Mac OS X Tips and Tricks

For all you Mac enthusiasts out there, this is your time to shine with tips galore. We all know your Mac can do millions of things, but sometimes even the best of us forget some of the really cool stuff it can do for us. Below is a few of the 50 popular tips in my arsenal.

Disclaimer – much to my disappointment, I must emphasize that some of these tips need recent versions of OS X such as OS X 10.10 Yosemite or OS X 10.11 El Capitan, but not all them do. Some are tips that Apple has slipped into upgrades that you may have totally missed, while others may be classic “aha” moments of “I totally forgot you could do that!”

  1. Making your Mac Talk and Listen

A feature in OS X 10.8, is Mac’s ability to talk to and listen to you. (Unlike my kids who never seem to listen but certainly enjoy the art of speaking their minds.) While these are often pinned as accessibility features, they can be useful tools for everyone. We are all guilty of shooting off an email without proofreading or attaching a document we scanned over too quickly. As humans we have a tendency to ‘auto-fill’ words as we proofread our own work. Instead, select the text and go to Edit> Speech> Start Speaking. You may control the speed and select from a variety of preloaded voices in the Dictation and Speech System preference pane.

If you find that you use this feature often, enabling a keyboard shortcut is the best option. The default shortcut is Option + Esc, but you can change this in the Dictation and Speech pane.

Your Mac is also a good listener. In OS X 10.8 you can also dictate text anywhere you would normally type. Using the default options in Mac, simply press the Function key twice and then start talking. No need for those bloated overpriced Text to Speech programs; Mac has it built in.

  1. Signing PDFs Without Printing and Scanning

We may be brainiacs of the 21st century,  but we are still signing hard copies of all manner of things. When you are emailed a PDF to sign and email back, you know the routine. Open, print, sign, scan, reply and attach. Mac users can avoid all this and actually sign the PDF right in the email.

Drag a PDF into the email you’re sending, hover over it, then at the top right you’ll see a little button appear. Click it and you get a range of Markup options, including an option for signing documents. You can also add your signature by holding a signed piece of paper up to your webcam. Mac does a great job of cutting it out of the background. You can also sign with your trackpad. If you have an iPad stylus, you can use that instead of your finger.

  1. Import with Image Capture

Mac users sometimes overlook Preview’s power features and almost always ignore Image Capture completely. Before you spend your family’s fortune on bloatware apps that bog down your computer with worthless software, you may want to revisit Image Capture in your Utilities folder. This Mac default program allows you to control most modern scanners (including the ones built into multi-function printers) both wireless and wired. You can also import from digital cameras, including the iOS devices.

Open Image Capture and pop up the panel at the bottom left corner for extra options. Here is where you tell your Mac which app should launch when you connect your devices (including ‘none’.) For example; you could launch Aperture when you connect your digital camera, but launch nothing when you dock your iPhone.

We still have 47 more cool tips, but we can’t list them all here at once. Keep checking back for more great Mac and Windows tips in future articles.

Things that go Beep in the Night

We have all heard those little beeps our computers make: like when we start the computer, turn off the computer and of course the times that we did something wrong. For example, when the computer is running we sometimes mistakenly put our elbow on the space-bar while talking to someone. With the advent of technology filtering into our lives, more so today than even 10 years ago, we seem to have grown accustomed to hearing those once annoying little beeps to the point of ignoring them, and this is a bad thing.

Those beeps are a language that computers and other electronic devices use in order to communicate with us. They tell us when they are sick and when they are well. They tell us when we have done something wrong or requested an action that is not possible.

So where do those little beeps come from? They emit from a small piezoelectric (piezo) speaker mounted to the motherboard in your computer. When you power on your computer it runs a POST (Power On Self Test) that checks the internal hardware for compatibility and connection before starting the remainder of the boot process. Generally, if the computer hardware passes the POST test, you will hear one beep (some computers may have two quick beeps) as it continues the boot process. If the computer fails the POST test, then it will either not beep at all or generate a beep code that tells the user the source of the problem.

If you have a situation where the computer beeps more than once, it would be safe to say “Houston, we have a problem.” The next step is to listen to the beeps, even if you need to turn off your computer and restart it several times. Don’t worry about damaging your computer at this point, it’s already broken. In this situation, listen to the amount of beeps and the length of each beep. Think in terms of Morse code. Your computer may produce three quick beeps, which would be a different error than two short ones and long one. Take note of the amount of beeps and their length before you start looking up the codes to determine your computer’s ailment.

