CRAX Commander – Double up the Finder Window

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By Marcel Dufresne

July 15, 2020

     Because it’s always there, most of us do not realize that the Finder is just another application running on our Macs. If you quit the Finder, your computer will still run. You could start any application in your Dock or keep using one that had been started before you shut down the Finder. However, you could not easily open any others. CRAX Commander is a Finder substitute that offers many features not found in the Finder application. It does not modify the Finder files stored on your drive. Unlike other similar applications, it does not close the Finder app. CRAX Commander is installed as a standalone application and it runs on its own with the Finder still active. When launched it produces a window similar to the Apple’s Finder window but much more productive by adding customizable tabs, a dual-pane mode, and many other extras.

Dual Pane

     My favourite feature of CRAX is the dual-pane mode. The dual-pane mode is a special mode where CRAX displays two Finder directories side-by-side in the same window. This is handy in situations when you want to easily move files from one pane to the other or you want to compare what is in two supposedly identical folders. In the past, you would have to open up two windows and try to make them identical in size and location. To move a file from one side to another you can drag and drop it exactly where you want or you can hit the move button. Sure, you can do this with two open windows, but this is so much simpler and you know exactly  where you put the file. In this mode, each panel window still behaves the same as if they were individual windows. For example, both windows share the same toolbar. You can get CRAX to open a sidebar panel for either side of the display. Dual-mode is the default but you can change the view to single pane if you want. 

     With Crax Commander running, the Finder window looks like its original self but it now features customizable tabs. In Safari, the tabs are sheets for displaying multiple web pages within one browser window. With the one window open you can quickly switch from one browser window to another without having to close, minimize, or hide the other windows. They are all there at your fingertips. They are an essential part of iOS browsers as only one window is open at any one time. Tabs are such a good idea that they have been included in the Finder window from Mavericks   and higher. In these systems, the tabs are not initially visible. You have to create a new tab from the menu bar or a keyboard shortcut. With CRAX, you just need to hit the ‘+’ button in the window’s menu bar. I often forget to use tabs with the normal Finder window because it is not visible. With tabs, you can do more than just display and quickly switch between them. You can reorder them. You can close individual tabs. You can drag the tab and insert it between other tabs in an existing window. CRAX even lets you  choose from a variety of tab themes.

     By default, the Finder does not separate folders and files but displays them mixed. However, if you prefer to see folders first, and then the files, regardless of the actual sorting options, then CRAX enables this display. You can also have hidden files displayed in your window. You can bold the folders to make them more visible, as well as add lines to the columns and rows to make them more distinct. 

Picture View

     Comparing the Finder window to the CRAX Commander, you find that all the same functions are available. You can add alternating gray lines and customize the toolbar to display file type, size, date added, etc. Files can be added to a favourites (hotlist) menu.  The file size is listed as well as the file pathway. A ‘quick look’ button gives you a simple view of the file’s contents. And both will show the free space left on your drive.

     In addition to all these features, CRAX has a lot more. It is possible to display CPU usage. The ‘equalize button’ will quickly display the same folders on each side of the panes. The ‘swap button’ will switch the contents of the two window panes. You can compress and decompress files. A ‘progress button’ shows how far along the background actions such as copy or move are. The ‘view file contents’ and ‘edit’ will open a separate window showing the inner makings of the file. At the bottom are buttons for copy, move, make a new folder, and delete. There is multi-renaming of files as well as folder merging. It will calculate file checksums. And there is still more for you to discover.

Dark Mode

     The app’s preferences give you access to numerous tweaks to customize the look and feel of the app to your liking. For instance, you can change fonts and size, background color, hide, resize and swap toolbar elements, etc. There are many hotkeys linked to the functions available and these are all reconfigurable. It is night shift capable if you prefer viewing in this mode.

     Crax will often ask permission to access your files when you use it. This is the way it by-passes the restrictions put in place by Apple. Similar apps require you to completely turn off these restrictions for the app to work. I don’t want to go this way. I prefer granting access when  asked and keeping the restrictions in place.

     There is no user manual as such. However, the developer has made available a series of videos highlighting many of the features of this versatile application. I suggest you play with it for a while and then watch the videos. They will make more sense to you if you are somewhat familiar with its operation.

     There is a trial version of this application which you can get from the Soft4U2 Web site. The trial mode has a lot of the functions turned off but you can still get a reasonable idea of what it can do. Visit the web site to read more about the numerous functions that CRAX Commander puts at your fingertips. You can purchase a licence from the web site or the Apple store for about $20. 

