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Archive for August, 2006

Reminder Emails To Your Mac

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For a long time, I have been searching for a way to get email reminders sent to me. I wanted reminders for things like changing my air filter every two months or sending a check for my gym membership on the 23rd of each month. Up until this point, I have been using two means to do this.

  1. A Cron Script: I wrote a cron script and put it on my server to send me an email each morning reminding me to write in my journal. This has been very reliable. However, it really only works well for emails you want mailed more than once. For instance, it would be an absolute pain to write one just to remind me to watch for the shooting stars on the 26th of September.
  2. iCal Events: iCal is very easy to work in. I keep an eye on my upcoming week using the iCal Events Widget. But in regards to sending email alerts, there are two big flaws. First, if you are syncing your iCal calendars between two Macs, you’ll get an email from each one. And second, in order for the emails to be sent the Mac has to awake, connected to the internet, and open Mail.app. This is not good, especially for those with laptops. If you go camping for a week and leave your laptop closed at home you won’t get any emails sent as reminders. So, if you have it set to send a text to your phone you’re out of luck. But, when you come home and open your laptop, Mail.app will immediately open and send you all the alerts from the last week…even though they are in the past.

I needed something different. At first I looked for some software that could do it. That would eliminate a couple problems, but I’d still have the same problem with closed laptops.

Next, I looked online for sites offering this service. There were a few options out there, but without fail they were either too complex or too underpowered. The registration was usually tedious and the service sometimes sketchy.

After failing to find a good option I thought I’d have to settle for unplanned life of missing meetings and forgetting to backup my computer.

But finally, I found a solution that really works. And it should have been the most obvious one of all. Google Calendar

I always preferred keeping my calendars in iCal so I can view it offline as well. But for email reminders, Google is top notch. It’s free. It’s easy to put in new events. It’s reliable. I’m not giving my email address to some no name, one service company. Even if you don’t use a Gmail address as your main address, you can make one specifically for reminders and set for it to forward all messages to your real email address.

It has been wonderful.

Here are the steps:

First, you’ll want to be sure that Notifications are enabled. Just log into Google Calendar, click on “Settings” and then “Notifications”. You can choose to receive it by email, SMS, or Pop-UP.

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Second, Create a new event.

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Third, Fill in the information. You can fill in what, when, and where. You can choose to repeat the event weekly, monthly, or on a set schedule.

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Fourth, Drop down the options and choose when you would like a reminder sent to you.

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It just can’t be easier than that. I use it for everything, big and small. Meetings, sports games I don’t want to miss, which day I need to send in my truck payment (with the address and account number in the description). I let these emails sit in my inbox until I take care of them.

I hope this is just as useful to you.

Mac Server Series: Setting Up VNC On Your Mac

In this episode, we see how to set up VNC on your Mac Server.

VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing. It allows you to “take over” the screen of your server and work as if you were sitting in front of your server. This is useful in maintaining your server, and also helping out your family or friends on their computer issues.

This tutorial will show how to set up the VNC server and the VNC client.

Shownotes:

Wikipedia: VNC- More on how VNC works
OSXVnc- A free VNC server. This is only necessary for those running Pre-Tiger OS X and those who want to set up more than one machine on the same network.
Chicken Of The VNC The free VNC client used in the tutorial
IP Widget- A very useful widget to find the ip address of your machine. Works equally well on your parent’s machine.

You can watch this tutorial here

No To My Order Again? (Update)

About seven months ago, I wrote a post on this blog about being turned down when I needed to order a large batch of minis. I was told they couldn’t take large orders at that time. Six days later, the new Intel mini was released. It then made sense.

Well, guess what just happened again.

I needed to order another bunch to use as Mac mini servers (and to add to my great wall of Apple boxes) but I was told by the reseller (name withdrawn so they don’t get in trouble) that they can’t take big orders (again), but after Labor Day they’d be able to ship plenty of the new model.

New model? What?

I know Apple releases very little, even to their resellers, but this is interesting. AppleInsider did report that Apple (was) to refocus on consumers post Labor Day. A new mini to dock the new iPod maybe?

Let’s see if FreeMacBlog can call it again.

(Update: Since this posting. Appleinsider has recognized this post and added a second conformation.)

Mac Options For Capturing A Video of Your Screen

Since I started working on the video series for Mac servers, I had the opportunity to try out a few different application for video screen captures. Some are good, some are better. Here are the Mac screen recorder options I found and what I thought of them.

ScreenRecord

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Website: http://www.miensoftware.com/screenrecord.html
Price: $19.95
Demo: No time limit but “Demo Version” appears on movie

The product had a few neat options like the ability to stream to a DV camera and updated feedback on free disk space. The program can also record audio and full screen. The only problem was that it crashed on me everytime I tried to record a movie. I am on an Intel iMac and this app is not a Universal Binary. It doesn’t seem to run under Rosetta at all.

FreeMacBlog Score: 2/10 It may be a nice Mac screen recorder, but it needs to be updated to work with Intel Macs.

Screen Movie Recorder

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Website: http://alphaomega.software.free.fr/screenmovierecorder
Price: $18.83 (15 Euros)
Demo: Time Limit On Movies

This application has a very easy interface. There are three options to choose from upon startup. You can choose the frame recording speed, you can chose to have the recording follow the mouse and you can choose whether to show the mouse or display it as a cross. Personally, I had a hard time seeing the cross on the recording so I’d prefer to keep the mouse as the regular icon, but I don’t think that is an option.

You start the recording with the item in the menu bar. This menu item gives feedback. Green means ready, Red means recording, yellow means encoding. As soon as you start, you’ll be asked to draw the size of your frame and then off you go. Once you are done, the encoding is fast, but Quicktime is the only option.

