August 21, 2016

Getting Comfortable With the Finder

Finder

FinderFinder

This is the application where you interact with your files and folders. It is a key component of the macOS. You are going to spend a lot of time here, get familiar with it.

Finder Window

You can open a new Finder window in a variety of ways:

  1. Click on the Finder icon on the Dock.
  2. Choose Finder>File>New Finder Window.
  3. In the Finder, type ⌘ + N.

Get used to the keyboard command: ⌘ + N. Learn it. New Finder Window: ⌘ + N.

Learn some keyboard commands. Why? They are the convenient way of using the computer. Ninjas use keyboard commands. Newbies use mice/trackpads and menus. You might be a newbie today but you are working towards achieving ninja status. Learning keyboard commands is an essential part of that journey. Let’s get to work.

Finder Views

You can set the view in a Finder window. You can choose:

  1. Icon view activated by keyboard command ⌘+1
  2. Column view activated by keyboard command ⌘+2
  3. List view activated by keyboard command ⌘+3
  4. Cover Flow activated by keyboard command ⌘+4

You can check out how the views look, by using the keyboard commands. Have you checked them out? Good. You are going to be in List view most of the time. You are going to be in Cover Flow mode for specific tasks. If you are going to look at a folder of pictures, Cover Flow mode is useful.

Finder Items

The Finder has two kinds of items: files and folders.

There are a few types of files. The major ones are:

  1. Application files. These are the applications which are installed on the Mac. You can buy and install applications from the App Store or on the Internet. You can launch them, by double-clicking on them in the Finder with your mouse, or highlighting them, and then pressing the keyboard command ⌘ + Down Arrow, or ⌘ + O (Open).
  2. Data Files or Document files. Applications create these files. You create Word documents in Word. Text files in your text editor. Image files through an image editing program, and so on. You are going to be creating a lot of these document or data files and working with them.
  3. Archive files. These are bundles of files or folders created by compressing them together into one file. Commonly zip files, these are used primarily as a backup option or an easy way to transfer a bunch of files between one computer to another.
  4. Disk Image Files. This is another kind of bundle. Produced to make it possible to install applications or transfer a bundle of documents from one source to another. When you come across a disk image file, double click on it, or highlight it and hit ⌘ + O, or ⌘ + right arrow, and the disk image launches like a drive on your computer. Usually this is a secure way of transferring applications and its associated files from the developer to the user.

Folders are created by the user. Folders are just what they sound like. They are an organizational tool to corral similar files together or corral all the files related to a project into one collection. Say you are working on a class presentation: you have a Keynote file, a Pages file, a bunch of images, an outline file, all related to the same presentation. You can choose to create a folder in your Documents folder, call it by a name you deem fit, and then put all the files related to the presentation in that folder. In the Finder, you make a folder via the keyboard command ⌘ + ⇧ + N.

I am going to repeat that: Make a folder in the Finder: ⌘ + ⇧ + N

Sometimes when you make a new folder in the Finder, the name doesn’t stay highlighted, letting you name the folder, instead you are given a folder called untitled folder”. Just select the untitled folder” and hit enter. The name will be highlighted, type your desired name and you are ready to go.

File System

Before we go any further, I am going to run down the organization of the folders and files on your computer. When you highlight the Hard Drive on your Mac, this is the folder hierarchy which appears:

Macintosh HDMacintosh HD

Four folders. We are going to ignore two of them: Library and System. These are the System folders and we are going to pretend they don’t exist. If you know what is contained in these folders, you are not a newbie. What are you doing reading this article? The two folders we are going to be concerned with are Applications and Users.

The Applications folder contains applications which are available for us to run. This is the main Application folder, applications installed in this folder are available to all users of the machine.

Users FolderUsers Folder

The Users folder is user specific. By default, the Users folder contains three sub-folders: Guest, Shared, and Your account (signified by the user name you chose). We are going to deal with the Guest and Shared folders in a later post. For this article we are going to concentrate on your user folder.

Your User folder contains an Applications folder. If you have multiple users on the Mac, then it makes sense to have some Applications which are run by some users and not by other users. Those individual specific applications can be installed in the users Application folder. If you do not have multiple users on the Mac or any individual specific applications, you can just install all applications in the System Applications folder and not worry about Users Application folder at all.

DesktopDesktop

Your User folder contains the Desktop folder. Did you know that the Desktop is a folder? It is. It is a special folder which provides the background for your Finder windows. People use the Desktop as a place to keep a bunch of files which they are working on and it gets unruly quickly. You are better off learning the file system to store files in their proper place and this added organization is going to make you more productive.

