One tip per day in March

I love writing how-to’s. It’s something I’m good at. Of course, I can always get better. That means it’s time for a challenge.

I’m committed to writing one useful, helpful tip per day in March, 2013. The topics will vary, from Mac OS to iPhone to whatever else I can think of. What will remain constant is that every tip will be easy to implement and useful. At the end of this month, you’ll have a nice collection of 31 great tech tips. It all starts tomorrow.

Mute photos in the Flickr iPhone app

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Flickr’s new iPhone app (free) is very well done. The Flickr blog has listed 10 tips for getting the most out of it, including this clever mute option:

“Activities and conversations related to photos is one of the things people love about Flickr. We’ve made it easy to engage with the Flickr community and we’ve made it equally easy to mute conversations that you’d like to leave. Simply swipe over the item in your activity feed and tap the mute button. Easy.”

I love it. The other nine tips are just as good.

Punctuating abbreviation in iOS 6

Here’s another nicety I’ve noticed in iOS 6. It no longer capitalizes the the first letter of a word following an abbreviation with a period. In iOS 5, the iPhone would have capitalized the “f” in “for” above. iOS 6 recognizes “appt.” as an abbreviation, not the end of the sentence, and keeps the lower-case “f”. I love it.

Use Alfred to remap “iCal” and “Address Book” (or, Stephen Hackett is a genius)

Stehpen Hackett explains how to use Alfred to make a change in Mac OS X less annoying.

Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion re-names Address Book to Contacts and iCal to Calendar. That’s fine, but I keep typing “iCal” and “Address Book” into my beloved Alfred. 1 It’s not the end of the world, but annoying. Fortunately, Stephen has a fix.

He points out that you can use Alfred’s custom keyword mapping to forgive your forgetfulness. Well done.

Update: Thomas Borowski points out that Mountain Lion’s Spotlight does that for you (below).

  1. Seriously, I love Alfred. Here’s how I use it every day. Federico Viticci uses it to create logs in Day One. Finally, here’s my TUAW review of version 1.0. It’s only gotten better since. This is not an ad, I just love the app. Go get it.

Manage Notes with Siri

Notes is the no-frills note-taking app that ships with the iPhone. It’s not fancy, but it does its job well. I don’t use it, because I believe I can create a note faster with an actual notebook and a pen. Tapping the voice dictation button speeds up the process, but  not enough to satisfy me. However, I found that I can create, update and list notes with Siri. In fact, Siri is even smart enough to know which note you’re talking about. Here’s how to create and maintain notes with Siri.

To create a new note, tell Siri, “Create a new note,” “Make a new note” or something similar. You can give a note a title at the same time, for instance, “Make a new note packing list” or “Create a new note places to visit.” That becomes the first line of the note.

Updating a note is easy. Simply say, for example, “Update my note toothbrush, deodorant, book, tickets, camera.” If you’ve got more than one note, Siri will ask which note you’d like updated by providing a list. Either tap the one you want to update or speak its name (the first line). If you know exactly which note you’d like updated, let Siri know. “Update my note packing list charger mouse.” Finally, get a quick look at your notes by asking Siri to list your notes.

It’s not perfect. Siri cannot delete a note or share a note via email, etc. But it’s still pretty useful, gets synced with Mail and is fast. Hitting the Home button and saying, “New note hotel room number 237” is pretty darn quick. Try it out.

Clean out the Downloads folder with Hazel

If you’re like me, your Mac’s Downloads folder is full of long-forgotten mystery items, much like a college student’s refrigerator. Fortunately, Hazel from Noodlesoft ($21.95) can keep it tidy.

I hate the Mac OS X Downloads folder. It’s where Safari places downloaded files by default and, in my experience, is an out of sight, out of mind landfill of forgotten PDFs, photos, installers and who knows what else. Before long, its contents commandeer a significant portion of your drive’s storage and that’s just unacceptable.

