Deadbeat Kickstarters

December 22nd, 2013 — Wordman

Kickstarter has now added a feature where you can mark delivery of projects you have backed, so I’m going through my list and verifying delivery. Since I’ve backed 400+ projects, this will take a while, and I’ll update this post as I go. Along the way, I discovered some projects with…oh…let’s call them “unreasonable delays”. I thought I’d mention them here for posterity.

I should start by mentioning that, at its core, Kickstarter is a risk transfer machine. The financial uncertainty of a project traditionally borne by the creator (or, perhaps, a publisher) is moved to the backers. This works because a) the meet-your-goal-or-get-nothing approach protects the backer from projects that can’t gather enough interest to be viable and b) because most of the time the creator delivers. (Given the number of projects I’ve backed, it should be obvious that I like this system quite a bit.)

The flip side is that, should the creator not deliver, the backers are left holding the bag and, realistically, there isn’t much they can do about it. Oh, you might entertain fantasies of some sort of legal suit, or punching the guy in the face or something, but neither is really viable. You know this going in. That’s why it’s called “risk”. I’ve not come across any cases of genuine fraud; usually a failed creator had the best of intentions, but couldn’t see them through. But the creator runs a risk as well, not financial, but of reputation. No one backs a failed creator twice.

Which brings us to the following projects (note: the “prognosis” section are my own opinions, not official project statements):

e20 System Evolved

Creator Gary M. Sarli
Funded 16 Mar 2010
Category Role-playing game
History Based on the strength of Star Wars Saga Edition, I backed this heavily. I even lobbied for it on my blog, which I almost never do. The project’s last update is from 27 Dec 2011. The creator’s last update to his own forum was 4 Dec 2011.
Prognosis This project will never be delivered. The creator had some sort of a financial/mental breakdown and has more or less vanished.

Aruneus

Creator Ben Gerber
Funded 23 Aug 2010
Category Role-playing game
History Last update made on 10 May 2012, releasing a supplement to the product not yet completed. Prior updates mention problems, including shoulder reconstruction.
Prognosis This may still deliver, but I’m not holding my breath. The same creator has since run another Kickstarter which already delivered.

Powerchords

Creator Phil Brucato
Funded 1 Oct 2010
Category Role-playing game
History While updates have been constant (and overly abundant), they haven’t consisted of much other than mentions of endless tinkering with the text.
Prognosis This project has become the poster child for flaky role-playing projects (and has led to a good rule of thumb for such projects: only back projects that have already been written). It may ship eventually, but I’m past the point of caring.

PeriodicTable of Elements Dice

Creator Andrew Inaba
Funded 28 Mar 2011
Category Dice
History According to updates, the dice were produced, but most were destroyed during shipping. Refunds were promised, but never delivered. The creator’s web site no longer exists.
Prognosis It’s possible this was just all bad luck, but it smells more like fraud. Either way, no dice.

Wreck Age

Creator Hyacinth Games
Funded 28 Dec 2011
Category Role-playing game
History Last update on 28 Feb 2013, still talking about completing a few chapters.
Prognosis This smells like it will probably ship eventually, but not in a hurry.

Warren C. Norwood’s Double Spiral War RPG (Savage Worlds)

Creator Battlefield Press, Inc.
Funded 31 Jan 2012
Category Role-playing game
History Though it ran into a number of delays, this book was apparently done by the end of 2012. Then it looks like the licensor hated it and went all prima donna. It has been revised for her approval, but none has been forthcoming. In the meantime, the creator has run six other Kickstarters, including this same setting for a different system (Traveller).
Prognosis Since it appears that the licensor doesn’t really know what she is doing, I’ll be stunned if this ever gets released, even though the creators seem good.

RISUS Free Adventure Project 2012

Creator S. John Ross
Funded 1 Apr 2012
Category Role-playing game
History What started as a pitch for a single adventure for RISUS has been basically sabotaged by feature creep. First by stretch goals that turned one adventure into five. Then by the creator using the adventures as a springboard for creating a new edition of the entire game, plus supplements, and insisting on finishing them prior to finishing the adventures.
Prognosis Since all this looks like it will be released for free fairly soon, its hard to get hugely bent out of shape about it, and, it probably really will be awesome whenever it is done. Still, probably good object lessons in here someplace.

Dwimmermount

Creator Autarch
Funded 14 Apr 2012
Category Role-playing game
History Update from 13 Mar 2013: “Dwimmermount’s creator James Maliszewski signed a contract with Autarch that transferred the money we raised on Kickstarter and the responsibility for delivering the promised rewards to him. We understand that James is grieving for his father, but we have to confront the fact that he is currently not living up to this responsibility”. Since then others have taken over, with updates coming progressively less frequent.
Prognosis I’m guessing this will eventually deliver, but not until the very end of 2014, at least.

Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon

Creator Mike Nystul
Funded 3 Jun 2012
Category Role-playing game
History About a year after funding, the creator handed over the responsibility to produce this product to someone else. They seem in no hurry to release it.
Prognosis This will likely ship eventually, but not by any predictably time.

Auror’s Tale

Creator Leo Kei Angelos
Funded 6 Jul 2012
Category Web video series
History One episode of this three-episode series was produced, then all updating stops. Given the creator moved and the series may possibly (reading between the lines) have had some legal trouble with Warner Brothers…
Prognosis This reads very much like the creator just didn’t know what he was doing, mostly in terms of fulfillment. The rest of these episodes will never be created.

Wordman’s Recommended OS X Software

May 2nd, 2013 — Wordman

To save time the next time someone asks me, I put together this list of Mac OS X software. It is intended for people who have just started using a Mac. Most of these recommendations are based on my own use of the software. Some entries might be more obscure “best of breed” solutions for problems that you might have (even if I might not). Other recommendations are targeted at “switchers” from Windows who might be looking for replacements for specific software on that platform. I’ve attempted to avoid listing the more standard stuff, like iTunes or commercial software like Photoshop (or many games). If you need such things, you likely already know about them. This list focusses on the Mac, rather than iOS (I have another page of iOS recommendations, if that’s your thing).

Previous incarnations of this list seem to have been useful, but are not aging well. For one thing, the iPhone was just getting started at that point and much of the Mac ecosystem has changed in sympathy to it since then, as have the needs of a typical Mac user. Apple’s app store has also made finding the software you need much easier, at least for apps listed on it.

If you’re looking for a type of software that isn’t listed here, try I Use This, Free Mac Ware, Open Source Mac and VersionTracker.

Often, software listed here can be purchased for far less than the prices listed, through bundles offered periodically by places like MacHeist or MacUpdate. Also, if you have found this page because you are merely thinking about switching to the Mac, make sure you visit the MacRumors buyer’s guide before you buy something.

Freeware

Freeware may be downloaded and used for no cost at all. Some of these titles are “donationware”, software that the author makes available for free, but asks for donations to fund his efforts. Since the coming of Apple’s App Store, freeware is getting a bit harder to find. Prior to the store, a software developer needed some sort of e-commerce setup to charge for software, but the App Store has removed this barrier (at least to those who don’t mind giving 30% to Apple). Also, the iOS ecosystem got both developers and consumers used to the idea of the 99¢ or $5 app, which previously was fairly rare in the shareware app world.
Adium

Adium X

http://www.adiumx.com/

Free. An instant messaging client which can talk to just about every service out there (Jabber, Aim, Google Talk, Facebook Chat, Twitter, etc.). It is also extremely customizable.

Alternatives: Apple’s Messages (previously iChat) has evolved to the point that it can give Adium a run for its money, especially if you need phone-based text messaging thrown into the mix.

Air Video Server

Air Video Server

http://www.inmethod.com/air-video/

Free. This unobtrusive server allows you to stream video from your Mac to an iOS device on the same network. It supports a number of formats, converting them while streaming if necessary. To watch the video, your iOS device needs a specific client application (a free, limited version, or a $3 full version).

Alfred

Alfred

http://www.alfredapp.com/

Free. Once you use an application like Alfred to launch applications, open files and search, you have a hard time using machines that don’t offer something similar. Its description as a “productivity application” doesn’t do much to tell you what it does, which is a bit hard to explain. The basic idea is that you use a hot key combination (option-space, by default) to pop up a window, then type a few characters to do all sorts of stuff. It is best examined by installing it and trying it out. Alfred has a £15 PowerPack that extends its functionality, but it is perfectly usable without it.

Alternatives: When it looked like Quicksilver was dead, I spent some time looking at Quicksilver alternatives.

AppleJack

AppleJack

http://applejack.sourceforge.net/

Free. You may never actually need AppleJack, but when you do, it will save your ass. AppleJack is a boot-time, command-line tool that can do things like disk repair and so on, without needing a second startup disk. It’s also much easier to use than similar tools I’ve seen. It operates in single user mode (which, as I continually forget, is accessed by holding down command and s while booting).