Below is a list of common beep error codes with their meanings and possible solutions. Because of the wide variety of different computer manufacturers and the optional BIOS’s (Basic Input / Output Signal) they may use, the beep codes will vary. It’s best to check with the manufacturer of your computer for specific beep codes.

1 beep: BIOS ROM corruption or failure; this is an indication that your BIOS chip (an integrated chip (IC chip)) on the motherboard is corrupt. You may need to replace it or simply flash it. (Flashing a BIOS is just a way of saying programming it’)

2 beeps: Memory (RAM) not detected; don’t confuse this one with the four beep error. Two beeps means the RAM or memory sticks are not detected. Most often you can simply unplug them, blow out the inside of your computer with some canned air and re-install the memory.

3 beeps: Motherboard failure; sorry, but this one is going to cost you. Most often this means that your motherboard is bad and needs to be replaced. Desktop computers aren’t too costly, but laptop computers can be really expensive to replace. Here is where you may want to look at cost vs. reward.

4 beeps: Memory (RAM) failure; similar to two beeps but an all together different problem. This means that one or more of your memory sticks are bad. (It happens.) The best option here is to pull the memory sticks one at a time to isolate the faulty one. Remember to turn off and unplug your computer each time you work on the inside.

5 beeps: CMOS Battery failure; the CMOS has a battery backup built onto the motherboard and often is the same type of battery used in older watches or garage door openers. The CMOS is where your computer’s internal clock function resides. This lets your operating system boot with the correct date and time as displayed in the bottom right corner of your desktop. Of course, the CMOS does more than just maintain a clock, but you get the idea.

6 beeps: Video card failure; this is not a major issue, but it will prevent any signal or image from going to your monitor. Usually the system will still boot, but you just can’t see anything happening. Replacing a video card in a desktop is quiet easy, but in a laptop it can be expensive and difficult.

7 beeps: Bad processor CPU; this issue is going to set you back about $100 for a new processor plus labor. It’s not the worst thing that could happen, but it’s something you don’t look forward to either. Again, replacing one in a desktop is much easier and cheaper than a laptop.

In the event that you encounter such beeps, a simple listen of the amount of beeps and their duration may give you a quick clue as to what is wrong. Granted, this is just a generalized reference and should not be taken as gospel for all computers. As mentioned earlier, check the website for your specific computer as the codes may vary.

Windows 7 Task-bar Tricks

In recent articles we have ventured off into other lands of the electronic world with my first computer, first robot and a few other off-the-wall ideas. This week finds us back at the heart of tech articles with some tips for making Windows 7 work harder and faster for you. Today we will focus on the often used but frequently neglected taskbar.

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Have you ever found yourself clicking around between several open programs on your desktop when you just want to concentrate on one of them? There is a little trick to easily minimize all the others without actually closing them. Mouse over the title bar of the program you want to leave open on your desktop. Click and hold the mouse button down then shake the mouse around and all other programs will minimize to the task bar. Then release the mouse button. To make them return to the desktop just shake the title bar of the open program again.

Say hello to Speedy Gonzales

A nice feature about the taskbar is getting a thumbnail preview of all open windows applications. When you mouse over each application a thumbnail viewer appears. Usually there is a slight delay but you can make them display more quickly with a quick edit in the Windows Registry.

  1. Click on the Start menu button and in the search box type “regedit”. Without the quote marks.
  2. When you see the warning dialog box appear, click the “yes” button.
  3. In the left column of the next dialog box click on the arrow next to “HKEY_CURRENT_USER.”
  4. From the sub-list that appeared, click on the arrow next to “control panel” and in that list click on the “MouseHoverTime.”
  5. In the right column of the dialog box you’ll see it has a value of 400 – which means 400 milliseconds. Double click on the line and set a new, lower value such as 100, then click OK and exit the Registry Editor.

Now when you mouse-over the application icons in the task bar, the thumbnail previews will popup much faster.

Shuffle your Taskbar Icons

Priorities, we all have them, so why not put your taskbar icons in an order that you are comfortable with. Normally these are lined up based on the sequence in which you added them to the task bar. Putting them in an order you prefer is simple. Just click and hold the mouse button on the icon you would like to move and slide it to the position of your choice. This can be done with open applications in the taskbar as well as shortcut icons in the taskbar. So click and slide until your taskbar is to your liking.

Mouse! Who needs a mouse?

