Prizmo – Don’t Retype Text From an Image – Use OCR

By Marcel Dufresne

Aug 1, 2021


     What do you do if you have a paper document, like a magazine article, that you would like to edit and save? You could retype the entire document but that is time-consuming. A scanner is not enough to make this information available for your word processor. All a scanner can do is create an image or a snapshot of the document. To extract and repurpose the data from scanned documents, camera images or image-only PDFs, you need OCR software like Prizmo. With it, you could convert the text found in the image into words. This then can be copy/pasted into a word processor and edited to your specific needs. 

     OCR is an acronym for “Optical Character Recognition.” Many people are surprised to learn that a scanned image in its native state cannot be edited or searched. Text and bitmapped images are two different kinds of information. Text can be typed, edited, copied, pasted, deleted, and processed. Images, however, are a bunch of pixels in a grid that, combined in the right way, conveys some sort of information. OCR technology is what makes the image searchable and editable. 

     The benefits of being able to search for text in large files should be evident to anyone who has had this unenviable task. Making paper-based information searchable in seconds, rather than hours would reduce or eliminate costly data entry. Suppose you wanted to digitize a magazine article or a printed contract. You could spend hours retyping and then correcting any misprints. Or you could convert all the required materials into digital format in several minutes using a scanner (or a digital camera) and OCR software like Prizmo.

     When you start up Prizmo you are presented with an input window that provides numerous ways to get the image into your computer, ready to be processed. The variety and ease of input are what give Prizmo an edge over other comparable software. The easiest method is to drop your image onto Prizmo. You may also open the image from wherever it is stored on your computer. External devices such as a camera or a scanner can be directly accessed from Prizmo. Lastly, you can use your iPhone or iPad camera to shoot a picture of the document. This is using Apple integration to maximum effect. I connected my iPad to my computer. When I clicked on Prizmo’s “Shoot with iPhone”, it opened the camera app on my iPad and instructed me to take a picture and then to use it. The result immediately appeared in the Prizmo window, ready for some fine-tuning. 

     Next, the image has to be analyzed and prepared for the final OCR recognition process. There is a list of manipulations found across the bottom of the window. The image can be rotated as needed and cropped to remove unnecessary edges. The next category is ‘Adjust’. Here you can play with the brightness and contrast as well as flatten curved pages (often found when taking a picture from a book or magazine). The next category is OCR. Prizmo has the capacity to extract data from business cards and have the data sent directly to your Contacts. It is in this OCR category where you can choose Business Card or Document. The readability slide bar enables you to adjust the resolution to make sure the pixels have a suitable amount of clarity. Prizmo will actually flag this if the quality needs improving to ensure that you get the best result. The last choice is for polarity. Suppose your image has a black background with white text. Polarity will make sure that this is accounted for.

     The final category in preparing your image for conversion is language. The default is English, but Prizmo permits another 27 languages. Text read in French or Chinese is not the same thing in English. Imagine you process text in German while English is set as the language for OCR. OCR results will be disappointing because some letters exist in German, but not in English (“ö”, “ü”, “ä”, “β”…). As the OCR engine doesn’t expect these characters to occur in English, it won’t be able to recognize them correctly. By choosing the language used in the image, you are helping Prizmo to interpret the text with fewer misprints.

     Prizmo has one extra input trick available. When running, it adds an icon to the menu bar that allows you to select an adjustable window around any text found on the desktop. This text is immediately analyzed, converted, and copied to the computer’s Clipboard. This bypasses the normal input window preparation options but speeds up the paste process. 

     Once all the preparations are completed, you are ready for Prizmo to recognize the image data. After a quick perusal, the Prizmo window converts into two side-by-side windows. On the left, you have your image displayed and broken up into sections with a number attached. You can thus treat each of these separately. The right window contains only the text which can be edited, removing misprints. In fact, it acts like a normal text editor where text can be added, deleted, copied, or merged. Prizmo underlines obvious spelling errors to make the editing faster. You thus edit the recognized text before exporting the final output. You can choose one of the numbered sections and have Prizmo translate that text into another language. 

     The final step is to export the converted image. There are several export formats available. My go-to choice is PDF (Image + Searchable Text), but RTF or simple TXT is also available. You can export all the pages or some selected pages directly to Evernote, Dropbox, and others. You can send it to Apple Mail and the document is automatically attached to a new mail window. Prizmo adds some third-party properties to the Mail app such as the ability to crop an image.

     To finish off, I would like to mention some additional thoughts. For the more adventuresome users, Prizmo has Automator and AppleScript capabilities. The business card to Contacts is a good idea but I would like to have the ability to edit the field names. As an example, I would like to change zip code to postal code. The video and user manual support is fine but they are out of date. Prizmo has changed with each new update and this is not reflected in the manual. There are items mentioned that do not exist anymore or are located under a different category. This made it a bit more difficult to follow when I first started learning to use Prizmo.

     Prizmo is a scanning OCR application with powerful editing capabilities. It is easy to implement, being very user-friendly. You can try it out for free and make sure it is suitable for you. There is neither a use limit nor a time limit for trying out the demo version. There are, however, two limitations. For outputting an image file: you will see the words “Unregistered copy” written in white and the Prizmo icon on the output image. For outputting a text file or a business card: some words are replaced by the following characters ●●●●●●●. These characters will appear both in the preview and in the output document. Click here to read more about Prizmo and download the trial version. There are two versions of the app. The regular version costs about $50. The Pro Pack that has some extras that you might like costs $75. Save yourself a lot of time by applying OCR to your image. Avoid the need to retype the contents. Check out the videos and download the free trial. See for yourself how much time you will save with an easy-to-use OCR application like Prizmo. 

iCollections- Desktop Organizer and so Much More

by Marcel Dufresne

July 15, 2021

     Most of us are fighting the never-ending battle of keeping our desktops uncluttered. iCollections is another of the useful applications that organizes icons and keeps the desktop neat. Once I started using it, I found that it had many other very interesting additional functions that set it apart from the similar desktop organizers. Read on to find out if this application might be right for you.

     iCollections lets you create areas on your desktop so you can store, sort, and arrange your icons. This helps you keep related items together so your files are organized and easy to find. This should increase task and time management effectiveness by offering a streamlined desktop where everything is organized to your specifications. Collections are not limited to only files, folders, and applications. URL links, as well as fragments of text (text clippings), can be stored. The URL and text clip can be taken from an application in macOS or can be created manually. It can even be edited. You can also assign a keystroke shortcut to the text clipping item and use the shortcut to paste its content over and over again.