     I found CRAX Commander extremely helpful when comparing the file contents of any drive or computer on my network as well as any connected external drives. This application will save you time and effort. With CRAX Commander, file management is much faster and easier than it has been before. The program’s look is so similar to Finder that you will have no problem immediately using it as a replacement. Do yourself a favor and download the trial version. See why I consider this to be an essential application for my daily file management needs.

The Gardens Between – a Unique Adventure that Sparks Emotions

by Marcel Dufresne

July 6, 2020

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The Gardens Between is a single-player adventure-puzzle game about time, memory, and friendship. The game centers on Arina and Frendt who have been neighbours for many years. They play in a tree house located in a garden between their two houses. While there, on a rainy night, lightning strikes and a time warp throws them back in time enabling. The tree house spins into a vast dream ocean with small islands made up of their shared experiences. Together, they embark on an emotional journey. They find that time can flow forward but also backward. By manipulating time, they are can solve puzzles and reach the top of each island. At the peak, they light a portal to move on and finally reach a central island with a large portal. Once the final portal is lit, the dreamscape collapses, and they return to the present. When the next morning comes Arina and Frendt are hugging each other, as Frendt’s family is now moving out. The two say their final goodbyes as his family drives off.

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The game consists of about eight main islands, grouped into sets of two or three smaller levels. Each island has its own theme complete with oversized objects representative of some shared experience. There is a computer themed island that has a mouse, printer, abacus, oscilloscope, keypad, and more items of the same ilk. Another island has a recreational theme with dominoes and an old VCR player in it. The game’s soundtrack changes with each island in tune with the different themes.

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There is no dialogue of any kind to the game. A graphic at the beginning provides the information on how to proceed. Movement is accomplished with the right and left arrows. These move the friends forward or backward along the path. The spacebar is used when a hot spot is located. For the girl, this is a place where she can either get light for her lantern or use the light to move on. For the boy, the hot spot is either a hanging lantern or a bell.

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Arina’s magic lantern is able to carry a sphere of light. This light can activate the portals to the next level. Frendt, on the other hand, has the ability to sound wind chimes that open or close flowers which provide the light for the lantern. He is also able to interface with a device that manipulates the flow of time. The many obstacles found include light bridges that have to be activated, flowers that emit a black light that steal the spheres of light if they approach too closely, and purple fog that is solid when the light is not present but becomes intangible when the light is close. Small cubes are often flying around. These are used to carry Arina’s lantern past obstacles. While the path to the portal at the top of each level is straight forward, the game is about manipulating the flow of time. You do not directly move the characters but instead, control their move forward or backward in time. It is Arina and Frendt’s interactions with the environment that produce the puzzle aspect of the game. For example, the player may need to have Arina work forward in time to grab a sphere of light for the lantern, move time backward for her to place it on a jumping cube, and then continue to move forward past a fog bridge to recollect the lantern later. The game prevents the player from moving past certain points until the correct solution to that stage has been completed. The same can be said about moving back once that stage is complete. To succeed in this game, you must be very observant. Because of all the actions provided by the graphics, the clues often go unnoticed.

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The game is all about shared memories. As you play, you will quickly get entangled in the joy these two feel as they hop to the top of the mountain and from island to island. Unlike most games, I did not experience the accomplishment that usually comes with completing all the puzzles. The labeled boxes along the way are hints to the poignant ending. I felt great sadness at the final scene. Few games are able to elicit such emotions.

The Gardens Between can be purchased from the Apple Store or Steam. The Gardens Between is definitely a different type of puzzle game in the way it stirs the emotions. The simple controls and lack of time pressure make it perfect for the young and the old. My ten-year-old grandson was able to solve the puzzles quite quickly. It takes roughly 2 to 4 hours to complete the full game. You can replay any of the islands once they have been unlocked. I went back and was able to complete some of the puzzles with less movement. You can read more about this game from The Voxel Agents website, as well as from the Apple and Steam stores. Get into reliving your past. See how many of the objects on the island stir up some memories and try your hand at solving these unique puzzles.

 

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Odyssey – Science Learning Masquerading as an Adventure Game

by Marcel Dufresne

June 29, 2020

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     Odyssey is a game-based educational tool with an equal mix of mystery and science. It is a very good attempt to teach astronomy and physics using the game model as the hook. By providing a path to travel along and puzzles to solve, one gets the feeling that they are playing a traditional game when in fact, the puzzles are physics experiments that they can learn from. Read on to find out how seamlessly these two fit together.

