Offline Blogging Tools

Given the popularity of Mac laptops, it’s not surprising there are a plethora of applications for writing blog posts offline.

mtsend.py: Definitely the ultimate geeky cross-platform solution: use your favourite editor, and then run a Python-script from the terminal to upload your post. It’s also free (unlike the others featured here) but it does have a number of disadvantages, principally the need to remember a particular format for posts, and the lack of preview functionality.

MarsEdit: I used this on my previous train trip to the North and found it to be excellent. It features a simple and uncluttered interface, and it was very easy to configure its Preview mode to use the Too Busy To template.

Ecto: My free trial of MarsEdit having expired, I thought I would try out Ecto before parting with any cash for MarsEdit. I have yet to reconnect to the Internet to actually post anything with it, but after using it to write just a single post I find it to be the complete opposite of MarsEdit: the interface is overflowing with buttons, controls and options I have no use for, and the rendering of the Too Busy To template in the preview window is not brilliant.

Current listening: Undone (The Sweater Song) from the album “Weezer (Blue Album)” by Weezer.

I think this merits a new version number

There’s been a lot of headlines about Web 2.0 recently, and at least one person has asked me: “What does all this 2.0 stuff mean exactly?”. With the dot com “bust” still a recent memory, a lot of people have proclaimed it more Internet-hype—and there is no denying the 2.0 moniker is pure marketing—but if the web becomes so ubiquitous people take it for granted, isn’t a little reminder of how much better things are now than they were in say, 1999, a good thing?

Anyway, here’s something which I think sums up why the web deserves a large bump in version number. During the Apple product announcement yesterday, practically every Mac-related website was swamped with traffic, yet I was able to watch a minute-by-minute summary at http://www.macrumorslive.com/ (sadly disabled after the event so you can’t see just how cool it was). Sure, webpages that automatically refresh themselves at a set time interval have been around since web 1.0, but this page didn’t refresh (the whole content), it updated with only the new information: no annoying flicker as the whole page changes, no wondering whether the server will be completely overloaded during this refresh so you’ll have to manually interveve, and it even had a little ticking clocking showing you how long until the next refresh so you knew how much time you could dare to avert your eyes for! It’s a shame there isn’t a demo available, but for the techies amongst you, there are some details of how it works.

“Switching”

A couple of my colleagues have been thinking about buying a new laptop. I was keen to extol the virtues of my ibook, but discovered they needed little persuasion on this front—a single trip to the Apple store and they were hooked. The only problem they have now is ibook or powerbook!

This reminded me that I should post a quick update on my “switching” experience. Most interestingly, using Windows at work has given me a new insight into just how awful the Windows desktop experience is, something I had always assumed that Windows did fairly well given its popularity. In reality the interface is horribly and confusingly inconsistent, and seems to pay scant attention to the theory of Human-Computer Interaction.

Anyway, I digress! I upgraded to Tiger and a Mighty Mouse a month or so ago, so I’ll post about them in more detail sometime. But in the mean time three applications that I’ve come across recently:

  • Adium is a very swish open-source IM client that supports pretty much every protocol under the sun.
  • Camino is a Mac-native web browser using the Mozilla rendering engine. For day-to-day browsing, Apple’s bundled Safari is much slicker, but there are a few sites out there which tell Safari users to go away and use Firefox or IE instead. There is, by all accounts, a perfectly good version of Firefox (& Thunderbird) for OS X, but until recently I had heard that as a cross-platform app, the performance was a little sluggish. Reportedly this will be much better in 1.5, but currently between Safari and Camino, all my web browsing needs are taken care of.
  • Desktop Manager. Sadly my previous virtual desktops program, virtue does not work under 10.4, and so I’ve had to switch to the program that inspired virtue to be written instead.

Raining Cats & Dogs

Britain is famous for its rain, but it rarely rains really heavily for an entire day like it has done here, today — the puddles are so big the pavements are practically flooded! The forcast is “rain”, “heavy rain” and more “rain” through ’til Saturday too; I never thought I would be find myself missing the British weatherman’s favourite of “Sunshine & showers”…

(P.S. when (if?) the rain does stop I guess I shall have to pay another visit to the Apple store! Apple unveils video iPods and Home Entertainment hub.)

White earbuds everywhere

I walked to work for the first time today. Although it’s about a 30 minute walk, it’s actually a lot more pleasant than taking the subway as it wasn’t too hot on the streets, and while subway trains are air-conditioned, the subway stations are not and often suffocatingly hot. There also seemed to be many coffee & bagel places en route that called out to be sampled. 🙂

It was interesting to see just how many people were listening to iPods (a lot!). On a related note, I was intrigued to see in iTunes that the BBC have begun podcasting, including my morning favourite, the Today programme! I hadn’t found the podcasting concept particularly interesting until now, but the thought of being able to listen to ‘Today’ programme while I walked to work in a foreign country was very appealing. Unfortunately further investigation shows that only the “the 8:10 interview” is available rather than the whole programme, so I guess I shall have to stick with CNN on TV for now — I hope the BBC extend their offerings soon.

