My Digital Tools (Part 4)…

Into the final part of my series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), we find ourselves at miscellany. Some of these are little programs I have picked up recently and started toying with, other just don’t quite fall into any of the other main categories.


Fluid is an odd duck of a program that I started using earlier this year. It is called a Site Specific Browser, or SSB. But that only partially describes what it does. The best way to describe its function is through its practical use.

I love Gmail. I love its conversation-style interface, its labeling, its connection to my other documents and calendars. And it operates this way on any web browser I walk up to. However, I don’t love having to keep my browser on with Gmail up and running at all times, because I do use my email as an active messaging service.

So when I found Fluid, I put it to good use. Essentially, it creates a little program shell, a single, standalone browser window, that holds a specified website. In this instance, Gmail. I have a Gmail icon on my dock that puts up an indicator when I get a new message.

Fluid can create multiple SSB programs, too. I could have separate programs for Yahoo mail, Facebook, Twitter, the BBC, any ol’ website I desire. I stick with just Gmail right now because I don’t have an active need for any other web services (since I have my separate Twitter and RSS Reader clients).


This is a funny little program I have toyed with a bit as a kind of security system. Through a separate Twitter account, you can send a tweet that the computer hears and will follow the command. I can shut down, log out, and even snap a picture of the screen or the person at the computer. If nothing else, it’s a little slice of fun.

Photoshop Elements 6

Photoshop Elements was a hand-me-down from my mum, actually. Previously, I had been working with Pixelmator. Pixelmator is a great program, really. But since I like to try to stay in the know, I’ve switched to doing picture editing in Elements. It’s good to know the interface, and generally knowing one Adobe product helps you know most of the others. Unfortunately, my picture editing needs are few and far between so I don’t know all that much about the program yet.

Toast 10

Yeah Toast! I use this program all the time as it is my primary DVD burning software. I loathe Apple’s iDVD. iDVD is a stain upon Apple’s good name and whole iLife suite. iDVD is clunky, clumsy, ugly, and just general crap that never does what I actually need.

Toast. Ah Toast. In this program, you can drop in all the various movie files you want, set up menus (or NONE, if you prefer), and if you’re coming from a ripped DVD, for home copying purposes only of course, it can cleanly compress and remove unwanted menus and extras to fit nicely on the basic DVD-R disks.


MacTheRipper, MTR for short, has been my primary DVD ripping software for a couple of years now. I’ve tested out a lot of alternative programs and none have worked so consistently well to break the encoding and allow me to have a safe-to-be-stolen copy of it on my desktop. The program has a lot of options and a somewhat cluttered interface, but I rarely have to change any settings and I get a good 95% of all DVDs to rip properly.


I just started using RipIt the other day. I am always looking for an alternative to MTR because it hasn’t been updated all that much, and the developer asks for a goofy “gift” in order to keep up support, rather than a Demo-Then-Purchase setup. RipIt, so far, has handled the half-dozen disks I’ve thrown at it just as readily as MTR, and the one funky disk still came out funky anyway (brutal bit of encoding from Disney, I think). It has a wonderful simple interface with a just a few options. So far, I really like it and may even be willing to spring the twenty bucks for full license that doesn’t limit me to ten rips.


Acquisition is a program that is becoming somewhat outdated. It is a peer-to-peer (P2P) client, which is an old standard for sharing files. Since the advent of BitTorrent file sharing, P2P is falling by the wayside. Why search for single files at a time when you can download a torrent file that downloads entire programs, albums, or movies (basically whole piles of files) far more effectively and efficiently? Still I keep it around for that single piece of music I want at any given time.


Made by the same developer as Acquisition, Xtorrent is my preferred BitTorrent client. Rather than heading off to a search engine or torrent website, Xtorrent generates a list of downloadable torrents that can be sorted by the quantity and quality of the sharing. Between this and Toast, life is almost too easy. Almost.

Time Machine

Last of all is Time Machine. This is OS X’s built-in backup software. It’s simple and works. I breakout our external hard drive, hook it up, and let it run for an hour. Once everything is backed up, I put the backup drive back in the fire safe for another month. I normally wouldn’t worry about backing up my system, since I store most of my daily life in the cloud (on the Internet; ‘in the cloud’ is a newer term for that sort of storage), but there are pictures of kids in my life now, as well as a decade’s worth of acquired music, that should never be risked to perish.

My only annoyance with Time Machine is that, at work, every computer prompts for every hard drive it touches to be a backup drive. As simple as it is, there needs to be a checkbox in the preference allowing it to ignore any portable drives connecting to it.

There you mostly have it. All the stuff I use on my good ol’ Macs. I wish I had more to say about Windows computers, honestly. Especially with Windows 7 coming out, I would love to have a separate laptop to try it out with and not remain completely ignorant to some of the cool stuff it can do as well. I may still pick Win7 up while it’s cheap and make a Boot Camp partition and see how that goes with it.

Regardless, though, the world can have my MacBook when it pries it from my cold, dead hands.