Creating Screen Capture Animated GIFs for Mac OSX

ImageOptin

I regularly create short, animated GIFs of my computer screen to illustrate tutorial blog posts that I write. An animated GIF can be such a simple yet effective tool for web based tutorials but they can be a complete pain to create.

Creating Screen Capture Animated GIFs

I’ve recently come across a new and FREE piece of software that has made the process so incredibly easy. Whereas I have historically had to record a video of my screen actions (with a video screen capture tool) and then use another piece of software to convert the video to GIF, usually with an horrific loss in quality, I can now complete the action in one go.

LICEcap is so easy to use and creates impressive quality output, quickly. You simply open the application, which reveals a transparent window frame that you can move and resize. You then press the record button on the bottom right of the window frame and perform your action. Press stop when you’ve finished and your GIF is ready to go.

NB – My mac is set to open GIFs in preview by default but in order to view the animation in its full glory you will need to open in a web browser such as Safari.

Here is an example of a short GIF I created using LICEcap to demonstrate how to create a pivot table using Microsoft Excel for Mac OSX.

Animated GIF from screen capture

I am very happy with the quality of this GIF and the ease of production was impressive.

Image Compression

As I’ve created quite a large GIF I have chosen to compress it using an equally simple program called ImageOptim. Download and run this program and then drag and drop your GIF (or indeed any image file) to immediately compress without any apparent loss in quality. I achieved a 10% reduction in size with Pivot Table tutorial but it ImageOptim claim that reductions up to 50% are achievable.

Here it is in action.

image_optin

I also run Windows 10 on my Mac so that I can run a decent version of excel. Happily LICEcap also has an excellent windows version.

ImageOptim doesn’t so you might find this in depth review of cross platform image compressors to be useful.

Ripping Off I Done This Journalling with Day One

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One of my New Years resolutions was to start journalling. The daily practice of writing is widely considered to improve one’s psychological well being but my main reason for starting a diary relates to my absolutely appalling memory which would have less power to rob me of exciting experiences if I had a journal to glance over.

I didn’t intend spending hours with a quill and leather bound notepad, penning a diary of great literary worth. In fact my initial resolution said I was to spend 5 mins jotting notes with the latest app du jour – IDoneThis.

I Done This is a great idea, it started as an email based work productivity tool – teams would be emailed at the end of each day with the question “What did you do today?” It can be a great management tool so you can unobtrusively keep in touch with progress but it also encourages a shift in focus towards a more Get Things Done attitude.

IDoneThis iPhone app for getting things doneI Done This have translated the concept to a free iPhone app which allows you to achieve similar benefits on a personal level. I’ve been using it since the beginning of the year and it has invaded my life in a very positive way. I’m ticking tasks off and starting the day thinking what do I want to achieve today – what do I want to add to the “I Done This” list?

The downside with I Done This is its lack of visual appeal and portability of data. It’s a beautifully simple app that does the job required of it but I have a weakness for apps that offer at least as much style as substance, and this one just doesn’t excite me. The biggest draw back for me though is the lack of a dropbox sync feature, or other means to extract the data I’ve entered. I don’t like the idea of investing days, months or years into a single app that I become effectively locked into.

It may be that I’m doing the app a disservice, it does sync to the IDoneThis website and although I haven’t explored this, its quite possible that I could export my data from here. Its not intuitive enough though, so primed by multiple blog reviews singing the praises of Day One, I went off to investigate.

It’s not a fair comparison, but in contrast, Day One is a beautiful app that flows seamlessly across all your mac gadgetry. It is by far and away the most adept journal app available for mac.

Day One journalling app for getting things doneBecause of it’s tagging functionality, Day One can handle all of your logging requirements so it doesn’t have to function as a one dimensional personal diary. The Day One blog features multiple uses for the journal such as travel journal, ideas journal, reading log, research journal etc.

