Drag your Drawers with Afloat

Drag your Drawers with AfloatAfloat is a Cocoa plug-in that allows your windows to float above all others (thus the name), make them transparent, and move them without having to go search for the title bar. This last feature is what I use the most. And I was quite amazed when I realized that I can detach and move the drawers of Cocoa windows as well. Watch the screencast for an illustration. That’s quite a useful thing since I can place them now like regular tool palettes.

When checking out Afloat, make sure you fully utilize its key/mouse bindings. While pressing Cmd-Ctrl use the mouse wheel to increase/decrease transparency, or move the mouse to drag the window.


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Producing Screencastings on the Mac. The cheap Way.

After having read the great article “A Review of Video Screen Capture Software for Mac OS X”, I have finally selected iShowU as my tool of choice for recording my screencastings under Mac OS X. (I tried Snapz Pro X, but it’s not a Universal binary…)

iShowU is a nice tool with a focus strictly on recording. But what about enhancing the movie? Well, of course there are add-ons like OmniDazzle, Mouseposé and others that you can use during recording. These effects really show off. But I mean something for a quick post-editing, like voice-over and text boxes or bubbles.

Enhancing Screencasting It turned out that all tools I was longing for were already installed on my Mac, but I just haven’t been aware. First of all, GarageBand is great for adding voice-over, sound effects and background music. Put each of them into a separate track, adjust volumes, add effects (I like my voice a little deeper…). A perfect, very capable tool, easy too use. 100% Mac-like. And then Quicktime, well, the Pro edition. It has some features that make it a perfect match: text tracks and image tracks with a multitude of options, like transparency, effects and positions. The multi-track editor of Quicktime Pro is not so intuitive, but quite capable. It supports export to mp4, which produces perfect and small movies. For more fancy formats, like Flash (FLV), ffmpegX is the free tool of choice. See the posting “Flash Movie Conversion for Mac OS X” and “How to encode FLV” for an elaborate discussion.

I’ve uploaded my first Screencast to Youtube.com. It shows Quicktime Pro and how to enhance a screencast by adding text tracks and nice speech bubbles (really image tracks with a bubble exported from OmniGraffle; again, shipped with your Mac).

Quicktime Alternatives?

The alternatives to Quicktime Pro would be iMovie HD and Final Cut. Well, iMovie HD is targeted for editing DV material; one show stopper for me was the lack of support for custom dimensions, like 200 x 100. This is also true for Final Cut Express. The next issue with iMovie HD was the inferior export quality. As a result, this leaves only Final Cut Pro as a valid alternative, but it’s way too expensive for me.

Optimal Settings for Exporting Quicktime to Youtube.com

Quicktime Export to YoutubeWhen publishing videos from Quicktime (i.e. .mov files) to Youtube.com, I had to tune the export settings. I’ve taken screenshots of the optimal settings (Photo set on Flickr.com). Without these, my uploaded videos always had some nasty artefacts caused by Youtube’s automatic conversion. (BTW, Youtube can digest a lot of video formats; it always converts them to mp4, NTSC/4, 320×240, 15fps with audio as MP3 at 22050 kHz. The video format is FLV.) But why export at all, and not just upload the .mov file? My .mov files had seperate tracks, which is fine usually, but Youtube only recognizes some of them; specifically it drops text and image tracks, and also video/sound tracks that are positioned at a specific starting time. I can collapse all tracks to just one audio and one video track by exporting to, for example, MP4.

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Random Macbook Shutdowns. Solved. At Last. Hopefully.

Some friends of mine have this nasty issue with their Macbook; it’s shutting down spontanously. Apple’s support forum is full of postings from users seeking solutions, and a web site is just dedicated to this problem. Now, a German news site has posted an article about an IT engineer from Munich, Germany (my hometown! Prost!). It is stated that he has located the problem which is a result of pure physics. The phenomenon seems to be caused by the cable between the heat sensor and the CPU’s heat sink being too short.

Macbook Shutdown VideoThe heat sink expands during operation and gets into contact with the sensor cable and melts the cable’s isolation. This in turn causes a short circuit and, thus, the immediate shutdown of the Macbook. As the heat sink is cooling down, the heat sink contracts to the point that it looses its contact with the cable and breaks up the short circuit. You can now boot again. Just until the processor heats up and the heat sink and the cable have contact again…

If this proves to be the reason then there might be a quick fix, specifically you would not have to exchange your mainboard or RAM.

