Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mac OS X Tips and Tricks (Getting Started with OS X)

Alright, so one of my good friends from college recently switched from his old Windows XP laptop to a new Macbook.  I told him I'd make a little list of helpful apps and tricks I've found in my couple years of OS X experience, and I figured I might as well post that here.

Because my list got kinda long for one post, I'm going to split it up into two.  The first will go over getting started with the switch to OS X.  This will cover things that are already built into the Mac operating system out of the box.  The second will go through a list of applications I've found to be extremely helpful over the years.

Now keep in mind, I haven't switched over to the newest release of the OS called Lion, so some of these tricks may not work exactly the same way.  Alright, lets get on with it.

What's different

One of the first things people notice when using a Mac for the first time is that the "X" button is on the top left corner instead of the top right corner.

While this difference is only cosmetic, the functionality of the 3 buttons are different than their windows counterparts.  For starters the red "X" button does not close your program.  This is one of those things that really throws people off.  The red "X" button only closes your window, not the application itself.  To close the application you can click the application name in your toolbar and then click "Quit" or use the shortcut command Q.

The green maximize button is also confusing to people.  Instead of going full screen like Windows, OS X maximizes to the applications highest usable resolution.  Sometimes that is the entire screen, and other times, such as web browsers, it's not.

There are applications that can convert these buttons to behave similar to the Windows counterpart, but honestly I don't even use them very often.  I almost always use the command Q shortcut to close programs, and I use an awesome application for my window management that I'll explain in more detail in my next post.


Another big difference between OS X and Windows is the dock vs the start bar.  The dock doesn't really show you a list of programs that are open, as much as it shows you a list of commonly used programs.  I won't really go into detail because most of it's pretty obvious, but I will show you what settings I use, and you can decide for yourself.

You can get to these settings by clicking the apple logo in the top left of your screen and highlighting Dock and then clicking Dock Preferences

Personally, I can't stand having the dock not automatically hide.  The dock in OS X takes up to much screen real estate for me to not have it on my screen all of the time.

Active Screen Corners

One of my personal favorite features of OS X is called Active Screen Corners.  This allows you to assign commands to each of the corners of your monitor that are activated whenever you put your mouse in that corner.  You can set a corner to make all of your open windows visible at once in smaller form, and you can click on the one you want.

All of these settings are available by going to your System Preferences and clicking Expose & Spaces.


Spaces is an awesome feature that I used to use all of the time, but have kind of fallen out of practice with.  It essentially allows you to have multiple "desktops" that you can quickly switch between.  Personally expose eliminated the need for spaces for me, but I encourage you to try it out for yourself and see what you think.


Let me just start by saying I believe that the multitouch trackpad on my macbook pro (which is admittedly a little old) is the absolute best feature that I can't get on a Windows machine (that I know of).    I'll go into this a little deeper in my next post whenever I talk about BetterTouchTool, but the things you can do with the trackpad are amazing.  

For this post I'll just say that I would enable the three finger swipe to navigate.  This allows you to swipe instead of hitting the back button in your browser, and it's absolutely amazing.


I guess I'll end this post with a few little extra tips that I've found to be pretty helpful.
  • Hold option + shift for more incremental controls on volume and brightness. (I've heard this doesn't work right now in Lion.  Hopefully they'll fix that soon.)
  • Hold command and hit shift.  This brings up spotlight, which essentially lets you search the entire computer for anything.  This is great for opening up applications quickly, or finding and opening a file that you can't remember where you put.
  • One thing I missed about windows is the programs list in the start bar.  Sure you could open up finder and click applications on the left, but I wanted something on my dock that let me look at all of my applications.  So I utilized a feature in OS X called stacks.  Just drag your applications folder into your dock.  Now when you click on it is should pop up with a list of all of your applications.  If you right click on the stack you can set a couple of options that give you different layouts.
This is a stack with the grid view.