I’ve set up an “IDT” tag as a direct rip from IDoneThis and capture daily bullet points of achievements worthy of mention. It’s a low demand way to start journalling with no pressure to write anything too worthy. It does encourage you get things done though. I don’t want to open the app at 8pm and struggle to populate even the first bullet point.

Now that I’ve been doing this for nearly 2 months I’ve developed the journalling habit and my list of tags are spiralling.

I just wish I’d started this earlier.

How to ReSize of the Virtual Disc Drive for VirtualBox Running on Mac

Clone your VirtualBox Hard Drive

When I first installed VirtualBox on Macbook Pro it was with the intention of running a single piece of Windows only software – SportTracks by Zonefive Software, the definitive athletes training log. I have to confess that I’ve struggled in this task and after failing off and on for the last couple of years I finally got it sorted this weekend but only after I fathomed out how to expand the size of the VirtualBox virtual hard drive.

This post won’t explain how to set up and install VirtualBox, I’m assuming that’s done and you have Windows installed as well. I’m using Windows XP.

During the installation of VirtualBox I think it defaults to a virtual harddisk size of 10Gb which seemed plenty for one piece of software but as the years went by the storage was consumed and this weekend I found I could no longer download anything as C:/ was full.

Then I discovered the confusion of expanding the VirtualBox drive. Following some experimentation I found it to be quite simple so I thought I’d jot down my notes to aid complete beginners.

Resizing the VirtualBox Hard Disk using Mac Terminal

Step 1 Open Terminal

This bit stumped me. There are loads of tutorials explaining how to expand a VirtualBox hard drive but they talk about the VBManage Tool which I couldn’t find and show illustrations of code that I didn’t know where to write.

The trick is to stick it all in the Mac Terminal (I think of it as the DOS prompt for old PC users).

To open Terminal navigate to Applications / Utilities and then double click the Terminal.

Mine opens into my user folder which proved to be fine and dandy and required no changing of directories which might have stumped me.

Step 2 Find the Path to Your Virtual Box Hard Drive

This just means opening up VirtualBox, navigating to Settings / Storage then selecting the vdi harddrive and then hovering over its location to reveal all. You can right click and then copy this for ease.

Step 3 Clone your Virtual Hard Drive for Backup

This is a precautionary measure and requires you to enter the following instruction into the Terminal window.

The bit before the $ sign is populated automatically when I open Terminal and I presume yours will open in a similar directory but be specific to your set up. Just type the following (items in bold are to type, items in bracketed italics are instructions):

VBoxManage clonehd (then you need to enter the path to your VirtualBox drive, right click and paste if you’ve already copied it)

/Users/warriorwoman/Library/VirtualBox/HardDisks/WinXP.vdi (then a space and then renter the path to your hard drive but change the name to your cloned version) /Users/warriorwoman/Library/VirtualBox/HardDisks/WinXPcloned.vdi

Should look like this, then hit enter:

Step 4 – Resize your VirtualBox Harddrive

Type the following:

VBoxManage modifyhd (then again paste or tpye out the location to your original VirtualBox drive) /Users/warriorwoman/Library/VirtualBox/HardDisks/WinXP.vdi (then type two – – and the size of your desired disk) –40960 (will give me a 40GB drive)

Should look like this, then hit enter:

Step 5 – Expand the Disk Size on the Guest Operating System

When you open VirtualBox you should see the expanded disk size. As I’ve already done mine the first screen shot shows my virtual size to be 40Gb. Unfortunately the guest operating system still needs to be updated.

Open Windows and navigate to the Disk Management tool:

Start > My Computer > Admin Tools > Computer Management and then the disk management option.

You should now see your existing 10Gb partition and a new 30Gb Unallocated Partition. What you want to do is right click the existing partition and select the Expand option.

Now before you panic, that didn’t exist for me and I don’t think it works in WinXP but should be ok if you are using a later version of Windows such as Vista. For the WinXP users we have one final hurdle and need to download another disk management tool.

