Apr 26

Smart Folders

smartA folder is like a draw. They are simple and self explanatory… you put stuff in them and thats where they stay and that’s all there is to it.

But the Mac OS lets you create “smart” folders that turn the concept of the humble folder into something very different and a whole lot more useful.

You’ll find the word Smart in all kinds of places in Apple software, iPhoto, Mail and – as in this case – the Finder. They all do the same thing, namely filter out everything else except what you are most interested in. It sounds scary but honestly it isn’t.

Lets just say you have files all over your Mac that relate to tax, both personal and business. Using Smart folders you could create a Smart Folder that displays only Tax items all in one place without hunting all over your Mac copying and pasting and generally wishing you had never started.

1. While in the Finder click on the File menu and choose New Smart Folder

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2. Now type the thing you are looking for, essentially a search.

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3. Now this isn’t very useful yet because it has found emails and all kinds of stuff but all I want are PDFs. Luckily you are able to refine your search in all kinds of ways by clicking on the Add button.

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4. Now that all my Tax Pdf’s have been found I can save my smart folder to a convenient location and with a meaningful name.

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5. Clicking on Save means that the smart folder is right there and by opening it I can see all my Tax documents any time I wish.

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But the clever thing is this folder doesn’t actually hold anything at all! The magic, the head spin, is that these files aren’t actually in that folder at all. I could trash that folder and all my PDF’s would be safe because they haven’t actually moved.

Think of it this way… this folder is displaying the entire contents of my hard disk but has hidden everything except files that contain the word “tax” and displayed the results in this smart folder.

Once you start using Smart Folders you’ll wonder why you have spent so many years hunting and gathering files on your mac.

Permanent link to this article: http://macservicesact.com.au/smart-folders-2/

Apr 25

Have fun with Dictation

Singing dog

Since Lion each Mac has had the ability to convert voice to text and, in a small way, replace applications like Dragon Dictate. But, as Apple seems intent on hiding the power of its software it looks for all the world like it is a one trick pony. With Dragon you can highlight text, move around the document and format all with your voice while Apple’s built in Dictation is limited to text input only. Or is it?

Hidden in the Accessibility System Preferences app is a list of commands that can be given to the Mac via your voice instantly making this built in voice dictation system 1000% more useful.

To start you’ll need to activate Dictation and then open TextEdit (or any word processor really) and dictate a message.

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Then, click on the Apple menu and choose System Preferences. Click on Accessibility and scroll down to Dictation.

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Click on Dictation Commands… and you can see what is on offer and clicking on any of them will give you an example of how to phrase it.

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Keeping it open helped me get used to all the commands and how they needed to be phrased… at least in the beginning.

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Have fun!

Permanent link to this article: http://macservicesact.com.au/have-fun-with-dictation/

Apr 25

iPhoto gets the boot

bigstock_Kicked_Out_The_Door_8708500If you were to go back in time to a house 100 years ago you’d more than likely see rooms filled with large wooden tables, chairs with legs thicker than the people sitting in them and china cabinets that were almost big enough, and sturdy enough, to actually live in.

But look at a house today and the furniture is sleek and perhaps even a little cold thanks in part to the advancement of manufacture and composite materials. So if last years iPhoto can be likened to a Georgian armchair with its thick borders, its many textured  icons and gloopy interface, then the recently launched Photos app is definitely an Ikea coffee table.

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Random woman in iPhoto ’11

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 Same random women in Photos

And even if you like the idea of clean lines and stark borders, it’s still not all good news.

Firstly, if you are a fan of iPhoto then you are going to surprised  when its icon has been removed from your dock, to be replaced by the new Photos icon.

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If you click on Photos and click on Get Started you will be asked two very important questions:

1. Do you want to use iCloud Photos (and unless you have a very small library or heaps and heaps of iCloud storage, then you might want to say Not Now to that.)

photos-for-os-x-get-started

photos-for-os-x-use-icloud-photo-library

2. Do you want to convert your library to Photos. if you say yes to this then your Library will no longer be available to iPhoto in any meaningful way. Now, is that a bad thing? On the whole, I don’t think so but lets assume, for a moment, that you have converted your iphoto Library over to Photos. Will you regret it?

Well the thrust behind this new App is to streamline the iOS and desktop experience . Photos looks and feels like the Photos app on your iPhone and iPad so its instantly familiar but less of a strain on your thumbs. The interface is clean and, at least in my experience, faster than iPhoto.

In what is becoming something of a habit with Apple, the familiar features are hidden under a layer of simplicity and finding those little touches that make you feel more comfortable have to be searched for . Case in point is when you first open Photos you are given this rather stark looking backdrop.

