Month: July 2010

Mobile Mouse

I just found out (via @chriscoyier) about a way cool iPhone app: Mobile Mouse, only $1.99. It turns your iPhone (or iPad or iPod) into a remote mouse, trackpad, keyboard, etc. for your PC or Mac — or for multiple PCs and Macs!

The overview video had me sold about me halfway through (it’s a long video, about 9 minutes), and it was a matter of minutes to download the app, download the corresponding software for my Mac and PC, start up the software to turn the computer into a server (I didn’t have to adjust any settings), start up the app, and let it automatically connect. It’s super-easy to switch between controlling the Mac or PC by hitting the ‘settings’ icon in the top left corner of the phone screen and choosing which server to connect to.

I had some trouble getting the “air mouse” feature to work until I looked at their support page and figured out that instead of trying to move the mouse like a laser pointer, I had to tilt it from side to side (true for iPhones 3GS and below). You can easily switch from “air mouse” to “trackpad” — and the trackpad works horizontally or vertically. The keyboard can be shown or hidden and there are easy buttons to switch to view all your programs/applications, a browser-specific button panel, or a media button panel. The media button panel is smart enough to know if you’re using iTunes or DVD or Windows Media Player or whatever. It’s going to be perfect the next time that Steve and I watch DVDs on the laptop.

I am not so sure how much I will use this app, apart from DVD-watching, but overall I’m quite impressed with its functionality!

Workspace setup

I promise I will write up some more interesting design-y posts, but I took [poor] pictures of my new workspace setup yesterday and wanted to share.

First, yesterday was the first day that I used both the PC and Mac, with new mouse and Synergy, for work. Originally I had the PC off to the side of my desk and would occasionally use it to check stuff in Internet Explorer, but yesterday I finally needed to use it for some web development. So, I moved the PC in front of me, but it was blocking my external monitor. So I found something to raise the monitor:


I knew Steve’s English lit books would come in handy someday!!

So now, my desk looks something like this:


My Mac is on the laptop elevator on the left, the external monitor is on the LiteratureStand™ on the top right, and the PC sits on the desk below – not great for ergonomics, since I have to look down at the screen, but it’s not too bad if I comfortably tilt way back in my chair. You can also see my tablet with the tablet’s mouse and the Bluetooth white mouse trying to hide in the shadows. When I’m using both computers, I turn on the Bluetooth mouse and connect it with the Mac, turn Synergy on, and can use my Mac keyboard and Bluetooth mouse to work with both computers! I set up Synergy so that if I go “down” off the external monitor screen, it will jump to the top of the PC screen, so it’s very intuitive to move all around. I was very pleased with the way everything was working, although sometimes when I get too close to the top left of the PC screen, my mouse cursor jumps to the Mac screen (left) and confuses me.

As a side note, it’s very hard to make out, but to the left of the Mac and slightly behind it is the My Book Studio hard drive, parked on the corner of my desk. I have an insane amount of cables and wires going everywhere right now, which makes me itchy to try to my desk, two years after first seeing that link. Maybe I’ll make that one of Steve’s first house projects when he gets off work!

Backing stuff up

I finally took the plunge and got a pricey 4 TB My Book Studio Edition II, a fancy external hard drive from Western Digital. Ever since my external hard drive crashed a year ago which had tons of my work-related files on there and I paid $1000 to restore my files, I’ve been intending to get some kind of RAID back-up system after PK explained what a “redundant array of independent disks” was. I ended up getting the My Book drive not just because it was pretty but because it was Mac-friendly and easy to format into a RAID 1. In layman’s terms (which is all I really understand), this means that the two 2 TB drives “mirror” each other with the exact same data, so that if one drive fails, you have the other as a backup. I set up the drive last night, configured Apple Time Machine to back up my computer to the drive, moved off some of my space-hogging files (I freed up 60 GB of space just by moving my Windows virtual machines off), and now I’m triple-backing-up my other external drive’s files, which have old work files and eight years of digital photos and videos.

My next step is to move a bunch of files off my old PC (which has, oh, 8 MB of free space on the C drive!!) and then figure out how to reformat that computer. Never done it before so if you have tips, please pass them on!

Setting up Synergy+ with Windows and Mac

Dave Seah mentioned that he uses Synergy+ to share a keyboard and mouse between his multiple computers so I thought I’d give it a try. It took me a few hours over a few days before I got it working. Here’s roughly how my process went:

