Free Countdowns: The Non-Dashboard Widget Widget Which Counts Down

There are times when I see a new Mac app and plunk down money right away. Other times, an app I would pay money to buy and use is also free. That’s Countdowns, a widget-like utility that doesn’t do much, but what it does is worth having around.

Countdowns counts down days to a particular event in the future. How many days until graduation? Set the date, and Countdowns displays the number of days left until graduation. How many days until vacation? Set the date, and see the number of days.

Take a look.

Countdowns for Mac

Countdowns is also a Notification Center Widget (not to be confused with a Dashboard Widget) which displays the count downs you’ve set up on your Mac. It can also display time. The best thing about Countdowns is the simplicity– there’s no learning curve. It’s easy to setup and use.

But it’s also a good Apple citizen app. Countdowns stores your countdowns on iCloud so they can be synchronized with other Macs, and, even better, there’s a version of the app for iPhone and iPad, so the countdown list goes wherever you go.

For both OS X and iOS, Countdowns is free, but has limited countdowns. 99-cents gets you unlimited countdowns and no annoying advertising.

Countdowns for iOS

Nicely done and worth every penny.

The Biggest Hole In The Universe

Of course, it’s a cold black hole, a large one at 1.8-billion light years across, and about 3-billion light years from earth. Joseph Stromberg:

The mystery is a “cold spot,” a gigantic void that has surprisingly few galaxies present. At 1.8 billion light years across, it’s the largest structure we’ve ever discovered…

This didn’t fit with our models for how the universe formed, since they predict that it should be relatively homogenous everywhere. The most obvious explanation was that the cold spot was simply an unexpected void — an area with relatively few galaxies — but when scientists mapped extremely distant areas of the universe in the direction of the cold spot in 2009, they didn’t find any voids. Some scientists suggested the cold spot was the result of errors made by analyzing the CMB data, and others even controversially claimed it might be evidence of a parallel universe.

A parallel universe? Could I meet my doppelgänger?

Maximum Maxima

Nissan’s latest flagship was launched in Smyrna, TN. It’s the bigger and badder Maxima– just in time for a drop in big car sales. Erik Schelzig:

At a ceremony at Nissan’s sprawling plant in suburban Nashville, company officials emphasized more aggressive exterior and interior design, sportier handling and a 300 horsepower engine averaging 30 miles per gallon.

The introduction of the redesigned model comes amid decreasing sales trends for large sedans. While large cars made up 5 percent of the U.S. new car market in 2000, they had dropped to just 2 percent of the market last year.

Note that Nissan’s Altima model more closely resembles the size and package of previous Maxima models.

Google And Tesla, Sitting In A Tree…

More details on the purchase that never was. Google wanted to buy Tesla a few years ago. Claudia Assis:

A book due out next month makes a surprise claim about Tesla Motors Inc.: the electric-car maker was in such dire straits in early 2013 that it almost was sold to Google Inc.

At the time, Tesla TSLA was struggling to turn Model S preorders into actual sales, and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk turned to his friend Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive.

What was wrong with Tesla at the time?

The depth of Tesla’s troubles had been hidden from Musk. After he found out, he fired some senior executives and promoted other employees. He also ordered some employees to work on closing car sales, regardless of their actual jobs

Sales make a lot of problems go away. What’s the Google connection?

Simultaneously, Musk proposed that Google buy Tesla and assure him it would spend $5 billion in a factory expansion. He also wanted assurances that Google wouldn’t break up or shut down Tesla before Tesla’s third-generation mass-market electric car, now named Model 3, was done. Musk also insisted that Page let him run a Google-owned Tesla for eight years, or until it mass-market car was ready

Why didn’t Google bite? Actually, Tesla sales increased steadily and Musk decided he didn’t need a savior. Tesla still loses $9,000 on every car it sells.

Try The Fast And Furious URL Shortener For Mac

Website URLs, for the most part, are long and ugly; so long and so ugly they get mucked up when you try to share a link with someone else via email or text message. That explains why sites like TinyURL are so popular. They take long and ugly and make it small and beautiful, even though it’s little more than a redirect from a short link to the long and ugly variety.

Now you can create short URLs from your Mac’s Menubar. All you need is the inexpensive Short Menu app. Once installed, Short Menu takes a URL you’ve copied and makes it short by using any one of a number of online URL shortening services.

Copy a URL, click Short Menu in the Menubar, select the shortened URL to paste wherever you want.

Short Menu

There’s not much to set up and hardly any learning curve. Use URL shortening services from bit.ly, Droplr, and CloudApp. The URL you copied to the Mac’s clipboard is automatically shortened using the service you choose (everything gets synced up between Macs by using iCloud).

