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Articles In Category

March 5th, 2019

An Audiophile Listening Room with Apple’s HomePod

Apple's HomePod has been the underdog in the "smart speakers" category since its introduction last year. It's more expensive than the offerings from Google and Amazon, and Siri doesn't seem to be as powerful. I haven't used Alexa or the Google AI assistant, so I can't say what the difference may be. But let me just say that HomePod is a revelation in audio quality, and its "smart" features are more than adequate for my needs. The most surprising aspect of HomePod is that it has finally let me put together an audiophile listening room without taking out a second mortgage!

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October 23rd, 2013

Mars Themes and OS X Mavericks

I'm sad to announce that the MarsThemes software, both commercial and free, will not be supported on Apple's newly released Mac OS X "Mavericks" operating system. This announcement will be of particular interest to all of you who have purchased a license for CrystalClear Interface (CCI), Crystal Black (CB), or AppMenu Magic. With the latest release of CCI (version 2.8.3) and CB (1.6.6) in July, the software can be installed and uninstalled safely on the developer preview of Mavericks. Neither package has been tested on the release version of Mavericks, but compatibility is expected without risk of damaging the operating system.

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December 29th, 2012

Trying To Tame Mountain Lion Without A Hat

Remember my angst about whether I should migrate my computing life to Mountain Lion? Well, that story's now over, and Mountain Lion has won.

Mounting A Lion VirtuallyMore on that in a moment, but first I want to briefly describe my experiment in using Mountain Lion as a virtual OS inside Parallels Desktop — an experiment I've now abandoned. The process was quite simple once I figured it out, but it took more setup than expected. You have to install Parallels Desktop on both Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion, and then, on Mountain Lion, make a virtual disk of the Mountain Lion OS, which is one of the default choices when defining a new virtual OS in Parallels.

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September 4th, 2012

Still Thinking About It: Can You Mount A Lion Virtually?

Now that I've effectively passed Lion by, I'm thinking again about whether or not to upgrade from Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6). As noted in an earlier article explaining why I've avoided Lion, this is the first time since Mac OS X debuted in 2001 that I've hesitated to upgrade. So here it is again: Should I? Why not?

One of the main reasons to upgrade is to take advantage of iCloud, which has become a more serious need now that Apple took MobileMe away from us. I can no longer sync my Safari bookmarks automagically, for example. However, I'm still pissed that Apple hasn't made a version of iCloud available for the many folks still on Snow Leopard.

Speaking of which, what exactly is the breakdown of Mac users in August 2012? It's only been a month since Mountain Lion was released, but clearly upgrading is happening pretty quickly. According to the stats from NetApplications.com, Lion users account for about 35% of the market, Snow Leopard users about 34%, and Mountain Lion users about 20%. There are still about 10% of users hanging on to Leopard. That Snow Leopard figure is pretty damn high considering how long Lion has been out, and is one that Apple should be paying more attention to.

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July 31st, 2012

Introducing Smooth Black: A New Button Theme for CrystalClear Interface

In my previous article I spoke of a desire to get back to theming, and specifically mentioned a desire to do that "black matte" theme I've been thinking about. I guess the article helped spur me on, because after several weeks of work I'm now ready to release Smooth Black, a new button theme for CrystalClear Interface (CCI).

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July 14th, 2012

On Theming Mac OS X: How Long Can I Hold On?

CrystalClear Interface and Crystal Black are marvelous, foolhardy, and frivolous experiments in theming the Mac OS X user interface. As they were in the beginning, so they remain today: Elegantly imperfect software products, which will always be buggy. It's just the nature of the experiment. Why? Because they try to do something Apple works hard to prevent, and therefore are outlaw apps: Only able to pop up here and there with a sparkling, think-different approach that just isn't meant to be.

I am the foremost user of these two themes, and I continue to develop them because (1) it's still possible and (2) I really like them. As the author, I'm tolerant of their occasional misbehavior, but I understand that not all observers are so patient. Nobody likes a screaming 3-year-old while enjoying a quiet evening at one's favorite restaurant. I'm no different in that, but I do try to make sure my children learn how to behave as new situations arise that cause them to flare up.

Still, there are always new situations, and, well, children will be children. My children are still quite young, but the day may come when either they are banned from new restaurants for their behavior, or I become too exhausted from apologizing for them to take them out in public any more.

With each release of its operating system, Apple drives me one step closer to that edge. It's not intentional, I'm sure... In the interest of providing a safe OS environment, Apple continues to tighten the knot around inter-application interactions — especially those that allow third-party software, like CrystalClear Interface (CCI), to load itself into other applications, such as the Finder or TextEdit. And yet, without that kind of interaction, CCI and Crystal Black (CB) could not function.

