Poll: Should the “Apply” button become the default button in A Better Finder Rename?

Seasoned A Better Finder Rename users will probably remember the good old days when A Better Finder Rename was “only” a context menu that was neatly hidden away in the Finder contextual menu.

With version 7.0, however, A Better Finder Rename became a full blown “stand-alone” application that may also be launchied via the context menu. This meant that some user interface rework had to be done. Throughout this, I tried to disrupt the working habits of existing users as little as possible.

New users, who have never known the “context menu only” A Better Finder Rename find some of its behaviour a little odd however.

Chief amongst these annoyances is the behaviour of the default “Rename” button. This, most new users feel, should simply peform the rename and stay open. I tend to agree. It’s only logical..

The problem is that when A Better Finder Rename was only a context menu item, it made more sense that it would be behave like the “Get Info” dialog: You make your changes and then the dialog closes, the Finder window shows you the new file names. Neat.

This is the reason why even the latest version 7.3 (for new users “inexplicably”) quits just after peforming the rename.

With the new version I have added an “Apply” button, which performs the rename, empties the preview list and stays open.

abfrx73.gif

Now it is represented to me that this should be the default behaviour, ie. I should get rid of the “Rename” button behaviour and make the “Apply” button’s behaviour the default. Hitting the return key will apply the changes, but not quit the application.

This is of course the request of a user who has not spent the last decade hitting the return key to perform a one key stroke “rename and quit”. My highly scientific “one user poll” shows that 100 percent of existing users don’t want that.

How is a software developer to know which option to choose? Why, he could just ask his users..

So please cast your vote below:

I will probably only change the behaviour if there is a strong (two thirds?) vote in favour of the change..

TheMacNurse competition

What makes the “world of mac” different from the Windoze world is largely the spirit of community and it’s fascinating that after 30 years of Apple, the community is probably as vibrant as it is has ever been.

There are community sites, news sites, rumor sites (this is no doubt the Mac speciality) and all kinds of other enthusiast endeavours springing up all over the net.

TheMacNurse, is one that has piqued my particular interest. They offer free online support for all things Mac. That can’t be right “free”?

Well it seems it is, and their volunteers will help you out at no cost.

This kind of inititiative is just too great to stand idly by and do nothing. As I can’t honestly say that I want to join their volunteers and provide free Mac support in addition to the technical support I provide for our own products, I’ve taken the easy way out and chosen to give away two copies each of:

So go ahead and visit their competition page at: TheMacNurse.

All the best for the future guys!

Changes ahead for the A Better Finder series in 2006

2005 was a year of transition for the A Better Finder series of tools. Most of the year was spent migrating the 60,000+ lines of code of A Better Finder Rename 6 to the brave new world of Objective-C and Cocoa.

I took the opportunity to add many long-requested features, such a detachable preview window, multiple rename steps, etc.. One of the most important changes was to introduce drag & drop installation. The kind people at MindVision have provided me with their InstallerVise installer maker for ten years, but the product was beginning to show its age and its Mac OS 9 legacy.

Enter the 2005 drag & drop style installer. Today all you need to do to install A Better Finder Rename 7 is to take its icon from the disk volume and drop it where you want it. Double-click to start and you're finished. For multi-user installations, simply place the program in the Applications folder and let every user decide which optional features they want to install. This new drag & drop installation is now making its way across the entire product line:

already work on the same principle.

This leaves A Better Finder Select and A Better Finder Creators & Types. Once upon a time, both of these products covered a niche left open by the Mac OS 9 Finder. Today both of them have somewhat lost their raison d'être.

"A Better Finder Creators & Types" allows die-hard Mac OS 9 fans to continue using creator and type codes to associate documents to applications, but this approach, while still supported under Mac OS X, is no longer the recommended way of doing things and does not work with newer applications.

A Better Finder Select allows you to filter out certain files before passing them to other A Better Finder products or it allows you to select them in the Finder; it's functionality is partially covered in the Finder and is at its most useful as a front-end to the other products in the A Better Finder Series.