For those of us who use the keyboard more often than the mouse, here’s a tip for navigating the taskbar. Instead of mousing over an icon in the taskbar simply press the “Windows” key and the letter T on the keyboard. This option will focus first on the leftmost icon. Hold the Windows key down and continue to press the letter T to toggle through the open applications.

You can also launch one or more of those applications with the keyboard. Simply press and hold the Windows key while pressing the appropriate number on the number pad. For example; the far left icon will be “1”, the next icon to the right of it will be “2” on the keypad, and so on.

Start menu boring? Customize it.

If you do more with videos than pictures or music, you can add a link in your start menu to launch the folder from there.

  1. Right-click the Start button and select Properties.
  2. On the screen that appears, go to the Start Menu tab and click “Customize.”
  3. In the dialog box that appears, scroll to the bottom, look for the Videos section, select “Display as a link,” and click OK and then OK again.

If you’d prefer that Videos display as a menu, with links to files and submenus, select “Display as a menu.” You can also do this with your pictures and music as well as other folders.

Wow! Who knew you could do so much with the start menu and task bar? Best of all, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned for future issues and learn how to completely modify your Windows and your computer to make them work more efficiently for you.

 

SPAM (email, not the meat)

SPAM: What to do and not do.

“How do I stop all the email spam?” Actually I’m asked this question frequently and I have a few quick tips for reducing your email spam down to a low roar. While it is virtually impossible to completely rid yourself of spam without actually terminating all your known email addresses, you can filter it down to a manageable size.

First,let’s take a look at how and why you are getting bombarded with these unwanted pests. Logging onto a website where you are asked for your email address is one of the biggest instigators. As mentioned before in this column, we discussed reading the fine print before typing in your email address and clicking that infamous submit button.

A great number of those sites state in their terms and conditions that they have the right to sell your email address, or at least share it with their affiliate companies. While the first company may specifically say they will not sell it, they do say they may share it with an affiliate company who does reserve the right to sell your info.  See the tips below for ideas on how to avoid this.

Another trend growing in popularity is sending #whatever to a certain number using your cell phone. In return you are registered to win a tank of gas or a $50 department store card. Do not fall for this one either. Here is the scoop on how that works for their benefit and your misery. This company (whoever it may be) shells out 50 bucks for a gift card or tank of gas and in turn they receive hundreds of active cell phone numbers they can put on a list for sale. Trust me, they are going to make a lot more than $50 selling that list with your phone number on it. I have seen this same tactic used with email also.

So if you are not really interested in acquiring a Russian mail order bride, dating Asian women or getting free samples of Viagra, then follow these simple rules to a cleaner email inbox.

Tips for reducing or avoiding email spam overload:

  1. Do not use your daily email for logging onto new websites. I maintain a separate email account that I’ve dubbed as my spam mail. Simply create a new email address from any free server such as Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook, AOL (yes it’s still around), GMX and so on. Only use your daily email for co-workers, friends and family. If there is a site you would like to see regular email notices from; you may return to that site and put in your personal email address. Just remember to read those terms and conditions before doing so.
  2. Do not unsubscribe from a stray junk email that may wander into your inbox. Often when you do this, you are sending that server a message that your email address is good and prime for them to distribute or sell. Simply delete the email without opening it. You may also select it and choose the option “mark as spam” from your email menu and later empty your spam folder. Eventually your email server will notice a pattern and automatically forward any future emails from that source directly to your spam folder.
  3. Use caution when choosing the “reply all” option in response to emails. This includes emails from people that you know and trust. This was mentioned briefly in last week’s article “email spoof.” Using the reply all option inadvertently puts you and everyone else on that email string at risk for spam. You may know and trust the friend who sent you that email, but they may have friends you don’t know, and those friends have friends and so on.

In conclusion, following these three basic rules of thumb regarding email will go a long way in reducing your daily spam intake. Granted these are not the only things you can do, but they are my top three picks for anyone wanting to reduce the spam in their inbox.

 

Email Spoofs

Email spoof, what is it and how to avoid being spoofed.

Most of us have heard of, or unfortunately had, viruses on our computer at some point in our lives. An email spoof is a little more inconspicuous but still prominent in the world of computing.

The word spoof means to falsify, hoax or deceive according to Webster’s dictionary. A spoofed email is intentionally altered by the sender to imply that it is coming from a legitimate source such as a bank, company, friend or an online store. The sender will alter the email with a “letterhead” look to imply someone else is trying to contact you. In many cases the spoofed email is a form of phishing or (con man) attack. In other situations, spoofing is a way of dishonestly marketing an online service or trying to sell you a bogus product.

