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Sunday, 7 September 2008

HowTo: Create an Audio File from a Text File

The new voice for Leopard, Alex, is an extremely comprehensive and realistic voice module, so it is worth looking at how you can use it to help you work. Got a long document to read, or a speech to memorise? This 3-step tip will show you how to get it into an audio file so you can listen to it on an ipod while commuting, or even turn a free online novel into an audiobook.

1) The first thing you need to do is ensure your document is in plain-text format. The easiest way to do this is to copy the contents into "", go to the Format menu and select "Make Plain Text". For simplicity save this file as "wordstosay.txt" in the root folder of your "Macintosh HD".

2) Now our document is ready, open using spotlight or from the Utilities sub-folder of your Applications folder. When it opens, type "cd /" and hit return. This tells terminal that you are working in the root of Macintosh HD, and makes finding the text file much easier.

3) To get your mac to read out this text file to an audio file, type the following and hit return: 

say -v alex -f wordstosay.txt -o spoken.aiff

Lets have a look at what this command means. The "say" bit is simply the name of the program used to make your mac talk, and "-v alex" sets the voice as Alex. "-f [filename]" tells your mac where the text file to read from is, and "-o [filename]" tells it to output the speech to an audio file instead of reading out loud. If all has gone well, you should now find a file called "spoken.aiff" in the root of your "Macintosh HD" that you can load into iTunes.

Tip: If you want to get Alex to read content out for you regularly, a useful tip is to set a keyboard shortcut like ctrl-s by going to System Preferences > Speech > Text to Speech > Speak selected text when the key is pressed.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Dockulicous is a great little app which lets you choose your own skin for your leopard dock. Many users have already uploaded dock skins, which you download and then drag the zip file onto the main app. It includes the original settings just in case you decide a bright pink dock isn't your thing. If you've ever fancied your dock looking like a picnic table, piano keys or covered with lasers, this is the app for you.

Sunday, 31 August 2008


Applejack is your friend if you can't boot up a GUI on your mac. Once installed, if you have a problem, boot into single user mode by hitting cmd-S and typing 'applejack'. You're then presented with a prompt which lets you repair disks, permissions, cashes and remove your swap file. Thankfully, I have never needed to test this in a real situation, but it's a comforting thing to have installed on your system.

Developer's site

Thursday, 28 August 2008


Proximity is a neat little app which automatically runs Applescript when a bluetooth device approaches or leaves your bluetooth-enabled mac. For example, if you set it to pair with your phone, on approaching your mac you could have it run an applescript to sync your calendar and address book for you. Alternatively you could use it as a proximity security tag, so on leaving your machine the screensaver triggers and becomes password-protected, and on approaching it returns to the desktop. For useful scripts, check out this blogger's code.

Monday, 11 August 2008


WolfQuest is a free game with an educational slant developed for Minnesota Zoo. You take on the role of a wolf and have to hunt and find a mate. It supports single or multiplayer play, and in the game attempts to be as realistic as possible, down to the body language of the wolves when communicating. A special scent-view mode lets you find food and fellow wolves.

Thursday, 24 July 2008


My major frustration with safari was that it could only support Google as it's search engine, and there was no way to change this without editing Safari's coding, a risky process that crashed safari if your modified version didn't have exactly the same file size as the original.

Enter Glims, a small app with allows you to add about 20 different search engines to safari and put them in order of your preference.

Other long-awaited features include:
  • Full screen browsing 
  • Undo close tab using Cmd-Z
  • Favicons show at the top of tabs
  • Thumbnails in Google and Yahoo searches.
  • Session saving
If safari supported all the features that Glims provided, a lot fewer mac users would be switching to firefox.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Main Menu

Main Menu is a small app that sits in your menu bar and provides you with easy access to a large number of maintenance tasks for your mac, such as force emptying trash, cleaning cashes and logs, and repairing permissions and indexes. It also lets you create scheduled tasks and execute these every set period of time for you. Everything it does is posted to you via Growl.

Saturday, 12 July 2008


Bricksmith lets you create lego models using your mac. There is a large array of parts available and once you get the knack of assembling these in 3D space you can make very realistic looking models. The highlight is probably the Minifigure generator which builds lego people for you - perfect for creating a forum profile image of you which stands out.

