What’s Under the Hood
Eye Candy for the Mac
My user group, the Houston Area Apple User Group (HAAUG), held its semi-annual swap meet in January and I came away with a new (for me at least) Pismo PowerBook. I recently started my own consulting firm and needed something more portable than my G4 tower. The only thing wrong with the PowerBook was that the DVD ROM drive had gone DOA and the person I bought the Mac from told me he would replace the drive for cost. This being my first laptop, it has opened a whole new world of computing to me.
One thing I like is the ability to hook the PowerBook and tower together via FireWire. Once connected, I was able to install OS X 10.2.3 on it plus all the utilities I will need when I make house calls. I was amazed at how well the two Macs communicated and transferred data between them. I also found that I could make the PowerBook the startup disk in the system preferences. Now I will not have to lug my tower to my user group meeting to do my game and utility special interest group (SIG) anymore.
This brings me to another point, user groups in general. I have been a member of HAAUG since 1984. Our group has the distinction of being one of the oldest groups in the US. From what the president of the group told me, there are only a few other groups that are slightly older than we are.
User groups have to be the most valuable resource for any Mac (or PC) user. There you will find people versed in all areas of Mac computing. At each of our meetings, we have special presentations by different software and hardware companies where they show off the latest and greatest stuff on the Mac. Before and after the main presentation, we have different types of SIGs. I host the game and utility (surprise) SIG each month. In fact, it was because of me doing these SIGs, that I began writing articles about the Mac back in 1984.
You can find user groups in almost every city, large or small. If you do not already belong to one, you should check into it. Once you locate one in your area, go to a meeting. There is no charge for just attending. If you like what you see, then join. The price for membership will vary. My group charges $45 for a one-year membership. That may sound high for some, but with that cost, we get a monthly newsletter (The Apple Barrel), free use of our BBS (HAAUG Heaven), a free table at our semiannual swap meets, and many other perks. You can also download copies of our monthly newsletter for free.
When OS X Goes DOA
When I was setting up what I wanted on my Pismo laptop, I decided to load some utilities onto it from Aladdin’s 10 for X. Some of the utilities I installed turned out to be haxies. After doing the install, I was no longer able to get my contextual menus to work. I then did everything to remove all the different parts that were installed by 10 for X. Alas, it did no good and I was looking at having to reinstall OS X 10.2 all over again. Normally, to do this, it is best to do it on a clean drive. Doing that would mean having to reinstall all the applications, utilities, and preferences. I talked to a friend of mine who also works on Macs and he told me of a way to do the clean install without having to wipe your drive.
The first step is to boot directly into OS 9 (not Classic). Then move the following folders from the root level of your drive into the trash. They are the Library, System (not System Folder), and Users. Then empty the trash. Now do not get alarmed when you see that you are deleting several thousand files. That is normal. All you have to do is then boot from your OS X 10.2 install disk and reinstall the system. Now because of the folders you deleted in OS 9, you will have to reinstall some applications all over again. However, you will also discover that some of your applications may not need to be reinstalled at all. That is because some programs are able to restore the missing parts as you boot into them. I guess I should go back and reread what I wrote in last month’s issue about the use of haxies. In the meantime, 10 for X has been permanently filed away.
Screensavers have been around for as far back as I can remember. Their main purpose was to avoid phosphor burn-in when you left your monitor on for a long time. I remember how my Finder menu bar was burned into my original 128K Mac. Today, screensavers are eye candy since the problem with screen burn-in does not occur any more (except on LCDs). However, they are nice to run when your monitor is idle. Since screensavers do keep your Mac “awake,” they are not good for laptops when you are on battery; when you are plugged in, go crazy and use whatever screensaver you like.
Make Your Own
One nice feature in the Screen Effects system preferences is the ability to assign a folder filled with pictures to act as a screensaver. It does not even matter what the size of the picture is since you can set it to fit to screen size. However, one thing that is less known is that you can have your pictures categorized and sorted by folders. This way all you have to do is create a folder and call it Screensavers. Drop the different photo folders you wish to have in the Screensavers folder. Then go to configuration to decide if you want the pictures to run in order or randomly, fit to screen, keep centered, and so on.
Now let’s look at some freeware and shareware screensavers that are out there.
EarthBrowser (Shareware, $19.95)
EarthBrowser is actually two applications. The first part is a screensaver where you fly around the Earth and Moon. If you’re online when you’re running it, you’ll see the Earth with real-time satellite cloud cover. The other part of the program is called EarthBrowser 1.7. This little application can let you check weather conditions from anywhere on Earth, visit webcams all over the globe, see live volcano and earthquake data, and view satellite cloud cover data that is updated day and night. High resolution satellite imaging allows you to zoom into any part of the Earth. This is well worth the $19.95 shareware fee. Unregistered copies are feature-limited and a small watermark will show up on the screensaver reminding you that it is shareware.
