As someone who loves to read I have long been looking for a decent book catalog program that can keep track of the information I want to keep track of.  I have downloaded dozens of programs and they have all fallen short in my criteria.  There are also several web sites that do are good for cataloging of books, but they two are not as flexible as I want.

  • For one I wanted a program where could easily catalog hardcover/softcover books, books from Project Gutenberg that I have listened to by converting them to speech, Audio books from Librivox, and novels that are podcasted.
  • A wish list function where I could track books I would like to read and be able to able to export a list of them.
  • Flexible enough that I could track information such  as what books I have reviewed.
  • Record the date I finished a book.
  • Keep series information such as for example the order of a book in a trilogy.

I had even at one point wrote a program in C#  that handled most of the functions I wanted and maintained them in a database.  But to really develop it to the point I wanted would take a considerable amount of time.

Today though I found the program that performs all the criteria I wished for.  Bookpedia by Bruji is a Mac OSX program that is quite beautiful in its functionality.

The interface is very similar to iTunes and is fairly intuitive. It is quite easy to add books and you can do it is several ways.  You can type in a title and then have it search locations such as Amazon to get all of the metadata and cover art for the book.  You of course can enter a book in manually if it is nowhere to be found  A real cool feature is that I could use the built in iSight camera in my iMac to read the barcode from a book.  Once it successfully reads the bar code it looks up the book and enters all of the information.  Since I already had a database of books I have read over the last couple of years it was important that I could import that data.  Bookpedia will read the export format of several popular programs and has a variety of import templates.  I was able to convert my database to CSV and then have it import all of my old records.

The Collections pane contains your main library, but you can also add special collections, smart lists, and a borrowed and wish list collection.  The smart list lets you define data critera from any field with a number of options and is very flexible  I was able to quickly put together a collection of all the books I read last year and this year and was able to find out that I read 160 books last year.  When you import a collection it creates a new collection so you can massage your data if necessary before adding it to your main library.  You can also export your data in a number of ways to text, html, ftp, and to an iPod.  The iPod export functionality works quite well. In the program I wrote I would export a report of wish list items and then manually copy it to my iPod.  This way when I was at a bookstore or used bookstore it was quite convenient to refer to the iPod notes to lookup books I wanted.

The metadata for each book entry is extensive and also allows for you to define custom fields for other information you might want to track.  There is also a tab for selling information  and another that allows you to store links for the specific book or to contain other images.  The searching feature works well and includes spotlight information. This works quite well so I can type a name in Spotlight and then select it and have it open the program and display the entry for that book.  There is also a full screen mode where you can navigate the covers and select them for more information along with another screen that shows a bunch of statistics along with charts.

This is just a very impressive program and at a price of only $18 is quite a deal.  As someone who writes software for a living I was quite happy with the flexibility of this program and how you are able to setup the views just as you want.  With most programs there is pretty much always a feature missing that the only thing in Bookpedia that I would want is the ability to import a Amazon wish list.  This is just a great Mac program.

I have only been using a Mac since October, but when my Windows machine died last week it didn’t upset me too much even thought the machine was only about 15 months old.  I now do everything on my iMac including ironically Windows software development with Visual Studio 2008 via VMWare Fusion which offers great virtualization and I can run XP and Vista at pretty much native speeds on my iMac.

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Part of the transition to OSX is of course leaning to use Finder since file management is always such an important part of life in a operating system.  Finder in Leopard is definitely improved, but since I often  move files around from one folder to another I wasn’t finding the experience to my liking.  In Windows though I almost never use Explorer either.  I guess I just don’t like single pane file managers.  In the days of DOS I use to love Norton Commander which was a dual pane file manager and Windows 3.1 and before also use to have a dual pane file manager.  When Windows 95 came out I started looking for a Norton Commander clone to suit my needs and for over a decade I have been using a program called Servant Salamander.  Silly name, but very powerful and has a ton a features I use often.

I think one of the basics a file manager should have is the ability to bookmark folders and then easily access them.  This way you can easily move to your most used folders rapidly.   Servant Salamander allowed you to use keyboard shortcuts to these folders and I found this indefensible.  Unfortunately the file management program that come with OSs just don’t give you this capability and have very little flexibility as far as customization.