     The main interface to interact with iCollections resides in the menu bar. It is from here that one can create a collection folder. Add what you will to the collection and by default, an alias of it is created in the collection. If you wish to copy and move files, then you need to disable the “Only create aliases” option in Preferences. Next, you will need to choose to which border you would like to place its tab. And presto, you have freed up space on the desktop. When you move your mouse over the tab, the contents will spring open. 

     Once your items are in a collection, you can perform the same actions as you could on items on the desktop. You can open (double click), rename (click on a label), remove (Cmd+Backspace), view (space key), copy and move (drag and drop), locate in the Finder window (context menu), and more. You can label, re-size, highlight or move them however you would like. Any collection can be set as a drawer (looks like a tab). The drawer stays hidden as a tab at the top, bottom, left or right part of the screen and slides out from the edge when you mouse over it.

     Each collection can be individually customized to your specific tastes. Colour, style, size, borders, etc. are all under your control. Even the collection tab is considered to be an individual item with its own customizable properties. The colour coding helps you to find what you are looking for much faster. You can even exchange any macOS system icon with a more distinguishable one. You can use picture files to change the icon of any file, folder, application, alias, disk drive or URL link.

     By default, the iCollections Storage is located in your Documents folder. This can be switched to a different location if you wish. I put mine in my local users folder with a link in the sidebar. This provided me with very quick access to all the items I have stored. This location is not shared on the Internet to protect my data.

     A collection folder is the main type of iCollections window and the primary function of the application. But, this is just one of eleven different collection types. When you choose ‘New’ from the iCollections menu bar icon, you will view all of the other types. The ‘Disk Panel’ collection contains all your active disk drives. This includes any that are on your network as well as DVD drives.

     If you have ever wanted to add an item to the computer’s menu bar then the ‘Menubar Dock’ is for you. It provides the means to add items from a collection to your computer’s menu bar. This can be moved around just like any other menu bar icon. The items in the list are stored in the iCollections folder where you can add or remove what is there.

     The ‘Folder View’ collection allows speedy access to selected folders from the desktop. ‘Drop Well’ keeps references to files and folders you add but does not back them up. The Drop Well is used as temporary storage for files and folders during drag and drop. Moving a file into the Drop Well creates an alias of the original file. When you move the alias to any folder, the original file will also be moved.

     Would you like your computer to become a fancy photo frame for some of your photos? Then use the ‘Photo Frame’ collection. Now your favourite images can be quickly shown on the desktop. It can be used to create a slideshow if you wish, create a static picture, or have it change once a day. Each separate Photo Frame collection can be customized, including style and colour, to suit your preferences. This even applies to choosing the frame design. 

     The ‘Web View’ collection is a quick way to check out a specific website without having to open your browser. Its compact size makes it ideal to free up space on the desktop but still keep you in touch with the Internet. And,  like the other kinds of Collections, you can create tabs to have multiple web pages in one window. 

     The ‘Calendar’ presents a desktop view of your schedule in a simple widget. Events from selected calendars (Work, Home, Birthdays, etc.) will be displayed for each day. Event descriptions can be seen for any day by clicking on a specific day cell.

     At first, the ‘Apps Monitor’ collection window looks like the Dock display. However, it displays only the currently running processes and as such is much shorter. With it, you can quickly bring an app to the front, force quit or apply several other selected processes such as Get Info or Show in Finder.

     The ‘Window Monitor’ collection contains all the open windows you have per desktop. If you minimize a window, it will show up in this collection no matter which desktop you are using. I often do this with magazines that I have not yet finished with. With this collection I can immediately go back to the article I was reading. It even has badges for apps such as Mail which lets me know how many emails I have waiting to be read. Lastly, there is the ‘Trash Bin’ collection which allows me to place a trash icon anywhere on the desktop. It indicates the number of items in the trash.

     The iCollections application provides an extremely efficient way to free up space and organize your desktop. There is a very helpful online manual and numerous videos to guide you through its many functions. I strongly suggest that you download the fully functional 14 day trial version of iCollections. Click here to download it or read more about its diverse functions. There is a single-user price of $18.95 or $26.95 for a lifetime upgrade version. Try it out and get a good idea of what it can do. The degree of customization is superb. Size, location, colour, and anything you can think of can be modified to your liking. Alleviate the problem of trying to find one file among the myriad of files on your desktop.

Art Text 4 – Bring Your Text Graphics to Life

by Marcel Dufresne

Jun 28, 2021

     Art Text is an application designed for creating unique textual graphics. Use the canvas to transform your blah words into works of art. By applying special effects to text and adding vector shapes, simple words will come to life. Once completed, your work can be saved and then published. Read on to see if this might be just the application you were looking for to jazz up a website or some other project you have worked on.

     The application opens with the main window which is your starting canvas. You can choose from a multitude of presets or create your own design from scratch. Art Text is simple and straightforward to use. You will be creating fantastic-looking graphics in no time at all. Art Text comes with several sample designs that you can use to learn the capabilities of the program as well as to create your own artwork.

     Art Text provides a library of style presets located in the Content panel which can be found in the main window. A typical preset is a piece of text with applied effects and background. Style presets are divided into several categories. You can select a category from the drop-down list at the top of the panel. There are six main categories to choose from including 3D Text and Spray. Once you decide on the category, a visual list now fills the left-hand side of the window. The length of this list varies with the category chosen. The next heading is for backgrounds, light effects and gradients. You are given the option to use a photo for the background. The third preset category is for shapes. This is also split into over a dozen lists including animals, arrows, and symbols. You are not limited to using only the presets. Each of these three main categories allows for customization on your part. 

