Mac OS X Hints - March 2007

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Compare shots in iPhoto

Tucked away in Apple’s iPhoto ’06 (part of the $79 iLife ’06 suite) is a handy photo-comparison tool you might not know about. You can use this tool to compare similar shots side by side, so you can see which one you like best. Or if you’re struggling to enhance an image, make a duplicate of the picture, try your adjustments on the photo, and then use this tool to compare it to the original.

It’s a cinch to activate the comparison tool in iPhoto’s full-screen mode. Select two or more images and press the Enter Full Screen button at the bottom left of the iPhoto window. The two pictures will appear side by side on a black background. To reveal a toolbar of image-correction tools, just move your cursor to the bottom of the screen.

Multitasker that I am, I don’t like the way the full-screen mode blots out all my other application windows. No problem—there’s another way to compare photos. Go to iPhoto: Preferences and set the Edit Photo pop-up menu to In Main Window. Now when you select two (or more) photos by Command-clicking on each one, and then double-click on one of the selected images, iPhoto will show your chosen images in one window, with the edit tools below them and a horizontal image browser on top (see “Subtle Differences”). (If you don’t see the image browser, select View: Show Thumbnails.)

Whether you prefer comparing photos in the full-screen or default editing mode, there are some additional editing and comparison tricks you can use. First, say you’ve selected three images but then decide you’d like to replace the third image with a different one from your library. It’s easy—click once on the third image and then click on the desired image from the image browser at the top of the window. Presto! The selected photo replaces the old one.

Hold down the Command key and click on another image in the photo browser to add that image to your comparison group. If you had two photos before, now you have three. Repeat these steps as necessary, up to the limits of your screen size. You can now use the editing tools (Crop, Enhance, Red-Eye, Retouch, Effects, and Adjust) on each of the images in your comparison. To remove an image from the comparison area, simply Command-click on that photo in the photo browser again.

Automatically add Spotlight comments

Adding Spotlight Comments can help make Spotlight much more useful. Type descriptions into the Get Info window’s Spotlight Comments field. (To access this field, select a file and press Command-I.) Use the comments to identify, for instance, the purpose of a given program (“image sorter and viewer”) or to tag files and folders related to one project (“2007 site redesign”). One Spotlight search can find all files with the same comments, even if they’re stored in different spots on your computer.

It’s relatively easy to add comments to new files and folders as they’re created, but what about the thousands of existing files and folders on your machine? When you have a bunch of files to tag with identical comments (such as the name of a client or project), use Apple’s Automator (/Applications) to fill in the blanks.

Open Automator and click on Finder in the Library column. Select Get Selected Finder Items in the Action column and drag it into the workspace. Now click on Spotlight in the Library column and select Add Spotlight Comments To Finder Items in the Action column. Drag this action below the previous one in the workspace. Leave the Append To Existing Comments option selected. Click on the disclosure triangle next to Options and select the Show Action When Run option (see “Comments, Anyone?”).

Select File: Save As Plug-In. In the dialog box that appears, name your workflow

Add Spotlight Comments
and leave the Plug-in For pop-up menu set to Finder. Click on Save. To use your workflow, all you have to do is switch to the Finder and select any number of files and folders (using the shift or Command key to make the multiple selections). Control-click on any of the selected files and choose Automator: Add Spotlight Comments from the contextual menu. A dialog box appears. Type the text you’d like to add and click on Continue. (If you’ve selected a folder, you’ll notice that the comments apply only to the folder, not to the files inside it.)

That’s it. The workflow appends the specified text to each item’s Spotlight Comments field. Once these files are tagged, you can use Spotlight to quickly zero in on exactly the files you’re after.

Show Spotlight results in Finder

One particular thing has really frustrated me about Spotlight: the Search Results window that drops down from the menu bar after you press the Command-spacebar shortcut. Selecting an item in the results list opens it, but there’s no obvious way to show its location in the Finder. That’s inconvenient in many circumstances—for instance, you might have multiple copies of a document saved on multiple disks, and you want to make sure that you open the proper one.

Turns out there’s a simple solution: hold down the Command key when you click on an entry in the Search Results window. A new Finder window will open to the folder containing the item you selected. This method won’t work with Apple Mail and Microsoft Entourage messages, bookmarks, and Apple iCal events, but it seems to work just fine for everything else I tested—even Address Book contacts.

Make sure your mailboxes are empty

If you don’t like the thought of e-mail sitting around on your server, you can easily set up your POP e-mail accounts in Mail so that messages are removed from the server immediately after you get them. Go to Mail: Preferences; click on Accounts, then Advanced; and set the Remove Copy From Server After Retrieving A Message pop-up menu to Right Away.

But even after you make this setting change, you might still find old e-mail messages clogging up your mailbox. Glitches in the ether—an unstable connection to a mail server, or a problem with Mail itself—may occasionally prevent messages from getting deleted. A few stray messages won’t cause problems, but a lot could eventually fill up your mailbox, especially if some of them contain large attachments.

You can see what’s actually on your mail server by taking a look at Mail’s Account Info window. To access this, control-click anywhere in your mailbox list and select Get Info from the contextual menu. If you have more than one e-mail account, you can choose between accounts via a pop-up menu at the top. Select a mailbox and then click on Show Messages. Any messages on the server, whether new or old, will show up in the list that appears. From here you can select individual messages, select multiple messages in a contiguous group by shift-clicking on them, or Command-click to select noncontiguous messages. To delete the selected messages, click on the Remove From Server button.

This trick can also come in handy when you’re traveling and have only dial-up access. If you want to sift through your messages to delete the spam before downloading your e-mail, you can do so from this window. This will save you time and let you read just the valid e-mail messages.

Subtle Differences: Using iPhoto’s comparison mode, you can look at many images at once—making it easier to determine, for instance, which of a number of nearly identical images you’d like to keep.Comments, Anyone? This simple Automator action can greatly ease the process of tagging your documents with Spotlight comments, which offer a very useful way of finding files in a hurry.
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