So I started looking for a file manager for OSX that had the flexibility and the power I wanted.   I looked at a couple of dual pane file managers for OSX, but didn’t find any too my liking.  Forklift is pretty good and had some of the features I wanted, just not enough of them. There is a freeware dual-pane file manager for OSX and other OS’s called muCommander that gives some basic features, but it doesn’t give you  a solid OSX interface and has limited features.

Looking around I started seeing Pathfinder recommended by many users.  When I looked at the screenshots I wasn’t much impressed with it looking like a standard file manager.   But I ended up downloading it to check out the trail.  It has a lot of features and is highly customizable and has a real enjoyable interface.  It was the drop stack though that really sold me on it.  The drop stack is an area that allows you to drag one or more files into it from multiple folders if you want.  You can then easily change to another folder and drag the files from the drop stack into it.  This gave me a much better experience in moving around files like I was use to in a Norton Command clone.  I also like that it has multiple ways that you can access frequently used directories.  There is a shelf where you can just drag favorite folders to, a tab bar where they can be placed, and even a Folder History panel that you can use that shows you a list of the last folders you have accessed.

So I ended up buying Pathfinder when my trial expired and wouldn’t you know it just a couple of days later it shows up as 20% off at MacSanta.  Oh well.

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There are so many things that I have learned to love about OSX and have had a very pleasurable experience doing so.  Though one thing drives me crazy.  While OSX has native support of Multiple Monitors and has some features that Windows doesn’t have in this regard – there are some abilities that are totally lacking.

One thing is that many dialog boxes don’t come up in the screen you are working on.  They normally come up in the monitor designated as your primary screen.  I have found that  I will click on something and wait for a dialog box, not realizing that it has come up in the other screen.  In Windows almost always dialog boxes will come up in the same screen as the application you are current using.  There is no way that I know of to change this behavior.  I did end up moving my menu bar and dock over to my main monitor to rectify part of this, but it is still annoying.

The other problem is that the menu bar when used with multiple monitors is a pain.  If you are using an application on a monitor without the menu bar, you have to mouse over to the other monitor to use it.  This is totally inconvenient, especially if you are doing a lot of menu bar interactions.   Luckily in this case their is a program called DejaMenu that allows you to have a popup  attached to a  keyboard shortcut appear. This popup contains all of the  menu items displayed as a contextual menu.  This program is useful even if you don’t have multiple monitors.

I would have thought that OSX having such a large community of artists and others that take advantage of multiple monitors would have come up with some simple fixes for these problems.  In my research I came across many others who were griping about the same thing.

It seems to me that it would be nice even if they simply allowed you to mirror your menu bar and dock for each monitor.  Even better would be docks you could customize for each monitor. That plus fixing where dialog boxes appear would make everything much better.

Multiple monitors is not something just for geeks either.  Where I work they have long gone to multiple monitors for pretty much every employee.  There have been some studies showing just how much more productive people are when using them and my own experience would agree.

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I have long been a fan of text-to-speech capabilities.  The Commodore 64 had SAM (Software Automatic Mouth) which was amazing for the time, but not that useful.  Later on Windows had SAPI which could be used to listen to text, but it had a tinny robot feel to it.

A couple of years ago I bought Text Aloud with two of the AT&T Natural Voice.  These voices were quite good and I have probably listened to over a hundred novels using them.  It is great to take older and many time classic texts from sources such as Project Gutenberg and convert them from text to listen to on my computer or iPod.

OSX Leopard has introduced a new voice named Alex that is a leap ahead of their previous voices.  I have used it to listen to a couple of novels and the Pope’s new encyclical Spe Salvi and it is certainly of good enough quality for these purposes.  In my opinion the AT&T voices are slightly better, but not by much.

One thing that I really like though is that I was able to build a Automator script that would take whatever text I had in  TextEdit, convert it using the Alex voice and then have it import into iTunes.   This is just so convenient that I will probably just use the Alex voice instead of the AT&T voices on my PC.

