PopChar – Access All Those Hard-to-Find Characters

by Marcel Dufresne

Jan 16, 2023

     PopChar is a menu bar utility that lets you insert those hard-to-remember hidden font characters into your documents. I first started using PopChar about 25 years ago. I needed an easy way to put in French-accented characters. Back then, these were available using a combination of key clicks which I was always forgetting. With PopChar I could simply paste the desired characters in. I never needed to search for or remember keystrokes. I know that it is a lot easier now to insert those French accents but there are still many other characters available that are not easy to find. This 30-year-old application provides access to these somewhat hidden characters. Even though PopChar is quite old, it has been continually evolving and is now better than ever.   

     When you open up the PopChar window from the menu bar you are presented with a wealth of hidden characters that are part of the numerous fonts you already have installed on your computer. Besides the French accents, I can quickly find any character I want regardless of the language. Each font you have installed might not have the exact character you need but with PopChar you can find whatever one you want from all those others. Besides specific characters, pictures and emojis can be added to any document. Have a look at the following set of characters that I quickly dug up. Besides the French accent, you can get flags, music 🎶, math ∓, Greek α, computer ⌘, pointers ← , etc. Chances are if you need a character, it is probably already installed on your computer.

     PopChar quickly installs and is visible as a “P” in either top corner of the menu bar or in the menu bar. It can be made invisible until the cursor hovers over it in the corner. I prefer this invisible mode. That way the “P” remains hidden but is always available when I need it.

     Suppose you want to insert the copyright symbol in a text document. You could simply type in ⌥-G and the © symbol would appear. But most of us have not memorized this keystroke command. With PopChar you put the insertion point where you wish to insert the symbol, then activate the PopChar window from the menu bar. If the © symbol is not immediately located in the window, then search for it using the top right window in PopChar. To insert the copyright symbol in your document, simply click the symbol. The PopChar window closes and the copyright symbol is now in your document. When you scroll over a character in PopChar, you get valuable extra information about the selected character. This information tells you that the copyright symbol has the Unicode number 169, or “00A9” in hexadecimal, and the name of the symbol is “COPYRIGHT SIGN”. PopChar also displays the keystrokes needed to generate this character from the keyboard, that being opt+“G” (⌥G) on a US keyboard. 

     In the Unicode character table, the available characters are arranged in groups, each with a dark heading. The number in parentheses is the number of characters in this group. You can click the triangle to collapse groups you don’t need. In this way, you can reduce the number of characters shown in the PopChar table, so you get a better overview of the remaining characters. This can be particularly handy for fonts with thousands of entries.

     One of the best functions in PopChar is the ‘Favorites’ bar. I have saved the characters I most often need to look up here. This way I don’t have to go looking for them. They are located at the top of the PopChar window. A newer feature of PopChar is the ‘Recent Characters’ which is right below the Favorites group. It contains those characters that you have recently used, in reverse order, so that the most recently used characters are listed first. This section is automatically updated whenever you click characters to insert them into documents. This section is limited to two lines, so a recent character will eventually disappear when you use many other characters. 

     Searching for a specific symbol might be difficult at times, especially if you do not know its official name. You can try typing ideas into the search field. For instance, if you type ‘math’ then all the characters in the “Mathematical Operators” block will be displayed, even if they do not have the term “math” in their names. If this still does not work, then PopChar allows you to draw the shape of a character on the screen to tell it what you are looking for.

     You can use the Character Size slider in the PopChar Preferences to choose an appropriate display size. PopChar computes the font size based on this setting, such that characters from any font take up approximately the same space. The size that you set with this slider affects all fonts. You can then fine-tune the sizes of individual fonts, using the slider at the bottom of the PopChar window. For example, you may want to enlarge the characters of a single font that contains very small or fine characters. To see an enlarged view of just one character with small details, activate the magnifier symbol below the character table. Whenever you point at a character, PopChar then displays a close-up view of that character.

     It is possible to create custom groupings and arrangements for characters. It will also list the collections you have made with Font Book. The emojis’ layout has been defined so that they are arranged by their meaning. When you look at the characters in the Apple Color Emoji font, you will notice that some of them have a small circle in the bottom right corner. This is the “skin tone indicator” that shows which characters (mostly faces) are available in different skin tones. Click the circle to insert a variant of the character with a specific skin tone. The user guide (Help) found under the gear icon (⚙) will help you with any questions you might have.

     Some of what PopChar can do is already available for free with your Mac OS. French accents and others can be added in by holding down for instance the ‘e’ key. All the variations of è or ê will pop up and you can choose the one you want. The same can be said using the Keyboard System Preference. ‘Show Character View’ will display many hidden symbols, although there is no searchability. PopChar is much easier to use and much more versatile. PopChar lets you switch fonts quickly. The name and the keyboard shortcut are  helpful functions. This application shows all the hundreds of hidden characters for a specific font and not just some of them. According to PopChar’s About information, I have over 200 fonts on my computer which encompasses over 60,000 unique characters. I have organized these into various categories but I still need PopChar to help find what I want to use. Don’t find yourself hunting for characters. Get PopChar. Click here to read more about this wonderful application. I have been using it for many years and I see no reason to stop. It is an essential utility for me and is still far better than anything now included in the Mac OS.   