Update: Besides being picked up by digg.com (again), the news is published by the major German Heise Newsticker (incl. 400+ comments).

Update 2: Apple officially acknowledges Macbook Random Shutdowns. See my blog article.

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Incredible 2D Images using NodeBox (Intel Binary!)

Recently, I’ve been busy exploring 2d graphics algorithms for generating great looking logos, wallpapers, and backgrounds. The article “Blog Redesign” drew my attention to a great tool on Mac OS X. NodeBox is an open-source application for programming 2-dimensional graphics and animation in the Python language. NodeBox lets the user focus on coding graphics without worrying about the underlying technology.

NodeBox ScreenshotIt is based on another open-source project, DrawBot, and is inspired by technologies like OpenGL and PostScript. This means NodeBox is based on vector graphics rather than pixels. As such it’s an excellent tool for generating 2D graphics intended for print, and in particular typographic experiments. NodeBox can generate PDF documents that can easily be used in Adobe Illustrator or any professional vector graphics package. NodeBox can also generate QuickTime movies for animations.

If you’re curious, the NodeBox Gallery shows off some good-looking sketches. Tom de Smedt, one of NodeBox’s authors, has published two good examples: Supercurly uses the modular font Superveloz by Andreu Balius to construct organic compositions, while Photobjects is a database of images which can be queried for images connected to certain keywords. These are then used to create randomized collages of images.
Prism is an algorithm for creating a color palette on any subject. It uses the internet as a semantic database.

NodeBox is available in version 1.0 release candidate 7, and is sophisticated enough to count as a real production tool. However, NodeBox is compiled only as a PowerPC binary for Mac OS X. As a proud owner of a new Intel-based Macbook, I’ve been looking for a way to compile the source (included in the download) as a binary for Intel-based Macs.

So read on for the required steps to compile and build it yourself, or just download my build, NodeBox 1.0rc7 Intel Binary for Mac OS 10.4.

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DTrace comes to Mac OS X Leopard

The keynote of the much anticipated Apple WWDC 2006 is over and besides revealing the features of the upcoming Mac OS X Leopard, Apple has announced Xcode 3.0. This is the primary IDE and developer toolset for Mac OS X. The feature preview of Xcode 3.0 gives some information about a new tool named Xray. It visualizes metrics gathered from the instrumentation of applications, and possibly of the OS itself — I quote: "such Xray instruments leverage the open source DTrace, now built into Mac OS X Leopard". It seems Apple has ported the DTrace framework from Sun’s OpenSolaris or from FreeBSD to Mac OS X! Wow, this is really great news. I use DTrace regularly for tracking performance problems under Solaris and it’s a fantastic system.

Dtrace in XCodeDTrace enables performance tuning with applications and troubleshoot production systems — all with little or no performance impact. DTrace also provides improved visibility into kernel and application activity, giving the user operational insights with which they can make performance gains. Here are some examples to illustrate the power of DTrace for application and system diagnosis: Using DTrace to Profile and Debug A C++ Program, DTrace How To Guides, DTrace Tools and Top Ten DTrace Scripts. Did I mention the J2SE 6.0 built-in Dtrace Support? And for the seriously interested, the original Usenix paper about DTrace, "Dynamic Instrumentation of Production Systems" (2004), and the ACM Queue article "Hidden in Plain Sight" (2006) give valueable details on its motivation and concepts.

Update: $<blog in its entry DTrace on MacOS X at WWDC gives some more details on the DTrace integration into Mac OS X Leopard.

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Scientific Plotting on Mac OS X (Intel) using Gnuplot and Plot

Gnuplot under AquaTermAfter having successfully moved my LaTeX publishing environment to the new Macbook, all that was left was a working Intel build of gnuplot 4.1.0 (which has some nice new features over 4.0). This was actually not quite easy, so I’m going to document my steps for producing a Universal Binary of Gnuplot 4.1 here for future reference.

You might also take a look at Plot. It’s a first-rate freeware plotting tool with some really great features (think ProFit or GRACE), AppleScript support, and a full-blown layout engine. All this is nicely integrated in a great looking Mac OS X GUI. I really love it.

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PDFs available for JavaOne 2006 Sessions

Check out the JavaOne 2006 Conference Session Catalog. Presentation files available for download are indicated with a paperclip icon. After clicking on a paperclip, you will be prompted to enter the following Username “contentbuilder” and Password “doc789”.

Tip: Use a mass download tool like FlashGet, which can use the given username and password for all accesses — saves you a lot of typing.

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