Widgets of the week: July 22, 2005
In this week’s roundup of handy Dashboard Widgets, I cover ways to schedule your BART rides, use multiple Clipboards, and work with Terminal. I also tell you how to get your Mac to produce some really annoying sounds—or which Widget not to download to avoid this.
BART ( ; free). If you’re a frequent rider of BART, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s transit systems, you’ll never be at a loss for a schedule Widget—I’ve already seen three! But the best is clearly Bret Victor’s BART, which tells you anything you want to know about how to get from one place to another. The first thing that jumps out at you is the way you choose your trip: Click the Change Route button and a large map of the BART system appears along with a large green From “bauble” and a large red To bauble. As you drag each bauble near a station, a line connects it to that station—simply drag the From and To baubles to the beginning and end stations for your trip and the Widget shows you, at the bottom of the window, the next few trains that will get you there (even if that means transferring trains somewhere in between). You’re shown the train name(s), times of departure and arrival, total travel time, and fare. To view earlier or later trains, you either drag the schedule or use a mouse scrollwheel (or two-fingered scrolling on newer PowerBooks); you can also click the time icon to choose a particular time, or even a future date.
Once you’ve set your route, you can hide the map so the Widget doesn’t take up so much Dashboard space. To schedule your return trip, just click the Reverse Route button to see trains going the other direction. If you’re not familiar with a station, click the Google Station button to automatically display the station’s location in your browser via Google Maps. And another killer feature is automatic notification, accessible via the back of the Widget. With this option enabled, after setting your route, the Widget will actually tell you, via OS X’s voice technology, when a train is about to arrive—imagine sitting at your desk at the end of a long day and being told “Fremont train arriving in 5 minutes.” Finally, since BART (the Widget) stores BART (the transit system) schedules internally, you don’t need to be connected to the Internet to use it—a welcome feature when you’re trying to get home and aren’t near a network.
It’s too bad that only those of us lucky enough to live in the Bay Area will be able to use this Widget—it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and one that I show off to my Windows-using, transit-riding friends whenever I want to make them jealous.
iClip lite ( ; free). There are many utilities for Mac OS X that provide multiple Clipboards, but iClip lite is the only one that works in the Dashboard—and it’s easy enough to use that even those who wouldn’t normally be interested in multiple Clipboards might take a liking to it. The iClip lite window displays five “clip bins” at a time, each of which can store text, images, or anything the Mac OS X Clipboard can hold, and each of which has its own controls. To add the current contents of the Clipboard to a bin, click its up arrow (“upload”) button; to copy the contents of a bin to the Clipboard, click its down arrow (“download”) button. You can clear any bin by clicking its delete button. Each bin provides a lens that gives you a glimpse of its contents—although this makes the Widget take up more Dashboard space than I’d like, you do need to be able to see what each bin contains. You get 20 bin in total, which you can access using the scroll bar at the bottom of the Widget. (A bonus feature is that if you “copy” a file or an application in the Finder and add it to a bin, double-clicking that bin will open that file or application—thus making iClip lite a sort of launcher, as well.)
WidgetTerm ( ; free). When it comes to Terminal, Mac OS X’s interface to Unix shells, people generally fall into one of three categories: Those who refuse to use it (or just have no need to use it); those who use it regularly and keep it running at all times; and those in the middle, who use it occasionally but not enough to want it open all the time. If, like me, you fall into the latter group—or possibly even if you’re a heavy Terminal user—WidgetTerm is sure to be a hit. It provides a shell (Terminal) window in Dashboard, letting you quickly execute a command or script without requiring you to launch Terminal. And it does so without monopolizing your Dashboard: You can resize the Widget window to make it as small (or large) as you like, and when you’re done using it, you can click the green “on” button at the bottom of the Widget to collapse it down to a thin bar, freeing up precious Dashboard real estate. (Clicking the red “off” button opens the window again.) The only drawback is that collapsing the Widget in this manner stops processes such as top . For this reason, power users of Terminal will likely find WidgetTerm to be limiting, but for everyone else, it’s a handy way to do quick Terminal tasks.
Widget “Why?” of the Week
Each week, I give a good-natured poke at a Widget that makes me think, “Why was this thing made?” This week’s Why goes to the zzz Widget. I downloaded it thinking it might have at least a smidgen of merit, but it turns out that all it does is make an annoying, useless buzzing sound. (OK, so it’s supposed to be a “random bass groove,” but if that’s a bass line, someone better cut back on the bass player’s coffee intake.) What’s worse, even after I quit the Widget, the sound on my PowerBook continued to be affected. Why was this necessary? Beats me.