Archive for the 'Mac tips & tricks' Category

Nice wallpaper for your widescreen Mac

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Apple’s bright Mac displays are great for showing off beautiful photos, and I love having stunning wallpapers on my iMac’s desktop. However, not all wallpapers are a good fit for the widescreen displays used on current Macs. So I thought I’d hunt around for some really good quality widescreen images.

Here, then, are 5 wonderful widescreen wallpaper sites that I discovered on my travels:


InterfaceLIFT provides a nice selection of over 1,500 high-res widescreen wallpaper images – perfect for the Mac’s screen. They also provide nice icon sets that you can use to customize your file and folder icons (info on how to do this).

Widescreen Wallpaper Flickr group

Then there’s the Widescreen Wallpaper Flickr group pool with all sorts of highly original wallpaper images from around the world. New ones are added all the time, too. (more…)

Finding the total size of a folder in the Mac Finder

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Want to know how big a folder is in Mac OS X, including all the files and nested subfolders inside it? This can be very useful, especially when you’re trying to reclaim some disk space. Here’s how to do it.

You can use Finder’s List view (Command-2) to show you the sizes of files in the current folder, but by default all folders show “–” in the Size column:

Viewing a folder in the Finder without folder sizes

To change this, choose View > Show View Options (or press Command-J) and enable the Calculate all sizes option:

‘Calculate all sizes’ setting in Finder’s view options

After a while – depending on how many files you have inside your folders – you’ll see the Size column start to populate with the total size for each folder:

Viewing a folder in the Finder with folder sizes

Then it’s simply a matter of clicking the Size column header to find your biggest folders:

Viewing a folder in the Finder with sorted folder sizes

You can then click an arrow to the right of a folder to expand it and view the sizes of all its subfolders, and so on. Easy!

How to remove StuffIt completely from your Mac

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Crossed-out StuffIt logoFor some reason StuffIt ended up getting installed on my wife’s iMac. All very well, but I started finding its presence, and its association with every zip file on the Mac, somewhat annoying and unnecessary (what with unzipping now being built into Mac OS). So I tried to uninstall it. Easier said than done! There’s no uninstaller, and what’s more, it insinuates itself into every nook and cranny of Mac OS, and is a pig to remove manually.

I was pretty chuffed, then, to discover this Automator script on StuffIt’s maker’s website. Download NukeStuffitMac, unzip, run, and wait (it takes a while), and every trace of StuffIt is removed from your Mac. Nice! (I found I needed to restart the Mac afterwards to finish the job completely.)

Google Analytics on your Dashboard

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I use Google Analytics a fair bit to track my sites. It’s a fantastic tool, but it’s a bit of a pain to have to login via a Web browser each time you want to see your stats.

Not a problem if you’re a Mac user though! Dashalytics is a really handy Dashboard widget that lets you view your stats right on your Mac. The widget asks you for your Analytics login details, then logs in behind the scenes and displays your Analytics data in all its glory.

Dashalytics widget screenshot

You can view the number of visitors per day, week, month and so on, and view other key metrics such as pageviews, time on site, and bounce rate. The graphs look lovely, and you can hover over the Visitors Overview graph to see the actual data – a nice touch.

Because it’s a Dashboard widget, it stays logged in and updates the graphs periodically. You can also add multiple instances of the widget to track more than one site. If, like me, you run several sites and want to see how they’re all doing, then this widget is a wonderful time-saver!

How to add/remove quotes from text in Mail

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Quote levels in MailI was so glad when I discovered this little gem. You know when you paste a bit of quoted text (text with one or more coloured bars down the left side) from one Mail message window to another, and it brings the coloured bars with it? Very annoying.

How to remove the coloured bars? Simply select the pasted text, then press Command-Option-‘ (single quote) until they’ve gone. Brilliant! You can also choose Format > Quote Level > Decrease. (I must have looked for such a menu option well over a dozen times before I found it. For some reason I was expecting it to be under Edit or View.)

Of course, you can also add quote levels (coloured bars) by choosing Format > Quote Level > Increase, or pressing Command-‘ (single quote).


Why isn’t there a standard “full screen” keyboard shortcut?

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Full Screen iconOne reason I switched to the Mac was because Mac OS applications are supposed to have consistent user interfaces. This is mainly due to the much-lauded Apple Human Interface Guidelines.

On the whole, I’m impressed with the way Mac apps have consistent menus and keyboard shortcuts. For example, with a few notable exceptions – I’m looking at you, Photoshop – you can nearly always get to an app’s preferences by hitting Command+, (comma), and hide an app with Command+H.

But what’s the shortcut for switching an app to full screen mode? Good question. It changes from app to app; there’s no standard. And surely, if there’s one thing you need a consistent keypress for, it’s full screen mode – especially exiting full screen mode. Try getting out of DVD Player’s full screen mode without knowing the keyboard shortcut. (And no, Esc doesn’t work.)

“Full screen” shortcuts for various apps

Just to show how ridiculous the situation is – but also to provide a handy reference – here’s a list of the “full screen” shortcuts for the apps currently installed on my Mac:

  • DVD Player: Command+0 (zero). Obviously.
  • QuickTime Player: Command+F. (Even Apple’s own apps aren’t consistent with each other.)
  • VLC: Command+F.
  • Skype: Control+Command+F.
  • iChat AV: Control+Command+F. (Well at least those two are the same.)
  • RealPlayer: Command+4. (Huh?)
  • Parallels Desktop: Option+Return (my brain hurts).
  • iTunes: Command+F.