Battery Health

Battery Health

http://www.fiplab.com/

Free. If you have a laptop, keeping this app running in the background gives you a decent picture of what your battery is up to, and how well it is aging.

Bricksmith

Bricksmith

http://bricksmith.sourceforge.net/

Donationware. Bricksmith allows you to create virtual instructions for your Lego® creations. The app is based on the LDraw library, a collection of 3D models of Lego building blocks created by enthusiasts from around the world. My recommendation of this software should be considered biased, since I contribute code to it every once in a while. If you use this software to build models, you might also be interested in LDView, LPub and POV-Ray.

Chmox

Chmox

http://chmox.sf.net/

Free. It is rare that you actually need to be able to read a Microsoft help archive file (a *.chm file) on a Mac, but occasionally you find some good reference material in that format. This reader can open and display such files, all in a Mac-like way. Simple, but effective.

ClamXav

ClamXav

http://clamxav.com/

Free. Viruses have never been that big of a problem on the Mac. Up through Mac OS 9, there were only a handful of known virii, only a couple of which were dangerous. So far, even fewer have targeted Mac OS X. Still, Macs can hold files that contain virii from other platforms (such as the tens of thousands of them that can affect Office documents on Win32 machines) and pass them on. Your Win32 friends will thank you not to send them any, and this program can find and kill them. Watching this scan your junk mail folder is educational.

DiffPDF

DiffPDF

http://www.qtrac.eu/diffpdf.html

Free. Depending on how often you work with .pdf files, you may need a utility to compare the contents of two different versions. While not perfect, this does a fairly decent job of graphically displaying what has changed between two versions. This is really a Linux utility, but if you dig through the page linked to above, you should find a link to a Mac version.

EasyFind

EasyFind

http://www.devontechnologies.com/products/freeware.html

Free. OS X has a built-in feature for searching files called Spotlight. This feature has come a long way since it was first introduced. If you view all results on Mountain Lion, for example, you can click the + button at that top to add all sorts of filtering to the results, a big improvement over its initial incarnation. Still, sometimes you need even more power, which this app can provide.

Alternatives: Both DataLore and HoudahSpot are more powerful than EasyFind, for a price.

Eclipse

Eclipse

http://www.eclipse.org/

Free. Widely regarded as just a Java IDE (a task at which it is unrivaled, in my opinion), Eclipse is really more of a platform into which functionality can be plugged. The Java plugins happen to be bundled with the download, but there are others that extend Eclipse to be much more, such as the ability to write and debug Perl and all sorts of other stuff.

File Merge

File Merge

http://developer.apple.com/tools/macosxtools.html

Free. A gem hidden among the Mac OS X development tools, this is a slick text file comparison application. Almost as good as the one built into CodeWarrior once upon a time, but free. Downloading the dev tools requires a free registration with Apple.

Fink

Fink

http://fink.sourceforge.net/

Free. Provides downloading, installation and management of nearly 5000 open source Unix programs, compiled and tested under Mac OS X. If you are a Linux or Unix user looking to get your favorite tool onto your new Mac, check out Fink first. Most likely, someone has already gone through the pain of porting it for you.

Alternatives: Several other projects aim to do the same thing that Fink does, including Homebrew, Rudix and MacPorts.

Fluid

Fluid

http://fluidapp.com/

Free. Fluid allows you to wrap a particular web page up as a distinct application. For example, if you use GMail (or Facebook, Campfire, Pandora, etc.), you can build a GMail app that is nothing but a dedicated browser containing just the GMail experience, but is treated as a first class application by the OS. Fluid uses WebKit, so provides the same experience that Safari would. There is also a $5 version that gives you a few other bells and whistles (e.g. full screen application).

Solitaire XL

Full Deck Solitaire

http://www.grlgames.net/page9/

Free. The most used Windows application is Solitare, and switchers might go into withdrawal, since no solitaire application ships with OS X. In the broader ecosystem, however, you have quite a few to choose from on the OS X side of things, but this seems to be the best.

GeekTool

GeekTool

http://projects.tynsoe.org/en/geektool/

Free. A strange little application, GeekTool allows you to display various kinds of information (mostly output of unix scripts) on your desktop. This doesn’t sound like much, but you can do some clever things with it.

Go2Shell

Go2Shell

http://alicedev.com/go2shell

Free. This app integrates into the Finder (by dragging the app into the Finder’s toolbar…yes, you can do that). Once so installed, any time you click it in the toolbar, a terminal will be opened, with the working directory set to the directory currently displayed in the Finder window.

HandBrake

HandBrake

http://handbrake.fr/

Free. The only DVD ripper you’ll ever need. Though it has every tweakable setting you’d ever want, it hides this power under a simple interface, with presets for iPods, AppleTVs and so on. It can also handle multiple audio tracks, subtitles and so on. If you happen to have a Blu-Rray drive, however, HandBrake cannot read it directly.

IPSecuritas

IPSecuritas

http://www.lobotomo.com/products/IPSecuritas/

Donationware. This IPSec client allows your Mac to connect to virtual private networks (VPNs). Though not the most intuitive interface on Earth, it gets the job done. If you have a home router capable of creating a VPN, you can use this client to access your home network while you are at work or on the road.

iTerm

iTerm

http://www.iterm2.com/

Donationware. While the Mac comes with a serviceable command line application called Terminal, this replacement for it goes a bit farther, adding support for split panes, better searching, full screen support, and so on. I wish it supported integration with a password manager, but no such luck (yet).

Light Table

Light Table

http://www.lighttable.com/

Free. Development of this experimental integrated development environment (IDE) is funded by a Kickstarter project and seeks to provide a “work surface” for real-time programming, rather than windows and nested frames of most IDEs. The tool is still in the alpha stages, but supports Python, Javascript, CSS, HTML and Clojure at present. Play around with it.

MetaX

MetaX

http://www.kerstetter.net/index.php/projects/software/metax

Free. Allows you to edit the metadata (title, episode id, cover art, etc.) of video files. It offers much more advanced controls and option than similar tools in iTunes, and writes them permanently into the video file (which iTunes does not do), so if you move the file to another computer, the metadata goes with it. Under the hood, it uses the Atomic Parsley command-line tool, and it can make use of services like tagChimp to download metadata for millions of titles.

NeoOfficeJ

NeoOfficeJ

http://www.neooffice.org/

Free. While the OS X version of Microsoft’s Office for Mac finally contains first class Mac applications again (for a while, the Mac versions were terrible), the suite remains pricy. NeoOfficeJ offers a version of OpenOffice, but built with a native Mac look and feel. While not quite as polished as Office for Mac, this app is file compatible with it, and infinitely cheaper. Note that, like OpenOffice, NeoOfficeJ is a Java application.

Alternatives: Apple’s iWork suite is reasonably priced, offers iPad versions of the apps, and has the advantage of offering its applications separately, but the experience is a bit different than Office for Mac. Keynote is flat-out better than PowerPoint. Pages is a bit more of a page layout program and a bit less of a word processor than Word. Numbers is a curious beast that is sort of spreadsheet like, but not really the same thing as Excel.

Onyx

Onyx

http://www.titanium.free.fr/downloadonyx.php

Free. A general purpose utility for setting various (otherwise hidden) options in Max OS X, such as dock “pinning” and drop shadows, permission repairing, logs, etc.

Prey

Prey

http://preyproject.com/

Free. Both software and a service, installing Prey allows you to track your Mac if it gets stolen. When you install it, you register on Prey’s web site, which is used to mark a machine as “missing” and do other setup. When so marked, your machine will send reports to Prey about the machine’s location, even pictures from its webcam, to the web site. The software is free and the service allows tracking of three devices for free. You can also install prey on smartphones, so, if you have a lot of devices, you might need to pay for more advanced service.

Alternatives: Apple’s Find My Device is bundled into most of their devices now.

QuickLook CSV

QuickLook CSV plugin

https://code.google.com/p/quicklook-csv/

Free. This quick look plugin not only displays a popup preview of data in comma-separated value (csv) and tab delimited files, but also changes their icon into a rough rendering of what the document looks like.

SimpleMovieX

SimpleMovieX

http://simplemoviex.com/SimpleMovieX/

Free. If you rip your DVDs or record from television, you may find you have a need for some lightweight editing of the results, such as trimming out commercials, eliminating the same annoying opening credits from every episode of a TV series, concatenation of several videos in a row, adding/removing/renaming chapters, and so on. SimpleMovieX is built for this kind of quick video work.

SiteSucker

SiteSucker

http://sitesucker.us/mac/mac.html

Free. Sometimes you just need to download an entire web site at once. This software provides a fairly intuitive way of doing so, with a handful of options to tune for a particular site..