Friday, 11 July 2008


Processing is an open source Java-based development environment that aims to make it fast and easy to program prototype software (each project is known as a "sketch"). While the basic syntax is of a Java nature, many libraries have already been created to make programming using Processing simple and fast.
It supports serial communication, making it a useful tool to work with electronics boards like the Arduino (a versatile opensource project, which can even be used to send data back to your mac to run applescripts using Applescript Proxy)

For budding programmers, this is a great environment to learn, with a large amount of support from their website.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Portable Apps

After a short break, I've decided to get the ball rolling again with a link to an array of standard mac applications which have been made portable, allowing you to keep them on your USB key-ring and run them directly from flash memory on any mac you visit. The list of apps that have been modified to do this is substantial, containing the core mac apps like Mail and iCal as well as other major opensource programs like Gimp, Audacity, Nvu and Openoffice.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


While not an app, PicLens is a very cool plugin for Firefox 3 or Safari 3.0 (sadly not 3.1 yet). It installs a button next to your google search box that allows you to browse online photos and videos in a 3D environment, making the process of searching Flikr, Google Images, Amazon and Youtube a lot more fun. The graphics are extremely smooth, and you can navigate using mouse scrolling or arrow keys. Double clicking on a photo makes it fullscreen, and there is an option to launch the photo in your browser for downloading.

Developer's site

Tip: To use this on a local folder of photos, drag that folder into your browser window and then start PicLens.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Okay, so you've bought your shiny new mac, and you want to see how powerful it really is. xBench is a free app that lets you run a series of tests including CPU, RAM speed, graphics and disk read/write speed tests. 
While the graphics may not be the prettiest of benchmarking software, the app lets you upload your stats to a central server and compare with other mac users. This could be useful for checking if that RAM upgrade really is worth the cash.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


This app probably won't be used by you every day, but it's worth checking out - I install apps like these in a 'playground' folder of apps I don't use very much, but are cool to have. This program is similar to the mosaic screensaver that comes with leopard except, after giving it an image to work from, it fetches other images from the internet (Flikr, Google as well as iPhoto) and places them in the collage according to brightness for you.

Sunday, 15 June 2008


Porticus is a front-end for macports which makes it easy to install linux applications on your mac. It takes the terminal-based system of installing packages and turns this into a neat Cocoa app which even lets you search and browse ports and modules with description tags as if they were finder items. Ports can easily be activated/deactivated and updated, allowing for easy managment of your linux ports.

Friday, 13 June 2008


Celestia lets you navigate the universe with ease. With over 100,000 stars in its database as well as a few artificial satellites there is an extensive array of objects to travel to, but you can download add-ons to expand it, including optional high resolution textures for planets. The difficult job of navigating through 3 dimensional space is made easy using a 'Go to' feature, but you can still pan, zoom and rotate easily. As well as being beautiful, the software is accurate and you can view the realtime position of planets or satellites, or speed up the simulation to show orbits. A lot of fun to use.

Friday, 6 June 2008


FrameByFrame is a free stop-frame animation program that takes images from your webcam or another video source and lets you build Wallace and Gromit movies (though it may take a few years to get the knack). 
The window is split into three parts - the left panel shows your current camera feed, while the right one displays the current feed ghosted over the previous recorded image so you can see exactly what has moved since your last shot. The bottom section contains transport controls and a filmstrip for browsing your frames. Once your movie is created, you can export it into 25 different formats for uploading to the web or doing post-production in iMovie.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


I was originally going to write a tutorial on how to create custom icons for your folders on Leopard, a lengthy process involving image editing skills and at least 3 applications, but while surfing I stumbled upon Iconic, a fast and easy program that creates icons that look like they came with leopard.
All you need to do is find an image of the logo you want on a white background, drag it onto the program, wait for it to do its magic and then drag the folder you want it applied to onto the other side of the program. The process works best for sharp images with no grey smoothing around the letters, so a soft image will give a dirty look, but drag your company logo onto Iconic and you'll be impressed with the results.


Macbook and macbook pro users, prepare to have a lot of fun with this retro app which lets you play the classic game tunnel with a twist - you tilt your laptop to play. Despite the old-style graphics, the game is extremely smooth to play and you can have very fine control over the player depending on how much/fast you tilt your laptop. Feel free to post your highscore as a comment - I'll start with the moderate highscore of 3343.

Developer's site - also check out NetPong, Fish and LookAtMe.


Gawker is a simple program that lets you create time-lapse movies from your iSight, an external webcam, or a website URL. You can set a time interval and just leave it running or schedule a start and stop time, and even share your cameras with other users over the internet.

