App of the (last) week: Disk Inventory X

Originally published on the Melbourne blog.

In the era of “the cloud”, it seems odd perhaps to be concerned about how much free disk space your computer has left. But there are still plenty of reasons why you might run out of disk space. In my case, my Mac laptop has a relatively small solid-state drive (SSD) and I’m one of those annoying people that decides he wants to use both Mac OS X and Windows, via Boot Camp.

So where the hell has all my disk space gone? It’s not just the fact I’ve donated 20 GB to Windows. My Documents folder is only a few gig, as I save the majority of my work related content to a office cloud server.  And my Applications folder isn’t big enough to justify the lack of space.

Enter my app of the week: Disk Inventory X.

This invaluable – free – app scans your hard drive and shows your usage in the form of a treemap. Essentially, a quick visual way of showing which files and file types are consuming space on a drive. You can home in on problem files just by hovering over them, or get an idea of whether you need to move your photo library somewhere else.

Disk Inventory X treemapAs you can see above, I’ve got a big file taking up quite a large amount of space – though clicking on it shows it’s actually my Mac’s sleep image. The last time I ran this, it showed me a large archive of old emails that I didn’t need anymore too.

Disk Inventory X works on Mac and Windows partitions, though it’s a Mac-only app, so it is helpful if you’re trying to diagnose disk issues on a Boot Camp partitions. However, there’s the similar WinDirStat if you’re a full-time Windows user.

Think it’s useful? Download Disk Inventory X here.

Breakfast – 30 Days of Biking: Day 5

A really short post from me as it's been an action-packed day. This morning, in search of breakfast, we dropped into London's famous bike cafe: Look Mum No Hands!

It's a brilliant place – part bike workshop, part cafe-bar where bike bits hang side-by-side with bags of coffee and boxes of bananas. It was busy of course on a weekend, but served up breakfast til 1 pm – ideal for assuaging a hangover.

It's a place that you pop into, find a table then order at the bar. We were warned our veggie breakfast and orange juice might take some time, and they did. Still, this gave us a chance to absorb the array of bikes hanging from the ceiling and also the Look Mum branded puncture repair kits, which were just some of the memorabilia available. I resisted buying a pack of pants.

The veggie breakfast was okay. Sourdough toast was a nice touch as were the almost endless sea of scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, the onion and black pepper sausages were pretty tough and overdone and I wasn't quite sure what to make of the spinach leaves. The coffee was pretty good though, coming from the Square Mile roasters.

I did love the vibe and atmosphere. Old Street is particularly busy for passing cyclists it seems, despite lack of dedicated infrastructure, so it benefits from a regular stream of drop-ins kitted out in everything from ordinary street clothes to full Lycra bodysuits. The breakfast just felt a bit below average for what we could've got elsewhere.

To be fair, the friendly staff did warn us that it was busy and I'm sure I will go back on a future occasion. I'll also be reviewing Manchester's own answer to bike cafés: Popup Bikes.

Takk Manchester review – 30 Days of Biking: Day 4

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m off in London for a couple of days so posting new content and riding is a bit more difficult. Still, I’ll try and do my best. No riding today, but here’s something I wrote earlier as part of a series featuring bike-friendly businesses in Manchester.

Earlier this week, I met a colleague at Takk, one of the (relatively) new cafes on Tariff Street at the edge of the northern quarter.

Takk is an Icelandic themed cafe occupying a space in what I think was formerly a fashion warehouse or outlet. It prides itself on the fantastic selection of coffee on offer, including: espresso-based drinks; good filter coffee and also Aeropress. They also offer cakes, some pastries (which are gone by 10 am) and freshly-made sandwiches at lunchtime, made on bread baked down the road at Barbakan.

I’ve been into Takk a few different times during the day. It’s a great place to grab a cup of coffee and do a bit of work, or just meet people who might be stopping by: think of a common room, particularly for creative and digital types, which explains the number of Mac users. Takk happily caters for them: there’s decent wifi, ample power sockets located around the room and the mix of individual and communal tables is ideal for having some quiet thinking time or getting a group together to flesh out some ideas.

They also do a stunning Brie, apple and jelly sandwich.

Takk is notably bike-friendly: whenever I’ve been in, there have been a few bikes stacked up nearly beside the coffee counter. It’s a warm welcome to riders, if ever there was one. It helps that many of the staff cycle into work too. Unfortunately, there’s no official bike parking outside and a neighbouring local grinch business wasn’t too happy with cyclists locking up against their railings opposite. Takk gracefully responded by inviting anyone who cycled there to bring their bike indoors.

This isn’t a problem unique to Takk: Tariff Street is one of these new bits of Manchester that has yet to benefit from bike parking. Hopefully, we’ll see bike racks appear nearby very soon. It’s something that I raised at the nascent NQ Forum.

I’m looking forward to returning to Takk soon. I still think about that sandwich. But if you can’t be a regular, they do offer roasted coffee ready to take away so you can try and recreate it at home. Just make sure you have an array of Mac laptops to complete the experience.

Takk Manchester, @takkmcr, 6 Tariff St M1 2FF

9-6 every day (I think!)

Review: Share your food eating habits with Food Feed

Food Feed logoBBQ Food by @cubicgarden, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0It’s barbecue season in the UK and, in between the downpours, there’s nothing more satisfying than getting out in the sun and charring some meat or veg.

Unfortunately, like Christmas, this can mean your eating habits suffer. Whilst attending a barbecue chez @cubicgarden last weekend, I discovered an interesting Twitter based app called Food Feed, which bills itself as an easy and simple way to track your food habits.

Using Food Feed is very simple. You just need to go to the Food Feed website and sign-in with your Twitter account. Then all you have to do is follow @having and start tweeting.

