Automator workflow of the month: April Fools' Day pranks

Christopher Breen Senior Editor, Macworld Follow me on Google+

Chris has covered technology and media since the latter days of the Reagan Administration. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, he's a professional musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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As I’ve outlined over the many years we’ve produced these Automator tips, this fine utility can be used in powerful ways to make your work easier. However, in the hands of the office prankster it can also be used as a useful tool on the first day of April.

The following workflows require that you have access to your target’s Mac and user account. No one but a fool would leave their Mac open in such a way, but finding such fools is exactly what April Fools' Day is all about, right?

The devious desktop

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Our favorite Mac cleanup tips

Macworld Staff Editors, Macworld

The Macworld staff occasionally work on articles together. You're reading one of those articles right now.
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Spring comes with its own rituals. Here at Macworld, we like to throw open the windows, beat the dust out of the rugs, and straighten up our Mac desktops. Don’t stop at cleaning your home this season—these tips from our editors will help you keep your Mac fresh and organized, too.

1. Tidy up your desktop

Last year I discovered Light Pillar’s wonderful app Desktop Tidy ($5; ). This handy utility cleans up your Mac’s desktop, keeping it free of clutter. It stores all desktop files and folders in a hidden Shadow Desktop, which you can access from the menu bar or in the Finder. That way, every file I download, each screenshot I capture, and every image I drag and drop to my desktop is stored and filed in an easy-to-reach location. The utility quietly works its magic at scheduled intervals—as often as every minute or as infrequently as every seven days. It even organizes desktop items by file type, which makes finding and renaming files easy.—Leah Yamshon

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Mac troubleshooting: dealing with hard drive woes

Ted Landau Senior Contributor, Macworld

Your Mac has begun showing signs of trouble. Perhaps you frequently get errors when trying to open or save files. You suspect a problem with the hard drive. Before panic sets in, you want to launch Apple's Disk Utility and select Repair Disk from the First Aid tab. Hopefully, that will remedy the situation. One problem though: Repair Disk is dimmed and you can't select it. Why? Because OS X cannot attempt repairs on an active startup drive. You can still use Repair Permissions, which may help in certain situations. But let’s assume it doesn’t.

So what do you do instead? That depends on what Macs you own, how you have set them up, and what other precautions you may have taken prior to the start of the trouble.

First things first, if you don’t have a recent backup, make one now. But be careful. At this point, you don’t want to overwrite an existing backup—lest you replace valid data with corrupted data. Instead, back up to a separate drive. When you’re done backing up, here are the things to try. You can try each method until you find one that works:

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Mac troubleshooting: Be prepared for hard-drive failure

Ted Landau Senior Contributor, Macworld

When hard-drive disaster strikes, you need to start up your Mac from another drive to repair it. In days gone by, you would typically boot from the install CD or DVD that came with your Mac (assuming you could recall where you stashed it) and run Apple’s Disk Utility from there. But today’s Macs no longer ship with any optical disc—heck, most Macs ship without any optical drive. So what do you do instead? Your best bet is to prepare ahead.

Create an emergency flash drive

An emergency drive contains only the essential software you need to boot your Mac and run troubleshooting utilities (such as Apple’s Disk Utility). I recommend using a USB flash drive (8GB is sufficient) rather than an optical disc. Flash drives are superior because they work with Macs that no longer contain an optical drive, and you can update them as necessary.

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How to think like a Mac geek

Joe Kissell Senior Contributor, Macworld

Joe Kissell is a senior editor of TidBits and the author of numerous ebooks in the Take Control series, including the just-published Take Control of Apple Mail.
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Most of us know at least one person who’s not merely a Mac user, but a dyed-in-the-wool Mac geek. You know the type: someone who has a large collection of Macs and is quick to tell you the history of each one; who keeps up with all the latest Apple news and rumors; and who seems to know the answer to any Mac question, no matter how obscure or technical. Though you may be tempted to ridicule a Mac geek’s obsessiveness, you’ll probably resist that temptation because you want to stay on the geek’s good side—since he or she will be the first person you go to for help when something goes wrong with your own Mac!

I bought my first Mac, a used Mac SE, in 1991—but that doesn’t mean I eased into geekdom over a period of decades. The first thing I did after bringing my SE home was to take it apart and install more RAM. The second thing I did (and this is only a slight exaggeration) was to start customizing the Finder, using ResEdit (if you have to ask, you don’t need to know)—in other words, a bit of modest hacking. Within a couple of months, a large local Mac user group appointed me Disk Librarian. My job was to research, download, and catalog all of the best freeware and shareware products, compile new collections of cool tools every month, and duplicate them on floppy disks to raise money for the club. I threw myself into that job and quickly acquired the reputation of being a know-it-all (in a good way).

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Four ways to get things done with Siri

Lex Friedman Senior Contributor, Macworld

Lex uses a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 5, an iPad mini, a Kindle 3, a TiVo HD, and a treadmill desk, and loves them all. His latest book, a children's book parody for adults, is called "The Kid in the Crib." Lex lives in New Jersey with his wife and three young kids.
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You can have a lot of fun with Siri, the artificially intelligent, voice recognition-based assistant built into newer iPhones and iPads. But fun though Siri may be, it turns out the little voice inside your iOS device can also help you become increasingly productive. From reminding you to perform a task, to sending meeting invitations, to keeping track of book recommendations—Siri proves to be surprisingly helpful for taking care of everyday things. Here’s an assortment of tasks to get done with Siri.

1. Schedule reminders

Though Apple’s Reminders app isn’t the most full-featured or powerful app around, I still rely on it for simple to-do list management. I almost never type in new reminders on my iPhone or iPad; I use Siri instead.

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Mac troubleshooting: What to do when you can't print

Ted Landau Senior Contributor, Macworld

You click Print, and then wait a moment. Nothing happens. Your attempt has clearly failed. A brief check confirms that the problem is not limited to one document or one app. You can’t print anything. Now what?

The number of causes and fixes for print failures runs wide and deep across the Mac troubleshooting landscape. Here’s a checklist of the more common solutions.

1. Check the Print dialog box

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