How to use a Mac without hands

Many people have difficulties using a mouse or trackpad because of disabilities or carpal tunnel syndrome/fibromyalgia/tendinitis/upper limb syndrome etc. The solution, as always, is to use your head.

Head Mouse

iTracker is the only Mac head mouse software I know of that actually works. It uses the web camera on your Mac to locate your face, see which way it is moving, and move the mouse pointer accordingly. Sounds weird, but it quickly becomes second nature. After adjusting speed and sensitivity you should be able to reach all corners of the screen just by turning your head.

For clicking you can use a normal mouse/trackpad. I recommend a trackpad with separate mouse buttons, that way you won’t inadvertently move the pointer before clicking. Or you can use dwell clicking, which automatically clicks once when you hold your head – and therefore the pointer – still for a certain amount of time. This way you can control the pointer using only your head. The downside is you have to keep moving your head if you don’t want to click, which can get tiresome after a while. Instead of automatically left clicking you can use a click menu with left clicking, right clicking, middle-clicking, double-clicking and dragging. Continue reading

TextSmith – an application for writing

In The ultimate word processor, I described my ideal application for writing. Here is a much more thorough description of its key features and basic workflow:

http://blog.nottoobadsoftware.com/textsmith/

It’s a bit hard to classify, but here goes:

  • Integrated Writing Environment:
    Like the Integrated Development Environments (IDE) programmers use, it tries to provide writers with all the tools they need, and lets them adapt it to their workflow.
  • Semantic Text Editor:
    It lets you describe what the text means as opposed to how it looks.
  • Word Processor:
    This term is normally used for Word, OpenOffice, Pages etc, but these are more page layout applications than literally “word processors”. TextSmith, with its various plug-ins for importing, transforming and exporting text, can literally perform “word processing”.

But the best description is probably just “Writing Application” (as in; an application for writing).

The ultimate word processor

The ultimate writing software should let you:

  • go back to any previous version of any part of the text.
  • keep different versions of the same part of the text, and easily switch between them.
  • focus on content and structure.
  • write any type of text meant for humans.
  • export to any format imaginable.
  • collaborate with other people.

In May 2004, Adam C. Engst wrote about WriteRight: The Writer’s Word Processor where he laid out his idea of the perfect word processor. Over 6 1/2 years later there is still no such thing. Scrivener is a major leap forward but I feel it is still lacking in some areas, so here I have outlined my own ideas for the perfect writing software. Unfortunately all the good names are taken. The mediocre ones too. So I give you:

Continue reading

Even better UI: Scrivener

Continuing from last week’s ideas for Scrivener‘s corkboard, here are some suggestions for the rest of the application.

Preview when configuring a compile

When it’s time to get my writings out of Scrivener, there will often be a lot of back and forth to get the output just the way I want it. It would save a lot of time if there was an instant preview when configuring the compile settings.

Link to media files

If I drag a movie into the Research folder the entire file is moved into the project. This makes the project file way too big, so instead I create aliases of movies and import them. This works fine, but I lose the ability to play the movie inside Scrivener. It would be nice to have the option to link to media files instead of importing them. I know you can link to files in “Document References”, but then they are hidden away somewhere in the Inspector and easily forgotten.

Export files by drag & drop

I have collected a lot of PDF files in the Research folder, but if I drag them out of Scrivener and onto the desktop nothing happens. I can export using File – Export – Files…, but dragging is quicker and more intuitive.

Automatic syncing

When I open a project that has been synchronised with a folder and there are changes in that folder, Scrivener very helpfully informs me of this and asks if I want to synchronise the changes back into the project. But if I make changes in Scrivener and then close the project without synchronising with the folder first, which I often do, nothing happens. It would make for a better workflow if the synchronisation occurred automatically when opening and closing the project.

Enforce format

This is just nitpicking really, but there could be an option to enforce one text format for a document. That way I can forget about how the text looks and focus on the content. All this boils down to is make “Paste and Match Style” the default action when pasting and dragging text.

Even better UI: Scrivener – The Corkboard

Scrivener is an excellent application and the closest anything has come to a great word processor (as opposed to a page layout application, which is what most word processors really are). Fiction and non-fiction writers alike love it, and I fully recommend it for writing anything longer than a blog post. But it’s so full of functionality and customisation options that it can be a bit unintuitive at times. So here are a few ideas for improvements.

Continue reading

How to import voice memos into Things

I usually write new ideas into the Things app on my iPhone straight away, but sometimes it’s better to just dictate into the Voice Memo app instead of typing. Here’s how you automatically add those voice memos to the Things inbox:

  1. Add the folder /Users/<your username>/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Voice Memos to Hazel.
  2. Enter these settings:

    Here is the script:

    tell application "Things"
       set props to {name:"Voice memo"}
       set newToDo to make new to do with properties props
       set notes of newToDo to "[filepath=" & POSIX path of theFile & "]TITLE[/filepath]"
    
    end tell
    

Now, every time you make a voice memo on the iPhone and connect it to your computer a note titled “voice memo” with a link to the sound file will be added to the inbox in Things.

