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Home automation auction

Toolbox: Anthracite & Express Scribe

A quick note about two Mac applications I've been playing with lately.

Antrhacite is a "web mining" tool that lets you easily set up automated tasks that gather information from the network (or other places) and process what you find. For example, without even reading the documentation (gasp), I set up a 'bot that gets the current Amazon Sales Rank for Smart Home Hacks and appends it to a text file, along with the date and time. It was dead simple to set up, and took considerably less time than it would to write a Python or AppleScript that did the same thing. However, at a cost of $99, I really can't justify it for my own use. But if you're looking to do something similar, give it a whirl. If they came out with a less expensive personal edition, I'd certainly give it more consideration.

Anthracite Addendum: I've gotten a couple of messages about Anthracite, asking me to clarify what I said above. Firstly, if you have any interest in creating spiders that routinely gather information from virtually any source --including local data sources, the results of scripts, and so on--then it's well worth your time to investigate this application. Begin by browsing the website, then download the app and use the 14 trial. The documentation is fine, I didn't disregard it because of any problem, rather, I found the application easy to understand and I didn't need to refer to it for my simplistic purposes. This is because there are a ton of samples included with the app, and its logging window gave me enough information to figure out where I needed to adjust things. My vested professional interest in documentation aside, I'm a user too, and I don't want to read the documentation any more than I have to.

Now, a word about my comment about its price. As I've been reminded (ahem, Terry) I have been know to argue that advanced, professional applications that are targeted to smaller markets are typically, if anything, underpriced given the overhead of development, support, and marketing. Two apps that I depend on daily, Tinderbox and XTension, are examples of this. So, what I should have said, is that Anthracite seems like a worthy and useful tool (hence, my blogging about it in the first place) if you need to do data mining on a regular basis. For me, since I only have one daily use, it falls outside of my price/value threshold. If I discover more uses, I'll certainly consider it.

Next up, Express Scribe. This is a free application for transcribing recorded interviews and the like. It's obviously a Windows-port and has a lot of features of questionable value to non-professionals, but it performs its main task quite nicely. I used to transcribe a meeting that I'd recorded using my iPod; playing the recording back at about 50% speed while I typed what was being said. One important note, for some reason the only way I could get it to open a WAV file was to drag it to the application's icon in the Dock. Bizarre, but it works fine otherwise. You can't beat the price, that's for sure.



I have no trouble loading wav files. Be sure .wav is checked under SETTINGS > FILES. Then go to SETTINGS > INCOMING > ADD > COMPUTER NETWORK FOLDER > and browse for the folder containing the wav file.

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