Archive for August, 2008

Using SnapBack in Safari

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I’ve often been intrigued by Safari’s SnapBack feature – how exactly does it work, and is it useful?

The basic idea of SnapBack is to save you having to click the Back button so much. You click the SnapBack icon, and Safari takes you back to the first page you visited in the current window or tab, or back to the last page of search results. Here’s how it works.

Page SnapBack

Page SnapBack is available when you see the little orange arrow icon in the address bar:

Click this icon – or press Command-Option-P – and Safari takes you back to the SnapBack page. What is the SnapBack page? Well, it’s one of the following:

  • The URL you last typed into your address bar.
  • The first page you visited in a new tab or window.
  • A page you explicitly marked for SnapBack. (To mark the current page for SnapBack, choose History > Mark Page for SnapBack, or press Command-Option-K.)

So the idea of Page SnapBack is that it takes you back to the last “hub” or “jumping off” page that you visited. You might use this feature when:

  • You’re reading through lots of discussion threads in a forum and want to jump back to the forum index page
  • You’re browsing a large image library and want to return to the index page
  • You’re on a news site such as BBC News and you’ve followed a few “related stories” links, and now you want to get back to the main page. (more…)

Finder tip: Copying files to other apps

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

You no doubt know that you can copy a file or folder by selecting it in the Finder, hitting Command-C, then switching to a different folder in the Finder and hitting Command-V. But I recently discovered that Mac OS X is pretty smart when it comes to copying and pasting between the Finder and other apps. (I think a lot of these features are new in Leopard; I remember Tiger being a lot “dumber” in this regard.)

For example, select a file or folder in a Finder window and copy it with Command-C. Now switch to a Terminal window and hit Command-V. The path to the item is pasted into the window. You can also do this with multiple Finder items by selecting them before copying and pasting; all the paths appear on one line in the Terminal window, separated by spaces. Perfect for passing them as arguments to a shell command:

Paste the same items into a plain text editor, such as TextEdit or TextWrangler, or a note in iCal, and you get a list of the filenames without the full paths. (To get the full paths across, try dragging instead of copying/pasting.) Paste some Finder items into an iWork document, and it inserts the contents of any readable files – such as text and image files – into the document. Paste them into a mail message in Mail, and Mail attaches them to the message. (more…)

Awaken: Turn your Mac into an alarm clock

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

This week I have mostly been playing with Awaken ($13), a nifty little app that effectively turns your Mac into a glorified iTunes-driven alarm clock. Awaken’s core function is to start playing an iTunes playlist at a set alarm time, so you can wake up to your favourite music. Now this is hardly revolutionary; there are many free apps that do exactly the same thing, or you could no doubt write your own AppleScript-driven cron job to do it for you. However, Awaken does offer some nice features that make it stand out from the crowd.

Three types of timer

Awaken features a standard alarm that can be set to run at the same time every day (confusingly the menu option for this is called Weekly, though I can kind of see the logic), or alternatively you can set up a one-off alarm to go off at a certain date and time. The alarm can play an iTunes playlist or a range of nice alarm sounds, and it can also display a reminder note. You can also drag an item (such as an application or script) to the alarm window to launch it when the alarm goes off, adding a fair amount of flexibility if you need it. (more…)

Safari quick tip: Navigating a URL tree

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

I was messing about with Safari the other day and discovered this little gem. If you right-click (or Control-click) the page title in the title bar while viewing a web page, you get a pop-up list showing you each folder in the current URL, from the current folder all the way up to the top level of the website (or hard drive if you’re viewing a local file). You can then just click a folder in the list to jump straight to it.

This is great if you’ve stumbled across an interesting page with no (or confusing) navigation, and want to jump to the site or section homepage to browse more of the website. Nice touch Apple!

I still prefer Firefox 3 to Safari, but Safari’s getting better all the time…

Photon: A super-quick photo sorting app

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

I’m always on the lookout for a faster, more efficient way to sort through the hundreds of photos I seem to take each month. I don’t care for iPhoto’s way of organizing images, so most of the time I use Adobe Bridge (since it came with my copy of Photoshop). I really like sifting through photos with Bridge. It’s reasonably fast, and it supports stacks, batch renaming, in-place rotation, and detailed metadata viewing.

However, Bridge isn’t perfect, so when other digital asset management (DAM) apps drift into view I tend to give them a shot.

Enter Photon

Photon ($69) is the latest such app to appear on my radar. While nowhere near as comprehensive as iPhoto or Bridge, it sports a slick interface, and is ridiculously easy to use. Drag a folder of photos into the area at the top of the window – or plug in a memory card – and Photon instantly imports all the photos into a new stack. And I mean “instantly” – this thing is blazing fast, and before you know it you’re happily browsing all your photos at full resolution.