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Finding America: The Heartland – An Educational Hidden Object Game

by Marcel Dufresne

Jan 9, 2023

     Finding America: The Heartland is a hidden object game (HOG). The basic premise of the game is to locate items from a list of objects. These are carefully hidden in the picture. It is exceedingly difficult to quickly find all the items as they are well camouflaged. Also, the name might not be as helpful as you might think. Searching for a bee might be for an insect or the letter B. A bat could be an animal or a baseball bat. It is only with the careful observation that all the items can be found. I would venture to say that more than fifty items could be found per picture of which only a dozen or so are to be part of the list. Once found, you need only click on the object and it is removed from the list. 

     I consider this game to be a pure HOG. There is no wandering around looking for inventory items to help solve a mini-puzzle. Each of the 54 chapters starts with you visiting two to four of thirty regions that tourists would be visiting if they were travelling through Mid-America. I appreciated being in a position to visit places I had seen as a tourist. These included, among others, places like Mt Rushmore, Mackinac Island, and Fort Michilimackinac. With 150 fun facts included, Finding America has an educational value not often found in other HOG.

     Besides a custom difficulty level, there are three levels of difficulty to select from. These vary in the time taken for the Hint and the Super Hint to recharge, whether the puzzle pieces lock when in the correct position or not, and whether a score penalty is assigned to a misclick. I liked having this choice since I have played a lot of HOG. You can always replay the game at a more difficult level if you find it too easy. 

     The graphics used throughout this game are superb. The detail and the colours make the scenery come to life. The game enables you to explore the most visited sites of the heartland of America. Because there are such precise graphics, you might think that the hidden objects would be easier to spot. You would be wrong. I found them to be even better hidden than most of the other games I have played. I had to use a hint every so often to locate an exceptionally well-disguised item. 

     As a bonus, each of the scenes has five fun facts about the tourist spots hidden in the picture. You are required to locate a specially hidden key to unlock each of the fun facts. They are revealed one at a time, so the location has to be replayed at least five times to get all the fun facts out of the way. A star is also hidden in the scene. It unlocks the mini-game for that chapter. These two items are also extremely well camouflaged. I had to work hard to locate all of the keys. What makes this even harder is that hints are not provided to help you find the keys.

     Like many of the newer Boomzap HOG, there are different modes for finding the hidden objects. The seven ways are by name (normal), by missing vowels, by silhouette, by scrambled up names, by pairs, by image, and  by solving a riddle. The HO’s are well hidden, as are the separate star and key found on each level. One additional thing I like is the morphing of some of the objects. You might be looking for an item but it is not to be found until it morphs into the desired shape. 

     After you have completed a chapter, you then play a mini-game. Finding America has numerous variations on the jigsaw puzzle type. Besides the normal jigsaw puzzle, you might have to spin a piece or switch places for two pieces or both. Other mini-games include finding the differences or pairs, and logic placement games. The one mini-game I did not like was filling in the picture with colours. I found this to be a waste of time as no thinking was needed. It was just moving the mouse around to colour in the scene.

     Once you have completed all the scenes, you can now play the Unlimited Mode. This includes all the HOG scenes as well as the mini-puzzles (Subgame Journal). Finding America has great replayability. For each scene, you can attempt to solve the list using each of the seven types. This is recorded for you. If you are missing a fun fact, this is also recorded here. You can review the fun facts and not have to remember them on your own. Each time you play a scene you are not necessarily presented with the same list of items. There are hours and hours of fun awaiting you.

     The Steam version of the game comes with 14 achievements to strive for. The last one of these is the hardest to come by. You will have to replay specific areas until you have located corn ten times. Not all regions have corn hidden in them. It took me about 13 hours to complete the game.

     This HOG can be played by yourself or with a group where everyone is helping find the camouflaged items. It is also a game to be enjoyed by any age group. If you prefer playing this type of game without having to move from screen to screen and back again, then I strongly recommend Finding America: The Heartland. Click here to view the trailer for the game. It will give you a good idea of what the game entails. With all the replayability and the various types of HOG and jigsaw puzzles, it is well worth the $8 Steam price. 

Softorino YouTube Converter 2 – Quickly Download Video and Audio Files to any device

    The Internet is a vast source of audio and video files. Softorino YouTube Converter 2 (SYC 2) was developed to aid in discovering these files making it super easy to transfer them into your computer or iDevice. The application helps you download music and videos from YouTube and 65 other sources. SYC 2 is compatible with all iPhone models as well as all iPod and iPad models. With it, there is no need to download it on your computer first.

     As an example of how easy this application is to use, let me detail how you can put a song into your iPhone. First, connect your iPhone to a computer either by USB cable or wirelessly. Next, you search for a song and add it to the Queue in the application’s window. There is no need to search for a URL. Simply type in the name of the song and SYC 2 does all the work for you. Now choose the final format of the file and where to transfer it. Click on the ‘Audio’ icon and then choose its quality: original, MP3 or AAC. The final destination of the file could be your computer, an iPhone/iPod/iPad or your iTunes Library. Hit the ‘Convert & Transfer to iPhone’ button and that’s it. In no time, a song will appear on your iPhone. It’s now in the default Music app of your device. SYC 2 automatically identifies the type of file and pushes it to the relevant app. And SYC 2 can even download songs as a playlist. SYC 2 comes with full playlist support. For instance, if a playlist has up to 100 videos, they all can be downloaded in a single click. Lastly, SYC 2 automatically detects YouTube songs and fills in the proper cover art inside the iOS Music app. A circular meter indicates the progression of the transfer as it moves along. Once it is done, the circle is filled in with a green colour. Mousing over it lets you know exactly where your file can be found. For instance, movies sent to the iPad can be found in the home movies section of the TV app.