If you don't have an iSight or want to use an external camera, macam is a project which allows your mac to recognise most brands of webcam and treat them as an iSight.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Q [kju:]

Q is a mac port of QEMU, an opensource emulator. It allows you to get most versions of windows, linux, dos and freeBSD running emulated in mac, certainly worth trying before buying VMware or Parallels. You can also use it to run live CDs.

How it works:
Initially you need to create a partition for the 'Guest OS' to reside on. These can be compressed but if you are having problems (I did with win98) you can use an uncompressed .raw file. You can then configure how much RAM you want to give it, which audio, graphics and video cards you want it to emulate and choose whether a disk image or your real optical drive is used for the virtual CD drive. 
Launch the guest OS with the CD in your drive and follow its installation procedure. The OS can run in fullscreen or window mode, and Q even works with your laptop trackpad, including right click and scrolling.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Secrets is a pane for your System Preferences that combines all the hidden settings you've wanted to be able to change, but haven't got round to researching. Options include automatically expanding the save and print dialogue boxes, making the arrows in iTunes point to your own library, and changing the login window image. Secrets updates itself from the internet and includes secrets for most commonly used programs as well as general system preferences.

HowTo: Convert MP3s to Audiobook

Many iTunes users will have audiobooks in mp3 format, ripped from CDs or downloaded free. The problem with these is that iTunes treats them as music files and includes them in the Party Shuffle playlists. This tutorial will show you how to make iTunes treat them like Audiobooks, so you can keep them separate from your music and even adjust the play speed.

The only difference between audiobooks and standard m4a music files is the file extension - audio books are named '.m4b'

To convert your audiobook, first you need to ensure that they are in m4a format. Select one of the files in iTunes and hit cmd-i to bring up the inspector. At the bottom of the information window you can see the files path and name, including the extension.

If the extension is .m4a, your files are ready for renaming, and you can skip this next part. If they're mp3, you'll need to convert them:
  1. Hit cmd-, (comma) to open up iTunes preferences. Navigate to the advanced tab and select the importing button. 
  2. Change the drop-down menu Import Using: to AAC Encoder and change the setting below to Spoken Podcast. Now close the preferences window.
  3. In iTunes, select all your audiobook files you want to convert. Right-click them and choose 'Convert selection to AAC'. (This process may take a while)
Now locate your m4a files using Finder ([home directory]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/...) If you've converted them from mp3 you can delete the original mp3s to save space.

The final step is to rename them all from .m4a to .m4b files. You can use this workflow file to do it for you (open up the file and hit run in the top-right hand corner of Automator), which asks you to select the files and converts them all in one go. 

Once you're done, drag all the files into iTunes, and they should now be listed under the Audio Books panel. (You may have to delete the originals from your music library)

For the reference, free audiobook sites include LibriVox, Audio Books for Free, Books Should be Free or, for the biblically inclined Faith Comes By Hearing.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Warzone 2100

Freeware RTS games seem in short supply, so Warzone 2100 is indeed a rare find. The gameplay is similar to Total Annihilation, except players research components for their vehicles and then use these to design their own unit types. This game was originally commercial, but was released under GPL in 2001.

Tip: To set resolution go to /Users/[name]/Library/Application Support/Warzone 2100/config and edit width and height values.


What attracts many users about macs is that almost everything works out of the box - but, once it's out the box,  you may not need everything that's installed on your system by default. Monolingual frees up disk space by letting you remove unused language packs from your hard-disk - most users never require Burmese or Catalan for day to day use.
Another wonderful simplification of installing programs is the universal binary - support for all system architectures put into a single file. However, OS X doesn't remove the architectures you don't need from the universal binary, so you often have unused PowerPC executables sitting round on your Intel machine, or vice versa. Monolingual lets you choose which architectures you want to keep, and it will get rid of the irrelevant ones, potentially saving hundreds of megabytes of disk space.

Sunday, 25 May 2008


Houdini is a tiny program that lets you toggle hidden folders in Finder. If you are a semi-advanced user and want quick access to hidden folders, without having to remember their paths or having them clutter up your display, Houdini lets you select an individual hidden folder to access using a save/open style dialogue box, and then opens it up for you in Finder. Houdini can also toggle hidden folders in one click, and even create hidden files and folders for you - just drag a normal folder onto the icon to hide it.

Flip4Mac WMV

Flip4Mac generally create commercial WMV (windows media video) conversion applications, but to help advertise their products have released a free WMV codec for quicktime on mac, that lets you watch WMV movies in your browser as with any standard quicktime file.

