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Got a Mac? iPod as SatNav, shortcuts, screen shots and special characters

Owning a Mac is great, but are you getting the most out of OS X? Well, here’s a few very simple Mac productivity tips and how-to guides to nudge you in the right direction…

Owning a Mac is great, but are you getting the most out of OS X? Well, here’s a few very simple Mac productivity tips and how-to guides to nudge you in the right direction…

Last week I showed you how to make the most of Address Book and Mail. Today, I’ll be talking you through some of the simple things you can do with your Mac: like navigating folders in the Finder, web pages in Safari, using your iPod Touch as a rout planner, as well as tips for taking screen shots and adding accented characters to documents.

Google Maps on an iPod Touch with no wireless network?

Apple's iPod TouchI left the office without printing out directions to the clients office in Coventry — but I had a plan! What if I could store the directions on my iPod Touch?

Well, if you’re using the Maps application, it needs a network connection, even if it’s just using a previously used route. So how do you use your iPod Touch for directions when you have no wireless network?

Using your iPod Touch like a SatNav

  1. Create your route with Google Maps, with the start and end points.
  2. Go to the File menu and choose Print.
  3. Click on the PDF button in the bottom left and choose the Compress PDF option.
  4. Save the file to your Desktop.

Now, you need access to a hosting account of some description, be that MobileMe, an FTP account or some free storage, any will do.

  1. Upload your PDF to your storage of choice.
  2. On your iPod Touch, open up Safari and browse to your PDF using the link to the file.

That’s it! You’re all set. Safari won’t try to reload the page, or at least it didn’t with me all the way from South Yorkshire down to Coventry.

The bonus here is that Safari treats it like a regular web page, so you can drag, zoom and rotate to view the map and the directions. The only thing you don’t see on the PDF is the blue line for the route itself.

As an aside, be careful when trying to use your iPod Touch as an ad hoc SatNav. I’m guessing if the police spot you, you’re done for. As far as they’ll be concerned, you’re using a mobile device while driving, which constitutes driving without due care and attention.

Also, make sure you have quick thumbs so you can dismiss the many messages you’ll get notifying you of all the wireless networks you’ll pick up as you drive through your average city!

Making the most of your Mac!

When OS X launched, some of the shortcuts I’d become accustomed to vanished. Thankfully, as OS X moved on, those stalwarts of productivity returned. Here’s some shortcuts I couldn’t live without.

Moving down through folders

navigating folders in the Finder on Mac OS XWhile in the Finder, hold down the Apple key (or Command key, referred to hereon in as such) and then click on the title of a folder. See the list? You can make a selection and navigate all the way down to the very bottom of your Mac.

This is great for dropping right down to a folder without having to click back, or using column view. Also, you can do this within files, too. So if you’re using Preview, you can do the same thing. Even better, from within Safari, you can go back down through the web pages you’ve just visited.

navigating web pages with Apple's Safari web browser

Depending on what applications you’re using, your mileage will vary. Some support this feature (like most of the Adobe applications), but some don’t.

It’s a handy way of finding where a file or folder is when you’re not too sure.

Taking a snapshot of your screen

On a Microsoft Windows PC, taking a snapshot of your desktop or a collection of windows really isn’t practical. On a Mac, it’s simplicity itself!

For a snapshot of the entire screen, press Command + Shift + 3 and you’re done.

For a snapshot of just a portion of your screen, press Command + Shift + 4, which will give you a cross hair cursor. Make your selection, and the moment you release the mouse button, you’re done.

When you go to your Desktop, you’ll see a file called: “Picture 1.png”, which you can open with most image editors, including Preview.

These options are great for quickly sending illustrations of designs to friends or colleagues. Or for sending evidence of things you’re not sure about to support staff. Just attach them to an email and you’re good to go.

There used to be an option to take a snapshot of the contents of a window, but that’s gone, sadly.

Adding accented characters and symbols

Back in the day, there was a small application called Keycaps. This one tiny application played host to a surprisingly huge amount of utility; you could find out exactly which keys to press to get things like foreign accented characters and symbols.

Sadly for us, Keycaps is no more. And people who’ve been using Macs as long as I have are still struggling. But there’s an alternative to Keycaps:

  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
  2. Click the International button in the Personal pane.
  3. Now click on the Input Menu tab.
  4. At the top, click the check boxes for the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer options.

To access the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer:

  1. Over to the right of the menu bar, you’ll see small flag for your language.
  2. Click the language flag to reveal the Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer menu items.

Keyboard Viewer

Keyboard Viewer is essentially Keycaps reborn, but smaller. You press the modifier keys (Shift, Control, Alt and Command) in different combinations to reveal the characters you want. After that, you go to your application of choice and press the right key combination to generate those characters.

Character Palette

Alternatively, using the Character Palette allows you to hunt down the character of choice and insert it directly, without having to figure out what keyboard combinations under which it resides.

However, not all applications support Character Palette, and different typefaces (or fonts) might only support certain characters. A lot of the free typefaces don’t have complete character sets.

So if you’re having trouble inserting a character into Adobe Photoshop, open up TextEdit, insert the character there and then copy & paste into Adobe Photoshop.

Enjoy your Mac and good luck!

Like I said, I’ve been using a Mac for business & pleasure for years. Hopefully, you’ll find owning a Mac as much of a joy and a privilege as I do…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

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