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.
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.
Shrink disk images
A disk image is a single file that, when double-clicked, appears on your desktop as a typical hard drive does. You can eliminate clutter by tucking away related files you don’t use often in a disk image. Better yet, you can store your sensitive files in an encrypted disk image that requires a password (
You’ve got two choices when you create a disk image via Apple’s helpful Disk Utility (/Applications/Utilities). By default, when you click on New Image in Disk Utility and then click on Create, you’ll get a 40MB “normal” disk image. This will take up 40MB of hard-drive space—even if you’ve yet to place a single file in it. Alternatively, you can click on New Image and then set the Format pop-up menu to Sparse Disk Image. A 40MB sparse disk image will occupy 40MB only if you’ve actually saved that much data in it.
Sparse disk images do spring one surprise on you: though they grow automatically as you add new files, they don’t shrink when you remove those files. If you remove 40MB of data from a 40MB sparse disk image, it will still require 40MB of space. You can fix this in Terminal (/Applications/Utilities). Open the program and change directories to where the disk image is. (Type
and then drag the folder containing the disk image to the prompt. Press return.) Then type the following command:
hdiutil compact "name_of_file.sparseimage"
That method is fine and dandy, but I prefer a faster way to condense a sparse disk image—control-clicking on the file in the Finder and choosing an Automator workflow from the contextual menu. Start by launching Automator (/Applications). In the Library column, click on Finder and then drag Get Selected Finder Items from the Action column to the blank work area on the right. Next, click on Automator in the Library column and then drag Run Shell Script into the work area, below the first command. In the Run Shell Script action, set the Shell pop-up menu to /bin/bash (it should be that by default), and set the Pass Input pop-up menu to As Arguments. Erase the entire script in the text field, and replace it with this one line:
hdiutil compact "$"
That’s all there is to it. Choose File: Save As Plug-In, and name your workflow something like Compact Sparse Image. Make sure that the Plug-in For pop-up menu is set to Finder, and click on Save. To use your workflow, select a sparse disk image (it will have the file extension .sparseimage ), make sure it’s not mounted, control-click on it, and then choose Automator: Compact Sparse Image (or whatever name you chose for your workflow). As the workflow runs, it will release any free space in your sparse disk image.
See it all on the Dashboard
Mac OS X 10.4’s Dashboard is a place where small, special-purpose applications (called widgets) reside, staying invisible until you need them. Press F12 (or launch the Dashboard program in your Applications folder) to reveal the widgets floating against the dimmed background of your open windows.
Sample What’s There Apple ships more widgets with OS X than you see at first glance. To see what’s available, activate Dashboard and click on the large plus-sign (+) button at the lower left of the screen. Some useful widgets include Dictionary, Flight Tracker, Ski Report, Unit Converter, and Weather. Add any of these to your Dashboard by clicking on its icon in this list (see “Lots of Tiny Programs”).
Work with Widgets Widgets aren’t complicated programs—they usually provide discrete bits of information, and as a result, interacting with them is pretty simple: type text into text fields, click on radio buttons, and so on. If your cursor changes into a hand as you move over the widget’s window, that shows you’ve found a clickable hyperlink, just as with a Web page.
There are two ways to close a widget. Hold down the option key as you mouse over an open widget to reveal a small black X in its top left corner. Click on that, and the widget will close. If you’ve revealed the widget bar (by clicking on the big plus sign), you’ll see the X s for all open widgets.
If you see a small i icon in the lower right corner of a widget, click on it to flip the widget over. Here you’ll find information about the widget itself and sometimes settings you can adjust. For the Stocks widget, for instance, you can edit the list of stocks.
You can open many copies of the same widget. Say you want to track the time in multiple locations: add the World Clock widget as many times as necessary by clicking on it in the Widget bar, and then use the i icon on each one to pick a different location.
If you notice that a widget that gets data from the Internet, such as the Stocks widget, has gotten stuck and is showing old data, refresh it manually. Click on it and press 1-R. You’ll see a visual twisting effect, indicating that the widget is reloading.
The Wide World of Widgets While Apple’s widgets are interesting, they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. At press time, Apple’s
Dashboard Widgets page included over 3,000 different widgets, most of them completely free.
As you go crazy with your newfound widgets, keep in mind that a little program—just like a big one—takes up some memory. Leave the few you use most often open, and access the rest through the widget bar only as you need them.
[ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths runs the
MacOSXHints.com Web site. ]
Lots of Tiny Programs: OS X 10.4’s Dashboard lets you run small informational programs, also known as widgets, in a layer of their own. Hide or reveal them by pressing F12.