I used Mini Tool Partition Wizard which was free a doddle to use. Load it up, click on C: then right click to select extend. It will ask you if you wish to use the Unallocated area to extend into and then ask you how much. I selected 100% and then applied. The software needed to restart the machine to work but actioned the change during Boot.

No problems – job done.

Thanks to Gubatron who got me most of the way with this task.

Top 5 iPhone Word Games

I’ve been devouring word games over the last few weeks and found myself dreaming obsessively about 4-letter word combinations. Now it’s time to relax and to bring you my review of the Top 5 iPhone word games of all time.

In my quest I’ve come across some awful games and some that just didn’t quite make if into my list of all time faves. I’ve made some notes on these towards the bottom of the blog post.

1. Word Warp
Word Warp

This isn’t the most attractive looking game and I’m sure the simple graphics on this screen shot won’t make you want to rush out to the iTunes store clutching your 99p. Nevertheless, it hits my Number 1 spot by virtue of the game play. Word Warp has the right balance tension and challenge and you get to feel as though it is testing your mental nous rather than just your nerves of steel.

In order to progress to the next level you have to uncover at least one 6 letter word and after that its down to revealing as many of the remaining words as possible. I like the fact you can see exactly how many words are available, it spurs you on for the final few seconds.

If you find the 6 letter word you get to move on to the next level and build on your score. Fortunately you can leave the game at any point and return in the middle of a challenge without having to start from scratch again.

2. Moxie
Moxie

Moxie gives Word Warp a run for its money and very nearly came in first. It’s Lynn’s favourite by far and she hasn’t even touched Bejewelled 2 since this appeared on my iPhone.

I think it’s quite an unusual game, I’ve certainly not seen anything similar yet.

It’s rather like a game of patience. A random letter appears in the top right and you have to place it or pass it. The idea is to build words horizontally, changing a letter at a time. Having created a word you have to be careful not to break the chain and create a “twaddle” which will result in lost points. Additional points are available for “Moxie” words which can be animal, vegetable or mineral, depending on your game choice.

It’s an excellent game, intellectually stimulating and without time constraints. They offer a free Moxie lite version but I bought the main app after my first trial. Go for it.

3. Lexic
Lexic

Now Lexic is a very stylish game. The screen graphics are beautiful and it is one of the few games that I want to play with the sound on. The tiles make a wonderful ivory clatter as they shuffle, giving the whole game a quality vintage feel.

There are loads of games of this style around, sliding across the screen to make ever longer and ever more words. Lexic offers the most accomplished version I’ve tested though. The selection (and rejection) of letters is effortless and with 4 quite different game options available it is an extremely good value game.

This screen shot comes from the Quest option. The idea beyond scoring as many points as you can from the selection of words is to collect all the gold tiles. In this level I have to collect 3 before I can move on but this increases as you step up the levels.

To add complexity there are a number of tile types. The “I” with the red dots will explode after 5 moves if I don’t get rid of it and the game will end. The steel plated “O” remains in-situ while those around it will cascade down and the red “A” will spin to reveal another letter after each go.

There are quite a few more tile types as well. I’ve come across one which spreads itself like the plague. Try getting rid of an exploding “Q” while it is surrounded by an infectious “F”. Quite a challenge.

Another of Lexic’s game option is Blackout which challenges you to clear an entire screen before you can reach the next level. Selected word tiles disappear so you have to think carefully about the few tiles that remain towards the end. You start the game with 10 explosives to clear stubborn letters but they soon run out if you don’t play strategically.

The Stasis option is your standard timed, find as many words as you can, type game.

Lexic is an extraordinarily stylish game.

4. Wurdle
wurdle

Wurdle offers a 5*5 grid and lets you loose finding words and that is pretty much it, no whizzes and bangs, just a good solid well presented game.

It’s simplicity is attractive and it does the job very well. Slide to select, release to enter or reject, its easy. I’ve knocked a number of games out of my top 5 because they can’t get this part of the game play right.

I like the list of entries that appears at the top and at the end of the game you can see the list of all possible words along with the location on the grid.

