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Nuggets™©®: Volume 1

by

- Episode 30 - November 12th, 2004

I confess. I am a Mac utility junkie. OK, I confess I'm a Mac-everything junkie, too, but time and trouble-saving utilities hold a special place in my heart. In the beginning, when Mac OS X was just a pup (kitten?), I hit sites like VersionTracker and MacUpdate a few times a day hoping for something new and amazing to use and write about. I'd ask developers to let me play with their betas. And even though I downloaded anything that sounded remotely promising, there were days when everything I looked at, well, sucked.

Today, new OS X utilities are introduced by the screen-full; some rock and others still suck. But good ones -- think Watson (R.I.P.), StickyBrain, LaunchBar, and so on -- are still few and far between. That means it's gotten harder to separate the so-called wheat from the chaff -- I've got 215 items in my "Potential Nuggets" folder waiting to be evaluated and I seem to be adding new ones faster than I can look at the ones I've already got.


Figure 1: Do any of these 215 potential gems look good to you?
(Click the thumbnail for the absolutely enormous, full-sized image)

I've got two ideas to help me clear (or at least reduce) the backlog.

1. Nuggets™©®.

So much cool software is coming out these days that in addition to the handful of in depth reviews I can write each year, I'll also write some columns with four, five, or even half a dozen Nuggets™©®-mini-reviews of promising new software. (They're "Nuggets™©®" because they're byte-sized. HA!)

2. Ask for your help.

I know some of you are already in love with one of the 215 programs pictured above. If that describes you, or if you'd like to suggest a piece of software for Nugget™©® consideration, please drop me a line at . Thanks.

Before the actual Nuggets™©® commence, here's how I evaluate new software:

Hate It/Didn't Work: If I hate the program, it has an odious installer, it crashes, or it just plain sucks, it's trashed immediately, before it can wreck any further havoc or waste any more of my time.

Undecided: If after a few minutes I'm not sure a program is a "keeper," it goes back into the "Potential Nuggets…" folder, to be reexamined at a future date, perhaps when I'm in a better mood.

Like it: If after a few minutes I think the program could save me time, keystrokes, or money, or it has at least one feature I have to have, the program is moved to one of my official Applications folders, where it will stay (at least until my hard disk is full again).

And now, as promised, here is Volume 1 of Nuggets™©® -- three delicious, nutritious, inexpensive (or free) programs worth checking out.

MenuMeters by Raging Menace. Free (donationware).

MenuMeters lets me know what's going on with my CPU, hard disks, RAM, and network connection, all without using up a single millimeter of valuable screen real estate. I'm a geek and I like to know what my Mac is doing; MenuMeters tell me more about my Mac than Activity Monitor while taking up almost no screen space.


Figure 2: MenuMeters display a lot of information in a little piece of your menu bar.
(Click the thumbnail for full-sized image)

The MenuMeters are all the icons to the right of the Help menu beginning with the number 73%. From right to left:

73% tells me that roughly three quarters of my processor is being used at this very moment.

The red and blue thermometer icon on its immediate right indicates graphically that around 73% of my processor is in use right this second, with the red area representing the User Load and the blue area representing System Load.

The green and red rectangles to the right of the thermometer are disk activity lights-the red one lights up when a file is written to a disk, the green one lights when a read activity takes place. These two "lights" flicker pretty much all the time.

The red and blue numbers to the right of the disk activity lights-U: 352MB and F: 160MB-tell me how much of my PowerBook's 512MB of RAM is currently available (160MB).

Finally, the green and red arrows and text to the right of the RAM indicator display network activity-sends and receives. (The reason nothing is displayed is 'cause I was at a restaurant with no wireless access when I took the screen shot.)

Last but not least, if the menu bar display isn't enough information for you, click on any of the four icons and a menu appears with additional information, as seen for the RAM indicator icon in Figure 3


Figure 3: More information than you probably need about RAM usage is just a click away...

Delicious Library by Delicious Monster. US$40.

I've only been playing with Delicious Library for a few days but I already know it's delicious and has earned a spot in my permanent collection. It does something I've wished for since time immemorial-a database for my media, my books, records, games, software, and other stuff like that.

I've tried half a dozen apps over the years and even built my own in FileMaker. But every one fell into disuse because I'm too disorganized and lazy to remember to enter all that information manually.

Delicious Library solves that problem gracefully with the help of Apple's iSight web cam. I merely wave the barcode on any book, CD, DVD, or other media in front of my iSight camera, as I'm doing in Figure 4. Then, in a few seconds (assuming my Internet connection is up), detailed information about the item (from Amazon.com) appears like magic, as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 4: I wave the barcode on my copy of Dr. Mac: The OS X Files
in front of the iSight camera, like this...
(Click the thumbnail for full-sized image)

Figure 5: In a few seconds, Library displays all the information about the book including cover art.
Click the My Info and Similar tabs for additional information as shown in Figure 6.
(Click the thumbnail for full-sized image)


Figure 6: The My Info (left) and Similar (right) panes offer additional details about the selected item.
(Click the thumbnail for full-sized image)

By the way, I'm grinning like an idiot in Figure 5 because this elegant little program tickles me every time I use it.

Anyway, if you want to catalog books, movies, or CDs, but don't have time to enter all that information by hand, Delicious Library is just the ticket. $40 isn't cheap but think of all the time you'll save.

1 iSight camera sold separately, of course.

Audio Units Manager by Granted Software. Free (donationware).

But if you use any multimedia software that uses Apple's Audio Units (the new audio plug-in format introduced with Mac OS X and used by Apple's Logic (both versions) and GarageBand as well as dozens of other programs not made by Apple) has needed a ConflictCatcher-like program since day one. If you have more than a handful of Audio Units plug-ins, you need a fast, easy way to create sets and turn individual plug-ins on or off.

Audio Units Manager by Granted Software does just that. This excellent, free program lets you group Audio Units plug-ins into sets and load only ones you need. When unneeded Audio Units plug-ins are disabled, host programs (like GarageBand and Logic) load faster and consume fewer resources. Audio Units Manager also makes it easier to isolate conflicts and incompatibilities between Audio Units plug-ins, as shown in Figure 7.


Figure 7: Most of my Audio Units plug-ins are disabled as I try to determine
which one is causing GarageBand to crash when I launch it.
(Click the thumbnail for full-sized image)

If you have more than a handful of Audio Units plug-ins on your hard disk, Audio Units Manager, true to its name, lets you manage them quickly and easily.

Well, it seems I've run out of electrons again. Next time we do this, I'll cram even more tasty Nuggets™©® into your portion, kind of like fried chicken places do (but without the grease).

And that's all he wrote.

P.S. Don't forget to send your suggestions for Nuggets™©® to: .

Thanks.

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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