Is it still really useful to keep them as separate applications? I don't think so. That's why in 2006:

  • A Better Finder Creator & Types' features will be integrated into the new A Better Finder Attributes 4
  • A Better Finder Select's filtering features will be integrated into the preview window of both Attributes 4 and Rename 7
  • A Better Finder Select's ability to pre-select files in the Finder will be integrated into Attributes 4

If you disagree with these arrangements, please post a comment or contact me via email. It is not too late yet 🙂

The advantages I see for you, the user, is that you will have less application clutter, less installation, a smaller download and last but not least will be able to filter out files in the preview window.

Obviously, with the end-of-line of Select and Creators & Types, I'll be offering free cross-grades to the owners of these "late" products.

Review of TypeMatrix EZ-Reach 2030 Ergonomic Keyboard

querty_type_matrix.jpg

Choosing the right keyboard and mouse is one of the most important ergonomic decisions that we take when working with our computers. Many of us spend much or even all of our working lives in front of a computer screen and in the course of a single working day, we expect our finger to execute as much as 50,000 keystrokes. Over a 30 year career, you can thus expect to reach half a billion keystrokes.

While many of people are quite able to believe that half a billion waterdrops could erode a slab of concrete down to nothing, they appear to be pathologically unable to imagine that the same number of key strokes (strokes!) might cause a little irritation in the finger joints. Not so!

Under the circumstances spending a few extra bucks on a decent character input device does not sound like such a bad idea and the market is happy to supply you with an endless array of ‘ergonomic’ keyboards ranging from excellent to worse than the five dollar Dell keyboard that you are using now.

Most people who use ergonomic keyboards start doing so only after having experienced some early symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and I was no exception. In 1996 while writing up my doctoral thesis as well as working full time, I developed tendonitis in my forearms and all kinds of secondary symptoms in my fingers. The time had come to reconsider changing my work habits (12 hour days, 6/7 day weeks, few breaks, less than perfect work environment and lots of bad habits).

Choosing a good keyboard on its own will not save you from RSI, but it is an important component of your overall strategy. Your likelihood of developing Repetitive Strain Injuries, such as hand, wrist, shoulder, neck and back injuries, depends on many factors, including but not limited to workspace ergonomics. The quickest way of injurying yourself is to work long hours without break, crouching in your chair, hammering away at an old IBM keyboard with your wrists lying flat on the desk reaching over to an old clunky Microsoft mouse half a foot away.

If you are interested in learning how to use your computer in a healthy manner, go over to the ergonomix or MacBreakZ Personal Ergonomic Assistant sites.

Enough introduction already, let’s turn our attention to the TypeMatrix.

The first thing you notice about the TypeMatrix is how small and flat it looks. It is only about the size of a PowerBook keyboard and stands at only about half an inch height. It is also drop-dead gorgeous with its slick white and light gray keys and brushed aluminium finish. The single scarlet ‘Delete’ key on the right hand side raises the coolness factor further..

A keyboard of which Apple would be proud in a word. Expect to see it in a movie soon.

The very next thing you notice is that all the keys are arranged in straight rows and columns, not in the traditional staggered rows of an ordinary keyboard. This is the major ergonomic feature of the TypeMatrix and in my humble opinion makes it superior to all so-called ergonomic keyboards that maintain the traditional staggered rows.

“Why”, will you ask, “is it better to arrange the keys in straight columns? What difference could it possibly make?”

Well why are the keys on your Chinese-made Dell keyboard in staggered rows in the first place? Well, my old history teacher would say, in order to understand this problem, we need to look at the past.

Today’s keyboards descend in a straight line from yesterday’s mechanical typewriters. The reason the keys are staggered is because it gives the typewriter engineers more space to place their levers. If they were all arranged in straight rows, the levers would catch on each other on their way up and down. This incidentially is also why your keyboard has the QWERTY key layout. It too was specifically designed to avoid the collision of the levers.

It was the technical requirements of the typewriter machine then that decided on how human beings today enter text into their computers, rather than anything to do with human factors.

The staggered key arrangement is a bad thing because it forces your fingers to do a lot of diagonal reaching. When you strike the key down your finger is thus in a particularly vunerable position and at a mechanical disadvantage resulting in more strain than is necessary.

typematrix_dvorak_black_640.jpg

As you can see from the picture above, the model I’m using has a strange key arrangement. Don’t worry, the keyboard exists in two versions, one with a traditional QWERTY key layout, the other with the Dvorak layout that I personally prefer and yes, you can get the DVORAK model in white, but I can’t seem to find a picture of one..

