Mac OS X Hints

Light Up Your Desktop

The Desktop tab of the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane contains a Solid Colors option—just in case you’re sick of the gorgeous full-color images and patterns Apple provides. At first glance, it looks as though you have 10 colors to pick from, but there are actually 11: if you click to the right of what appears to be the last color (Solid Mint), you’ll set your desktop to solid white.

Why might you want a white desktop? It’s possible that you just like white, of course, or maybe you want a neutral background behind a screenshot. But one interesting use of this setting is as an additional light source for an iSight. If you’ve ever tried conducting a video chat in a dimly lit room, you’ve probably noticed that your face takes on a blue cast (from the standard Aqua background). Set the desktop to all white, though, and you’ll not only add light to the room but also prevent yourself from turning blue in the face.

Group Movies with iPhoto Smart Albums

Apple’s iPhoto (part of the iLife ’05 suite, $79; www.apple.com ) isn’t just for photos anymore—it can also store most movie clips. Given the program’s organizational strengths, this is a great way to keep track of those 30-second snippets you record with your digital camera. Here are a couple of ways to use iPhoto 5’s skills to organize your clips further.

First, iPhoto automatically attaches the keyword Movie to imported movie clips. That makes it easy to use a smart album to find movies. Just select File: New Smart Album, or press Command-option-N. Give the album a name, and set the three pop-up menus to read Keyword Is Movie. Click on OK when you’re done, and you’ll have a new smart album that contains all marked movies.

But what if you’ve been playing around with keywords and you’ve unmarked some imported movies? In that case, you can modify the smart album to find movies by their file type as well. Control-click on the smart album and select Edit Smart Album from the contextual menu. In the sheet that appears, click on the plus sign (+) next to the first rule. Create a new rule and set the conditions to Filename Contains .avi (including the dot). Click on the plus sign again and create new versions of this rule, changing just the file-name portion each time—add a rule for files ending in .mov , .mp4 , and .mpg . You need each file to match only one of these conditions, so go to the Match pop-up menu at the top of the sheet and select the Any option. Click on OK (see first screenshot). This revised rule will find all the movies in your iPhoto database.

Quickly Size iPhoto Thumbnails

If you’re an iPhoto 5 user, three keyboard shortcuts can save time and make iPhoto more responsive. In Edit mode, press 0, 1, or 2 to change the zoom level of your image—0 zooms the image to the largest size that will fit in the window, 1 makes one pixel on your screen equal to one pixel in your image, and 2 makes two pixels on your screen equal to one pixel in your image (a 2x zoom, in other words).

You can also use these shortcuts in normal Browse mode, though the keys have different effects. Pressing the 0 key produces very small thumbnails. Pressing the 1 key sets each image’s thumbnail size to fill the available space. Pressing the 2 key displays thumbnails at their native resolutions (240 pixels in either height or width). This last shortcut offers a huge speed boost; when iPhoto displays thumbnails at their native resolutions, it doesn’t have to waste time scaling them, so thumbnails appear very quickly.

Change the Stickies Widget’s Colors

Tiger’s Dashboard application lets you instantly access a number of useful utilities (Apple calls them Widgets), including weather, stock charts, iCal events, and more. One of the included Widgets is Stickies, a Dashboard version of the longtime Mac application.

While the Widget is great, you may tire of its pastel tones (accessed by clicking on the small letter i in the lower right corner of the note). Luckily, they’re quite easy to change, although you’ll lose some of the stock colors when you add your own. To do so, you’ll need an image-editing program, such as Lemke Software’s GraphicConverter or Adobe Photoshop, that supports PNG images.

In the Finder, navigate to the top-level /Library/ Widgets folder. Control-click on the Stickies widget and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. In the new window that opens, navigate into the Images folder. Here you’ll find each of the colors used in the Stickies widget.

You’ll need to decide which color you don’t mind losing. If you want to change the default Stickies color, use the yellow.png file; otherwise, choose a color that you don’t use very often. Once you’ve decided on a color, drag and drop it onto the desktop to create a copy. (Leave the Finder window open; you’ll use it again shortly.) Duplicate the file on your desktop by pressing Command-D, and keep the duplicate copy in a safe location. You’ll need this backup if you ever decide to revert to the original color.

Next, open the original image in your image-editing program. Here you can do basically anything you want—add gradients and text, for instance (see the middle screenshot). Once you’re done editing, save the file back to the desktop, using the same name as the original and applying the PNG format.

Switch back to the Finder. Drag and drop your modified file into the still-open Images folder. When you do so, the Finder will tell you that you can’t move the item because you can’t modify the Images folder. Click on Authenticate. When asked, choose to replace the original file. Enter your password when prompted.

And that’s it. Reactivate Dashboard by pressing F12. Click on the plus sign (+) in the corner of the screen to bring up the Dashboard bar. Drag the Stickies widget off the bar to create a new Stickies instance. Click on the i button to turn the Stickies note over, and then choose your modified color (if you changed the default yellow, you can skip this step).

You may lose your changes during system upgrades, so keep a copy of all your modified colors in a backup directory. To undo these changes, drag the original file into the Images folder and authenticate as required. Just make sure that this file has the same name as the modified color you’re trying to replace.

Soup Up iPhoto 5 Keyword Searches

If you take a lot of photos, iPhoto’s Keywords feature can make finding the right ones a lot easier. For instance, select a bunch of photos from your most recent vacation, make sure the Keywords section of iPhoto is visible (click on the small key icon), and then drag the selected photos onto the Vacation keyword. Now you’ll be able to find these in a snap.

One of iPhoto 5’s nicer features is that it lets you search for images using more than one keyword. Click on the keywords you’d like to include (they’ll turn blue), and iPhoto will run an AND search, finding all photos that have all highlighted keywords. But what if you want to run a search that excludes one or more keywords? For example, you want to see pictures of Aunt Jeanne at your birthday party, but not those with Uncle Jeff hovering in the background. Here’s the secret: option-click on the keyword you want to exclude. The chosen keyword(s) will now appear in red, not blue (see the bottom screenshot). iPhoto will find images that have the chosen (blue) keywords but not the unwanted (red) keywords.

In the previous example, you’d click on the Birthday Party and Aunt Jeanne keywords, and then option-click on the Uncle Jeff keyword. Using this technique, you can quickly find the photos you’d like to see—but for maximum flexibility, assign your keywords liberally when you import new pictures. You can assign keywords by clicking on the small key icon in the main iPhoto window and then dragging images onto the keyword you’d like to assign to those pictures.

Using this special smart album, you can easily collect all your movie clips in iPhoto 5—clips marked with the Movie keyword and unmarked clips. If you have a bit of time and an image-editing program, you can free yourself from pastel-hued Stickies notes.Using iPhoto’s ability to exclude certain keywords, you can build powerful searches. Here, I’m selecting only New York City images that don’t deal with kids or vacations.
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