     The same procedure would be employed for video or ringtones. SYC 2 is macOS and Windows friendly. It can help you download long YouTube videos in no time. In the case of videos, the quality you can choose ranges from 2160p to 360p. This of course affects the size of the finished file. Other than the quality, the same approach is used for the download. I was able to get a one hour video transferred to my iMac in under 2 minutes. It can help you download YouTube media and convert it to MP4 even if it’s longer than 2 hours. SYC 2 will save a lot of time when you download long YouTube files. Other plain video downloaders or websites might take you up to an hour to get a film on your device. But with SYC 2, it will only take a couple of minutes. You can queue and download multiple YouTube videos too. SYC 2 lets you download and convert multiple videos at the same time. And SYC 2 automatically grabs the subtitles from any video. All you need to do is enable subtitle support in the Preferences.

     SYC 2 is probably the fastest way to create unique ringtones for your iPhone. It allows you to turn any of 10 billion YouTube videos into special M4R ringtones and put them into your device with a single click. You even get the choice of either keeping the whole size of a ringtone or trimming to the first 30 seconds. When you’re finished, go to Settings > Sounds – Ringtones. You’ll see them above the default sounds. The entire process is as simple as possible. 

     When I first started the application, it unsuccessfully attempted to access my Wi-Fi network. Going into the SYC 2 preferences, I spotted a Wi-Fi tab. Once there, I noticed a button indicating I should watch a one minute video tutorial which would help enable the Wi-Fi connection. In no time at all, I had my iPad ready to wirelessly accept converted video from my iMac. Softorino has several easy-to-follow instructions for converting whatever you might want to try with SYC 2. Click here to access these tutorials.

     You can download SYC 2 on your computer a get an unlimited 24-hour free trial. Click here to go to the download page. The app requires MacOS 10.9/Windows 7 or above. Once the free trial is over you will have to pay $19.95 to continue to use it. This price is a lifetime license with 24/7 tech-support. With Softorino YouTube Converter 2, you can download long YouTube videos faster. All the audio or video content you want can be transferred to your iPhone, iPod or iPad regardless of the model. The speed of this desktop application for downloading any video, music, or ringtone to my devices or computer blew me away. Now you can have your favourite videos or music in hand, save them for later, or send them to your iDevice. If you are looking for a quick and easy way to get those audio or video files then Softorino YouTube Converter 2 is for you. 

Ultra Character Map – Use Those Hard to Find Symbols Hidden in Your Fonts

by Marcel Dufresne

Dec 16, 2022

     I like using different fonts to enhance my documents. Using the same boring font every time just won’t do. As such, I have accumulated quite a collection of fonts. Keeping them somewhat organized is essential. Otherwise, I would neglect or forget about some very interesting ones. There are many ways to do this. Mac OS lets you group fonts into your own custom folders. You can even add a font to more than one folder. I spent some time making these folders and adding old and new fonts to the appropriate spot. I still find that I neglect many fonts. Ultra Character Map is an application that lets me see the contents of any folder at a single glance. Read on to see if this application might be of use in the enhancement of your documents.

     The first thing to take note of is the complexity of many fonts. The Mac OS makes a character viewer available through the Keyboard System Preferences. It is not too bad and it does show many special character picture fonts (click here to see an example of dingbat fonts) as well as emojis. It lacks the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and it is not font specific. Many fonts contain characters and pictures that cannot be accessed with the keyboard or even with a regular character palette. Ultra Character Map lets you access any character or glyph in any font and use it in other apps. 

     The most useful feature of Ultra Character Map is the ability to do a side-by-side font comparison. For instance, I have a custom folder where I keep my favourite title fonts. Before Ultra Character Map, I would type the title and then cycle through each of the fonts in the folder a few times until I found the one most appropriate to the application’s theme. Now, I type in some text and choose the title folder. The window now contains that title in each and every font in that folder. I can do a quick comparison and decide almost immediately which one I want to use.

     For the more advanced font user, Ultra Character Map can print font catalogs so you can have a hardcopy reference of the font. Or you can save them as PDFs. It provides a detailed view of any character and font information (including the keystroke combinations that produce special or accented characters) and much more. 

     You can create your own clip art image of symbols by applying colours and 3D effects to any character, symbol or glyph. This can then be exported to your document.  

     Ultra Character Map makes it much easier to access all Emoji characters available in macOS. To use an Emoji character, just drag or copy it into your document.

     To pick an appropriate font for the body of your document you can enter your choice of text and scroll through a list to see a preview in every font. If you have too many fonts, as I do, then you can filter the list by style, classification, collection or name. I found this useful when I was looking for a handwritten font. It is also great for those dingbats I mentioned earlier.

     Many applications will do some of what Ultra Character Map is capable of. Apple’s Pages application will show the fonts from your custom folders but not as WYSIWYG. Others will show the full complement of fonts in a folder with WYSIWYG but they do not allow you to enter the text in order to compare. Ultra Character Map has all the features that a fontaholic could need. Click here to read more about Ultra Character Map. Get Ultra Character Map and put all those fonts you have accumulated to good use.