Alternatives: The previously recommended WebDevil provides a bit more power, but is expensive. The command line app wget can also do some types of whole site downloading.

Skim

Skim

http://skim-app.sourceforge.net/

Free. A slim-but-powerful PDF reader. Unlike Acrobat Reader, it supports the new Retina displays. Unlike Preview (which comes free with OS X), it allows you to control if the first page is single or double when in two-page display mode, and its full page mode is less flickery. It also has note-taking capabilities, so you can add annotations to PDFs.

SourceTree

SourceTree

http://sourcetreeapp.com/

Free. If you need a dedicated graphical client for distributed revision control systems (DVCS) like Git or Mercurial, SourceTree is the weapon of choice. While Git plugins are available for Eclipse (see above), the dedicated nature of this app makes using these services a bit easier.

Suspicious Package

Suspicious Package

http://www.mothersruin.com/software/SuspiciousPackage/

Free. While most software downloads no longer require installers (just dragging an app to a folder), sometimes files need to go in particular places, so you get an installer package. You can never really tell what is in such packages, unless you have this quick look extension installed. Click once on the package, hit space, and get a popup window listing everything inside the package.

Transmission

Transmission

http://www.transmissionbt.com/

Free. With the large number of BitTorrent clients available on the Mac, with different release schedules, something as subjective as which is one is “best” tends to ebb and flow. Last I looked, this was the client that worked for me, with a clear interface that did what I asked it to. Since I keep an old machine under my desk that is more or less dedicated to things like BitTorrent, I also appreciate that this app publishes a browser-based interface so other machines on my LAN can control it.

Alternatives: The µTorrent client now runs on the Mac and has a number of users who converted from Transmission. Xtorrent seems more feature rich, but isn’t free.

Video Monkey

Video Monkey

http://videomonkey.org/

Free. Once there was an application called VisualHub, which rose above the sea of batch video conversion applications on the Mac to become both powerful and (very) easy to use. (Plus, it’s icon, an amalgam of a film strip and the Rosetta Stone was totally brilliant.) Then, its creator gave up. What followed was a long chain of forks, clones, bizarre patches and dead ends, with names like iSquint, Transcoder Redux (at several different places) and FilmRedux. Video Monkey is the only free app to emerge from the ashes that captures the essence of VisualHub. It also adds the ability to add metadata as part of the conversion.

Alternatives: A more direct ancestor to VisualHub is ReduxEncoder, which looks to be similar to Video Monkey, but costs £2. Even more expensive, but perhaps a bit more polished is Permute. Some of the other applications in this list (e.g. HandBrake, VLC) can also convert video, but don’t handle batches well. RoadMovie is also worth a look (even though it is $30), as it combines metadata editing with batch video conversion.

Vienna

Vienna

http://www.vienna-rss.org/

Free. Prior to the rise of social networks, Really Simple Syndication (RSS) was all the rage. Now it seems like many have never even heard of it, and Google is killing the service that many RSS readers use for syncing. It still works the way I do, though, (and social networking mostly doesn’t) so I’m still an RSS junky. This open source reader is simple, and does just enough for me. Recently, they added Google Reader syncing (oops), so if anyone builds a decent replacement for the API, chances are it will get updated to use it.

Alternatives: I’ll like continue to use Google Reader until it dies on July 1, 2013. It looks like Feedly might be able to replace it. These are both browser-based. For Mac app solutions, Reeder has a lot of fans, but is also leveraged heavily into the Google Reader API.

VLC

VLC

http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

Free. A video player that can play more formats than the default QuickTime installation provides (including AVI, MKV and divx). There are some iOS apps which can act as a remote control for playback in VLC as well.

Vue Pioneer

Vue Pioneer

http://www.e-onsoftware.com/products/vue/vue_pioneer/

Free. Vue creates 3D scenery using fractal terrain and can add trees as well, with photorealistic rendering of the whole scene. It is part of a cross-platform suite of products that get more powerful as they get more expensive.

Alternatives: Terrain rendering apps seem to leapfrog each other regularly and target different markets. You might find that Bryce (which would get my recommendation instead of Vue Pioneer if it were able to run on Lion or beyond), TerraRay, Terragen, one of Vue’s more expensive brethren or Daz Studio work better for you.

Wireshark

Wireshark

http://www.wireshark.org/

Free. Wireshark is a cross-platform network packet analyzer, with pretty good visualization, decent documentation and a legion of users.

Commercial

Commercial software must be paid for before being downloaded (though, in many cases, trial versions may be available). This model was quite rare in the Mac world prior to the advent of the App Store, limited to major applications like Office or Photoshop, or high profile games. This type of software also used to be much more geared to physical delivery in shrink-wrapped boxes, but that is now the exception, to the point that the line between “shareware” and “commercial” software no longer exists.
1Password

1Password

http://1passwd.com/

$30. Since the authors of 1Password removed WiFi syncing with iOS, I have a hard time recommending this as unequivocally as I did before (even if they do eventually offer some USB based sync). [Update: they listened to customers like me and put Wi-Fi syncing back in iPassword 4. So, back to an unequivocal thumbs up.] Still, this application will change the way you use the web. Since it seamlessly integrates into major browsers, any time you create an account on a web site, you use 1Password to generate and store a completely random and unique password for that site. When you go back to the site, 1Password remembers that password for you. So, you get to be secure, without the hassle of remembering huge numbers of passwords yourself. The application also can track serial numbers for software, credit card numbers and so on, all stored strongly encrypted. It does support Dropbox syncing; however, even with encryption it strikes me that transmitting all of your passwords in the cloud is a really bad idea, so I don’t use that feature.

Alternatives: A number of other password managers exist, many which do have wifi syncing. Few offer browser integration (yet), which is the feature that makes 1Password useful. The most promising of these is STRIP, which was found to be more secure than 1Password. The cross-platform mSecure is also a contender.

Bartender

Bartender

http://www.macbartender.com/

$15. More and more apps these days clutter up your menu bar with status icons. Most of these icons can be turned off, but some can’t, and some are still useful. Bartender allows you to collect all these menu bar items into a submenu of sorts, with full control over which items go where. It offers a four week free trial.

BetterZip

BetterZip

http://macitbetter.com/

$20. While OS X comes with a number of ways to work with zip files, BetterZip is, well, better at more complex work, particularly for exploring contents of an archive without decompressing it. BetterZip can also decompress other compression formats, such as .tar and .rar, including most traditionally Mac types like .sit. As a separate download, it also supplies a quick look extension that shows the contents of a zip archive.

Cheetah 3d

Cheetah 3d

http://www.cheetah3d.com/

$99. While quite a few 3d editors exist on the Mac, Cheetah is one of the few designed specifically for it. It’s UI is powerful, but more intuitive that other 3d packages I’ve tried (user interface in 3d packages tends toward the bizarre). The latest version (6.x) also seems to be collecting a bunch of 5-out-of-5 ratings from all over the place.

Alternatives: Some free 3d suites are popular but not as easy to use, particularly Blender and DAZ Studio. Prices get nuts on the higher end with Maya.

Coda

Coda

http://www.panic.com/coda/

$79. Until Coda, there were two basic methods of creating web sites. One way was to use a WYSIWYG tool like Sandvox or RapidWeaver. The other was to do hand coding using a mix of various tools, like text editors, file transfer programs, CSS editors and various browsers. Coda attempts to change this (and succeeds pretty well), providing a tool for the “hand markup” set that vastly streamlines workflow, and essentially obsoletes about a half-dozen other tools. Panic Software allows a 30-day trial before requiring payment, with a small discount if you own other Panic titles.

Alternatives: Coda has spawned some imitators, mostly developers of the aforementioned “various tools”, who are trying to turn their tool into a more widely encompassing platform, such as the way CSSEdit 3 has mutated into Espresso. The cross-platform Aptana isn’t as slick looking, but seems plenty powerful and is free.

Daisy Disk

Daisy Disk

http://www.daisydiskapp.com/

$10. The evolution of graphically investigating what is taking up your hard drive space, using a “sunburst” style of display which seems more natural than the “heat map” style of some of the alternatives. This software also handles the little details very well, making it very intuitive.

Alternatives: Applications like Disk Inventory X do a similar job for free, but with less polish. DiskWave provides even less polish, but is also free.

Delicious Library

Delicious Library

http://www.delicious-monster.com/

$40. For the anal-retentive in you, this tracks collections of books, DVDs, CDs and games. Integrates with a bar-code scanner, if you happen to have one (such as a hacked CueCat). Also allows you to use a video camera to scan barcodes. Can enter ISBN or USP numbers and will lookup information on item on the net. Library allows only 25 items to be entered unless you pay for it.

Alternatives: Inventory managers can be found all over the place. Most of them are terrible. One free offering that seems to, at least, have rough feature parity with Delicious Library is Data Crow.

