Archive for the ‘Blogroll’ Category

Want to open lots of images in Preview? Here’s a faster way…

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

So at the moment it’s a bit of a hassle to open large numbers of images in preview. Lifehacker have posted a handy little app called Xee which takes a lot of the kerfuffle of browsing through folders out, but I thought it might be worth noting that Preview can actually open whole folders at a time, though it can be a tad reticent.


Normally if you drag a folder onto Preview’s dock icon, it shakes it’s head at you and refuses to highlight. In order to open the folder, you have to force it by pressing Alt-Apple. Then you’ll see the magical highlights.


One thing that can speed this up is my earlier comments on Quicksilver as a kind of pusedo-dock, quick interface for droplets. Observe:


Yes, I’ve started using Fumo. I must say I rather like it – expect to see a review soooooon…

Tomfoolery: copying text out of password protected PDFs

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

I’ve lately found myself having to copy text out of a range of password-protected PDFs for Entirely Legal Reasons. Under Windows there’s a nice set of tools for engaging in such tomfoolery: see this lifehacker article for more info – but I’ve found a stupidly simple way to do this under Mac OS X, provided you’re allowed printing privileges.

Open the PDF up in preview, bring up the print dialog, and on the handy-dandy ‘PDF’ button-menu-thing (doesn’t that thing break, like, a gazillion bits of the human-computer interface guidelines?), choose to Fax the PDF. When the fax dialog opens select ‘preview’, and after a brief pause it’ll bring up a new PDF, out of which you can copy the text without having to worry about passwords.

Ain’t that wunnerful? Obviously this depends on the PDF allowing you to print, but it does the trick for me.

Thanks to Dimension in the comments who pointed out that Colorsync can do the same thing – just open the file in there and save it out as a PDF and it’ll no longer be password protected.

School Productivity: Five Ways To Work Well On Your Mac

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

So MacApper has posted five neat little tools for enhancing productivity on your mac. I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of iFlash, particularly if you’re interested in languages. Sidenote not so much though – it’s a nice program, but I’m more comfortable with Quicksilver’s append to text file function. But, different strokes for different blokes – we all have to find the best ways to be productive.

How to make your mac read to you

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Sometimes I’ve got a nice big long article I want to read and have to shoot out of the door, effectively not giving me time to actually read it. Sometimes I save it for later by marking it up in my bookmarks, but if it’s something I really want to read, I’ll use this handy little Automator workflow to save it out:


I set the ‘Text to Audio’ action to ‘Show action when run’ using the expansion arrow:


This way you can set the file name of the resulting audio to something sensible, rather than have it set to the same thing every time – the file name will appear as the track’s title in iTunes.

All you have to do now is copy whatever you want into a blank TextEdit document and run this workflow – you don’t even have to save the document, Automator can pick it up regardless. The computer voice my trip over some words, particularly some non-english words. But it’s easy to comprehend.

You can set the rate in the System Preferences ‘speech’ preference pane:


I set the Genre to ‘Podcast’ to take advantage of iTunes’ smart playlisting – I have an ‘Unplayed Podcast’ smart playlist with any podcasts with a play count less than 1. That way I can find it easily on my iPod.

On Mac OS X as an idiocy filter

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

One of the things I like the most about OS X is that it acts as a barrier between me and my own idiocy. There is no better example of this than not twenty minutes ago, when I tried to create my own Star Wars opening scroll-y bit and failed miserably.

See, I found This link via The Unofficial Apple Weblog and immediately jumped on the idea of producing my own little bit of scroll text, possibly as an addition to my existing Automator alarm clock workflow.

Gleefully I set out putting my own text in required fields and hit the “Go” button, expecting it to generate a short movie, so I directed it to my clutter-free desktop.

What I failed to read was the bit on the linked howto that described ‘numbered stills’ and not ‘movie’.

So I wound up with nearly three thousand bitmaps on my desktop, crashing the finder. It couldn’t function, I think simply down to the sheer stupidity of what it was seeing on the desktop.

I wound up jumping into Path Finder, which once again saved my ass from my own rampant stupidity, letting me move everything to the trash successfully. The Finder is now recovering after a relaunch, still sitting there in my dock with its kind little smile… the little trooper.