Paletro – All Your Menu Bar Functions In One Complete List 

by Marcel Dufresne

Dec 5, 2022

The menu bar is the repository for all the functions of any application. Depending on the app, the drop-down menus can be quite long. It is a time-consuming process to try and search for a specific function. First of all, you need to determine which category it is in. Is the function located under the Edit menu or the File or the View, etc? Even when you know the menu category, the pull-down menu can again contain a lot of choices. This is where Paletro comes in. Activating it will bring up a window containing, when you scroll through it, all the possible menu bar items associated with that particular application. Read on to find out more about this app.

     Simply by pressing ⇧⌘P, or some other key press combination you have previously selected, Paletro will produce a window with all of the relevant menu items for that particular application. This even includes the Finder application. The items found in the window are quite extensive. They include many seldom-used functions, such as Service items, that you are probably unaware of or have forgotten about. Because scrolling through all these would take a lot of time, you can start typing the function you are looking for. Paletro immediately starts filtering the list, shortening it in the process. If the function has a shortcut key associated with it, Paletro will also list that with it. If you come across a menu item that contains submenus, Paletro can show all these other commands. To go back to the main search list, simply press the Delete or Esc key.

     The Preferences for Paletro provide a few useful tweaks. You can customize the rules on Paletro’s behaviour by excluding certain menu items or disabling its use in certain applications. This is especially helpful if you find that using Paletro interferes with the app. Paletro comes with multiple themes that you can choose from. I like the darker mode myself. There is a maximum limit of 9 commands being shown in the window. This should be more than enough for regular use but I would prefer to be able to increase the maximum a bit more (maybe 15). There is a user guide that explains in detail all that you have to know about Paletro. Please click here to see it for yourself.

    Before I came across Paletro, searching for a particular function was a tedious affair. I would check through each drop-down menu hoping to locate the specific function. When that failed, I would use Apple’s Help menu to assist me in finding that function. With the drop-down menu from the Help category, I started typing what I guessed was the name of the function I was trying to find. A list of possibilities was shown and hopefully, the one I was looking for would be listed. You could also use ⇧⌘/ as a shortcut for this list. Using this method is free as Help comes with all Apple apps. However, it does not contain nearly as inclusive a list as Paletro. I found having the extra items displayed was a time saver. As an example, I use a Service function called Statistics. It shows me the letter, word and line count for compositions I have written. With Paletro, I type ⇧⌘P, then st to filter to the Statistics command and hit return. I could use right-click on the mouse, pick out the Services choice at the bottom of the list, and then scroll to the Statistics command. This is just as fast because I regularly use this command. Paletro is made for those times you do not know the keyboard shortcut nor the location of the function. 

     Paletro uses the accessibility feature of macOS to retrieve all available commands from the main menu of the currently running app. With it, you can search or filter through the many commands. By pressing ⇧⌘P, you have immediate access to all of the functions of the app. Click here to find out more about Paletro. Download it and try it for a 14-day free trial. Compare for yourself the lists that are generated using the ⇧⌘P or the ⇧⌘/ command. You will immediately appreciate the more comprehensive list that Paletro provides.

GraphicConverter 11.7 – All Your Graphic Needs in one App

by Marcel Dufresne

Nov 25, 2022

    Have you ever tried opening a picture sent to you only to find that the file was not compatible with your OS? This happens to me more often than I would like. When it does I let GraphicConverter come to the rescue. It can open almost any photo or picture file that might be on the Internet and convert it as its name implies, to whatever file type you need. 

     GraphicConverter is an all-purpose graphics application that is an ideal addition to any Apple computer. This fantastic program has been around for over twenty years. I can’t remember when I did not have a version of it on my computer. It is currently up to version 11 and it is still going strong. It has so many uses that a simple review cannot do it justice. I am far from a power user as far as graphics are concerned. I do very little work with graphics. But, whenever I did have a need, GraphicConverter was there to produce the result I was looking for. As the name implies it is, first of all, an application that will convert one graphic file form to another. At the same time, it also allows you to convert a graphic by editing it or even creating a new one from scratch. There are a lot of other apps that do some of what GraphicConverter does, but few are so all-encompassing. It is far easier to learn how to use one program than to learn how three or four others work. Once you understand the basic commands of GraphicConverter, you will find that it is quite straightforward to use. Depending on what you want to do, it can have a short learning curve or a long one. It has a comprehensive 518 page user manual which I quickly scanned, but all that it covers is way beyond my simple graphic needs. For this review, I would like to explain some of what I used GraphicConverter for and then expound on its many other traits. This way you can see how powerful it is, while being straightforward to implement.

     One of the first things I remember using GraphicConverter was to convert a .pict file into an .icns file. The .icns format is what Apple uses for its icon graphics. I like pasting special custom icons on most of my files. There are many free ones out on the Internet, but sometimes the picture I want on an icon is not in the correct format. GraphicConverter quickly takes the file I had and enabled me to save it in the .icns format. GraphicConverter can import over 200 different graphic file formats and export over 80 formats. Converting is a question of selecting the required target format in the Format pop-up menu. The default lists the most popular conversions for the file type you picked. If the format you want is not there, then go with Show All and open the pop-up menu again. Now all the export formats are visible. You may need to scroll down to reach the upper or lower entries as this list is very long.

