Fluid Makes Web Apps Real Desktop Apps

With the proliferation of web-based applications out there, have you ever wondered why companies don’t make native applications that can run from your desktop like they do with mobile platforms?  Well, for one, cost is an issue–it’s cheaper to develop one website that’s compatible across platforms than it is to develop multiple stand-alone applications.  Just look at mobile development–it’s almost like pulling teeth to get an iOS application ported to Android (and, to be fair, vice versa), which is why only the biggest companies with the most resources usually have multiple platform applications.  If you don’t have their preferred platform, you just have to deal with the mobile website.

So, back to desktop apps.  I use Google Music almost religiously as well as HootSuite, Wave Accounting, and a multitude of other sites for my day-to-day business.  It’s more efficient for me to have an icon on my dock that I can just click and open a particular application (considering my Firefox browser usually has multiple tabs open already).  In steps Fluid, a small application for OSX that will create a capsule for your favourite web applications, allowing you to tuck it safely into your Applications folder or conveniently on your dock, complete with its own settings and icon.  I have to admit, it’s a tremendous time-saver and keeps my desktop nice and organised.  Best of all, it’s free!  There is also a “premium” version that costs $5 (As Clark Howard would say, “What a DEAL!”) that gives you a few more options such as separate cookie storage and using full screen mode in Lion, but the free version will do for most users.

Click over to their website and check out the details, but if you’re on a Mac, it is indispensable!

How Well Does TuneUp Really Clean Your ITunes Library?

Keeping your music collection organised is a rather daunting task if you’re a bit of a musicophile. It’s even more daunting if you happen to be borderline obsessive-compulsive. I happen to be both.

The biggest problems that I run across are inconsistency in capitalisation, missing artwork, and improperly tagged files. These would not be much in and of themselves, but I have a collection nearing twenty thousand individual tracks, and I require some automation to do the heavy lifting.

Enter TuneUp, a music cataloguing application designed around iTunes. Now, I’m not much of a fan of Apple’s preeminent media player (it’s never seemed to give me the same level of control in a simple UX that I could get from various options on Linux), but considering its market ubiquity, the integration seems a small price to pay for a pristine library. TuneUp will scan your existing library, identify tracks, and attempt to fit them into the correct albums before filling in all the missing ID3 tag information. The developers promise an “automagic” experience, but with my eclectic tastes, that has proven impossible.

The program can only hold 1000 entries at a time so I am forced to break my collection down by artist name–doing all the A’s, followed by the B’s, etc. So far, this has been a slow process. Although many of the albums are shown correctly, roughly 70% of them are so-called “likely matches” which means that I have to at least check the file against its listing in iTunes, a process that is surprisingly streamlined thanks to the aforementioned integration. Thankfully, the learning curve is shallow: the interface, like everything else in OSX is all drag-and-drop. Even the “undo” command is drag-and-drop, prompting you to simple drag the offending files into a special window. This has come in handy a few times as I have learned that large collections of a single artist (so far AC/DC and The Beatles) tend to flag as duplicate tracks or wrong albums. These anthologies may take a few revisions.

So far, I’ve spent over a week working on my library. The Gracenote library that powers TuneUp is severely limited in its selection of cover art for much of my collection. Even my more mainstream classic rock selections such as The Blues Brothers Definitive Collection or The Who’s Greatest Hits were running against a brick wall to get all the correct information!

On the bright side, adding new albums to iTunes via TuneUp seems to be a better experience–mostly because of the smaller volume of tracks. This strategy of checking my information by only scanning one album at a time has been slower, but has provided me with fewer erroneous results.

My biggest gripe with TuneUp is its lack of selection when attempting to match tracks to an album. Instead of giving a selection of possible matches, it populates with a list of “likely matches” and assigns tracks to those albums. These are often the wrong artist, album, or even track name! To wit, I have to manually move all the incorrect matches to the appropriate position in the correct album–taking far more time than should ever have been dedicated to such a project. God help you if the album isn’t in Gracenote’s database or it’s the wrong version (I have a lot of ripped vinyl that doesn’t match track lists for the CD remaster); you will get a list of 8-10 albums that are wildly different, one track mated to each one, then the app simply gives up and lists the balance under “no matches”.

