A selection of small but useful tips for OS X Yosemite

Wed Oct 15, 03:06 PM

Headline features are all well and good but it’s the little updates — many of them hidden — that can turn using a new operating system into a joy. Here are some I found, and I can get a little obsessive about finding things like this sometimes.

Ready? Let’s go!

  1. Made the “flat” user interface a little more bearable
    Flat, flat, flat. At Apple nobody is able to drive anywhere because even the tires on cars are flat. Not your taste? Open System Preferences, click the Accessibility icon, then ensure Display is selected at the left. Put a check alongside Increase Contrast. The effects will be visible immediately. Plain colour wallpapers also might help if the translucency effect annoys you, and don’t forget the “Dark” UI option under the General section of System Preferences.

  2. Calculate quickly
    One of the most useful features of iOS is accessing the Calculator app from the Home screen. A similar function is available in Yosemite’s Notification Center, which now hosts app widgets under the Today heading. Just open Notifications (click the icon at the top right of the screen), then click Edit at the bottom. Click the green plus button alongside the Calculator entry. Finer-tuned adjustment of Notification Center and its widgets can be achieved via the icon within System Preferences.

    You might consider configuring the Notification Center to appear on a key combo, which can be done by opening System Preferences, clicking the Keyboard icon, and selecting the Shortcuts tab. Then select Mission Control at the left, and put a tick alongside Show Notification Center, and hit a key combo (Shift+Cmd+Space is a good choice). As soon as the Notification Center appears focus will switch to the calculator area so you can start typing numbers immediately.

    Incidentally, the main Calculator app has had an orange and brown iOS makeover. It works exactly the same, though.

  3. Maximize windows without full-screen

    Clicking the green blob at the top left of windows now switches them to full-screen mode. If you long for the old behavior — of windows sliding to a larger size to make their contents more visible — then hold down Option (Alt on some keyboards) when clicking the button. Alternatively, double-click the titlebar/grey bar at the top of the window (assuming you haven’t got the Double-Click to Minimise option set within the Dock panel of System Preferences). With Safari you’ll need to double-click the spaces between the icons and URL field.

  4. See the full URL

    Safari now shows only the base URL of a site. If you’re visiting http://mackungfu.org/wiki/this/page/that/page then all you’ll see is mackungfu.org. To fix this, open Safari’s preferences (Cmd+,) then click the Advanced icon and put a check alongside Show Full Website Address.

  5. Safari now has tabs always

    This isn’t a huge change but worth knowing if you regularly find yourself with lots of Safari windows open. Safari’s user-interface redesign means that it now always shows at least one tab, showing the title of the site. Drag this and you can merge the tab into an existing Safari window. This sounds a bit complicated so watch this movie to see it in action.
  6. Brown is now a highlight option. And pink.

    Details, details, details! Open System Preferences, click the General icon, then look under the Highlight Color dropdown list. You’ll find Brown and Pink are now options. The color formerly known as Gold has also been renamed Yellow, and most colours are a touch duller than previously. All that glitters…

  7. Turn off Dashboard

    No hack required. Open System Preferences, click the Mission Control option, and select the Off option from the dropdown list alongside the Dashboard heading. It’s a little buggy, though, in that if you then invoke Dashboard by clicking its icon in Launcher or Applications, it will be reactivated but will still show as being Off in System Preferences.

  8. Automatically update OS X

    Previously OS X Mavericks allowed you to automatically download major point releases of OS X (i.e. OS X 10.10.1) but not install them without first manually authorising it. Security updates could be installed in the background without your knowledge, however. In OS X Yosemite automatic installation of all updates is now possible. Open System Preferences, click the App Store button, and put a check alongside Install OS X Updates.

  9. See how many updates there are

    To view the number of updates available (both for apps and the system), click the Apple menu when using any app, then look alongside the App Store entry.