Codec-wise, Perian is another useful set to own, as this lets quicktime play DivX, Flash Video, WMA and many other formats.


It's often ironic that when it comes to doing a maths calculation, computers are the worst medium to do it on - clicking on tiny buttons while the answer is put into a one line text-box seems cumbersome even for simple calculations.
Enter Longhand, an expression based calculator that works out your answers as you type. No searching for buttons to press - to square something just add ^2 to your expression and the answer will update instantly. Longhand will also handle different bases, imaginary numbers and even matrices, and includes a handy command reference to help you find your way around the software. For people frustrated with the built in calculator, this is well worth the download.

Armagetron Advanced

Based on the classic game of Tron, this updated 3D version of the game features smooth and simple graphics. The game is similar to snake, except there are multiple players, and you win by forcing each other to crash. Despite the fast pace, the fluid camera moves and player reflections make it a beautifully crafted game, well worth the download. It can be played vs AI, split-screen or over the net.


Ever had an audio device plugged into your mac which you want to hear through your computer speakers? LineIn is a simple app which lets you do just that. If you have multiple inputs or an external soundcard you can set the input or output to send the sound where you want it to go.

Disk Inventory X

Disk Inventory X helps clear up space on your disk drive in an intuitive  way. After choosing a volume or a folder, it goes through all the files and constructs a cube for each file, the size of the cube reflecting the size of the file (see image left). Cubes are color-coded by filetype, and when selected the delete key can remove the file. It takes a while to analyse volumes so it's best either to do just the Users folder, or go and make a coffee while it creates the image. There are several commercial pieces of software like this, so a freeware one is a rare find.

Saturday, 24 May 2008


If you have a macbook or a macbook pro, you will have a lot of fun with this app which turns your sudden motion sensor into a 3-dimensional seismograph, perfect for measuring real earthquakes, or measuring the gravitational field strength in your part of the world. Axes can be adjusted to show different ranges of motion, and graph images can be exported ready to send off to the National Geographic...

(Also look for SeisMacCalibrate, which lets you ensure accuracy in your readings)

MB and MBP users may also be interested in a motion-sensor based spirit level widget, and netPong, a network based game of pong where you tilt your computer to play.


Warsow is a hidden gem of a first person shooter. Featuring cartoon cyberpunk graphics, speed is the centre of this game, with players able to jump around the maps building speed using a technique called 'bunny hopping'. 

The game can be played versus AI, over a local network, or globally through servers, and a large number of  game modes are avaliable including instant deathmatch or CTF, where each player has a one-shot-kills, slow reloading weapon, making a fast paced game. Another interesting scenario is the 'race' mode, where players do not shoot, but race each other around an obstacle-filled map, trying to build up speed. Overall, a very fun game which plays smoothly, one of the best free FPS games on the net.

Friday, 23 May 2008


Isolator does one simple task - it isolates your current window, so you can work on a document, type an email or edit movies without distractions from the outside world. It sits in the menu bar, and when clicked (or a hotkey is set) it fades everything around your foremost window to a block color of your choice. It also can hide the dock, making this a useful application to have even if you want to work in a maximised window. The developer is working on a new version which blurs the background windows when switched on, so watch this space...

BOINC Manager

BOINC Manager allows you to use your processor's idle time to help advance research for ethical causes. It does this by downloading packages of information about 100MB in size, processing them, and uploading the results to a central server. It is secure, and can be configured not to run while you're on battery, and you can limit the resources and space it uses as well as operating times. 
Causes include Malaria Control, Climate Prediction and protein research projects. Once running, BOINC sits happily in your menu bar and works on any number of causes you select.


I thought I'd start off the blog with this very handy utility, which creates disk images in a flash. It may lack the advanced features of Apple's own Disk Utility, but that is not what it is designed for. The aim is to make creating disk images fast, and it doesn't get much simpler than this drag-and-drop interface.

Of course for advanced users, file systems and formats can be modified, and the whole thing is packaged in a semi-transparent window styled like the effects panels in iMovie and iPhoto. On the whole this is a well-designed, simple app which will speed up your workflow greatly.

Site Launched!

Welcome to OS X Gear, a blog which shows you some of the lesser known freeware OS X apps. If you are a developer and have created any mac freeware, please get in touch and I will be happy to mention it on the site.
Thanks for checking out my blog.