The User folder contains a Documents folder. This is where you are going to keep all the documents you create. You can organize files within this folder anyway you want. You can have a project based organization: all files related to a project are in its own project folder. Or you can have an application based organization: All Pages files in its own folder, all Numbers files in its own folder and so on. You can have a mishmash of organization schemes: Some project based folders, some application based folders, and some free-standing files.

I am going to take a break from this section and explain the benefits of organization to you. I will come back to this section after I have done that.

Why Is It Necessary to Organize Files and Folders?

Apple seems to believe that with Spotlight having gotten so efficient, you do not need to organize files in folders anymore. You can just dump everything into the Documents folder and tag them to facilitate search and retrieval. I am not a fan of that system.

  1. I am not happy with the tagging systems in use.
  2. I am forgetful and don’t necessarily remember to tag files when I create them. So, half of my files end up having tags, and half of them have no tags.
  3. I am not convinced that the tagging system is any better at organizing files than folders. Folders are just there. Tags you have to remember. I try to reduce the number of things I need to remember. So the tags based file structure is not for me.

Have a system. Any system will make your life easier. Project based folders containing files which are linked to a particular project make it easier to find and work on files related to a particular project. You are not going to have to keep all your files on the desktop because you are working on them. You know the project you are interested in: Global Domination 2017. Look for the folder with that name, in the Documents folder, select the file/s you want to work in within that folder, open them, and you are ready to commence work.

Keep files in folders. Name the files and folders with descriptive names. Remember that you are a productive person, so very soon, you are going to have a whole bunch of files in the Documents folder and the only one who knows what they are, and more importantly, where they are, is you. Come up with an organization system which makes sense to you, follow it.

Selecting Files

You can select all files in a folder by the Select All command. The keyboard command is ⌘ + A.

You can select multiple files in a folder by ⌘ + Clicking on the files you want to open. So, hold down the ⌘ key and click to select each individual file you want to open. This makes sense if you have a few files to open, sometimes you are opening a bunch of files, and they are not in sequence. You might have the following sequence of files you want to open in the folder: The first four files, the sixth file and the eight file in a list. Click on the first file, hold down the Shift key and click on the fourth file, all four files are highlighted, this is how you select contiguous files. Let go of the Shift key and hold down the ⌘ key, and select the sixth and eight file that you are interested in. Now you have your files selected, hit ⌘ + O. The selected files will now open.

File System Continued

Your User folder will contain a Downloads folder. All the files you download from the Internet reside in this folder. You might download application image files, or application installation packages, or documents and images which you are working on with your co-workers. All of those files are waiting for you in the Downloads folder. You can move the documents and pictures into project files in your Documents folder or make new folders in your Documents folder and move them there. You can install the applications that you have downloaded.

Again I am going to take a break from the File System and come back to it after the following section.

Installing Applications

The easiest way of installing applications is to buy them from the Mac App Store. You press buy, and the application gets installed and you have nothing else to do but run the application which is installed in the Applications folder.

You can download an application from the Internet. A good site to keep bookmarked in your web browser is Apple Mac OS X Software & Apps - Discover & Download : MacUpdate. Applications available on the Mac are listed here. Small and big software vendors provide applications for the Mac not available in the Mac store. Some of these apps are free. Some of them you have to pay for. They are distributed in the following forms:

  1. Disk images. You download a disk image. You double click on it and it mounts on the desktop. Usually has an application file which you drag to your Applications folder. Sometimes it has an installer. Double click on the installer, follow the prompts and the software is installed.
  2. Zip file. Some applications are distributed in a zipped file. Select the zipped file in the Finder. Right click on it, choose Open with, and the first item on the drop-down menu should be Archive Utility. Choose it. The file is unzipped usually in a folder or in some cases, the unzipped file is the application you were installing. Double-clicking on the zip file would have the same effect of unzipping the file. Move it to the Applications folder and run it, by double-clicking on it or pressing ⌘ + O.
  3. Installer package. Sometimes the applications are distributed as installer packages. Double click on them. Follow the prompts. It will install the application in the Application folder.

Back to the File System

In addition, the Users folder contains the following folders: Movies, Music, Pictures, Public and Sites. These are file-type specific folders. For instance, when you buy and download a movie from the iTunes Movie store, your movie will be in the Movies folder. The same thing is true of the Music folder. Movies and Music are integral to iTunes and you will use them through iTunes. The Pictures folder is similar in that Photos will handle your Pictures folder. Public and Sites are folders we are going to ignore for a later article.