Even better, Short Menu is fast, almost to the point of instant, and all your URL’s are stored on your Mac so you save a few steps if you need to send the same URL again later. The built-in Auto Short function watches you while you work. Copy a URL and it automatically shortens the URL and copies it back to your Mac’s clipboard.

Short Menu is simple, sweet, affordable, and easy to use. Anyone who receives a shortened URL will appreciate what you’ve done. There’s even an option to use a PopClip extension.

iPhone 7 Rumors To Love

Half way through the iPhone 6’s first year and the technorati elitists have already started on iPhone 7 rumors. Jonny Evans has a list:

A spate of recent reports claim Apple will deliver so many enhancements within its next major iPhone iteration that it intends skipping its customary ‘S-series’ nomenclature to introduce the product as “iPhone 7”.

Spoiler Alert

  • Metal – new CPUs and faster graphics; duh
  • Force Touch – try it on a MacBook trackpad; awesome
  • Camera – dual lens, image stabilizer
  • iOS 9 – almost desktop quality OS

Joe Buck’s Idea To Improve Baseball

Baseball ain’t NASCAR but broadcaster Joe Buck has an idea to improve MLB. HardBallTalk:

Specifically to baseball, I would make players more accessible. There is no way networks can be able to talk to NASCAR drivers before they stuff themselves into the driver’s seat of a race car to go over 200 miles per hour while we are all forbidden to talk to the starting pitcher of that night’s game. Old rules die. Someone is “in the well” before they climb on deck? They can be asked what they are trying to do in their next at bat. Cameras in the batting cage during a game would then let us see how a DH is getting ready for a big at bat. Bringing fans into the experience is paramount.

I’d rather they just speed up the average game by an hour.

Corvette Gets Smoked

This would be more interesting if it were a Tesla topping the ‘Vette in a grudge match, but this isn’t exactly apples to apples. Nicole Wakelin on how the Corvette got beat:

The 2015 Corvette Z06 is a supercharged monster with a 6.2-liter V8 engine with 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft or torque at the ready. It has a 0-62 MPH time of 3.1 seconds and will leave a lot of cars choking on its dust.

Watch the video of how fast the McLaren MP4-12C goes by the Corvette.

It looks like someplace sunny and warm with all those palm trees passing by in a blur, but the biggest blur is the Corvette disappearing into the distance behind the McLaren. It’s absolutely no contest as the two line up on the road and it looks like the Corvette driver completely forgets that the car has a gas pedal.

The Corvette is about 1,000 pounds heavier. The McClaren clocks in at about $240,000.

How To Remove The Background From A Photo Or Image On Your Mac

One of the most difficult and time consuming photo or image enhancement problems, at least for me, has been removing a background image (turning it transparent), leaving only the foreground visible. Yes, you can do exactly that in Photoshop and a dozen other Mac photo enhancement or graphic design apps, but it’s a manual process which requires, time, a steady hand, and plenty of trial and error.

Or, you can drop in a shortcut and use an app like Super PhotoCut which speeds up the background removal process to a few simple steps.

The process to remove the background from a photo or image is straightforward. Open the photo, then select the area around the foreground you want to keep in the rectangle tool.

Super PhotoCut

The example screenshot above is perfect. Use the red marker tool to highlight the background you want to remove (or, to apply effects). Use the green marker tool to highlight the foreground you want to keep. The background can also be completely removed from the image leaving only a transparent layer.

Super PhotoCut is a one-trick pony app. It doesn’t do anything else, but what it does usually is faster and easier than in more complex photo enhancement or graphic design apps.

Alright, that said, it’s still a trial and error experience. The foreground and background areas must be marked accurately and that takes patience and a steady hand. Fortunately, feedback is instant as both the original and altered photos are displayed side-by-side, and you can zoom in to highlight even small sections of a photo. Even the red and green brush can be resized to match the photo’s detail.

Super PhotoCut works fine on OS X Yosemite, and should work on older Macs, but I’ve received a blank screen when running on my OS X Mountain Lion review Mac.

WKRP In Cincinnati: Where Are They Now?

Pure link bait with multiple pages and dozens of ads, but if you’re a fan of the original WKRP you’ll find the list from EgoKick interesting.

Official Spoiler Alert:

  • Howard Hesseman – Still acting but not much
  • Gordon Jump – Died in 2003
  • Loni Anderson – Looks good, new lips
  • Tim Reid – Still acting
  • Richard Sanders – Actor turned sreenwriter
  • Frank Bonner – Acted, directed, faded away
  • Gary Sandy – Theatrical acting
  • Jan Smithers – Retired
  • Carol Bruce – Died in 2007
  • Ian Wolfe – Died in 1992

File Shredder: Permanent File Erasing For The Paranoid Mac User

How may ways can you delete files from your Mac? The tried and true method is simple. Drag a file or folder of files or an app to the Trash. Select Empty Trash from the Finder menu and the files are gone. Right? Wrong. The files are still there, still available for anyone with the right Mac utility to find. Alright, how about using Secure Empty Trash instead? That’s better because it writes over the files multiple times, in effect a digital shredding.

