Hints reader vczilla discovered a solution to one of OS X’s most vexing features: When you summon Help in almost any Mac app, the Help Viewer window floats on top of every other open window. Even if you switch from the Help Viewer to another app, the Viewer window stays on top. This can be a real hassle.
Fortunately, it’s possible to switch the Help Viewer to what’s called Dev Mode, which makes its window behave like any other window in OS X—if you switch to another app, the Help Viewer will recede into the background. To make that happen, open Terminal and at the command line type defaults write com.apple.helpviewer DevMode -bool true, then press Return. The next time you open the Help Viewer, it will no longer float on top of your other windows.
To return to the default behavior, enter defaults delete com.apple.helpviewer DevMode.
Mac OS X Hints reader tchenj discovered that, if you have one of Apple’s new gesture-friendly trackpads, it can make editing in iPhoto '11 (or '09) easier. For example:
Open a photo in iPhoto and click on Edit. Now select the Straighten tool. With the mouse cursor on the image and two fingers on the trackpad, rotate left or right to fine-tune the tilt.
Or select the Crop tool and turn on constrain. Now, with the mouse cursor over the image, pinch inwards to shrink the crop frame while retaining the original aspect ratio; move your fingers apart, and the crop frame gets bigger. If you move both fingers around without pinching or spreading, the crop frame will move without changing size. (Unless you run into an edge, in which case it will shrink.) If you turn constrain off, you can move your fingers to change the crop and the aspect ratio, from rectangular to square.
If you use the Airport menu item primarily to turn Airport on and off, you can save some space on the menu bar by getting rid of the Airport icon and enabling or disabling wireless networking from the keyboard (or mouse) instead.
To start with, you need to find out the device name of your AirPort network interface. To do so, open System Profiler (Apple -> About This Mac, More Info). In the lefthand pane, select the Network section. In the upper right pane, you’ll see a list of your network devices. Find the one named AirPort then find its entry in the BSD Device Name column. For the sake of explanation, let’s say it’s en1.
The key here is a command-line utility, networksetup. It can perform all kinds of network related actions, but the one we’re interested in is turning AirPort power on or off; for that, you use the -setairportpower switch. So, to turn AirPort power off, you’d enter the command networksetup -setairportpower en1 off. To turn it back on, you’d use the same command, replacing off with on.
By default, a highlighted window in Exposé is surrounded by an ethereal blue halo. That halo—and, therefore, the window it’s surrounding—can be hard to spot, particularly on portable Macs with the screen brightness turned down. Fortunately, you can change that highlight color to something a bit more visible; it’s easy to change, but it does require editing some system files. For that reason, make sure you make backup copies of the files in question before you start hacking them.
Start by going to /System/Library/CoreServices. There you’ll find an application called Dock. Right-click it and select Show Package Contents. In the new window that appears, open the Contents folder, then go to Resources. You’re looking for two files: expose-window-selection-small.png and expose-window-selection-big.png. First, make backup copies of these two files and move them to a safe backup location.
Now create two more copies of these files and move them to your desktop, with the exact same names as the originals. Open these desktop copies in your favorite image editor (you may need to adjust file permissions) and change the color. A bright color like yellow or white is nicely visible; if using Photoshop, the Hue/Saturation tool can be handy for this. Just make sure you choose the same color for both files and don’t alter anything else about the images, such as their physical size.
While Preview’s bookmarks and search features are great for jumping between different pages in a PDF document, sometimes it’d be handy to view more than one page of a single document on the screen at the same time. Unfortunately, Preview (like most Mac OS X applications) lets you have just one instance of a file open at a time. But there’s a way around that restriction.
The open command line program accepts a parameter -n that allows it to launch the application again, even if it’s already running. So, if you’re currently viewing file.pdf in Preview, enter open -n file.pdf in Terminal. (You’ll need to supply the full and complete path to the file, of course; the easiest way to do that is to type in open -n, then drag the file from the Finder to the Terminal command line.) Another instance of Preview will launch, complete with its own Dock icon, with the PDF document open. Unfortunately, some applications (such as iTunes) resist even this technique, so you cannot launch a second iTunes instance—to, say, have multiple iTunes libraries open at the same time.
If you wish, you can put this command into an Automator service, making it that much easier to launch. Open Automator and select Service from the template list. In the bar near the top of the editing pane, configure the new service to receive PDF files in the Finder. Open the Utilities section in the Library on the left, then double-click the Run Shell Script action from it. In the editing pane, select As Arguments from the Pass Input drop-down menu. Replace the contents of the action’s text area with:
Let’s say a friend sent you a link to an app or an MP3 file, and you just want to download the thing. Normally, you’d copy the URL, open your browser, and paste the URL into the address bar. In some browsers, you'd even need to paste the URL into the address field, hit Enter, wait until the file loads, and then save it. There is an easier way:
Open Automator. From the list of templates, select Service. At the top right of the window, set the service to receive selected URLs in any application. Then, in the Internet group of actions, double-click on Download URLs. That will add it to the editing window on the right. By default, it will download URLs to your Downloads folder; if you wish them to go somewhere else, select that other location from the Where drop-down. Save the service and give it a name, such as Download Selected URL.
Now, in any app that supports services, find the URL of a downloadable file (or, for the purposes of testing, any URL at all) and select it with your cursor. Open the Services submenu from the application menu and select Download Selected URL from the list. (Or right-click on the selected URL and choose the service from the context menu’s Services section.)
If you ever use any of the alternative keyboard layouts available in OS X (System Preferences -> Language & Text, Input Sources tab), you know that some of their names are quite cumbersome—U.S. International - PC, for example, or Armenian - Western QWERTY. Fortunately, you can edit the names of those input methods so they’re easier to understand and work with.
In the Finder, go to /System/Library/Keyboard Layouts. Control-click on AppleKeyboardLayouts.bundle and select Show Package Contents from the menu. Now go to Contents/Resources within that bundle. Select the folder for your locale—English.lproj if you use English, for example—and press Command-I to open its Get Info dialog. If you don’t already have read/write privileges for that folder, open the padlock at the bottom, provide your administrator’s credentials, click the plus (+) button and add yourself to the permissions list. With your name still selected, select Apply to Enclosed Items from the Action menu (the one with the gear icon).
Now navigate into the English.lproj folder and open the file InfoPlist.strings in TextEdit (or the text editor of your choice). Look for the line containing the name of the keyboard layout you want to change—”USInternational-PC” ="U.S. International - PC", for example. Change the name between the quotation marks on the right to whatever you want to appear in the Input menu: “USInternational-PC” ="U.S. Int'l", let’s say. Make sure not to enter a name that’s already in use.