Recording and conducting usability tests on the Mac

As of late I have been looking into what ways that I could record a usability session of an application on a Mac. Windows definitely has an edge here with the Morae application from techsmith. This is a feature rich application that captures a usability session as well as make it easy to produce some nice reports. It captures both the screen and if you have a web cam, the subject. There is nothing equivalent for the Mac. However, there are a number of tools available for Mac OS X that can perform most of the functions of Morae separately.

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MacBook

I finally upgraded my personal system. I had been wanting to get a new Intel based Mac for quite a while now. My previous system was a powerbook g4 which has been a rock solid machine for the past 3 years. Yet since the announcement of the Intel switch I have been drooling over each new system release. As a web developer being able to run Windows and test pages in IE and yet still use a mac for developing has been managed by having two systems sit on my desk. Which is a pain in the buttox and takes up room I could use for… for what I don’t know. I was going to say laying out notes, but I rarely print things out anymore. Well I will have room to put whatever I want instead of a PC.

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Who is listening to your iTunes share

lsof | grep iTunes | grep TCP

lsof -i tcp:daap

If you work in a place that allows sharing itunes over the network, you may wonder who is listening to your shared media. Just two different Mac OS X terminal comands needed to find who is listening to your iTunes. There is also a handy app called iTunes Monitor that works quite well and also does the lookup of the ip address. Finally there is a widget iTunes Connection Monitor that allows you to quickly see the ip address and what is being listened to.

Two good consumer experiences

I recently had a nice experience as a tech consumer, a lifetime warranty that was honored and a product that worked as advertised for something where there is a lot of debate. First the warranty was for a 1GB ram chip. When I bought my laptop almost two years ago, I bought 2GB of ram from a third party dealer. It was much cheaper than the ram offered by Apple, but of course I would have to install it myself. Which is dead simple as most laptops now make a special door to install ram (it wasn’t always like that… many laptops from the late 90s had to be taken apart to get at the ram). At any rate, late last year one of the ram chips started crapping out. First I would get a kernel panic, which I thought might be something else, but then I noticed after restarting, that the ram read at half the capacity (512 MB). I ran Apple’s hardware diagnostic and it indicated the chip was going bad. Eventually, it just quit working all together. I still had 1GB in the system, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it is nice to not have to close anything during the day as I work. So I missed having the 2GB. I thought I would have to buy a new chip, so I went to check the company I bought the chip from www.4allmemory.com and there on the page was a lifetime warranty link. I checked my original invoice and sure enough, it was covered. So I called half expecting them wanting me to explain the problem and what I did to verify it was the chip and do everything I already did to verify the chip was bad. Instead the friendly person simply said pack it up and send it in, and they will send a replacement. That’s it, no fuss, no hemming or hawing, just great service. Ok, it did take them two weeks to send the replacement, but it was great just to receive it at all.

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Intel Macs are Here

Intel Macs have been released and they are even better than I could imagine. They came out with a new iMac with dual core Intel and new powerbooks. All the rumor sites were saying that it was going to be the mini or the iBook and all I kept thinking was how could they possibly pass up the PowerBook. It is (or was) their top selling system, which was in fast decline becuase of the aging G4. I just couldn’t see any way for them to do the iBook especially without doing the pro level laptop as well. On the otherhand, while they didn’t do the mini just yet (I think they will have something in April), they did do the iMac, which leaves the PowerMac desktops in a precarious position. They did release a twin-dual core (quad) G5 desktop late last year, so it is still a step up from the single dual core Intel iMac, but how many developers are going to spend time optimizing for the G5 versus the new Intel systems which are the future. Another drawback for the Intel iMacs is the all-in-one form have a limited appeal for thoses who only want a system, so I guess it makes sense. I just wish I had a couple grand to buy one of the new MacBooks… yes, they had to change the name since it no longer has a powerpc chip and everybody is ripping on the name.