  10. Import Chrome or Firefox bookmarks into Safari

    Importing bookmarks into Safari used to be a PITA, involving exporting them from your existing browser as an HTML file. In Yosemite Safari can now nip in to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox’s configuration files and grab them automatically, making switching to Safari much easier (and this is worth considering — Safari’s now one of the fastest browsers around). Just click the options on the File > Import From sub-menu. With Firefox, Safari can import bookmarks, history and passwords. For Chrome it can import just bookmarks and history.

  11. See scheduled tasks

    The Reminders app in Yosemite has gained a new Scheduled heading, just like in its iOS brethren,* which shows only reminders that have a date or time alert set for them. Additionally, the calendar view at the bottom left is now always visible, although can be hidden using the option on the View menu.

    * On the iPhone drag down to reveal the search field and also a clock icon that, once tapped, will show scheduled tasks.

  12. See detailed iCloud free space

    A detailed view of the free space available in your iCloud account can now be viewed by clicking the iCloud option in System Preferences, and looking at the bottom of the program window. Hover the mouse cursor over each block in the bar graph to see a tooltip showing what that block represents.

  13. Annotate better in Preview

    The always-useful Preview app has gained a number of new annotation tools in Yosemite. To access them, click the Toolbox icon at the right of the toolbar, alongside the Search field. The new tools are:

    • Sketch: The pen icon lets you roughly draw a shape, which will then be autocorrected to its nearest canonical shape — draw a circle around something, for example, and it’ll be converted to a perfect circle. A floating toolbar will appear briefly offering the chance to switch back to your rough sketch. Note that this tool replaces the ability to hand-draw circles and squares — although see the next item in the list.

    • New shapes: You can now add stars and polygons to images or documents, in addition to straight-up rectangles and circles. Click the shapes icon and a dropdown list will appear. Shapes are now dropped onto the canvas and you can move them around by clicking and dragging. Blue handles on each allow resizing but note the smaller green handles on each, by which the shape or nature of the item can be adjusted — dragging the green handle on the polygon lets you adjust how many sides it has, for example, even allowing you to create triangles.

    • Shaded mask: At the bottom left of the shapes dropdown list that appears when you click the shapes icon on the toolbar is the new mask tool. It lets you define an area of the image for highlighting. It does this by making the rest of the image shaded. This is confusingly similar to the Crop tool on some image editors, but totally unrelated.

    • Loupe: If you need to magnify an area of the image to show detail, you can place a loupe at that spot. This tool lives the bottom right of the shapes dropdown list, as mentioned above. You can place loupes over the top of each other to further magnify the image. Again, it might seem this is simply a magnifying tool offered by Preview to help with editing, but each loupe you place is saved-out with the image, and other items can be placed over the top of them.

    The new tools are also available within Mail as part of the new Markup feature (click the arrow at the top right of any image/PDF mail attachment), and Markup might account for the reason they’ve been added to OS X in the first place. In his review of Yosemite John Siracusa points out that Markup is theoretically available system-wide, and not just in Mail. This can be proved by adding a picture to a TextEdit or Stickies document — the same Markup option will appear at the top right of the image (although curiously Notes is an exception).

  14. View where a photo was taken

    The Tools menu of Preview now offers an option to show the GPS data attached to a digital camera image. This information was available to view in Mavericks, but only if you manually opened the Inspector and then clicked the GPS tab. Now it’s more easily accessible.

  15. More Preview save and export options

    Preview’s gained a handful of new file save/export options, available by clicking the File > Save As (hold down Option/Alt to see this option), or File > Export menu, and then selecting from the list in the Save As dialog box. What do you mean you can’t see them? You do know that holding down Option (Alt on some keyboards) before clicking the dropdown significantly expands the list of export file types, don’t you? New options in Yosemite’s Preview tool include PBM/PGM/PPM, PVRTC, and QuickTime Movie (nope, this doesn’t let you convert animated GIFs into movie files — or at least not in my tests). Post in the comments below if you know how and where the new file formats might prove useful.

  16. View all images from a chat participant

    iOS 8 brought the ability to quickly and easily view all the images sent to you, and by you, to a particular iMessage recipient. This feature comes to Yosemite’s Messages app. Just click the Details button at the top right and you’ll see them in a pop-out window, from where you can also initiate a call, FaceTime call, or screen sharing session.