 

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The first thing you might want to do it click on the View menu and choose Show Sidebar.

 

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Instantly it starts to look a little better or at any rate, more familiar.

From here is pretty much as you’d expect but with a couple of notably absent friends.

Double clicking on an album reveals all the photos and double clicking on a photo gives you a full screen version.

It’s right about now that you might notice the menubar at the top of the screen with some rather innocuous looking icons left and right – these allow for full, well nearly full, control over that photo you just opened. You can see all the other photos in the album for reference, you can get shutter speed, date and time and you can share the photo with Facebook, twitter, messages and more.

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The Edit button dulls the screen and removes all other distractions and slides in the adjustment tools but again, as you’ll see below, a great deal of the depth has been removed from the interface.

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Editing in iPhoto ’11

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Editing in Photos

All these tools are fairly self explanatory but again, Apple delights in hiding things that, upon first glance, make you wonder if you’ve lost something. The Adjustments Tools, when you first click on it, gives you a pathetic choice of Light, Colour or Black and White.

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But clicking on the Add button allows you to also have Levels. Histogram and more.

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I guess its a case of as much or as little control as you want.

The other tools are fairly basic allowing the removal of Red eye or applying filters. The only real let down is the Retouch Tool. (band aid). In Photoshop its a modern miracle but here its only useful for removing pimples and other marks. As for removing the shadow from a gravel path… forget it.

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So all in all its a modern looking bit of kit with the all the sleekness of an Ikea bedroom suite. Its fast, its clean and to the point  but there are some problems.

One of iPhotos greatest party tricks has been its ability to warn you before you try and email 29MB of photos to Great Aunt Joyce. Yes, selecting all 50 of your recent holiday photos and try and send them via email and iPhoto would give you a better option.

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Photos just goes ahead and does it.

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My assumption is that since you need 10.10.3 to run Photos you have the option to use Mail Drop that allows you to send any size email by sending your photos to a holding cell in iCloud and emailing your intended a link from which they can be downloaded.

But then there is the matter of editing photos. In iPhoto you can edit IN iPhoto or, if you want to do some clever editing, pass the photo to a 3rd party app like Photoshop Elements. This allowed you to edit and then save the finished product right back into your library without the need for Exporting, importing or anything like that. Does Photos allow this, you bet it doesn’t! A least not yet? There is some suggestion that Photos is designed to have plug ins so who knows, maybe Adobe will spend hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars creating something that makes their product obsolete… and maybe they won’t.

For better or for worse I have moved my library to Photos and for the most part I like the looks and comfort of this modern bit of software. But I do miss how comfortable my old software was to look at and the cute little features it used to have.

In a way I have replaced my roll top desk with its secret compartments and leather top for a sleek sharp edged desk with steel legs and soft glide draws. They are both flat and both let me use my Mac in comfort but…, well… you know.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://macservicesact.com.au/iphoto-gets-the-boot/

Mar 28

Netflix has arrived. So What!

yawning-puppy

UPDATE: Err well, cough, err I have something of a confession to make. Since writing this article I have become a convert to Netflix. But my switch is conditional on a simple to use geo unblocking service called UnblockUs. This service, $4.95 a month, very easily allows you to change your computer, iPad, iPhone or your modem in order to get full access to the U.S, UK and Canada Netflix catalogs. 

The trades have been full of reports about this and the news is both confusing and encouraging but essentially it comes down to this:

A) This process is not illegal. 

B) Netflix know this is happening but seem unwilling to do anything about. They have also said that come 2016 geo unblocking will be a non-issue as they are perusing global licensing. 

C) The up and coming changes to the Copyright laws might stop this from working. 

Personally I am ok with geo unblocking and I feel ok bringing it to your attention because this process is slot easier than the method you’ll read about below and, at the end of the day you are paying for a legal service. What you are not doing is stealing content or doing anything illegal. The concept of borders set around digital content makes no sense to me at all and perusing its enforcement is counterproductive and backward. 

The trade papers and the popular press are awash with articles about Netflix and its arrival in Australia. It is supposed to “change the entertainment landscape of Australian television”, Foxtel is “deeply concerned” and we are now (Australians) no longer “an after thought.”
It seems this is what we have all been waiting for and now that it is here we can all relax and life will be forever enriched.