At first, I thought the name wasn’t that great either, then I kind of warmed up to it, since they are really nice systems. Then writing this post I realized; What the heck are they going to call the PowerMac once it is switched to Intel? Please not the MacMac Pro! Ah well, despite the name, I may look around for a freelance job or two to do in the evening or weekends to try and get enough money to get one of the new laptops. Don’t know how I will fit that in with school too… I guess I can wait til later this year or next year. Or if anyone wants to donate some money…

More Automator

I worked a little more with automator (when I should have been studying regression analysis)… and have come up with a cool new automator. This incorporates an undocumented aspect of automator, so it took some trial and error to figure out. Basically, I wanted something that would allow me to turn a request to view a man page into a pdf file for easy printing and viewing in the gui side of Mac OS X. Only a unix geek could love the man page as it is… for unix newbies though, it can be quite frustrating. Personally, I am use to man pages, but I still like to print some out now and then and converting them to pdf allows me to access them without opening terminal (not that you wouldn’t probably have terminal open anyway).

So I wanted to find a way to make a man page into a pdf. Of course you can do this from the terminal, but where’s the fun in that (plus you have to remember the commands each time you want to do this). There is a free GUI utility called ManOpener that allows you to view man pages easily as well, and is much more featured than this automator tool. But if all you want (as I did) was a man page made into a pdf, then this is what you need to do;

  1. Open Automator, from the Library column select TextEdit. From the actions drag “Ask for Text” over to the workflow area.
    • In the question field type “Enter man page name?” or something to indicate what you need to enter
    • You can leave the default field empty or enter something that will serve as a reminder of what to enter
    • Check the require answer box
  2. Next, from the Library column select Automator, then from the actions drag over the “Run Shell Script” to the workflow after the previous item. Type or copy & paste the following as one line, modifying the paths so that they point to your preferred locations (include the quote marks this time);

    man -t $@ > /hardrive/Users/Shared/manpages/$@.ps | echo -n “harddrive:Users:Shared:manpages:”$@”.ps”

    Set the “Pass Input” to “as arguments”

    Note: The $@ takes the value entered in the “Ask for Text” and runs it as a shell command. The first part which calls the man page then passes it to a postscript file named with the name of the man you are looking for, then it echoes out the path to the next function. The echoed path has to be in the style of the Mac OS drive path reference which uses “:” instead of slashes “/”.

  3. Last select Finder from the Library column and drag “Open Finder Items” to the workflow in the last place. Set the “open with” field to the Preview application. The path passed from the previous action will be opened in Preview converting it into a pdf.

You are ready to test, click the run arrow and try it out. If everything works, the requested man page will be open in Preview at this point. You can either save it or discard it after use. You can get fancy and do things like check for existing ps files or remove the ps file after it is converted. But this gives you the idea of what fun you can have with automator and how it can make working with unix fun. Be sure to save your workflow and make it readily accessible on your dock or wherever you like to put things to be accessed often.

Mac OS X Automator: Combining PDF files for free

When I first heard about Automator it sounded cool, but I wasn’t sure what I could use it for personally. After I had upgraded to Tiger, I got around to looking at automator and to be honest, I didn’t see anything that would really help me. I looked at the sample workflows and there was nothing that applied to my everyday or even once in a while tasks.

However, the other day I was in need of combining a couple of pdf files. I knew there was a way to do this in Mac OS X, so I set about searching the internet. I thought I had seen a terminal command process to combine pdfs, but I found instead some instructions on how to do it with automator. So I am posting here in case the reference gets lost from somewhere else…

  1. First open Automator, select Finder in the Library and drag “Ask for Finder items”, check the multiple option.
  2. Then select PDF in the Library and drag “Combine PDF Pages” set to Appending pages
  3. Then go back to the Finder listing in the Library and drag the “Rename Finder Items” set things the way you would like here
  4. Then drag a “Move Finder Items” and set it to where you would like the new file to end up

Save your workflow and then run it. Pretty cool. Other variations could substitute Get Folder Contents for step 1. Then you can just drop files you want to combine into that folder and run the command. You can include the Sort Finder Items to change the order the pdf files are combined (or you could just rename them in the finder). Now that I have a taste and feel for what Automator can really do, I have something else to play with/do in my non-existant free time. Here is the forum where I found this http://www.macosx.com/forums/showthread.php?t=239682.