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Ask TUAW: GPS, Hamachi, student questions, and more

Mat Lu

Wednesday is Ask TUAW time! This week we tackle questions on GPS solutions on the Mac, zero-configuration VPN with Hamachi, dealing with a slow starting Mac, as well as a couple of student questions on taking notes and using the Summarize Service, As always, please leave your own comments, and ask more questions for next week either in the comments to this post or using the tip form. Now let's turn to the questions.

Alex asks

I am looking into using my macbook as a gps device. I can find lots of GPS receivers, but not much software. I know about routebuddy but I am looking for something free, or opensource. There is a free program called GPSUtility, it will give you your latitude and longitude, but no maps. are there any free programs that will take this data and show me a map?

I think Roadnav more or less meets your desiderata. It's not pretty, but it does seem to work and it is open source.

Unfortunately, as you mention, the rather expensive RouteBuddy is probably the best option right now for Mac-based car navigation. If you were willing to spend a little cash there's the venerable MacGPS Pro
($49.99) and GPSy ($60). National Geographic also has some GPS mapping software that is Mac compatible. Since you're running a MacBook, you might also consider running a Windows package mapping package from Microsoft or DeLorme in Parallels. From what I've heard, a lot people running Mac carputers have turned to a Windows package.

Richard asks

I would like to VPN to my home network from my office. I have a WRT54G router and a static IP and I thought it would be easy, and actually made some progress, but I got nervous about the security of opening the file sharing ports on my main computer.

Fellow reader lokipo nails this one with his suggestion of Hamachi (free), which more or less completely automates the process of setting up a VPN. As the Hamachi site notes, it's "a zero-configuration virtual private networking application with an open security architecture and NAT-to-NAT traversal capabilities." The official Hamachi installation for OS X is a console package (i.e. command line). However, there is an unofficial graphical front end called HamachiX. Consult those pages, as well as the Instal on OSX wikipage and you should be able to do exactly what you want.

Aron asks

What is the best way to take lecture notes using my mac? I've been using the "word notebook" as it is the closest to what I want to do. However, office is so slow on rosetta - there has to be a template for pages or some other app that makes being a student easier.

Well obviously there's not single answer to this one; it's mostly a matter of personal preference. If you have a recent Mac you may find that it already has a copy of OmniOutliner which I regularly use for note making. (Check out these online video tutorials to get a sense of what you can do with OmniOutliner).

Once you start thinking about spending money, besides OmniOutliner ($25 for students ), there are a couple of Mac applications that take the notebook metaphor quite literally, Circus Ponies' NoteBook (above) and Aquamind's NoteTaker. Over at the academhack blog, you'll find a lot of praise for DEVONthink. You might find one of those useful. Other than that the list is nearly endless: Yojimbo (my favorite), Mori, Scrivener, SOHO Notes, etc. Just try some of them out and see how it goes.

Jon asks

My startup used to go very quickly but lately it's slowed down. At first I thought it was because of shapeshifter, so I deleted it. The startup time continues to get longer. I've heard of resetting RAM and other things like that. Would any of them help my startup time?

You're presumably thinking of resetting the PRAM, but that's probably not going to help (that was more of an old-school thing anyway). It may be connected with ShapeShifter, which may have left some things behind when you uninstalled it, since a skinning application like that has to work at a pretty low level. That said, however, what's probably happening is that you have a lot of applications set to start at login. So just to the Accounts Pane of the System Preferences. Click on the Login items tab and scan down the list. You may find a lot of things there you didn't intend to start up. Removing some of them will speed up your start up process. Be careful, however, you might find that you want/need some of them. Don't delete anything you don't know what is.

As a kind of test you could try creating a new account altogether and then start up into that account. If that starts up quickly, then you know the slowdown is in your user-space, and then it's just a matter of trying to track it down. It may also be helpful to open the Activity Monitor (in /Applications/Utilities) and scan down the list to see if anything sticks out, particularly anything using a great deal of memory.

Jonathan asks

I was randomly searching online articles for a paper in one of my courses and I found a summary service in the Safari > Services menu. I checked to see if websites had any info on the service and couldn't find much. Do you guys think it's a good, working tool? What's the best way to use it?

As a teacher of undergraduates my official response is: read your assignments! Unofficially, I don't use it much, but I know some folks swear by it. There's a MacBreak 62 video on this very thing. I'd just say play with it and see how well it works for you.

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