     The storyline for Odyssey is the usual. You find yourself sailing to a volcanic island in  response to a distress call. You are tasked with retracing the steps taken by a 13-year-old girl, Kai, in order to rescue her and her family. She has conveniently left pages from her journal along the way which provides hints as to what has happened. They also contain extensive reading material about her astronomy and physics experiments. 

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     Once you land at the dock, you proceed through up and over a series of rocky islands. Exploration of the surroundings  is required fun. Wrong turns are expected as several side paths lead to nowhere. Along the way, you will enter wooden huts, climb some towers, visit a dark grotto, and enter an underground lava tube. You use the keyboard arrows for movement and pan the direction with the mouse. You can turn in a complete 360° and there are several terrific views. I particularly liked looking down at the beach from the top of the mountain and the scenic zip-line trips. The graphics are great. 

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     The game includes a small inventory that is accessed with the space bar. The items used are also generally obvious. The escape button brings up the game menu and the shift button allows you to walk faster. The cursor changes when it comes near a hotspot. Your progress is frequently and automatically saved, often immediately after you pick up new journal pages. The game has no characters to talk to. The narrative is completely found in the journal. The gaming is seamlessly integrated with the historical  approach to science. Kai’s in-game journal is the source of both the historical facts and the hints needed to solve the experimental puzzles. 

     Exploring the abandoned WWII army base was like walking through a ghost town. Light and shadow provide added realism to your walks. And as far as sounds are concerned, you’ll hear the running of generators, waves lapping against the rocks, and bugs buzzing. Even your footstep sounds change depending on the surface you are walking on. 

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     The game’s explicit purpose is to teach astronomy and physics using the thought patterns and experiments of the ancient Greeks and progressing up to Galileo. As a science teacher, I always tried to teach the history of the discovery and the path taken to achieve the conclusion, including the pitfalls, that the scientists encountered along the way. By showing both sides of an argument, the students get a better understanding of the reasoning that must occur  before the final conclusion is made. Any statement in science requires an experiment to support it. Odyssey presents both sides of the debate and through puzzles allows you to try experiments that the ancients would have used. It is by teaching the evolution of a scientific fact, that the student gets a more lasting understanding of it.

     The challenges in Odyssey, which range in difficulty from easy to quite tough, are lessons in astronomy and physics (motion). This will include understanding and arranging astronomical symbols, experimenting with pendulum devices, interpreting distance-time graphs, and moving planetary models into the correct alignment. You’ll do some simple math and possibly have to do some higher-level mental manipulations. After all, you are doing experiments and math is the language of science. Unlike other HeR Interactive games (Nancy Drew), there is no sense of urgency to the gameplay. This  then presents the player with the ability to redo any of the experiments over and over, changing the values as they wish, and possibly obtaining different outcomes. The puzzles are not really puzzles. Rather, they are carefully crafted scientific experiments with controllable variables.

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     The journal is the key to solving the puzzles. Even though it is over 250 pages long, the player should not skip any of the narrative. That being said, the most important data necessary to solve each conundrum is highlighted in yellow, so it is possible to play most of the game by skimming right over the story and the background physics. But if you did, you’d defeat the purpose of the game.

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     Odyssey is a great mix of a mystery-adventure game and science-based puzzles. The game is ideal for middle school and high school students and for adults who like to read about science. It certainly brought me back to my high school days. It reads partly like a mystery novel, while providing insights into the history of astronomy and mechanics from the ancients, and clues for solving the puzzles. The game can be purchased from the HeR Interactive Web site for $14.99. You can read more about the game there. Odyssey presents an excellent opportunity to learn how scientists proceed from hypothesis to  conclusions. It is an excellent example of a game being used as an educational tool.

sonorOS – Add Bells and Whistles to Your Mac

By Marcel Dufresne

June 19, 2020

I have always incorporated as many bells and Logowhistles as I could to my Mac computer. After all, Apple had made this feature available so why not take advantage of it. I downloaded apps that told me when the caps lock button was accidentally pushed. I got some clock chimes that made my Mac sound like a grandfather clock. I added tippity-tappity sounds to my keyboard to approximate the old-style typewriter. The toilet flush when emptying the trash was my favorite. Anyway, you get the idea. I like having auditory confirmation of what is happening on my Mac. Many of these sounds came from an app called Sounds4Fun from Ettore Software. But to get each of the above sound effects required separate applications. sonorOS is an application that wraps most of these sound effects into one bundle. Actually, sonorOS is Sounds4Fun reborn and  evolved. The old Sounds4Fun app was stripped down and rebuilt to comply with the newer Mac OS. This means that it is a 64-bit app that will run on modern-day Macs and the latest macOS. Unfortunately, because of the restriction for Accessibility that has been implemented by Apple, fewer sound events are available. That means no more keyboard typing or trash flushing. However, Ettore has added a few new events. It covers 36 separate events, applying a default sound, or providing the ability to use your sounds instead. Read on to find out if this application might jazz up your computer experience. 