Remember what I said about the origin of the QWERTY layout. It is based on the needs of the typewritter, not the human being using it. Imagine then how the keys would be arranged if the needs of the human being had been put to forefront? Yes, you’ve guessed it: you’d be looking at the Dvorak layout.

The name of the layout does not refer to the actual key arrangement, but the name of its inventor. The key layout is based on the frequency in which letters appear in the English language. The most frequently used letters are arranged on the home row just under your fingertips and the least frequently used characters are furthest away. In addition the keys are distributed in such a manner as to increase the likelihood that keystrokes are performed with the finger of the left and right hand alternating in a left/right rythm.

In a word with Dvorak you can type quicker and with less effort and less ackward reaching. Once I mastered Dvorak I never wanted to go back to good old QWERTY. Both versions of the EZ-Reach 2030 can be switched from QWERTY mode into Dvorak with the push of a button. The only difference between the models are the keycaps. So no matter whether you want to give Dvorak a go or not you, always retain the option of going back to Qwerty if it proves too tough.

Of course, the TypeMatrix keyboard layout does not stop at arranging the keys into a matrix. Some frequently used keys such as Backspace and Enter have also been moved into a central position where they can be struck with the index finger of either hand.

This is another great ergonomic benefit. In fact on a traditional keyboard the weakest finger, your pinky, does far too much of the work. Worse yet, since your pinkies are at the outside of the keyboard, as well as being shorter than the other fingers, they are required to do a lot of reaching. This is the reason why lots of people get a burning sensation on the edge of their hands after an all pulling an all-nighter. The TypeMatrix key arrangement, as well as its small size do a lot to counteract this problem. You can reach the enter key with both the index finger and the thumb.

The keyboard has two more ergonomic features of interest. The first is its size and height. The fact that the keyboard is so flat means that your wrists and forearms can drop by an inch or so. If do you don’t have a separate keyboard tray there is a good chance that your keyboard is raised far too high to be used comfortably. Your forearms and your arms should be at a right angle and your wrists should be straight both horizontally and vertically when you type. If your desk is too high, your forearms need to point upwards resulting in ‘tennis elbow’, neck and shoulder ache and worse. Having a really flat keyboard will pretty much do the same job as a keyboard tray.

Another problem with traditional keyboards is that they are very wide (after all there is a lot of space on the desk!), increasing the distance to your mouse or other pointing device. This reaching over to the side is a major cause of mouse-related ergonomic problems. The TypeMatrix’s narrower design means that the mouse can be closer, thus improving the ergonomics of your mouse too!

If you are used to a traditional keyboard, you may be put off by the apparent abscence of a the numeric keypad. Don’t worry it’s there, but since all keys on the TypeMatrix are arranged in a matrix, it is merged straight into the main keyboard layout. You can temporarily activate it by either holding down the “Fn” key with your left hand or switch over into the “Num” mode by pressing the key at the top right of the keyboard.

Having worked on a keyboard without numeric keypad for the last 8 years, I cannot personally comment on how effective a replacement for the old keypad this really is. It’s easy enough to find the keypad with your fingertips without having to take your eyes of the monitor and it certainly seems well thought through.

The last ergonomic feature of significance on the keyboard are the keys themselves. The ‘double-scissor’ keys provide a good, firm feedback despite their limited travel and they do not require excessive effort to push down. Better still instead of encouraging you to bang the keys, they seem perfectly fashioned for a more relaxed and less forceful typing style. It just takes a bit of common sense to realise that “banging keys” results in more strain and thus higher likelihood of injury. If you take nothing else from this review, just stop banging the keys!

Personal Impressions:

I like the TypeMatrix EZ-Reach 2030. In fact I like it a lot.

Unlike other ergomonic hardware it does not prompt your co-workers to make ‘disabled’ jokes; instead it looks like the “ultimate typing machine” that the TypeMatrix advertising promises. It also does not look out of place in front of your designer Macintosh and frees up lots of desk real estate.