The thing is Netflix has been available in this country for years via the shady practice of VPN services (at a monthly cost) along with a fake US Netflix account (at a monthly cost). I have known people to do this and so I first saw Netflix on Australian TV about 5 years ago. I cannot in all honesty recall the process he went through to get the Netflix logo on the screen because I was deeply disinterested but I do recall it took a little while and a bit of faffing about. When it was all over and my hair was a little longer I asked this chimp like creature what this gave him that Apple TV and iTunes did not. With that he picked up the remote and showed me a laundry list of TV shows and movies that frankly belonged in the “Rent for $1 a week” bin at that building we used to call a Video Shop. In other words, movies I saw years ago or avoided in the first place for a very good reason.

Needless to say I left that night with the same enthusiasm for a Netflix account as I had for doing my own dentistry with a garden fork.

But over the past 5 years Netflix has continued to get customers in the US, dominate the trade papers from the US and, as I said earlier, arrived in this country to much hoopla on March 24. So clearly things have changed. Right?

Well, no.

With my experience 5 years ago still fresh in my mind I ignored the announcement that Netflix was coming to Australia. I treated it the same way  I do when a Justin Bieber tour is announced. (well actually my reaction to that is far more visceral, but you get the idea)

But when it was announced that they were offering a free 30 day trial I decided to take the plunge and have a look. But it didn’t get off to a good start because literally hours after I signed up there was a report in the press that the Australian catalog was actually 4000 titles short of the US catalog. (so much for Australia not being an after thought) and the CEO fired back claiming that the catalog would “grow over time”

My guess is a day after my trial ends.

However, concentrating on what we do have I noticed three things.

1. The catalog is very very limited if you are interested in watching anything current or wasn’t a “direct to video” release in the US. My Apple TV has a wish list that I have been adding to for a few years and as I write this it has 131 titles – some old movies, some new movies and some documentaries. Looking up this list  on Netflix revealed only 13 of these titles were available

2. The genre classifications make the catalog look way bigger than it actually is. Looking at the classifications you get the impression that there are hundreds of titles in each section but soon you discover that the same movie pops up in Horror, sci-fi and action. Presumably because A) Action because blood is spilt, B) sci-fi because it’s set in space and C) Action because someone stands up at some point.

3. If you decide to watch a TV series its a good idea to check an episode guide on wikipedia because Netflix don’t list the episodes in the order in which they aired.

But maybe this is just me? Maybe because I am not into The Arrow or Lost or Arrested development their listing in Netflix doesn’t excite me at all. If your are interested in old or cancelled TV shows that aren’t already being flogged ad nauseam on commercial TV or the thought of watching a new release movie in the comfort of your own home is in no way attractive then this subscription based service might be what you have been waiting for. They are, after all, commercial free. Just don’t expect anything new anytime soon.

As for me, I will stick with the “anything for  $1 a week” bin at the video store, if I can find one….

Or on the other hand I might try the Australian streaming service Stan. I know what you are thinking… how could that ever be as good as the mighty Netflix? Well if the little know drink Karma Cola is anything to go by; name isn’t everything.
The Stan website calls their service “world class” and shockingly I am forced to agree.
Their range is better and more up to date and there are less of the content  filling titles like “Honey I shrunk the Kids VI” that you’ll find on Netflix. You’ll find British comedy you’ve actually heard of and U.S. TV that is actually worth watching as well as classics like Star Trek and a full James Bond catalog. I will admit my findings weren’t scientific but no matter what sprung into my head to look for I found something interesting or on the money.

I am trialing  both for a month but I think I know which subscription I am going to keep.

Happy watching.

Permanent link to this article: http://macservicesact.com.au/netflix-has-arrived-so-what/

Mar 23

Installing Flash

adobe_flash_player

A lot of people have issues installing Flash.

This is partly because halfway through the process Adobe use the word “install” – which it doesn’t and partly because  Adobe require you to use a web browser to do the installing – which will make the installer fail.

To their credit they do flash instructions up on the screen but really, when it comes down to it, they have just made the process a lot hard than it needs to be.

So here is the best way to install Flash.

1. If you have already installed Flash in the past, go to System Preferences and click on the Flash icon and click on Check Now.

NOTE: If you haven’t got it installed you can always get it from here.

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2. If there is indeed a new version to be had then it will ask you if you want to download it.

3. Then you’ll be directed to the website and offered to “install‘ it. However this only downloads it. Click on Install Now.

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4. Once finished it will drop an installer in your Downloads folder. it should launch this so all you have to do is double click on the installer, but if not you’ll find it in your Downloads folder.

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5. At this point you might want to quit your browser and, if its open, System Preferences as well. If you don’t the installer will fail.

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6. Double click on the installer and Flash will being to download the full version and install it as well.Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 7.31.59 pm

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Permanent link to this article: http://macservicesact.com.au/installing-flash/

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