Waiting for Tiger

A few weeks ago I ordered the new Mac OS X, codename Tiger, from Amazon. Tiger was released on Friday, and I’ve been checking my order status several times a day since then to see when it will arrive. Amazon makes it really easy to track your order, and I love being able to track packages on their way to my door. Delivery was promised by today, and I’ve been checking the order status obsessively from time to time since Friday, but the site has only reported a frustrating “This item will be shipped soon.” Yesterday I figured they’d send the package out for next-day delivery and (finally) show a tracking number, but that wasn’t the case. Not even right before I went to bed, dammit.

But this morning Amazon shows it was shipped out on the 29th after all, and that headed out from Chelmsford, MA at 4 this morning. Woohoo! Looks like their delivery estimate was right after all, and there was no need to panic worry.

To the Mac faithful, an update to the system software is a major event. As satisfying as buying a new computer, these updates not only add spiffy new features, but generally make computer life more pleasant **and** they usually make your computer run faster (contrast with Windows updates which require ever-more horsepower and memory). Tiger’s brings us Spotlight, which effectively adds a database to the file system and makes it possible to do things like instantly find photos of Julie’s graduation in June 2003 (turning them into a slide show if you wish). Did I mention instant? It’s like a wicked fast Google for your hard drive, results show up **as you’re typing**. I’m really looking forward to playing around with Spotlight.

Dashboard offers a lot of cool new “widgets,” little single-purpose programs. There’s a little calendar widget, a calculator widget, one that tracks flights, and one that shows you weather forecasts. Supposedly it’s easy to create new widgets with a little knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so there’s something to play around with.

Automator puts a user interface on scripting, making it far easier to automate repetitive tasks like sizing a group of web images to a width of 155 pixels and saving them out to a given folder. This has the potential to bring out the geek in a lot of Mac users who (like me) find AppleScript too hard to deal with.

Oh look, my package just arrived at UPS in Williston! Woohoo!

GoodPage Review

I’ve been using Tari “GoodPage”:1 for the past week to redesign the House-Mouse site. Unlike other CSS editors, GoodPage edits a page’s style sheet **and** its HTML, which makes it easier to create a modern web site. It can also show a live preview of the web page you’re editing so you can see the results of your changes without having to switch to a web browser, thus it consolidates three major parts of web page design. With GoodPage you do have to edit your HTML and CSS code directly, but I prefer doing that anyway.

GoodPage offers many ways to view your web page, but the ones I’m finding most useful are:

* HTML source code
* style sheet CSS source code
* structure (a graphic, 2D hierarchical view of the web page contents)
* list of individual css selectors (handy to look at a specific selector, rather than being overwhelmed by the entire style sheet)
* brower preview of the web page

The main window can display any two of those views side by side, so you can preview your web page in the left pane while you edit the html (or the style sheet) in the right pane. Or edit the html source and the stylesheet side by side. Or whatever combination you need at the moment. It’s handy not having to switch between windows, or to switch between programs for editing or previewing.

GoodPage offers a bunch of handy little tools to make development easier. For instance you can select an element in the web page preview (like a div, a paragraph or an image), and view its CSS properties in the other pane, then edit them and immediately see the change. This is great for debugging things like figuring out why there’s too much space above an element: you can not only see that top margin (or top padding) is too big, but which style sheet and selector are setting that property. And from there you can just fix the problem. Another nice feature of the side-by-side views is that you can select an element in one view hit Command-L, and a blue arrow appears to point out the corresponding item in the other view. So you can select a paragraph in the page preview and instantly see the html source for that paragraph in the other pane. Nice, it saves scrolling thru the source looking for it.

The developers have sucessfully leveraged the features offered by Mac OS X, and the program is a pleasure to use and is visually pleasing as well. I’m a sucker for aesthetic and useful, which is why I use a Mac.

As nice as it is, my biggest frustration with the program is that it comes with no documentation. None. The developers feel that GoodPage is so intuitively obvious to use that a manual just isn’t necessary. Unfortunately they’re wrong, and it’s taken a bit of stumbled around the program to figure out how to use it. In addition to only using a fraction of its features, I also feel that I’m not getting the most out of the features I am using. Using the program is like using some piece of wonderful alien technology that does some really cool things, but you just have to puzzle it out yourself and learn how to think like the aliens. For instance I can’t see what the big deal is with Structure View, but I get the impression that with it you can edit a page without knowing HTML, but I’ll be darned if I can figure it out. Still, what I have been able to discover has made me so much more productive that even after using it for just a few days, designing CSS web pages without using GoodPage would be so much harder.

With a price of $99 (early adopter special), it’s more expensive than the shareware alternatives, but cheaper than Dreamweaver. At that price it should include decent documentation, a tutorial, and more than the minimal CSS reference it comes with. Some sample templates would be also be great.

GoodPage works they way I do (at least what I’ve figured out so far) and it lets me focus on design without the distractions of switching to other programs, or searching through various style sheets for a given selector. This is an early version (1.1), so now that Tari has released this solid and useful tool I’m hoping they put their energy into writing a manual and perhaps creating a tutorial to show people how to use it. After all, what good are all those wonderful features if nobody can figure out how to use them?

[1]http://www.goodpage.info/

Lumines

Sony’s PSP (Playstation Portable) was released yesterday, and I picked one up because of one game: “Lumines”:1. It’s a block-based puzzle game, like Tetris (which I got hooked on back in the late 80s with the original GameBoy).

Lumines adds color, a soundtrack integrated with the game, and background animations and visuals that add a few new dimensions to the genre. The game was designed by the same guy who brought us Space Channel 5 (loved that too), so I knew it would be good. And it is. It’s a piece of art, where music and video and gameplay become a thing of beauty. I like it a lot.