Having used a Kinesis Ergo Contoured Keyboard with a Dvorak layout for many years now, switching over to the TypeMatrix took no time at all. Within the first few 10 minute acclimatisation sessions my typing speed was already back up in the high fifthies words-per-minute averages. The keyboard feels solid, does not slide around and despite its ergonomic properties retains a “normal” keyboardy feel.

I was initially a bit irritated because I frequently lost my touchtyping homerow. I am used to keyboards where the raised dots (or on some models the slightly more concave key surfaces) indicate where your middle finger is supposed to rest. Other keyboards, such as the TypeMatrix, expect you to place your index fingers on these markers. It soon, however, becomes second nature to feel the raised dots on the home keys with your index finger.

The Shuffle key is another feature that has proved surprisingly useful. Tapping it once will switch from your current to your previous application. You can of course do this just as well by pressing Alt-Tab (or Command-Tab for the Mac) key combination but it is still a nice touch.

All in all, the TypeMatrix has passed the ultimate test: it’s still on my desk 3 months after coming out of the box. It is in fact on my desk right now and I type away at it without ever looking at the keys, pausing to think about where this or that key is located, etc.

In fact, it has passed the most important test of all: it doesn’t get in the way of getting the job done. This may not sound so very impressive, but it is very rare to get a new ergonomic device and pretty much immediately feel comfortable with it. It is far more common that in the first few weeks you can hardly think and type at the same time, which for obvious reasons hardly endears your new piece of hardware to you.

There are of course other things that are not so great about the TypeMatrix. The first and foremost is that I would have liked them to have made a real split keyboard. The current model forces you into the ackward “forearms turned in towards the keyboard” position that tempts you to bend your wrists outwards towards your shoulders. This causes the tendons to rub against the carpal tunnel producing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Many ergonomic keyboards are ‘split’ for precisely that reason.

The other thing I dislike is the fact that the low height of the keyboard makes it easy to rest your wrists on the desk in front of it. This is another ergonomic no-no given that it forces your fingers to do all the reaching and makes you bend your wrists upwards towards your forearms. Hello carpal tunnel, hello tendonitis.

In all fairness though, it is perfectly possible to type with your hands floating over the keys with your wrists straight while using the TypeMatrix; the flatness of the keyboard actually makes it easier than on a regular keyboard. It’s just that there is absolutely nothing in the design of the keyboard that ensures (or even suggests) that you should be using it in this manner and that I think is the whole point: no matter how good the keyboard is engineered, you still need to know how to use it safely or you will derive no benefit whatsoever from it.

Most ergonomic keyboards come with a comprehensive workplace setup guide and a user manual that stresses the proper use of the device. The TypeMatrix does not. The idea that you can simply order the keyboard from the website, connect it up to your computer and be safe from RSI forever is sadly very, very naive and almost certainly what every single customer thinks while clicking on the checkout button.

It would have been nice if TypeMatrix had spend a few cents on basic setup instructions or at least would link to such information on their website.

Setup and installation

The keyboard is a standard PS/2 PC keyboard and requires no special driver or configuration. It is a US keyboard layout only. All keyboards can be switched from Qwerty to Dvorak with a single function key press. The emulation is built into the hardware and the operating system never needs to know.

Included in the package is a PS/2 to USB adapter that works as advertised. When using the device with the USB adapter some minor features do not work properly. The double zero key produces a single 0 and the aforementioned Shuffle key shuffles a bit too fast, but in the main the keyboard remains usable without problems.

Mac users will need to re-configure the Command and Option key as is the case with any other PC keyboard. In Mac OS X Tiger this capability is built-in, on earlier systems the freeware uControl utility will do the trick. iMac users will love the way that the keyboard matches the design of their machines (coincidence? I think not).

Conclusions:

This is a great keyboard that let’s you type safely as long as you know the ropes. It looks and feels cool and at $100, it is a real bargain as far as these things go (See below for the direct link to Amazon who offer the keyboards for 20% less). Its small size and weight make it particularly suitable for people who want to take their keyboard on the move and it even makes it possible to take it around with you if you need to change machines a lot. The drop-dead gorgeous look also make it a design statement rather than prompting medical discussions.