A Day in New York

Today really reminded me how New York is so fantastic. It started with a group of us having lunch in a classic 50’s style diner featuring singing waiting staff who were very entertaining. To get an idea of how long it was going to take to walk to work, I wandered down Seventh Ave back to the apartment and then Broadway through Greenwich Village towards SoHo and the Apple store. I love walking around New York: the shops, the people, and the buildings are all fascinatingly varied and interesting.

Unfortunately, just north of Houston Street the promised thunderstorm hit hard—the rain was falling just like it does in films when the romantic protagonists must have their dramatic life-changing conversation/chase/etc. I managed to take shelter in a small Ben & Jerrys on Bleeker St — fantastic ice-cream, but alas all 10 seats were taken. So as I was standing there watching the rain pour down like a tropical storm, I realised the guy sat in the window with his girlfriend and (presumably) parents, looked like Zach Braff of Scrubs and Garden State, fame. At first I was sceptical, but as I caught snatches of their conversation about scripts and films I began to suspect he was the genuine article!

Anyway, eventually the rain stopped and I was able to make it to SoHo. The shops here were of the highly fashionable type, a noticeable change from the characterful Greenwich Village. The Apple store was nearly identical to the London one, although if anything it felt less spacious and less well-organised, but still a lot of fun to browse around and give new products a thorough test drive (I’m really tempted by the very cool ‘Mighty Mouse‘!). A walk up 6th Ave took me back home just in time as a another mighty storm moved in — hopefully all this rain will mean tomorrow will be somewhat cooler than today’s 90-odd degrees Fahrenheit and 80% humidity.

GPGMail and Fink

This evening I installed the GPGMail which allows me to use the GNU Privacy Guard (gpg) with Apple’s Mail.app.

I installed gpg using fink. There are a number of projects to bring “standard” UNIX tools to OS X. What’s nice about fink is that offers pre-compiled binary packages (no waiting around for stuff to compile!) and uses the Debian package tools I am already familiar with. Fink also offers a number of other potentially useful packages such as the Gimp.

One problem I did have is that the default sources in /sw/etc/apt/sources.list are for the main sourceforge.net archive in the US which is incredibly slow. No where on the web could I find a list of suitable mirrors, so I had to deduce it myself. The following seem to work well in the UK:
deb http://kent.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/fink/direct_download 10.3/release main crypto
deb http://kent.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/fink/direct_download 10.3/current main crypto

New Computer!!

A few weeks ago my Inspiron 8100 died (again). Having already replaced the hard disk, I decided it was time to replace the whole machine and went shopping for a new laptop. A few days later I had decided that an iBook was the right choice.

Why? Well, on the desktop I am a very happy Linux user, particularly since the Gnome desktop is now a very polished and pleasant environment to use. But recently I have found something lacking about Linux support on laptops: power management still doesn’t Just Work™ and wireless card support is patchy, particularly for newer features such as WPA.
Continue reading “New Computer!!”

The Downside to Online Shopping

Online shopping is great. You can shop around for the cheapest prices from the comfort of your bedroom instead of having to tramp around town (or worse, drive from place from place), you can check out online reviews and product specs that are far more detailed and knowledgeable than any shop assistant and best of all, you can go shopping at sensible times of day, like 2am in the morning…. Unfortunately there’s also a downside: waiting for your fantastic new purchase to arrive. 🙁

I purchased something from Apple’s excellent HE Education store nearly two weeks ago. Three days ’til it ships it said, then 3–4 days for delivery. To my delight it actually shipped just over 24 hours later, but the delivery time had then extended to 7–8 (business) days. By Saturday it still wasn’t showing up in the delivery tracking system, so I phoned Apple who said that the projected delivery date was 17th Feb. So I had to wait another five days, but at least I had some information now.

Fast forward to Monday and at last there is progress: the package tracking website says it has safely arrived in the Netherlands, and Tuesday morning to Stansted, just 40 miles from here. At midday the website claims it is “Out for Delivery” — fantastic!

Alas, when I go into College this afternoon to check my mail only two of the three packages are present, despite the website claiming the entire consignment had been delivered. More phone calls to Apple who will raise it with the shipping company.

More waiting…

Full credit to Apple and the shipping company (TNT), the situation was handled very well and the next morning the package tracker revealed that something else had arrived at Stansted over night and was “out for delivery”. The final box duly arrived about 24 hours after the first two, and I’ve been having lots of fun ever since! Will post more details soon.