(more…)

10 usability lows of Mac OS X

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

This article worshipping at the temple of Mac OS usability has garnered a lot of attention recently. While I agree that the Mac is generally pretty easy to use, it’s by no means perfect. So in the spirit of rational debate – and, frankly, because I’m a bit grumpy this morning – here’s my top 10 list of Mac usability disasters (in no particular order):

  • Menus unforgiving of mouse slip-ups. A menu disappears if you accidentally click the separator bar between two menu options. Grrr.
  • Dialogs hard to use with the keyboard. Not being able to type a shortcut key for all of the buttons in a dialog (a la Windows).
  • Terrible keyboard control in general (try using iCal with just the keyboard).
  • Horrid mouse acceleration. First thing I did with my new Mac was whack the tracking speed up to the max, and even then it’s not as nice as in Windows. And no way to control the acceleration either.
  • Only one menu bar on multiple monitors. Results in frequent RSI-inducing mouse marathons from one display to the other. (Though you can at least choose which monitor displays the menu bar.)
  • Nasty keyboard navigation of text documents. Having to use the fiddly Command-Left and Command-Right keyboard shortcuts to do the extremely common tasks of going to the beginning and the end of a line. Yet the easy-to-press Home and End keys jump you to the start or end of the document without moving the caret, which is next to useless in my book. And I don’t think this is a “coming from Windows/Linux” thing either, as I switched to the Mac 2 years ago and this behaviour still pisses me off. Windows and Linux have simply done it better.
  • Hamstrung open/save dialogs. Why can’t I do even basic things like rename a file or folder?
  • No cut-and-paste in the Finder. You can only copy and paste stuff. Uggg.
  • Non-intuitive Print dialog. How do I print multiple copies? Oh, I have to click a little arrow to the right of the currently-selected printer – which you’d have thought would change printers, but no, it brings up the hidden print options. And talking of the Print dialog, why can’t you move focus to the “PDF” drop-down menu with the Tab key?
  • Shift-clicking to select a range of files in the Finder doesn’t work in Icons view. You have to switch to one of the other views to do this.

There we go! That’s set the world to rights. ;)

LazyMouse: A helpful hand for RSI sufferers

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I recently came across LazyMouse, a little Preference Pane app that snaps the mouse pointer to the default button in dialogs when they appear. The idea here is that you’re most likely to click the default button, so why not have the mouse cursor move there automatically and save the wrist-ache?

To be honest, I’m surprised this isn’t a standard option on the Mac; I seem to remember this being an option in Windows since way back in the mid-nineties. To add insult to injury (sorry – bad pun), you have to pay $10 for this app. And you can usually just hit the Return key to activate the default button (or Esc to back out of a dialog) anyway.

That said, for what it does, LazyMouse is nicely done. You can choose to snap the mouse cursor to the default button (such as Open) or the alternate button (such as Cancel). You can also have the cursor snap back to where it was before the dialog appeared – a very useful feature (though unfortunately it doesn’t work if you move the mouse at all when the dialog is open). LazyMouse also comes with a nice, easy-to-read manual.

If you do a lot of mouse-work and have problems with RSI or other hand/wrist injuries then LazyMouse is certainly worth a look. It’s shareware too, so you can try it out before you buy.

[Via ATMac]

Gates vs. Jobs – the game!

Friday, August 8th, 2008

I’ve been having fun with this Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs game recently. Totally daft obviously, but quite well done, especially Steve Jobs’ maniacal, slightly Ren-esque voice. I found the controls a bit tough to start with – the trick is to swipe the mouse from left to right to make an attack – but it’s a pretty easy game.

Equally funny is the related SuperNews! Gates vs. Jobs episode (shown below). It’s been around a while, but it still makes me chuckle. “I AM THE MIGHTY FINDER.” :)




Dying iMac hard drive; Time Machine to the rescue

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Well I’m glad I took out the three-year AppleCare Protection Plan. Over the last few days my iMac’s hard disk started making ominous clicking sounds when powering on, resulting in a flashing folder with a “?” icon appearing on boot (which can never be a good thing). Once it warmed up a bit, the drive would kick in OK, but from a cold start it was a no-go.

As the problems were mounting up – see my green pixel issue – I decided yesterday that it was time to call Apple tech support. On the whole, the phone call went about as smoothly as I expected. The Apple support staff do sometimes seem robot-like in their troubleshooting approach, and they treat you like it’s the first time you’ve seen a computer, but they were friendly enough. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, they eventually arranged for a local Apple service centre to send someone out to look at both the hard drive and green pixel problems. On-site service – fantastic!

Sure enough, a friendly chap arrived this morning with a new hard drive under one arm and logic board under another. Unfortunately he couldn’t fit the logic board (to fix the green pixel issue) as Apple had shipped him the wrong board, but he did at least swap out the hard drive. (Slightly terrifying seeing him take the iMac apart – not for the faint-hearted. Apparently though, the newer aluminium ones are even worse, involving suction cups and god knows what else.)

Once the new drive was in and the iMac’s guts put back in their place, we got the Leopard install under way. When done, it was simply a case of choosing an option to restore from my Time Machine backup: (more…)

Plex: A free alternative to Front Row

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Over the last couple of days I’ve been having a play with Plex, a media centre app for the Mac that does much the same job as Apple’s built-in Front Row. You can watch DVDs, movies on your hard drive, and movie trailers from Apple’s site; listen to music; and browse photos. However, Plex takes things further than Front Row, letting you watch YouTube videos, view weather forecasts, and even play a game of Tetris. And you can do all of these things with your Apple Remote, from the comfort of your armchair.

Plex is based on XBMC , an open-source media centre originally built for the Xbox. XBMC has been ported to many platforms; Plex is the new name for the Mac version. It supports a wider range of codecs than Front Row (although the free Perian QuickTime component makes Front Row much more capable on the codec front).

So what’s Plex like in reality? Well the version I’m running is 0.5-RC3, which is very much an alpha release. And, to be frank, it shows. While the app has a lot of promise, and it has lots of great features (many of which I’d like to see in Front Row), it’s too rough around the edges to compete with Front Row in our family room. (more…)