The keyboard makes a decent compromise between RSI-prevention, productivity, aestetics (I can’t think of a good reason why the delete button should be red other than that it looks great), ease of learning and your purse strings.

If you are looking for a (relatively speaking) affordable, portable Dvorak keyboard it is hard to imagine a better choice. If neither Dvorak nor portability is an issue, it will at least help you claim back some deskspace.

You can order from Amazon at an impressive discount (around 20% cheaper):

PS/2 USB Typematrix Ez Reach 2030US Ergo Keyboard Qwerty

PS/2 USB Typematrix Ez Reach 2030DV Ergo Keyboard Dvorak

If you are already injured and are looking for a device that will save your career and your hands then perhaps it is better to look a bit further at more exotic devices that have much steeper learning curves, look awful and are far more expensive. The Kinesis Ergo Countured Keyboards or the exotic and ridicously expensive data hand may be the solution to your (greater) needs.

Whatever keyboard you choose be aware of the fact that it is worth taken a few hours out of your life to learn about safe computer use.

ergonomic stretch #2: lateral neck stretch

This is another one of my favorite stretches from MacBreakZ / ergonomix:

2.gif

Keeping the head straight all day while you stare at a computer screen is hard work for the neck muscles and they are one of the areas of our body that positively soak up tension. A trapped nerve in the neck can cause you to feel soreness and pain all the way from the shoulders down to the fingers.

This is a great stretch for releasing and counter-acting tension in your lateral neck muscles.

As always, this is not medical advice, you use the stretch at your own risk and you should consult with your doctor before engaging in any physical exercise..

Ergonomic Gear Review #1: Kensington Expert Mouse 7.0

About a year ago, I decided to kick my post-University sedimentary life style, and once again become a badminton superstar. So I joined a club, got my old gear out of the unopened cardboard boxes in the cellar and went off to train two times 3 hours a week just like 12 years ago.
At the beginning I was slow and uncoordinated, just like the middle-aged computer guy who is trying to relive his youthful glory days ought to be. After each training session I was so exhausted that you had to drag me off the court. I would feel awful for at least half a week and more often than not I still felt achy from the last session when the next one came along.

After a while though, I got a bit fitter, I stopped hurting so much, my feet went about their business without complaining quite as much and I was getting close (okay, not that close) to my old performance levels. The first match arrived and I did ok, the second came along and it went fairly well and before I knew it I started winning us much as I was losing and in a word, I was back. The rest is history. Or not.

The only ache that refused to go away was a little burning sensation in my heel. I had been using my old squash shoes from 1995 until then. You know the "no cushioning, no shock absorption, ultra-flat sole variety that is a lot like running barefoot but with shoes on. In my defense, that's actually quite a good choice for badminton because you spend a lot of time on your toes and a light flat shoe is pretty much ideal for quick turning without spraining your ankle.

Unfortunately, I am no longer 18 and by the time I got expensive, well cushioned, badminton-specific shoes, my doctor called it quits and told me to stop playing for a least a year. Apparently I have an inflamed achilles heel and "those things can snap you know".

What's all this got to do with the Kensington Expert Mouse and more specifically with version 7.0?

Well, the moral of the story is that the gear you use makes a difference to how likely you are to injure yourself. Had I started out getting myself new badminton shoes, I might not have ended up with Achilles heel problems. Then again I might have pushed even harder and still got myself injured, so equipment alone won't get you a free "out-of-jail" card.

In this column, I will be reviewing all kinds of ergonomic gear for your computer work. Some of you may find the jump from competition sport to humble key pressing and mouse clicking a bit much to take. Well, actually it isn't such a large jump.

Whilst the forces involved in athletic movements are obviously much stronger, the muscles and joints that you use when working on your computer are much smaller and more delicate. What's more, you're not likely to play badminton or go running 8 to 12 hours a day, every day.

In a previous post, I did a quick calculation that got you to 1.8 million key presses a year; that's a lot of little shocks on fragile little joints and ligaments. In this first ergonomic gear review, I'll be looking at my latest ergonomic toy, the Kensington Expert Mouse 7.0 for Windows or Mac.