The business spoof

Most of these will have the appearance of a well known company such Dell Computers or Microsoft. Often they are trying to get you to purchase some fake warranty or upgrade for your hardware or software. When in doubt, call the company directly and speak with the sales department about the service or product being offered in your email. Chances are, they know nothing of it or they have been flooded with similar calls.

The personal spoof

Most of us have seen this one. You get an email from a close friend saying he is stuck in the Cayman Islands and has lost his billfold, passport and everything but the clothes on his back. Naturally you want to help. After all, this is a friend of yours. This is exactly what the spoofer is relying on. In the email they are always asking for money to be wired via Western Union or some other source. Don’t fall victim to this one. Simply pick up the phone and call your friend. Most often you will find he or she is at work or home and oblivious to the situation.

The data spoof

Dishonest users or con men will alter different parts of an email disguising themselves as someone else for the purpose of getting your email contacts. The types of information they are trying to obtain and alter are;

1. From – name and address

2. Reply-To – name and address

3. Source IP – address (your IP address)

The first two properties are easily altered by using settings in your Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail or other email services. The third property (IP address) is a bit more difficult for the con man to alter since it is difficult to make false IP addresses convincing. Difficult, but not impossible.

While some spoof-altered emails are falsified by hand, meaning a hacker actually sitting down at his computer and manually altering emails, most are created by software such as ratware. Ratware programs will often run massive built-in word lists to generate thousands of target email addresses, spoof a source email and then shoot out those emails to the list generated targets. These email address lists are generated from your contact list.

Defending yourself against spoof emails

This is where common sense and curiosity should kick in. Question the email and its contents. Be particularly cautious if it has an attachment, this is almost always a good tell-tale sign that something is not right. Think in rational terms, I know my neighbor is not in the Caymans since I just saw him last night grilling in his backyard. The IRS is not going to contact someone via email about an outstanding tax debt. If they want to contact that person, they will send a certified (hard copy) letter to their home.

Conclusion; investigate before you click on that email. Opening it may do more harm than you are able to undo. My own rule of thumb is; when in doubt, delete. Deleting suspicious emails and installing a good anti-virus program, are the best options you have for cutting your risk of being spoofed. You should also refrain from using the “reply all” option in your emails. However, while it does have some relevance here, it will be better covered in next weeks article regarding spam.

Terms and conditions may apply

Most of us never take the time to actually read the “Terms and Conditions” that go along with our purchase of devices and software. These conditions limit us in ways we never imagined possible. Some allow the company to shut off our computers or make us responsible for accidental damages, while others lock us into two- or three-year contracts. The later is one of my most despised provisions – you see it all the time – and I think it should die a quick death in some Louisiana Swamp. But that’s just me.

Companies often do such things and they do it with our consent whether we realize it or not.

Below are a few excerpts from actual terms and conditions followed by a short comment to put them in a layman’s perspective. They were picked at random from a list of popular companies that almost everyone is familiar with. Not picking on any company per se, almost all of them have these same or similar terms and conditions.

(AT&T Terms and Conditions Section 7)

“7. FORCE MAJEURE

AT&T shall have no liability for any loss or damage caused by any of the following force majeure conditions: fires, floods, explosions, strikes, embargoes, power blackouts, earthquakes,volcanic actions, wars, water, the elements, labor disputes, riots, thefts, acts of the public enemy, accidents, acts of God, acts of government, acts or omissions of Customer, acts or omissions of third parties, changes in work practices, inability to obtain necessary labor or materials, acts or omissions of any communications carriers or any other cause beyond the reasonable control of AT&T, whether or not similar to the foregoing.”

This basically implies they will not cover anything other than a defect in the device itself despite the fact they advertise certain models of their phones as being waterproof. AT&T, like Netflix and many other companies, has an arbitration clause that limits the consumer to arbitration only. So, no lawsuits. And what exactly is an “act of government?” You may need a lawyer to explain that one. You may also want to check your homeowner’s insurance. You may find you’re walking around with an uninsured $500 cell phone.

(Microsoft Windows 7 Terms and Conditions Section 8)

8. SCOPE OF LICENSE.

The software is licensed, not sold. This agreement only gives you some rights

to use the features included in the software edition you licensed. Microsoft reserves all other rights unless applicable law gives you more rights despite this limitation, youmay use the software only as expressly permitted in this agreement. In doing so, you must comply with any technical limitations in the software that only allow you to use it in certain ways.”