DupeZap

DupeZap

http://www.hyperbolicsoftware.com/DupeZap.html

$5. It turns out to be fairly easy to wind up with duplicate copies of files, particularly if you collect certain types of data (say, comic book files or role-playing pdfs). This application will hunt for duplicate files and let you delete extras; however, pay careful attention to what it finds. If you are not sure what it is doing, you can get burned.

Alternatives: Gemini, DupeZap Plus (basically DupeZap 2, but more expensive); TidyUp (even more features and cost).

EV:Nova

Escape Velocity: Nova

http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn/

$30. A role-playing/space combat game that is sort of hard to explain until you play it. The makers of this game, Ambrosia, completely rule. If this genre is not your cup of tea, I guarantee that they have another game (some of which, alas, only run in Classic mode) that will have you addicted within minutes. If you like this game, you might also try Vendetta, which is very similar in concept, but uses 3D first-person combat and requires on-line play with thousands of other players.

GraphicConverter X

GraphicConverter X

http://www.lemkesoft.de/en/graphcon.htm

$30. Capable of reading and writing nearly any graphic format, this program also has slide show capability and a great directory-based image browser. A suite of batch processing tools also make altering multiple files the same way mostly painless. (For example, take a huge directory of images, scale them all to be the same height, then crop them to be the same width, then save them as a different format.)

Growl

Growl

http://growl.info/ (app store)

$4. Growl is a notification system used by a lot of the other apps on this list to breifly popup a message in the corner of your screen to alert you to an event (such as e-mail arriving, a job completing, and so on). Though previously free, the developer has now fully embraced the App Store model.

Alternatives: Mountain Lion’s new Notification Center is aimed squarely at out-growling Growl. For the moment, more apps support Growl.

Icon Creator

Icon Creator

http://mediaware.sk/iconcreator

$4. Once upon a time, the Mac developer tools came with Icon Composer, a simple application for editing application icons. In the early days of OS X development, Apple had to build quick and dirty tools like this, since they were the only show in town. Now that third parties build much better icon editors than Apple could, they have discontinued Icon Composer. This is probably the best of its replacements, mainly for its exporting capabilities. (Also, when I asked the author to add change the open dialog to allow browsing inside application packages, he released a new version that did so within days. This made creating this post much easier.)

Alternatives: Iconographer (free, but abandoned); IconBuilder (Photoshop integrated filter).

iBank

iBank

http://www.iggsoftware.com/ibank/

$60. Even back before the OS X era, Mac’s had a surprisingly large number of finance managing applications, with Quicken eventually emerging as the dominating force. Quicken screwed up, though keeping its code mired in technology known to be dying. When this technology was jettisoned on the release of Lion, Quicken stopped working on modern Macs. Fortunately, Quicken had enough haters prior to this that mature alternatives exist. For my needs, iBank was the best replacement.

Alternatives: I explored many replacements for Quicken when I moved to Lion. You might find others I examined fit your needs better.

iConquer

iConquer

http://www.kavasoft.com/iConquer/

$13. A very sexy Risk game, somehow more addictive than the hordes of other Risk clones. It allows network play, but only 10 games before you have to pay for it. For the ambitious, developer tools are available to make custom maps and AI players.

iDraw

iDraw

http://www.indeeo.com/idraw/

$25. Shortly after the dawn of the Mac came MacDraw, a program for editing vector graphics (where images are made up of editible primitive lines and shapes). I prefer using vector graphics when possible (as opposed to raster graphic tools like Photoshop, which edit a grid of colored pixels), as they scale better and are easier to change. I don’t know if iDraw was intended to be a ultra-modern evolution of MacDraw, but it feels like it in a lot of ways. It has a companion iPad app which feels even more so, with cloud syncing between them. One strike against it (in addition to the dumb name) is that you can’t try before you buy.

Alternatives: Not long ago, few options existed in this space other than the very expensive Adobe Illustrator, but now quite a few compete. Others include VectorDesigner (previously recommended, but now too expensive compared to iDraw), Artboard (a simpler user interface, not as powerful) and Inkscape (free, but clunky). Note also that some traditionally raster editors are starting to get very simple vector drawing features (such as Pixelmator, mentioned below).

iPhoto Library Manager

iPhoto Library Manager

http://www.fatcatsoftware.com/iplm/

$20. If you ever need to merge two different iPhoto libraries into one or switch back and forth between multiple libraries, don’t even bother trying to do it yourself. It should be easy to do but, inexplicably, isn’t. Just pony up the cash for this program. You might also want to grab iPhoto Diet to remove some of the bloat iPhoto creates.

iTaskX

iTaskX

http://www.itaskx.com/

€80. Some switchers need a replacement for Microsoft Project, and for some time they didn’t have many choices. Now, however, dozens of possibilities exist. Since my previous recommendation in this space, Project X seems to have been abandoned, it appears that iTaskX is the current choice, as it matches Project’s feature set well and can even read Project files.

Alternatives: Some other possibilities in this space are OmniPlan, Merlin or, for something slightly different, Curio. A number of on-line only tools also exist now, such as Teamweek.

Leap

Leap

http://www.ironicsoftware.com/leap/

$26. Leap provides an alternate way of accessing, organizing and finding your files, making use of the OpenMeta standard to add tags to file metadata. Using any tags you care to add to a file, as well as other file metadata such as file type, modification date and so on, you can perform complex searches, either ignoring the rigid hierarchy of folders, or using it to augment the search. The “All My Files” view in the Finder (since Lion) implements a terrible and weak version of this concept, but Leap is a whole different level. Leap really shines if you have a lot of a certain kind of file (such as PDFs or video) and want to search for a specific one.

Balance

Life Balance

http://www.llamagraphics.com/

$40. A unique, cross-platform to-do manager with iOS synchronization (though still no iPad app). Their web site explains it better than I can. Takes a little getting used to, but is the best to-do system I’ve ever used. After a 30-day trial, save stops working unless you pay for it. There is also a Win32 version, if you’re into that sort of thing. Expensive, but unique.

Alternatives: LifeBalance is not constructed or intended as a GTD tool, though could probably be shoehorned for that purpose. Within the GTD space, Firetask seems to be the current darling, but Things and OmniFocus are mainstays. There are also a ton of “in the cloud checklist apps”, like Producteev, Wunderlist or even Evernote.

Little Snitch

Little Snitch

http://www.obdev.at/products/littlesnitch/

$25. Brings up an alert any time your computer attempts to make a network connection to the outside world, allowing you to accept or deny the attempt. It can be trained to ignore things (like your web browser, chat client, etc.). It will only run for three hours at a time unless you pay for it. This is good enough for me, as I tend to run it only when installing new software. (Some software “phones home” to its creating company, transmitting who knows what.)

MacFamilyTree

MacFamilyTree

http://www.syniumsoftware.com/macfamilytree/

$60. A bit pricy, but the best family tree software I’ve seen for the Mac, or any other platform. It’s charting and reporting is excellent, but the 3D “flythrough” options to the UI are more gimmicky than useful. Nothing can be saved until paid for. Data is easily imported (GEDCOM, with all the bells and whistles) and synced to the equally nice iOS version.

MediaLink

MediaLink

http://www.nullriver.com/products/medialink

$20. If you have a burning desire to view the media on your Mac (video, pictures, music) on your Playstation 3, this is the easiest way to do so. Totally seamless and easy to use.

Name Mangler

Name Mangler

http://manytricks.com/namemangler/

$19. Allows you to do search and replace on filenames, including support for regular expressions. Sure, you could do similar things with the command line, but this is easier. Also shows you the results of changes before they are made.

OmniGraffle

OmniGraffle

http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnigraffle/

$100-$200. Switchers itching for something like Visio should look no further than the professional version of this app. It does some things a bit differently than Visio would, but generally “differently” here means “better”. Visio, notable as one of the few products whose interface radically improved once bought by Microsoft, could steal quite a few lessons from the guys at Omni. Current versions also sync with an iPad version, and contain a bunch of the layout code from Graphviz. A limit is placed on the number of nodes you can have in a file until this software is paid for.

Alternatives: The Omni Group tends to build really great products and charge way too much for them, but chooses products that no one else is building for the Mac. What usually winds up happening is that someone comes along to undercut them with a slightly-less-good version, for much, much less money. For example: Shapes (though it can’t use Visio files or export to SVG, and OmniGraffle Pro can). The Mac Graphviz port isn’t really the same kind of product (it is more about mathematical graphs), but can be used to create similar output more programatically.

Paperless

Paperless

https://www.marinersoftware.com/products/paperless/

$50. You know that shoebox or file cabinet you have filled with old bank statements, bills, receipts, statements and so on? Would you like to replace that with an encrypted database of PDFs? How about if details were optically scanned from the PDF and populated into searchable database fields? Paperless can do all that. Most banks and credit card companies now offer digital statements these days, so you don’t even need to do any scanning (though the app supports that as well).