If this is your style of word game I don’t think you will be disappointed with Wurdle.

5. Word Jong
WordJong

Word Jong is another unusual game, this time built in the style of Mahjong.

Unlike Mahjong, where you have to match pairs, Word Jong requires you to spell words. The similarity in the game styles is that you can only select edge tiles and that the goal is to end the game with all the tiles matched and removed.

There are a few aids along the way, such as the occasional wild card and a bomb to remove annoying tiles but even so its a tricky game.

It’s another game without a time restriction so you can ponder to your hearts content and relax over it.

Word Jong is styled as a daily challenge and the menu screen is laid out as a calendar where you can select the days puzzle. I personally find this a bit tiresome but I suppose it does mean you can go back to a particular puzzle or challenge a friend with the same layout. You can go back to any date so you aren’t limited to one puzzle a day.

The Also Rans

Here’s a brief mention of some of the other word games that didn’t make it into my Top 5 list of apps.

Scrabble – you will already know if you are going to like this one. It is a fabulous and faithful conversion of the board game, if you like scrabble then go for it. Controlling the counters and the screen is a breeze and the game play is effortless. I haven’t ranked this one because I see it as a game deserving of its own category, it’s not your 5 or 10 minute filler game like most of the other word game apps I’ve reviewed here.

Codeword – I play this game regularly and it lulls me off to sleep nicely. I used to buy the Times just for the codeword but I am currently boycotting Mr Murdoch so am grateful for the electronic version that will churn out as many new puzzles as I can handle. Although it is one of my stalwart games I haven’t put it in my Top 5 iPhone word games list as I don’t think it translates so well to the small screen. Ideally with codeword you should be able to see the whole grid at once but at that resolution I can’t make out the numbers. You can zoom in of course but then you miss out on the essential overview. If you like codeword I think you’ll be happy but you do have to be a little forgiving of the navigation.

Bookworm – I’ve read some outstandingly good reviews of this game but I can’t understand their enthusiasm, I personally feel robbed. It’s a Pop Cap game and is touted as a match for Bejewelled 2.

It is not. Lexic comes a lot closer to the Bejewelled style of play and carries it off with more finesse.

I can’t say it’s a terrible game but it doesn’t flow well and as I left play school quite some years ago I don’t feel the need for a talking worm on my screen. Word selection is tiresome as I have to tap to enter and unslide to reject and really there are much better word game options available for less cash.

Scramble – This is fun and offers itself up for a good two player challenge game, either by pass and play or live hook up over wifi with others online. This adds the competitive challenge that the other games miss out on.

I haven’t given it a top rating because it seems to accept so many weird words. I had considered it a flaw with its dictionary but maybe the problem is mine and I just need to expand my small word vocabulary.

Word Fu + – This game promised a lot but I just find it too embarrassing to play. It’s your standard make as many words as you can out of an assortment of letters game with the addition of playing along to the accompanying sounds of karate chops and martial art grunts. You have to slap your iPhone down in a Kung Fu styling to accept your word choice – not something I want to do in public and I don’t really want to risk slamming my phone into something solid. I can’t complain too much, this was a free game application but I’ll be deleting it very soon.

Boggle – This is one of the original word games but try as I might I just cannot like this iPhone version. My first complaint is that I have to shake my phone to start and then it throws the die up in the air to jumble. I don’t like shaking my phone around and would prefer a subtle tap option. The second and more sever complaint is the annoying selection method. Where I have to tap dice individually and then tap the end to select or the beginning to reject. It is just not smooth and I can’t be bothered to finish a game when I have so many better examples on my phone.

Top 5 iPhone Games

I thought I’d share my recommendations for what to fill your new iPhones and iPod touch machines with, starting with my take on the top 5 iPhone game applications available from the iTunes store.

My games screen tends to change fairly regularly as I drop the duff purchases and curse the reviews that led me to part with my hard earned pennies.

