Saturday, August 26, 2006

TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)

Greetings once again! I wanted to share some great free software with you. Whether you run Windows, Unix/Linux, or Mac OS X, there are still high-caliber free applications that are available for everyone. I have no patience with software pirates, since I write programs, but with the applications that you can download and use for free, there's no excuse for stealing software.

What's that? You can't afford Photoshop but you really need to use it? Why not download The GIMP instead? "GIMP" stands for "Gnu Image Manipulation Program" and it's been around for quite some time. It supports all 3 of the major OS's and has most of the same functions as Photoshop. I've used The GIMP for some time now and recently a new version for Mac OS X was released that has all of its menus re-arranged for those that are familiar with Photoshop. This special version is called "GIMPshop" and runs only on the Mac, as far as I know. It runs in X-Windows (X11) but has an OS X icon and launches from the Finder. It's a very good version and I've used it to create icons for some time now. I have an old Classic version of Photoshop and I literally haven't launched it since I got GIMPshop.

But let's say you don't do photo editing, what you need is a program like Illustrator. Try Inkscape (also available for the 3 big-time OS's). It's loaded with many of the same features as Illustrator, but is free and is still being added to by the developers. I suspect it, like GIMP, will be around for a long time. I've found it very easy to use and have used it recently to create icons for a new application I'm creating. You can do gradients, beziers, and lots of path manipulations (joins, etc.) that make this a great substitute for Illustrator.

There are also some great games available for free on the web. One that I enjoy is ArmegeTron Advanced, a Tron-style lightcycles game that you play on servers around the world against other gamers. It's a lot of fun, except when you crash into a path or a wall and OOPS you're gone...

There are a bunch more...NetHack (a D&D game), Critical Mass (space shoot-em-up) and more. Not to mention that if you run Unix, Linux, or Mac OS X, you also have a host of games that will run in X-Windows that are clones of other, better known games. There's LinCity, the SimCity clone, xInvaders, the Space Invaders clone, xGalaga, etc. And the old classics of Chess, Backgammon, card games, Othello, Go and Checkers.

OH, and while we're on the subject, let's not forget the best freeware, like Firefox/Thunderbird/Mozilla and Open Office. These things are some of the best programs of all time, and that's saying a lot. Firefox is, without doubt, the best browser in the world. No shit. And Open Office does everything Microsoft Office does, but does it for free and without you having to pollute your system with Microsoft software (sorry, I'm a Mac/Unix guy...).

My point is, if you're on a budget and you can't afford to purchase software, get adventurous and DIG! There's a lot of great stuff available if you take the time to find it. And it takes about as long to find a good one as it does to find a good torrent of some brand-name piece of software that you want to rip-off.

Robert Heinlein used to say, "TANSTAAFL," or "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." But there IS free software, and some of it is damned good.

Oh, and if you find something good, be sure to take the time to give it a good rating on the download site, or send a note to the author(s) telling them you like the software. Those of us that write freeware need the encouragement, it seems folks are more willing to write bad reviews than good.

TINSTAFS! (There Is Such Things As Free Software)

Monday, August 14, 2006

You Are What You Eat...

Nite before last, I was burning up the keyboard with what will turn out to be my first "official" article at Macscripter. I have, of course, been doing lots of posting in the forums and also helped get Bill Cheeseman's AppleScript Sourcebook moved over to a new format at MacScripter (and wrote a few anonymous posts there also), but this will be the first article with my name on it, on the front "page" of the site.

Of course, I could not be happier! But the strangest thing happened while I was writing it, you see. I wrote it in Textedit instead of AppleWorks, since I knew it was going to be converted to HTML anyway. I did not see any point in formatting it all in AppleWorks and then having it all stripped out. For those sorts of jobs, Textedit is just fine, in my book. But towards the end, I needed to know how many words were in the article.

Textedit does not count words, it was not designed to be a "full-featured" text editor. So I quickly launched Script Editor and whacked out a quick script to do what I needed. It is not long, just:

tell application "TextEdit"
set thetext to text of front document
set wordCount to count (words of thetext)
display dialog (wordCount & " words.") as text
end tell

You get the idea. It was nothing, just one of those things geeks like me do, using the philosophy of "write once, use many." But tonite, as I was getting ready to shut down, a thought struck me: "You are what you eat."

I worked with a fellow (a non-geek) who asked me how I learned about computers. I had been to a business school for programming languages, but of course that is not the same thing as learning about how to network PCs and what the Windows Registry is (it's Satan, but that's for another discussion...) and stuff like that. I thought about it before I answered him, and asked him if he knew anything about cars. He replied that he did.

I then asked him how he learned what he knew about cars. He said that he had hung out with his friends and his dad and people like that when they were working on their cars; that he had played around with his own car, taking things apart and seeing how they worked; that he had listened to other guys when they talked about what was wrong with their car and how they fixed it.

"Well," I said, "while you were doing all that, I was doing the same thing, only change the word 'car' to 'computer.'"

My answer surprised him. He always thought of me as a geek (and you know how jocks are, 'geeks' aren't really 'guys'). But in that moment he saw that my love for computers was JUST LIKE his love for cars.

He said, "I never looked at it that way before!" And in a weird sort of way, I could see his estimation of me went up a notch. Suddenly I wasn't a borg-like alien brainiac. I was just a guy that dug machines. We got along much better after that.

So when I thought the other nite, "You are what you eat," what I really mean is this: Some of us look for a long time to find what we're good at, what career we want, what our 'thing' is. And usually, it's right under our nose, or parked in our driveway, or sitting on our desk.

Programmers program. Not (just) because it is (sometimes) lucrative. But for the same reason that painters paint, writers write, and musicians play - we can't help ourselves. Our life feels incomplete when we don't have a program in the works, when we're not learning how to code in some new language, when we aren't fighting with the compiler (or the language) to get our application working the way we want it to work.

People are what they do, more than they are what they have or who they know. You are what you eat. Accept the fact that what you do is part of who you are. BE what you DO.

Oh, and there's a corollary to that, by the way. There are two kinds of people, I've found: Those that leave things better than they found them, and those that leave things the worse for wear. Which kind are you?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

For Love or Money

I just read the most incredible (yet true) story. It's the story of the guys that wrote the "Graphing Calculator" that shipped with the first PowerPC Macintoshes. You'll have to read it to believe it. Unless you're someone like me, someone who loves what they do and would do it even if they didn't get paid, which I don't.

The old clichè, "I wouldn't do that for love or money" means more than people think. There are things none of us WANT to do. The fact that companies offer us money to do them helps motivate us to do those jobs, but it really isn't the same feeling that you get when you do it for love of the job.

I love coding. I've tried a lot of other jobs in my life, but the only part of my life where I start an idea and follow it through to the finish is writing software. I can't stand an "unfinished symphony" when it comes to programming.

Take a minute today and think about what you really love doing. Whatever it is, there is a way to spend time doing it. As a story in Reader's Digest said years ago, even if you're a terrible singer, if you love to sing, sing out! Do what you enjoy, and your world will be a happier place. Because when you're happy, you'll be surprised how quickly that feeling will transfer itself to the people around you.