Pixelmator

Pixelmator

http://www.pixelmator.com/

$15. If Adobe Photoshop breaks your bank, this image editor is a strong choice, delivering most of what the average user will need out of a raster editor in an elegant interface and much lower price.

Alternatives: There are tons of image editors out there. Some not as powerful, such as Seashore, Paintbrush, Acorn or ImageWell. Others are harder to use, such as GIMP. Still others are more specialized, such as Pixen.

Postbox

Postbox

http://postbox-inc.com/

$10. Postbox is a powerful e-mail client which works a lot better for me than the Mail app that ships with OS X. Searching, for example, is more powerful, as are its filing rules. It also integrates with GMail, if desired, as well as with third party services like Dropbox or Evernote. You can download a 30-day free trial of this application.

Alternatives: E-mail clients tend to be a personal choice. Some other possibilities are Apple’s Mail; Mozilla Thunderbird, Mailplane and MailMate.

Scrivener

Scrivener

http://literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

$45. I don’t use this writing tool much, but I know people who bought a Mac specifically to use it (it has a Windows version now, though). It is a word-processor type application targeted specifically at writers of novels, screenplays, research papers and the like, with a number of organizational tools.

Snapz Pro X

Snapz Pro X

http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/

$69. The king daddy of Mac screen capture programs, with a long lineage. Capture full screens, windows, selections to multiple formats. Capture video. Basically flawless, with a well-deserved five mice rating. Snapz Pro X can be used for a limited time before requiring payment.

Sound Studio

Sound Studio

http://felttip.com/ss/

$30. While there are number of sound editors available on the Mac, most of them were pretty bad last time I looked at them. Not this one, though. Sound Studio does more of what I need it to, particularly with some features specifically to ease the importing of audio tapes.

Alternatives: Other applications in this space are Audacity, Fission and Wavepad.

Steermouse

Steermouse

http://plentycom.jp/en/steermouse/

$20. The Mac is known for true plug and play support of all sorts of mice and other input devices, but sometimes the default support isn’t enough, particularly with unusual peripherals. This driver supports a wide variety of devices, and allows much more customization than mortal man was meant to use. It can be used for 30 days before requiring payment.

SousChef

SousChef

http://acaciatreesoftware.com/

$30. If you happen to have an iMac in your kitchen, you might as well keep a recipe database on it, particularly one that can search multiple internet recipe sources by ingredient or other characteristics. Includes a “ten foot” mode, so you can read the recipe from across the room if you need to, and control the display with speech. Other apps could also learn a bit from how it handles importing via copy/paste of arbitrary blobs of recipe text into the various fields of the database. This app sometimes makes its way into various sale bundles.

TextMate

TextMate

http://macromates.com/

€39. In a world with dozens of text editors for the Mac, this app left them all in the dust a long time ago. Highly customizable, this app supports a huge number of computer languaes, supports macros, can be used as an external editor for FTP programs (like Transmit, below) and even makes building custom syntax hilighters fairly painless.

Alternatives: Text editors tend to be more of a personal choice than other software, so BBEdit (or its more limited lightweight version), Smultron, SubEthaEdit, skEdit, jEdit, xPad or even Emacs compiled as a native app or a Mac-style Emacs may be more your speed.

Transmit

Transmit

http://www.panic.com/transmit/

$15. The file-transfer protocol (FTP) client for the Mac (also supporting other protocols, like SFTP, Amazon S3, WebDAV, etc.). Let’s you right click on files in a remote server, and edit them with external editors, such as TextMate (see above). Pretty much perfect. Until paid for, sessions can only last for 10 minutes and “favorites” cannot be saved.

Unison

Unison

http://www.panic.com/unison/

$29. Before the world wide web, there was Usenet, a vast collection of newsgroups. Though web forums have stolen most of their thunder, newsgroups are still useful. Unison is one of the best newsreaders I’ve ever seen. To access Usenet, you need a provider. In many cases, the company providing you with internet access quietly offers a Usenet feed (usually a web search for your provider’s name and “Usenet” will lead you to instructions). Fully featured for 15 days, after which favorites are disabled and it can only be used for 10 minutes at a time.

Witch

Witch

http://www.petermaurer.de/nasi.php?section=witch

$14. OS X has a built-in feature (cmd-tab) to cycle between application, similar to alt-tabbing on Win32. This preference panel adds a more sophisticated version (wired to opt-tab by default) that lists active windows as well as applications.

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Why the “red equals sign” campaign drives me a bit nuts

March 28th, 2013 — Wordman

If you’ve looked at a social network the last few days, you’ve probably seen the “red equals sign” logo show up, showing support of the marriage equality, currently being debated in the U.S. Supreme Court. While I intended to stay silent about this campaign, now that it has taken off, I can’t hold it in: this red logo campaign is driving me a bit nuts.

Not for any political reason, of course. It’s just… the compression artifacts… they are the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

The red equals logo uses simple, continuous blocks of pixels, in only two colors. Unfortunately, the most popular image compression technology in the world, JPEG, which was built to compress photographs, turns out to be hideously awful at compressing simple blocks of same-color pixels. It winds up creating weird bands of unintended colors around the edges of such blocks. For example, here is a version of the logo (3,183 bytes), compressed with really low quality JPEG settings (to exaggerate the effect).

Equality, with horrible artifacts

The artifacts become less noticeable, but still present (especially if you are overly sensitive to them, like me), using a high quality JPEG compression (generating a file that is almost twice are large: 5,517 bytes):

Equality, with slightly less horrible artifacts

It gets even worse. Because JPEG is lossy, these compression artifacts get progressively worse as you re-compress the same image repeatedly. So, for example, if you found a JPEG of the red equals on the net, then uploaded to to, say, Facebook, chances are that Facebook recompressed it again, making the artifacts worse.

A different kind of compression—portable network graphics or PNG—is, in contrast, is extremely good at compressing large blocks of same-colored pixels, particularly in a limited color palette. It shows no compression artifacts and, since it is lossless, you can re-compress it over and over with no quality degradation. And, as a bonus, this file is only 1,590 bytes:

Equality

In support of the red equals sign, feel free to link directly to the PNG version above (http://asteroid.divnull.com/images/equality.png) in blog posts, avatar icons and so on. Or, copy and distribute at will. Hopefully my server will keep up.

Launching a backup with launchd

March 17th, 2013 — Wordman

Six years ago, I posted about using rsync to backup a web server (many of the difficulties mentioned there have since been fixed). I’m finally getting around to switch from using cron to run that backup to using the new hotness: launchd. This task was made easier by Preston Holmes’ cron to launchd converter.

To summarize the prior post, I have a special user on my Mac named “backup”. The only thing this user does is backup other stuff, such as my web server. This user has a script (shown in the previous post) in ~/Documents/webbackup. I want this script to run at, say, 2:30am as this backup user, even if no one is logged on. To do this with launchd, I first need a file describing the job:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
  <!-- Write this file to /Library/LaunchDaemons/ -->
  <key>Label</key>
  <string>com.mycompany.webbackup</string>
  <key>UserName</key>
  <string>backup</string>
  <key>ProgramArguments</key>
  <array>
    <string>/Users/backup/Documents/webbackup</string>
  </array>
  <key>StartCalendarInterval</key>
  <array>
    <dict>
      <key>Hour</key>
      <integer>2</integer>
      <key>Minute</key>
      <integer>30</integer>
    </dict>
  </array>
  
  <key>StandardErrorPath</key>
    <string>/Users/backup/Documents/webbackup.log</string>

   <key>StandardOutPath</key>
  <string>/Users/backup/Documents/webbackup.log</string>
</dict>
</plist>

While there are ways to run this job using launchctl, if you want it to run automatically, unassisted, even after rebooting your machine, you need to write the file to /Library/LaunchDaemon/com.mycompany.webbackup.plist. Note, that is /Library, not ~/Library, so you will likely need to use sudo to get the file there.

Also note that the name of the file should match the “Label” key in the file, with .plist suffix. Note also that this “Label” is used as a unique id, so if you make more than one of these job descriptions you need to change both the filename and the “Label” key.

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Charity 2012

February 21st, 2013 — Wordman

According to justgive.org, the “average American gives about 3.1 percent of his or her income to charity (before taxes). That’s well below the 10 percent tithing level recommended by religious institutions.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy breaks that down by zip code, which leads to inevitable political commentary. Personally, I came in well below the average—and far below the religiously recommended—for 2012 (around 2.5%). I did, however, donate to a wider variety of places this year:

I also helped kickstart quite a few projects this year. I get a product at the end of most of these, so they don’t really count as charity. A few, however, are either structured mostly as charities or I funded without selecting any “rewards”, such as the low cost land mine detonator, an Arduino-based public access satellite, something that may turn out to be the next generation of manned spaceflight, rescuing out of print science fiction and turning old shipping containers into farms.