     You might wonder what the difference is between gif, png or jpeg. Why does it matter how a graphic file is saved? Why would you wish to convert it? Gif images are great for creating very low resolution files. They support transparency, which allows you to place the gif over any colour background or even photos, and you won’t see a border or background in the image. All you will see is the icon. You typically use a gif for simple logos, icons, or symbols. Using a gif for photos is not recommended, because gifs are limited to 256 colours. Jpeg files can be relatively small in size, but they still look crisp and beautiful. Jpegs support up to 16.7 million colours, which makes them the right choice for complex images and photographs. With the wide range of colours, you can have beautiful imagery without a bulky file size. PNG files are lossless, which means that they do not lose quality during editing. This is unlike jpegs, which do lose quality. Because of this, PNG files tend to be larger than jpegs. This is only one reason why you might want to convert a file from one type to another.

     Another time I needed Graphic Converter I had a cool icon for my thumb drive, but it was not the right colour. Again, I quickly figured out how GraphicConverter could fill the icon with the colour that best represented that thumb drive. I then proceeded to copy/paste three other thumb drives with their appropriate colour. These are small insignificant ideas on how to use Graphic Converter but what I want to impress upon you is how easily I was able to make the changes. Another time, I wanted to edit a photo of myself, but I had captured some extra items in the screenshot. As these were not related, I wanted to cover them up. Using GraphicConverter, I quickly put a box around the extra bits and picked the fill colour. Presto, the unwanted stuff was no more. Scanned pictures often have slight marks caused by dust. You can see these faults easiest if you display the picture at a zoom level of 100% or more. I selected the Stamp function in the toolbox and, holding down the option key, I clicked on an area in my photo with the colour I wanted. I was quickly able to erase extra stuff, like dust marks or an electrical outlet, from a picture and professionally touch up the area.

     With GraphicConverter I was able to create my website logo and add text to it. By clicking the text tool from the toolbox and then clicking on the area in the picture I wanted to add the text, a rectangular text object that you can write in appeared. The size of the text object adapted itself to the text as I wrote so that I did not have to use the handles at the corners to stretch it out. If you want to get fancier, you can rotate text via the palette. If you click next to a text object, a new text object will be created. You can then edit the different text objects by clicking them.

GraphicConverter converts pictures into other picture formats allowing you to use graphics files from other computer systems. Its most important functions are: 

– Converting the most frequent Atari, Amiga, UNIX, Organizer and IBM graphics formats to and from Macintosh formats 

– Image editing 

– Multiple batch conversion 

– Importing Pictures from your Digital Cameras 

– Browser for quick viewing of all pictures contained in a folder 

– Slide show 

– Automatic creation of Internet pages with picture indices for download 

– Picture processing 

– Remove red eyes 

– Simple text conversion 

– Print pictures indices

     When you first start up GraphicConverter you get the following window. The single image choice lets you pick a new image, an image from the Clipboard or the opportunity to open an image stored somewhere on your computer. Create a new image opens an empty image window whose size you can specify. When a picture is open, GraphicConverter provides information and options in palettes that can be opened under the Window menu. You can hide and display the palettes with the Tab key. Images can also be retouched, edited, and transformed using tools, effects and filters. With the Browser tab, you can select a folder to work on. Access to metadata comments (such as XMP, Exif, and IPTC) lets you shift the EXIF timestamp and change the time and date from the EXIF information that your photos have. This makes sense if you forgot to change the time in the camera or if the clock battery was low while you were travelling. It even has GPS changing abilities. The choices with a red arrow are tutorials on how to utilize these functions. Presentation is for creating slide shows. Lastly, Support gives access to the user manual and some other tutorials.

     I could go on, but I am sure that you get the picture. As I said before, other applications have some of the functions of GraphicConverter. You can use Photos for red eye or slideshows. You can use Preview for very basic editing. Nevertheless, GraphicConverter does it all and more. Once you use it, I am confident that you will agree that GraphicConverter will be your one-stop graphic tool application. GraphicConverter is shareware. That allows you to test the product free of charge and without any obligations before you purchase it. Click here to download a trial copy of it. Priced at $39.95 from the Lemkesoft Web site, GraphicConverter 11 is also available from the Mac App Store. I can’t imagine being without a copy of GraphicConverter and fortunately, Lemkesoft is keeping up with each new OS that Apple develops. It is one of those applications that you forget you have but you sure are glad it is there when a problem arises.

The Plague Doctor of Wippra

by Marcel Dufresne

Nov 18, 2022

     The Plague Doctor of Wippra is a short retro point-and-click adventure game. In it, you will play as Oswald Keller, a new doctor in a small medieval German town where the bubonic plague (black death) is spreading unchecked. The plague spreads agony and fear in all. As the infected are boarded up inside their homes and rats crawl the streets, you must collect medical tools and ingredients, alleviate patients’ symptoms, and pinpoint the cause of the plague — all while steering clear of the Church, which takes issue with your “witchcraft.” There are many different endings to the game. Each is determined by the many choices you make while playing. 