There is a folder in your Users folder which Apple hides. It is called Library. It is an useful folder and you should make it visible. This is how you do it. In the Finder, highlight the User folder. Select the Menu item View>Show View Options or press ⌘ + J.

Library FolderLibrary Folder

Click on the box next to Show Library Folder. Now the Library folder is visible. This is an important folder. Don’t delete anything from this folder unless you know exactly what you are doing. This folder contains some settings for your system, settings for your applications and useful things like the Services installed in your machine, the fonts that you install, and a whole host of other stuff. We are not going to do much to this Library folder but we are going to use it to do some good stuff like add fonts and so on. Just keep it visible. Pretend it doesn’t exist and only interact with it when you need to.

I think you have the basics down at this point. Start using the computer and we are going to come back with future articles which deal with some other issues of working in the Finder.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Finder Newbie
August 1, 2016

Convert PDFs to Word

Product: PDF OCR Online Converter | Investintech.com
Price: Free

I was alerted to this tool by the developer. If you have PDF files which you need converted to Word, this is a good service, which works painlessly.

They make a product called Able2Extract PDF Converter & Creator: PDF to Excel, Word, PowerPoint & more. It is full-featured and does conversions. I haven’t used it. A full license for it costs $99.95 and a 30-day subscription costs $34.95. If your PDFs have confidential data and do not want to upload your PDFs to an online service, this is the better alternative.

For PDFs without confidential data, the online component is a good solution if you are looking to extract the text to a Word file. It works and works well.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

PDF Word
July 25, 2016

Alfred Workflow 01 - Caffeinate Control

Periodically I want to highlight Alfred workflows which I find useful. This is the first of the series.

If you need a refresher on Alfred, you can read Tutorial: Alfred, the Powerpack, Packal.org, and Launching Applications - iPadpedia.

No. You cannot go to sleep.

Caffeinate Control IconCaffeinate Control Icon

The workflow I want to highlight is called Caffeinate Control | Packal. You can also read about it at Caffeinate Control v 3 Released - Share your Workflows - Alfred App Community Forum. It is written by Shawn Rice, who is an absolute hero when it comes to Alfred workflows.

Caffeinate Control keeps your system awake. It uses a built-in system function to achieve this, so you don’t need any third party application.

Download the workflow from the Caffeinate Control | Packal site. Double-click on it to install it in Alfred.

Caffeinate ControlCaffeinate Control

Activate Alfred and type caff configure” or caff c” to configure Alfred.

Caffeinate Control ConfigurationCaffeinate Control Configuration

You can ⌘+click the options to choose the ones you want. The default setting is Prevent System Sleep, which has the added advantage of letting the display turn off. You can choose whatever combination you prefer, and you can change that multiple times depending on your needs.

The next step is to activate Caffeinate Control.

You can hit ⌘+spacebar to invoke Alfred. Type the Caffeinate Control command you want to use and hit enter.

Example commands are:
“caff e” enables caffeinate indefinitely
“caff d” disables caffeinate
“caff 15 2” enables caffeinate for 15 hours and 2 minutes
“caff 23” enables caffeinate for 23 minutes
“caff 2h” enables caffeinate for 2 hours
“caff configure” or caff c” opens the configuration dialog
“caff help” opens the help dialog.

When you activate Caffeinate Control to keep the system awake, it is followed by a notification message telling you the length of time that your system is going to be awake.

Caffeinate Control StatusCaffeinate Control Status

At any point after, if you type caff” in Alfred, it will inform you of the state of Caffeinate Control.

If you want to turn off Caffeinate Control, just type caff d” in Alfred.

I use this workflow multiple times a day. My thanks to Shawn Rice for creating this.

Update: Tried to improve the writing.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Alfred workflow
July 21, 2016

iA Writer and Not Ulysses for Markdown

iA WriteriA Writer

Product: iA Writer
Price: $8.99
Product: Ulysses
Price: $44.99

For my markdown based writing, I have switched from Ulysses to iA Writer. I still have Ulysses on the machine. I use it when I am writing stuff which is not markdown based, but that doesn’t happen too often. So, I have effectively stopped using Ulysses. All of the blog posts you see on iPadpedia.net is produced with a combination of Sublime Text 3 and iA Writer. Ulysses doesn’t play a part in it anymore.

So, what happened?

iA Writer has been redesigned with full support for MultiMarkdown. It has been enhanced with directory support and it has made the act of writing markdown better. Ulysses has been busy making the iOS version universal. I am sure that there are people who are excited by that. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include me.