     Art Text also comes with a Design Gallery window. This area contains ready-made artwork. Besides the common 2D and 3D designs, there are also Halloween, Icons, Logos and Social Media examples. Some of these are free to download. Others may be purchased. There are over 35 categories to choose from. They provide a good starting point to give you an idea of what can be done. 

     If you opt to start with a blank canvas, ignoring all of the presets, then you will hit the ‘+’ button at the bottom left of the window. Now a 2D text, a 3D text, or a background must be chosen. In Art Text, you will find 2D effects (such as shadow, glow and stroke), 3D effects (such as adjustable color, shape and light), and Transformations (geometric deformation of text or images). I can go on listing more and more of the available effects that you can use but it would be better if you tried them out yourself. You can download a fully operational unlicensed version of Art Text. Its only limitation is that it adds the text “Trial” over the resulting image. This is the perfect way to test out the app and see for yourself how easy it is to use. Click here to download it.

     Playing around with Art Text I was amazed at the amount of diversity I could apply to the text. Writing COFFEE using coffee beans was so much more expressive. Using leaves would work well with any spring or summer theme. And you are not limited to only one leaf shape. There are fifteen leaf types to choose from. The list of shapes to choose from seems to go on and on. 

     The thing that makes Art Text so easy to use is the amount of documentation and visual tutorials that BeLight makes available to you. There are twelve videos that not only explain but show what to do for that special effect. Click here to check out the extensive user manual.

     Art Text is robust enough for the pro designer but simple enough to cater to the amateur user. Art Text provides all the tools to quickly create unique text graphics. Amateurs can create high-quality graphics and text effects without much learning by using hundreds of pre-designed templates and various presets. Images created in Art Text can be used in publishing materials, on web pages, or in other applications. It is saved in the native Art Text format (.art4) or in other common graphic file formats.

     Art Text 4 is a text effect and typography design application. Text is fine on its own but if you want it to really speak to you, you should take the time to make it visually appealing. Art Text has all the tools for creating lettering and typography graphics, text mockups and artistic text effects. Art Text 4 is available for purchase from its website and the Mac App Store. The regular price is $29.99. I strongly recommend you download the free trial version and play around with it. Even if you don’t purchase the licensed version, you will have fun trying it out. You might even find a personal use for it.

Overboard! – Try To Get Away With Murder

by Marcel Dufresne

June 22, 2021

     Overboard! is a narrative mystery game with a huge twist. Usually, with this type of game, you are required to collect and evaluate the information provided in order to determine who murdered the victim. In Overboard!, we know who the murderer is right from the beginning. It is you, playing as Veronica Villensey, who kills her husband in the very first scene. The object of the game is to try to get away with the murder by getting the other passengers to agree it was suicide, or better yet, by framing someone else for it and tying up all loose ends. You have just eight game-time hours to cover the evidence, mislead witnesses, frame another suspect and escape a guilty verdict/prison sentence.

     The game-play starts on board the oceanic vessel, the SS Hook. The year is 1935. Wealthy Malcolm Villensey’s fortune has been wiped out overnight. He and his wife, a former actress, Veronica, have boarded the ship to start a new life in America. But Mrs. Villensey has had quite enough of Malcolm and decides to push him overboard. The opening scene places you, the morning after, in your stateroom with the steward knocking on the door. Do you let him in to see you are alone? Stall for time? Impersonate your husband? From here on each and every decision and statement you make sets the stage for the final verdict. It’s a quick game taking about 15 minutes to play through. Don’t expect to get away with the crime. There are way too many pitfalls to trip you up. It took me four or five replays before I avoided a prison sentence and had the death declared a suicide. Replays are encouraged. You will need to try many different paths to get a favourable outcome. 

     Overall, Overboard! is packed full of innumerable narrative branches. It is a complex mix of twists and turns all dependent on what you say and who you meet as well as the location and the time of these meetings. Each of the other five passengers has their own secrets that for better or worse could determine your final fate. As you play, it becomes apparent that you must determine who has seen what and what relationships each of the passengers and the crew have with each other. You have the opportunity to control the outcomes by carefully choosing how to spend your time and the direction each of your conversations takes.

     The key to winning is to not get caught in a lie. Impersonating your husband in the stateroom means that he is still alive. Will the evidence support this? Another key piece of evidence is a lost earring. Apparently, this fell off on the deck as you were helping your husband overboard. Who will find it first and how will you cope with this? All you have to do is pin the blame on one of the five fellow passengers. However, each of these has their own ideas about what happened. Unfortunately for you, any one of them could have witnessed something significant. Maybe eliminating another passenger will help your final verdict. After all, what is another murder if it will set you free. Convincing the authorities that Malcolm died by suicide will ensure Veronica’s freedom but that won’t be enough. Veronica needs money and can only collect the life insurance money if someone else gets the blame. 

     The game always restarts with the initial stateroom scene. Make a plan in advance. Before a run, sit down and think about what outcome you want, and what you would need to do, and when those tasks need to be done, so you don’t get blindsided. As you play more and more, certain dialogues start to become your preferred route. The dialogue is usually presented with three choices and the game highlights the choice of your previous playthrough. This enables you to move on faster. You can hit the fast-forward button to accelerate the gameplay even more. Overboard! does allow you to rewind a playthrough back to the beginning of a scene. This helps if you accidentally make a mistake and wish to change it without having to go right back to the beginning. 

     The gameplay is fast-paced. The eight hours fly by and before you know it, you will be facing the final jury of your peers. At the end, everyone aboard comes together to discuss Malcolm’s disappearance. This is where your actions and conversations influence your ability to save yourself. After each of the remaining characters has had their say, the epilogue presents what will happen to Veronica’s life moving forward. 

     The developers at Inkle have spent a lot of time creating these post-depression characters. Their clothes, the music and the way they talk all well represent the period. It makes for a lot of fun and sometimes unexpected conversations. Depending on the age of the player, you can turn off the profanity. A few other options help speed up the game. To help guide the gameplay, Overboard! provides a list of tasks. This changes with almost every new replay and gives you an idea of which path to take next. A large part of the game is discovering the unusual things you can do and how this changes the story. Playing the game on Steam gives the advantage of achievements. These always act as an incentive to replay a game over and over. This is, unfortunately, missing from the iOS version. 

