Thursday, May 31, 2007

Deal of the Century

Blink, blink, blink. Three months have gone by. Yikes. Time really does fly by. I apologize for not keeping up, I even had one person say they missed the articles. Wow, that means at least one person is actually reading them! So I guess I need to pick myself up and get back in the race. That's life. That's what people say...

So here, finally, is the posting I started so long ago. Hope you enjoy it!

You got all this stuff and you want to sell it online. What a hassle. First, you have to organize it, clean it up, write descriptions, take photos and then go through the tedious process of posting them on your favorite auction site. Then you have to submit it, track it, answer questions, receive payment, and finally ship the item and provide feedback to your buyer. Seems more trouble than it's worth. But if you could minimize the work on the second half of the process, it could just make your auction experience more tolerable and potentially more lucrative! Let me show you a few apps that can help you toward that goal.

Cycline3 6.5

Cycline Auction Listing Creator, otherwise known as CALC, is a straightforward, easy-to-use application with versions for OS 9 and OS X. For quickie auctions without a lot of fuss, and minimal cost, this is the app for you. I have outlined some pros and cons to the app below.

Pros
  • Outline/Wizard format walks you through process, everything is pretty much explained for you.
  • Decent interface, not stunning, but makes the process easy to figure out
  • Host pictures on your website
  • Preview in browser
  • Font selection
  • Page and table background images
  • About Box has great linking feature, I know not really crucial to the function of the app, but it was nice enough in my opinion to point out
  • Support for OSX, Win, Linux – the only one that supported all these platforms
  • Supports eBay, Half, Yahoo, ROL – if you're not an eBayer, the ability to use other auction sites is a plus
Cons
  • No eye-catching layouts – to me this is a deal breaker at any price. If it appeals to me, it should appeal to potential buyers
  • Doesn't support Drag & Drop of pictures – should be a given in OS X, but since it supports multiple platforms, I can understand why
  • Doesn't support Drag & Drop of text – same as above
  • Doesn't support iPhoto – same as above
  • Layouts don't appear to have default text settings (what you see isn't what you get)
  • Tools popup is oddly implemented (but reduces space requirements)
  • Poor support for pre-formatted text, and for applying styles – back to ease-of-use, I want to cut and paste formatted text and have the app understand or translate it
  • Does not interface directly to eBay – detracts from the time-saving concept
Price
Inexpensive! $9.99 for download version

GarageSale 3.3b6

I Was Coding has put together a great product, taking advantage of many Mac features including iPhoto, Drag and Drop of text and pictures, Cover Flow and more. Beautiful templates and tight integration with eBay makes the auction creation process much faster – once you learn how to get around. There were few things to find wrong with this app, which is why I ended up buying it.

Pros

  • Complete interface with eBay
  • Excellent template design
  • Excellent interface with OSX/iTunes technologies
  • Support for Search Attributes
  • Supports Drag & Drop of pictures
  • Supports Drag & Drop of text
  • Supports iPhoto
  • Supports eBay, GarageSale, .Mac, FTP, WebDAV picture hosting
  • Dynamic theme switching
  • 104 Templates - auto download and install
Cons
  • No support for other auction sites
  • Somewhat overwhelming at first
  • No cost estimate for auction
Price
$29.99 for use on 2 computers by same user. Nice demo feature allows for 3 auctions on eBay.

iSale 4.2

Another interface jewel, iSale really shines. It has a zillion templates (ok 168 – almost a zillion), nicely designed even though space inefficient and has many of the same support of OS X features as GarageSale. The only reason I didn't jump on this app was that the license was more expensive and allowed for use on only one computer.

Pros
  • 168 Templates - auto download and install
  • Complete interface with eBay
  • Excellent interface with OSX/iTunes technologies
  • Supports Drag & Drop of pictures
  • Supports Drag & Drop of text
  • Supports iPhoto
Cons
  • Templates well designed but they don't relate well to categories and do not seem to shift up based on amount of text. Take up too much space.
  • No HTML list support
  • No tooltips
  • No contextual menus
  • No cost estimate for auction
  • No highlight of additional cost items
  • No support for Search Description
Price
$39.99 for use on 1 computer. Also allows for 3 auctions on eBay (I think there is some competition going on...)