Yes, you can tell Safari to deposit downloads elsewhere. Many people choose the Desktop. It’s a logical choice, as you’ll see your downloads every time you sit in front of your Mac, which will prompt you to act. But the path of least resistance is beautiful and tempting. I typically ignore the junk on my digital desk, figuring, “I’ll clean that up later.” Of course, that never happens.

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Jump right to full-screen Quick Look

You can force Mac OS X’s Quick Look to present a full-screen preview with the Option key. Here’s how. With a Finder window open, hold down the Option key and the Quick Look icon in the tool bar will turn into what looks like a “play” button, with a right-facing triangle inside a square. With your file selected, Option-click the icon for a full-screen preview via Quick Look.

If clicking Finder window buttons isn’t your style, try this. Select the file, and then hold down the Option key while you press the Space Bar. Again, Quick Look will offer a full-screen preview.

I just discovered this behavior this morning and thought I’d share. I tested on both Snow Leopard and Lion, and it worked on each.

Using Apple’s Preview as an image editor

Recently I was looking for a lightweight image editor. After auditioning great candidates like Acorn and Pixelmator, I realized that Apple’s own Preview offers nearly everything I need. Here’s why and how I’m using Apple’s built-in PDF file viewer.

Nearly every image I post to TUAW must be resized and/or cropped. Often I’ve got to change the file type as well. Frankly, those three functions represent the extent of my image editing needs. I realize that I’m in the minority on this, but surely there are others.

I’ve got Photoshop CS3 on my MacBook Pro, but it’s too powerful a tool for my modest needs. “Like swatting a fly with a Buick,” as my father would say. For years I used ImageWell from Xtralean Software. It’s now at version 3.7.6, and quite different than the old app I used to love. A simple crop, resize and rename isn’t so simple anymore.

Fortunately, Preview makes these tasks a breeze. Here’s how to perform each.

Resize


From the Tools menu, select Adjust Size. A slip appears with several options. You can apply a set of pre-determined dimensions to your image, including (in pixels):

  • 320 x 240
  • 640 x 480
  • 800 x 600
  • 1024 x 768
  • 1280 x 1024
  • 1280 x 720
  • 1920 x 1080

You can also create custom dimensions across pixels, percent, inches, cm, mm or points. Finally, you can change the resolution (pixels/inch or pixels/cm), scale proportionally and resample the image.

Crop


Click the Select tool in the toolbar and choose Rectangular Selection. The cursor turns into crosshairs. Click and drag to highlight the section you’d like to crop. Finally, select Crop from the tools menu (or hit Command-K).

There are many other options in that Select tool, including an elliptical selection tool, a lasso and a “smart lasso.”

Change file type


From the Save As slip, you can convert your image into any of the following formats:

  • GIF
  • ICNS
  • JPEG
  • JPEG-2000
  • Microsoft BMP
  • Microsoft Icon
  • OpenEXR
  • PDF
  • Photoshop
  • PICT
  • PNG
  • SGI
  • TGA
  • TIFF

At TUAW, I typically use JPG. A slider lets you adjust the final quality or compression (where appropriate) and displays the resulting image’s size.

There’s a lot more to this great piece of software. For example, you can annotate a PDF file by selecting Annotate from the Tools menu or clicking the Annotate toolbar item. This will let you add shapes, text and Sticky Note-like notes.

The color adjustment menu is extremely useful. Use it to adjust an image’s exposure, contrast, saturation, temperature, tint and sharpness, or add sepia.

Finally, the Inspector provides a wealth of information at a glance, like creation and modification dates, DPI, dimensions, resolution and more.

Of course, it can’t compare to the apps I mentioned at the beginning of this post. You can’t work in layers, for example. But don’t dismiss Preview as a mere PDF reader. It’s one of the many useful tools that comes with every Mac. With a little exploration, you’ll find that it’s more powerful than you thought, and maybe all you need.