Mac OS X Hints - Oct. 2007

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Surf with your voice

Speech recognition is probably one of the most underused features in Mac OS X. But you can do some fun and practical things with it—for instance, use your voice instead of your hands to open your Apple Safari bookmarks.

First, open the Speech preference pane, click on the Speech Recognition tab, and set Speakable Items to On. A small round window will appear on your screen; that’s the speech-recognition controller. Notice the word Esc in the middle. This indicates the key—escape—you’ll press to activate speech recognition. By default, your Mac will listen to you only when you’re holding down that key. (You can change the settings in the Speech preference pane.)

Click on the small arrow at the bottom of the speech-recognition controller and choose Open Speech Commands Window from the drop-down menu. This window contains a list of preset commands that you can say to your Mac—for example, “Get my mail” or “Open my browser.” Launch Safari to reveal a Safari header in the Speech Commands window. Click on the disclosure triangle, and you’ll see the command Make This Page Speakable (see “Create Spoken Bookmarks”). This is the key to opening bookmarks with your voice. Just load the page you want to turn into a speakable bookmark (note that it doesn’t have to be a page you’ve already bookmarked). Then press and hold the escape key while saying “Make this page speakable.”

If you’re successful, you’ll hear the “whit” sound as the system recognizes that you’ve sent it a command. In the dialog box that appears, type a short, easy-to-pronounce name in the text field, and then click on OK. That’s it. Now, whenever you want to go to that page, simply hold down escape and speak the name you entered—no typing required.

Find the right spot to save

Want to save a file in a deeply buried folder? In Mac OS X 10.4, the Save and Save As dialog boxes include a handy Spotlight search field that can help you home in on the right destination. (If you can’t see the search field, click on the triangle next to the Save text field to reveal it.) The only problem with these searches is that there’s sometimes no apparent way to see exactly where the files and folders Spotlight finds are located. That means if you’ve got ten folders named Extra Project Files, it will be awfully hard to tell which is the right one. This next trick can help.

In the Save or Save As dialog box, click on the column-view icon. (The view icons are to the right of the arrow buttons; the left one is for list view and the right one is for column view.) Now, click in the Spotlight search field and type your search term. After you have some visible results, click on any folder in the list to select it, and then click on the list-view button. A drop-down menu will appear to the left of the Spotlight search field. Click on this and you’ll see a list of items that reflects the full path to the folder you’ve selected.

Seeking symbols

Whether it’s the copyright symbol (©), the divide character (÷), the registered trademark symbol (®), or the euro symbol (€), sometimes you need a character that isn’t printed on your keyboard’s keys. OS X has a few utilities that can help you find what you want.

The Keyboard Viewer shows you an on-screen version of your keyboard. Just select a font from the tool’s Font menu and experiment with pressing combinations of option, shift, and 1 until you see the special symbol you’re after. When you do, you’ve discovered the key combination you need to access it. Using the Character Palette to do this is even easier. It shows you every symbol you can create from any font. Best of all, it organizes the symbols by group—for example, Arrows or Mathematical Symbols. Choose a symbol and click on Insert to put it in your text (see “The Right Symbol”).

In many programs—including the Finder, Safari, Apple’s Mail, Peter Borg’s Smultron (donations accepted), and more—all you need to do to open the Character Palette is select Edit: Special Characters. Another way (and apparently the only way to open the Keyboard Viewer) is to use the Input Menu, represented by a small flag icon on your menu bar. To activate this, open the International preference pane and click on the Input Menu tab. Select the check boxes next to Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer. Then select the Show Input Menu In Menu Bar option. Your region’s flag should appear in the menu bar. Click on this flag to access a menu where you can choose to open the Character Palette or the Keyboard Viewer.

Access symbols your own way

But what if you don’t like having the Input menu’s flag in your menu bar? Because I often use a laptop and my short menu bar already contains many items, I don’t like anything that takes up more of this precious space. Luckily, you can access the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer from your Dock, sidebar, or toolbar—if you know the trick.

Navigate to /System/Library/Components, control-click on the file called CharacterPalette.component, and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. In the window that opens, navigate to the Contents/SharedSupport folder, where you’ll see a file called CharPaletteServer. This is the program that displays the Character Palette. Drag it directly to your Dock, sidebar, or toolbar to make a version of it appear there for quick access. (This creates an alias; don’t move the program itself.)

To do the same with the Keyboard Viewer, navigate to /System/Library/ Components again, control-click on KeyboardViewer.component, and choose Show Package Contents from the contextual menu. Open the Contents/ SharedSupport folder inside, and drag the KeyboardViewerServer file to your Dock, sidebar, or toolbar.

Once you’re sure everything works, return to the International preference pane and disable the checked items in the Input Menu tab. Your menu bar space will be yours once again.

Create Spoken Bookmarks: Tired of typing? Use the Mac’s built-in speech capabilities to create spoken bookmarks in Safari, and you can surf using your voice instead.The Right Symbol: The Character Palette gives you quick access to every symbol, organized by group, in all of your fonts.
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