Considering the fact that this voice is free in Leopard this is a real bargain.  TextAloud costs $35 and it you need to add $25 for the AT&T natural voices.  Currently software such as AbleReader for the Mac which uses AT&T voices won’t work on Intel Macs. But I see no real reason that Alex is not perfectly suitable.

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When I installed Leopard I did a clean install.  After install I noticed that I no longer had some apps such as Garage Band, iPhoto, etc.  Looking on the web I found that they are part of iLife.  I knew that the iWork apps installed on my iMac were just a trail version and I made the mistake of assuming that the iLife apps were the same.

Recently on some blog post I noticed that it referred to iPhoto as being free and then it finally dawned on me was that I just needed to reinstall these apps from my Tiger install disks that came with the machine  by simply selecting the Bundled Apps to install.

Well I guess I would have felt more stupid if I had ordered iLife.

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Machine Virtualization has come a long way over the years and it is about to the point that an OS running in the virtual machine runs just as fast as it would natively. The latest generation of processors support virtualization to make it even better.

VMWare for years has been on the cutting edge of virtualization and owns a slew of patents in the field. Parallels is another virtual machine product for the Mac that has gained a lot of attention for the features it has and got to the market before VMWare’s latest offering for OSX. I decided though to go with VMWare’s Fusion since from what I have read and some of the reviews of it that it utilizes both cores of a dual core processor and that it is totally written in Cocoa from the ground up giving it both better speed and memory utilization.

So I downloaded the 30 day trial of VMWare and had it installed quite quickly. Using the wizard I setup an XP Pro virtual machine using an XP Pro .ISO file and had it up and running pretty quickly. Once setup on the VMWare menu you can install VMWare Tools to make integration better. I then installed some of my favorite windows app in it such as Dreamweaver and was putting it to use with no problems. The clipboard integration between the virtual machine and OSX is seamless. Nicely you can also just drag and drop files between OSX and the virtual machine – this is a great feature.

Normally windows runs in it’s a single window, but you can also run it full screen or in unity mode. Unity mode though allows you to have Window’s windows along side your OSX ones. The Unity mode integration with the Dock is excellent. Windows programs show up in your dock just like OSX ones. You also get both OS’s windows in Expose making it easy to find or switch to another window regardless of what OS it is running in. Previously I used a terminal hack to give me a stack of recently accessed programs and this stack has both the OSX and Windows programs/documents I have accessed.

I would totally love Unity mode if it supported multiple monitors. When you switch from single window/full screen mode to unity mode you can only have your windows on the monitor that you were on when you did this. So you need to put the window in the monitor you want to use for Windows programs before you switch to unity mode. I was able to change the display setting to make the monitor seem wider and could partially move onto the other monitor so a window that did not take up very much screen real estate could be placed on the other monitor. Currently Parallels also does not support multi monitors it is is suppose to be something that will happen in the future.

VMWare Fusion even has support for Direct X 9 and could even be used for gaming. I haven’t tried this out yet not being the gamer I once was. I might try putting Microsoft’s Visual Studio on the Virtual Machine to check out how it performs. I have some projects written in C# that are quite complex and would give me a good idea how fast the virtual machine really is.

Fusion also works with a Bootcamp partition if you have one and will even convert any of Parallels’ virtual machines to work with Fusion.

VMWare Fusion is very intuitive. I didn’t have to read any instructions to get things up and running. I am quite impressed by this product, but I am also pretty glad that their is healthy competition between Fusion and Parallel. This is a win-win situation for users. What is great though is that I can easily see that when in the future my PC gets a little long in the tooth that I will confidently be able to buy a Mac Pro to do all of my work in Windows and OSX on the same machine.

Update: When my Vista PC died I wasn’t too upset and have just switched to my iMac full time.  I have found that Visual Studio 2005 and 2008 run just fine on Fusion and I have had zero problems developing using these tools during the last couple of weeks.  Now that I have to run Windows programs in a virtual machine it gives me a much better test and I am really pleased at the performance and it feels to me as if I am running my programs on a dedicated machine.