  17. Record your iPhone or iPad’s screen

    Ever needed to create a tutorial or walkthrough for something on iOS? Previously the only way to do so was complicated setups involving AirPlay mirroring and third-party software. On Yosemite, all you need do is attach the device to your Mac via USB and then open QuickTime Player. Then select File > New Movie Recording. QuickTime will default to your Mac’s iSight camera (assuming it has one), but click the small down arrow alongside the record button and your iPad or iPhone will show-up as an option. Of course, you haven’t got to record anything, and can simply expand the QuickTime Player window to full-screen for some cool game-play mirroring! You can also select the New Audio Recording option in QuickTime Player to record only audio via your phone or tablet’s microphone. (Sadly, recording video/audio in this way appears to work only with Lightning connections and not the older iPod-style cables.)

  18. Disconnect from wireless

    Want to disconnect from a wireless network? Previously this was a bit of a hassle involving either switching off Wi-Fi entirely, or delving into System Preferences. On Yosemite all you need do is hold down Option (or Alt on some keyboards) and click the Wi-Fi icon at the top right of the screen. Beneath the name of the currently in-use Wi-Fi base station will be a disconnect option. (This option also appears when you connect to an iPhone/iPad via Personal Hotspot, although in this case there’s no need to hold down Option/Alt because it appears in the main menu.)

  19. View mail headers more easily

    Adding CC:, BCC: and Reply To: fields to new mail messages, as well as the Priority setting, is a little easier in Yosemite’s Mail app compared to old. When composing a new mail the Visible Header Fields button now lives alongside the Send button at the top left, and a pop-up window appears letting you make your choices. This icon lived elsewhere in older versions of Mail, and its customisation options were frankly confusing.

  20. Finder’s new preview pane

    Finder has always offered a preview pane as part of the Columns view mode. As you might expect, this showed a preview of the currently clicked-upon file. In Yosemite the preview can be activated in ANY view mode. To do so, click View > Show Preview. Alternatively, tap Shift+Cmd+P.

  21. Finder now assumes Window shares

    Here’s one for anybody whose Mac is on a network with Windows computers, or even other Macs that share files via SMB. Up until Yosemite, clicking Go > Connect to Server within Finder, and then typing a bare IP address or hostname into the dialog box, would cause Finder to assume you wanted an AFP connection. In Yosemite it assumes you want SMB (Windows file sharing). In other words, all you need do now is open Finder or click the desktop, tap Cmd+K, and then type the IP address or hostname of the computer you want to connect to, without the need to precede it with smb://, like you used to have to. (If you have to make an AFP connection, just precede the address with afp://)

  22. Use Duck Duck Go

    Safari can now default to the privacy-obsessed Duck Duck Go search engine for searches typed into he URL field/omnibar. To set this up, open Safari’s Preferences panel (Cmd+,) and then click the Search icon. Then select Duck Duck Go from the Search Engine dropdown list. Note that Spotlight now defaults to Microsoft Bing. Outside of a hack, yet to be discovered, there’s no way of changing this.

  23. Use RSS/Atom feeds

    Safari used to be a news reader (i.e. compatible with RSS/Atom), then that feature was pulled. In Yosemite it’s back, and integrated very neatly with the Shared Links feature that pulls links from your friends’ Twitter feeds. Just click on the RSS/Atom link on any web page and you’ll then be asked if you want to add the site to your collection. To view Shared Links, click the Sidebar button on the toolbar (next to the back/forward icons), and then click the @ icon. Note that shared links, regardless of their source, are sorted by the date and time they were posted.

  24. Get Java

    Considering the security risks presented by the Java Runtime add-on, Apple has perhaps wisely removed it entirely from Yosemite — even if you already had it installed in Mavericks. However, this decision stops certain apps from running, including the not-exactly-ancient Adobe Photoshop CS5. Java can be found and installed via Apple’s website. Yes, we know the icon is still that of OS X Lion. It looks like Apple doesn’t really pay much attention to this.

