Mac OS X Hints

Don’t wait on Spotlight

If you use Spotlight searches in the Finder and you’ve got one or more large, data-laden hard drives (my system has two drives with ten partitions), you’re probably well aware of the ability of these searches to turn your Finder into a first-class spinning beach ball. This most often happens just as you start typing your search term. For instance, say you’re looking for a particular landscape photo, and you begin to type the word carnation . Thanks to the live search feature, your Mac wastes time looking for matches for c, ca, and car as you type.

While you can’t totally avoid extraneous results, here’s one way to minimize them. Instead of typing your search term in the Finder’s search box, first type it in any open application. For example, you could type it in Safari’s address bar or Google search box, a TextEdit document, a Stickies note, or a widget. Select the word with the mouse and press Command-C to copy it to the Clipboard. Switch back to the Finder, click inside the Spotlight search box (or just press Command-F), and then press Command-V to paste in your search term. You don’t even have to press return—the Finder will go ahead and do a live search.

Now Spotlight will find matches for the entire word, instead of struggling with matches for all the partial words it can make from your search term.

Select columns in Preview PDFs

If you work with multicolumn PDF documents in Preview, here’s a handy time-saver. You’re probably familiar with Preview’s text-selection tool, accessed via either the Tools: Text Tool menu item or Command-2. Using this tool, you can drag to select and copy a section of text from a PDF (as long as it’s not protected), and then paste that selection to the Clipboard.

But with multicolumn documents, this doesn’t work as you might expect—when you drag the cursor down to capture one column, for instance, Preview captures all the columns on the page. This can be quite frustrating, and makes it difficult to get just the text you want out of Preview. Luckily, there’s a workaround.

After you make the text tool active, press and hold the option key. The cursor will change from the text I-beam to a small cross. Continuing to press the option key, drag a rectangular region around the desired text. This trick makes it a piece of cake to capture just the column you want.

 

 

Big Stickies Add scroll bars to your stickies, and you can peruse your long notes with ease. No arrow keys required.

 

Scroll through Stickies

Apple has souped up Stickies—those little notes you can leave on your Mac’s desktop—quite a bit over the years. But the one thing you still can’t do is scroll through a long note. If you have a lot of text you want to keep handy, you have to use the keyboard (the up-arrow and down-arrow keys or the page up and page down keys) to navigate. But as long as you’ve installed Apple’s Developer Tools (Xcode) from your Mac OS X installation disk, you can overcome this limitation.

First make sure Stickies isn’t running, and then make a backup of the application (/Applications), just to be on the safe side. You can option-drag it to another folder or drive to make a copy. If you have a lot of important information in your notes, you may want to back them up as well. (They’re stored in a file called StickiesDatabase in your user folder /Library.)

Now control-click on the Stickies application and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. In the new window that opens, navigate to Contents/Resources/English.lproj. (If you’re not using an English version of OS X, replace English.lproj with your chosen language.) Inside this folder, double-click on StickiesDocument.nib. One of the developer tools, Interface Builder (/Developer/Applications), should launch and open the file.

Interface Builder displays three windows when it opens. You’re interested in the big empty one called Stickies. Click inside the white area in the window. The window will come to the foreground, and you should see a selection rectangle (with smaller rectangles at various points) around the white area. Once this section of the window is active, select Tools: Show Inspector. The NSTextView Inspector appears. Make sure the top pop-up menu is set to Attributes. Select the Show Scroller option. The Automatically Hide Scroller option appears. Select it as well. Press Command-S to save the file, and then quit Interface Builder.

Relaunch Stickies, resize a note, and marvel at the automatically appearing and vanishing scroll bars.

Lists unlimited

Whether you need to keep track of things to do or groceries to buy, lists are really useful. That’s why it’s so handy that Tiger’s TextEdit now supports them in Rich Text Format (RTF) mode (Format: Make Rich Text).

One quick hidden way to start a list is to press option-tab when you’re in any line of a TextEdit document. This transforms that line, as well as any subsequent rows you add, into a hyphen-delimited list entry. As with lists started in the usual manner, tab and shift-tab change the amount of indent for a given row, and you can change the list type by control-clicking on the list and choosing Lists from the pop-up menu.

But here’s the real trick: the option-tab keyboard shortcut can create lists in any OS X 10.4 application that uses the same text-input routines as TextEdit. That means you can use lists in programs that may not directly support them, including Flying Meat’s $25 VoodooPad and Apple’s Stickies app (but not the Stickies widget).

 

 

Smart and Smarter You might think this smart playlist (top) would find all your 1990s Rock and Heavy Metal, but you’d be thinking wrong. It will only find songs that meet all these conditions—each song must belong to both the Rock and Heavy Metal genres. Instead, use one smart playlist to find the Rock and Heavy Metal songs, and then use it as a condition of another smart playlist that selects only songs created in the 1990s (bottom).

 

Extrasmart iTunes playlists

Want to organize your huge music collection into more- manageable chunks? Use iTunes’ smart playlists to group music automatically by genre, artist, album, year recorded, or any of 20 or so other choices. Better yet, use some logic in a smart playlist to find a very specific set of tunes.

Select File: New Smart Playlist. Click on the Match pop-up menu at the top of the dialog box. You’ll see two options here, All and Any. Choose All to create an AND search—for example, a smart playlist that includes tunes marked as both reggae and ska tracks. Choose Any to create an OR search—for example, a smart playlist that contains tunes marked blues or jazz.

But what if you want something more complex—for instance, if you want a playlist of all your hard rock music, grouped by the decade it was recorded in? You classify your hard stuff into two genres—Rock for the hard-yet-still-civil stuff, and Heavy Metal for the head-banging ultraloud guitar-slamming good stuff.

If you try to use smart playlists to group the tracks, you’ll reach the limits of iTunes’ logic. You can’t combine AND and OR logic in a smart playlist. So there’s no apparent way to create a smart playlist including songs that are in either Rock or Heavy Metal and were recorded between 1990 and 1999.

So just how can you create an extrasmart smart playlist? The answer is to make two smart playlists and make one a condition of the other. In this example, the first playlist would find Rock or Heavy Metal tunes. Set the Match pop-up menu to Any and then create two rules: Genre Is Rock and Genre Is Heavy Metal. (Click on the plus sign [+] to add rules to a smart playlist.) Click on OK when you’re done and give the playlist a name—say, Hard Rock. For the second playlist, set the Match pop-up menu to All and give it two rules: Playlist Is Hard Rock and Year Is In The Range 1990 To 1999 (see “Smart and Smarter”).

You can create very complex playlists using this technique. Click here for a sample one.

What’s online

Rename your system folders: If you’re tired of Apple’s stock names for your system folders (Movies, Pictures, and so on), learn how to give them any name you like —without breaking the OS.

Use media discs at login: Want to start playing that CD or DVD in your machine automatically when you log in? Now you can.

Play an old-school adventure game: Try this text-only adventure game for a taste of what the computing world was like before 3-D-graphics cards arrived on the scene.

recommended for you

The Secrets of Safari

Read more »

Subscribe to the Help Desk Newsletter

Comments