FileTypes for OS X

The fact that OS X still has no central FileTypes preferences panel for controlling associations between file types and the applications they launch in, defining new file types, seeing and editing metadata associated with filetypes, etc. is, IMO, a glaring omission from OS X. BeOS, of course, had File Types nailed. OS X has inherited and expanded on a lot of great ideas from BeOS over the past few years, but for some reason still keeps this kind of control out of the user’s hands (you can set the application associated with a file, or with all files “of this type” from Info property panels, but seriously – this kind of functionality should be baked into the system preferences panel.

The excellent RCDefaultApp gives you the control you’re looking for. Let’s just hope something similar is in Leopard.

Paperless Caching for Mac Users

Update: gpx2txt has been superceded by gpx2ipod – please visit that page for up-to-date info and discussions.

Downside of geocaching: The time it takes to prepare notes, making sure you’ll have access to hints and other people’s logs when you get there, etc. And the printing it requires doesn’t feel good from an eco perspective. All this data is available in .gpx files on, but most GPS units won’t display that data.

Paperless caching is where it’s at, but generally assumes you have a PDA. So what if you have an iPod but no PDA? The iPod has this much-overlooked “Notes” feature – mount an iPod, look in the Finder for the Notes folder, and drop in text files.

Amazingly, I haven’t been able to find anything that does this cleanly on the Mac. MacCaching is interesting, but (strangely) sends entries to Address Book rather to Notes, and doesn’t preserve any of the metadata you need on the trail. The workhorse utility gpsbabel is able to convert .gpx files to plain text (usable with iPod Notes), but the GUI version isn’t capable of batch operations. So I wrapped a shell script around the command-line version of gpsbabel to help Mac users do paperless caching with an iPod.

gpx2ipod takes a folder full of .gpx files and converts them to plain text, then injects them directly into an iPod’s Notes folder.

In the future I’ll try and re-package this as an Automator action, no Terminal required.

Update: Version 0.2 is now available, and handles both individual .gpx files and Pocket Query-generated multiple-cache .gpx files.

Update 2: gpx2txt has been completely rewritten as gpx2ipod – now much more user-friendly, with stored preferences and all kinds of bells and whistles.

Elevation Map

Miles and I hike every weekend, sometimes twice. He loves it, and scrambles like a nine-year-old (it’s almost scary how confident he is in the wilderness). Recently got a wild hair to marry the geek thing with the granola thing and get a GPS unit, so I could 1) Start mapping our hikes digitally, and 2) Experiment with geocaching. Found an eTrex Legend Cx on eBay, and have been trying to climb out of the rabbit hole since it arrived.

Elevation delta of my daily bike commute from home to UC Berkeley.

The device may look like a bit like a phone, but the similarity ends there. These things are capable of so much, I was totally unprepared for the learning curve it would bring. Tracks, routes, navigation, waypoints, points of interest, and the interfaces for managing all of them. Not to mention the huge variety of available software and the multitude of data formats that tags along.

The GPS universe is notoriously Windows-centric, but went with a Garmin in part because of their announcement that they intended to roll out full Mac support in 2007. But my unit came with a Windows-only CD, which meant hauling an old laptop out of the closet. has a few scattered Mac apps on their site, but nothing capable of loading maps and exchanging data formats. For that, you have to turn to workhorse open source apps like Babel, which get some of the job done, in a crude fashion. Found a few others, all with different strengths, but the killer one appears to be Google Earth, which (I didn’t realize until last night) is capable of connecting directly to popular GPS units and mapping their tracks and routes onto the the 3D surface — if you spring for the $20/year premium version. Still, an embarrassment of riches of mapping options is out there, some of them web-based.

Super impressed by the contact I had with Garmin tech support after I sent them email detailing some Mac issues and questions – expected a boilerplate response but got 6 paragraphs of info from a Mac-head employee and realized they actually care — unheard of!

Having fun so far*, but much learning to do, and haven’t set out on a geocache finding expedition yet.

* Today realized for the first time in five years of doing the same old trek that my daily ride covers 5 miles and a 200-foot elevation delta, and that my top bike speed is 31 mph, with an average speed of 15.7 mph. How could I have ever lived without this data?

Music: Minutemen :: Hittin’ The Bong

Religion in Second Life

A sincere religious community is developing within the synthetic atmosphere of Second Life.

Leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim sites estimate about 1,000 avatars teleport into churches, synagogues or mosques on a regular basis. Hundreds more list themselves with Buddhist, pagan, Wiccan and other groups.

