Mac OS X Hints - June 2007

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Quickly set Office 2004 zoom levels

Many programs have a Zoom menu item that you can use to make everything on screen larger or smaller. This helps you see small text and manipulate tiny objects more easily, for instance, or check an entire page’s formatting at a glance. Microsoft Office 2004 is no exception—Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (but not Entourage) all have a View: Zoom menu item. Using it, however, is a bit time-consuming. First you choose the menu, then you pick a preset zoom level (or enter your own), and then you click on OK—hardly a fast and fluid operation.

For quick, nuanced control over zooming, try using your scroll-wheel mouse (or scrolling-enabled trackpad) instead (see “Quick Office Zooming”). In Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, hold down 1-control and then move your scroll wheel (or drag your fingers on your trackpad) to rapidly increase or decrease the zoom level. Move the wheel up to zoom in; move it down to zoom out. The amount the zoom changes with each scroll-wheel tick differs from program to program: Word goes in increments of roughly 10 percent; Excel goes in increments of 15 percent; and PowerPoint goes through the fixed zoom levels. Excel and PowerPoint are limited to a maximum zoom of 400 percent, while Word will zoom to 500 percent.

Use line breaks in iTunes’ Comments field

If you’re the detail-oriented type, you probably like to take advantage of iTunes’ Info window (1-I), where you can enter all sorts of details about the selected song—such as Year, Grouping, Composer, Genre, and Comments.

The Comments field is particularly useful for keeping track of items in your collection. Anything you type here will be picked up by Spotlight searches. For example, you could add your spouse’s name as a comment for his or her tracks, and then either use Spotlight to quickly find all your spouse’s music or create a smart playlist (File: New Smart Playlist) containing it.

However, the Comments field has a somewhat annoying limitation: you can’t make line breaks in it. I hate this because I think it’s easier to read my comments when they’re on separate lines. But pressing enter, return, option-return, or control-enter simply closes the Info window. So what do you do if you want to use line breaks to format some of your comment text?

Here’s the easy, if not obvious, solution. With the Info window open, click on the Lyrics tab (or press 1-6), and enter your comment text there. In this field, you can use the return key to insert line breaks. Once you’ve typed your comment, highlight it, press 1-X to cut, switch back to the Info tab (1-2), and paste (1-V). Presto! You have line breaks in the Comments field. (Be aware that if you export your data, these line breaks may mess up the formatting.)

Add your own alert sounds

Don’t like the scolding beep your Mac makes when you do something wrong? You can customize your alert sound by going to the Sound preference pane’s Sound Effects tab and selecting one of OS X’s 13 other audio options—from Basso to Tink.

If you don’t like any of these sounds, use your own sound effects instead. Create a folder named Sounds in your user folder /Library and then drop your files into it—make sure they’re fairly short AIFF files. You can convert a file to AIFF with a tool such as Apple’s iTunes or $30 QuickTime Pro. A wide variety of free alert sounds is also available online. If you’re feeling nostalgic, for instance, download the Mac OS Classic Sound Pack 1.4. Or go to Simply the Best for everything from a tugboat whistle to a cow’s moo.

Once your files are in the Sounds folder, open the Sounds preference pane, click on the Sound Effects tab, and look for your files in the list. Select one, and it will become your new alert sound.

Make your alerts visual

One alternative to the aural alert is a visual alert—a screen flash. This is handy if you’d rather not have your music interrupted by annoying system beeps, for example. In the Universal Access preference pane, which Apple provides for people with physical disabilities, you can opt to see system alerts. Open the Universal Access preference pane, select the Hearing tab, and then click on the Flash Screen button. If you like what you see, select the Flash The Screen When An Alert Sound Occurs option.

With this option selected, you’ll hear an audio alert in addition to seeing the screen flash, unless you’ve muted your Mac’s sound. So how can you have a screen-flash alert without having to mute your system’s audio? Go to the Sound preference pane, click on the Sound Effects tab, and adjust the Alert volume slider to mute. From now on, any system alerts will result in a screen flash that will get your attention without making a sound.

Keep PDF info private

You may not realize it, but every time you create a PDF in OS X, you’re potentially sharing some personal information: your name. For someone whose job is to anonymously review and comment on manuscripts, for example, this could be a big issue. How is your name captured? When you select File: Print and then choose PDF: Save As PDF, OS X includes some metadata with the file it creates. Depending on the program you’re using, your name might be part of it.

OS X also records the page size, page count, encryption status, creation and modification dates, title (which might include the original file’s name and the program the file came from), and content creator, as well as something called the PDF Producer. Anyone can see all this information by opening a PDF in Preview and selecting Tools: Get Info (see “Remove Personal Data from PDFs”). Other PDF readers have similar tools.

One way to prevent this is to create a compressed PDF file by selecting File: Print and then choosing PDF: Compress PDF. You’ll see a progress bar as OS X compresses your file’s pages. Then name the file and pick a place to save it in. When you open the resulting PDF in Preview and view the Get Info box, you’ll see that all personal data is gone. There is one caveat, however: These “compressed” PDF files are usually larger than PDFs saved the regular way, especially if they contain many graphics. In my testing, I sometimes saw file sizes for these kinds of documents double.

If you’re having that problem, there’s a free program that can remove your name without changing your PDF’s file size. Download Monkeybread Software’s Combine PDFs ( 2632) and open your PDF with it. In the Combine PDFs window, delete the author and creator names. Click on Merge PDFs and then save the document. When you open this file in Preview, you’ll find that all the personal information is gone.

Quick Office: Zooming When you need a better look at a Microsoft Office document, press 1-control and then move your scroll wheel (or drag your fingers on a scrolling-enabled trackpad) to zoom in or out. Remove Personal Data from PDFs: When you use OS X’s built-in Save As PDF command to create a PDF, your PDF might include personal information—for example, your name—as seen here. Creating a compressed PDF is one way to remove it.
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