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Articles from    2006   November

Articles from 2006 November

November 28th, 2006

What If Growl Displays Were Just Little Web Pages?

If you’re a Mac user who’s GlassCandy Growl Artwandered in to this article and don’t know what Growl is yet, you might want to stop by that essential open-source project’s home page to get acquainted. Once your Mac starts Growling, you’ll understand how fitting it is that Apple’s naming all their OS X releases after large cats. :-)

If you’re a Windows user, you’re still welcome to read up on Growl and why it’s become a standard component of so many Mac users’ desktops even though it’s still only at version 0.7.4. If you find Growl cool, too, you know what to do.

This article isn’t about Growl, though. It’s about Growl displays—the part of Growl you actually see when an event occurs you’ve asked to be notified about. You see, like many other cool apps nowadays (Adium, Synergy, Menuet, etc.), Growl is “skinnable.” Part of the fun—and the utility—of Growl is that users can customize the appearance of different kinds of alerts. In fact, Growl provides you with an astonishing degree of control over your customizing, and this flexibility is one of Growl’s coolest aspects. Using the Growl Preference Pane, you can:

With so many options, it’s no wonder that Growl users collect Growl styles like some Mac users collect system icons or desktop pictures!

Growl notifications can take several forms: Email, speech (using the Mac’s built-in vocal chords), or visual displays. The visual display types are roughly broken down into two kinds:

  1. Displays you build with AppleScript or xCode (those with the extension .growlView), and
  2. Displays that are basically just little web pages (those with the extension .growlStyle).

It’s the latter type I want to briefly shout about today.

    
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November 17th, 2006

Ten Ways To Make a Podcast, Plus One

Old Classic 45s Jukebox Feed in iTunes SearchIn August 2005, I was all pumped up to make my first podcast, and the webosphere was full of great advice, new tools, and lots of encouragement from Mac zines and blogs. I was particularly excited to put together an "enhanced" podcast using the new iTunes extensions Apple had released earlier that summer. With enhanced podcasts, you can embed "chapters" into a single audio file, and mark each chapter with text and images. That way, when the podcast plays in your iPod or in iTunes, the text forms a set of hyperlinks so the user can hop from one part of the podcast to another, while your chapter pictures help set the mood. This was a great new publishing medium, and obviously publishers all around the world were excited to adapt their ideas to it.

The podcast tool market was still in its infancy a year ago, but already there were quite a few choices. There were fewer choices for doing enhanced podcasts, but I had no trouble finding a good piece of freeware for my experiment: ChapterToolMe was awkwardly named but easy to use, and in no time I had a podcast to submit to the iTunes music store.

The aim of my podcast experiment was to publish the latest mp3 snippets added to the Classic 45's "Jukebox," and I planned to include a brief, spoken narrative about each 45 rpm record. I used Soundtrack Pro to assemble the audio file, and that was the time-consuming part. Stringing the mp3 bits together didn't take too long, but getting the narrative just right did. After doing one, I decided I simply wouldn't have time to make a series out of this, and my life moved on to other creative endeavors. (To my surprise, I see that my original podcast is still in the iTunes inventory... you can find it by searching for "Classic 45s Jukebox" or perhaps trying this URL.)

A few months ago, I finally sat down and adapted my PHP script that updates the regular RSS feed for Classic 45's to create a new feed just for jukebox items, including an enclosure tag for the mp3 files. Then the project lay dormant until last week, when a possible method of automating the podcast process suddenly hit me.

New Classic 45s Jukebox Feed in iTunes ListRather than putting together one big audio file, with recorded narration, and then dividing it into chapters using an enhanced podcast tool, I could just release each mp3 file as a separate episode. Each episode could include the text narration and facts about the record, plus the label or sleeve scan I normally include on the site. I wasn't totally sure this would work, but it seemed worth testing. If it worked, I could release a podcast without eating away up any more of my precious spare time. When I pointed Safari to the mp3 feed I'd made earlier, it loaded the "podcast" right up, displaying the HTML and image content along with a link to the enclosed mp3 file for the last 36 jukebox items. I then went to iTunes and entered the feed URL as a new Podcast subscription, and lo and behold, iTunes also loaded the feed, even providing little Get buttons for subscribers to download each episode they want.

So, the concept seemed sound, and the next step seemed to be a tools review. Was there some cool new application that would help me with the project? Perhaps there were new capabilities of the podcast specification that I could leverage. Thus, the usual sequence of my life played out again: One project led to another! :-)

    
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Just Say No To Flash