If Apple can come up with standard shortcuts for things like preferences, surely a standard full-screen shortcut isn’t out of the question?

(Here’s a handy related tip: If you ever need to decipher the strange characters used in menus to represent various special keys – such as Control and Option – switch to the Finder, choose Help > Mac Help, and search the help for “Symbols for special keys”.)

How to quit Front Row if it locks up

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Front Row screenshot (detail)Happy New Year to you!

Front Row. Where would we be without it? We use it all the time to watch DVDs and movies, and listen to music, on our living room iMac. Without Front Row and the Apple Remote, it would be a painful experience.

Still, it has its painful moments, such as the times when Front Row completely freezes. I’ve had this when playing DVDs, and occasionally when browsing the Movies folder (though often in the latter case it was simply being slow).

It’s not obvious what you can do in this situation. The Mac doesn’t respond to the keyboard, mouse, or remote. My previous solution was either to ssh from our other iMac and kill off the Front Row process (not an option if you only have one computer), or simply to power cycle the iMac (not ideal, obviously).

However, the other day I remembered that there was a keyboard shortcut for the Apple > Force Quit menu option when working in “normal” (non-Front-Row) mode: Command-Option-Esc. This brings up a “Force Quit Applications” dialog, allowing you to choose an application to kill. So when Front Row next locked up, I thought I’d try pressing Command-Option-Esc. Amazingly, it worked! I was immediately returned to the Desktop. It didn’t bring up the “Force Quit Applications” dialog, but it did kill off Front Row, which was the main thing. A handy trick to remember.

On a related note: Tired of having to press MENU on your Apple Remote five or six times to back out all the submenus and return to the Desktop? There’s a quicker way: simply press any key on the keyboard apart from the Front Row control keys (Return, Enter, Spacebar, Esc or the arrow keys). Front Row quickly exits, returning you to the Desktop with a single keypress. (Amazingly I only discovered this because our pesky 11-month-old loves to hammer on the keyboard while we’re watching movies!) Naturally this tip requires you to walk over to the iMac – unless you have a Bluetooth keyboard – but hey, we could all use the exercise, right? 🙂

Happy Front Rowing. (Note: these tips work on Tiger. Not sure about Leopard, as I’m too scared to upgrade right now!)

Getting Windows XP under Parallels printing to a Mac network printer

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Windows printer iconSo here’s today’s little teaser. My wife runs Windows XP under Parallels on her iMac, and she wants to print to the printer that’s connected to my iMac. How’s it done? The obvious thing would be to share the printer on my iMac (System Prefs > Sharing > Services > Printer Sharing, followed by System Prefs > Print & Fax > Sharing > Share these printers with other computers > [check the box next to the printer]), but of course that would be too easy, so it doesn’t work. In Windows XP I tried Start > Printers and Faxes > File > Add Printer > Next > Network printer > Next > Browse for a printer > Next (phew!) but, although the iMac’s name appears in the list, it shows no printers attached. Sodding thing.

After much mucking about trying to get the ever-stubborn Windows XP to recognize the printer, I came up with a nice bit of lateral thinking. What about Bonjour for Windows? Bonjour (previously known as Rendezvous) is the Mac’s zero-config system allowing auto-discovery of stuff on a network, such as computers, printers and routers – and, handily, they make a Windows version, too. It’ll never work, surely…!

Seriously, it was as simple as:

  • Download the EXE
  • Double-click said EXE to open it in Windows XP (in Parallels)
  • Run the setup (no reboot required!)
  • Double-click Bonjour Printer Wizard on the desktop
  • Click Next
  • There’s my printer! Click it, then click Next twice followed by Finish
  • Boom!, as Steve Jobs would say – the printer is installed, and usable under Windows XP.

Why can’t Windows always be as straightforward as that? 😉

How to work in the dark without eyestrain

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

If you’ve ever worked on a computer for long periods late at night with the lights dimmed, you’ve probably ended up with a headache or eyestrain by the end of it. The obvious way round this is not to work late at night, but if deadlines are looming and you have to pull an all-night session then you’ll find Blacktree’s little Nocturne app very useful.

The theory behind Nocturne, and other similar apps, is that viewing white on black is a lot easier on the eye than black on white. Therefore they invert the colours of your Mac display so that most of the screen is black, or dark, while text appears white, or light.

You can achieve a similar effect via the Universal Access preference pane in System Preferences, but Nocturne produces much better results. For example, you can tweak Nocturne’s colour settings so that the inverted colours look more natural, and you can also hide the desktop background to further remove distractions.

Give it a go – it’s free! 🙂

Stop iPhoto launching when connecting a device containing images

Friday, September 14th, 2007

iPhoto has an annoying habit of launching whenever you connect a storage device that contains images – whether it’s your digital camera, a memory card, or a CD-ROM. There is a way to stop it, though, and bizarrely the setting is not in iPhoto or in System Preferences. No, in true Windows-style, it’s hidden away in a place you’d never think to look: Image Capture.

To change this setting and stop iPhoto launching:

  1. Run the Image Capture app (Applications > Image Capture). Don’t worry if you get a window saying “No Image Capture device connected”.
  2. Bring up Image Capture’s Preferences (choose the Image Capture > Preferences menu option).
  3. In the General tab, change the setting for “When a camera is connected, open”. The default is iPhoto; you can change it to “No application” to stop iPhoto launching. Or you can pick a different app to launch instead.
  4. Click OK, quit Image Capture, and you’re done. No more grief with iPhoto launching all the time!