Kensington Expert Mouse 7.0

Well, first of all, it's not a mouse, it's a trackball and that's a good thing. Mice are by their very design likely to result in repetitive strain injury sooner or later. There are probably mouse than keyboard-related RSI problems. The tell-tale "my right hand hurts more than my left" sign points right at a mouse injury.

Anyway, it's a trackball, but please don't picture one of these tiny little marble sized things that used to adorne laptops a few years ago. The Expert Mouse has more in common with a pool 8 ball. The whole mouse is somewhat super-sized as far as pointing devices go. It measures a hefty 5 by 5.75 inches (around 12×15 cm) and is a good deal larger yet if you include the wrist rest.

Anyway, it's a trackball, but please don't picture one of these tiny little marble sized things that used to adorne laptops a few years ago. The Expert Mouse has more in common with a pool 8 ball.

The whole mouse is somewhat super-sized as far as pointing devices go. It measures a hefty 5 by 5.75 inches (around 12×15 cm) and is a good deal larger yet if you include the wrist rest. The trackball itself is surrounded by 4 large buttons and circled by Kensington's Scroll Ring.

When your hand rests on the trackball in the middle, your fingers falls quite naturally onto the 4 buttons. The button at the bottom left is far away the easiest to use and is (by default) mapped to the single click. Your thumb rests comfortably on it, so you'll probably do most of your clicking with the thumb rather than with the fingers. A sound decision given that it's your strongest "finger".

The top right button, which (again by default) mapped to "double click" is also easy to reach. In order to comfortably reach the top left and the bottom right buttons, I usually have to move my hand. The bottom right button does the right click and the top left button is a "click and drag" affair: when you click it, it select the item under the pointer and goes into "drag lock". The drag ends when you click the button again.

This is ergonomically sound thinking because it avoids the awkward "I'm holding down the mouse button while trying to move the pointer" problem. In fact, this is one of the neatest things about trackballs in general: you never run out of desk space. With a mouse once you've reached the edge of the work surface you need to pick it up and reposition it in the middle, not a great idea in general ergonomic terms and outright impossible while keeping a mouse button down.

The button themselves are heavy duty affairs with a distinct micro-switch feel to them. They produce a very distinct "click" sound that leaves you in no doubt about what you've done.

The Scroll Ring that surrounds the trackball is a new variation on the familiar scroll wheel. Unlike most scroll wheel implementations, this one makes perfect ergonomic sense. The typical Microsoft Mouse scroll wheel placed between the left and right button really forces you to adopt a very awkward finger position which is positively begging for long-term problems (bye bye middle finger).

The Scroll Ring does its job perfectly and is probably my favorite feature on the device. The ring has a slightly rubbery feel to it and you can turn it comfortably using all five fingers together or just with a single one. The surface of the ring is covered in little indentations into which your fingernails slip comfortably. I gives you the impression of working with a high precision microscope dial.

The ring moves by small very distinct notches. Scrolling through text feels very natural right from the beginning. You leaf through multiple screens by just continuously turning the ring. I love it. In fact it reminds me of a more precise version of Apple's iPod click wheel.

Some people are turned off by the admittedly fairly cheap "plastic-on-plastic" sound that the ring makes when it moves. Yes, I think Apple would probably have done a better job getting the sound right, but then again they make the worst mice in the world (pretty as they undoubtedly are).

Now to the real price: the trackball. As I said, it is huge. It is also surprisingly heavy. The Expert Mouse 7.0 uses optical sensors and the ball itself is just dropped into the hollow space in the middle. It moves with very little noise or friction. It provides a good solid feel, something that is often  missing from trackballs. Moving the ball with your fingers is comfortable and it has precise feel.

Most often when you use a trackball and you give it a good strong spin, the pointer will jump around the screen in an uncontrolled fashion until the ball comes to a halt several turns later; this is the trackball equivalent of banging your mouse on your desk in frustration 🙂 With the Expert Mouse it takes some effort to get the ball spinning and the pointer remains very "collected".

I tried the latest beta release of Kensington's MouseWorks software for Mac OS X, which did its job very competently. The software allows you to remap the buttons, adjust the mouse speed (you can actually customize the acceleration curve which again adds to the scientific instrument feel), define application specific actions, etc.