CosmoSaver (Shareware, $9.95)
CosmoSaver is the logical extension of EarthBrowser, written by the same person. It takes the place of the EarthBrowser screensaver module. Now you are taken on a tour of the whole solar system. All the skins that are used to create all the planets and 29 moons were taken directly from NASA maps created by Voyager, Magellan, Galileo, and Hubble. Believe me, I know: thanks to people I know at NASA, I have acquired most of the images that were taken by these probes. You cannot get more realistic unless you have a spaceship of your own. What Marine Aquarium is to fish lovers, CosmoSaver is to all those who love to look up at the stars, and it only costs $9.95.
Remember the light cycle sequence from the movie Tron? Well, now you can watch it as a screensaver on your Mac. The graphics are really well done. There is even a recognizer floating above the arena and you can view the action from different camera angles. With the sequel to Tron in the making, this is a great way to bring back memories of a film that was ahead of its time. End of line (for now).
Old Glory (Freeware)
This is for all those who are proud to be American (if you are not, better call the FBI). Plain and simple, this is an image of Old Glory billowing in the wind. It is very well rendered and animated. Really, it makes you want to stand up and say the pledge.
The next three screensavers come in a package of five screensavers call GL Screensaver. What CosmoSaver is to astronomy, Circuit is for those who dabble into electronics. Basically, Circuit is composed of a circuit board with all different types of 3D electronic parts flying around your screen. There are diodes, transistors, LEDs (light emitting diodes) flashing different numbers on them, and resistors that spin and rotate across your screen. You can set how many parts you want floating around your screen, change the grid rotation, and control whether you want the parts to spin or not.
Impossible Cage (Freeware)
If you are a fan of Escher’s art then you will enjoy the Impossible Cage. I wish there were a way to describe it, but like Escher’s artwork, you will have to just see it. This one will catch attention from those around you.
Remember Rubik’s cube. Remember how many hours you spent trying to solve it and just got nowhere with the dang thing? Well now, you can watch your Mac solve it for you and in much less time. Where were you when I needed you (sigh)?
FluffyCubes is one of those abstract screensavers with a twist. It is a screen of rotating cubes going across your screen. What I like about it is how you can configure it. First, you have a choice of setting the texture to smoked glass or transparent chrome. The transparent chrome is so cool looking. Then you can set the amount of X, Y, and Z rotation, shifting from one color to another, and the amount of motion blur. Unlike some of the other abstract line art savers (i.e., Flurry, Flux, NewLineArtX, and SolarWinds), FluffyCubes is in a category of its own.
So Not to Bore
Now that you have amassed multiple screensavers for your Mac, now what? All you have to do is select the random function in Screen Effects and all your screensaver modules will play in random order. Now that I’m done talking about screensavers, let’s change gears and look at some utilities.
Amadeus II (Shareware, $25)
If you grew up when CDs did not exist, then there is a chance that you probably still have a LP collection like me. Odds are that some of those albums have yet to make it to CD. That is where the power of your Mac and Amadeus II may help. Amadeus II gives you the ability to record, and also to remove white noise and those ever lovable snap, crackle, and pops that we learned to live with as we grew up. I am not going to go into how to do all this right now. This is just a teaser for my March article that will detail step by step how to transfer those valuable LPs to CDs. Good thing February is only 28 days.
Classic Startup Sound (Freeware)
Remember when you placed your favorite sound bite in the Startup Items folder of OS 9 so that it would play when you booted your Mac? Well, Classic Startup Sound brings that ability back to OS X. All you have to do is select a sound bite you liked to use in OS 9, rename it “defaultsound” and place it in the Classic Startup Sound’s folder. Then go to Login Items in your system preferences and add Classic Startup Sound to your startup items. The next time you log in, the startup sound will play. I have the voice of HAL come up each time I boot to the desktop. Now if only someone could come up with a revision of SoundMaster.
Brightness Control (Freeware)
This little application eliminates the need to access your system preferences each time you want to adjust the brightness of your screen. Put Brightness Control in your Applications folder and in the Dock. Then all you have to do is click on it in the Dock and a slider will appear so you can adjust the intensity of your screen.
DMG Mechanic (Freeware)
How many times has this happened to you? You download a DMG file from the Web only to find that somehow it became corrupted and all you have is a generic icon. Then you need DMG Mechanic. DMG Mechanic is composed of two droplets, Device Image and Raw Device Image. The Device Image is designed for read-only DMGs while the Raw Device Image is designed for writable DMGs. When you wind up with what looks like a corrupted DMG file, take it and first drop it on the Device Image. If that does not work, then drop it onto the Raw Device Image. I can guarantee if one does not work, the other will. I have tested it on several corrupted DMG files with great results. Really takes the pain out of downloading a file all over again.