Here are a couple of additional options, both called File Shredder.

The first, File Shredder, has three options. A single pass erase, a seven pass erase, and an ultra secure 35 pass erase (takes 35 times as long, too).

File Shredder

File Shredder #1 is simple enough to use, too. Select the type of shredding you want from Preferences. Then, select a file in the Finder, right-click to open the Services menu, and select Secure Shredding.

File Shredder isn’t bad for a couple of bucks.

A few dollars more gets you another file shredder called FileShredder (no space between the two words). This one works much the same way and has similar options, starting at 1-pass shredding, then 7-pass shredding, and finally 35-pass shredding.

FileShredder

Select the file or folder of files. Select Shred or Secure Shred from the right-click menu and the files are toasted.

File recovery is something of an art form so it wouldn’t surprise me that government spooks and hackers have ways to recover shredded files and piece together incriminating evidence, but either version of File Shredder makes their job a bit more difficult.

Super Cheap 4k TVs

Now all we need are some 4k TV shows or movies to watch. Kwame Opam on Vizio’s latest.

After releasing its first lineup of aggressively priced 4K UHD TVs last year, Vizio is doubling down with its newest batch. The company’s new M-series collection of Smart TVs starts at $599 for a 43-inch set and goes all the way up to $3,999 for the top-of-the-line 80-inch set. As with previous collections, this range is cheap through and through, and shows Vizio fighting hard for mainstream consumers as 4K becomes the standard.

There’s little question that 4K is the future, but having something to watch that’s also in 4K would be nice. Then, after that, expect 8K.

3 Secret Features In iOS 8.3

These are not really secrets in the sense than nobody knew about them, and once published they’re no longer secrets, but Gordon Kelly contributes to Forbes and this is what they do.

Launched last week, the update fixed one big issue but caused another and left many unsure whether to update. The good news for those still undecided is there are three hidden gems in iOS 8.3 that may just persuade you to take the plunge.

Pretty much like every update. Ever.

Spoiler Alert!

  • Free Wi-Fi cellular calls (Verizon does not have it)
  • Phantom Flaw fix (never had it)
  • The Spock Emoji (this one is cool)

Free: Restore Safari Browser Sessions On Your Mac

For most Mac users Safari is the browser of choice. My website server logs indicate that about 70-percent of all visitors and readers use Safari. For security reasons I have Safari’s browser history and cookies deleted automatically. That also means Safari browsing sessions get deleted, too.

Here’s a free and easy way to collect and instantly restore multiple browsing sessions to Safari. The convenience is enormous. Simply click an extension and a previous browsing session– complete with multiple website pages in multiple Safari tab windows– appears and the pages load.

The extension is called, appropriately, SafariRestore. It’s free, simple to install and use, and very convenient; especially for Mac users who bounce around from website to website. Download SafariRestore and install as an extension to Safari.

SafariRestore

Then, browse to four or five websites, open in different Safari window tabs. Then click the SafariRestore button in the browser toolbar. The open page has an option to Save Session. Click it. The session is saved. From then on, click that session i n SafariRestore and all those website pages will load automatically.

There’s no real downside to SafariRestore. Free. Easy. Useful.

I use the Cookie app to remove browsing history and website cookies each time Safari (or Chrome and Firefox) is used and Cookie’s settings respect the saved sessions.

SafariRestore lets you collect and save multiple website sessions and open all the webpages in each one with a single click. Nicely done and a big time saver.

Thanks For The ‘Pimp’

Zach Doell on what is not likely to happen when someone steals your car:

Put yourself in this situation for a moment. You’ve bought a brand new car, only to find thieves run off with it in the night. You don’t know where it is, if it’s in 6,000 itty bitty pieces, or if you’ll ever see it again. This was a reality for St. Charles, Missouri woman Becky Schoenig last week after thieves swiped her 2015 Ford Fusion.

Goodbye car, right?

Schoenig never lost faith that she would be reunited with her new Ford, but perhaps even she couldn’t have predicted how it was returned to her. On April Fools’ Day, police recovered the stolen Fusion, which Schoenig describes had been “pimped out,” like something from the TV show Pimp My Ride.

Red wheels and the smell of marijuana.

If I wanted to steal a car I wouldn’t go for a Ford Fusion.

More Tesla For More

Something new from Tesla. A price increase. And more colors. Matthew DeBord:

Tesla is replacing its lowest-priced Model S sedan with a new version, the 70D.

