Geek it up with GeekTool

Something I’ve not done in a long time, especially after switching to Macs, is customise my desktop. I remember when I had a PC, I used to love tweaking the UI with apps such as WindowBlinds, IconPackager and ObjectDock. I’m reasonably happy with the Mac UI so haven’t had the desire to change much other than a slight tweak to the dock and the menubar icons. But this has all been done without resorting to any drastic changes or 3rd party apps.
Recently I came across GeekTool which is a system preferences module for OS X and can display system logs, unix command outputs and images on your desktop. This information can appear as embedded in your desktop or in front of other windows.
It’s a light-weight app and if used creatively, can allow you to enhance the already elegant OS X visual look. Once installed, it appears at the bottom of your System Preferences. It’s reasonably straight forward to use and you need to be familiar with unix commands.
Groups are listed in a dropdown on the left. You create a group of as many elements as you like and only one group can be active at any one time. An element can be the output of a file, a unix/shell command or an image. Text output (from a file or command) can be formatted to any font, size and colour. When you add a new element, a semi-transparent placeholder for it appears on the desktop, which can be dragged around or resized with the mouse. You can also enter the precise size and coordinates in the window. There is also an option to always display this element on top of other windows.
That is basically, all there is to it. The rest is up to the imagination of the user, how creative they want to get with it. Some examples I have seen display really nice weather output, including graphics. Whereas other examples are so geeked up, with massive file outputs covering the entire desktop, that it looks like a complete mess. I didn’t want to do anything drastic and followed the example from a LifeHacker article to create a nice desktop displaying basic information.


Flogr is a great web app that allows you to create a photo blog based on your Flickr entries. You download the application and install it in your web server. The configuration is pretty minimal – point it to your Flickr account and that’s about it. You then have a really nice photo blog set-up ready to be customised.

The theme is fully changeable via CSS so the look and feel is totally in your control. The real options are around the photo’s you bring back from Flickr. You can bring all, a set or filter via a tag. I’ve chosen the tag route as it means I can pick photo’s from any of my sets to display. The sites I’ve set-up can be found here. One issue is that the photo’s can take a while to load from Flickr so I intend to set-up a mysql database locally and store the photo’s there instead. You can also view sets and a tag cloud on your Flogr installation and by selecting a photo the metadata and comments from Flickr are displayed.

This is the solution I’ve always wanted – photo’s hosted on Flickr but key ones picked up and displayed on a separate blog. Lovely app that’s free to download and enjoy.

DigitalOutbox Episode 6

DigitalOutbox Episode 6
In this episode the team discuss Google Chrome OS, O2 and Twitter sitting in a tree, Prowl and push notifications and a special look at Plex, a media centre for the Mac.

Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

– Google Chrome OS
– Very little announced –
– FAQ –
– If it is really cloud based computing, where is the onine infrastructure to cope with photo libraries, music, graphics, itunes library etc
– Rumours of Microsoft announcement on Monday forcing Googles hand – Office in the cloud? It is – Office 2010 with Excel, Word, Powerpoint in the cloud. App’s are free, more feature rich than Google.
– Targetting netbooks first, lightweight computing, targeting people who spend most time on the web. Only beginning
– Open source and free
– Will current Windows app’s run on it? Or is it a brand new platform to be developed against
– The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform.
– No details
– Lots of competition from MS, Apple, Linux + things like Jolicloud –
– Hardware partners – Acer, Adobe, Asus, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments
– Downloadable version by year end, first netbooks late 2010

– Google out of beta
– Finally
– Enterprise push? – – guess so.

– O2 Free replies and DM’s to your mobile
– From 1st August
– Some fair usage applied – try to keep under 600 a month
– Tests to twitter will be as part of your normal bundle

– Games
– 1 vs 100 – July 10th on Xbox Live –
– Battlefield 1943 – woes…

– Apple
– Touchscreen Netbook Rumour
– October, $800, 10 inch screen
– Camera’s on iPods?
– Natural progression
– Video assumed – game changer for devices like Flip?
– Apple in talks with T-Mobile and Orange -explains the O2 – Palm Pre decision
– Appstore is 1!
– Prowl
– Growl notifications form your Mac pushed to your iphone.
– Limitless applications of this – file transfer complete, chat requests, e-mails, system activity, backups complete etc etc etc
– Register on prowl site, client on the Mac
– Useful but potentially spammy
– Can set to send only when mac is idle
– TwitVid
– Free
– Add video to twitter – posts link to your uploaded video
– BoxCar
– £1.19
– Push notifications for mentions and DM
– System for push notifications doesn’t scale – nothing to differentiate between notifications

– Mac media player
– based on XBMC
– Setup – clumsy, awkward
– Careful with file naming
– movies
– tv

– mkv2vob – current version 2.4.6
– mkv2vob will remux MKV files with H.264 video and AC3 audio to a VOB file which is playable on the Sony PS3
– – 40 years since apollo 11

DigitalOutbox Episode 5

DigitalOutbox Episode 5
In this episode the team discuss the Pirate Bay, iPhone app’s, game news and a bit more on Mobileme.

