El Capitan is here. Servers will likely be running slow most of the day, so perhaps spend the afternoon backing up your Mac before updating. Or, you can read the obscenely thorough Ars Technica review of El Capitan.
If you use Mac OS X’s built-in speech service to read text back to you, you’re going to love this little gem!
Dictator is a free add-on that enhances built-in speech services by adding a progress indicator, a teleprompter (for reading along with the audio if you wish), and control audio with play, pause, and skip forward by sentence or paragraph controls.
To use Dictator, you simply select some text in any Services supported app (pretty much every app), right-click and choose Dictate from the menu.
I started using an extension for Safari on my iMac a while back called Ghostery. It basically blocks tracking cookies and other obnoxious little things. It’s not an ad blocker, but it not only speeds up website load times, it’ll protect your privacy as well. It’s awesome, and I recommend you get Ghostery for the Mac right away.
Flash forward to yesterday when I finally got around to trying some content blockers for iOS9 on my iPhone 6Plus. I tried several, including one that was more than the price of a cup of coffee. Let me tell you that almost every single one of them available on the App Store absolutely sucks. Then I came across a Tweet about yet another content blocker—but this one caught my eye because it also mentioned Ghostery.
Turns out, Marco Arment (creator of Instapaper and Overcast) has an iOS 9 content blocker called Peace for only $2.99.
What got me to buy it immediately was that A) The screenshots looked much more polished and easier to use than the other apps. And B) Marco has an exclusive deal with Ghostery to use their database as the foundation for Peace’s ability to block trackers. And really, that’s what sold me.
What it does
Peace blocks ads, trackers, social media buttons and other mobile web annoyances. You can configure with a simple slider if you want those social media buttons blocked, as well as most web comment systems and a site’s use of web fonts. All of those things can really slow a web page down, something I can overlook on an uber-fast desktop cable connection but is absolutely infuriating on mobile. As a bonus, Peace can install a set of Share Sheet extensions that allow further access to the app’s capabilities.
Peace isn’t perfect, by any means. Some ads still get through. And sometimes it’ll block things you don’t want blocked. But peace will allow you to add domains to a whitelist if they don’t work properly, or you simply love a site and want to support it by not blocking anything.
Want proof it’s working?
If you buy it and really want to see what it does, may I recommend you visit MacDailyNews before and after installing. At any given time, the site can have around 25 banner ads and a list of trackers as long as my arm. The page loads slow even on a fast cable connection, but on mobile it’s excruciatingly slow. So much so that I often just skip right over any link that points to the site. After I installed Peace, I went to the MacDailyNews homepage. I was shocked when it loaded almost instantly. Of course, almost every one of the ads and all the trackers were blocked, and that’s why it loaded so quickly.
UPDATE: Marco Arment (the developer) has pulled his app from the App Store after having some regrets. If you managed to buy Peace before it was removed, you can request a refund, or continue to use the app until such time that Apple updates iOS to the point that the app no longer works.
By now you’ve heard the news that Mozilla is finally in testing phase with Firefox for iOS. And you may have noticed that AdBlock (the popular desktop browser extensions) is releasing their own AdBlock Browser as well. Google has Chrome for iOS, and I believe iCab still has a heartbeat.
I have to wonder though, why bother? Until you can change the default browser on iOS; something Apple isn’t likely to allow any time soon, you WILL be using Safari at least once per day whether you want to or not. Simply because nobody is going to want to copy/paste URLs from email or text message just so they can be viewed in a browser other than mobile Safari. And let’s face it, Safari on iOS is a pretty damn good browser experience for 99% of users.
So I’m back to wondering what the ‘end-game’ is for companies that make web browsers for iOS. Why bother?
If you’re looking for an affordable (or free) screen recording app for the Mac, you should check out Recordit. As a bonus, you can share your recordings as animated GIF files as well.
There are limitations. The recording is limited to under 5-minutes, no audio is recorded, and your recording is uploaded and shared via the Recordit servers immediately. A pro version allows you to offer private videos for a one-time fee of $30.
If you installed Apple’s latest beta of OS X, El Capitan, you may have noticed the LCD appears to be a bit brighter with less contrast. I didn’t notice a problem until I launched Diablo III and found that it was almost unplayable due to the screen brightness.
After tinkering, I realized that El Capitan has added an option in the Display preferences that allows your Mac to automatically adjust the display based on ambient light. Turning this option off (unchecking) fixed my screen brightness issue.
Because this is an iMac, in an office where I control the lighting, this is probably optimal. However, I haven’t installed the beta on my MacBook Pro, so I’m not sure if the new feature offers benefits to mobile users.
I don’t do a whole lot of video work, but I do throw together quick videos for friends and family. Sometimes editing in iMovie, as simple as it is, is overkill for my needs. That’s why I appreciate simple little apps like Glimpses (formerly known as Briefly) from Eternal Storms Software.
Glimpses’ sole purpose is to quickly and easily create high-quality video montages—dozens, or even hundreds of photos flashing by for fractions of a second, set to music—like the one you see above. Now keep in mind that I paid no attention to the size, shape or resolution of the photos I chose—so don’t judge Glimpses by what you see in the video.
Working with Glimpses
Glimpses couldn’t be easier to use. You simply add a whole bunch of photos to the main window by selecting them from your Photos app collection, dragging from the Finder, or importing them from Flickr or Instagram. Once the photos are in the editing window, you can re-order them any way you wish, including: manually, by date, title or color (a very slick feature).
Once your photos are in order, you choose a soundtrack and set the duration you wish your photos to appear. You can choose anywhere from 0.1 to 4 seconds, or you can let Glimpses figure it out based on the length of your soundtrack. If you set the duration yourself, the soundtrack will fade out when all the photos have been displayed (like the video above). If your soundtrack is too short for the number of photos you have, you can add additional soundtracks, or loop it.
When you’re done, you simply export the video at the resolution you want, ranging from 240p all the way up to 4K. You can also have Glimpses remove any pillars and letter-boxing. But the coolest thing is that Glimpses recognizes faces, and moves the photos to keep them in the frame.
I almost hesitate to call it shortcoming, but the one thing that bothered me was the inability to set any particular photo duration independently of the rest of them. For instance, it would be cool to have the first photo stay up for a second or two while leaving the rest of them set to half a second (or whatever).
You can get around this by placing duplicate photos in the editing window. So if you have your photo duration set to half a second, but you want the first one to stay on screen for five seconds, you simply have to have 10 copies of the photo set to appear in a row. It’s a bit of a pain, but not too difficult to work with. I’ve been in touch with Matthias Gansrigler at Eternal Storms and he tells me that he’s well aware of this limitation, and hopes to address it in a future release if possible.
I really love this little app, it works as advertised and doesn’t try to do too much. I’ve already used Glimpses to create a video greeting card for family, and a product intro video for a client. They were extremely pleased with the quality and speed with which I was able to put it together.
Glimpses requires Mac OS X Yosemite and costs just $24.99 (Mac App Store link). A 15-day demo version is available on the Glimpses product page. If you find iMovie to be overkill for producing montage videos, I highly recommend you give Glimpses a try.
When comparing Evernote and Microsoft OneNote, I must admit that OneNote is infinitely more feature-rich and usable. The only advantage I can find for Evernote is the integration with so many other apps and services.
In fact, I prefer writing in OneNote to MS Word (2011). I hope the newer version of Word is closer in design to OneNote. The interface is so clean and easy to use in OneNote. It just makes sense. It’s the complete opposite of MS Office apps.
Do you use any note-taking apps like Evernote, OneNote, SimpleNote, etc.?