In a statement, the carmaker said the new car would start “at $67,500 after Federal Tax Credit, Model S 70D includes dual motor all-wheel drive technology, an EPA-rated 240 miles of range, and a 0-60 time just north of five seconds.”

The 70D replaces the previous non-all-wheel-drive Model S, which delivered about 208 miles of range on a single charge.

And three new colors. Ocean Blue, Obsidian Black, and Warm Silver. What? No Space Gray? Or, Gold?

The Meaning of ‘American Pie’

Don McClean’s manuscript for the hit record American Pie sold for $1.2-million at auction. What’s the meaning of the song’s lyrics? Jessica Goodman:

Basically, in ‘American Pie’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less ideal, less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right, but it is a morality song in a sense. I was around in 1970 and now I am around in 2015 … there is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of ‘American Pie.

That works for me.

Kitchen Sync And The Power Of App Simplicity

Have you ever wondered why most of Apple’s free applications are rather simple? That leaves the door open for app developers, whether for the Mac or iOS devices, to create improvements, and up the ante with better features, and that adds to the ecosystem. Apple’s main applications have improved through the years, yes, but most remain much as they were. Simple to use, simple to learn. Safari, Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, iPhoto.

Here’s the tale of an application for iPad and iPhone which does something remarkable in its plainness. We’ve been looking around for a grocery store shopping list app that is quick and easy to use, inexpensive, and synchronizes data between devices (not shared by iCloud or Dropbox; we maintain separate accounts). What I settled on was a very simple shopping list application called Kitchen Sync. It comes with a long list of household and grocery store items. Add items by touching the + Plus sign. Even add it to a category. Scroll down, find an item, touch it, and the item is added to the list, then the list is synchronized to devices connected to the same account.

Kitchen Sync

The benefit here is obvious. Multiple people (husband and wife, for example) can add items to the shopping list, then delete them once they’re purchased; one by one, or tap Clear to remove all the items. The lists are then synchronized again. The learning curve is next to nothing. You already know how to use it.

Touch an item and it’s instantly added to the shopping list. Swipe to remove it from the list. Press + Plus to add an item to a list or category. Press the iOS Sharing Box to email or text the list. The synchronization between Kitchen Sync on multiple devices is handled in the background, no iCloud or Dropbox required (will sync.

Kitchen Sync

The beauty and power of Kitchen Sync is in the simplicity and ease of use. Most grocery shopping list or list making apps have far more features, but usability is more important. When comparing applications, the battle should not be between users and features, but the peace between user and usability.

Kitchen Sync is a delight to use because it just works for the intended purpose. Can you repurpose Notes or Reminders? Yes, but syncing requires sharing an iCloud account. Most of the other grocery shopping lists are cumbersome to setup and use. Kitchen Sync is instantly usable, quickly syncs lists between devices, and seems to get out of the way when being used. It’s also free, but only 99-cents if you want it to sync lists between devices.

Big Brother Is Watching

The problem with Big Brother is this. There are many big brothers and they’re all doing their level best to watch and record everything we do. If it’s not the government, it’s Google. If it’s not Google, it’s AT&T and Verizon– watching our every online move for their own profit. Daniel B. Kline outlines the crazy and expensive way to opt out.

AT&T’s low-cost Google Fiber alternative comes with a fairly huge “catch”.

On the positive side, “GigaPower” service, which is offered mostly in markets where the company competes with Google, offers very high-speed home fiber-optic Internet service for as low as $70 a month. That’s the same price the search giant charges, and on the surface it seems like a fair deal.

The problem is that this price requires customers to opt in to AT&T’s “Internet Preferences” program, “which gives the company permission to examine each customer’s Web traffic,” according to Ars Technica. This leads to targeted ads appearing when you visit websites, email offers coming to your inbox, and even junk mail sent to your home.

Opting out of the traffic-recording program will cost you a minimum of another $29 a month. Add in AT&T’s phone and television service through GigaPower and you will pay as much as $60 a month in privacy fees to keep AT&T from snooping on you, according to the technology website.

That should tell you how much your privacy is being invaded and how much it’s worth to the invaders.

“No Steak For You!”

Soup Nazi, meet Rick Brattin, Steak Nazi. Matthew Yglesias on a Republican congressman who wants to ban steak and seafood. For poor people.

In the ongoing moral panic over what poor people choose to spend their resources on, Missouri Republican Rick Brattin has introduced a bill to the state legislature that would prevent anyone from using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits “to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.”

What’s wrong with that? Why should poor people be allowed to eat certain foods?

Human beings are pretty resourceful, and while a cookie ban will certainly annoy lots of poor families and make their lives worse, it’s unlikely to materially impact cookie consumption or improve public health.

What it will do is increase the amount of food stamp fraud, giving politicians more opportunity to complain about food stamp fraud and to cite food stamp fraud as a reason to cut the program.

Sigh.