For now, it appears that CCI will survive the transition to Mountain Lion (Mac OS X 10.8), but as with every release of Mac OS X since Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4), the amount of effort to do so is greater. And I fear that as the technologies introduced by Apple for increased security in Lion and Mountain Lion are more widely adopted by software developers, the number of applications that won't run CCI properly will increase.

In some future update, Apple could introduce a change that will turn off the lights for CCI and CB for good, as well as those for AppMenu Magic and my freeware Text Tools. Such a change would mean I could no longer develop the software, let alone support it.

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June 22nd, 2012

AppMenu Magic Conjures A Simpler, More Elegant Menubar

AppMenu Magic is a small, simple application with only one cool trick: It replaces the application’s name with its icon in the system menubar. The functionality of AppMenu Magic has been part of CrystalClear Interface (CCI), as well as Crystal Black (CB), since those applications were first released. I am releasing the app separately because of continued requests for it. This app lets users take advantage of the improved appearance and reduced “screen real estate” of their menubar that AppMenu Magic offers, without having to use either CCI or CB.

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June 9th, 2012

Dress Up Your Mac’s Authentication Panel With Crystal NIBs!

Crystal NIBs for SecurityAgent PreviewThis little application provides two alterna-tive styles for the “Authenticate” panel that appears when-ever you’re required to enter a password on your Mac. It works by substituting differ-ent “NIB” files — the files that define the window’s interface — for the default system versions.  (Jargon Alert: NIB stands for “NeXT InterfaceBuilder,” which was the original IB app developed on the NeXT operating system — the predecessor of Mac OS X.)

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March 2nd, 2012

Too Tame To Tempt:   Eleven Things That Keep Me From Upgrading to Lion (Mac OS X 10.7)

Mac OS X 10.7 ("Lion") Too Tame To Bother With

As anyone who reads any of my voluminous writing on the subject over the years can attest, I am a big admirer of Apple, Steve Jobs, and Mac OS X. This is one of the only negative articles about Mac OS X I've ever felt need to publish. (The only previous one I can think of was about Spaces, which is still a flawed implementation of virtual desktops.)

However, as much as I've tried to, I just don't like Mac OS X 10.7 ("Lion") — certainly not enough to upgrade to it from Snow Leopard. Unlike every previous update to Apple's Unix-based operating system, there's really nothing in Lion that's truly compelling or will make me more productive on my Mac, and lot that isn't and won't.

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February 1st, 2012

The Bother of Biological Bodies

Body Parts Needing Time-Consuming Care

When I came to Earth, I of necessity adopted a human form — in order to be less conspicuous. Little did I know what a mess caring for the human body would be.

The worst part about the tasks required to keep the body from deteriorating too much is that they take so much time. All of these mostly unpleasant activities could — if I let them — gobble up 1-2 hours of my day. Unfortunately, what I've found is that putting off some of these tasks merely means spending more than 1-2 hours when the deterioration has become more annoying than the tasks themselves.

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Posted in:Human Behavior, PhilosophyTags: |
January 24th, 2012

Text Tools for Mac OS X: Free At Last!

MarsThemes Text Tools Software

Some variation of these text tools have been included in CrystalClear Interface, as well as Crystal Black, since those applications were first released. However, the tools have nothing to do with the theming of buttons and windows, or with the general appearance of Mac OS X. I added them because they address a real need of mine, which no other software could do.

As a writer, I need ready access to a range of text functions, and I need them in whatever application in which I happen to be writing. In most of the rich text editors I use, those functions are available somewhere in the app’s menus, but typically they're in different places within each app. Some apps don’t include one or two key functions at all.

Mac OS X has a rich text framework that provides just the set of editing tools I require, and it would be extremely handy to be able to access those tools consistently across apps. This is precisely what the MarsThemes Text Tools do: Grant easy access to the key Cocoa text tools that writers and editors need but can’t find.

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December 29th, 2011

In The Works On Mars: CrystalClear Interface 2.6

Work on programming and graphics is now far enough along that it's safe to say that CrystalClear Interface 2.6 will be ready for release soon. How soon? Don't ask, because my answer is always wrong.

CCI 2.6 will be a major upgrade, with some features customers have wanted for quite awhile now. The upgrade will be free for current CrystalClear Interface license-holders, but after release the software's price will increase to $18. The price increase reflects the major amount of work required to push CCI's functionality to the new level, and a lot of that work has to do with making it work — and look right — on Lion (Mac OS X 10.7).