Don’t believe the hype around TuneUp; It’s a great idea, but executed poorly. It is certainly not worth the $40 to purchase, especially if your music collection is gathered from legitimate sources such as the iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play stores. The better CD ripping applications will fill in the ID3 tags for you as you go, and vinyl titles aren’t supported very well. However, if you were a hardcore Napster user back in the day, you might find the one-time purchase option to be just enough automation to take out part of the headache surrounding manual data entry on those bootleg Apoptygma Berzerk albums you downloaded.

Streaming Music From The Cloud With Google Play

If iTunes is the centre of the iOS/OSX sphere of influence, then Google Play is undoubtedly the centre of the Android sphere. But at one time, it was simply a music service along the lines of the iTunes store, but it offered so much more than Apple did: it allowed users to upload a copy of their MP3 library to Google’s servers for streaming music to Android devices or through a browser.

Now, I have quite an extensive library full of rather obscure recordings and eclectic variety, so this came as a huge boon to someone like me. Pandora, Spotify, and Slacker could only go so far with their curated playlists full of repetitive tracks and limited playback options. For years, I’ve been looking for a solution to curate my music library for portable playback (“the Cloud” wasn’t quite a thing yet), and the only option available to me was the $300 iPod Classic (which has since been discontinued), a hefty price to pay for a dedicated device.

My biggest timesuck with Google Play’s music service has been cleaning my MP3 library. 30+ years of collected recordings tends to produce a few duplicate tracks now and again (many of which were songs pulled from Napster that I have since legitimately acquired by purchasing the full album). Granted, you are not required to take such meticulous care of your library, but I tend to be a little obsessive over cataloging, and I like everything to be just so. After several weeks dedicated to cleaning ID3 tags, eliminating duplicates, and filling in missing artwork, I was finally able to upload a clean version of my library: over 18,000 individual tracks! Google allows a whopping 50k tracks to be stored in your account, and the best part is that they will automagically replace your MP3 with the highest quality version available to them for streaming!

Now, I keep everything on a thumb drive organised locally via iTunes, then I upload a copy to Google Play for streaming to my devices: it sure beats the hell outta syncing and charging a separate iPod, I can guarantee that!

The Best BitTorrent Client: Why Have a Torrent When You Can Have a Deluge?

BitTorrent is by far the most effective means of quickly distributing large files to many recipients, but the decentralised and open-source structure of the system has created an overabundance of client software. The BitTorrent project itself recommends using its own µTorrent downloader client, but since going commerical, it has turned into an ad-laden, buggy, lethargic beast unsuitable for speedy downloads.

I’ve used Transmission extensively in my Linux and OSX work, so I’ve been content with it as it is simple and works. With the VCR running on Windows, I needed a client that worked in the new OS. µTorrent was the obvious first choice, but as you can see, that did not last long.

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.50.51 PM

I discovered Deluge by chance, and I have to admit, I am quite enamoured with it. The interface is very similar to any number of other BT clients, but the magic is in its automation options, its speed, and the fact that it is cross-platform. Seriously, Deluge is the zippiest client I’ve used yet! Try it and you’ll see that Deluge connects to peers faster and more reliably than any other client I’ve used, and it has reduced the times for my completely legit downloads by roughly half! It is certainly the best BitTorrent client that I’ve run across!

Backup Files On Schedule With CrashPlan

If you need a simple backup scheduler, give Code 42’s CrashPlan a try. CrashPlan is available for Windows, Linux, and OSX and allows file backups to local, networked, and off-site locations with a simple, easy-to-use setup.

Download and install CrashPlan Free to each computer you want to backup and one the machine you will use as a backup server. You can have any number of machines connected to your “cloud” with the only limitation being the available space on the server. I have it backing up my Macbook Pro and VCR to an external hard drive connected to the VCR. These backups are also mirrored in an encrypted folder on a computer at my office across town.

CREDIT: Code42

Cloud backup storage is also available from CrashPlan for a nominal fee, but with off-site storage being as easy as connecting your work computer, I don’t see much need for it.