I hope, by posting all this, you’ll find at least one thing you’d be interested in helping with a few bucks. I aim to do better myself next year.

Tags »

Predictions for 2013

December 31st, 2012 — Wordman

Since we made it to the 14th baktun without being swallowed by the sun, or a dragon rising from Mt. Fuji or something, I thought I’d follow samaBlog’s lead and make some predictions:

  • I will make more posts to this blog in 2012 than I did in 2013. (This will not be hard.)
  • We will go over the “fiscal cliff”. This will not be the calamity imagined by the media, particularly since nearly every part of the “cliff” is actually good for the country’s long term health.
  • Apple will finally update the Mac Pro. It will not be what people expect (I’m thinking it might turn out modular, with “pods” for PCI cards or something).
  • Apple will release a TV. It will fail, but spawn imitators.
  • Apple will release a version of the iPhone and/or iOS that blatantly copies features from Android.
  • Bashar Hafez al-Assad will die. Syria will not become democratic.
  • The gun lobby will continue to fail to realize that fighting mental illness is in its best interest, and so make the problem worse.
  • Something will gain more views than Gangnam Style. It will have been created by someone much less xenophobic than PSY.
  • Someone will start making Twinkies again.
  • No one will submit a real report of actually playing ’inkadia.
  • The northeast U.S. will be hit be another major hurricane.
  • The Denver Broncos will reach the Super Bowl.
  • Exactly 80% of Time’s tech predictions for 2013 will be wrong.
  • The following will occur in the social media space, as measured by Nielsen:
    • Percentage of Pinterest users who are men will drop.
    • Year-over-year growth in unique visitors to Google+ will be higher than any other currently existing social network.
    • Year-over-year growth in unique visitors to Facebook will continue to be negative.
    • Year-over-year growth in unique visitors to Twitter will not exceed 5%.
  • A drone operated by state or city law enforcement will crash in the U.S., causing property damage and minor injuries.
  • Pacific Rim will score less than 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, but will make over a billion dollars by the end of the year.
  • The Form 1 3D printer will be featured at least three times by major mainstream media news.
  • The initial elation of the D&D Next release will rapidly cool. Sales numbers will be worse than expected. Rumors will persist of Hasbro killing D&D, but it will not do so in 2013.
  • Average temperatures for 2013 will be higher than 2012.
  • Some places damaged by hurricane Sandy will be declared off limits for rebuilding by new local zoning rules.

Recommended iOS Software

January 10th, 2012 — Wordman

Several members of my extended family have become new iPhone/iPad users and asked me for software recommendations. Since my Mac software recommendations got a fairly positive response (even though they are getting a bit long in the tooth now), I figured I’d make these public.

This list comes with some assumptions. First, it assumes you’ve at least looked at the app store and downloaded something. So I won’t make recommendations about very common, popular stuff. For example, I’m going to assume you don’t need me to tell you about Angry Birds or built-in apps. Secondly, since I don’t know anything about how iOS devices work with non-Mac computers, I’m just going to assume you have a Mac from time to time. Hopefully, this won’t matter a whole lot. Thirdly, some of these applications make use of services, such as Dropbox. For the most part, I assume that, if you don’t know what the service is, that you can follow the provided link to find out, though I do have a section providing more details about certain services towards the end. Oh, also, I think Twitter is pointless, so if you are looking for a recommendation on the coolest Twitter-related apps, I can’t help you.

Universal apps

An iOS app is “universal” if the same binary can be run on devices with different sized screens. In practice, this means that you buy a single app, but it runs well on both the iPhone and the iPad, adapting its appearance based on how much screen it has to use. Generally speaking, if you are trying to choose between two apps and one is universal and the other isn’t, it’s likely the universal app is better written, as making an app universal requires a bit more planning an attention to detail.

1Password Pro

$6. If you are familiar with how 1Password works on the Mac you may be a bit underwhelmed by the iOS version, as it doesn’t integrate with the browser like it does on the desktop (though it does have a built-in browser of its own). The main use of this app on iOS devices is to act as a password protected, encrypted store for small bits of information, like passwords to machines at work or credit card numbers, in a form that can be synced back to a desktop machine. If all that seems intimidating, then give this app a miss (but try the desktop version; it will change how you work on the web and make your browsing a lot safer if you use it correctly.)

1Password

Air Video

$3. Your iOS device has a built in technology called AirPlay that allows you to stream what’s happening on your device to a television via an AppleTV device. AirVideo allows you to go the other direction and stream video from your Mac to the device. Importantly, AirVideo supports a number of video formats that aren’t supported out of the box on iOS, like .avi files.

Air Video

BrickPad

Free. Allows viewing (but not editing) of LDraw files, such as the these mechs, for example. A touch interface for editing these files would be really great, but doesn’t seem to exist yet. Also desperately needs Dropbox integration.

BrickPad

Comics

Free. As people try to figure out the business of digital comics, a lot of different “comic store” apps have been created. It is likely, however, that this one will “win”, because it is the only app that allows you to buy comics from both Marvel and DC (as well as others). While the app is free, comics need to be purchased. On the up side any purchases made can also be read in a web browser at comiXology.

Comics

Death Rally

$1. Yes, you can use your iPad for reading and education and science. But you can also use it to drive virtual cars with missiles or machineguns mounted on them, in a race to the death! This is a retooling of a “classic” PC game. More fun than it probably aught to be.

Death Rally

The Dicenomicon

$5. There are a number of dice rolling apps out there, but this seems to be the only that is more than a toy. Though it is expensive for what it does, it does it well. It supports some of the more esoteric rolling schemes out there (dice pools, Exalted’s rule of 10, FUDGE dice, etc) and supports a high degree of customization (including some limited programability).

The Dicenomicon

DropText

$1. DropText lets you edit text files in your Dropbox (see Services, below). It will not set the world on fire, but is simple, clean and inexpensive. It also knows about various types of syntax highlighting, so you can touch-up code in a bunch of different languages if you like.

DropText

FlightTrackPro

$10. Don’t fly without this, or its less-able-but-cheaper sibling FlightTrack. This app routinely gives me better information about a flight I’m waiting for than is available sitting at the gate. It also integrates with TripIt, which provides a really easy way to get your flight information into the app.

FlightTrackPro

Harmonious

Free. Though more of a toy, people have created some interesting art with this procedural drawing application. Always fund to see math wielded as art.

Harmonious

IMDb

Free. Provides a dedicated interface for the Internet Movie Database, far superior to the experience on the browser.

IMDb

Indigo Touch

Free. If you use a Mac to automate your home, you are probably using a bunch of INSTEON devices and Indigo software to control them. This app links to your Indgio software, allowing you to control your home from your iOS device, via your wifi connection. (It also supports using Prism to function from anywhere on the net, if you choose.)

Indigo Touch

MobileFamilyTree Pro

$15. While this application is a complete genealogy application for iOS, I use it mostly in tandem with MacFamilyTree, with which it syncs over wifi. Both the iOS and the Mac version are pricey, but they have few competitors in terms of features or polish. If you want to know what an “Apple-style UI” looks like for genealogy, this is it.

Mobile Family Tree

Netflix

Free. While not the best app in the world, it is still on the recommend list for its ability to stream video. It’s queue management still leaves quite a bit to be desired, and is better left to their web site, or another app on this list, iQueue (see below). Still, Netflix streaming offers a pretty large (and growing) selection, and this is one of the easiest ways to stream video to your iOS device.

Netflix

Pandora Radio

Free. Pandora provides customizable radio over the internet, using the Music Genome Project to gather music similar to a song or artist you specify. Free streaming radio, unfortunately including advertising.Best over wifi, Pandora works surprisingly well over a 3G connection, though eats through data quotas.

Pandora

PCalc

$10. I’ve had nothing but praise for this calculator since it was System 7-era Mac application, and the iOS version doesn’t disappoint, especially if you like RPN calculators (this one goes both ways). It now has a free little brother, but I find the added features of the Pro version totally worth the money. If you don’t ever deal with hexadecimal, you may not care.

PCalc

Prompt

$8. Panic, Inc. is known for making innovative, quality software with excellent user interface and charging just slightly too much for it. This SSH client fits this model perfectly. If you don’t need SSH on the road (or don’t even know what that means), you don’t need this app. But if you do, this is easily the best of the lot.

Prompt

Remote

Free. You don’t need an AppleTV to use this app, but it helps. Without it, the app lets you control iTunes on a local network (including selection of AirPlay speakers). With the Apple TV, you get much better control over playback and, most important, a decent keyboard to use when entering passwords and such.