Briefly, the main new features in CCI 2.6 will be:

  • Incorporates the Crystal Black button theme for users on both Snow Leopard and Lion.
  • Adds eight menubar themes users can mix and match with their chosen button theme.
  • Seamlessly swaps custom application graphics for a given theme with the chosen new one.
  • Fleshes out the custom system graphics for Lion, so that both the Gradient and the new Black Gloss button themes are almost in parity with Snow Leopard.
  • Adds two new window frame styles — "Black Gloss" and "Black Gradient."
  • Incorporates two new preset themes — "Black Gloss" and "Smooth Black" — to take advantage the new window styles.
  • Adds numerous new Crystal Docs icons, and improves the icons tab to show previews of the various icons.
  • Automates the installation of third-party Crystal Docs icons, so the user isn't interrupted and prompted to install for each app as they open it.
  • Provides a new set of Crystal Desktop pictures, mainly for users who want a dark desktop. This set of "Deco Bubbles" desktops has six dark variations and four light ones.
  • Adds code to enable readable statusbar text for the clock and username "menu extras." (Note: This feature currently doesn't work consistently on Lion.)

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December 1st, 2011

Mars Themes Website: New Home For Mars Downloads

A few weeks ago, I launched a new website — Mars Themes — as a central repository for all the various themes, app skins, applications, widgets, and so on that I've developed over the years.

These items — all available as free downloads, except for two — were previously in a section of the Mars website linked to the "Downloads" item in the navigation bar. That link now takes you to Mars Themes. (Oh yeah, the two not-free items are the software apps CrystalClear Interface and Crystal Black. They have their own websites, but are also linked to Mars Themes.)

The new site has all the content previously available here, plus a few more things. . .

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Posted in:Design, Icons, ThemingTags: |
July 23rd, 2011

“Just Say No To Flash”
Join The Campaign! Add A Banner To Your Website

Just Say No To Flash: Join The Campaign!In the past few years, Adobe Flash has become more than an annoyance that some of us have kept in check by using "block Flash" plugins for our web browsers. More and more, entire web sites are being built with Flash, and they have no HTML alternative at all! This goes way beyond annoying, into the realm of crippling.

I had noticed the trend building for quite awhile, but it only really hit home when I realized that Google, of all companies, had redesigned its formerly accessible Analytics site to rely heavily on Flash for displaying content. This wouldn't be absolutely horrible except for the fact that Google provides no HTML alternative. I tried to needle the company through its Analytics forums, but only received assurance that yes, indeed, one must have the Flash plugin running to view the site.

Keep in mind that content like that on Google Analytics is not mere marketing information, like the sales pitch on the Analytics home page.

Those of us who are disturbed by the trend need to be a bit more vocal about our opinion. Hence, I'm starting a "Just Say No To Flash!" campaign, with its own web page, graphics for a banner, and the CSS and HTML code to deploy it on your own web pages.

I've mentioned this to some of my family and friends, and they often come back with: "So, Why should I say no to Flash?" I admit that as a power browser and a programmer geek type who, shall we say, makes more efficient use of the web, I'm more keenly aware of the ways that Flash is chipping away at the foundation of web content.

In the beginning, it seemed harmless: Flash was an alternative to animated GIFs, and an easy way to embed movies on web pages. But then advertisers wrapped their meaty mitts around it, and that's when Flash started to be annoying. However, one could block Flash in the browser, as part of a strategy of shutting out obnoxious advertising.

But publishing content via Flash is just wrong, for a number of reasons.

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June 8th, 2011

Introducing “Clear Crystal” System Icons for Mac OS X

The Sociology of Tornadoes

I'm happy to present a complete, new set of icons for Mac OS X, specifically designed to complement the Crystal Black theme. These icons can be used to replace the default "system" icons for folders, devices, toolbar items, Finder sidebar items, and others. The screenshots below display the icons for each system type.

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Posted in:Design, IconsTags: |
April 29th, 2011

The Sociology of Tornadoes

Or, Do Tornadoes Make Humans in Red States More
  • Paranoid?
  • Envious?
  • God-Fearing?
  • Intolerant?
  • Republican?
The Sociology of Tornadoes

In recent days, I've been barraged by friends back on Mars inquiring about what psychological effects the spate of tornadoes in the South and Midwest United States must have on the humans there. Their interest got me to thinking, and I suddenly had an insight, which I'm sure has brightened the intellectual glow of many humans over time.

The insight encompasses the sociological effects of Hurricanes as well, since the two devastating natural phenomena share some common traits... the most obvious being those furiously spinning wind and clouds.

My Martian theory also explains why tornadoes and hurricanes affect humans in ways that volcanoes, tsunamies, and earthquakes do not.

For brevity in the following paragraphs, I'm using the term "Recurring Events of Mass Destruction" (REMD) to refer to tornadoes and hurricanes, and the term "Unpredictable Events of Mass Destruction" (UEMD) to refer to volanoes, tusanimies, and earthquakes.

