CLIX; Digital Hotspotter; RePorter

Introduction

You may love Mac OS X, but using Terminal can be a bit intimidating. If you’ve used a few Terminal commands that you’ve seen on the Web but you don’t really understand the ins and outs of the command line, you’re a prime candidate for Rixstep’s free CLIX 1.5, a utility for storing and running Unix commands.

CLIX includes a default database containing more than 450 Terminal commands that perform useful actions in OS X – many of them usually inaccessible – categorized by the aspect of the interface they affect (Dock, Finder, Security, and System, for example).

Double-click on any command, and CLIX presents a dialog box that shows a title, a category, and a description, as well as the command itself. To execute the command, click on the Run button (you can use the Copy button to copy this output to the Clipboard for pasting into another application). You can also edit or customize commands in the Command Line field. Because you’re working with valid commands, CLIX is a useful tool for learning Unix. But what really won me over was CLIX’s ability to store personalized commands – either in the default database or in a new database.

Buying advice Some of the commands in CLIX’s default database do pretty serious things, so read a command’s description before running it. This is especially true for commands that require administrative access.

Digital Hotspotter
On-the-go laptop users frequently find themselves looking for wireless networks to connect to for a quick email check or surfing session. In the November 2004 issue, we reviewed Intego’s £20 WiFi Locator, my favourite way to check for wireless networks.

My one major criticism was that it didn’t differentiate between open and closed networks – you still had to open your laptop and try to connect. Now that Canary Wireless has released its $50 Digital Hotspotter, my laptop bag has a new WiFi finder. Like the WiFi Spy, the Hotspotter can detect the presence and strength of wireless networks (but, in my tests, with a slightly better range). However, rather than using multiple LED lights to indicate the strength of nearby networks, the Hotspotter includes an LCD that displays textual information about each network, including its SSID (displayed as “cloaked” for private networks); wireless channel number; signal strength; and, perhaps most important, security (whether it needs a password).

On the other hand, if you have access to a secure network but you’ve a case of encryption paranoia, the Hotspotter will tell you whether that network is using WEP or WPA encryption. Even better, the Hotspotter can differentiate between multiple networks: after you press the scan button, it provides detailed information on the strongest network it finds in your vicinity. Pressing the button again displays information on the next-strongest network, and so on.

The Hotspotter does, however, have a few minor flaws. The most obvious is its size: it requires two AA batteries and is a bulky 2.5-x-2.2-x-1 inches – more suitable for a laptop bag than for a key chain. I also wish the LCD had a backlight for easier viewing in dimly lit meeting rooms. Finally, the company says that the default settings on a small number of access points prevent the Hotspotter from detecting them even when units such as the WiFi Spy can find them. That said, in my tests using known access points manufacturers, the Hotspotter never failed to detect a network.

Buying advice For now, this WiFi finder is in a league of its own. If you don’t mind its bulky size, it will make a great addition to your travel bag. As we went to press Canary Wireless had totally sold out of stock,such is the popularity if the Digital Hotspotter.

RePorter
One of the most common criticisms of Apple’s Power Mac computers has been the lack of front-panel ports – you have to reach or crawl behind the computer to plug in or unplug accessories such as keyboards, printers, scanners, and speakers. Temporary peripherals – those you connect only when you’re actually using them, such as digital cameras, portable drives, headphones, and mics – are even more of a hassle. Apple finally included single FireWire 400, USB, and headphone ports on the front of the Power Mac G5, but the truth is that Windows PCs have had such convenience features for years.

I’ve finally found an elegant solution to this problem in Marathon Computer’s £65 RePorter. Put simply, it’s an extension cord for your ports. Connect the cables at one end of the RePorter to the ports on the back of your Power Mac, iMac, or eMac.

At the other end of the RePorter’s 5-foot-long cable is a 3-inch globe with a flat face that provides six ports: FireWire 400, FireWire 800, headphone (audio out), audio in, and two USB 2.0 ports.

One nice touch is the unit’s internal light: when the RePorter is connected to a USB port this light casts a subtle blue glow around the ports on the device’s body, making them easier to identify in the dark.

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