     Designed for multiple playthroughs with an enormous amount of variety and consequence, Overboard! is a narrative puzzle you’ll want to keep exploring until you’ve executed the perfect crime. Since this game is nonlinear, there are multiple valid ways to play and get the same ending. There are innumerable ways to correctly or incorrectly handle each playthrough. Click here to read more about it. It is available for Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, and iPhone/iPad. It is a game that is easily played on any platform. The size of the screen has no impact on the gameplay in any way. You will have to decide on what is more important, achievements or price, as the iOS version is cheaper. If dark humour and a reverse murder mystery appeals to you, then get Overboard! 

The Vault – Secure Password Storage and More

by Marcel Dufresne

June 14, 2021


     With the Internet being a large part of our financial and other private interactions, password security becomes a primary area of concern. Since using one password for all these activities would be asking for trouble, this must be avoided at all costs. The ideal is to use a different password for every site. This devolves into the herculean task of remembering each and every one. Writing passwords down somewhere is not the solution as this might fall into the wrong hands. Fortunately, there are third-party applications that can handle all of your passwords. This review is for The Vault, an application that makes it easy to securely store all your passwords, login credentials, credit card info, and, as a bonus, any other confidential information such as documents or photos.

     The Vault makes it easy to store any kind of data. Each piece of confidential information is stored as one textual entry, called a “Note”. You can drag and drop PDF documents, photos, or almost anything you can think of into a Note. I even added an aiff sound to The Vault. Of course, the main use of The Vault would be to store your numerous passwords. Each of these and any other related login questions can be securely stored in The Vault. They are then available to be copy/pasted when needed. The other types of stored documents can be opened with the appropriate application. The sound file opened in iTunes. Photos and PDF files open with Preview. You can have an unlimited number of Notes and once these start to build up, you can sort them into folders. The number of folders is also unlimited. Because they are textual, there are no fixed data-entry fields. The freedom of free text is what sets The Vault apart from other password protection apps.

     The Vault resides in your menu bar. To access it, you need to create a master passcode. Since this master passcode is never stored anywhere, it is imperative that you not forget it. When making up a password, avoid using all the most common types. Be creative and mix in some numbers and other keys. If you need to, the master passcode can be changed later from within the app. The Vault uses authenticated 256-bit AES encryption and never stores unencrypted data. Any Note you make will be unreadable to any other app.  

     The Vault works for all your devices. It can run on your iPhone and iPad as well as on your Mac. Thus your confidential data is always at hand, whenever you need it, on all your devices. I have set up my iMac to store the encrypted Notes in Dropbox. This way I can access my secure data using my passcode from any other Mac that has The Vault running. Secure Synchronization is an extremely useful add-on to The Vault. A one-time in-app purchase allows you to sync your data to all your devices. After enabling Secure Synchronization on one device you can add as many devices as you like, free of charge. Edit a Note on your Mac, and access the new data on your iPhone. Even large documents or photo albums can be quickly synced with The Vault.

     You can use The Vault to provide a cryptographically proper random password. These can be edited to your liking. Use ⌘P to change the recipe of the random password generator including length and other variables. The Vault comes with a set of templates to help you quickly create Username/Password Notes or Credit Card Notes. It turns your plain text into usable data. It automatically recognizes passwords, keys, ID codes, usernames, login credentials, credit card numbers, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc. This sensitive data is called “HotContent” and is automatically hidden using …… to conceal it. You can tap the HotContent, for example a password, and use it to log in, without ever revealing it. It is not revealed in the Clipboard.

     The more you use The Vault for storage the larger it becomes and the harder it is to locate the data you are looking for. Fortunately, when you open the app you can immediately start a full-text search across all the Notes in all the Folders. On your Mac, press ⌘F to start searching, either across all your Notes, or within the full text of the currently open Note. Always-on keyboard shortcuts let you login to your most-used accounts and apps using a single key-press. Any content from your Vault can be linked to a keyboard shortcut of your choice for immediate access anywhere. 

     The Vault comes with fully functional in-app documentation, demonstrating all its features in action. There really is not much to learn as its actions are very intuitive. And for the more adventuresome, the Preferences provide access to numerous settings for these advanced users.

     Lastly, there is QuickNote. This is an on-the-fly note taker. Just press CTRL+⌘+N anywhere and the QuickNote window will open up, ready for you to add a Note to it. This works even when you are in Full Screen Mode. It is fast, requires no login, and is automatically saved. Whatever you write will be there next time you open it. The note can also be added to The Vault with a click or deleted with another. It is conveniently able to create a ToDo list with checkboxes.

     The goal of The Vault is to be as simple as possible. It provides secure storage and is as straightforward as writing it down. Its versatility enables you to store anything you can think of in it. All your personal information is at your fingertips and no one else’s. There are significant differences as to what you can do with The Vault on the Mac and on your iDevices. The Mac version of The Vault is about $25. The iPad version is free but it comes with useful in-app purchases. I found the iPad running The Vault with SecureSync and the Password AutoFill features provided me with the best and quickest access. Click here to read more about the application. Download it for the iPad and try it out for free. See for yourself how easy it is to securely save and retrieve your passwords. Never again will you have to write them down and hide them away from prying eyes.  

Dropzone 4 Pro – Declutter Your Desktop, Accelerate Common Functions

by Marcel Dufresne

June 2, 2021

 

    There are applications that make actions on your computer more efficient. They often take the place of what already can be done. They just make it easier to find and thus faster to implement. Dropzone is one such application. It resides up in the menu bar so you don’t have to remember keystrokes or search around on your desktop for it. Simply put, Dropzone is a productivity tool that enhances drag and drop on your Mac. You drag files onto the menu bar icon and a grid of your available actions opens. There are three areas to discuss here. These are the grid, the folders/apps and the actions section. Using this application will speed up sharing with services such as AirDrop, FTP, Facebook, or Twitter and many others. You can move and copy files, launch applications and even develop your own actions. While most of what Dropzone can do is already available to you, this program will simplify all of the processes.

