Mac 911

Catalog the component parts of the human body, and you'll find items whose occupation is unclear -- the spleen, baby toe, and uvula come to mind. So, too, does Mac OS X contain elements with functions that aren't easily defined. With that in mind, let's explore some underilluminated aspects of OS X, such as services, invisible database files, and shuffled iMovie export options. To round things out, I correct lopsided sound, push the envelopes, and counsel a family in need.

Terms of Services

How do I get the items in the Services menu to work? For example, I want to grab a screen shot, but in every application I've tried, the Grab command's options are grayed out.
- Sean T. O'Brien, Charlottesville, Virginia

For those readers who've just pulled up the Finder menu's Services command and remarked, "Hey, those services look pretty darned active to me!" I suggest opening an application such as AppleWorks or Microsoft Word and giving it another whirl. You'll discover that services are serviceable only in applications written in OS X's Cocoa environment, such as TextEdit and Safari. Carbon applications (such as AppleWorks, Word, and Adobe Photoshop) and OS 9 applications, including QuarkXPress and Coda Finale, can't take advantage of services.

The Grab service is even more limited. Services can't create documents, so the Grab service can't act like the similarly named Grab application (or even the 1-shift-3 keyboard shortcut). The service can't take a screen shot and save it as a separate document. Instead, the Grab service can only add a capture to an open document in a supported Cocoa application. For example, if you have an RTF (Rich Text Format) TextEdit document open and active, the Grab service can capture the screen and place the resulting capture into the RTF document.

Desktop Database Files

What is in the Desktop DB file that appears when you create a disc image with OS X's Disk Copy? Is it possible to remove that file permanently before burning a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM?
- Derek Coller, Seattle, Washington

The Desktop DB file is an invisible database file found at the root level of every volume on your Mac. This file contains information about the applications and documents within that volume; it's also the repository for the comments in the Finder's Get Info windows. When you burn a CD, this file -- and its sibling, Desktop DF -- appear on the disc and cannot be removed.

Although you can't delete the file, you may have some control over what it contains. By default, when you burn a disc in either the Data or MP3 formats with Roxio's $100 Toast 5 Titanium (866/279-7694, www.roxio.com), Toast grabs the Desktop DB file that it deems most appropriate from your Mac and places it on the disc. Were you to view that Desktop DB file with a text editor, you'd discover that it contained -- along with strings of nonsensical characters -- the names of the applications you use, as well as any URLs stored in the Finder's comments field. As you can imagine, some people would prefer not to spread this information around.

If this concerns you, you can instruct Toast to create an empty database file. Just double-click on the CD icon in Toast's Data window and select the Use Empty Desktop Database option. Even if you're unconcerned about security, you'll discover that invoking this option saves space. I found that leaving this option off resulted in a 612K Desktop DB file on a test disc. With the option on, Desk-top DB was a slim 4K.

Apple's Disc Burner automatically creates an empty database file, so you needn't worry that a Desktop DB file will give away your applications' names or your browsing habits.

Toast Pointer

I have iMovie 3 and would like to use it with Roxio's Toast to create Video CDs of my movies. When I updated from iMovie 2 to iMovie 3, I no longer saw an option for exporting to Toast. How can I get it back?
- Bret Waters, Oak Hill, Vermont

As you suggest, in iMovie 2 you prepared your movies for Toast by selecting the Export command from iMovie's File menu, choosing To QuickTime from the Export pop-up menu that appeared in the resulting Export Movie window, and then selecting Toast Video CD from the Formats pop-up menu. Apple, for better or worse, has changed the way the Export command works in iMovie 3.

In the latest iteration of iMovie, selecting the Export command produces the iMovie: Export window. To access the Toast Video CD option, you must select To QuickTime from this window's Export pop-up menu and then Expert Settings from the Formats pop-up menu. Click on the Export button in this window to produce the Save Exported File As dialog box, where you choose Movie To Toast Video CD from the Export pop-up menu. Click on the Option button in the same window to choose the format for your movie (NTSC or PAL). Finally, click on Save in the Save Exported File As dialog box, and you've saved your movie as an MPEG-1 file ready for Toasting.

Unbalanced Sound

While shooting a movie, I used a mono microphone with my camcorder. As I edited my footage in iMovie 3, I discovered that the sound came only from the left speaker. How do I change the audio track so it comes from both speakers?
- Robert Rouveroy, The Hague, Netherlands

How you approach this problem depends on how much of the movie exhibits this monomaniacal behavior. If the iMovie's entire soundtrack is broadcast from only one speaker, you can easily fix the problem when you export the movie. Just select Export from iMovie's File menu, select To QuickTime from the Export pop-up menu and Expert Settings from the Formats pop-up menu, and click on the Export button. In the resulting Save Exported File As window, select Movie To QuickTime in the Export pop-up menu and click on the Options button. In the Movie Settings window that appears, click on the Settings button in the Sound portion of the window. In the resulting Sound Settings window, enable the Mono option and click on OK in both the Sound Settings and Movie Settings windows. Click on Save in the Save Exported File As window. Your movie will be saved with a mono soundtrack that places all sounds in the middle of the stereo field.

If this problem occurs only with some individual clips -- the rest of your movie is in stereo except for selected interviews, for example -- the best way to tackle the problem is to quit iMovie, edit those individual clips in QuickTime Pro, and then import them into iMovie again.