One feature that is still absent is the ability to simply place the pointer automatically on the default button of a dialog box. This is a feature that used to be ubiquitous on Mac OS 9, but I have never yet seen it on OS X. What a shame!

What else is in the box? A USB to PS/2 adapter for older Windows machines and of course the wrist rest. The wrist rest is fairly large and covered in firm, but soft, fake leather and it does its job. In use, it is comfortable and I would personally recommend leaving it on.

The Verdict

Well, this is certainly the best trackball that I have ever used. It has a very no-nonsense built-to-last design philosophy. The ball itself is as precise as it is comfortable. In my opinion the Scroll Ring is the best implementation of the familiar scroll wheel design yet. The buttons are ok, but I find them a little bit too stiff to push comfortably. Of course, if they were any less stiff, you would end up pushing them by accident while rolling the trackball, still they are not my favorite feature.

In summary, this device has found a permenant place on my desk for the time being.

I only got it a few days ago, so I'll keep you posted on how it works out long term.

The price. Oh yes. It's not really cheap at $99.99 in USB/PS2 and $119.99 in its wireless incarnation. Then again, you get what you pay for.

A Better Finder Rename 7.2.5 Performance Beta

There can be little doubt that version 7 of A Better Finder Rename was a giant step ahead for the product in almost every respect.

The major area where that was perhaps not the case was in performance terms. As long as you are renaming only a couple of hundred files, performance is more than adequate, but for people dealing with many thousands of files the performance of version 7 was a step backwards. This came as a late and unpleasant surprise, because version 7's code base is just so much cleaner and more streamlined than that of version 6, which was beginning to show its age.

This is why I have taken some time out from developing new features to get to the bottom of this performance problem. This investigation has detected a couple of facts:

  • sorting is a real killer, especially when mp3 or exif tags are involved
  • feedback is just as important as raw speed
  • there is no way around the fact that doing the same thing one thousand times takes one thousand times longer than only doing it once

In this first iteration of getting a faster, nimbler renamer, I have concentrated on these points: 

  1. the program now only does the bare minimum processing while you're honing your settings. This makes for a fast and responsive preview even with tens of thousands of files. The preview only displays the first 250 items (that's around 10-15 screenfulls), enough to give you a real good impression of what the end result is going to be, not enough to bring the preview to a grinding halt. The heavy duty processing starts only once you hit the "OK" button.
  2. everything that can possibly be cached is cached. EXIF dates and the like are only read once and the system remembers them without re-reading them every time. This can result in a factor 10-100 performance improvement on large sorts.
  3. provide feedback on what's happening. Previous versions just went off to do their thing, leaving you to wonder what, if anything was going on. The new version provides a progress dialog that shows you how much work is actually going on behind the scenes and how much longer is going to be required to do it.
  4. I have found and eliminated a couple of bottlenecks in the program that result in improved overall performance

As a result of those changes, version 7.2.5b1 feels and behaves completely differently when confronted with huge renames. Yes, doing 2000 files will still take twice as long as renaming 1000, but the preview remains responsive and it's fun to see your Mac race through ten thousand name computations, sorting, validation, etc.

The downside of these improvements is that I've had to make fairly hefty changes to the structure of the program, including multi-threading its execution. Multi-threading, in particular, makes the complexity of a program explode because it causes all kinds of potential error conditions: deadlocks, racing conditions, etc.

This is why I've decided to release a beta version first to validate that my changes haven't broken anything that used to work just fine.

You can download the beta from the product download page . I trust you will find it a big improvement with large file sets.

Please do report any problems you may find; it's tempting to think "somebody else will or has already alerted the developer", but all too often nobody does. I can only fix bugs I know about and the best way of getting rid of them is to report them directly to me at: reiff@publicspace.net

ergonomic stretch #1: Make yourself tall

ergostretch number 1

When we spend all day in front of our computer our whole body is working overtime trying to maintain our static posture.

If you're anything like me, after a while you start slouching this way and that, ending up half-way under the table. Not quite the recommended posture 😉
This little stretch brings some welcome relief:
 
It stretches the back, shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers, all without getting up from your chair.
Give it a try. 

This stretch is taken from our MacBreakZ and ergonomix for windows Personal Ergonomic Assistant software.