Remote

SkySafari3

$3. A number of apps use the compass and gyroscope in iOS devices to turn the device into a “window” that shows you the stars in view. This seems to be the best of them. For one, it is a universal app, which not all of them are. And it seems a bit more streamlined to me. It also comes in three different versions (at three different price points), which let you pick the features you want. (I don’t need telescope control, for example, so I stick to the cheapest one). And, face it, this type of stuff makes a killer demo for an iPad to people that have never used one before.

SkySafari3

Slay

$4. While it lacks snappy (or even modern) graphics and uses only a few simple rules, this turn-based strategy game is fiendishly good, and gets devilishly difficult, with really good AI. About the only thing that would make this game better is multi-player support.

Slay

SportsTap

Free. As I am not a massive sports junky, this app is the only sports related app I use, mostly to view scores and stats for tennis and the NFL, but it covers many other sports as well. I suspect that for true, die-hard fanatics, this app just scratches the surface.

SportsTap

Spyglass

$4. This “augmented reality navigator” is a bit gimmicky, but sure looks cool. It places a “heads-up display” over a live feed from the device’s camera, showing a compass, GPS data, sextant, angle calculator, and a rangefinder. Your device has an array of sensors of various kinds, and this app displays the state of them all. It’s also extremely customizable.

Spyglass

Temple Run

Free. A simple concept, brilliantly executed and instantly explained in the first 30 seconds of play. You run, jump and side to evade the ape-beasts that endlessly nip at your heels. This is also a coin-gathering game (with associated pay-to-buy-more-coins idiocy), but buying coins is not required.

Temple Run

TiVo

Free. If you use a TiVo, just try this app. You may no longer need your remote. Searching for shows and scheduling recordings are much, much easier using this app than TiVo’s on-screen interface. Like the Remote app, one very useful feature is the ability to use the iOS device as a keyboard (to enter, say, your Netflix password).

TiVo

Yummy Browser

Free. Since the free app I have been using to view my bookmarks on delicious no longer is available, I had to find a new one. You’d think there would be a number of universal apps that support delicious, but this appears to be the only one. It also supports Pinboard and seems serviceable. If you need to add bookmarks on your iOS device, the $2 full version of Yummy should do the trick. (Note that this app may not be available on the U.S. Apple store, so the links above go to the Canadian one.)

Yummy Browser

Zagat

$10. This app makes good use of location services to limit searches for restaurants to certain distances from your present location. It also works off-line, containing the Zagats database within the app. It has a gimmicky augmented reality view of restaurants within sight of your camera, and can make reservations in major cities (via OpenTable). I have basically stopped buying Zagat books and use this app instead.

Zagat

Zinio

Free. Magazines are still trying to figure out how to best use iOS devices and you will run into a lot of attempts in the app store. This is the one I think will succeed. What I like most about it is that it collects magazines into a single interface, rather than having to manage one app per magazine (though Apple’s new Newsstand feature may clean this up). It also has titles I actually care about, such as The Economist and ImagineFX. One thing I hate: this and other magazine apps all use closed file formats. I’d be a more enthusiastic digital magazine buyer if this were not the case.

Zinio

Sibling apps

Some applications are available for both the iPhone and the iPad, but as two separate applications, one for each platform. I call these “sibling” apps, and find them irritating. When a developer chooses to release sibling apps, it usually means that they are a) too lazy to figure out how to build a proper universal app or b) greedy. In any case, some of these are good enough to recommend, though usually only for one platform or another. In this section, links will lead to the iPad version unless the iPhone version is particularly recommended. Usually the page to which they lead will contain a link to the other version.

AccuWeather

Free. Of the metric ton of weather applications on iOS, this is the only
one that remains on my devices, mostly because of good looks, decent feature set and costing nothing.
You may care differently about the weather than I do, though, so shop around.

AccuWeather

Bloomberg

Free. One of the earliest financial news/ticker apps for iOS, I’ve stuck with this app mostly because it covers futures, bonds and currency markets as “first class citizens” while others tend to focus on stock markets, with maybe some add-on pages for other markets if you are lucky. (That said, if finviz ever makes an iPad app, I’d probably convert to it immediately.)

Bloomberg

Brushes

$8. Last I looked, there were a number of strong apps—based around painting with your fingers—engaged in a feature-escalation war. In the occasional “shoot-outs” comparing them, this one often comes out on top, though it depends on the focus and what versions were compared. Sadly, it doesn’t come with painting talent.

Brushes

Catan

$5. A faithful (and official) port of the board game Settlers of Catan, a resource management/trading strategy game, to iOS devices. Alas, it does not reproduce the LEGO version of the board.

Catan

Civilization: Revolution

$10. I’ve been known to play a game or two of Civilization. This version started life as a console game, so is greatly simplified from the main line of Civilization games. This simplification and UI serves the iPad very well, though, making games a bit quicker (just one more turn!) and not as micromanaged.

Civilization: Revolution

ComicBookLover

Free. The Comics app mentioned above is great for reading comics available in their store, but not so much for other comics, such as those in .cbz or .cbr formats that you might find in the darker corners of the internet. This application (and its companion Mac app) can handle this type of file better than most.

ComicBookLover

eBay

Free. Although the iPad version has a better interface, the iPhone version is more useful, if only because you are more likely to have your phone with you when some auction randomly ends. Both version offer surprisingly effective browsing and bidding, however.

eBay

Galactica

$2. This badly-named app is a great demo app for the touch interface. Even though there isn’t much to it, you can mess with it for for quite a while. Sort of soothing.

galactica

Geared

$3. This puzzle game is sort of hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate. The idea is to use a small selection of gears to connect a spinning source gear to one or more target gears. This sounds absolutely dreadful when put like that, but it is more fun that it sounds.

Geared

GoodReader

$5. This app is the reason to own an iPad, as far as I’m concerned, but I read a lot of PDF files (mostly role-playing games). It can handle a number of other file types as well, such as Microsoft Office documents, really high resolution images (e.g. maps), HTML archives and so on. It can pull files from many sources, including Dropbox.

GoodReader

Master of Alchemy

$3. In this puzzle game, you direct droplets of liquid onto targets using various kinds of parts to build Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. While similar to games that have gone down this trail before, like The Incredible Machine or Enigmo (both of which are also in the app store), this app offers a bit more polish and punch (and maybe a bit more difficulty as well).

Master of Alchemy

OpenTable

Free. Quite a few apps in the app store exist solely to get you to sign up to their website service. This is the only one that actually worked on me. OpenTable is a useful and easy way to find open times at big-city restaurants, and this app makes it even easier.

OpenTable

Osmos

$5. The ambient music, graphical details, unusual pacing and novel premise of this game provide a mesmerizing experience and a strange sort of serenity, especially on airplanes, using headphones.

Osmos

Shazam

Free. When Arthur C. Clarke said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, this app is what he meant. If a song is playing somewhere nearby (restaurant speakers, car radio, tv, etc.) you hit a button to sample several seconds of the song, and the app will tell you which song it is.

Shazam

Sketchbook Pro

$5. Another painting application, which may or may not be better for you than Brushes. Note that several versions of this application exist, at differing feature/price points, so you might find the free version adequate.

Sketchbook Pro

Spider: Bryce Manor

$3. An odd little game where you move a spider through a manor house, spinning webs and eating bugs as you go. This game is entertaining while it lasts, but is a bit too short. Still, you’ve probably never seen a game like this before and it makes good use of the touch interface.

Spider

VLC Remote

$3. This won’t be useful for everyone, but if you have your computer set up to display video on a TV, or use your monitor like a TV, this lets you control one of the more versatile video playback applications, VLC (which can play tons of video formats), from across the room on your iOS device. There is a free version of this app, but it is pretty limited. Three bucks buys you better control, on device file browsing and so on.

VLC Remote

iPad only apps

These apps are created specifically for the iPad, usually because what they do wouldn’t easily fit on the smaller screen of the iPhone.

Circus Ponies Notebook

$30. OK, this app isn’t worth thirty bucks, even if you are a serious note-taker; however, if you ever see it on sale, you might think about it. It allows you to produce “notebooks” where each page can be different. Maybe one page is graph paper with a drawing on it, another is an outline, another is a todo list and so on. Various ways (including Dropbox) of syncing these notebooks to the (also expensive) Mac version. Can also be used to annotate and draw on PDF files.

Circus Ponies Notebook

Friendly Plus

$1. This Facebook client recommendation comes with a caveat (so you might want to try the ad-supported free version before buying): the quality of this app seems to decrease with each revision. Much of that is no doubt due to Facebook changing their APIs all the time (which tends to make features that used to work stop working or disappear entirely), but some of it is on the developer, too. In any case, for the small amount I use Facebook, this provides a better iPad experience than the web UI.