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sonorOS enables you to assign your sounds to any of  36 macOS system events. Apple does provide the ability to add sounds but often the same alert sound has to be used for separate events. You know the alert sound you normally hear when an event pops up. With sonorOS you can assign sounds to system events that are usually silent, such as pressing the shift key or dragging or resizing a window or waking your Mac from sleep. You can use it to give you useful audio cues for important events in case they happen when you aren’t right in front of your Mac. You might want it to sound a warning when your MacBook’s battery is low, or play a sound to alert you when Safari finishes downloading a  file.

Events

When you first start sonorOS, an icon shows up in the dock and the menu bar. If you choose Edit Sounds Set, a window pops up  giving you access to all 36 events and sounds. This is where you can assign your own sounds to system events and organize them in sets. At the top of the window, choose from one of two default sound banks, zippy acoustic or futuristic Sci-Fi style, which have been included for you to test out. Before editing any sound set, I recommend duplicating and saving it. Unlike many other applications, these sample sounds are not saved as individual sound files but rather as a package that can’t be opened (copyright issues). So  duplicate an existing set by selecting “Save Set As…” and start tweaking it. To start your very own sound set from scratch, click on the “New Sounds Set…” from the menu bar choices. 

The Events window is divided into three main columns. The leftmost column lists all the system events that you can assign custom sounds to. The middle column lists the associated sound that will play. The rightmost column contains a play button for previewing sounds and a + button for adding a sound file you want to assign to a selected event. If you prefer, instead of clicking the + button you can just drag a sound file directly onto an event. When there is a sound file assigned to an event, instead of a + button you’ll see a x button for removing the sound (silencing the event). sonorOS supports sound files in .m4a, .mp3, .aif, .wav or .mov format. When you assign a sound to an event a  duplicate of the file is copied to the app and stored in the currently active set. For the more adventuresome, you can use a folder of sounds which will then be stored and played randomly when the event occurs.

In the bottom left corner below the list, you’ll see a search box. This is to help you locate a particular event or sound that you may want to change or adjust. Just type a few letters into the box and sonorOS will filter the list of events so that you only see those that contain a match for what you’re searching for.

When a sound event is selected, you can use the slider at the bottom of the  window to adjust the volume at which it will play (relative to the other sounds in the set). When no sound is selected, the slider can be used to control the overall volume of the entire set (relative to the master volume).

Applications

The Applications section is where you can fine-tune the alerts. You might find the sounds to be bothersome when browsing. Simply add (+) Safari to the applications list and any event occurring when Safari is running will be muted. I usually mute sonorOS completely when I play games rather than choosing each and every one of them to be added to the list.

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The Preferences section lets you tweak the app’s general settings and to manage your saved sound sets. The first thing I changed was the location of the sonorOS icons. My dock bar already has enough items in it. So I checked Menu Bar to have the icon only appear there. There is no real difference to the drop-down menus of the dock or menu bar icon, so I suggest you choose one over the other and not have it in both places. Next, you will want sonorOS to open automatically when you boot up your computer. You can enable or disable the “Your Mac is idle” event and set how many minutes of inactivity should trigger this event. If the menu bar drop-down window is too hard to reach, you can create keyboard shortcuts for “Edit sound sets” and “Mute”. Next, there is a spot where you can choose a sound set and rename or remove it. The last preference lets you set the overall master volume for the app.

With sonorOS you can customize alerts, the modifier key presses, mouse clicks, window dragging, and a whole lot more. Play whatever sounds you like. If you are bored with the lack of imagination with your computer sounds, switch to sonorOS and play your custom sound effects for any of these 36 system events. You can read more about this useful app at their Web site. At the bargain price of $7.99 from the Mac App Store, you can now add some auditory pizzazz to your computer.