     Set in the past, you will have to help your patients using the tools and remedies of the day. As such, you will experience a working day as a medieval German plague doctor. Once you have determined your patients’ symptoms, you will need to make diagnoses, prescribe treatments, and in one case perform surgery. Your medical textbook will recommend leeches, bleeding, and trepanning as means of alleviating the various ailments. Herbal teas and balms are also in the mix. Of course, you will have to face popular ignorance, religious zeal, and stand up to the superstitions of the day. It’s dangerous work, but it’s your only chance at finding the cause of the Black Death.

     The game is filled with medical puzzles, medieval period detail, and hand-drawn pixel art. You will meet and interact with many interesting characters. You will even have to use the theses of Martin Luther to continue your quests. The story is one that would have occurred back then and only through careful answers will you survive the trial unscathed. 

     The multiple endings make the game replayable. I spent about two hours on my first play-through. I was able to complete 8 of the 10 Steam achievements. With my choices and the witnesses I called to help me, I did not survive the trial. This then encouraged me to try again. 

     The game is separated into a few specific scenes such as the hospital, the town square, a farmer’s house, and more. You are not permitted to leave any one area before completing all the tasks there. An area can contain several rooms that have to be travelled through often. This is the slow aspect of the game. Our good doctor does not walk quickly. He ambles along from one side to the other of the room. The cursor icon changes to indicate not only hot spots but what can be done at these places. This includes dialogue, looking at and picking up items. It is possible to use the space bar to indicate all the hot spots in a scene. This can be enabled from the options. I did not invoke this function as there are not that many hot spots per scene. By being observant and moving my cursor around, I was able to quickly find all that I needed.

     The soundtrack is made up of what I consider to be doleful music which sets the lamentable mood of the time. The game also includes lots of background sounds such as chickens clucking, and hammering to board up the house, etc. I preferred playing the game on a small screen rather than using the full screen setting. This was due to the pixelated view of the game. There was no need to display a large picture as the hot spots were readily identified.

     This historical RPG is quite engaging. The short playing time separates it from many other RPGs and makes for numerous replays. The puzzles are all solvable by using the items found in the scene and a bit of logic. Having real-life historical and medical context, the game is somewhat educational. Take time to ponder your choices as these matter and drive the story’s multiple endings. Click here to view more about this game. Enjoy playing the game and see if you talk your way out of being executed by the superstitious townsfolk of Wippra. 

Boom 3D – Enhance Your Device’s Audio Output

by Marcel Dufresne

Oct 22, 2022

     Boom 3D for Mac is an audio enhancement application designed to play your media content with super 3D effects on any headphones, from any player, and any media or streaming service. Using it eliminates the need for expensive headphones or surround-sound boosters. Boom 3D makes the music come to life, enticing you to listen to your sound collection over and over again. This application has been engineered to produce an immersive sound experience and is a great companion for your Mac. The 3D surround sound offered by Boom 3D improves the acoustic experience by several degrees and delivers a sound quality that has to be heard to be believed.

     The user interface of Boom 3D is easy to operate. There are numerous icons available to help you come up with the right listening environment for you. Working my way down from the top of the window, I will attempt to describe as briefly as possible the functions of each feature. The top right corner has a hamburger menu icon. This enables to access settings, store, about, help, and quit. 

     The next row has the Boom icon (on/off) and a slider for controlling the Boost effect. The Boom Volume Controller along with the Controlled Boost feature offers users complete control over the system audio output. It helps you easily adjust the volume that comes out of the Mac. Boom 3D safely increases the volume beyond its regular limits to deliver an intense and rich sound without compromising audio quality. Next, the Input Device icon lets you specify exactly what type of headphone/earplug or other devices you are using. There are 12 of these listed, including the internal speakers of your computer. Lastly, there is a feature that allows you to control the volume output of certain individual apps. You could mute a particular application with a single click by tapping here without changing the system-wide volume level. I used this to practically mute the game sounds from a Steam app while listening to the audio output from a playlist I had created.

     The next row has the 3D surround cube with an up/down slider. Tapping the arrow lets you control each of six individual speakers as well as slides for the bass and the intensity of the sound. Lastly, there are icons for ambience, fidelity, night mode, spatial, and pitch. Skip to the next paragraph if you already know the function of these features. Ambience gives you the feeling that the sound is coming from all around you, making it sound like a live performance. Fidelity deals with the crispness and clarity of the sound. Night Mode nominalizes the audio to produce sounds that aren’t too loud or faint. This is perfect for action movies where certain sounds are loud while the rest are muffled. Spatial is similar to Ambience. It attempts to give a more realistic sound that seems to come from everywhere around you. Lastly, there is Pitch which allows you to listen to your tracks at a higher or lower note.

     The next and largest section of the window is reserved for the equalizer. It comes with 25 presets including dance, classic, jazz, vocal, etc. It is worthwhile changing the preset for a song depending on what type of music you are listening to. I was pleasantly struck by the differences produced by each pre-set. Unfortunately, I was not able to save my preferred pre-set for a specific song. I got around this problem by creating different playlists and grouping songs in each. Then I could pick the pre-set for each playlist. For the more advanced user, you can adjust and alter the presets to whatever you want and save these with the other pre-sets.

     The last row has the icon to choose the audio player input source. This could be a radio station, your Boom playlist, or your iTunes Music lists which includes audiobooks. Creating playlists to organize your music collections is a simple drag-and-drop. Or you can click on the “+Songs” icon to access all songs stored on your device. Boom provides free access to more than 20,000 local and international internet radio stations across 120 countries. You can search the Radio section to choose channels based on genres such as ‘local’, ‘country’, ‘popular’, or type in the call letters of that station. Information about what is playing and other player controls are next, including listing the upcoming song. Lastly, there is a search window that includes your iTunes playlists.