     The most common battle I have with my computer is just trying to keep the desktop from getting too cluttered. I have developed a few tricks to assist with this problem but I have come to rely on Dropzone as the best choice. I have used it for over six years and I will continue to keep it in my menu bar. I tend to use it every day.

     The top grid area is where you access your files and the aliases for the apps you have selected. Dropping a file or an app onto the ‘Drop Bar’ icon puts an alias of it into the slot right beside the Drop Bar icon. These cannot be reorganized. They appear in the order in which they were first entered. Dropping two or more at once will create only one alias icon which will open each of the items separately. Drop Bar lets you put files you know you’ll need later onto the Drop Bar area of the grid for temporary storage. You can drag a stack onto another Dropzone action. It is worth noting that when you drag files onto Drop Bar, Dropzone simply creates a reference to that file. It doesn’t copy or move it from its original location or do anything with it until you drag it off Drop Bar. Therefore, you need to keep the original file around even after dragging it onto Drop Bar. You can stash some files temporarily in the Drop Bar and then drag them off onto other apps or Dropzone actions when you’re ready to use them. It is a convenient place to keep them stored so that you don’t have to go searching for them when you actually need them. Merging a group of files together by dropping them onto each other is another convenient use of the Drop Bar. I have two apps that I always open when solving online crossword puzzles. I simply click the one merged locator and they both open up ready for use.

     The ‘folders/apps’ is the area that stores apps and folders you often use. Choosing this will either launch the app or open the correct folder. Dropping a folder or an app onto the ‘Add To Grid’ icon will place it in this area. I use this area rather than the Dock at the bottom of my screen. With too many apps open or stored in the dock, that area gets very crowded and I often have to search around for the app I am looking for. With Dropzone, I can now add some additional apps without clogging up my Dock. I just find it quicker to open the less used, but still common, apps. Items in this area can be reorganized or deleted. I added my downloads folder to this grid so that I can quickly check what has come in. I also added my reviews folder to this grid. 

     Lastly, there is the actions section. Actions provide you with a set of often used functions such as print or mail. It lets you share with Messages or access your Google drive. You can add actions from the intuitive new drop-down menu. Click the ‘+’ sign in the top left to get the drop-down menu. It lists all the available actions that you can add to the bottom grid. If the action you are looking for is not in the list or the default one doesn’t do exactly what you want, you can edit or create your own. Use the Develop Action… menu item to design and create new actions. You can now duplicate existing actions and tweak them to your liking. Creating a new action will require a basic understanding of either Ruby or Python. Since I have few programming skills, I rely on the actions Dropzone provides. There are over twenty actions now available, each with the ability to be edited for your needs. As an example of how to use an action, let’s suppose you want to save a YouTube video to your desktop. Just drop the URL onto the proper action and it will save the video. All the actions available in Dropzone work if you drag and drop them on the correct icon. The actions can be dragged around and reorganized just like the folder/apps. 

     The preferences are accessed through the gear icon. A ‘Toggle grid’ shortcut key, which you can designate, opens and closes the menu bar grid without having to click on it. This can be used system-wide to open and close the grid and is especially useful when you need to drag to the grid from a fullscreen app and the menu bar is hidden. 

     Dropzone has been around for a while, this being version 4. The longevity of the application is a testament to its usefulness. This newest rendition will work with Mac OS 10.14 or later. Click here to read more about it. It will give you a pretty good idea of what can be done. As mentioned, there are two versions of the app. You can download it from the Mac App Store or the Aptonic Web site. On the Mac App Store, Dropzone 4 is a free download. The free version of Dropzone 4 currently includes the following features: Move/Copy Files, Open Applications, Shortening URLs, AirDrop, and Drop Bar. The Dropzone 4 Pro lifetime version sells for $35 or you can use a $1.99/month subscription. You can get a free 14 day trial of Dropzone Pro and test it out. If you like what it can do for you, then you can purchase a license. Even if the Pro version is too expensive for you, get the free version and save some time. It is a permanent fixture on my menu bar.

Get Backup Pro- Avoid Catastrophic Loss of Files and Data

by Marcel Dufresne

May 26, 2021

     The mantra of any computer user is “Save! Save! Save!”. You never know when a catastrophe will befall you. A drive might fail or you might accidentally delete a file that you now regret doing. Your only protection is to save your work. Many applications do this for you so that you don’t have to remember to save. The Mac OS comes with Time Machine installed. Just attach an external drive and Time Machine will save your files every hour. For most of the time, Time Machine is all I need but I found it lacking in several ways. This review is about a product from BeLight Software called Get Backup Pro which I must say does just what I want it to do in terms of backup.

     Get Backup Pro is a backup software utility that enables you to create a backup of files and folders located on your computer, and then restore them if needed. The use of the program does not require special computer skills and as such is suitable for both beginners and pros. There is an extensive help menu that explains in easy-to-follow detail how to use all parts of the application. 

     Get Backup Pro consists of several tools which let you back up your files in different ways. You can create a simple backup, an archived backup, clone a hard disk or sync the content of a pair of folders. A simple backup is a means to place copies of files in another location preserving the original formats of these files. This is useful if you need to quickly access individual files in the backup.

     Mac OS X users might be wondering why they might need a backup utility in addition to Time Machine. Time Machine is user-friendly and an essential utility to keep you from losing data. However, it lacks some of the features that Get Backup Pro has. This includes making a bootable backup, compression of the files to save space, and most importantly for me, flexibility when it comes to scheduling. While it is possible to customize the Time Machine schedule using third-party software, Time Machine backs up your hard drive every hour and does not offer you the possibility to change the timetable to better fit your needs. I get around this lack of flexibility by ejecting my external drive and reconnecting it two or three times a week, which is all that I need. With Get Backup Pro I can now customize my scheduling down to the minute. With it, I have the option of backing up daily, weekly, or monthly. You need not have Get Backup Pro running for it to execute the scheduled backup. If you have activated the scheduled creation of backups, the process will start automatically at the stated time. And I can also back up manually whenever I wish. 