Jaguar Cache Cleaner (Shareware, $7.95)
If you are experiencing random application crashes, problems with your system preference settings, Internet setting, or just plain sluggishness on your Mac, then JCC may just be the cure. The programmer suggests that before using JCC you should run Disk First Aid (or any other disk utility like DiskWarrior) from your Jaguar install disk. If none of these methods works, then it may be time to try JCC. Very important: before running JCC make sure you have quit and saved and documents you may be working on at the time. This is because JCC may issue what is called a BSD “reboot” command that will, as the programmer puts it, “unceremoniously restart your Mac.” Due to this, any unsaved work will be lost. When you launch JCC, you will be presented with several options. The Finder Cleaner offers two types of cleaning. First, you can choose to clean out the Finder preferences. This will restore your Finder to its default settings. You also reset all window settings. This will reset the invisible .DS_Store files to their default settings, causing all your windows to go back to the default view setting. As I said before, doing any of these cleanings may cause your Mac to reboot.
The other part of JCC allows you to run maintenance scripts. You have the choice of either running a light cleaning or a deep cleaning. The author recommends that you run the light cleaning first. You are also given the choices to clean out the Local, System, and All User Caches as well. Whether you use the light or deep cleaning will still cause your system to reboot and log off any extra users. Did I already make it clear that all unsaved work will be lost? Just checking. I have used all facets of JCC without any problems. Programs that were crashing did stop, and I noticed an increase in the performance of my Mac as well. JCC come with a very well written manual that clearly explains how and when to use it.
Classic? (Shareware, $8)
Classic? gives you full control of Classic mode from either your Dock or menu bar. Classic? lets you view your Apple menu items with the ability to launch any of them at any given time. Of course, this will trigger Classic to launch at the same time. Other features include Shutdown and Restart of Classic, windowless Classic startup, RAM & CPU usage statistics in the menu, and faster Classic launching. If you want more control over how Classic mode behaves, then give this little utility a try.
System Manager (Freeware)
There are many different programs out there that try to show what is going on with your system. However, none do as complete a job as System Manager. Some of the features include a CPU monitor, a load monitor (which shows the number of processes waiting for the CPU at any given time), a memory monitor, a process monitor, and a Classic monitor. If you are the kind of person who wants to know exactly what is going on with your system, look no further.
Trash It (Freeware)
Trash It is a simple AppleScript that will delete files that just refuse deletion through the Empty Trash… command. How many times have you received the dialog saying that the system cannot empty the trash because a file or application is in use? Well, just take that pesky file and drop it on the Trash It icon, and zap it’s gone. It will ask for your administrator password and you will be given a choice to overwrite it three times (for security) or just do a standard delete. I think the author needs to increase the number of overwrites since triple overwrites can still be recovered (remember Enron?).
Trash X (Shareware, $9.95)
Trash X is the exact opposite of Trash It. It lets you place a trash can on your desktop, or anywhere else for that matter. Trash X uses very few system resources and is a stand-alone application for maximum stability. Trash X behaves just like the regular trash can. You can delete files and folders and eject media. It offers secure deletion for files, folders, and selected drives if need be. You can also set specific times for your trash to be deleted. Trash X is made by the same people who make Jaguar Cache Cleaner and for a limited time if you buy Trash X, you get JCC for free. That is a savings of $8.
Well, by the clock on the wall (and a deadline that is breathing down my neck) that wraps it up for this month. Look to next month for an article on how to transfer your valuable LPs to CDs. As usual, my normal word of warning. If at any time you feel uncertain about using new software, make sure you back up any file you just cannot part with. All applications discussed here have been tested on both my QuickSilver G4/733 and my new Pismo PowerBook under OS X 10.2.3. As a matter of fact, I baptized my PowerBook by writing this article on it. As usual, it is always buyer beware. End of line.
Also in This Series
- Tips—Getting More Out of Your Mac · June 2003
- Got Vinyl? LPs to CDs Part 3: The Playlist and Burning to CD · May 2003
- Got Vinyl? LPs to CDs Part 2: Recording and Editing · April 2003
- Got Vinyl? Converting LPs to CDs Part 1: Terminology & Hardware · March 2003
- Eye Candy for the Mac · February 2003
- New Year, More Utilities · January 2003
- ’Tis the Season · December 2002
- What’s Under the Hood · November 2002
- What’s Under the Hood · September 2002
- Complete Archive