     I experimented using Boom 3D on three different output devices, my old simple in-ear headphones, my sound-reducing on-ear headset, and my more expensive over-ear gamer headset. The sound quality was impressive for all three. Not being a sound aficionado, I really couldn’t distinguish between the sound quality of the three. I found it was greatly improved on each one. 

     The menu bar icon for Boom offers quick access to the full Boom 3D window as well as being able to adjust the volume, the booster, the output type and the pre-set equalizers. Boom 3D offers set key combinations as Hotkeys to instantly control a lot of the features. You can assign any Hotkey of choice from within Boom 3D’s Settings.

     I must admit I was a bit skeptical that an application would make much of a difference in the sound quality of my Mac. I was wrong. Boom 3D delivered rich and intense audio with surround sound that made each of my headphones sound so much better. Boom 3D is available for Macs, Windows, and iDevices. Boom 3D might redefine the way you listen to music, watch movies or play games on your computer. It completely upgrades the listening experience. Boom 3D has a useful user manual. Click here to get the manual or view some videos of Boom 3D at work. To read more about it, click here to access the Global Delight website. As seeing is believing, you need to listen to Boom 3D to get the full picture. Try it on a 30-day free trial basis. It will blow you away.

The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow – a Fascinating Point-n-Click Victorian Adventure

by Marcel Dufresne

Oct 10, 2022

    The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is a point-and-click adventure game. You play the game as Thomasina Bateman. She is an antiquarian who is writing a book on the barrows (burial mounds) of England, documenting the treasures she finds within. She receives an intriguing letter from a townsman of Bewley, Mr. Leonard Shoulder, summoning her to the small village. Tucked away in the remote countryside is Hob’s Barrow. She sets off by train to the village with her assistant and excavation equipment expected the next day. Once there she discovers that the locals are very reluctant to disclose any information about this barrow. Problems just seem to pile up, one after another. Upon her arrival, the mysterious man who summoned her is nowhere to be found. Her assistant never arrives. A stubborn landowner refuses access to the barrow, and the locals are very wary of this woman who is travelling alone.

     After some investigation and unrelenting questions, she eventually discovers that someone went to great lengths to seal up Hob’s Barrow, to keep people like Thomasina Bateman from going in. But she will not be deterred. She has come here to excavate the barrow, and she won’t leave until she’s done so. Of course, there’s more to it than that, otherwise, Thomasina wouldn’t be here. If the rest of the townsfolk are so reluctant to talk to her, why has Mr. Shoulder summoned her to the village? Thomasina will realize too late the true reason Hob’s Barrow has been sealed all these years.

     The gameplay is straightforward. You will explore the remote English countryside and try to befriend suspicious locals in order to gather more and more information. This adventure game is reminiscent of a classic folk horror Victorian novel. What stirs beneath Bewlay’s misty moors? The answers lie underground in the soil.

     The character of Thomasina adds greatly to the gameplay. She will not take any advice to stop her proposed archaeological analysis of what appears to be a very normal small burial mound. She doesn’t back down when faced with obvious warnings. She isn’t afraid of banging on people’s doors to demand they help her. 

     By wandering from one scene to another, exploring the village and the surrounding moors, she starts to accumulate inventory. By fetching items for villagers, they begin to divulge information or hand over items she needs. She will need to unravel the mystery created by the walls of silence and misinformation along the way. 

     The key to winning this game is persistence. All the clues you need are there. Dialogue with everyone you meet. Go through all the questions that are listed for the character. If they have no more to contribute at the time, that will be displayed in their dialogue. Revisit each of them often as more and more of the puzzle becomes unlocked. Listen very carefully to what they have to say. 

     The various scenes Thomasina can visit are not overly complex. She starts at the train station, makes her way to the village, and eventually to the forest and moors surrounding the town. I walked over these areas so often that I had the map of the region burnt into my memory. I did not get lost. Fortunately, there is a map that you can summon to help you quickly teleport to ten key sites.

     This is one of the few point-and-click games that I was able to unravel without any help from a walkthrough or by consulting with another player. As I said before, by carefully paying attention to the dialogue, re-reading the documents, and retracing my steps over and over, I was able to solve the mystery and complete the game. This took about ten hours of gameplay. The game had cut-scenes embedded in it that let me know I was on the right path. My wandering Thomasina always stumbled upon the next path or task to perform. There was no frustration as to what to be done next. I simply walked and talked my way through. The game saved key spots so I did not have to worry about that.

     If you are expecting spectacular graphics bringing the moors to life, you are out of luck. The pixelated low-res graphics are good enough for the gameplay but they won’t wow you. Hob’s Barrow does not have majestic woodlands complete with recognizable songbirds. The never-ending moors stretch as far as the eye can see but have little that one can recognize. I have no complaint about this. I play the games for the mystery of the puzzles, not for how good they look. Sometimes the items to be collected were a bit hard to see due to the low-res. Again the developers considered this. Pressing and holding the space bar highlighted active sites in the scene. This way I was able to explore all the objects and pick up the ones I needed for my inventory. 