Sold to that man in the plaid jacket! And I bet with any one of these apps, you can do more selling online. Got an online auction story to tell? Let us hear it. Where's the furthest you've shipped something? The largest item? Most expensive thing? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Found in Translation

And now the continuing saga of one man's battle to ride the tide of change. The Intel change, that is. And the battle is going pretty well. All those lovely Rosetta-marked icons are slowly fading from my DragThing palettes. Adobe's Design and Web Standard packages have upgraded all my Adobe and previously Macromedia products all at once (for some $700 or so). Add to that, Apple's Final Cut Express HD and associated apps (discussed last week) as well as Filemaker Pro. My Quicken update was not a Universal Binary, dang it, so I'll have to spend money on yet another upgrade sometime. BBEdit was also another converted app. If you need a text editor, try BareBones' TextWrangler – it's free.

The ones I am holding out on are QuarkXPress 7, OmniPage X and Fontographer. Not sure if Fontographer will be (or needs to be) updated, OmniPage X hasn't been updated in a while (besides my scanner does not have an Intel driver – shame on Epson, and VueScan also does OCR) and QuarkXPress 7 has some issues and most people are staying on the 6.5.2 version, including printers.

So all-in-all, not too bad an upgrade process. Results? Yes, I notice that apps are snappier to load and some processes are faster. Many of the updates include enhanced or new features, either because of the age of my previous version or because with the Intel chips they can do more stuff, so that is cool, too. And using Parallels Desktop has been great for running Windows XP without partitioning my drive or having to reboot. And it's fast!

Weird stuff? Yeah, I got some of that. Like Apple's Mail taking 30 seconds to open a Reply window, or the Adobe Suites initial screens to load. Had to re-import my letterhead graphic into FileMaker Pro to get it to look right. My system has frozen up about 6 times in the past month of owning it which is more times than my G5 did in two years. That, I do not like. But like with any change, there is an adjustment period. I'll keep you posted and let you know when things have settled down or if I need to make radical adjustments.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Divine Inspiration

I have always been a pushover for special effects in the movies, always wanted to be the guy behind the scenes doing the miniatures and blowing up things. Who wouldn't? Well, I have been given the opportunity to be the guy behind the scenes for my church, New Colony Baptist. Actually, I have used my work with the church to test out new technologies and software. For example, I used it for my first live test of iWeb, Apple's website creation tool (show me). I also used it for trying phpBB2 forum software (show me), Flash (show me), Podcasts (show me) and even video editing with iMovie and Final Cut Express HD (show me).

What's been the fun part of the video editing is playing with sound and transition effects as well as titling. Titling can be used for opening and end credits, but also can be used within the context of a video for transitions between scenes, or to convey info, set a tone, etc. Final Cut comes with both sound and titling apps, Soundtrack and LiveType. LiveType reminds me a bit of Flash and Director with a dash of Typestyler thrown in (remember that app?). It has a large number of built in effects that you can mix, match, layer and adjust to your liking. You build it as a timeline and then render it as a .mov file that you can import into iMovie HD or Final Cut Express HD. From there it acts just like any other video clip.

For the text portions of this sample video, I created a nebula background in Photoshop (who would've thought I could do that?) and then placed it as a background in LiveType. Then I added the Portal object on top which gives the strobing light effect. Lastly, I added the type, using the Stargate font I found online and a size and transparency effect starting from behind the camera and then shrinking it into place. Well, that's the order I would have done it in, if I knew what I was doing. The interface is oddly non-Mac-like, especially for an Apple product, which is maybe why it's not promoted too much. So I had to fiddle with the commands until I figured out what I was doing. Then I rendered them to video and imported them into iMovie. Splice and dice and voila! – a promo for our church.

You can usually get Final Cut Express with LiveType and Soundtrack included for $99 with the purchase of a new machine or $299 off-the-shelf. Think about the next time you buy hardware, it does much more than iMovie and with these other apps thrown in, it's a bargain price. They are great fun to play with and effects render fast on the Intel Macs. You might even end up doing something productive with them...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It Tolls for Me...

As many of you know, I took delivery on a brand new 24" iMac Core Duo, with two 2.33GHz processors, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, and a 256 NVidia graphics card. I did this for a couple of reasons. 1.) I had no Intel Mac and I need to be keeping up with technology, 2.) my main machine was over 2 years old, 3.) my Formac display was taking up too much of my desk, 4.) the cat was chewing through all my cables and I wanted to have fewer (cables), and 5.) and they just came out with MYST Online – URU Live that only runs on Intel machines.

In a previous posting, I mentioned the migration from the PowerMac went swimmingly. One thing I have learned about the Migration Assistant is while it copies over all the files not currently on the new Mac, it copies ALL the files over. Old support files, preferences, junk you have accumulated from previous systems and upgrades. So consider this before you upgrade – Point 1. Your system might run better if you simply move your personal files over manually and reinstall the applications yourself. You will end up with a much leaner and probably smoother running system.