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As a windows/Mac user it is pain to deal with how mainly Alt is used on the Mac instead of Ctrl for many common commands such as copy, paste, etc. I would have remapped the Mac, but by keyboard sharer program Synergy didn’t work with the remapped keys.

One thing I found though is that I much preferred the Alt key combinations over the Ctrl key combinations. You can much easier anchor your thumb on the Alt key and then press the other key and it is much less awkward. So I decided to remap the keys on the Windows side to match the OSX instead. A freeware program called AutoHotkey turned out to do the trick nicely. It took a little work to come up with a script that did what I wanted, but now my Windows keyboard layout matches the OSX with Alt-C for Copy, Alt-P for paste, etc. The program also allows you to specify which Alt key to use, so I programed just the left one so that the right Alt key combinations worked as they did before. I am going to do the same thing to my work machine since I like these key combinations much better.

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I have been curious to test out how well using virtual machines to allow me to use some Windows apps under OSX would work out. So I figured this would be a good excuse to upgrade from the default 1 GB of ram to the max allowed of 4 GB. I had heard that Apple’s prices for memory were pretty high, though I was surprised to find out how high. When I first started looking last month these were the prices and in fact still are.

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Woo Nelly! If you buy a new machine and have them upgrade the memory this is what they are currently charging.

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Obviously I started looking around at other dealers. When I first started looking prices were mostly around $300 dollars for two 2 GB sticks. Though through one Mac site I found a reference to a recommended dealer where the price was $158. When I ended up buying the memory it was down to $117. They have great response time considering that I ordered it late Friday and had it arrive on Monday. They also allow you to send in your previous memory to receive a rebate. This is pretty cool because otherwise the 1 GB stick that came with the iMac would have just gone to waste. I somehow doubt that it is worth the $150 dollars Apple would charge.

The Aluminum iMacs have a small memory access panel on their bottoms help in by one screw. There is a plastic tab that you unfold and use to eject the memory that was in the machine. This plastic tab was quite slick and I had a lot of difficulty using it to eject the memory. Mainly since even when fully extended the memory still hadn’t fully ejected. After some fuss though I finally go the default 1 GB stick out and the two new sticks installed quited quickly and soon had the machine fully booted up and ready to install VMWare Fusion. I will write about my Fusion experience later.

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In the Mac world it seems everybody has Photoshop.  This program is the predominant graphic program on the Windows and Mac platform, but I have noticed that it is especially mentioned among Mac users, almost like it is part of the OS.

I just wonder exactly how many of them have legal copies since its $600 plus price tag  is pretty pricey and even an upgrade approaches $200 dollars.

I don’t have that kind of money to burn so I have been learning to use Gimp which is not as intuitive as other graphic programs I have used in the past, but it does have plenty of power and since it is open source it is free.  I have never used Photoshop, though where I work all of the artists do.  In the past I have used Macromedia’s Fireworks on the Windows’s platform and it is a fairly decent vector graphic tool that I used mainly because I have a licensed copy through my job.  Buying it for the Mac though is almost $300 dollars so I will learn to work with Gimp.  I will probably end up getting a program like Pixelmator that seems to have a lot of functions, is built for the Mac, and has a quiet reasonable price tag.

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXNZV1I6s9w&rel=1&border=0]

The above is Fr. Roderick comparing a clean install of Leopard to going to confession. Appropriate since I also went for a clean install. Even though my iMac was only three weeks old and one of the other install methods would probably have been just fine – I always prefer a fresh install and then adding backed up data. Maybe it is lessons learned from Windows that make me prefer this, though some did get an Apple blue screen of death using the other methods.

This was certainly an easy install that went rather quickly. One of the easier installs that I have done and I have done hundreds of installs over the years at home and at work. Windows Vista install process is much improved with limited reboots, but Leopards was even simpler. The only thing disconcerting for me was when the screen would just go blank during the install which was only a power saving mode – this freaked me out at first since during a windows install this would be a bad sign. After installing I then backed up my OSX Leopard setup disk. I had never backed up anything to a dual layer DVD disk before and was quite pleased it took on the first take considering that this media is much pricier.

