Miscellaneous Tips and Tidbits (including thoughts on iWeb 1.1)

Tuesday, 2006-05-16; 00:43:00

Here are a few random tips that might be of interest:

1. If you're making a regular playlist in iTunes, you can control the order of the songs in the playlist. As long as you have the playlist sorted by the leftmost column (the one without a header label), you can move and drag songs at will to put them in a desired order. But what if all your songs are in a random order, and you want to put them in a semi-organized order? That is, you want to initially sort them by some criterion, but then you want to alter the order a little bit once they're sorted. If you click on a different column header, iTunes sorts by that column, but then you can't move the order around because that would obviously violate the sorting.

Here's how you do it. You start by clicking on a column header, sorting by that criterion. Then, control-click on the playlist in the iTunes source list on the left: select "Copy to Sort Order". When you select this option, nothing will appear to change. But then if you click on the left-most column header again, you'll see that the songs are sorted by the criterion that you previously selected. Now you can move around the songs into the desired order with the sorted positions as a starting point.

It's a minor hint, and one that I don't really use because even though I use regular playlists a lot, I typically just put them on random, so the sort order doesn't really matter a lot.

2. This is another minor hint, but it's very helpful for forms and such. You know how you can click-and-release on menus and popup buttons? Well, once you do so, you can type the menu item or popup list item to jump directly to it. So if you're in Safari and you encounter one of those popup menus on the web that lists a bunch of countries in a big long list, and "United States" is down with the U's, you can use this trick to jump directly to it without having to wait 10 seconds for the popup menu to do its scrolling thing.

Here's another hint: let's say you start typing something while a popup menu or regular menu is open, and you make a typo. Say you were aiming for "United States" and you accidentally pressed the i key and now the popup menu is stuck at "Italy". Well, if you try to continue typing, the popup menu assumes that you're just typing out more letters in the same name, and it doesn't change it's selection. That is, if you type i-u-n-i-t-e-d, the closest menu item that starts with the letter i will be selected, rather than the desired "United States".

How to rectify this? Well, you could simply wait a second or so. i-waaait-u-n-i-t-e-d would probably highlight "United States". Here's a better solution, though: press the delete key to indicate that you want to clear previous keystrokes. So, i-del-u-n-i-t-e-d will correctly highlight the "United States" menu item (or perhaps "United Arab Emirates" :P ). If you get used to this, you can shave seconds off of the time it takes to recover from your inadvertent typo.

This is a feature that used to be in the Finder, but sadly not in the current version anymore. I'm not sure if this was a Classic Mac OS-only feature, or if it was removed from the Mac OS X Finder in Panther or Tiger, but I really miss this feature. This habit has become so ingrained that I do it in the Finder even though it doesn't have any effect. I should probably file a bug on this, so that it comes back.

3. Here's an even more obscure hint that I've never seen mentioned anywhere important on the web. In fact, a google search for the name of the hint only turns up 8 non-similar results, and 3 obviously aren't even talking about this hint in question. There's actually a hint about it on MacOSXHints.com, but it doesn't seem to have gotten much traffic.

Here's the gist: if you are working in an application with a typical Mac OS X toolbar, you can control which buttons disappear when the window gets smaller and there's not enough room to display all of your desired buttons. To do so, control-click on the buttons that you want to be hidden last, and select "Keep Item Visible". It's a cool but underused feature.

4. If you want to make an animated gif for whatever purpose, you can do so by using GraphicConverter. It's rare that I extoll the virtues of GraphicConverter since it has an absolutely horrid interface, but I tolerate it since it often picks up where Preview leaves off, and I haven't found any better app yet.