By tweeting “@having” at the start of your tweets, Food Feed can aggregate all your food tweets in one place, which means you can find them at (like mine). Adding a picture in to your food tweets can make it more memorable or sum up a large meal!

You can share this public feed with anyone you want – your doctor, nutritionist or even your mother. It’s a great way to link up with other people eating the same kinds of foods for inspiration or, in my case, to improve my eating habits and put all my food tweets into once place. If your friend on Twitter following @having too, they can see your food tweets without it interfering with your wider stream.

Unfortunately, Food Feed doesn’t offer much more than a simple search and aggregation tool. It would be great to see it integrated with an app like Meal Snap that estimates the calories in your meal through a photograph. However, the downside of using Meal Snap is that you have to photo every item of food and the data gets sent to Daily Burn, rather than being quite as simple and easy to share as Food Feed.

Check out Food Feed for free and see if it could be useful for you.

Review: Is it worth upgrading your older Mac to OS X 10.7 Lion?

One of the great things about owning a Mac is that for most tasks, you don’t suffer the same slow down that can be suffered by many Windows users. A Mac bought four years ago can still happily run many of today’s productivity and design applications.

Also, buying a Mac can be a relatively large investment, particularly for students – so you don’t want to junk it every time Apple release an upgrade. Of course, it’s not just the processor and RAM – what if you don’t have a newer glass trackpad with multi-touch, or an SSD?

So what does today’s launch of Mac OS X Lion mean for users of older Mac hardware?

Mac OS X Lion screen

Firstly, the minimum system requirements are very similar to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. The most important change is that you’ll need at least an Intel Core 2 Duo to run Lion. This means users with the very first generation of Mac and Intel hardware (Core Solo/Core Duo) are excluded from the upgrade. Also, while you can get away with running Lion on 2 GB RAM, experience from Snow Leopard suggests 4 GB is a comfortable minimum for multi-tasking.

You’ll also have to be running Mac OS X Snow Leopard, version 10.6.8 to install Lion. Even if you want to do a clean install, you must download Lion via the App Store first and then follow the various guides.

About this Mac with Lion showing Core2Duo

This morning, I took the plunge and installed Mac OS X Lion on my late-2007 MacBook Pro (2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM). It wasn’t a clean upgrade – in fact, I’ve upgraded it from Tiger to Leopard (on launch day) and then to Snow Leopard. The upgrade process was pretty smooth and didn’t require any input from me. A little over half an hour later, I was presented with the smooth iOS-style login screen.

Mac OS X Lion login screen

Login was characteristically a slow experience – this is one thing that could be quicker, but I do have a number of apps that I set to launch on login, like Twitter for Mac, Chrome and the usual like Dropbox etc. Experience suggests a reboot and login is a pretty rare occurrence, so I’ve never been bothered by this.

However, this is where the problems seemed to start: Chrome was slow, sluggish. Twitter was updating slowly and I could hear my hard drive clunking away. Opening Activity Monitor, my processor usage wasn’t particularly high, but my hard drive was being ragged fairly hard.

Activity monitor screenshot

In retrospect, this wasn’t too surprising – I had just installed a near 4 GB update to my operating system. A bit of advice from Twitter and this article rightly identified that it was simply Spotlight re-indexing my hard drive; given that it’s not particularly large, this only took about 15 minutes before things seemed to return to normal.

Beyond that, there don’t appear to be any major performance issues, despite the fact that my Mac will be at least initially transparently rebuilding its caches and defragmenting key operating system files. So far, I can’t use any new gestures as I don’t have a multi-touch trackpad. I’ve also turned off the iOS “scroll wheel” style scrolling through System Preferences (it’s labelled “Content moves in the direction of finger movement on touch-pad or mouse”). I guess if I ever start using my Magic Mouse again, I might change this, but for now, this isn’t something new I want to learn. Users desperate for gestures may benefit from a Magic Trackpad.

As for other new features, Mission Control works smoothly and as expected, unifying my ill-used Spaces and application windows. I also like the fact that Dashboard widgets appear in their own space (you can turn this off).

Screenshot of Mission Control

I haven’t seen much evidence of iOS-style ‘instant’ switching to apps, though Word for Mac 2011 and Photoshop CS3 did both bring up the last few documents and images that I worked on when I quit and restarted the apps. The Launchpad also works smoothly, but for me, this feature is far less useful than using a launcher like QuickSilver as a launcher/Spotlight replacement. Launchpad is marginally quicker than using the Finder to launch apps, but QuickSilver’s “double-tap and type” is much quicker and targeted than Launchpad’s full-screen browsing of all my forgotten apps.

Launchpad - meh

But what about the other bundled apps with Lion – like the new Mail, iCal and all the other small upgrades? As a user of Sparrow, I don’t foresee using the Mail app, which shares many similarities with Sparrow already, but isn’t quite as slick when it comes to supporting Gmail specific features. iCal’s full-screen view is a dream for at-a-glance viewing though.

Unfortunately, if as a user of an older Mac, you continue to rely on apps written for PowerPC, you’ll find that Lion is the end of the road: Rosetta is finally dropped, the software layer that lets you run PowerPC apps on Intel hardware, along with Front Row. Users may also have to install their own Java and Flash

Ultimately, what OS X Lion offers for your Mac is a number of enhanced and improved features including, Auto Save and Versions which will be a boon for anyone struggling with crashy apps or editing large documents. The updated user interface is also pleasing to the eye, offering a crisper interface that continues to make Aqua one of the most pleasant UIs of any operating system.

And for just $29.99 or £20.99, Mac OS X Lion is comparatively good value for money as an upgrade for your older Mac. Download it from the App Store now.