After a day of playing with it I am quite pleased. With Windows you come to expect more features at the cost of decreased performance and the need to update your hardware. With Leopard everything is noticeably faster (especially Spotlight) and response time is really snappy.

It is the visual interface of Leopard that has drawn the most criticism from users. A lot of this is of course quite subjective and what will please one person will annoy another. I don’t mind the new 3D looking dock with its reflection and glowing blue dot to indicate a program is loaded. Maybe this is because I am a new user and not as staid in my ways when it comes to OSX. For me it doesn’t get in the way.

The new stacks feature is interesting, but I think it is poorly implemented. I don’t keep large amounts of files in a single folder and keep my data and programs categorized in subfolders so the fan option works for me just fine. What I find annoying is that the icon used on the dock is the icon of the first item found and there is no easy way to set this folder icon to one of your choosing. I think it would have made more sense to put the “Show in Finder” button as the first option instead of the last. You can set the default view, but you have to wonder why they didn’t allow the use of the previous behavior as an option.

The translucent menu bar is another item that has gotten much criticism. I don’t think it is as bad as some critics have described is as a menu smear, but it would have made so much sense for the user to be able to set how translucent it is or to make it totally opaque. I tried one of the software solutions to make it opaque, but it didn’t work for me. I ended up adding a 22pixel white strip to the top of the background graphic I used. This fixes the strip, but the pull down menus still have the same problem.

One last criticism of interface changes. The new folder icons look like they had to budget color. The blue color of the folders themselves is just fine, but it is more difficult to discern what the folder represents from the faded blue icon in their center. It is like the folder icon went through too many washing cycles and has come to look like somebodies favorite pair of faded blue jeans.

You have to wonder how much input people had during the beta process? This couldn’t have exactly blindsided them considering how some of this has been panned by prominent reviewers. At least they could have easily included options to modify these behaviors or to be able to choose a different icon set.

Spaces is a very nice implementation of virtual windows. I have used virtual windows over the years and never found a implementation that I would keep using. This being built into the OS makes it very functional and I am quite impressed by the speed of it’s operation. I am not sure if I will use it on a consistent basis considering that I use multiple monitors, but I think that I am more likely to since it also works quite well with multiple monitors. You can access spaces via the dock, keyboard shortcuts, and the menubar. Spaces could though use some more enhancements, such as the ability to customize each space by having its own dock and its own background graphic.

One of the new abilities I like most is how it works so much better on a network. I often go back and forth between my Windows folders and my OSX ones and Tiger was not the speediest in doing so. Shared folders are so much easier to get to and especially to browse to. Before clicking on an icon would send you into spinning rainbow limbo for quite a while just to get to the next level within a workgroup. Now it works just like you are accessing a local drive.

I find that I like the Coverflow option in finder much better than I expected to. I don’t use it in iTunes because for me with a large CD collection it is not a very efficient way to find an album.  But for browsing files it is really quite useful and fast in showing you a good idea of what a specific file contains. The same goes for quick look which also lets you browse, play, and read through a file without every having to open up a parent application to do so.  Even better though coverflow is one of four file view options so you can just choose the view you want depending on your needs.  OSX could do a little more with this philosophy especially for visual interface elements.

What will be interesting to see is the third party apps that will be developed using all of the new underlying capabilities of Leopard.   There was a lot more done under the hood then meets the eye and obviously a lot of optimization was done on existing code to make it more efficient.  This is a great time for PC users to start using Macs.  Now I am not a Vista hater and like many of the new capabilities of Vista over XP, but it certainly doesn’t have as coherent an experience as Leopard does.  Many things in Vista seemed glued on instead of fitting in with the whole.  Though I would love to see OSX to get the flexibility of Vista’s file and folder dialog boxes that contain the full capability of the Finder window.

I haven’t played with Time Machine yet though it is quite interesting that Apple can design a backup feature that you are actually eager to try.  Though it does make you wonder if there will be any system paradoxes if you delete your grandfathers file.

Time will tell just how bug free Leopard is and of course there have already been a patch. But my limited experience has been very good.

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