How To Remove Adobe Update From OSX

Adobe Update is a rather annoying piece of useless code that sits in your menu bar and lets you know that there are no updates for your software (I run CS5 still). There are lots of tutorials on how to disable the notification icon, but nothing–especially from Adobe itself–on how to remove Adobe Update from OSX entirely.

After a good bit of digging, I came across this blog that led me to the answer. He goes into a bit of detail on how the process launcher in OSX works (and it’s a good, short read), and the execution of the underlying code. I certainly recommend taking a few minutes and reading about it so you can apply the principle for other “unnecessary” applications running in background.

What you essentially want to do is open a Terminal session and type the following series of commands:

cd ~/Library/LaunchAgents
launchctl remove basename com.adobe.ARM.* .plist
rm com.adobe.ARM.*

This removes the process’s associated files as well as the entry from the launcher. Conversely, you could simple navigate to the same folder in Finder and delete the files manually, but it leaves the process entry in the launcher–which may or may not be an issue. I did it this way and have not experienced any problems, but your mileage may vary.

How to map a network drive in OSX

Macs aren’t known for their ability to play well with other (non-Apple) computers on a network, but with a little persuasion, you can map a network drive in OSX and even keep its location somewhat persistent!

From Finder, type Command+K to bring up the “Connect to Server” dialog. You can also reach this from the menu bar under the “Go” heading.

In the “Server Address” dialog, type in the network address of the share you wish to map (smb://location/share) and click the “Connect” button. Enter your credentials if prompted and make sure to save them to your keychain.

To make the mapping semi-persistent, you’ll need to add the share as a login item. Do this by going to the “Users & Groups” pane within the System Preferences dialog. Click the “Login Items” tab and the + button at the bottom of the list to add a new item. Navigate to the share you wish to have mount automatically and click “Add”. Exit from System Preferences and you’re finished.

Now, there’s a couple of things to note here: Firstly, if you leave the network with the attached drive, you MUST eject the drive from Finder before disconnecting or you may run into an instance of having a persistent copy of the drive (and that’s just not good for business, especially if you have your iTunes library or other files stored to the location). Second, if you reconnect to the network, you may want to reboot the computer to have a fresh connection to the drive. If you don’t reboot, you can still reconnect to the drive manually using the method above.


How To Rip a DVD on a Mac

Despite the plethora of freeware available to rip DVDs on a Windows or Linux machine, Mac users have been somewhat cast aside for one reason or another. Most search results direct a user to expensive software that doesn’t even allow for a proper trial before use. Handbrake is a popular freeware video conversion application for Mac (and Windows and Ubuntu) that can also be used to decode and record DVD titles as soft video files with just a little bit of tweaking.

First thing to do is install the latest version of Handbrake. Download the Mac disc image, mount it, and copy the app to your applications folder like you would any other. Launch Handbrake and insert a DVD into your optical drive (assuming you actually have one still). Due to licensing restrictions, Handbrake doesn’t include the proper DVD codecs stock, but will prompt you to download the open-source libdvdcss library. Download and run the package installer, then restart Handbrake.

Now you can open your DVD in Handbrake, choose the title you wish to rip, choose the appropriate settings, and click the “start” button!

If you run into problems, the DVD probably contains some level of copy-protection that will have to be circumvented. A word of warning here: the DMCA specifically prohibits breaking copy-protection, but as a freedom-loving American, I believe that once recorded media is legitimately obtained in any format, then it is within the rights of the owner of that media to convert it to any other format for personal consumption. For more information on the moral and legal implications of the Digital Millennium Copyright Atrocity, click here. In this case, open the DVD Player app, then navigate through the menus until the title you wish to rip is playing. In the menu bar, select “Go”, then “Title”, and note the title with the check mark next to it. Back in Handbrake, select “File” and “Open Source (Title Specific)”. Select your DVD, then enter the title number in the dialog before clicking the “Open Title” button.

There are a lot more settings that drill down into the fine details for each video file to be encoded, but I will leave their explanations to the fine folks at MacWorld who wrote the article on which this tutorial is based. You can read the full article here.