Moving to the recent past, last week I experienced quite a shock. I was transferring files from my PowerBook G4 to my iMac, while burning a DVD using Toast 8 Titanium, my iMac froze. "Well," I thought, "I'll wait it out, sometimes it comes back." It didn't. "Well," I considered, "maybe there was a network hang and I will shutdown the laptop and it will come back." It didn't. "Hmm," I said, "maybe I should reboot and it will come back." It didn't. You don't want to know what I said next.

The screen showed me a question mark flashing inside a folder. "Aha!" I shouted, "Merely an OS problem. With all of my data repair utilities I should be able to repair this." DiskWarrior 4, TechTool Pro 4.5, Drive Genius 1.5 – nothing. Not only could they not repair the drive, they couldn't see the partitions. For the unschooled, think of a hard drive as a blank CD and the partitions as tracks on the CD for your music. No tracks, no music. No partitions, no files. Now, I was getting worried. I tried the Apple Disk Utility and came up empty. They all thought the drive was unformatted, like an CD with no tracks. That is B-A-D.

Time for Point 2. Always make sure you have your important files backed up. To me, my important files were my client files. For my wife, it was all our digital photos we had never printed. And no, I hadn't made a backup of either recently, though I did have older backups. I was in big trouble (from my wife and my clients).

Quickly to Point 3. Never, never, never (get the point?), NEVER! reformat, reinstall or otherwise write to the hard drive if you have any intention of recovering your files. Once you write to your drive, you may write over important data that can no longer be recovered. So I tried my last weapon in my depleted arsenal, Data Rescue II, from the makers of Drive Genius and other utilities, ProSoft Engineering. Quick Scan... zippo. Thorough Scan... wait, there is something... I stopped the scan after a few minutes, since it said it would take 12 hours (!) to complete. But when I looked at the results, there was data, names and everything. Whew!

Now came the long wait. I started the Thorough Scan again and went to bed. By 10:00 the next morning it was done. I saw my client files, my photos, my music – pretty much everything. Yes! I started the recovery onto an external hard drive. Point 4. Everyone should have an alternate source of storage, be it another internal drive or an external drive, and make it as big as needed to hold the important stuff. Forget about applications you can reinstall and the OS. You may also want to get one for the new OS 10.5 Leopard, with its Time Machine software that allows you to restore lost or damaged files.

I called Apple during this process and asked for some advice. They pointed me to a Knowledgebase page to try some things after my data recovery. I tried them all to no avail. They made an appointment for me at my local Apple Store in Burlington, so I could get right through. So I went down. There was one guy behind the Genius Bar named Omer. And he was a multitasking fiend. He was talking, diagnosing and setting up with mutliple clients all at once. I have to give him credit, but I have to interject here. Why only one guy? There were several people waiting for service (including me) and the Bar could've used at least one more person, there were several Apple Store employees roaming the store, of course they may not have been Geniuses.

Omer reviewed my problem and ended up re-imaging my drive from a network drive, basically restoring the hard drive to its original state when I bought it. Said if there was a problem with the drive it would show up there. It didn't. So I brought the system back and spent the next couple of days restoring files and reinstalling software. And here I am at the end of the ordeal, no wiser than I was going in.

What caused the problem? I can't be certain, but I have a theory. Remember when I said the utilities couldn't see my partitions? Well, I never use partitions, but in this case I set one up for use with Boot Camp. One of the reasons for getting the iMac was so I could test installing Windows XP and running it as a PC. The Boot Camp software allows you to repartition your drive to create a Windows FAT32 or NTFS file system for Windows to be installed in. Well, I saw no evidence of any Windows files during the recovery process. And I read on the Apple Discussion board that it was potentially dangerous to remove the partition using anything other than Boot Camp. So, I wonder if the crash somehow damaged the partitioning scheme used by Boot Camp, thus affecting my Apple partition. The only other potential causes are either the DVD encoding or the file copy or them both combined. In the meantime, I have resorted to using Parallels Desktop for Macintosh to resolve the partitioning issue. It allows me to run Windows in what's called a Virtual Machine (VM). Basically, it's a file that acts as self-contained hard drive, and doesn't require a separate partition. A little slower, but not bad. And less invasive than Boot Camp. So far, no glitches. Now to recap...

Point 1. During a new system install, move your files over manually and reinstall the applications yourself.
Point 2. Always make sure you have your important files backed up.
Point 3. Never reformat, reinstall or otherwise write to the hard drive after a crash if you want to recover your files.
Point 4. Install another internal or external drive for use with backups.

Remember these points before the next time the bell tolls for you.