     Disk cloning is a special type of backup. I found this to be my main reason for using Get Backup Pro. The purpose of disk cloning is to duplicate your entire volume including the system files. As a result, you can boot your computer from the duplicate drive as if it was your working drive. The first time you clone takes much longer (hours) than backing up only the user files. It is faster (minutes) the next time. After the dreaded hard drive crash, you want to get back to work right away if possible and avoid the restore process until later. The backups created in Time Machine are not bootable and will require you to either reinstall your system and then copy your files over, or install using Time Machine’s backup. With a bootable backup, all you have to do is install your clone disk and you are back to work immediately.

     Get Backup Pro presents you with reliable archive encryption to keep your information out of unfamiliar hands. This keeps you protected even if your external hard drive, DVDs, or CDs are stolen. Get Backup Pro offers four distinct encryption standards — AES-128, AES-256, Blowfish, or Triple DES.

     Time Machine does not provide you with the opportunity to compress data. As a result, backups made in Time Machine take up the same amount of space as the original files. Depending on the size of your backup drive, you will find Time Machine constantly taking time to erase older backups in order to write newer files. Get Backup Pro offers you the option of compressing your backups to save space. This lossless compression reduces file size by 10 to 60%.

     Keeping files stored on both your home and work computers up-to-date can be a challenging task without the help of synchronization tools. Get Backup Pro works as more than just a backup utility. It offers you a powerful synchronization tool that allows you to synchronize both uni-directionally and bi-directionally. This is an additional function that Time Machine does not possess.

     When you first open Get Backup Pro you are presented with a window that contains the four choices for backing up. Each of these presents you with a different content window when chosen. The application calls each backup you do a project. Each project can be configured to your taste. Each project is time-stamped with the most up-to-date backup listed. I like that the progress is followed not only with a progress bar but also with a percentage accurate to two decimal points indicating how many files have been copied. I much prefer this to being given a time-of-completion estimate.

     The Get Backup Pro application permits you to back up files and folders in the original or compressed format, and then restore them. Click here to go to the website and get a quick video tour of Get Backup Pro as well as more details on what it can do for you. You can download the free fully running application and use it for 14 days in order to check it out. The full version is $20. It requires an Apple Macintosh G3 or higher, Mac OS X v10.3.9 or later. With this application, you can reduce the backup archive size using compression tools and restore it on any computer. The customizable scheduling tool allows a fully automated backup process so that backups are built on a regular basis (daily, weekly or monthly). You can create separate schedules for different backup projects. Download the free trial of Get Backup Pro today to find out whether it is the right backup program for you. Take the opportunity to clone your drive even if you opt not to purchase the app. With both Time Machine and Get Backup Pro running, I feel ready to handle any catastrophe. 

Swift Publisher – All Your Publishing Needs From Past to Present

by Marcel Dufresne

May 17, 2021

   Swift Publisher is a desktop publishing app for Mac that allows users to design various documents that can be published online or printed. It has an easy-to-use interface, numerous built-in page layouts, customizable templates and varied text and drawing tools. Swift Publisher makes it easy to create professional-looking flyers, booklets, newsletters, posters, brochures, CD labels, business cards, menus, facing pages, Facebook/Twitter covers and more. It comes with over 500 templates of diverse print projects and additional free templates are available online. It has 2,000 free clipart images and 100 image masks. Google Map can be integrated into all document types. Drag and drop allows you to add your own images. Integration with Depositphotos, an online store of over 60 million vector and raster images, means that you should never run out of ideas to create unique projects. You can extend your library to 40,000 images and 100 additional fonts by purchasing the Extras Pack. Read on to find out what you might use Swift Publisher for.

     The most common use for a publishing app would be for individual pages, brochures, newsletters, certificates, or flyers. Swift Publishing simplifies these types of projects, making your work look professional. It has several features that accomplish this. With Swift Publisher for Mac you can view and edit two pages side-by-side. This functionality is very convenient for working with magazines, newspapers and other double-page layouts. Master pages can be created so that each page of the document has exactly the same background in terms of headers, footers, page numbers and other common background features. There is no need to cut and paste into each page.

     Text boxes can be linked to make your text flow from one text box into another, even when text boxes are on different pages. That is great for complex, multi-column layouts such as self-publishing magazines and books. You can add text using the Text box, or the Vertical and Circle Text tools. And, as with images, you can change the transparency, rotate and fill text blocks with colors. There is control over the text block to change not only the font type or size but also the spacing between each letter and each line. Lists can be made with a variety of bullets. Use Check Spelling to avoid misprints. A collection of artistic 2D and 3D heading presets can be found in the left-hand column. Rulers can be moved around and set in place wherever you wish. Create your own custom grids by setting vertical and horizontal guideline spacing.

     Using drawing tools, gradient fills, shadows, image tiling, over 100 image masks, a built-in image editor and other tools, you’ll find that the design solutions are endless. With each image in your project you can play with the tint, tile, crop, rotation, transparency, and more. You can make creative photo frames and collages or draw freehand shapes using the spline drawing tool. The linear and radial gradient fills add that special touch to the backgrounds.

     The application supports dynamic data fields which let you insert contact details or data from a text file for batch printing. Use the info from Apple’s Contacts to batch-print mailing and barcode labels, business cards, invitations, or name badges.

     Besides the basic publishing features, there are some less-used project types I want to mention. You can access iTunes or Photos from Swift Publishing to print directly to CD/DVD discs with supported printers. There are tools present for designing jewel box covers, tray inserts, folding booklets and many more. The ready-made designs for music and photo discs make labelling a snap. Insert song titles, album, play length, cover art, and more from iTunes library. This function might be considered obsolete as so few of us use CDs anymore, but it is nice to know that if the need ever arose, the ability to make a fancy case is within your grasp. I know I still have blank CDs and jewel cases stored in my cupboard.

     Another obsolete function is the mass mailing of letters. Nowadays, with social media, we don’t use snail mail as much. Regardless, Swift Publishing has tools for designing and printing envelopes and other labels. The ability to blend your Contacts information using dynamic fields into the letters and envelopes greatly facilitates bulk mailing. There is ample support for standard metric and US envelopes or you can customize your setup. These dynamic fields can be used in many other project types. Swift Publisher supports hundreds of paper layouts for business cards, disc and shipping labels and also facilitates the creation of custom layouts.