What does full support for MultiMarkdown mean?

Tables, table of contents, footnotes, cross reference, citations, definition lists, math, metadata and a glossary are all supported by MultiMarkdown. All of these things are not important to me. But tables and footnotes surely are. iA Writer does them and does them well. Ulysses is asleep at the wheel.

I think the issue is philosophical. iA Writer was quite lost with version 2.0 or Writer Pro as it was known. They didn’t know what they wanted to be. In version 3.0, iA Writer decided to be a MultiMarkdown editor. From that decision, the rest of the feature set becomes understandable. If you are going to support MultiMarkdown, this is what the feature set will look like:

  1. Support all of MultiMarkdown.
  2. Concentrate your design focus on making markdown easier to write.
  3. Support the file system. Manage the user files.
  4. Add Syntax Check.
  5. Add Templates to control output.
  6. Support iCloud and Dropbox. iA Writer’s multi-OS presence makes this mandatory.

iA Writer does all these things and does them well.

Ulysses doesn’t yet know whether it wants to be a markdown editor or not. It supports Gruber’s Markdown but doesn’t support any of the enhancements made to it by others. In fact, Ulysses introduces a Markdown XL which is ill-defined. It seems to struggle with supporting any of the markdown extensions, no check boxes, no tables, no inbuilt support for footnotes. It is a great environment to write in, but it is not a great environment to write markdown in. It is a product which is getting a lot of attention and has some very vocal and rabid users. So, it has done some things very well, but it is not for me. I am looking for a markdown editor and Ulysses doesn’t support markdown well enough to make the grade. It is a pity really, I love writing in it.

At this point, if you are interested in writing in markdown, you are encouraged to use iA Writer and not Ulysses. iA Writer is the better product for markdown.

I have written about both iA Writer and Ulysses extensively in the past:

Here are the relevant links for iA Writer:

iA Writer Grows Up in Meaningful Ways - iPadpedia

Review of Writer Pro - iPadpedia

Here are the relevant links for Ulysses:

Comparing Ulysses with Write - iPadpedia

Review of Ulysses 1.1 - iPadpedia

Ulysses for iPad - The complete writing solution - iPadpedia

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

iA Writer Ulysses Markdown
July 18, 2016

OutlineEdit Is Perfect for Sketching Ideas & Making Lists

OutlineEditOutlineEdit

Product: OutlineEdit
Price: $4.99

I am an inveterate list-maker. And I might have stumbled across the best solution to my addiction. OutlineEdit - Sketch ideas on your Mac from Robin Schnaidt is the application I am going to talk about today.

This is an established product category. The market leader is OmniOutliner. But there are some other options. I have covered a couple of them on the blog: Outlinely 2.0 Grows a Library and an Younger Sibling - iPadpedia and Cloud Outliner Pro 2: An Easy to Use, Cross-Platform Outliner - iPadpedia.

OutlineEdit Does the Simple Things Well

OutlineEdit DocumentOutlineEdit Document

At the base, it is an intuitive outliner. You start a new document. Enter a title, create new items, and you get to structure them using indentation, movement and drag and drop. You can format text using bold, italic or underlined text to add visual cues to your outlines.

OutlineEdit NotesOutlineEdit Notes

It has some added features like the ability to add notes to an item in the outline. (You get to write notes by typing ⌃ + n.)

OutlineEdit CheckboxesOutlineEdit Checkboxes

Items in an outline can have checkboxes. (You get to toggle checkboxes on and off with ⌃ + c.)

OutlineEdit FoldedOutlineEdit Folded

Groups of items in an outline can be folded to let you focus on the unfolded parts.

OutlineEdit UnfoldedOutlineEdit Unfolded

Items can be folded in their layers. Or the whole outline can be folded.

OutlineEdit implements a full text search of contents in an outline (both items and notes). That lets you locate information quickly.

There is a distraction free mode. On an iMac, the distraction free mode covers the whole screen. You cannot work like that. The text area of the outliner should be smaller. Lines spanning across the whole screen on a 27inch iMac are not workable. Outlinely does a better job of supporting full screen.

Update: Version 1.6 fixes the distraction free mode.

OutlineEdit Adds Some New Features to the Category

OutlineEdit adds colored labels to your outline items to add a further layer of organization. You can design custom color schemes to make this even more attractive to you.

You can filter for items of one or multiple categories to get an overview of the items and also to export this subset of items directly to PDF, RTF or OPML formats.