If you don’t have Hazel you can achieve the same thing by setting up a folder action on the voice memos folder. But you will have to modify the script.

Auto-saving in OS X

As I mentioned a week ago, I have a strong dislike for the “Save” dialogue boxes that pop up every time you close a document. It seems someone at Apple, and by someone I mean you–know–who, agrees with me. The next version of Mac OS X will include auto-saving and applications will automatically resume where they were when they closed.

In other words; just like on the iPhone. This looks very promising, as long as they still let the rest of us organise our own work in whatever way we want. The iPhone way of having each document exist “inside” the application that created it works fine for casual use, but for any project or task that requires the use of more than one application it is very restricting. We need to be able to keep different types of files that belong together in the same place.

I’m not quite sure how this is going to work though. So lets say you open TextEdit for the first time. An empty document appears. You type some text, move and resize the window, and close the application. Without being asked any questions about saving, name or location. Later you open TextEdit again, and it opens exactly the way it was when you closed it, with the window in the same position and the same size, and the same text inside it. This is as it always should have been.

But then you close the document. Then what? Does the application close too now that there are no documents open? And where can you find the document again? Will all applications come with their own built-in libraries?

If you want to move the document while it’s still open I guess you can select “Move to…” from the “File” menu. Which will have plenty of free space now that the “Save” and “Save as…” items are gone.

Seeing as many (most?) casual computer users don’t really understand the concept of files and folders I hope Apple succeeds in bringing some of the simplicity and usability of the iPhone platform over to the Mac, but without sacrificing the flexibility that easy access to the filesystem provides for the rest of us.

Dumbest question ever

Some survey once showed that the dumbest question known to mankind is “Are you sleeping?” I don’t get it. That seems like a perfectly valid question. If you get no answer it means “yes” and if you get any answer at all it means “no”. Couldn’t be simpler.

No the dumbest question ever must surely be this one:

It is also probably the one question computer users are asked most often. I feel this most pointless of all questions can only be properly answered like this (click to enlarge):

I recently started using Scrivener, and it is intelligent enough to just assume that you want to keep your changes when you close a document; it automatically saves while you’re working on it. It also assumes that you are intelligent enough to use the “undo” command if you have made changes you don’t want to keep. I wish more applications would have this kind of confidence in its users.

Dragon Dictate 2.0 for the Mac

I have been a bit harsh on MacSpeech in the past, but since then they have been bought by Nuance (makers of the excellent Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation software for Windows). If there is anyone who can finally release a decent dictation application for the Mac, it’s them. And recently they released the rebranded Dragon Dictate 2.0. Looking forward to finally not having to launch Windows in Parallels Desktop every time I want to dictate something, this of course filled me with much joy and hope. But judging by MacSpeech’s own forums this version has caused a lot of problems for many people, first and foremost because of a bug which crashes the application when you launch it! After making absolutely sure that I can indeed get my money back within the first 30 days if the application is not working properly and am therefore in no way running the risk of giving even more money to MacSpeech for a faulty product, I bought and installed it. The aforementioned bug was easily avoided by leaving the start-up mode to “Idle – Microphone off”.

Here are the results of the first test:

She sells seashells by the seashore.

Impressive. How about this one:

How much would be debuted chuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood
How much would with a booby-trapped truck if it would chop the truck would
How much would really would truck truck even good truck woodchuck would

The first one was pretty close, the rest not so much, but in all fairness it’s a very tough phrase. And all in all the accuracy is outstanding. Even better than Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10, which is only natural considering it is using the same underlying engine as Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11. The editing commands are at first confusing for someone who is used to Dragon NaturallySpeaking (when I started this post I was actually planning on doing a fair bit of complaining about them), but by now I’m pretty happy about them. There are occasional crashes and bugs, like sometimes leaving out the last character when dictating single words or punctuation (which, in the latter case, leads to a whole lot of nothing). But when Nuance fixes those I think we finally, at long last, have a good dictation solution for the Mac.

Dictating on a Mac with Dragon NaturallySpeaking

As I have mentioned before I’m not a big fan of MacSpeech Dictate. So I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking in Windows XP running under Parallels Desktop 4 when I need to dictate something. It’s working very well, but it is of course very tedious to have to copy and paste everything I dictate from Windows back into my Mac applications. Luckily Tim Harper has made tightvnc-dns, a Windows application that reroutes the generated keystrokes from Dragon NaturallySpeaking back to the Mac side. You can’t use Dragon to edit the text you dictate this way, but for shorter pieces of text it is very practical. Continue reading