     Another feature that you might use is the ability to create barcode labels with UPC, EAN, ISBN, QR and others. Simply add the text to the project window and a QR code is ready to be inserted into your document or onto your business cards. And there are over 60 ready-made designs of horizontal and vertical business cards.

     You can try designing a postcard, or a flat, or folded greeting card. The greeting card is just one small section of the complement of projects found in Swift Publisher. It is the one that I will be using first. I used to send out my own greeting cards in the past. Even though they were simple designs, the personal hands-on aspect of them was very much appreciated. I will be making more of these now that I have Swift Publishing at my disposal. I am even able to add family photos to the card.

     The last feature I want to mention is the ability to produce calendars. You can add your own background or choose from the gallery provided. I was able to drag and drop family member photos onto their individual birthdays making a unique personalized calendar. It could not be easier to compile a year, print it up and pass it on to others.

     The reason that Swift Publisher is so easy to use lies in the support provided. There is ample documentation and useful video tutorials to walk you through any project you want to try. Click here to check out this support. Find articles like how to make a greeting card or how to get more free templates. Swift Publisher has all the features one could think of to design and print intricate documents. No matter if your project relies on past ideas like CD covers or bulk mailing or current tasks like a Facebook banner for your site, Swift Publisher has the easy solution. Download the free trial and test it out. Swift Publisher 5 is available directly from the Swift Publisher website and the Mac App Store for $19.99. It requires macOS 10.12 or later. At this price, you can’t go wrong.

Continue reading “Swift Publisher – All Your Publishing Needs From Past to Present”

Acorn 7 – All the Tools To Edit and Create Images Like a Pro

     Acorn is an image creating and editing application that is made for both the amateur and the professional. It is simple enough to learn but robust enough to handle the needs of most users. No matter how good of a photographer you are, you will eventually want to edit some of your good shots to make them exceptional. There are many expensive applications out there that will let you touch up your work. Acorn provides a quick-to-learn affordable alternative. And that is not all Acorn does. You could add text and shapes to your digital pictures, or combine images to create a photo collage. Read on to get a good idea of what this multipurpose image editor could do for you.

     When you first start Acorn you are presented with an initial choice window. From here you can start a new image, import one to edit, or return to a previously chosen image. The middle portion provides you with help documentation. It is this section that makes Acorn so usable to all. The online searchable database will have you quickly editing your photos. The details cover most editing tasks in simple easy to understand text and pictures. If you are more of a visual learner, there is an accompanying set of tutorials to guide you through many techniques. If the answer to a problem is not to be found here, then from this window you can contact the developers. Because Acorn has such an extensive source of online documentation and tutorials, you will quickly learn how to use it.

     The canvas is where the composite of all the layers is viewed and where you draw, crop, or modify your image. The bottom portion of the canvas is called the status bar which has the zoom slider. Acorn can zoom in to more than 6000%, which makes it easy to do very fine touching up. The file name and format can be found along the center of the top window bar.

     Why would I need Acorn? What can I do with it? Most of us will have the need to touch up photos. With the multitude of digital pictures we now take, would it not be better to pick a few of these, edit them as showcase items, and store or eliminate the others. This would decrease your photo database, speeding up the loading of the photos. With the help of Acorn, you could be producing glamour-shot pictures that would please anyone. 

     The following is a shortlist of some of Acorn’s features. The perspective fix and crop tools will help you make your images professional looking by removing extraneous material. You can remove image backgrounds using the magic wand selection tool or the instant alpha eraser tools. Use the clone tools to touch up areas and remove unwanted blemishes. The clone tool can also help you to combine images to make beautiful collages or photo layouts. Acorn contains over 25 different non-destructive blending mode options.

     Acorn’s tools palette gives you quick access to a range of tools for moving, zooming, and cropping; drawing and retouching; making selections, and; working with text and colors. The tools are customizable, giving you fine control over working with images.

     Acorn can be used to make logos, banners, and ads. The text on a path feature lets you create a meandering line with any of Acorn’s shape tools, and then add text to follow the curves. 

     There are unlimited layers and group layers in which you can transform, rotate, move, lock, merge, delete, and duplicate each of your layers. There is the unlimited ability to combine layer styles and non-destructive filters such as tilt-shift, drop shadow, distortions, and blurs. There are over one hundred additional effects that you can introduce into your image to enhance and produce that unique event. You can also group layers, merge them, lock them, and create layer masks. Acorn’s filters let you apply effects to a single layer, a group of layers, shape layers, and selections. Filters are non-destructive, so you can make a change to an image and revert it if it’s not the effect you wanted. Levels and curves are non-destructive as well.

     The tools window can be floating or attached to the editing window. It comprises a host of features that enable you to create images. The brushes include clone, stamp, dodge, burn, blur, eraser, and smudge brushes. The brush designer provides control for softness, spacing, and dozens of other brush refinements. It could not be simpler to draw rectangle, elliptical, freehand, polygonal, and magic wand shapes as well as stars, arrows, bezier curves, circles, and lines. I liked the ability to drag a spot to increase or decrease the number of points in the star.

     The number one question asked is why would I need to pay for a photo editor when Apple’s Photos application lets me touch up pictures for free? Sure, Photos lets you crop, tilt, remove red-eye and a few others. But Photos is first and foremost a database application that is meant to help you find and quickly display photos. It has a rudimentary set of editing tools that help you enhance your photos but it is not nearly as good at it as Acorn. You get what you pay for and Photos is not primarily a photo editor. Acorn is. It provides so many more tools to accentuate your images. Take the red-eye removal function. I was never happy with the results I achieved with Photos red-eye removal. With Acorn, which also has the same feature, I was able to use another technique to blend the colors into the red-eye region and end up with a more natural look. This is just one example where Acorn is superior. If you want to edit a photo, then you should use an application that was made for that purpose.