So here’s what I like about this whole situation: because the Finder is a separate part of Mac OS X, I was able to carry on doing what I was doing (watching The Phone Guy, because I’m so very productive) while Path Finder was wiping my soiled behind. If this was windows I don’t know what I would have done to try and fix the situation – I’d probably resort to mounting the drive over a network and hoping.

Note: this is not a criticism of SWTSG, I’m sure it’s a great program – indeed, the bitmaps did look quite good. The website I linked to was pretty explicit that it would generate numbered frames, so the only thing at fault here is my poor reading comprehension.

Review: Omnigraffle

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Omnigraffle is a great app for making simple flow and structure diagrams, which look good in presentations n’ such. It’s got some rather nice features for laying stuff out and some pretty nifty diagramming tools, but there’s one thing that really sets it apart. It’s a mindmapping tool, and a fantastic one at that.

I heard about this listening to a Macbreak podcast. Merlin pointed out that Omnigraffle has a robust little outliner attached to it, which also functions well with Omni group’s Omnioutliner (which is worth a look atoo, and the subject of a forthcoming review).

What’s an outliner, I hear you cry? It’s a great little tool for making notes and writing stuff quickly and effectively, due to it’s understanding of keystrokes. Enter adds a new line to an outline, and tab will move it in or out, making it the child or sibling of an item above it, making it a great system for categorizing data.

With Omnigraffle you get the best of both worlds – drop in a line, tab it in or out and the mindmap in the main pane will reflect your changes, keeping everything spaced and legible with minimal fuss. It’s the best way to add data to a mindmap I’ve found so far – outlines are great for data entry, but I prefer mindmaps for data visualization.

Those diagramming tools are great for projects as well – drag and drop items into the main pane, drop some arrows in and stick them where you want to go. It’ll maintain the arrows if you move items around, they’re all magnetic. Also, these neat little layout gubbins appear when spacings are equal, so you can get your maps really precise.

Omnigraffle is $79.95 for the standard edition and $149.95 for the Pro at the Omni store. Take a look at the Pro edition if you need advanced presentation features and document management, but I’m happy rocking with Standard for now. There’s also a very fairly priced educational store, offering Standard for just $48 and Pro for $90. Might seem pricey on the face of it, but it’s an incredible deal when you consider what you can do with this software.

Oh, and it’s shareware – if you’re not sure, you can download and use it for as long as you want with the limitation that you only use twenty items. Which is the best kind of shareware.

The Automator Alarm Clock

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

There are a bunch of apps out there – some free and some shareware – that allow you to use your mac as an alarm clock. They’re mostly pretty good too, but I like the customizability of an Automator based solution, and I think you will too – with a little drag and drop you can have a very complex little morning radio bit.

The Basic iTunes Alarm

You can make a very simple little alarm with just three actions:

  1. Set Computer Volume (turn the volume up to maximum in case you muted it the previous day)
  2. Get Specified iTunes items (select the playlist you want to play in the morning)
  3. Play iTunes playlist

Here’s a screencap of what the finished article should look like:


Next, save it and select ‘Save As Plugin’ from the menu, and choose an iCal plugin. Automator will spit out an action into iCal, which you can move around to the proper date and time and also set repeats.

Now, iCal alarms will wake your mac from sleep but not from a shut down state (which is just as well, really). If you shut down your mac every night, you’ll need to set up a little scheduling. Fortunately this is simplicity itself from the Energy Saver preference pane. Open up System Preferences and click ‘Schedule’:


Then put in the time you want your mac to wake. It can be at the same time or a little after – the mac will run as soon as it wakes up.

You’ll also need to set auto-login:

Auto Login

I’ve blurred out the accounts and account names because I’m incredibly paranoid. So don’t worry about that blocky effect.

Also, a brief warning: this is a security risk, so I’d set it back to a proper login if you ever leave your machine unattended where someone might faff around with it.

Once all that’s done, you should have a simple little Automator alarm clock that you didn’t have to pay for or anything. Wohoo! But of course plenty of freeware will do this, so what’s the real advantage? Customizability!