  25. Change FaceTime’s ringtone

    Much has been said about how you can now answer calls made to your iPhone via your Mac in Yosemite (and make calls from your Mac too — just type the number into the FaceTime search field). What you might not know is that the ringtone can be changed to any of the ringtones found in iOS. To do so, open FaceTime and then open its Preferences panel (Cmd+,). Then choose by opening the Ringtone dropdown list at the bottom.

  26. Get back hybrid maps

    OS X Yosemite’s Maps app apparently only lets you switch between standard map mode, and satellite imagery. It seems there’s no hybrid mode, where you view satellite imagery (or 3D Flyover images) with street and place names superimposed on top. The feature is still there, of course. It’s just moved. Switch to satellite imagery, then click Show at the bottom left, and then Show Labels.

  27. New dictionaries

    This might be related to arcane language settings on my particular Mac but it appears the Dictionary app in Yosemite has gained several new dictionaries, and you can activate them via the Preferences panel (Cmd+,). New to Yosemite are a Spanish-English dictionary, and Turkish, Portuguese, Thai and Russian language dictionaries.

  28. Better iTunes syncing

    iTunes’ biggest boast in Yosemite is that its info window has been redesigned (select a track then hit Cmd+I), although it still shows the same data. The only other new thing I could find outside of the visual overhaul was related to automatic downloads, which can be configured by selecting the Store icon in iTunes’ Preferences dialog (tap Cmd+, to see this). You can now opt to sync any or all of Music, TV Shows, Movies and Apps (iOS apps). In Mavericks only Music and Apps could be selected.

  29. Where’s AppleScript Editor

    A legacy of the good old days, AppleScript is a hugely powerful way of automating tasks on your Mac. It has a fine pedigree dating from the early days of the Apple Macintosh project. In Yosemite the AppleScript Editor app appears to have disappeared but it’s actually been transmuted into Script Editor, and the change has taken place to accommodate JavaScript. Yes, you can now automate tasks on your Mac using both AppleScript and JavaScript — which is a very big deal indeed, if that you’re way inclined, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out with developers.

  30. Predictive text comes to OS X — kinda

    Kudos to iDownload blog for spotting this one. Within OS X it’s been possible for a long time to hit Esc while typing (in some apps Option+Esc) to have OS X guess the word you’re currently typing. It’s pretty cool. In Yosemite this feature has been expanded to predictive text — type “hello”, then space, and then hit Esc (or perhaps Option+Esc in some apps), and OS X will attempt to guess the next word for you. You might also be able to click Edit > Complete. I’ve no idea if this is tied into how iOS 8’s predictive text feature learns from what you type, and my gut thought is that it isn’t. But it’s fun to play with, if a bit clumsy.

  31. Copy math results via Spotlight

    The Spotlight search function has always been able to do math but it’s now much easier in Yosemite to copy the results for pasting elsewhere. For example, should you need to find out what 45929/42 is, just open Spotlight (Cmd+Space), type the sum, then tap Cmd+C to instantly copy the result. You can also type pi or e to instantly be shown the numeric values and again tapping Cmd+C will copy them to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere.

  32. Make the Spotlight window sticky

    This might be a bug or it might be a feature. Give a try and see what you think. When using Spotlight, you can right-click the Spotlight icon at the top right of the desktop to make the window stay on top and not disappear in the usual way when you click outside of it. The Spotlight icon will turn blue to indicate this. Subsequently, the only way to make the Spotlight window disappear is to left-click the icon. Strangely, the Notifications icon at the top right will also turn blue if you right click it, but this trick doesn’t work there — the Notifications area will still disappear when you click outside of it. Intriguing…!

And finally…
Here are some tips I discovered while writing this piece but I’m not 100% sure they’re new to Yosemite. I’ve included them in case they are — let me know in the comments below:

  • Slow-mo in QuickTime Player: Once upon a time pressing and holding the left or right cursor keys when pausing a movie in QuickTime Player slowed down the action very nicely to create a kind of on-demand slow-motion. Then for some reason this feature disappeared from QuickTime Player, and performing that action seemed to quickly step-through the frames of the movie. Well, it seems that slow-mo is back in the version of QuickTime Player supplied with Yosemite, again by pressing and holding the left/right cursor keys while the movie is paused. Give it a try.