     Acorn can import and export a variety of file formats including JPEG, PNG, TIFF, GIF, PDF, and more. If you are used to editing your images with the Photos app, it is possible to have Photos send your image to Acorn, edit it, then return it to your Photos application.  

     Acorn lets you work with layers to touch up your favorite photos or make something entirely new from scratch. It runs in two modes: “paid” and “trial”. After the 14 day trial period has ended, a watermark will appear over your images. Right now the paid-up version of Acorn is an affordable $20. This easy-to-use application can handle much of what you do in more expensive high-end image-editing tools. Click here to read more about it. Do yourself a favor and download a trial copy of the application. You will be editing photos in no time at all.

Butler – Superb Launcher and so much more…

by Marcel Dufresne

April 12, 2021

     Butler is an application that makes it easier to perform a variety of functions on your Mac. Applications like Butler provide a series of everyday tasks that can be initiated by various triggers. In simple terms, to use Butler, just place tasks in the correct configuration window and assign one or more triggers to each of them. As such, it can be used as a launcher, an iTunes controller, multiple clipboards, and a lot more. Read on to find out how Butler could be used to save you time.

     When you first start Butler, the window that appears has three icons at the top as well as the info icon. The first icon on the left is called ‘Configuration’. This is the area that contains most of the tasks as well as the triggers. The next icon, ‘Search Engine’, is used to configure web searches. The last icon is the application’s ‘Preferences’.

     There are three main folders that the Configuration window controls. Any task stored in the Hidden section will be triggered through hotkey combinations, abbreviations or hot corners. The tasks in the Menu Bar region will appear as separate icons in your menu bar. This includes not only apps but also files or folders. The folders accordion down so you can choose exactly which one you want to access. The Butler icon in the menu bar initially provides access to ten folders which include items such as System Preferences, all your applications, your documents folder, etc. The Docklet region furnishes access to apps and folders in the form of an array of very small icons along one side of your desktop. The eight possible locations of the array include the top and bottom of the screen. Any item in the menu bar and docklet can also be triggered by the same options as the hidden items. 

     The next few paragraphs are meant to explain, in a little more detail, the available triggers. The first type of trigger is the menu bar icon or the docklet. The docklet can be visible at all times, in front of any other open window, and always providing access. The menu bar icons can be placed anywhere you want among the other system icons. 

     The second trigger is called abbreviation. When you tap ctrl-space, the Butler search window opens up. You can type the name of what you are looking for or just the abbreviation you have given it. Butler will do a quick system-wide spotlight-like search of the term you typed in. For example, you can enter “qt” to launch QuickTime Player. Of course, the abbreviated item will be at the top of the list. Butler will learn from your habits and remember what you want a certain abbreviation to do. This is where the launcher part of Butler is at its best. The more you use Butler to open up an item, the higher it moves up on the list. Butler learns with each application.   

     Hotkey combinations can be used as a shortcut to trigger opening apps, files, or folders. The hot corner is amazingly versatile. You can assign either the left or right mouse button along with, if you choose, one of four hotkeys in combination with the mouse click. This flexibility means that the trigger is almost never accidentally initiated.

     The list of possible tasks available to Butler includes the ability to launch applications, open files, access preference panes, manage bookmarks, search the web, run AppleScripts, extend the clipboard, enter text snippets, simulate keystrokes, and control iTunes.

     In its launcher role, Butler works just like other launcher apps. Press a hokey (Control-Space by default), and the input box appears, ready for you to type in. As you type, matches are quickly displayed. Hit Return when the one you want is highlighted. The small icons on the right of the highlighted entry indicate what action Butler will take when you press Return. The default is to open the selected item, but you can choose to either Show in Finder or copy instead. And since Butler will handle files, folders, System Preferences panels, and even your iTunes collection, everything on your machine is at your disposal. 

     Butler includes a wide selection of iTunes’ controls for everything from song ratings to info to volume. And since you can assign a hot key to anything in Butler, it’s easy to build an iTunes controller suite that can be used anytime and anywhere.

     The Search Engine part of Butler offers you a way to initiate your bookmarks without depending on a certain browser. You can assign which browser to use with each bookmark you list. And, in contrast to a browser’s bookmark collection, the tool’s bookmarks are always accessible through its system-wide menus, hotkeys, etc. Another great search engine feature is the ability to send search strings to various Web sites. Butler comes with many different pre-defined searches for sites, including Google, Yahoo, and Amazon. If one of your go-to sites isn’t included, you can easily add it. Once you have a search engine defined, you can put it in the Butler menu, directly in the menu bar as a search box, in the Docklet, or assign it to a hotkey usable from anywhere.

     A nice feature that Butler adds is the ability to save multiple clipboard entries. Apple only allows one at a time to be saved. Butler will create a stack of the last few saved items from which you can choose which one you want to be copied. The size of the stack can be configured from the Preferences. 

     Another feature of Butler is the ability to easily create a pop-up menu. Drag a folder into Butler’s window, define a hotkey for the container that holds the folder, and then change the pop-up menu below the Hot Key definition to read “Opens a menu near the mouse.” Now you’ve got a folder you can reach via a navigable pop-up menu at the press of a hotkey.

     Every time I use Butler I think of something else I could do with it. It is not the simplest launcher application I have tested. There is a definite learning curve that you have to overcome before you can use it to the fullest. The help menu is adequate but could be better. In fact, the descriptions and screenshots are for an earlier version. It is usable right out of the box, but to get the most out of Butler, you’ll want to spend some time learning how its interface works. 

     Butler allows you to create custom menus, shortcuts, and abbreviations for your Mac’s desktop that speed up how you use your computer. From adding search interfaces to the menu bar to creating shortcuts that actually learn as you use your machine, Butler’s goal is to make your Mac easier for you to use. Even after a few weeks of usage, I’m still coming up with new things to try. It may not be for everyone, given the learning curve, but if you persevere playing with it, it is well worth the time investment. Download the free trial of Butler from the Many Tricks Website and experiment a bit with it. I am sure you will decide that the $20 registration fee is well worth it. Butler is a must-try for anyone who wants to be more efficient on their Mac.