I didn’t like the fact that there was no audio recording option. Also, the Application needs to stay in the dock while you are recording.

FreeMacBlog Score: 7/10 – Easy interface. Needs audio recording and a hot key combo for recording start. Mouse should be visible if desired.

Screen Mimic

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Website: http://www.polarian.com/products/ScreenMimic.php
Price: $24.95
Demo: 15 second movies only

The obvious advantage this app has is the ability to export the movie as SWF, FLV, and Quicktime. This is great for those who prefer to use flash for size and compatibility. However, there is no audio recording option.

You can choose whether to record a certain area, just one window, or the whole screen and recording is started with a key combination. But, the application stays there in the dock while recording. I like the fact that the frame rate is chose automatically because sometimes that is hard to gauge for inexperienced users.

When you are finished with the movie, the encoding is pretty quick. You can choose to save the movie in all three formats at once. Also, once it is finished, the app gives you the chance to take a look at the movie. If it is not what you were looking for, you can re-encode it changing the frame rate and the mouse settings.

FreeMacBlog Score: 8/10 The flash output is a huge benefit. Also, I like the second chance encoding options. I’d really like to see a audio recording option and a more lenient demo.

iShowU

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Website: http://shinywhitebox.com/home/features/features.html
Price: $20
Demo: Large text on video recording

The first thing you notice about this app is the ability to set presets. This is incredibly useful. You can have different ones for podcasts, online tutorials, Love CPU Usage, etc. There are three there by default, but you can add as many as you’d like.

You have the option to record different quality levels of audio (with visual feedback and AAC compression), and can encode the video with any of a large list of options. (H.264 by default) You can choose whether or not to record the mouse. Also, you can slow the capture rate when the mouse is not moving. This is great for while you are just talking. It keeps the final file size down.

There are four capture sizes to choose from, you can can drag the corners to your desired size. You have full control over whether iShowU has an icon in the dock, automatically hides itself when you begin recording and whether or not it shows up in the status bar.

FreeMacBlog.com score: 9/10 This Mac screen recorder is close to perfect, but I wish the demo was a little less annoying so you could really see the finished video.

Snapz Pro X

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Website: http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/
Price: $69
Demo: 30 days unlimited, with annoying pop-ups

This is the grand daddy of video screen capture programs, but personally I think it is being surpassed. First, there is no Universal Binary for this app. It ran fine under Rosetta on my Intel iMac, but it wouldn’t start up at all on my MacBook.

The demo on this product is very giving. They really let you try it out. There are a ton of options to tweak…maybe too many. Personally, I don’t like the way it takes over your regular screen capture. I prefer an application that I can start up when I need to record my screen, and then quit when I’m done.

I do like that the application runs headless and records audio.

The encoding take a LONG time when you are finished with your video. I suppose this has to do with the fact that it is running under Rosetta for me. The finished product does look good though, and I like that you can change the size in encoding. (For example, have the movie be 60% actual size)

FreeMacBlog Score: 6/10 I may catch some heat for this low score, but I just think the app is too all-encompasing when you just want to do a quick video or two. The lack of support for Intel is going to be more and more obvious as people switch over. Also, the price is incredibly high. (Update: 6/28, They have now released a new version of Snapz Pro X. It is not Universal, but it is said to perform better on Intel Macs.)

Final Conclusion
When I started looking for video recording options, I didn’t know there were this many Mac screen recorder options out there. After trying them all, I think I’ll stick with iShowU. The developer offers a good product at a good price. Also, he is quick to offer support. The second option would be Screen Mimic, especially if you are intending to work with flash videos.

When it comes down to it, I’d love to see this ability included in Mac OS X.

(Are you a digg user? Please digg this article)

Mac Server Series: Enable The Web Server

In the first episode we looked at how to do the initial set up of your Mac as a server. Be sure to watch that video first.

In this episode, we’ll look at how to turn on personal web sharing so you can host a website from your machine. Also, we’ll look at the steps to have that website seen on the world wide web.

In this episode, I mentioned a few URL’s that may be of interest to the readers. Here are the Shownotes.

Macminicolo.net- The most popular and easiest way to host your Mac. Macminicolo.net offer very inexpensive colocation of your Mac. The service provides a very fast connection, a static ip address, and great customer service. (Patting myself on the back.)

Apache Server Info – Apple includes an install of Apache Web Server on all Mac OS X clients. This link will teach you more about the power that is Apache.
DynDNS.com – Helping those with a Dynamic (changing) IP address still be seen from the web, this service will give you a free hostname to use instead of your ip.
DynDNS Updater Client – helps you keep your most recent ip address on DynDNS.com
PortForward.com- The best way to host a website is with a machine that is hooked directly to the internet. But, if you are using a router on your local network there is still a way. You will need to use “port forwarding”. This site explains clearly how to do it with all kinds of routers. You’ll just want to forward port 80 to your machine.
WebMon an inexpensive but VERY powerful application to really get your Web Server working well. While the process in the video is free, this application is another way that may be worth the $15. We’ll likely look at this application in a future tutorial.

The video can be seen here

RSS Feed For Server Series

I have received quite a few requests for an RSS feed that is specifically for the Mac Server Series of videos. ( I won’t take offense on the rest of our posts.)

For those of you who would like to subscribe specifically to the Mac Server Series, you can use the following RSS feed.

http://feeds.feedburner.com/FMBServerSeries

The next video will be out on Monday.

(If you don’t know about RSS feeds, please read our description of NetNewsWire Lite. It explains RSS feeds and how they can really benefit you.)

My Podcast Alley feed! {pca-a201f203c59d02b96307af3de669776d}