     The game puzzles are interesting and varied. I had to work with Latin and Greek texts. The father’s journal had to be referenced more than once. My favourite odd activity was juggling apples to distract a woman selling her wares.

     I enjoyed the voice acting. There are a lot of characters in the game and they each had their distinctive traits. The great voice acting went a long way into setting the atmosphere of the old Victorian thriller. The background sounds such as birds singing and babbling brooks also set the atmosphere. 

     The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is an entertaining horror adventure set in Victorian England. It is available on Steam and GOG for $14.99 USD. I was able to complete most of the 40 Steam achievements in my first time playing. There is probably little in the way of replay other than trying to get all the achievements. The low-res might put off some people but Hob’s Barrow is a splendid experience that’s well-paced, excellently voiced, and kept me coming back day after day. It is a haunting tale of one woman’s determination to succeed and a conspiracy to thwart her efforts. Click here to view more about this absorbing point and click adventure. Whether you are a new or an experienced player of this genre, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is well worth the price.

First Time in Rome – Explore Rome with this Hidden Object Game

by Marcel Dufresne

Oct 3, 2022

     First Time in Rome is a hidden object game (HOG). The basic premise of the game is to locate items from a list of objects. These are carefully hidden in the picture. It is exceedingly difficult to quickly find all the items as they are well camouflaged. Also, the name might not be as helpful as you might think. Searching for a bee might be for an insect or the letter B. A bat could be an animal or a baseball bat. It is only with the careful observation that all the items can be found. I would venture to say that more than a hundred items could be found per picture of which only a dozen or so are to be part of the list. Once found, you need only click on the object and it is removed from the list. 

     The storyline sets the stage for each of the HOG scenes. In this case, Kate Robinson and her daughter are visiting Rome. They are tasked with discovering what makes this historic city so beautiful. It is by visiting many sites that the answer is revealed. Join Kate and Nicole on the tour of their lives. Meet new people, make new memories, and unveil the hidden beauty of Rome. See the many sights and sounds of the Eternal City in the form of gorgeously-illustrated Hidden Object scenes and mini-game puzzles.

     I consider the First Time series that BoomZap has developed to be a pure HOG. There is no wandering around looking for inventory items to help solve a mini-puzzle. Each scene starts with the story dialogue which sets the stage for the hidden object scene. As with most games of this type, the dialogue has little to do with finding the items. The game comes with the option to skip the dialogue and proceed directly to searching for the list of camouflaged items. I have to admit that I skipped most of the interactions. I play this type of game solely for the pleasure of finding all the objects and I prefer not to be distracted by inessential dialogue.

     The graphics used in this game are superb. The detail and the colours make the scenery come to life. With the music supplied, the atmosphere is Italian. The background sound consists of 11 different songs. You can select any one of these to play or let the scenes do it for you. The game allows you to explore the most famous sites of Rome such as St Peter’s Basilica and the Coliseum. Because there are such precise graphics, you might think that the hidden objects would be easier to spot. You would be wrong. I found them to be even better hidden than most of the other games I have played. I had to use a hint every so often to locate an exceptionally well-disguised item.

     As you play the initial game going from chapter to chapter, you will find that the game has seven varieties of hidden object themes. The normal type has a simple name associated with the object. In Riddles, you must solve riddles to learn the names of the objects you are looking for. This is a much harder type of HOG. You must locate the items one at a time rather than being able to search for any one on the list. Silhouette provides a shadow image while Image is a picture of each item. No Vowels removes all the vowels from the list and Scramble mixes up the letters. Another very difficult type is the Pairs. You know how many pairs you are looking for but none of the names are given. Instead, you must click on various objects until you find one from the hidden list. It lights up to indicate a hot spot. 

     After you have completed a chapter, you then play a mini-game. In this case, it is either a jigsaw puzzle or find-the-differences. First Time in Rome again has a multitude of variations on the jigsaw puzzle type. You will need to either spin a piece or switch places or do both. The complexity of the puzzles increases as you move along.  

     As a bonus, each of the scenes has five fun facts about Rome hidden in the picture. They are revealed one at a time, so the window has to be replayed five times to get all the fun facts out of the way. A question mark indicates the fun fact trigger. It is also very well camouflaged and it has its orientation altered. It might be upside down or mirrored or both.

   Once you have completed all the scenes, you can now play the Unlimited game. This includes all the HOG scenes as well as the mini-puzzles. First Time in Rome has great replayability. For each scene, you can try to solve the list using each of the seven types. This is recorded for you. If you are missing a fun fact, this is also recorded here. You can review the history fun facts and not have to remember them on your own. Each time you play a scene you are not necessarily presented with the same list of items. There are hours and hours of fun awaiting you. The Unlimited Mode has all your data recorded so you know which type of game is left to be played. 

     The Steam version of the game comes with 18 achievements to strive for. There are speed bonuses given for quick completion of the lists. This shows up in the total game score. Replay any scene and try to beat your best score. 

     This HOG can be played by yourself or with a group where everyone is helping find the camouflaged items. It is also a game to be enjoyed by any age group. If you prefer playing this type of game without having to move from screen to screen and back again, then I strongly recommend First Time in Rome. Click here to view a video of the gameplay or click here to read more about the game. With all the replayability and the various types of HOG and jigsaw puzzles, First Time in Rome is well worth the $8 price.