OutlineEdit Fast MenuOutlineEdit Fast Menu

OutlineEdit provides a fast action menu in your menubar. You can start a new outline, quickly enter data, and then save quick drafts without taking the time to choose a name or place.

OutlineEdit Fast Menu Recent FilesOutlineEdit Fast Menu Recent Files

These quick drafts are always available to you through the quick menu and when you have the time and inclination you can turn them in to OutlineEdit documents and store them where you need to. It is a quick and easy way of working with the program and it is not something any of its competitors provide.

Along with the menubar access, OutlineEdit provides a system wide keyboard command (⌘ + ⌥ + O) to bring it to the front and start working in the application.

OutlineEdit StatisticsOutlineEdit Statistics

OutlineEdit adds statistics on the document you are working on at the bottom of the document. It shows you how many items you have, how many indented layers you have, the character and word counts, the time you have worked on the document and how many items have been checked off.

OutlineEdit Statistics CustomizationOutlineEdit Statistics Customization

You get to customize what statistics you want displayed. it is all very neatly done, and it can be very useful.

OutlineEdit shows you indentation guides when you move items around. Gives you a graphical overlay showing you the level of the item and its context. Amazingly useful feature which helps you organize your outline into the form you want. This is one of the many features which makes me love working in OutlineEdit.

OutlineEdit Window ManagementOutlineEdit Window Management

When you are working in OutlineEdit, you find yourself trying to manage several windows each containing an outline or a part of an outline that you have been working on. The application provides an interesting way of arranging all your working windows. Click on the arrow icon on the top right of the screen and you get a drop-down menu giving you some choices. Handy and useful.

OutlineEdit Keyboard CommandsOutlineEdit Keyboard Commands

An outliner has to support a wide slew of keyboard commands and OutlineEdit doesn’t disappoint. There are keyboard commands for almost all the regular things you do in an outlining program. The developer has paid attention to this requirement of outliners. I use the program to think things through. I want to type. I don’t want to play around with the trackpad. All the commands I need have keyboard commands and that makes the process of thinking seamless.

OutlineEdit integration with Safari

OutlineEdit ships with the ability to install a Safari extension. When installed, the Safari extension provides a way to add content from the web to an OutlineEdit document. The extension when clicked shows a Marked Origin Bar.

Safari Content SelectedSafari Content Selected

You select some text on a web page and then click on the Marked Selected Text icon on the Marked Origin Bar (⌥ + M)

Safari Content MarkedSafari Content Marked

The highlight changes to the color yellow. You can move on to some other part of the document and highlight some other text.

Additional Safari Content SelectedAdditional Safari Content Selected

You select the new content and then hit the Marked Selected Text icon or hit ⌥ + m. The highlight changes to yellow again.

Additional Safari Content HighlightedAdditional Safari Content Highlighted

Now you have two selections, both highlighted. You can add more sections if you want. Otherwise, just click on the Open Marked in OutlineEdit button.

OutlineEdit document with Safari ContentOutlineEdit document with Safari Content

OutlineEdit starts a new document with your highlighted content already included in the document. This is a great way of doing research on the web and using the power of the outliner to corral your research into usable chunks. The only way this could be improved is if it included the URL of the page you copied the data from.

This is an unique feature of OutlineEdit and I find myself using it every day.

Pain Points

Only once in a while do you come across a program which is so well designed that you wonder how you did without it. OutlineEdit is that kind of a program. However, there are still some things which can be improved:

  1. OutlineEdit provides no choice of fonts. I want to use my own font. I don’t care for the default font that OutlineEdit uses.
  2. Full Screen sucks. Give me the ability to have a small window in the middle of the screen in full screen mode. No one can work with the content of the outline spanning the whole screen on an iMac. Update: Version 1.6 fixes the distraction free mode.
  3. Give me more control of the formatting of the outline. Every line starts with a -. I don’t want a dash. In fact, I don’t want anything. I am going to make an outline in OutlineEdit and then use the command Copy as text to Clipboard… from the File menu and paste it into a markdown editor, like iA Writer. The dashes have to be cleaned up there. I don’t need them. Spare me the extra step.

Conclusions

This is almost the perfect outliner for me. It is quick, it is full-featured, it is keyboard command heavy. It is well designed and the developer has thought about the category and added some useful touches to the genre. I use it all the time and recommend it heartily.

Here is another review of the same product:
OutlineEdit Packs Power Into a Simple Outliner — MacStories

Update: Version 1.6 fixes the distraction free mode.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

OutlineEdit outlining