  • Middle-click to kill a Safari tab: As it says — click the mouse wheel on a Safari tab to instantly close it (Ctrl+Z will reopen it), even if the tab isn’t the currently selected one. I suspect this will only work with third-party mice, and not Apple’s own range of pointing devices. Let me know if the comments below.

  • Faster energy check: Clicking the power icon at the top right of the desktop to see which apps are eating battery power used to take several long seconds under Mavericks, but under Yosemite it appears to be virtually instant. I’ve no idea if this was a quirk with my MacBook Pro, or whether this is a new feature, but if you stopped using this feature because it simply took too long then give it a second look.

  • Better font picker: I’m a little confused with this one, and I’ll explain why in a minute. However, the little-known but very useful font picker tool has received a few minor tweaks in Yosemite. To view the picker, hit Cmd+T when editing text in an app like TextEdit. Firstly, the ability to create and define shadowed text has been added to the toolbar. Secondly, while the ability to preview fonts by dragging down the handle at the top of the font picker might appear to have disappeared, it’s actually still there — just click the cog icon and select the option. The problem I have is that the shadow controls appear to have been there in older versions of OS X (Jaguar 10.3?) but don’t appear to be there in OS X Mavericks. Or at least not that I can tell. So is this a new feature returning from the dead? The shadow tools allow you alter the amount of shadow, its spread, its distance, and its angle. These tools have always been available in apps like Pages and iWeb but it’s great to see them available systemwide (depending on whether an app supports them, of course).

If you’re new here, take a look around the rest of Mackungfu.org. It’s packed with tips, mostly for OS X, and most of which will still work just fine on Yosemite. My name’s Keir Thomas and I write computer books and journalism.

But let me introduce you to Sacha, who is a cat and part of my family:

The picture above was featured on the front page of I Can Has Cheezburger a few years ago. People laughed. Sacha became a celebrity. He did Letterman, and then Conan. At one point it was rumored he’d appear in a movie with Adam Sandler. Well, Sacha is a tiny cat from a small town world. His life spiralled into a drinks and drugs hell of milk’n‘nip — and both those things are just not healthy for cats. Sacha began hanging around trash cans with the wrong kinds of pets. I think he even got involved with a badger at one point.

The good news is that, by spending a week at a rehab cattery, Sacha has turned his life around. But there are still scars. Sacha’s credit card bill alone remains astronomical (how many jewel-encrusted dangle toys did he need?!). The vet’s bill to have the tattoos lasered off still hasn’t been paid.

You can help. Sacha hasn’t noticed but myself and my partner pay all his bills and buy him all his food. If you’ve liked what you found here, why not support us by taking a look at my books, which are also packed full of tips and published by Pragmatic Bookshelf?

Keir Thomas


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Edit while magnifying in iOS

Tue Sep 9, 04:42 PM

This is something I spotted yesterday. It takes a little explaining, so bear with me.

Editing text on the iPad or iPhone is difficult. Well, it can be painful. But if I have to edit then tapping and holding a sentence or paragraph when the keyboard is visible will cause the magnifying glass to appear, showing the cursor position.

What I never realised is that while tapping and holding, and viewing the magnifying glass, you can still type to insert characters, or tap the delete key to remove them. Obviously you’ll need to use your other hand to do so. Inserting characters in this way is pretty slow on both my iPhone 5 and iPad 3rd generation – it takes around three seconds for the letters to appear or disappear – but it’s possible.

I’m not sure if this is an intentional feature. The slowness makes me think not, but it’d be awesome if Apple’s engineers made it so it didn’t take so long to register keystrokes.

Keir Thomas


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Print selection on a Mac

Tue Aug 12, 11:02 AM

Unbelievably, Mac OS X offers no “print selection” option. There’s no way to highlight some text on a page and then print only that, rather than the whole thing.