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CopyPaste Pro – One Of My Essential Apps

by Marcel Dufresne

May 28, 2020

     Probably the most used commandTitle on your computer is copy and paste to and from the clipboard. Unfortunately, the way Apple has it configured, only one item resides in the clipboard at a time. As soon as you copy a new item, the previous one is written over. I have been using copy/paste history and archives provided by third-party applications for as long as I can remember. I am amazed that Apple has yet to make this part of their OS. I am constantly checking back to the history for something that I had previously copied. I consider having this function an essential part of my computer. It is a time-saver, and at times, a lifesaver. One of the first examples of this type of application was CopyPaste. It has been around for over twenty years, evolving with the ever-changing Mac OS. Its longevity is a testimony to its usefulness. Read on to find out what you might be missing out on and why I  consider this an essential function. 

     CopyPaste is best described as a multiple clipboard utility that allows you to save, display, archive, and edit items found in the clipboard. It is not the only such type of application out there but, after having reviewed some others, I find it has the best functions and options. All of these applications save items to the clipboard, allowing you to move more data around in less time. Once installed,  anything  that you copy or cut will automatically be saved. You will then have the ability to paste any recent clipboard item (text, picture, etc.) back into your document. In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to explain some of the advantages that CopyPaste has over the others. 

Menu Bar

     CopyPaste provides numerous ways to access the saved history. You can use the menu bar, the application’s dock icon, hotkeys, or special individual desktop icons to pick which item you need to paste. Each of these can be turned on or off, depending on your liking, from the application’s preferences. I prefer having only the menu bar active, as well as the hotkeys, but this is only my predilection. I strongly suggest you play around with all these options and pick the ones that work best for you.

Clip Tools 

     CopyPaste has two ways of storing the data. One is a simple History folder. When you look at it, the first entry is the most recent clip added. From here you can select any clip to paste. Twenty items is the default setting in the Preferences for the Clip History. This means that the History will display the 20 most recent clips. This number can be easily changed to a larger number (e.g., 50, 100, etc.), which may better satisfy your needs. Since every item does take up computer space, especially pictures, it is advisable to set a limit to the size of this folder. I have mine set to 100 since I rarely save pictures but I do a lot of copy/paste work. Most clipboard utilities do not set a limit nor do they allow individual items to be deleted (they do bulk deletions instead).

     The other data storage option is a set of permanent folders called Archives. You can set up a number of these Archive folders and give them descriptive titles. Anything stored here will be permanently saved, although you can edit or delete an item if you wish. The History folder has a variable limit to what it keeps.  

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     As far as viewing what has been stored in Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 8.47.54 AMyour clip folders, CopyPaste has two means. The Clip Palette is a vertical list of the items stored  in the History or Archive folders. You can change the length of the list by dragging the corner of the window or simply scrolling down through it to get to the desired item. You can also use the search bar to find a particular text. It is from here that you can edit your clips. For instance, it is possible to protect (lock) a clip from being deleted or replaced with a newer copy. The delete function is also here as well as many others, all bundled in what is called the clip tools. The Clip Browser yields a horizontal view of the same clipped items, which is particularly good for pictures.   

     The Clip Tools furnish dozens of ways to edit the clips. There is an Email extractor which grabs email addresses from large amounts of text or a URL extractor grabs URL’s from large chunks of text. You can shorten long URLs. An Internet connection is required for this tool as it uses a service that shortens URLs. The shortener CopyPaste Pro uses is http://is.gd but others are available from the Preferences. As an example, my website can be shortened to https://is.gd/TmW6yB as opposed to https:/mausereviews.wordpress.com. There is a calculator available and so many other functions. I leave it to you to test these out. 

     CopyPaste lets you paste the text using the same style as the original. If you hold down the Option key while you paste, the selection will be pasted as plain text, without styles. You can change the order of the clips. You can edit the content of a clip. How about searching for a specific item without having to scroll through the complete list. All of this and more is at your fingertips.

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     The application’s Preferences are quite extensive and provide numerous means to customize it. I have mentioned a few things that can be adjusted, but there are many more. I suggest looking at the online manual to get a better idea of the scope of options. There are also some videos that deliver a  visual synopsis of the application.

     This application works quietly in the background, always ready to be called upon, and I use it daily. It saves me a great deal of time. You can read more about it from the Plum Amazing website. The paid version costs about $30 and works with Mac OS 10.13 and higher. With all the options and functions it has to offer, CopyPaste Pro is way more than a simple clipboard archiver. Do yourself a favor and download this essential application.

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Take Control eBooks

Take Control eBooks cover issues related to Mac OS and software. I have not reviewed all the books available at their site, but the ones I have tried have been immensely helpful.

Take Control of Your Digital Storage

Take Control of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13

Take Control of  Slack

Take Control of Apple Mail

Take Control of Zoom

Take Control of Apple Watch

Take Control of Apple Interface Mysteries

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