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April 12th, 2011

Theming Snow Leopard:
How Hard Could It Be To Paint A Leopard Black?

Preview of Crystal Black Theme for Snow Leopard

Dark interface themes are extremely popular with a small, but very passionate, group of Mac users. Sadly, since Apple introduced Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5), the old, relatively simple method of creating such themes on the Mac can't be used, and it took the theming community a good year and a half to figure out the current, relatively hobbled tools to theme the few bits of the interface that can be themed.

Given the weakened state of theming on the Mac, it's not surprising that the number of themes available has dwindled to a mere handful. And even those only go part of the way compared with what we used to be able to achieve with ShapeShifter. Still, the yearning for Mac themes remains strong among this community, and black themes are virtually nonexistent now.

Black themes have always been a challenge, because the frameworks used to build applications were designed to assume that text would always be black and the color of windows and buttons always light. Apple introduced a dark-theme paradigm a few years ago with its Heads-Up Display window style, which, with its translucent black background actually assumes that text will be white.

So, why would anyone undertake an effort to introduce a fully black theme for Snow Leopard?

I suppose it's because we Martians just can't step back from a challenge. Not to mention the fact that we, too, are afflicted with the passion for dark themes that many Earthlings suffer from. I also have a good starting point, having developed some useful techniques for the challenge through building CrystalClear Interface.

To acknowledge the theme's heritage, I've dubbed the theme Crystal Black.

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March 2nd, 2011

Theming A Web Page With Crystal Black:
A CSS Design for Web Inspector

For awhile, I've wanted to theme Safari's Web Inspector—the incredibly useful built-in website viewer/debugger/designer assistant—with the Crystal Black look and feel, but it wasn't immediately obvious how to do this. I assumed that the tool was just a part of Safari, and therefore built with classes and widgets from the Cocoa AppKit (which is the framework all Cocoa apps are built with). However, when I began to inspect the Inspector, I discovered that everything contained within its borders was simply web content: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and images.

In other words, the Web Inspector tool is nothing but an intricate, sophisticated, and extremely well designed web page!

Having built a Crystal Black CSS file for web pages in general, and with my past expertise in CSS, I attacked this challenge with relish! It reminded me of the time I realized that Dashboard widgets are, at their core, nothing but little web pages (as are simply apps for the iPhone). In tackling this one, the main question was, How should the various elements look? And the hardest part was inspecting the various parts in of the Inspector in great detail to determine which CSS rules governed their default appearance and behavior.

As I discovered, the WebKit has a a sub-framework called "WebCore," which in turn has a folder of resources specifically for the Web Inspector. In the Inspector folder, among other things, is a suite of CSS files that handle different aspects of the Inspector's design and behavior. Of these, the primary one I needed to tweak was called simply "inspector.css."

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February 23rd, 2011

A Black Gloss Theme for CoverSutra

I recently posted another member of the coming Crystal Black theme for Snow Leopard on my deviantART site. This new component is a glossy black theme for the popular iTunes controller CoverSutra.

Crystal Black is a theme for Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" that I'm still refining and plan to release eventually. I published a preview of the theme last fall, and a few weeks ago released a Crystal Black theme for iTunes. The skins for both iTunes and CoverSutra will, of course, be included in the full theme once it's out.

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February 3rd, 2011

Crystal Black for iTunes

Last fall, I released an early version of Crystal Black for iTunes 10.1 on my deviantART site and have updated it once or twice since then. This post announces an update of the theme for iTunes 10.1.2 and adds a couple of minor enhancements for 10.1.1.

Crystal Black is a theme for Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" that I'm still refining and plan to release eventually. I published a preview of the theme last fall, and also migrated the theme to iTunes 10 when it came out. Since theming iTunes is Preview of Crystal Black Theme for iTunes 10 Using High Contrast Mode quite a bit easier than theming the entire operating system, I decided to release Crystal Black for iTunes first.

This version of Crystal Black for iTunes continues to improve its usability when iTunes is set with the hidden "High Contrast Mode" option. High Contrast Mode effectively inverts white and black in the iTunes sidebar and playlist contents (see screenshot at right), and looks great with Crystal Black. The high-contrast option is accessible through various utilities you can download to customize "hidden" features of Mac OS X. I use and recommend the free, open-source Secrets for such customizing. Secrets installs an easy-to-use and auto-updated Preference Pane and includes hidden options for a wide variety of third-party apps, in addition to Mac OS X.

One more application-specific Crystal Black theme I plan to release soon will be of interest primarily to web developers: It's a theme for Safari's Web Inspector module. Stay posted for more on that, and for more about Crystal Black as a whole.

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Posted in:Design, Theming, iPod & iTunesTags: |
Just Say No To Flash