New life for old Macs

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Family message center

Say good-bye to the days of hastily scribbled notes shoved behind refrigerator magnets. You can use an outdated Mac to keep track of your family’s comings and goings—it can serve as a messaging hub, an answering machine, a weather station, and the keeper of the family calendar.

New-age notepad

Call Aunt Martha. Pick Jimmy up from soccer practice. Buy cat food. A reliable note-taking system is the heart of any message center.

Stickies OS X’s built-in Stickies program is a great replacement for Post-its. Each family member can choose his or her own Stickies color (there are six in all), and Stickies notes can contain hyperlinks—to movie times, for instance, or to a Web page with directions to the theater. To create a link to a Web page, enter a URL; to create a link to an e-mail address, type

	mailto:
	nameexample.com
	
. Then highlight the text, control-click on it, and choose Make Link from the contextual menu.

Scribble It Prefer old-fashioned hand-written notes? With Panic’s Desktastic or MacMax.org’s Scriboard, you can use your mouse to scrawl numerous messages across your desktop. Choose a green desktop background for that chalkboard feel. Both programs also let you type messages right onto your desktop.

Sync your schedules

Dinner’s ready—where on earth is everyone? If you had created a family calendar, you’d know. One of the beauties of iCal is that it lets you view everyone’s calendars at once.

Of course, you’re not always home to look at that carefully plotted calendar. But if you publish it to .Mac, you can check it from any Web browser. Unfortunately, iCal can’t display multiple calendars on the Web, so you’ll have to combine them. To create a group calendar, choose File: New Calendar Group, and then drag individual calendars onto it. When you’re done, select the group and choose Calendar: Publish. Select the Publish Changes Automatically option to keep the calendar up-to-date. Now you’ll see everyone’s schedules in one place.

Look who’s calling

Your 13-year-old daughter doesn’t want you listening to her telephone messages—and frankly, you don’t want to hear them. A Mac-based telephone system can give each family member his or her own mailbox.

To turn your Mac into an answering machine, you’ll need either Parliant’s PhoneValet Message Center (   ) or Ovolab’s Phlink (   ). Just plug the included hardware device into your Mac’s USB port and an available phone line. Both programs can play different outgoing messages for different callers and send e-mail alerts when new messages arrive.

Weather Mac

Before you send the family out into the world, make sure they’re dressed for the weather. With OS X 10.4, you can use Apple’s Dashboard Weather widget to display today’s forecast.

But you don’t need to keep pressing F12 to get a peek at the forecast. To keep the Weather (or any) widget on constant display, launch Terminal from an administrator’s account and type

defaults write com.apple.Dashboard devmode YES
. Quit Terminal and then press F12 to expose Dashboard. To force a widget to remain open on the desktop, click and hold on it while pressing F12 again. (If this doesn’t work right off the bat, restart Dashboard by logging out.)

And for a more-comprehensive weather widget, try AWS’s WeatherBug. You’ll get today’s conditions, as well as wind speed and direction, the three-day forecast, weather radar for your area, and access to live Web cams.

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