Friendly

iDraw

$9. Easily the best vector drawing (where you make drawings with editable shapes rather than “paint”) on the iPad, especially since it now supports import/export of .svg files. I haven’t used the Mac version of the app, but it also seems nice.

iDraw

Galcon Fusion

$5. A collection of “conquer the galaxy” type games using swarms of little ships. Useful for quick breaks, as each game usually takes under three minutes, so you need to make quick tactical choices. Contains a bunch of single-player variations and supports multi-player games online.

Galcon Fusion

Small World

$7. A great port of the board game of the same name. It’s only flaw is that it doesn’t do a very good job of teaching you to play. It tells you how to work the various bits, but not why. Look to a site like Board Game Geek for tips and strategy. Some of the expansions are available as in-app purchases, but the game plays just fine without them.

Small World

iPhone only apps

These apps are built specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch. They will run on the iPad, but only in a reduced sized “window” (which can be made horribly twice as large), making the experience so bad that it usually isn’t worth doing. Unlike the iPad-only apps, the reason for these applications being iPhone-only is usually boils down to one of the following:

  1. The developer is too lazy to make a universal app properly.
  2. The developer lacks access to an iPad for testing.
  3. The app offers a custom interface to a web site, and the developer thinks iPad users would be better off just
    using the web site directly.
  4. The app specifically requires features of a phone.
  5. The app was written before the iPad existed, and hasn’t been updated since.

None of these are particularly good reasons, but that seems to be how it works. I miss some of these apps on the iPad more than others.

AccuFuel

$1. Tracks fuel consumption and cost for multiple vehicles. Having used this app for a long time, it is possible that competitors have since surpassed it, but at the time I started using it, it was the best of the bunch.

AccuFuel

Chemical Touch

$1. If you have a pathological need for a detailed periodic table of elements on every smartphone you have ever owned (and who doesn’t), this is the app for you. Simple, fast, good-looking and full of information. There is also a free version without as much data.

Chemical Touch

iQueue

$1. A companion app to the Netflix application. This one allows you to manage your queue, search for new movies and so on. It will also launch the netflix app to stream a selection from your queue. Could use some work (it doesn’t handle steaming of TV series correctly, for example), but servicable.

iQueue

Life Balance

$5. Life Balance is an unusual task manager which syncs via wifi to its desktop counterpart. On the surface, the app looks like a ToDo manager, which it is, but it has mechanisms that help you spread your efforts across tasks and preventing things from getting lost in the shuffle. Takes some getting used to. Their web site explains it better.

Life Balance

Lock ’N’ Roll 2 Pro

$1. This dice matching game improves on the already pretty good original. Fairly easy to learn (once you read the help section), easy to play, holds your attention for quite a lot longer than a lot of more expensive games.

Lock ’N’ Roll 2

Producteev

Free. A client for the Producteev cloud-based to-do management service. By sharing a single account, my wife and I use this service for things like shopping lists, where either of us can update a list and the other immediately sees it.

producteev

RedLaser

Free. Using your phone’s camera, you can take pictures of bar codes and this app will look up the code and find pricing information about the product. It can also scan the funky square bar codes you see popping up everywhere now.

RedLaser

Solebon

$2. Provides 42 different solitaire card games in one slick little package. Demon, Colorado and Eight Off are my favorites. If this was a universal app, it’d be perfect. It could also avoid dealing impossible games better, though this is easier to detect in some games than others.

Solebon

WeightBot

$2. A simple, slick-looking weight tracking application. This was the best of the lot when I first bought it several years ago. It’s possible the state of the art has advanced since (the more expensive A+ Weight Tracker is universal, for example).

WeightBot

White Noise

$2. This application replicates (on an endless or timed loop) sounds with high noise characteristics, like rain on a car rooftop, an oscillating fan, waves on the beach, and so on. It can also generate the various “colors” of noise (pink noise, brown noise, etc.) in addition to white noise. Originally purchased to help me relax at night, this turned out to be a key ingredient for getting my newborn son to go to sleep (the dish washer setting, in particular). Once, in a Manhattan restaurant, this app brought him from fussy and crying to asleep in about 20 seconds.

White Noise

Services

Some of the applications recommended above work with on-line services of one kind or another. You don’t need to use any of these services, but your iOS device becomes a lot more capable if you do.

Since it runs on consumer devices, iOS shows an interface a lot simpler than you’d see on a desktop or laptop. In particular, you don’t have to worry about files and directories and an such on iOS devices. The problem with that is that sometimes you really want to worry about files, at least a little bit, on your device. For example, want to read that PDF from work? How about that eBook you found on the net? Or maybe a movie from a DVD you own? If you ever need to do this, you will quickly find out that transferring files to your device, while possible, is painful. For many of the types of files you might want to put on the device, using a service called Dropbox eliminates (much of) this pain. If you have more than one computer at home, you may already be using Dropbox (and if not, look into it). Dropbox is a vaunted “cloud service” that synchronizes files between your computers. Unlike most such services, it is extremely easy to use. Once you set it up, you’ll barely notice that it is running. The videos on their site to a better job of explaining what it is and how it works, so check those out. Several of the applications below are included specifically because they can access Dropbox, so keep an eye out for them. (Note: all the links to Dropbox in this post are referral links which will provide me with additional space if you follow them to sign up for Dropbox, essentially giving me a reward for advertising for them. If this bothers you, you should enter the site using this more standard link.)

Apple, of course, also offers a “cloud service” than can sync between devices: iCloud. You have probably had to deal with it already, so I will not say a whole lot about it. It is more tightly integrated with your iOS device than Dropbox is, but also much more specifically targeted (e.g. address book and calendar syncing). I used several other methods for keeping address books and calendars synchronized before iCloud was released. They were all horrible, often losing data like birthdays or duplicating records ad nauseum. So far, iCloud syncing for this kind of data has worked pretty well for me. You can also store and sync files in iCloud. There may come a time where enough apps support this that Dropbox becomes unnecessary, but that doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. By the way, iCloud offers a web interface, which can sometimes be useful.

Connecting your iOS device to the internet involves some choices that can be slightly confusing, because there is no one “best” answer. It depends on your device, your needs and the quality of the options in your area. The iOS supports two different method of data communication. One method—wifi—uses hardware built into every iOS device. The second method—usually referred to as 3G—makes use of cellular phone technology that may be in your device (all iPhones have it and you can get it as on option on an iPad). If you have a cellular connection, you can likely connect to the net almost anywhere, and the main question you have is probably “what carrier to I use?” Seems like the most important factor in making this choice is “how good is the coverage in your area”. Since this varies, I have no single recommendation. If you don’t have a cellular connection (and even if you do), you may also be wondering about where you can find wifi “hotspots” so you can use your device while out and about. You might have more options than you realize. For example, if you get cable, does your cable company offer free wifi to its subscribers in well-traveled spots? (Cablevision does this, for example.)

Macintosh Applications

A few Macintosh applications will let you get a bit more use out of your iOS device. Some of these are also available on Windows or, if not, likely have analogous counterparts on that platform.

Calibre

Free. Calibre provides a semi-iTunes-like interface for organizing, converting and reading electronic books. It contains features specifically for syncing books acquired from sources other than Apple into the iBook application. (It can also do the same with a Kindle or Nook.) It can convert between various formats; however, Calibre cannot display or convert ebook files containing digital rights management (DRM), though it can store and sync them to supported devices. While Calibre is not the most well-polished application in the world, it gets the job done, particularly if you happen to stumble upon some huge trove of .epub files in some dark corner of the internet.

Calibre

Delicious Library

$35. For the anal-retentive in you, this tracks collections of books, DVDs, CDs and so on, letting you scan barcodes (with your computer’s camera or a bar-code scanner) and looking up item information for quick data entry. It can export an iPhone version of the data, so you can lookup stuff in your collection on the go. This has saved me from buying duplicate books or LEGO sets, for example.

Delicious Library

Handbrake

Free. Handbrake is a “video transcoder”. Technically, it can convert various video formats to other video formats, but most people use to to “rip” DVD movies into video files for playing on their computer. It comes with presets for encoding to just the right format for various iOS devices. Note that ripping media for personal use (using Handbrake or even Apple’s iTunes to rip CDs) is a legal grey area. Current copyright law neither prohibits nor allows it, and no body of case law yet exists. Handbrake, however, may violate the insipid Digital Millennium Copyright Act because it circumvents the (very lame) encryption on commercial DVDs which otherwise prevents you from using the media you paid for in a manner you like. This law applies only to the manufacture and distribution of circumvention tools, however, not their use for non-infringing purposes.

Handbrake

iExplorer

Free. Your iOS device is, among other things, a storage device. This application allows you to mount that storage and browse the files contained within. This lets you copy, delete and rename files from the main storage area of the device. Note that this does not give you access to the real directory root of the device (which contains the OS and such), though, if your device has been “jailbroken”, it can do so. You still get a lot of power without jailbreaking.

iExplorer