To make an animated gif, follow these steps:

a. Collect all of the frames into a single folder in the Finder.

b. In GraphicConverter, select "Convert and Modify" from the File menu.

c. In the "Dest. Format" popup menu, select "GIF (*.GIF)".

d. Click the "Options..." button. The right side of this dialog allows you to alter the settings for the animated gif, including the frame disposal method, the delay between frames, etc. Click OK when done.

e. In the right file browser, find the destination folder for the animated gif. Note that selecting the folder is not sufficient: for it to go inside a specific folder, you must be in that folder (i.e.: the name of the folder should appear in the popup menu directly above the right file browser).

f. In the left file browser, find the frames you want to put into the animated gif, and select them (Command-A to select all works, or just shift click them all). GraphicConverter will assemble them in alphabetical order as displayed in the file browser.

g. Click the Go button at the top of the window. Note that steps e and f are in a specific order, because the left file browser must be active for the Go button to be enabled.

Now GraphicConverter will assemble your animated gif. The filename will be identical to the name of the first frame (which is also alphabetically first in the list of filenames for all the frames).

If you're really ambitious, you can convert a movie to an animated gif using just GraphicConverter as well. (Yes, there is a reason you might want to do this.) To do so, open the movie using GraphicConverter (yes, it handles movies), and then choose "Save a Copy as..." from the File menu. Choose the desired output format and location, and then press Save. Another dialog will now pop up asking you which frames to export. Select "Export all available frames" (or another option) and then press OK. Then follow the steps above to assemble the frames into an animated gif.

I'm aware that ImageReady assists with movie-to-animated-gif conversion. I just loathe Photoshop and Adobe.

5. Ever have a web form that doesn't seem to work as expected? This may not be obvious, but try manually clicking the Submit button rather than simply pressing return. Some forms don't like the pressing return thing. (Axess, the Stanford web front for accessing student info and functions, has an online course database search feature. The form requires you to press the Submit button. For the longest time, I never figured out why my Axess searches weren't working. A few months ago I tried this on a whim, and it fixed my problem. Grr.)

A few random other notes:

These are two interesting dialogs:

Force Quit and Continue Logout? Force Quit and Continue Logout Sheet
Translation for image 1: "Logout was cancelled. The application MirrorAgent didn't quit and isn't responding. If you want to continue with logout, force quitting the application, click Continue. Cancel. Continue."

Translation for image 2: "All unsaved changes will be lost. Do you want to force quit MirrorAgent? Cancel. Force Quit."

As I recall, previous versions of Mac OS X (including Tiger) simply cancelled logout when an application wasn't responding. I guess now it doesn't. Has anybody else encountered this, or know when it got introduced into Mac OS X?

I also have recently been seeing this in recent months:

iTMS Link Previews

These come up when you click on a link to the iTunes Music Store.

Lastly, iWeb 1.1 got released today (or yesterday, such that it is), and it gained an interesting new feature: comments. It seems that Apple has added comments support to its .mac web services! This is cool, but uncool. Mainly because iWeb kinda sucks.

I installed iWeb 1.1 and tried to publish a simple weblog just to try and test out the commenting features. This didn't get very far as I had previously fiddled with iWeb 1.0 and had published a photo album (to check out the AJAX slideshow features). When trying to publish this photo album, I continually had problems: iWeb would always fail in publishing with a "An error occurred while publishing file 'blah/blah/blah/photo1502.jpg'." error. If I published a few times in a row, the photo that is causing the problem varies. I even tried deleting all of my iWeb data (located at ~/Library/Application Support/iWeb/ ) to no avail. Even a simple blog fails with this error all the time.

In a brief Google search on the web, it seems that iWeb has bandwidth issues. (Example threads here and here. See the fourth comment in both instances.) So basically iWeb is rendered useless, and I can't even test out the commenting features. Gah.

Well, in any case, I'm not switching to iWeb anytime soon. It's not flexible enough. The template format is mind-bogglingly unintelligible (once you get down to the index.xml file for a site's template -- which involves showing the package contents of iWeb, finding a template, showing the template's package contents, copying the index.xml.gz file to the desktop, and then unzipping the archive -- the format isn't anything I could easily modify to create a template suitable for my needs), and I can't just drop into HTML code like I can with iBlog.

I'm hoping that maybe Lifli Software can find some way to interface with .mac to exploit the comments system.

... and now I should really go to bed.

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