The PSP itself is pretty amazing, too. The screen is big, bright and beautiful, and the controls are a pleasure to use. But those you expect. They managed to squeeze in a CD-like drive, wireless networking (which tied into our TinyTunes network quite painlessly), USB port and even an infrared port for some unknown reason. The drive not only loads games, but plays music and even movies and looks stunning.

And the built-in rechargable batteries are giving me over four hours of gameplay.

Thanks to my new obsession, the unread headlines in NetNewsWire are starting to stack up.

Time for one more game…
[1]http://lumines.jp/

The Puppy Dog Close

I understand there’s a technique in sales known as the “puppy dog close.” Imagine a family going into a pet store “just to look.” The sales person says “No problem, I know you don’t want to buy anything today, but while you’re here why not hold this just for a minute” and proceeds to put a puppy in the arms of the kid who’s only too happy to play with it. Of course the kid and the puppy hit it off instantly, and the dad grudgingly gives in to the inevitable. In other words they go home with the puppy. **That** is the puppy dog close.

Shareware and try-before-you-buy software are based on the puppy dog close, but all too often I find it surprisingly easy to walk away after trying it. This past week, tho, I bought three different pieces of software as soon as the trial period ended.

The first program, Dangerous Mines, is an addicting Minesweeper type game I’ve been trying out for the past month. Of the three game variants, my favorite is Gauntlet, where you have to complete a level in a limited amount of time to proceed to the next level. The Hard game, which seemed impossible to play just a few short weeks ago, I now tackle in the morning while the coffee is brewing. Maybe I play it a little too much (are my mouse fingers supposed to feel numb?), but I just got a high score over a million so I’m lucky I can quit anytime. Really. The game is well done, tho a little pricey at $25 (PC version, Mac version available as well).

The second program is the fine NetNewsWire, an RSS aggregator I’ve got collecting feeds from about four dozen websites so I can stay on top of new posts without having to visit all those sites all the time. I love the interface, and how it can be customized, and it keeps getting better. I’m using the beta of version 2, highly recommended at $25 (Mac only).

The third program is Panic Software’s Transmit, a fine little FTP client. I’ve been using Fetch forever to do FTP, since 1995 I think, when Robin introduced me to the internet (“Too geeky” I said, “it will never catch on with the masses.” She felt differently, and Once Again, She Was Right). Fetch went commercial with the OSX version, and I ponied up for it. It’s gotten a little long in the tooth and hasn’t kept up with the times. Panic, on the other hand, did a fine job with Transmit, and I’m a sucker for a nice user interface anyway. Nice utility, does what it’s supposed to and even looks pretty, $30 (Mac only).

WordPress 1.5 & A New Look

The blog is now purring along after upgrading to WordPress 1.5. The upgrade went quite smoothly (breathes sigh of relief), all the posts and comments came along for the ride and hopefully the spam filters will continue working as well as they did before.

I’ve been customizing the default Kubrick theme, making it my own. Sterile blue and gray gave way to green, blue and brown earth tones. The original, too-tall banner is now shorter, and has a photo of the front yard as its background.

And the CSS, as usual, is taking longer than it should.

The Undead Drive

In the middle of copying over the third chunk from the crashed drive this afternoon, I noticed that said bad drive was mounted on my desktop, and that I could read it!

I’ve spent the last hour furiously backing up the photos, mail, address book, time log, GarageBand mixes, notes, and other stuff I thought I’d lost forever.

Good: Having FileSalvage recover your lost files.
Better: Having the drive mount and not even needing FileSalvage!

Update Feb 24: I went back and tried to get a couple less critical things off the drive today and it’s back to being dead. Good thing I got off what I could the other day.

Crash of '05: Followup

The replacement drive has been working fine after the old one crashed last month, but it’s been bugging me that there were some files that I couldn’t recover, like some family photos taken around Halloween. Yesterday I bought FileSalvage, a program that promised to scan the bad drive and recover what it could, but it had problems working with the damaged drive (10megs scanned after 3 hours).

I put on my geek hat and discovered that Unix’s “dd” command can be used to copy raw disk blocks from the damaged drive to a spare partition, a couple gigs worth at a time. It took about an hour to copy the first chunk, and FileSalvage then recovered a bunch of stuff off of it, including 4 of the missing photos. Encouraged, I continued with the next chunk, and an hour later I’d recovered fifty of the family photos! It will take over 20 hours to recover the drive at this point, but it’s something I can do at my leisure, as time permits, and while it’s working I can be doing other things. I see now why DriveSavers charges two grand or more to do this!

Past Lives: Milton Bradley's Championship Baseball

This email came in a couple days ago:

Dear Dave,

    I was talking with Mike L____ who mentioned that you programmed the “Championship Baseball” game for the MBX system back in the early 80s. I currently run a TI-99/4A video game website on the Internet and would love to hear from someone such as yourself that was involved with the industry back then, especially working on the incredible MBX system! Championship Baseball was the most famous out of all the games made on the MBX, so it should be a blast to hear from the actual programmer! In addition, if you might be interested in talking with Mike again after all these years I can pass on his contact information. Should be fun talking! BTW, I just completed a review of Championship Baseball on the Internet for the Classic Videogaming Magazine called Retrogaming Times, it’s coming up in the February issue.

Sincerely,
Bryan Roppolo

MBX Championship BaseballMy last “real job” was twenty years ago working for Milton Bradley in their Electronic Games division, and the last project I worked on for them was the above-mentioned Championship Baseball game in 1983. I was never quite sure if it made its way onto store shelves (such is the nature of game development). Google even turned up another review of the game!

I’m reminded yet again that once created, these things take on a life of their own.