Here’s the solution.

  1. Download Print Selection Service. It’s free of charge, courtesy of Schubert IT.
  2. Install it and reboot. This is important.
  3. Open System Preferences and click the Keyboard icon.
  4. Click the Shortcuts tab and then the Services entry in the list on the left.
  5. Put a tick alongside Print Selection.

From now on, simply select the text you want to print, right click the selection, select the Services submenu, and select Print Selection. On some Macs the “Print Selection” entry might simply appear on the menu that appears when you right click. Alternatively, you may be able to tap Shift+Cmd+T to print the selection, which you’ll probably need to do in apps like Microsoft Word that don’t show Service entries on the right-click menu.

Keir Thomas


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Quick access Private Browsing mode in Safari to access paywall sites

Sun Jul 20, 06:10 PM

I’m using Safari… again. Don’t ask. it’s a troubled history. A few features are missing from my days using Opera and also Google Chrome, and one in particular is the ability to quickly activate Private Browsing mode. I do this solely when I’m blocked by a paywall at a news site that relies on cookies to count how many “free” visits I’ve made. Private Browsing makes it appear that I’m a new user, so I get to see the page.

Here’s a trick that’ll let you activate Private Browsing in seconds and see the page.

There’s no keyboard shortcut for Private Browsing but it’s really easy to add one.

  1. Open System Preferences and then click the Keyboard icon.
  2. Click the Shortcuts tab, and then select App Shortcuts in the list on the left.
  3. Click the Plus button and then type Private Browsing into the Menu Title field. Place the cursor in the Keyboard Shortcut field beneath and then type Cmd+Shift+P.
  4. Click Add.

If you get blocked by a paywall, just tap Cmd+Shift+P and then Cmd+R to refresh the page.

Keir Thomas


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20 things you don't know

Fri Jul 18, 01:04 PM

Macworld UK: 20 iPad and iPhone tips you won’t believe you’re not already using. See how many of them you don’t know!

Keir Thomas


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Quitting everything

Mon Apr 28, 01:16 PM

A reader of Mac Kung Fu recently got in touch asking if I knew of an app that would do the following:

  1. Quit all open files in all apps;
  2. Quit all apps except for one.

He wanted this because he found Mac OS X’s strategy of resuming open apps on boot-up/login to be unsatisfactory.

There’s a tip in the book that explains how to use AppleScript to quit all apps but it wasn’t as sophisticated as this. However, hacking together something to do the trick wasn’t difficult. As always when giving out AppleScript I should point out that I’m not an AppleScript expert or even a programmer (although, of course, this is what’s so great about AppleScript — it caters to people like me).

Here’s the script — just open AppleScript Editor and paste it in, then save it out as an app. This will quit all apps except Microsoft Word but you can change the name of that app for any other app in the first line of the code:

tell application "System Events" to set quitapps to name of every application process whose visible is true and name is not "Finder" and name is not "Microsoft Word"
repeat with closeall in quitapps
		tell application closeall to close every window
	end try
	quit application closeall
end repeat
Keir Thomas


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Removing errant Mail email addresses

Mon Apr 28, 01:06 PM

A year or two ago a friend switched email addresses and told me to stop using the old one. I did what any of us might, which is to go to the Contacts app on my Mac and remove the old address, in favour of the new one. This should then change my iCloud address book too. It did, and it appeared worked fine.

Fast forward to today when the same friend complained I was still using the old email address.

The reason is that the Mail app on a Mac uses both the address book and its own, private list of recent addresses. My friend’s old address was in that list and Mail autofilled it when I typed his name. To view this list you can click Window > Previous Recipients. The best policy is to search by name, select the errant address, and click the remove from list button.

Alternatively, you could select all the items in the list and remove them all, relying only on your contacts list/iCloud address book.

Keir Thomas


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Mac menu bar apps

Thu Apr 10, 02:06 PM

I’ve become a fan of Mac menu bar apps — those mini-apps that run as icons near the clock at the top right of the screen. In fact, I thought I’d share my list of favourites. Share your own in the comments below.