So this is just scratching the surface of what OS X has to offer, but it pretty much sums up what features I regularly use that have really helped me be more productive.  My next post will go into a couple of the applications I've downloaded that make the Mac experience even better.  Hopefully I'll get that post up sometime in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lake Norfork 2011

Check out the video from our annual summer trip to Lake Norfork in Arkansas.  I took out the Casio high speed camera and got some pretty cool slow motion footage of some crashes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Name, New Blog, New Chapter In My Life

It's been a while since I last posted here.  In my last post I said I would write a review of my CR-48 Chromebook within two weeks.  That was March 7.  It is already August, and a lot has happened in the last 5 months.  I am now a graduate of Southwest Baptist University,  I got a job as a programmer analyst at a company in St. Louis called Gateway EDI, I'm coming up on 2 months married, and I've moved into a new apartment.

All of these changes mark a very distinct new chapter in my life.  I think it's only appropriate that my blog changes as well.  In trying to come up with a name, I thought about what I want this blog to be.  For some, a blog is like a public journal where they talk about what they do in their day to day lives.  For others it's a way to communicate new fresh ideas to a community that is interested in the same things they are.  As I am neither a middle school girl nor a very smart person, neither of these approaches are very useful.

After giving it some thought (the little that I have), I've decided to use this blog to document my ongoing stumbling through life. defines the word stumble with this: to discover or meet with accidentally or unexpectedly.  This blog will be a great place for me to share all the random things I've stumbled across on the internet, or just life in general.

Hopefully, I can muster up the motivation to post here regularly.  The only hope I have is that my wife (yes, somebody married me) is soon going to get tired of my constant ramblings about how IE6 is far more damaging to the country than any debt ceiling, and my constant drooling over every new thing Google comes up with.  Maybe, just maybe, I'll give her a break and write it down in this blog to be read by somebody who accidentally ends up here on a bad Google search.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Experiment with Google Chrome OS

I've mentioned it in this blog before, but a couple of weeks ago, I received a free, brand new, shiny laptop from Google running their in development Chrome OS. It has been wonderful to have at school since my Macbook Pro's short battery life makes it useless to bring to class, and it's been fun being part of a beta program, testing and logging bugs.

Unfortunately, my Macbook Pro has taken a turn for the worse and won't even turn on.  Right now it's in the shop, and it may be more expensive to fix than it's worth.  No matter what happens with that situation, I'll pretty much be stuck only using Chrome OS for the next two weeks.  This will give me a chance to really flesh out the things I like and don't like about the OS as it is right now.

At the end of the two weeks, I will try to write up a review of Chrome OS, and the computer that Google sent me (called the CR-48).  We'll see if that actually happens, but hopefully I'll have time to do it.  If Chrome OS takes off as a successful consumer product, I would like to have a record of what I thought of it initially.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I love Google

Alright, so I'm obviously really biased towards Google.  I try not to be, but they keep on doing things to make me love them more.

A couple weeks ago, without warning, I received a brand new, experimental laptop running Google's new Chrome OS.  Google sent out thousands of free laptops running development builds of their new software for free, and somehow I got in.

This is a genius idea.  By sending out free computers Google is building up a huge fan base that will eagerly preach the word about their new OS to everyone around them.  All of these users are also perfect beta testers.  They all know it's experimental so they won't complain about bugs in the system, and they will gladly report all bugs they find because it makes them feel like they are part of the process.

Easily the most universal question I have gotten when showing people Chrome OS is "How do you use Word?"  That's my queue to brag on Google Docs.  Personally, I like Google docs much more than Microsoft Office.  I understand it's not as robust, but for me the benefits easily outweigh the cost.  Constant syncing to the cloud means I can access all of my documents from any computer, which is a big deal since I switch my computer from Mac to Windows frequently.  Being able to have multiple people edit a document live at the same time has been an extremely valuable asset as my fiancĂ©e and I have been planning our wedding living over 3 hours away from each other.

Today Google announced on it's blog that its releasing a product called Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office.  Essentially, it's a free plugin that gives Microsoft Office all of the functionality that I love about Google Docs.  It stores all of your files on the web, you can access them from anywhere (It uses Google Docs if you don't have office on your computer), and it allows multiple people to edit a document at the same time.

This is why I love Google.  Sure, this still promotes their overall goal of getting people to use the web more, but the fact that they are helping out the competition so that the end user has a better overall experience is pretty sweet.  They do the same thing with Android.  Many of Google's apps that give Android an advantage over the iPhone (Google Voice, Google Goggles, ect.) are ported over, by Google, to the iPhone. And that is simply awesome.