Listen via iTunes
Listen via M4A
Listen via MP3

– Pirate Bay Sold
– You can buy shares in the company
– New trackers – originally closing tracker but then moving to new tracker tech
– Monitisation options
– Potentially massive implications – TBP tracker contains over half of all torrent users
– We would like to introduce models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid for content that is downloaded via the site
– Talking to the BBC, Pandeya said that he plans to make legal file sharing (which is what The Pirate Bay will be focused on from now on) more attractive than illegal file sharing by paying the users for sharing files. He also plans to pay the content providers that provide the files, and he plans to raise money from the ISPs by reducing their traffic overload.
– “Let’s say a popular song comes out. Rather than a million downloads from a site – which would cause a considerable strain on that ISP – we can take that song and put it out on P2P,” he says.
– Spokesman for Global Gaming Factory X said they would remove all illegally hosted content – but Pirate Bay has none according to their legal argument, no?
– Sounds like Napster 2………but is it bull? PirateBay do like to play games.

– One size fits all mobile charger in Europe
– Phones won’t come with charger, buy one if you need one
– MicroUSB to be standard
– Not legal, voluntary
– Under the accord, the companies, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Apple, Motorola, Research in Motion and Samsung, are committed to developing the charger.90% of euro market

– News
– Poor Palm Pre build quality:
– Palm Pre coming to O2
– XHTML2 is officially dead, HTML5 is the new king
– – Gadget site – review/wikipedia for gadgets, users control specs, review, aggregator – already a big community
– That Microsfot ad –

– iPhone/Mac
– Steve Jobs officially back at work
– Birdfeed: yet another Twitter app for iPhone, £2.99, caching
– iPhone 3GS jailbreak with PurpleRa1n
– Augmented reality using 3GS compass
– Pocket Universe
– Plot position of planets, stars, constellation outlines
– Nearest Tube
– Still to be approved
– Another giant robot in Japan, Wakamatsu park will get a Tetsujin robot in October
– F-22 Raptor photographed going super sonic

– Games
– Fable III ? rumours
– Worms 2 – Fantastic update
– Battlefield 1943 – Wed 8th July, 7 years since 1942, three maps with 4th released once 43 million kills have been registered

– Mobileme
– Do you use
– Whats good and bad
– Ease of use
– Calendar sync
– Contacts
– Bookmarks
– iDisk
– Photo Gallery
– Online tools
– Application sync
– Back to my mac
– Find My iPhone
– Alternatives
– Costs?

– GeekTool –
– GeekTool is a PrefPane (System Preferences module) for Panther or Tiger to show system logs, unix commands output, or images (i.e. from the internet) on your desktop (or even in front of all windows). Use File mode to monitor MacOS X activity with /var/tmp/console.log or /var/log/system.log, or Shell mode to launch custom scripts or commands like “df” to check space left on filesystems, “uptime” to monitor load of your machine… FInally, Image mode helps you monitor bandwith usage, CPU loads, memory availability of your server, via tools like MRTG or RRD.
(closest Windows equivalent – Rainmeter
– Flogr –

X Lossless Decoder

I’ve struggled for a while to find a decent lossless converter and ripper for the Mac – X Lossless Decoder (XLD) is finally an answer for those issues. This is a free app that has a very simple front end that will allow conversion from and to:

  • (Ogg) FLAC (.flac/.ogg)
  • Monkey’s Audio (.ape)
  • Wavpack (.wv)
  • TTA (.tta)
  • Apple Lossless (.m4a) [10.4 and later]
  • AIFF, WAV, etc

The conversion from Flac to Apple Lossless was extremely quick. In fact it was so quick I thought it had failed but I was wrong – the quality is excellent too. XLD also rip’s CD’s in to a lossless format of your choosing and again it does this pretty quickly. With support for MusicBrainz and also tags in Flac I’ve been impressed with just how flexible the app is. The front end is functional but to be honest that’s all you really need. XLD – a very handy tool to have installed.

Dropbox – online storage

dropbox logo

Dropbox is a brilliant and extremely useful online storage service. Online storage services aren’t anything new and what makes Dropbox special is it’s ease of use, speed and how it seamlessly integrates with your host operating system.

Basic account registration is free and you get an instant 2GB storage. Invite your friends and every friend that joins earns you (and your friend) an extra 250MB up to a maximum of 3GB in addition to your initial 2GB.

Pro 50 account provides 50GB storage and costs $9.99 per month or $99 annually. Pro 100 account provides 100GB storage at a cost of $19.99 monthly or $199 annually.

The service can be used as a simple online storage tool via a web browser, to upload files from one computer and then access those files via a browser from another computer. But Dropbox is much more than that – it can be used to share files/folders with other people, keep your data synchronised between multiple computers and easily create online photo albums.

The best way to use it is to install it on your computer, where it seamlessly integrates with Finder/Explorer. Once installed, it can be used just like a regular folder and you can add sub-folders and files to it. When a file is added, it instantly starts to synchronise with the online service, freeing the user to carry on working on other tasks. This is a brilliant tool for users with multiple computers, who want to keep certain data files synched. Store such files in your Dropbox folder and you don’t have to concern yourself with uploading files from one computer and then downloading to another. It all happens automatically without any user intervention.

Files added to the special Public sub-folder can be shared with others – just right-click on the file, copy the public URL and send the link to whoever you want to share the file with.

If you’re working on a project, create a shared folder for storing documents and invite collaborators to share this folder. Uploaded changes are instantly visible to other project members. As soon as one collaborator modifies the contents of the shared folder, the changes are automatically pushed to other collaborators’ Dropbox folders instantly, brilliant! Accidentally deleted files can be easily recovered.

Another really nice feature is that any images added to the special Photos folder are automatically created in to simple photo albums, with public URLs available for sending to friends and families.

Have a look at the tour for full details and explanation of the service. There is also a screencast available which clearly shows all the major features.