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Cycle Your desktop images

Prior to version 5, you could use iPhoto to create cycling desktop picture albums: You could create a new album in iPhoto, go to the Desktop tab of the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane, and choose that album from the list of iPhoto albums. Once you selected the Change Picture option and set your desired interval, you had a changing desktop picture that revealed the album’s images one by one. But the Change Picture option is always grayed out for albums (smart and standard) created in iPhoto 5 (as part of Apple’s iLife ’05, $79).

Here’s the easy workaround: in iPhoto, create an album (File: New Album) and fill it with the pictures you want to display on your desktop. Next, click on the album in the Source list and choose Edit: Select All (or press Command-A) to select all the images in that album. Click on the Desktop button in the iPhoto toolbar. When you do, iPhoto creates a new subfolder (called iPhoto Selection) in the iPhoto Library folder. This subfolder holds aliases of all the images in your album. The Desktop section of the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane automatically opens, with iPhoto Selection highlighted. If you have only one monitor hooked up to your Mac, select the Change Picture option and specify the desired interval.

If you have two monitors and want the images to appear on the secondary one (the one that doesn’t contain a menu bar), you won’t find the iPhoto Selection option in the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane on the second screen. Instead, you must select Choose Folder from the folder list, and then navigate to your iPhoto Library folder (/ your user name /Pictures/iPhoto Library) in the dialog box that appears. Within the iPhoto Library folder, highlight the iPhoto Selection folder and click on Choose. Select the Change Picture option and set your time interval, and you’re done.

Select the desktop from any Finder window

Here’s a quick keyboard shortcut you may have missed. From any Finder window, you can activate the desktop by pressing Command-shift-up arrow. If you have your Finder preferences set to show hard disks on the desktop, this will activate the desktop with your boot disk selected. If you’ve chosen to hide hard drives from the desktop, then the desktop will be active with nothing selected. Press tab to select items on the desktop, one by one, in alphabetical order (numbers precede letters).

For a bunch of other Finder keyboard shortcuts, select Help: Mac Help in the Finder and then search for

shortcuts for the Finder
. Click on the result with that exact name, and you’ll see a slew of handy shortcuts. (The list includes the one I just described, but in Tiger and Panther you don’t need to include the option key, as the Help file states.)

Tweak the Finder for a faster feel

The Finder uses visual feedback to let you know what it’s doing. For instance, when you double-click on a folder to open a new window, you get a subtle zoom-out effect. These animations help you understand what your machine is doing, but they can also make a not-so-powerful machine feel slower than it is. With a little help from Terminal, you can disable some or all of the Finder’s animations.

Launch Terminal (/Applications/Utilities) and type the following command:

defaults write DisableAllAnimations -bool true


with a lowercase L, not the number 1. )

This command disables the animations, but to see the changes, you need to restart the Finder. The safest way to do this—to log out and log back in—is also the most time-consuming. Instead, just hold down the option key and then click and hold on the Finder’s Dock icon. When the pop-up menu appears, select Relaunch.

After the Finder has relaunched, you’ll find that window-opening and -closing animations, as well as roll-down and roll-up animations in the Get Info window, have vanished. You won’t gain any real speed increases, but the Finder will feel snappier than before.

Another option is to reinstate the window animations while leaving the Get Info animations disabled. Return to Terminal and type these two commands:

defaults write DisableAllAnimations -bool false

defaults write AnimateInfoPanes -bool false

The first command reverses what you did previously. The second tells the Finder to disable only the Get Info animations. Again, you’ll need to option-click and hold on the Finder’s Dock icon, and then relaunch the Finder to see your changes take effect.

To enable the Get Info animations, repeat the last command but type

at the end instead of
, and then relaunch the Finder again.

Animate Keynote slides with Quartz Composer

Here’s a trick for Tiger users who work with Keynote 2 (as part of Apple’s iWork ’05, $79). With help from one of the free Developer tools on your Tiger installation CD, you can bring the background of any given slide to life.

Install the Developer (Xcode) tools. Then open Quartz Composer (/Developer/Applications/Graphics Tools). This app is tricky to use, but you don’t have to know much to use it with Keynote—you may not even have to open it. Just go to Keynote’s Insert: Choose menu to import a QTZ (Quartz Composer) file.

The simplest way to start is to use some of the Apple-provided examples you’ll find in the Developer folder. In Keynote’s Choose dialog box, navigate to /Developer/Examples/Quartz Composer. Many of the subfolders here contain ready-to-use examples, such as Cells.qtz and Star Shine.qtz (located in the Core Image Compositions folder). Select one of these, and Keynote will insert it into the current slide.

You can treat the animation just as you would any other Keynote object. Add a drop shadow, adjust its transparency, and even scale it (though you may see some jagged images when you greatly increase the size of an animation). When you enter the slide-show mode, the animation comes to life. If you place the Quartz Composer animation on a slide with photo cutouts, you can even put the animation behind the cutout (using Arrange: Send Backward), for some visually interesting effects.

If you want to use an example that needs editing, such as Slide.qtz from the Parametrizable Compositions folder, you’ll need to do a bit of work within Quartz Composer itself. Double-click on the sample composition in the Finder, and Quartz Composer opens in Edit mode. To use Slide.qtz, for instance, you’d want to get rid of all the text, leaving just the animated background. In Quartz Composer’s Editor window, click and drag to select every box except for the pink Clear (1) and Lighting (2) boxes near the top. Then press the delete key or choose Edit: Delete. The Viewer window reflects your changes, and the text vanishes. Choose File: Save As to save your modified composition to a new location so you don’t overwrite the original. Switch back to Keynote and insert the new version to create a pleasant blue background.

You can do a lot with the example files, but to create your own fancy backgrounds, you’ll have to learn the program. For more information, see “Tiger’s Secret Tools” ( Geek Factor, September 2005 ) or read Apple’s documentation.

Import particular images quickly with Preview

Have a photo on your digital camera that you need to work with but don’t want in your iPhoto library? Say you had to take a couple of product shots at work, or maybe you took a photo of a document as a quick-and-dirty way of scanning it. Sure, you could launch iPhoto, import all the images in the camera, and then copy just the one you want to work with. You could also use Image Capture (/Applications) to download the images. In Tiger, though, you have a third, simpler choice.

Plug in your camera and make sure it’s powered up; then launch Preview. (Quit iPhoto if it launches automatically and offers to import the images.) Choose File: Import Image. After choosing your camera from the list of devices, you’ll see a small Image Capture-like window that lets you select any one image from your camera for direct import into Preview (see the screenshot). You can even change the image’s size.

Once you’ve imported the image, save it using any of Preview’s supported image formats, available from the File: Save As menu item.

There’s no need to use iPhoto or Image Capture if you want to download just one picture out of many. Use the newest version of Preview to import a particular image directly from your digital camera.
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