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Customize Your Mac Desktop With GeekTool

GeekTool is an awesome application for your Mac desktop that lets you configure and style widgets with various information to display directly on your desktop. It’s a bit like Dashboard only far more versatile.

Despite its name, you don’t actually have to be a geek to use geektool, although if you already know or are willing to research some console commands, it can become a very powerful productivity tool. Unlike Dashboard widgets, which are configured mainly by drag-and-drop, GeekTool’s “Geeklets” often require some coding or manual configuration to perform more advanced tasks.

Fortunately, if you just want to play around to get a taste of what’s possible, there are many, many pre-configured geeklets out there that can simply be activated by downloading them and putting them in the position you desire. This is a great way to start, because you can see how they are configured and with a little reverse engineering, you can customize them to your liking.

As you can see from the main configuration window, there are 4 types of Geeklets that you can create.

  • Shell geeklets let you display the output of just about any UNIX shell command directly on your desktop. You can create a time and date widget by dragging the shell icon to your desktop and configuring it with the terminal command “date” which will output the current time and date, depending on the flags you provide it. For example “date ‘+%A, %b %d’” will display something like “Monday, May 01”. From there, you can configure the font, color and position of the text and its background. More advanced users can use applescript to retrieve Reminders and display a handy “To-do” list or to fetch unread mail and display it directly on your desktop. The possibilities are merely limited by how savvy you are.
  • Image geeklets will display a local image or an image URL anywhere and in whatever size you specify. This is handy for displaying a daily cartoon or perhaps your local weather map. You can set the image to refresh at whatever interval you like, so if you simply want a cute photo of your dog in the corner of the screen, it’s as easy as entering the location of the file and setting the refresh to 0 and dragging it to where you want it. Conversely, if you want to see your security camera feed in the corner of your screen, figure out the URL of the image feed from the camera and set it to update every 5 seconds. You’ll have a slick little window always on your screen so you know who’s at the door.

  • Web geeklets will display just about any web content from the URL that you enter. You are able to scale an entire website to fit in a smaller window so you can monitor the news or perhaps a game you’re following in a discreet out of the way thumbnail. Like the image geeklet, you are able to set the refresh interval, but keep in mind that you will not be able to interact with the website once the geeklet is created so if it requires a login or any links to be clicked, you’ll have to do that interaction first and get your URL from there.
  • Log geeklets lets you display system logs such as “/var/log/system.log”. This will show live log files with the latest content at the bottom. Using regular expressions, you can tailor the log output to only the information you want.

If you want to simply get started with some pre-made geeklets, there is a huge repository as well as a huge community to help you start learning and creating your own and to allow you to showcase your desktop creations. With a little artistic ability and some strategic Geeklets, your desktop can be anything you want it to be.

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Notes!

I have been a fan of Notes for years! I started out using the Notes program on my mac and used it for everything, and sadly, I mean everything including usernames and passwords. Thankfully I learned many years ago safer means of account login storage and abandoned my sticky note ways on my Mac.

What I missed most about my sticky notes was a quick and all in one location for things I needed to jot down, hello and welcome notes! Notes has been out for many years and it’s certainly nothing new on iOS or macOS. Notes is an incredibly versatile program and one that I rely on heavily as another tool for keeping me organized and in order. I’ve written in the past about reminders, but I admit, try as I might I just can’t get away from Notes and find its versatility in features to be something that reminders just can’t compete with. There are several features within the notes program that go beyond just taking a simple note, and I want to share some of my favorite features.

Syncing

I think the ability to sync my notes across all of my devices is hands down the number one reason I use and just can’t break away from this handy little app. I can write a note on my computer and it automatically sends the note to my iPad and iPhone. With iCloud turned on and note syncing your notes update across all devices that are logged into your iCloud account. There is one catch to the auto syncing that is new in the last year or so. In order for your iOS devices and your Mac to get your notes you do need to make sure that in addition to to iCloud being turned on, all of your devices need to be running the latest OS. Last week I had an issue where my notes were syncing from my iOS devices to my Mac, but not from my Mac to my iOS devices. A quick look at my devices revealed I hadn’t run my most recent software updates.

Drawing

Did you know that you can draw within the notes program? Notes allows you to actually write a note in your own handwriting, but also allows you to draw and there is even a handy ruler so you can draw straight lines. There are a variety of colors to choose from to put a pop of color in and you have a choice of a pencil, and two marker options. The details aren’t as responsive or detailed as that of say the iPad Pro. But this little feature allows for handy on-the-go creations. You can easily and quickly sketch out an idea via e-mail, text and even social media. This feature only really works on the iOS, you can do some similar actions on the Mac via Mark Up.

