Friday, 20 February 2015

Favourite apps (for Mac)

As you might have expected, I spend a a fair amount of time on my computer. Seeing as I probably spend more time looking at the screen than other people (I live alone! don't judge!), I also am always on the lookout for useful apps to optimise my Mac. These might not be the most exciting choices, but I think good functionality is exciting, darn it! (As an aside, can you believe I had to order an external disc drive yesterday!? I haven't used a disc for anything in years, and had all but forgotten that MacBook Airs don't come with one!)
  • Caffeine is a teeny-tiny app that prevents your computer from going to sleep when it's activated, and the little icon in the menu bar is a coffee cup! When the cup is full, the computer won't go to sleep. So useful for when you're looking at a recipe while cooking and don't want to get your floury hands all over the computer.
  • Cinch. I LOVE Cinch. It replicates a process that is one of the only things I miss about Windows -- when you drag a window to a 'hot zone' of the screen, it resizes it to fit. It means I can easily split the screen between two windows just by dragging one to the left and one to the right, which is incredibly helpful when I'm doing manuscript transcriptions...or playing a flash game while watching a TV show. 
  • MailTab for Gmail. An envelope icon in your task bar that goes red and alerts you when you get an email. So simple, so useful. 
  • Doomi. Another little app (I seem to have a type), Doomi is a small, simple to-do list. It's absolutely tiny, so easy to use, and doesn't require you to sign into anything. You just type your to-do and press enter.
  • Calibre is a godsend when it comes to managing my ebooks. I'm a big fan of reading, and an even bigger fan of cheaper books and easier transportation. Calibre is a free app that can convert pretty much any ebook format into any other format, which means no matter what device you have it can output files that you can load onto it. I use this pretty frequently to turn PDFs into MOBIs that I can put on my Kindle. Love it. And on that note...
  • Kindle. I do have a Kindle, but I like the ability to read on my computer, too, and being able to switch back and forth between my Kindle and the app (and having it know where I am in the book!) is super useful.
  • Flux. An app that changes the colours on your computer screen based on the time of day it is - in the day, the colours are unaffected, but at night they're dimmed and made warmer, which apparently can help fight sleep problems caused by late-night screen exposure. Not the best for graphic design, but it can easily be disabled!
  • Memory Clean is a small tool that does what it says on the tin, really. With one click of a button it cleans up any excessive memory use, the file cache, temporary files, app memory requirements, etc. I found it made a big difference in speed on my own computer, but now that I'm using a laptop with a SSD it's less of a dramatic effect. Still, always good to have as clean of a computer as possible!
What are your favourite apps? Ps, my awesome avocado desktop is from Designlovefest.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Read, Reading, Want to Read {4}

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1) by Jeff VanderMeer | 5/5
I absolutely loved this book. Such an enthralling and eerie story told in both a deeply personal and a strangely detached voice from our narrator, the unnamed Biologist. I won't go too much into the plot here, because it really works best if you read it on your own. It gives you just enough information to keep you interested, but never enough to answer all your questions. I read all of this in just a few days; I couldn't put it down! Funnily enough, too, something in this book is very similar to a creepy dream I had a few months ago, so reading that really resonated with me. I also love the cover designs of these books! I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but I am, and it's good.
Authority (Southern Reach, #2) by Jeff VanderMeer | 3/5
The second book in the Southern Reach series I found to be a big disappointment, unfortunately. The first one was so good and so interesting, and then going back to the perspective of someone in the 'real world' dealing with fairly mundane problems was just a bit of a let down. It also gave me the sense that the third book would not actually resolve all of the questions they had created, which is why I haven't read it yet. I did appreciate the new information we got about Area X in this one, and the descriptions of the wildlife and the area gave the whole book a very authentic, 'muggy' feeling. It just didn't leave me champing at the bit for the next one, despite the cliffhanger.
 The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber | 4/5
I loved a lot of this book. I loved the premise -- a shadowy, massive corporation recruits a Christian pastor from earth to act as a 'missionary' to the native population of an alien planet. I loved the planet, and the native population of it, and as a linguist I especially loved the unique way they represented the Oasans' speech. I did find the main narrative a bit repetitive and droning at times, which, while it did contribute to the atmosphere of the book, still had me looking forward to the increasingly negative and almost 'apocalyptic' letters sent from his wife back on earth, Bea. I didn't find the main character terribly likeable though, and I found some of the ways he thought about his fellow workers jarring and unpleasant. I still really enjoyed this book, and want to read more Michel Faber.
The Clan of the Cave Bear; The Valley of Horses; The Mammoth Hunters; The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel | 4-5/5
So, here's the thing. I haven't talked about these books on here even though I've been re-reading them through all of last year, just because they are so goofy. But I honestly love them so much, and desperately want to talk about them with other people who have read them. The series follows the life of Ayla, an early homo sapiens woman, born around 30,000 years ago. She grows up with the Clan of the Cave Bear (hey! it's the title!), who we know as Neanderthals, but is forced to leave when she is a young teenager to live on her own and eventually meet up with the Others, her own people. My favourite thing about these books is how Ayla is consistently inventing new things and impressive everyone around her -- I think some people would probably find them quite annoying and repetitive, because they are all about 500-600 pages long, but for some reason I can't get enough of descriptions of cooking, wildlife, and Ayla inventing pretty much everything, including the domestication of animals and needles. They're just so fun.

The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel
The Shelters of Stone opens as Ayla and Jondalar, along with their animal friends, Wolf, Whinney, and Racer, complete their epic journey across Europe and are greeted by Jondalar’s people: the Zelandonii. The people of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii fascinate Ayla. Their clothes, customs, artifacts, even their homes—formed in great cliffs of vertical limestone—are a source of wonder to her. But as Ayla and Jondalar prepare for the formal mating at the Summer Meeting, there are difficulties. Not all the Zelandonii are welcoming. Some fear Ayla’s unfamiliar ways and abhor her relationship with those they call flatheads and she calls Clan. Some even oppose her mating with Jondalar, and make their displeasure known. Ayla has to call on all her skills, intelligence, knowledge, and instincts to find her way in this complicated society.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being "human." Words like "provocative" and "compelling" will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
Two thousand years ago, an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker walked across the Galilee, gathering followers to establish what he called the “Kingdom of God.” The revolutionary movement he launched was so threatening to the established order that he was captured, tortured, and executed as a state criminal. 
Within decades after his shameful death, his followers would call him God.
The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel
In The land of Painted Caves, Jean M. Auel brings the ice-age epic Earth's Children series to an extraordinary conclusion. Ayla, one of the most remarkable and beloved heroines in contemporary fiction, continues to explore the world and the people around her with curiosity, insight, and above all, courage. [This is the only one I won't just be re-reading, so I'm pretty excited for it!]