First, here’s a snapshot of my current menu bar, chopped in two so it’ll fit on-screen:

From left to right the icons are:

Cloak 2: Ultra-easy VPN software that automagically protects me when I’m on public Wi-Fi because it knows what are safe and unsafe networks. It has companion apps for the iPad and iPhone, and costs just $3 per month. MacWorld did a review recently, which is much more useful than anything I can add.

iBetterCharge: Click on it and it shows the battery charge level of any iPads, iPhones, or iPod Touches that have been used via iTunes (provided they’re on the same Wi-Fi network). It’ll also tell you when they’re running out of charge, and when they’re fully charged. There’s a few minor bugs but it’s otherwise pretty neat. Free of charge.

FormatMatch: Sits there and does nothing more than strip the formatting out of any text copied to the clipboard. I can copy text from a website, for example, and instantly paste it in without worrying the font will be wrong and that I’ll have coloured text (and without having to hit the ridiculously complicated “paste unformatted” keystroke). It’s free but I’d pay for a version that stripped out everything but bold and italics, because often I want to keep them when copying and pasting. Free via the Mac App Store.

unDock: Click it and it ejects any attached removable storage devices like disks or USB sticks. My MacBook Pro spends most of its time on my desk attached to a 1080p monitor plus at least one external drive, but when I need to take it somewhere I click this icon, wait a few seconds, then unplug everything. $1.99 in the Mac App Store although there’s also a lite version for free that unmounts just one drive.

Identical: Drag one file to this icon, then another, and you’ll see instantly if they’re identical. I use it a lot when I need to, which is when working collaboratively. Free of charge in the Mac App Store.

Shades: Click and a slider appears to adjust screen brightness, but with a caveat. That 1080p monitor I mentioned earlier is a crappy Samsung model that broke after two years of use. It has two issues: the buttons to adjust settings no longer work reliably, and if it’s set to anything other than maximum brightness it emits a whistle that drives me crazy. Maximum brightness gives me a headache. So, I hike-up the brightness to 100% and use Shades to “fake” adjust the brightness, which it does by applying a dark screen overlay. It’s a bit temperamental but works very well and doesn’t affect screenshots. Free of charge.

Spideroak: Encrypted cloud backup software with possibly the worst client app I’ve used in 20 years of desktop computing. The background service appears pretty solid but because of the client I can’t really recommend it. It’s around $100 per year for 100GB.

Skitch: Click to create a screenshot, usually by dragging around the area I want to capture. Ideal for my day job of computer journalism. Drag the icon beneath each captured screenshot to a Finder window to copy the PNG screenshot there. It’s supposed to integrate with Evernote but you can ignore that. Free in the Mac App Store.

Dropbox: Installed because some of my colleagues use it. I don’t really need a day-to-day cloud storage service other than for backup (see Spideroak, above).

Little Snitch: Acts as an outgoing firewall, telling you when apps attempt to access the Internet and blocking them if you select to. I owned a previous version that stopped working when I upgraded to Mavericks. I’m loathe to pay for an upgrade to a new version, partly because the developer insists on adding tax on top of the cost (why?), so this is the trial version that works for three hours until nagging you that it’s only a trial.

Bluetooth: The built-in Mac Bluetooth icon.

Time Machine: In addition to Spideroak I backup to an attached G-Drive via Time Machine. I recently restored my entire MacBook Pro from a Time Machine backup after a botched Windows 8 installation, and it worked like a dream (aside from iCloud not quite syncing properly, which was fixed by deselecting and reselecting iCloud in System Preferences.)

Speaker: The Mac speaker icon — click to adjust the volume plus other things.

Battery: The Mac battery icon — click to see remaining battery life, plus other things.

Fast User Switcher: The Mac icon that lets you switch between user accounts without having to log out. I sometimes create dummy accounts as part of my computer journalism, and have a DTP account with lots of fonts installed within it for when I have to layout books as part of my other job.