Mark Up

Within notes you can insert a pictures from your photo library (on the Mac you can just drag and drop the image into your note) and then you can mark it up! You can draw over the image, add text, shapes and more. I recently used this feature specifically when I was working to re-model and paint a room in my house. We took pictures of the room and used the mark up feature to finalize what colors and changes we were going to make in the room.

Locking Notes

Another cool feature with the notes program is that you can lock the notes. The only information that is viewable in the note is the title. A passcode must be entered on the computer or iOS device in order to see what is in the note. This is a great way to keep things just a little bit more secure on your devices. While you should keep things like passwords and account information securely stored in your keychain, this is another option. Admittedly if you’re given a code or access to something and need the information temporarily, it’s more practical to jot it in Notes and lock it. Likewise if your a busy mom or spouse and you find yourself making notes about a special event or gifts it’s nice to know you can keep wondering eyes away from your information and keep the surprise.

Notes, the little app that does so much!

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We Don't Need No Stinking Badges

But stickers are sorta cool. iOS 10 brought stickers to Messages. With your iPhone or your iPad you can embed stickers in a thread, adjust their size, rotate them or peel and place stickers on top of bubbles or photos in your conversations. I found some animated stickers that look a bit like my dog, Jezebel but there are lots of stickers out there to buy at the somewhat hidden App store for stickers.

Apple is great about helping you create your own stickers without any coding experience. Stickers are created with image files in PNG, JPEG or GIF format. They can also be animated in APNG or GIF format. You can learn about creating your own sticker packs at Apple’s Creating Stickers for iMessage page.

Okay, where is this sorta hidden sticker store? First off, you can’t find it on your Mac. This is an iOS thing. The stickers will display in Messages on your Mac but you cannot send them. So, here’s how to find the sticker store on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch:

  1. Open Messages on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and tap a conversation in the list or create a new one. You need to have a conversation going to find the store.
  2. Tap the Apps button (it resembles an App Store icon) to the left of the text entry field to access the Messages app drawer.
  3. Push the App Shelf button in the bottom left corner (it is four dots in a grid).
  4. Tap the Store button.
  5. The Messages App Store appears in an overlay, allowing you to:

    • Browse featured sticker packs

    • Browsing sticker packs by category

    • See all sticker packs in the App Store

    • Find specific sticker packs

  6. Buy by category or individual pack

To make sure you have this newly purchased sticker pack available be sure to set the toggle Automatically Add Apps under the Messages App Store’s Manage tab to the ON position. If you prefer, of course, you can individually manage each sticker pack to turn it on and off.

Now you have spent your $0.99 with ApplePay for that great sticker pack. How do you use them in a conversation? Easy peasy…

  1. Open Messages on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and start a conversation or pick an old one.
  2. Tap the Apps button to the left of the text entry field to reveal the Messages app drawer at the bottom of the interface.
  3. Now you can either pick a previously used sticker from Recents or choose a specific sticker from one of your installed sticker packs.

Then you just tap on that sticker to add it to the conversation. You can add some text to the sticker and hit send.

You can peel a sticker and stick in anywhere in a chat bubble. You just tap and hold the sticker and then drag it over your selected chat bubble. You can do the same thing with photos that you have sent in chat. Just tap and hold a sticker and drag it onto the photo in the conversation and let it go.

Rotate your sticker using two fingers. Tap and hold the sticker you wish to rotate and then tap and hold with another finger and swipe up or down to rotate the sticker. You can make it bigger, too, by swiping left or right.

There are a lot of stickers to choose from and while it does get boring after a bit at least for me it is a great way to spice up a conversation!

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How Technology Improves the Life of Old Fogies

Now that I am on Medicare and always get the senior discount at the movies I thought it was time to reflect upon how technology has helped to improve the lives of those of us showing some gray. One of the most important demographics for Small Dog Electronics is our older customers. Where technology is second nature to the millennials it has a bit more wonder for those that were used to pencils, books and talking to their neighbors.

There are so many ways that technology and specifically Apple technology can enhance the life of seniors. I have written before about my experiences with hearing aids. Apple technology made it possible to have my hearing aids paired with my iPhone for control and streaming of phone calls and music. I always wanted to start a collection of ear trumpets but these high tech hearing aids have truly changed my life.

Apple has a strong commitment to accessibility and has built-in many useful features for making your computing experience on your Mac, iPhone or iPad easier. We have reviewed many of these accessibility features for sight, hearing, touch and interfacing with your device. Those all make it easier to access the technology but how does this access actually help make your life easier.