Advanced stuff

You can drop other actions in teh bottom of the queue easily. My personal favourite, though, is having a little built-in DJ.


The iTunes volume actions will turn the music down to let the speech server talk over the music, but you can use the system volume options to really blare out the voice if you want. I don’t, because my Macbook’s tawdry built-in speakers simple don’t allow it – maximum volume is about right for music.

Beyond that, you can add more complex speech: for example, here’s a little Applescript that’ll interface with the rather fine (and also free) ?TextWrangler:

tell application “TextWrangler”
open “path/to/file.txt”
set readOut to line (random number from 1 to 22) of document 1 as string
end tell

say “Today's usage rule is: ” & (usageRule)
Using Automator’s ‘Run Applescript’ function you can get this script to read random lines from a text file (mine contains the usage rules from Strunk and White, which I laboriously typed out). To double check the line numbers in TextWrangler, just use the ‘Add/Remove Line numbers’ function in the ‘Text’ menu

Other stuff

Using my previous hint to set display sleep times, you can make sure the screen isn’t blaring away (although personally I’ve found the bright screen useful in dark mornings).

You can also open websites, check RSS feeds, or even download and open your local free Metro newspaper (no uk version, bah!).

So that’s quite handy.

43f podcasts roundup

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Merlin has posted a review of his awesomest podcasts. I particularly recommend the Apostrophe one, because it’s hilarious and a great warning about procrastination

How to tag iTunes songs quickly and sanely

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

The Preamble

So I’ve been using a song tagging system based on ratings for a while now, (more on that here), but I’ve recently started using a different system to add more granularity to my tagging – for example, tagging my ‘Inspirational’ (2 star) list to separate the up-tempo numbers good for writing action from the stately pieces for description and the sad pieces for… well, sad stuff.

I’d long decided to use the ‘Grouping’ section in iTunes to do this, but tabbing over to iTunes and getting info on the playing song and then typing in the tag seemed like too much hassle – I don’t want to leave what I’m doing for very long. Enter Automator and Quicksilver…

The Instruction

  1. First off, you’ll need Doug’s Automator Actions for iTunes, available here. Install them if you haven’t got them already, because there’s some amazing stuff in there.
  2. Next, put together a simple two-step workflow: ‘Get the Current Song’ followed by ‘Set Info of iTunes Songs’.
  3. Then, and this is important, click the ‘Grouping’ checkbox and under ‘options’ click the ‘Show Action When Run’ checkbox. This means that, when the workflow runs, it’ll pop up a miniature version of iTunes’ option box with grouping already selected and the cursor set to a-blinkin’. This is awesome.
  4. Stick the resulting workflow in a place where Quicksilver can see it. Assign a trigger (if you’re not familiar with these, Merlin’s got a great post about them or just a simple abbreviation.

Now, whenever you hear a song that fits a particular mood or tag, open up the workflow from QS and type your tag, then get back to your stuffs. Fantastic, and probably more useful to most people than ratings-tagging. (Although I still like that for being able to sort my music solely on my iPod).

The Quicksilver Cube interface

Saturday, December 9th, 2006

I was never entirely happy with the default Quicksilver interface, Primer


There’s nothing really wrong with it, per se – in fact it’s excellent for people new to QS, what with the little bit of text at the bottom and the full item path. But I’m a visual thinker, and I often use Quicksilver for dropping files onto applications / droplets, for which I need a big target.

So I moved on to Bezel


Now, Bezel’s much nicer – simple, clean, it’s got that cool transparency effect on it, and big – BIG – icon boxes for dropping things onto. So I was set. Except for one thing.

When you have to open a third pane, say if you’re appending text, it expands. And worse, because it’s centred, the first pane moves right over to the left. This can be an irritant, especially if you’ve got Append to text near the top of you command list like I have (I use it a lot).

And then I found the wonderful cube.

Most cubes are wonderful, in fact – Apple cubes, apple stores that are cube shaped, Gamecubes… but I digress. The important thing is, cube has the large drop areas AND it has the cool swooshy cube effect when you move to other panes, not unlike fast-user switching in OS X. And it has those near mini icons that let you know what’s in the other panes so you don’t get lost.

So there you have it, that’s why I love the Cube interface.