’s status: When my laptop is running off the battery, my menu icon is a nice teal; when it’s charging, the icon is orange; and when it’s fully charged, the icon is bright green. (The latter two colors match the light on my PowerBook’s AC adapter.)

A few other extras are also quite useful. Like OS X, SlimBatteryMonitor can show a warning when your battery gets low, but with SlimBatteryMonitor, you decide when that warning appears: with 10, 15, or 25 percent of your battery power remaining. SlimBatteryMonitor also supports dual-battery PowerBooks, and it can even monitor UPS batteries, so it’s useful for desktop Macs, too. I wish only that it let you choose your display preferences from its drop-down menu, as OS X’s monitor does.

Elements, Smell-O-Mints

One of my goals with Mac Gems is to cover a wide variety of products—I want everyone to eventually discover something useful. I’ve recently received a few requests for more coverage of educational software gems, and I’m happy to oblige. In fact, one of my favorite learning aids has recently received a major update.

I first learned about the periodic table of elements in my sixth-grade science class, and I used it regularly in high-school chemistry. My copy of the periodic table was either a photocopy handed out by the teacher or—if I was lucky—a nifty color-coded version in the back of my chemistry book. But it seems fitting that today’s students have a high-tech version of the periodic table.

John Schilling has obliged by bringing back his free (donations accepted) Smell-O-Mints 2.1 (   )—an electronic periodic table of the elements—with a major feature update and a pleasing Aqua interface. Like any good periodic table, Smell-O-Mints shows all the known elements in their proper locations, using color to designate elemental types (metals, noble gases, and so on). Click on an element to see more information about it in a detail box in the lower left corner of the screen.

A good high-school chemistry book provides most of this information, but Smell-O-Mints takes advantage of its digital nature with a few unique features. Unlike paper tables, which show each element’s symbol and name, Smell-O-Mints shows only an element’s symbol by default; clicking on the element reveals its name. This makes it a useful study aid. Conversely, if you can’t find a certain element, you can type its name in the Find Element box to highlight it in the table and see its details on screen. And after you find an element, you can click on the globe button next to its name to open that element’s entry in the Wikipedia.org online encyclopedia in your browser. (Another advantage of digital tables is that they can be quickly updated when new elements are discovered or created—there are a few more today than when I was in science class.)

Smell-O-Mints also provides a number of handy specialized views of the periodic table that just aren’t possible with a sheet of paper. In addition to the standard table, it offers color-coded views: Solids, Liquids, and Gases; Metals and Non-Metals; Radioactive Elements; Synthetic/Decay Elements; Crystal Structures (showing which elements are cubic, hexagonal, tetrahedral, and so on); and Block Groups. If you’re a teacher or a student looking for an effective way to study the periodic table, Smell-O-Mints is a great tool.

Up All Night

There’s an old technology saying—often found adorning T-shirts at computer conferences—that goes something like this: “Macs for productivity, Linux for development, Windows for solitaire.”

Although I might argue with the first two parts, my real beef is with the third: Whoever came up with the slogan had obviously never experienced Semicolon Software’s $25 Solitaire Till Dawn X 1.4 (   ). It’s the best solitaire game I’ve seen on any platform.

From Accordion to Yukon (and every variant of Klondike in between), you get more games and game types than you’ll know what to do with—85 in all. With so many games, how do you decide which one to play? The Game Chooser window shows a list of all games; selecting one from the list displays details about it: its name, the type of game it is (Two-Deck, Thinker’s, Easy to Win, and so on), other names for it, and a short description.

Purists may prefer to play card games without any help; however, for many of us, part of the allure of playing solitaire on a computer can be reduced to a single word: undo. Solitaire Till Dawn offers the frustrated solitaire player unlimited undos (and redos), as well as a number of other helpful cheats. At any point, you can take a snapshot of your game; if you get stuck, you can revert to any snapshot and continue playing from that point.

Solitaire Till Dawn does have rather bland graphics. You can customize the game’s background and card designs, but that’s about it—a minor quibble. In fact, the only real problem with Solitaire Till Dawn is this: Although it proves that Windows doesn’t have a lock on solitaire, it also disproves the notion that Macs have a monopoly on productivity. l

Copy Cleanser: You have many options for cleaning up messy text with textSoap.Power Watcher: Gain some extra menu-bar space—as well as more information—with SlimBatteryMonitor.It’s Elementary: Chemistry students and teachers alike will enjoy Smell-O-Mints.All by Yourself: You may not get much work done after trying Sol;itaire Till Dawn X - it has 85 games.

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