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Searching and Seeking
I admit it: I'm all about convenience and efficiency.
I like things to be as easy and as trouble-free as possible (that's why I use a Mac, right?). In my line of work I do a lot of Web searching, and I get impatient with the whole "switch to Web browser, go to search page, type in search phrase" routine. For the past year or so, I've been using the excellent Searchling ( More Mac Software Bargains," May 2003) to perform Web searches. The bad news is that Searchling is no longer available. The good news is that its author, Michael Thole, worked with shareware pioneer Ambrosia Software to come up with something even better -- the $15 iSeek 1.0 ( ; www.ambrosiasw.com ).; "
Clicking on the spyglass icon in iSeek's menu-bar search box presents you with a bevy of possible search sites. Choose from CNN.com, eBay, Google, NationalGeographic.com, Rotten Tomatoes, and VersionTracker, to name just a few -- you can even pick the iTunes Music Store. Just type your query in the menu bar's text field, and then press return to see your search results pop up in your Web browser. What makes iSeek even more of a gem is its keyboard friendliness. Press a user-defined key combination, and the search field appears immediately, waiting for your input. You can even use the tab key or the arrow keys to scroll through the list of search sites. You can search for almost anything, from within any application, without taking your fingers off the keyboard. If you frequently search a particular site, you can assign that site its own keyboard command via iSeek's preferences.
And there are more nice touches: the iSeek search field supports OS X's built-in spelling-checker engine and even has an autocompletion feature. If you've previously searched for a particular string, iSeek will finish it for you the next time you start to type that string -- helpful when you're searching for the same thing on multiple sites.
iSeek can search nearly 50 Web sites by default, but if you know the format of a particular site's search engine, you can add a new entry for that site via iSeek's preferences; it will then appear in the iSeek menu like any other site. (The iSeek Help files explain in detail how to figure out a site's search format.) Even better, someone who has already created a search site in iSeek can send you the URL -- clicking on it in an e-mail message adds it to your iSeek menu. And you can visit Ambrosia's Web site for a list of sites you can add with a single click.
Given the popularity of searching the Internet, iSeek is sure to be a real find for almost any user.
Menus in Menus
Speaking of convenience, isn't it a hassle to have to mouse all the way to the top of the screen to access menu items? It takes up time, and it can be hard on your wrist over the course of a day -- especially if you're using the trackpad on a PowerBook or an iBook. And as screens keep getting larger, you have to do even more mousing.
Karl Hsu's free (donations accepted) DejaMenu 1.0 ( http://homepage.mac.com/khsu/ DejaMenu/DejaMenu.html ) takes a unique approach: it brings the menus to your mouse. The first time you launch DejaMenu, it prompts you to create a keyboard combination to access menus; I use control-shift-Z.;
(It also opens OS X's Universal Access preference pane. You'll need to make sure that Enable Access For Assistive Devices is selected, since DejaMenu works by taking advantage of features built into OS X.) Once your key combination is set, pressing it brings up a menu, directly underneath your mouse pointer, that contains all the menus for the current application. Each menu item provides a hierarchical submenu that includes that menu's contents, just as if you had clicked on it in the menu bar. You can choose any menu command, and it will function just as if you had chosen it normally.
If you use a multibutton mouse that lets you set up mouse buttons to perform keystrokes, you can even designate one of your buttons to bring up the DejaMenu menu. (If you've ever used NextStep OS, this behavior will look very familiar.)
In addition to being useful for laptop users, DejaMenu is especially helpful if you use multiple monitors -- if you're working on a secondary display, you no longer have to mouse all the way back to the main display just to access a menu.
My only complaint about DejaMenu is that it doesn't allow you to navigate menus via the keyboard. However, that's more a wish for an additional feature than a critique of what it does. After all, you can always navigate the menu bar by activating OS X's Turn On Full Keyboard Access feature in the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane. DejaMenu has reduced the amount of mousing I have to do, and that appeals to my efficient (or perhaps lazy) side.
When Apple introduced the redesigned iPod in early 2003, users praised its slimmer, more elegant design, but this improvement came with one catch. Doing away with the standard FireWire port and replacing it with a new dock connector meant that the accessories that used the FireWire port -- such as autochargers -- were no longer compatible. And instead of being able to use any standard FireWire cable to sync and charge your iPod, you had to make sure you always carried a special dock cable with you.
In light of the many new dock-oriented third-party peripherals that have since been released, the dock connector doesn't seem like such a bad idea anymore. But it would still be nice to be able to use a standard FireWire cable in a pinch -- so I welcome SendStation's tiny $19 PocketDock ( www.sendstation .com ). Quite simply, the PocketDock is an adapter. One end plugs into the dock connector on your iPod, and the other provides a standard FireWire port. Anything you could do with an older iPod's FireWire port -- sync with iTunes, charge the battery, use the iPod as a portable hard drive -- you can do with a newer iPod via the PocketDock.;
Thanks to this little device, I can finally use my old iPod car adapter, and the PocketDock is small enough that I can keep it in my iPod case or laptop bag. I never have to worry about forgetting my dock cable again.
OS X lets you record audio from a microphone or audio-input jack, but it doesn't let you record sounds originating from your Mac. Internet radio, sound effects from a game, a RealPlayer broadcast of your favorite team, dialogue from a DVD, an iChat audio conversation -- these types of things are off limits without third-party software.
Although a number of tools out there let you capture audio on your Mac, Ambrosia Software's free WireTap 1.0 ( www.ambrosiasw.com ) is clearly the easiest to use. (We're assuming that you want to record sounds only for personal use.);
WireTap's diminutive control window floats above all other windows by default, so it's always accessible (you can turn this option off). It has just three buttons: Record, Stop, and Pause. Click on the Record button to capture any audio playing on your Mac (including alert sounds). A mini level meter shows the left and right channel levels, and you'll also see the recording time and the size of the audio file WireTap is creating. Since the app taps into QuickTime, you can record at different bit rates and bit depths, in stereo or mono, and using any of QuickTime's AIFF codecs (you can always use iTunes or QuickTime Player to convert these files to MP3 or AAC later).
Click on the Stop button, and WireTap saves the recorded audio to your hard drive. If you want to store multiple recording sessions in the same file, use the Pause button instead. Note that you can access these controls and WireTap's other controls via its Dock menu.
WireTap is also AppleScriptable, and Ambrosia includes a few sample scripts you can use to schedule recordings -- it's sort of a budget TiVo for audio.
Ambrosia says it will use the WireTap technology to allow audio recording in an upcoming version of its excellent screen- and video-capture utility, Snapz Pro X ( ; January 2002). But for those who just want the sound, WireTap is here now and works great as is -- and it's free.
When you buy an iSight, Apple includes a compact plastic case that fits the camera perfectly. The only problem is that you can't use the iSight without a FireWire cable, a stand, and a mounting clip -- and those items don't quite fit in the case. If you're looking for a better way to carry your iSight setup, check out WaterField Design's $24 iSight Case ( www.sfbags.com ). With a ballistic-nylon exterior and custom-fit, padded compartments inside, it holds your iSight (with or without the plastic case), as well as all the required accessories, in style. And at only 7.25 by 3.32 by 1.25 inches, it's small enough to fit in any laptop bag.;
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