To do so, open the project folder for your iMovie. Inside you'll find files labeled Clip 1, Clip 2, and so on. These clips correspond to the video clips you've imported with iMovie. Open the clips that have the wonky audio in QuickTime Player Pro. Select Extract Tracks from the Edit menu, choose Sound Track in the Extract Tracks window, and click on the Extract button. This produces a new untitled QuickTime movie containing the clip's soundtrack. Let's call that file Mono Audio.

With this file active, select Export from the File menu and choose Sound To AIFF from the Export pop-up menu in the Save Exported File As window. Click on the Options button, and in the resulting Sound Settings window, enable the Mono option. Click on OK to dismiss this window, and click on Save in the Save Exported File As window to save your sound. You've just created a mono audio file with the sound in the middle of the stereo field.

Now return to the clip file from which you extracted the sound and select Delete Tracks from the Edit menu. In the Delete Tracks window, select Sound Track and click on the Delete button. This deletes the faulty audio file. To replace it with the mono file you created, activate the Mono Audio file by clicking on it, press 1-A to select all of its contents, and press 1-C to copy them. Click on the clip file, select Add Scaled from the Edit menu, and save the file. This adds the contents of the Mono Audio file to the video clip file and produces a clip whose soundtrack comes out of both speakers. Repeat this procedure for each wonky clip. When you're finished, import the repaired clips into iMovie and vow to never use a mono microphone again.

Belly Up to the Bar Code

I'm looking for software that can print labels and envelopes with a bar code. In the past I used MacEnvelope, but the program hasn't been updated for OS X. Do you have any suggestions?
- Mark M. Arias

I can recommend two applications. The first is Scruffy Software's $15 Address Book Reports (www .scruffyware.com/products/digilifereports/Address BookReports.html). This utility can generate envelopes and labels with bar codes from contacts stored in OS X's Address Book. In addition, it can neatly organize and print your Address Book contacts into reports styled like phone books and business cards.

Ampersandbox's $20 Imprint (www.ampersandbox .com) is another option that integrates with OS X's Address Book. It supports a wider variety of label and envelope types.

Monitoring the Family

Members of my family refuse to use their own user accounts on our Mac running OS X 10.2.6. Since our Mac automatically logs in with my account, they change my settings and proceed with their work. Fortunately, they typically limit their fiddling to the sound level, monitor resolution, and Dock size.

I can quickly change the sound and Dock back to my preferred settings, but adjusting the monitor resolution is a nuisance because the resolution and refresh rate that I want are not listed in the Displays pull-down menu. Is there an easier way than opening the Displays system preference to access monitor settings?
- Tim Collins, Marshfield, Wisconsin

Tim, I'd like to take the liberty of providing the solution you seek while also butting into your family's business. Let's start with the solution.

Venture to www.madrau.com and download a copy of Stéphane Madrau's $15 SwitchRes X. SwitchRes places a small icon in the Mac's menu bar that includes all the resolutions your monitor is capable of displaying. If you're the tinkering type, you can also ask SwitchRes to display unsupported resolutions. You should be careful with the latter feature, as you could create a setting that your monitor can't display, which can cause some monitors to display a dark screen until you reset the Mac's parameter RAM (by holding down 1-option-P-R at startup).

At the risk of causing discord around the dining-room table, I suggest that you avoid this problem altogether by configuring the Mac to require each user to log in with his or her own password. That way Mom's, Dad's, and Sister Bernice's computing environments will be configured exactly the way they like from the minute they log on -- no need to mess about with another family member's settings.

To do so, open the Accounts system preference with an account that has Administrator privileges.

In the Users section of the Accounts window, deselect the Log In Automatically As option. Now select the Login Options tab and enable the List Of Users option. When you log out, each member of the family will be required to enter his or her own password to log in to the Mac.

Tip of the Month

Many AirPort users have found that their wireless connection fails when they use a 2.4GHz wireless phone near their networks. This failure happens because the phone and AirPort share the same frequency. Worse yet, these phones prefer channel 6 of the 11 channels available to these devices, and some AirPort networks are set to channel 6 by default. Fortunately, there's a workaround.

Launch the AirPort Admin Utility, click on the Configure button in the Select Base Station window, select the AirPort tab in the resulting window, and choose a number such as 1 or 11 from the Channel pop-up menu. Click on the Update button to update your Base Station, and your interference problems should cease.
- Andrew Shalat, Palos Verdes, California

Unsolicited Advice

Because I lack the organization gene, over the course of a computing year I often give multiple files the same name -- Mac 911, for example -- and fling these files into every conceivable corner of my Mac's hard drive. If you're similarly impaired, you may depend as much as I do on OS X's ability to find files by content.

But properly doing this requires more than pressing 1-F in the Finder, selecting Content from the Add Criteria pop-up menu in the resulting Find window, and entering a couple of words in the Content Includes field. You'll have far better luck unearthing the files you desire if you index any volumes or folders you intend to search.

To do so, select a folder (your user folder is a good place to start) or volume, and press 1-I to produce the Get Info window. In that window, click on the triangle next to the Content Index entry. Then click on the Index button. In a few (quite a few, depending on how many files you have) minutes, your Mac will index the contents of all text, HTML, PDF, and clippings files.

To speed the indexing process (and keep the hidden index files this process produces as slim as possible), select Preferences from the Finder menu and click on the Select button that appears below the Languages For Searching File Contents entry at the bottom of the Finder Preferences window. In the resulting Languages window, deselect those languages you don't want to use when searching the contents of your files -- Slovene and Afrikaans, for instance -- and click on OK.

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