In this week’s Dashboard Widget roundup, I talk about Traffic reports, font previews, typing special characters, and a minimalist calculator. I also show you a really bad Widget joke.
Yahoo Local Traffic ( ; free). Commuters will likely appreciate Yahoo Traffic’s Widget: By providing your city or zip code, and choosing your driving radius (4, 10, or 40 miles) and incident threshold (minor, moderate, major), the Widget will provide a real-time update on traffic conditions on major roads in your area, including the time at which the incident is estimated to be resolved. If you don’t mind using up a bit more space on your Dashboard, you can enable the detailed view, which provides a bit more information about each incident. If you want the full scoop, click on an incident in the Widget to open your browser to the Yahoo! Traffic page for that incident. On several occasions, this Widget has helped me avoid major delays (and headaches). Of course, given that Yahoo! just purchased Konfabulator, who knows how much longer this Widget will be available, so I recommend getting it while you can.
TypeCast ( ; free). If you’re seriously into fonts, chances are you’re already quite familiar with most typefaces. But if you’re an aspiring typographer, or just want a quick-reference, TypeCast should come in handy. You choose a font, style, and size from the pop-up menus at the bottom of the Widget, and the Widget provides either a sample of that font using text you provide (in Text mode) or detailed information about the font itself (in Info mode). The information available via Info mode includes the font name, type (e.g., True Type), family, and encoding, as well as an alphabetical sample. If you want to see the actual font file in the Finder, simply click the Show Font File button. And you can use the keyboard to quickly cycle through font families, styles, and sizes. (Note that the size setting affects only Text mode.) The Widget itself takes up a good amount of space, but I suppose that’s a necessary evil if you need to preview fonts.
CharacterPal ( ; free). Speaking of fonts, most people have at one time or another wondered how to type certain characters—for example, the copyright symbol, umlauts, or “that little squiggly line over an n in certain Spanish words.” In Mac OS 9, we used Key Caps, which has its equivalent in Mac OS X’s Keyboard Viewer. Unfortunately, Keyboard Viewer is a bit of a hassle to activate, and then it stays onscreen as a floating palette. This is actually just the sort of thing that would be a better fit for Dashboard: A utility you don't need all the time, but when you do, you want quick access and the ability to “get in, get out.” CharacterPal provides just such functionality via a table of the most common “non-standard” characters; moving the mouse cursor over a character shows you the keystroke required to type that character. (For example, in the screenshot below, you can see that to type the symbol for pi, you press Option+P.) Unlike Keyboard Viewer, it won’t type the actual character for you, but it’s a handy quick-reference.
Calculon ( ; free). With so many tempting Widgets out there, Dashboard crowding has become an issue for a good number of Tiger users. If Widget space is at a premium on your Mac, Calculon is an alternative to Apple’s Calculator Widget that saves space by eliminating the onscreen keypad—you enter your calculations using the keyboard. At the same time, Calculon’s two-line display means you can see both the equation and the result. (Apple’s displays only the current number.) Apart from those differences, you get the same limited functionality as Apple’s own calculator, which should be adequate for most simple calculations.
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 out to Tuit , the worst Widget joke/pun I’ve yet seen. Have you ever said to someone, “I’ll do it when I get a round to it"? Well, now you’ve got a round tuit:
Funny, eh? I didn’t really think so, either. But then again, I saw a little cardboard “round tuit” at a Spencer Gift store back in the mid-1980s... (By the way, you can actually choose the color of your round tuit—orange, blue, red, green, or gray—which I guess counts for something.)