Widgets of the week: September 9, 2005

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In this week’s Dashboard roundup, I cover ways to take screen captures; get help with geometry; and listen to Internet NPR. I also pick a “Why” of the week.

Capture 0.7.9 (   ; free). When it comes to taking screenshots, my favorite utility is the commercial Snapz Pro X, thanks to its advanced features and flexibility. But if your requirements are more modest, Vanilla Soap’s Capture Widget is a nifty utility that provides access to many hidden options of Mac OS X’s built-in screen-capture feature. The first time you use it, click the “Show Advanced Options” text to set your options: screenshot filetype (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, JPEG2000, PICT, BMP, QuickTime, PSD, or PDF); screenshot destination (by default, the Desktop, but you can drag any folder onto the Widget to use that folder as the destination); scaling (10% to 100%); and image quality (Low to Best). You can even choose to have screenshots sent to the Clipboard instead of saved to file.

Capture Widget

Once you’ve set your preferences, the Widget’s buttons are where the action is. First click the Full Screen, Window, or Selection button to indicate which type of screenshot you want to take; then click the Camera button to take the screenshot. Dashboard will disappear and the screenshot will be taken. (Of course, if you chose Window or Selection mode, you’ll have to use the mouse to designate the appropriate window or screen selection, respectively.) Alternatively, if you want to take a screenshot of Dashboard, the Hide/Show Dashboard button lets you do so—all of the Widget images in today’s column were taken using Capture.

Unfortunately, in an effort to keep the Capture Widget small—an effort I generally applaud—the text and icons can be difficult to read, especially on screens with small pixels. I’d like to see the developer increase the size of Capture slightly in order to make the text and icons more readable. Also, because Capture is based on OS X’s own screen capture feature, it has the same limitations; for example, you can’t use it to take screenshots of pop-up or pull-down menus

TRIGger mini 1.1 (   ; free). When I first took geometry, finding the cosine of an angle meant remembering formulas—or at least memory aids such as “SOHCAHTOA” or mnemonics such as “Some Old Horse.” But if you’ve got a Mac running Tiger—and more and more students at all levels do—the TRIGger mini Widget is a handy tool. Simply drag the on-screen line to form the appropriate angle (from 0 to 359 degrees) and the “complete triangle” for that angle is displayed; the Widget then tells you, to three decimal places, the values for sine, cosine, tangent, secant, cosecant, and cotangent—each color-coordinated to its corresponding line on the triangle. TRIGger mini is intuitive, attractive, and informative—what more could you ask for in a study aid?

TRIGger mini Widget

RabbitRadio 0.6 (   ; free). Internet radio has become increasingly popular, as it lets people listen to stations far out of range of their radios, and America’s NPR affiliates have been among the first to embrace this new technology. If you’re a fan of NPR, RabbitRadio gives you instant access to 13 NPR affiliates across the country—KQED, WAMU, WGBH, WUOT, WBUR, WDET, WDUQ, KPCC, KRWG, WMUB, KEXP, KCRW and WHYY—right from Dashboard. Via the “back” of the Widget, you choose your preferred station; stations are grouped by region (west, northeast, midwest, south) for easier browsing. You then control playback via the Widget’s on/off and volume up/down buttons. (You can also use the keyboard: The return key acts as on/off, while the + and - buttons control volume.) Best of all, the Widget doesn’t take up much Dashboard space.

RabbitRadio Widget

Unfortunately, those affiliates that stream their audio via a Shoutcast server often cut out after 10 to 15 seconds of playback; according to the developer, this is actually a bug in QuickTime 7—on which the Widget depends—that will hopefully be fixed by Apple in a future update to QuickTime.


Widget “Why?” of the Week

Each week, I give a good-natured poke at a Widget that makes me think, “Why was this necessary?” This week’s “why” goes to Mood Tracker . Quite simply, Mood Tracker shows your mood via a “smiley face.” But it’s not magic—you have to tell it your mood, via the options on the back: Happy, Sad, Sick, Mad, Cold, Confused, or Tired. It then puts on the appropriate “face” for that mood.

Mood Tracker Widget settings
Mood Tracker Widget

What would make this a killer Widget? The most obvious feature would be the ability to automatically sense your moods—say, for example, by monitoring how hard you bang on your keyboard or slam your PowerBook’s lid shut. (OK, so maybe this would only work for detecting anger, but it would be a novel use of the Motion Sensor on new PowerBooks!) What would also be great is the ability to broadcast your mood to others on your local network—a sort of “Don’t bother Steve right now; he’s Confused” warning. Or what about iChat compatibility? Sure, your Buddies can indicate their Available or Away status, but what I want to know is if my boss is Tired, Sick, or Mad before I send him a message asking for a raise. Once Mood Tracker adds this magical functionality, I’ll be the first to use it.

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