Staying in touch is one thing that most seniors want to do, whether it is by email, voice, social media or FaceTime. FaceTime has been a huge boon for seniors trying to stay in touch with their families. I remember going to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in the 50s to be wowed by the AT&T picture phone which was going to be the future. Of course, that never happened but FaceTime did! It doesn’t matter where you are, you can easily FaceTime your family or friends or if they are not using Apple, try Skype which also will allow worldwide connections. It was so cool to be way over in China and be able to talk and see Grace back in Vermont.

Getting out to shop for anything can be a real production, especially if you have to travel some distance. I am a very firm supporter of shopping locally but the convenience of having my dog food delivered on a monthly basis for the pups sure beats lugging those bags to the car and into the house. Mail order pharmacies have made getting medicine a bit more easy – no more standing in line at the drug store (you just have to stand in line on the phone sometimes).

There is so much that technology can do to help manage your health. I have diabetes and my nurse practitioner is always on my case to measure my blood sugar. I have tried all kinds of devices and I have settled on the iHealth glucometer which interfaces via Bluetooth to my iPhone and can automatically send my readings to my health professional. But, this week also had news that for some time Apple has had a team working on a whole new concept for blood glucose monitoring that will eliminate the finger sticks that prevent many from bothering. It could open a whole new era for diabetes management.

I have a smart scale that helps me lose weight, Apple’s Health app can help monitor other medical issues, remind you of your medications, track nutrition and much more to allow seniors more control over their health and eliminate some trips to the clinic.

Video games are not just for the kids, playing games can improve cognition and mental agility. With thousands to choose from it is no longer just dealing solitaire from a worn deck of cards. Gaming involves some social interaction, too!

Wireless internet and home automation are two pieces of technology that can really help seniors. Whether it is employing sensor devices to call out for help when needed or simply being able to turn on the lights by asking Siri, wireless technology frees up seniors. Never forget to lock your door if you have a HomeKit compatible lock and it knows when you arrived home and unlocks the door for you, too!

Okay, it is not just that I am old but I have directionally challenged. It sort of runs in my family. Grace says I have to go someplace a dozen times before I remember the directions. That was true when I was 25, too and my daughter, Autumn seems to have inherited that. But technology to the rescue. I am so tuned in to GPS technology that I am literally never without it. My Apple watch taps me to remind me to go right or left and I have GPS on all my vehicles.

How do you use technology to make your life better? I am a gadget geek and of course, this is what I do for a living but I see older customers come into the store every day. I love asking them what they are using their Mac or iPad for and keeping in touch is on top of the list but everything from looking up recipes to managing their retirement portfolio comes up in those discussions. Technology grants the most precious gift – time!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I reserved a bunch of domain names and aside from falserumors.com (which I REALLY want to launch), I reserved macseniors.com. Now that I have a 49-year old daughter (Happy Birthday, Zoey!) and an 18-year old granddaughter (Happy Birthday, Khadija!) maybe it is time to resurrect MacSeniors or SeniorMac.com.

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What the Cloud?

My work includes quite a lot of explaining about how cloud backup can be configured and updated and how much it should be trusted, among other questions related to redundant server-based data storage. I want to make one thing crystal clear: There is nothing inherently different between the way servers operate and the way your machines operate at home, beyond layers of redundancy, variant OS, and complexity of filesystem organization.

The truth is, at least under the average data storage and bandwidth use of a household, a custom-designed personal server is often perfect for daily needs and once it’s set up it can be just as reliable in so many ways. One perk is that you don’t pay a monthly or annual fee (beyond upgrading / replacing hardware, updating the OS and paying for internet service) and you are able to directly manage and configure all hardware and software without as much restriction and dependence on the IT staff of a cloud-based storage company.

Some folks are intimidated by the concept of setting up a server in their own home, but remember that we are here to help! Some NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives we’re currently selling include the Drobo 5N, the Seagate 8TB NAS. If you’re serious about having a long-term solution and willing to make the investment in a server rack, we could help you design a system of 1U servers that could theoretically rival the performance of many cloud-storage solutions, especially if your internet connection is strong enough. Plus, you’d be able to share access with trusted individuals in the same manner that iCloud or Google Drive allows you to.

I’m not saying that services like iCloud or Amazon Cloud Drive or Dropbox or Carbonite or Google Drive are at all inferior to a home-based server. In many ways they outperform and can withstand far more catastrophic failure than many local alternatives. It’s a bit like apples and oranges – understanding that they each have their place, and neither will ever be fully secure or indestructible. Redundancy is key, but so is security and organization. These may be unreachable goals at their farthest theoretical extent, but we must do what we can to adapt to the entropy and loopholes of the universe and attempt to keep data both safe and accessible while keeping our tech as intuitive as possible.

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