Widgets of the week: September 30, 2005

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In this week’s Dashboard roundup, I cover ways to take advantage of a special feature of newer PowerBooks; track your favorite college football team; get information about Terminal commands; and get a useful pixel ruler on your screen. I also pick a general category of widgets for my “Why” of the week.

Carpenters Level (free). I have a confession to make: I have absolutely no idea if this widget works (which is why I haven’t given it a rating). But the idea behind it is so geeky-cool that I had to include it in this week’s column. According to the developer, it uses the Sudden Motion Sensor in the latest PowerBooks —but not iBooks, due to a difference in the way the sensors work—to turn your laptop into one of the most expensive levels the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, my PowerBook is of the previous generation, so I have no way to test Carpenters Level. But I encourage readers lucky enough to have the newest hardware to give it a try, if only so they can ask their Windows-laptop-using friends, “Yeah, well can your laptop be used to hang a painting straight?”

Carpenters Level widget

Conference Call 1.0 (   ; free). I’m a big fan of college football, but now that I no longer live anywhere near the city where I went to college, I have to follow my team via the Web and SportsCenter. (I also no longer have my team’s schedule memorized, as I did when I was a student.) So Conference Call is perfect for me: After choosing my conference and team (sorry, small schools—only D1 programs are available), Conference Call shows me the entire season schedule: dates, times, home or away. It even shows the scores of those games that have been played (green lines for wins, red lines for losses—I’m hoping for a lot of green this year) and the team’s current record. Clicking the “More details on the Web” link opens your Browser to your team’s page on the Fox Sports Web site; to view a similar page for an opponent, click the team’s name in the schedule. (Click the “Refresh data” link to make sure you have the latest schedule and scores.) You can collapse the widget so that it takes less space by clicking the football icon. Now that the baseball season is over for my team (and my wife’s), Conference Call has take the place of Scoreboard on my Dashboard. Note: According to DashboardWidgets.com, Conference Call is currently under review; hopefully it will be available again soon.

Conference Call widget

*NIX manual (   ; free). If you use Terminal—or any other Unix shell—frequently, you’re familiar with the

program. This useful tool lets you read the manual pages for any shell command to help you understand the command’s often obscure syntax. *NIX manual provides a standalone man-page viewer right in Dashboard. Like other man-page viewer applications, you can fully customize the appearance of man pages: fonts, colors, etc. But you can also limit searches to man-page subsections. You can even choose whether to search the man pages on your own computer or, via the Internet, the ones from virtually any “flavor” of Unix or Linux. When you’re not using *NIX manual, it collapses into an unobtrusive search bar. I find that between *NIX manual and WidgetTerm, nowadays I’m doing most of my “Terminal” work in Dashboard!

*NIX manual search field

*NIX manual results

Super Rule (   ; free). Are you a Web designer who’s curious how your creations will look in different sizes of browser windows? Or curious how small you need an image to be to fit in a particular space? Super Rule provides a translucent overlay, complete with pixel measurement markings, that can be resized at will—the current overlay size is noted in the bottom-right corner. Since both Dashboard and Super Rule are translucent, you can see right through them to view the browser window, image, or any other object underneath. I wish the developer’s name didn’t obscure so much of the overlay, and it would be great if you could quickly resize the overlay to common display sizes, but it’s still a useful widget for those concerned with size and spacing.

Super Rule widget


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 not to a single widget, but to an entire group of widgets: iChat status widgets. If you browse Apple’s widget area or a quality widget site such as Dashboard Widgets, you’ll find a slew of these purportedly helpful widgets which simply tell you—in one of a number of different ways—which of your iChat Buddies is currently signed on.

Now, this would be a very cool idea, except for one thing: iChat already provides such functionality and more via its Buddy List. I have yet to find a widget that provides more functionality than the Buddy List itself, nor one that is easier to read or provides as much information. And thanks to Exposé’s “All windows” mode, it’s just as quick and easy to view your Buddy List as it is to enable Dashboard and view one of these widgets. (I suppose you could choose not to display iChat’s Buddy List and then use one of these widgets as your main way to interact with iChat, but I guess I just don’t get the advantage. If one of our readers can enlighten me, please do.)

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