 

Okay Microsoft, so you’re telling me that despite the fact that I spent $400 on this software, I don’t actually own it, I am just paying for the “license” or right to use it. I know from personal experience that if you upgrade four or more hardware items on your computer at one time, Microsoft considers that a “different” computer and a new license is required for it. An alternative for this is the Linux operating system. Linux is free to download and install on as many computers as you would like without registration or activation.You may also modify and freely distribute Linux with one stipulation: you cannot charge for it.

(Netflix Terms and Conditions Section 15)

15.Arbitration Agreement

If you are a Netflix member in the United States (including its possessions and territories), you and Netflix agree that any dispute, claim or controversy arising out of or relating in any way to the Netflix service, these Terms of Use and this Arbitration Agreement, shall be determined by binding arbitration.The arbitration will be governed by the Commercial Arbitration Rules and the Supplementary Procedures for Consumer Related Disputes (collectively, “AAA Rules”) of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), as modified by this Agreement, and will be administered by the AAA.”

BINDING ARBITRATION SIMPLY MEANS THAT YOU AGREE TO GIVE UP YOUR RIGHT TO GO TO COURT OR SUE. On a side note, if you own a cell phone or have a credit card, then you have given up your right to trial and have agreed to arbitration only, regardless of the circumstances. Simply put; if your cell phone blows up and burns the side of your face, you have no rights to sue, but simply agree to the bindings of an arbitration.

 

So the next time you sign up for or purchase a product, you might want to do a little research and actually read through those “terms and conditions.” You may find you have few rights as a consumer, or you may find yourself locked into one of those aforementioned two-year contracts with no escape. When doing your research for phones, computers etc. read the fine print and look at free alternatives that have no binding and limiting contracts. They are out there, but it takes some searching to find them.


10 Computer Pranks for Fun.

Okay, it’s time to blow off some steam and have a little fun with technology and your co-workers. Below are ten harmless pranks you can do for fun; but beware, if you do them in vengeance to your boss or co-worker, your job may not be too secure in the immediate future. Remember, these are meant to be fun jokes for a little stress relief in the office. So, with warnings in place, let’s get started.

 

  1. Change the default start page of their browser to something you want. Here’s an idea, use the following URL as gag site. http://www.1112.net/lastpage.html (This will display a page that says they have reached the end of the internet and they should turn off their computer and go do something)
  2. Make their desktop icons inert. Take a screen shot of their desktop with all programs closed or minimized. Now save the screen shot in a folder you create somewhere on C: drive. Right click on the desktop and under the “view” option uncheck the “display icons” option. Now right click on the desktop and choose “personalize” from the bottom of the drop down menu. Change the desktop background to the screen shot you just saved. Now it looks just like it did before but none of the icons will work since it’s just a screen shot.
  3. Change their icons to goofy looking icons. You can download a ton of different icons with a simple Google search. Right click on the icon you want to change and select “properties” then “change icon.” You may have to hit the “F5” key on the keyboard to refresh the desktop.
  4. Turn their screen upside down. Just press the CTRL + ALT + Down Arrow. Press the CTRL + ALT + Up Arrow to undo it. Use the left and right arrows to rotate the screen ninety degrees. The system will still function as normal, just upside down.
  5. Change the language in Word by selecting “Review” then “Set Language.” Now everything they open or type in Word will be in another language.
  6. Set “auto correct” to change words. You can set an auto correct option so that every time they type the word “hello” it is instantly replaced with “up yours” or whatever you would like. Just find the auto-correct option in Word and type in the two words you want to use. You can go back later and delete the auto correct rule that you just created.
  7. Put a piece of tape on the bottom of their mouse covering the LED light. The mouse will not move on the screen no matter how hard they try.
  8. Switch the mouse buttons. Go to the mouse properties and switch the mouse from right hand to left hand or vice versa. You can also change the mouse pointer appearance, add mouse trails and so on.
  9. Change shortcut functions. Right click on the FireFox shortcut on their desktop and choose properties from the drop down menu. In the “target” box replace the text with “%windir%\system32\calc.exe”. The next time they try to open FireFox with this icon it will open calculator instead. Be sure to make a copy of what was in the dialog box first so you can restore it later.
  10. Add a keyboard or mouse. With the growing popularity of wireless input devices, you can plug in a USB dongle for an additional mouse and keyboard. Since they usually have a range of several meters, you can sit back and move the mouse on occasion or type in an email or document they have open. You can even open or close programs without them being the wiser. Since both keyboards and mice can function at the same time, they may think their computer is haunted.