The 5 top games I’ve selected today have lingered for quite some months, and be warned, they have wasted a good chunk of my life in that period.

Here’s a shot of my current games screen.

Mahjong Solitaire
Mahjong Solitaire

This is the most played game on my iPhone. I’ve tried out quite a few mahjong apps but so many of them are truly shocking. It must be a difficult challenge to get so many detailed little tiles on the screen but I’ve found this version to have the clearest representation without the fuss of changing inclination or rotation. You can zoom in of course but the standard display works very well.

There is a free Mahjong Solitaire Lite version so try that out first and move up to the fully fledged app when you feel the need for more layouts.

My only gripe with application is that it is timed (see the green bar) and I prefer to play mahjong when I need to chill out and relax. A freestyling option would be a good enhancement I think.

Bejewelled 2
Bejeweled 2

Bejewelled is an all time favourite of mine from my days in the lab. I would spend hours on my laptop matching the coloured jewels while my experiments performed their own little miracles in the background.

This iPhone app is superb, a very faithful representation.

I’ve found myself standing out in the street at night, huddled under a street lamp trying to beat a previous high score as I come home from work. This is high stakes, high stress stuff and extremely addictive – handle with care.

Fieldrunners
Fieldrunners

The idea with this game is to lay out your weapons or towers in the right places to destroy the ant like invaders who try to get from one side of the screen to the other.

It’s a very simple concept but amazingly engaging. The sound effects help a lot as bombs explode, helicopters whir and soldiers croak it so I recommend playing this with your headphones on. Beware not to miss your tube stop though.

Airport Mania
Airport Mania: First Flight

I must have spent hours playing this game when I first installed it and now feel fully prepared for a role as Flight Traffic Controller at Heathrow.

The general idea is to land the planes, unload your passengers and get the plane back in the skies as soon as possible. At times you may have to refuel and send the planes to the workshop, all while dealing with multiple runways, inclement weather conditions and too many planes. They have a tendency to get agitated if you make them wait too long at any stage.

The levels get pretty intense and here I’ve started to let things get a little out of control with planes backing and sitting needlessly idle.

For a while I heard a lot of hype about Flight Control but it is just not as accomplished as Airport Mania, don’t let the child friendly graphics fool you, this is a very adept game.

Galcon Labs
Galcon Labs

I’m at a loss how to explain this arcade game.

You are basically directing your ships to colonise other planets, produce more spaceships and ultimately take over the world.

The graphics are very simple but then the best games often are simple. It is a fast pace gamed which is remarkably strategic in its outlook. I haven’t done it justice with this rambling but I don’t think you’d be disappointed if you gave it a go.

So, there we have my top 5 iPhone game app recommendations, what do you think, have I missed any brilliant games? Do I need to reassess my game screen real estate?

Blogpress iPhone App

I’ve been a little disappointed with the latest update to the WordPress 2 iPhone app for blogging on the fly.


Not that I blog on the fly that much but I do like to fiddle around with drafts while I’m at work (lunch time only of course) and it’s the draft functionality that appears to be up the spout for WordPress2.

Time to try Blogpress which promises some useful functionality such as support for picassa and Flickr web albums, image upload to your blog server, support for landscape mode and posting to multiple blogs and blog platforms. It also supports drafts which is why I’m here in my local caff, tapping away at a review of sorts.

You’ll be able to make your own aesthetic judgements when the post is published. I am able to position the photos in amongst my text (so not just at the end as with WP2) but I don’t think I can control allignment or output size and I haven’t yet found a preview option.


Here’s a shot of the writing screen. If I rotate to landscape mode the ability to scroll is hampered by the presence of images – it gets stuck and doesn’t show the image.

Scrolling is fine in portrait mode though and I’m typing away quite happily.

Tags and categories are easily accessible and I think I can create new ones from the edit screen. iPhone is a new tag so I’ll check for it after publishing.


I’ve found this post a doddle to create so I better publish it and get back to work.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Balham High Rd,Wandsworth,United Kingdom