The extracted video, both beautiful and eerie, gives me the willies, and I’m not exactly sure why. On one hand, it’s no more or less odd than any other simulation of the real world that takes place within the game. On the other, religion is all about community, and the religious community in 2L is virtualized – people never meet, and yet they do. Not sure what that means for things like religious involvement in local charities (are there soup kitchens in 2L too?), but I suppose it’s not so different than a drive-in church.

Thinking now of Europe’s great cathedrals and the centuries of hard labor it took to build them. Since Second Life is so heavily construction oriented (everyone’s both an architect and a contractor), will avatars set themselves to toil and construct some of the grandest and most ornate places of worship ever conceived?

Parallel question: Is Second Life a game, or is it something else? I know what Wittgenstein would say, but I’m not sure even the Second Life community itself have an answer to that one. If it is a game, what would that say about engaging religion within it? Perhaps “It’s only a game if you treat it like one.”

Music: Jim White :: Wayfaring Stranger

Combinatorial Media as Self-Expression

Loose notes from SXSW 2007 panel: Combinatorial Media as Self-Expression

Sean Uberoi Kelly, eTonal
Lili Cheng, Microsoft Research
Alice Marwick, New York University
Rick Webb, Archenemy

Discussion about the zillion ways multiple media are being mashed up and re-presented, or being presented in formats that make it super-easy for consumers to remix. Implications for creativity, copyright, fun.

Continue reading “Combinatorial Media as Self-Expression”


Haven’t tried this myself, but a reader just pointed out SpotMeta, which extends the Mac OS X filesystem to include fully customizable metadata fields, presumably searchable by Spotlight.

Based on how OS X has progressively integrated some of the coolest features of BeOS, I predict that something similar to this will soon ship natively in the system. So I’m not exactly eager to start tacking on 3rd party extensions to the filesystem — yahweh knows how the two would interact when extensible metadata becomes “official.” But it’s cool to see people thinking in these terms.

Thanks David Richardson

Music: Coldcut :: Autumn Leaves

Which Media Player Sucks Least?

Currently involved in a mondo thread regarding the question of whether QuickTime sucks or not, which by necessity also asks whether Real Media and/or Windows Media suck, and if so, how much? As with operating systems, I think all of them have strengths and weakness, but there are no secrets about my leanings: I think QuickTime is more flexible, has better (or at least equal) quality per bitrate, has a cleaner UI, is less big-brother-ish, and is less invasive (is less brash about stealing associations). QuickTime is also, unfortunately, the only one that nags the user till they cough up $30 — something I’m more than willing to do, though I know many/most people are not.

Not everyone shares my opinion. Thought I’d take a straw poll here on birdhouse, where the air is slightly less rarified than on the mailing list. What do you think? If all audio/video media on the web had to be in a single format, which should it be?

Which media player/platform gives the best overall user experience?

View Results

Gorgeous example of QuickTime in action.

Music: Janis Joplin :: To Love Somebody

Rectangular Text Selections

Rectangular text selections in BBEdit 7.0! (Make sure you’re not in soft-wrap mode, then Opt-drag your selection). This is one of those features you don’t use often, but when you do it’s a life-saver. I used to make frequent use of rectangular selections in Pe for BeOS (now Pepper) and had requested this on the BBEdit mailing list – apparently I wasn’t the only one. Awesome.

Music: Freakwater :: Binding Twine

Help Open Source Gobe Productive

Funny how StarOffice gets all the press for being the best alternative to MS Office — compared to Gobe Productive, StarOffice is an ineffectual pig. Gobe was forged from old Claris Works engineers dissatisfied with Apple, who went off to develop BeOS software. I wrote quite a few glowing reviews of Gobe Productive during the Be years, not just to be a cheerleader but because Productive truly rocked. They were doing stuff with cross-app data integration that Microsoft hadn’t even dreamed of yet — one app to handle spreadsheets, word processing, graphics, illustration, and presentations, shifting seamlessly between modes in a single document. Awesome.

Be belly-flopped, and Gobe did Windows and Linux versions of the product. Then the dot-com teat fizzled and Gobe hit hard times. For a while there’s been talk that Free Radical Software was going to buy the Productive license from Gobe and open source the product. But they too are cash shy, so now organizations like BeUnited are going door to door to raise collaborative money (more discussion). An open source Productive would benefit users of all platforms (even Windows). Yes, there’s got to be a good Office alternative for the open source crowd. No, StarOffice ain’t it.