  • Downloaded Synergy+ for Windows and installed on PC. Did the same for my Mac.
  • Installed qsynergy for Mac – it provides a visual interface for configuring Synergy+. Otherwise you have to set up a text configuration file and run command prompts, which intimidates me.
  • Used qsynergy to set up my Macbook Pro as the server and added a screen for my PC.
  • Opened Synergy+ on the PC and put in my Macbook Pro name as the server; the PC would be a “client” and use the Mac’s keyboard and mouse.
  • Clicked the “test” button and kept getting “can’t connect” errors – it wasn’t finding the Mac.
  • Tried putting in IP addresses instead, but still didn’t work.
  • Eventually this worked to resolve the connection problems: Changed PC name to all uppercase in qsynergy on the Mac (I had it lowercase before), and used Mac’s IP address in Synergy+ on the PC. When I dragged the mouse off the edge of the Mac screen, I could see it flickering on the PC screen.
  • Unfortunately, though, it still wasn’t really working properly; the mouse would flicker and move on the very left of the PC screen but not actually do anything or move around the screen.
  • I had the bright idea that maybe the Wacom tablet mouse was the problem. I plugged in my travel USB mouse into the Mac. It worked perfectly! The mouse moved smoothly between the Mac and PC screens.
  • But the keyboard wouldn’t work at all (I have an Apple keyboard plugged into the Mac).
  • Did some Googling. One person said qsynergy didn’t work for them, but SynergyKM did. I uninstalled qsynergy from the Mac and installed SynergyKM.
  • After a few rough starts, I figured out that to set up the configuration screen, I had to drop the “.local” from my MacBook name (e.g., corrie-macbook instead of corrie-macbook.local). Worked perfectly with the USB mouse and keyboard. Still didn’t work with Wacom tablet mouse. But I did a little happy dance nonetheless when I was able to move the cursor from my Mac screen to my PC screen and type something on the PC!
  • I found a post at Stefan Didak’s blog (of crazy computer/monitor setup fame) about how his Wacom wasn’t playing nice with Synergy (or vice versa?) and he switched to Input Director. Unfortunately for me, Input Director only works with PCs, not with Macs as well. But I did feel validated because in the comments another person was experiencing the same problems with PC/Mac/Synergy/Wacom. So it’s not just me.

So now I’m left with what to do. I love being able to share a keyboard and mouse, but I also love my Wacom (and I just sprung $60 for a replacement mouse when my scroll wheel failed on the original one). Maybe I’ll get a wireless (Bluetooth?) mouse for general use and keep the Wacom on my desk for when I need to use the pressure-sensitive pen. I’ll update this post when I finally make a decision… but knowing me, don’t expect anything really soon!

UPDATED: 7/13/2010

I ordered a Logitech Bluetooth mouse and got it installed and set up with my Mac – and indeed, it works with Synergy so that I can now go from screen to screen between my Mac and PC! It’s pretty smooth – there have been a few times where the mouse gets a little jumpy, but overall it seems to work well. The great thing is that it works on top of my Wacom tablet just fine (my cheap travel USB mouse didn’t like the reflective surface), so I don’t have to rearrange anything.

Because the Bluetooth mouse runs on batteries, I’m keeping it “off” most of the time except for when I actually need to use both computers, which hasn’t been very often. So the rest of the time, I continue to use my Wacom mouse and pen as usual.

So, I’m fully Synergy-zed and pretty happy about it.

Inspiration, version .01, and brainstorming

One of the lovely features of being seven months pregnant, for me, anyway, is that I seem to be unable to sleep more than five hours a night before I wake up and can’t get back to sleep – usually because of an active, kicking baby. Usually I go to bed around 9 (hubby has to get up at 4 to go to work) and wake up anywhere between 2 and 3 am. Saturday night was unusual in that (perhaps thanks to my hour-and-a-half nap) I couldn’t fall asleep; I finally got up and browsed inspirational sites and mocked up a Photoshop-based wireframe.

Some of the sites I looked at:

  • Veerle’s blog
    One of my favorite sites to look at. She has wonderful details.
  • Hicksdesign
    Jon Hicks recently redid his site to be completely flexible and fluid (try resizing your browser window – even the images resize!) as a prime example of responsive web design. Frankly, it’s rather intimidating to think about the code behind it, but very inspirational. While I’d love to attempt something like this and learn a lot in the process, I also know it probably won’t apply well to my blog.
  • SimpleBits
    Another example of responsive web design – resize your browser window.
  • Jaredigital
    I like the clean, light, look and the self-deprecating tone of voice.

And here’s the wireframe I put together:

Some thoughts and notes:

  • If I want this to be a responsive web design example, I’ll most likely want to redesign so that the footer stuff shows up in a sidebar.
  • Maybe I need to be okay with my blog looking different than my site.
  • I’m trying out the Aurulent Sans font in this design, as I want to implement some CSS webfonts.
  • I’m waffling between straightforward “Blog” and “Twitter” subheadings vs. the cutesy “Lengthy Musings and Ramblings” and “Brief Random Thoughts.”
  • Brainstorming things to put in the talk bubble for the different pages. I’m still rather fond of my original tagline, “I whip web sites into submission, but I’m nice to everyone else,” but maybe it’s time for a change.
    • I love to design and code. It’s the meetings that kill me. (For the “work” page)
    • Sometimes I talk about myself in the third person, but otherwise I’m quite normal. (For the “about” page)

Pondering a redesign

I’m feeling the itch to redesign my site,

A big part of it is that since I’m no longer solely a freelance designer, I want to de-emphasize my web design services and focus on blog and Twitter posts. I’ve been fairly active on Twitter but not so much on this blog, so why not jump-start this blog by writing about the redesign process?

I took a few minutes during Steven’s snack time to brainstorm some initial ideas:

Content to include:

  • Blog, Twitter feeds
  • About info – currently working at Synteractive, personal info
  • Photoshop book
  • Contact info
  • Work/portfolio
  • Limited freelance availability – rates, info, what I like to do

Other thoughts:

  • How to post past and current work so that it’s quick to update frequently? Link off to another site (maybe blog category or Flickr set)?
  • Can put freelance rates and info as a sidebar on the “work” page
  • Use as a test site to try out latest HTML5 and CSS3 techniques

I also sketched out a quick potential home page layout using Balsamiq:

I’m not really sure about the top header and footer layout yet, but I’m pretty set on wanting the blog, Twitter, and Flickr stuff to be front-and-center on the home page. Will be thinking about this more and looking around at inspirational sites in the meantime!