Day-O: Replacement for the built-in menu bar clock and date display. Click it and a simple calendar appears showing the current month, which is a feature I really miss from my days using Windows. Although I installed Day-O for the calendar feature, I found it can be configured to show just about any type of date and time info in the menu bar. In addition to the usual numbers, I have it show the week and day number as a kind of carpe diem. The year’s wasting away and there’s lots to be done! The time/date formatting code I use, which you can also use:

d MMMM yyyy '(day 'D', week' w')' • E, h:mms

Spotlight: The Mac search icon that forms the heart of my Mac experience. It’s how I start apps (hit Cmd+Space, type the first few letters of the name, and hit Enter when it appears beneath) and how I open files (type the first part of the filename or what I know to be in the file, and hit Enter when it appears beneath). In Mavericks it’s starting to go a little senile, however. I have iTunes installed, and iTunes Producer. If I search for “iTunes”, the Producer app is always the first choice in the list. Why? Surely it should be iTunes? It’s the same when I search for Disk Utility — Disk Tools Pro appears above it. I get around this by typing only DU — did you know that Spotlight lets you search by initial letters only?

Notifications: The Mac notification system. I find the pop-up notifications from apps useful (provided I see them before they slide away) but not the notification area that appears when you click this icon. Whenever I look at it, I find a tonne of old notifications. Like quite a bit of Mavericks, the notification system is only half-finished and needs more work. My experience is that quite a few Mac features start out as semi-useful, and mature into actually quite useful things later on (although I’m still waiting for Dashboard.)

Keir Thomas


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iPad and iPhone Kung Fu — Now available!

Sat Mar 1, 09:55 AM

I’m really pleased to say that my new book, iPad and iPhone Kung Fu, is now available! And it’s the first book I’ve had published that’s in colour!

It’s full of over 300 poweruser tips for iPad and iPhone users, which is something that’s rare. Most of the tips you simply won’t find elsewhere. I’ve explored every nook and cranny of iOS to provide tips for apps like Mail, Maps and Safari, and the iWork/iLife apps like Garageband and Pages. Even though I say so myself it’s a great book that I’m very proud of.

You can buy from the publisher as an eBook, paper book, or combo deal, or you’ll also find it at all good bookstores such as Amazon.

Keir Thomas


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Running "full" Android on a Mac

Wed Feb 19, 12:27 PM

Sometimes I want to check-out Android apps. Although I have an Android tablet, for initial investigation it’s easier for me to use a virtualised Android setup on my Mac.

The problem is that although there’s one or two projects to bring Android to x86 architecture, such as modern Macs use, they don’t bring with them the useful Google apps, such as the Google Play store. Esssentially they’re bare-bones Android, probably because of licensing issues, and complexities involving accessing an app store full of ARM-based apps.

It turns out it is actually possible to run a pretty convincing ARM-tablet or ARM-phone Android experience on a Mac, including things like the Google Play Store. And it runs pretty quickly too. Here’s the basic steps.

  1. Download and install VirtualBox.
  2. Visit the Genymotion site, register with them, and download their Android virtualizer for Mac OS X.
  3. Start Genymotion and then install either the basic custom 10in tablet or 7in phone packages as directed.
  4. Start the virtual machine so the Android desktop appears, then using your Mac’s browser download the ARM emulation package. Drag and drop the zip file on top of the Android window (DON’T unzip it first!) You’ll be asked if you want to add-in the modification. Choose to do so then quit and restart the Android virtualisation.
  5. Download the Google apps package again using your Mac, and repeat the step above — drag and drop the zip file on top of the Android window. Again, install it when prompted. Quit and restart the Android virtualisation.
  6. Once the Android virtualisation restarts you’ll have a clone of a bog-standard Android tablet and/or phone, and will be invited to setup from scratch, as if powering-on a new Android device.

Some tips for general use are not to resize the window, because this can cause flickering.

Many thanks to Stack Overflow user anp8850 for figuring out this solution.

Keir Thomas


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(c) 2013 Keir Thomas. Unauthorized reproduction in any form is prohibited. Short quotations from this blog
are cool so long as you provide a citation and a link to http://www.mackungfu.org.