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#708: Mac OS X 10.6.3 Update, Bringing Your Mac Back Into Focus, Maximize Your Battery's Performance


Happy Tuesday,

Ramps and fiddleheads are among my favorite signs of spring. While the forest floors remain mostly fern-free, the ramps are beginning to show themselves through the moist leaves from last year. In fact, right between the warehouse and upper building at our Waitsfield headquarters is a small patch of ramps I just might raid before I head home tonight.

Saturday, of course, is iPad day. I just cannot wait to get my hands on my own so I can watch this new product category evolve. The App store ecosystem will immediately be more interesting with this device around, and Apple certainly has the power to turn so many industries upside-down. Hopefully students everywhere can more easily afford textbooks, newspapers regain substantial profitability while improving content and reinventing themselves, and independently owned bookstores stay afloat.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.6.3  

Apple yesterday released the latest update to Mac OS X, squashing a litany of issues ranging from Time Machine stability to Antarctic daylight savings adjustments. As seems to be the norm these days, the update files are huge, and you have several options for the installation. No matter which option you choose, you need to be backed up fully before installing any major update—you should always be backed up.

Depending on your machine’s configuration, the file sizes range from about 415MB to almost 900MB. My MacBook Pro running 10.6.2 downloaded the smallest of the updates, as it was kept current. But if your machine is sitting at 10.6.0, your update will likely be about 790MB; updates to Mac OS X Server are the largest.

Of particular interest in this update is a new way of reporting unexpected conditions like an unexpectedly quit application. As it stood, Mac OS would ask if you wanted to send anonymous information to Apple to aid in bug fixing. Now, it will ask you whether you’d like that information automatically sent to Apple anonymously. I chose not to send the information automatically, because I like to review the log right after an event instead of sifting through Console.

No, I didn’t already have an application quit on me or need to force quit myself. You can enable and disable this new feature directly in Console, located at Macintosh HD/Applications/Utilities. Just fire it up and select Preferences from the Console menu, and the setting is clearly at the bottom of the window.

You can read all about this update and the myriad of problems it addresses here.

  Bringing Your Mac Back Into Focus  

Lately, I’ve been sent on several consults to help configure Macs for visual impairments. In general, most of my visually impaired clients are at a “legally blind” status but do have some sight. These clients are battling either slow or rapid changes in their vision and are looking for ways to still get the most out of their computer without going so far as to use braille devices or external magnifiers.

One key thing to remember is that when it comes to visual impairments there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That said, let’s discuss some common adjustments that can be made to help one get the most from their Mac despite vision issues. I’ll be using 10.6.2 for these examples, but many of these functions exist in earlier operating systems.

While making adjustments I think it’s vital the visually impaired friend/relative/client that you’re working with is right by your side so each change can be adjusted to their liking. It’s also important to take the time to explain each step so there’s an educational aspect to the setup so that when minor adjustments need to be made in the future, the client is empowered to make those changes.

The first step is to open System Preferences and then Displays. If one of the complaints is that the text on the screen is too small, lowering the resolution can help make everything appear bigger without actually using magnification. The downside is that the more resolution is diminished the blockier things get.

However, on larger monitors, such as Apple’s newest 27-inch iMac, sticking with a mid-range resolution that’s still in the proper aspect ratio for the display (i.e. 1024×768) normally is a happy compromise between sharp text that is so small it’s unreadable and large blocky text that is too out-of-focus. Brightness can also be adjusted in this preference pane, or you can use the brightness hot keys on the keyboard (i.e. F1 and F2).

The next step is to go back to System Preferences and then to Universal Access. Make sure you’re in the ‘Seeing’ tab. The first adjustment I usually make in here is to ‘Enhance contrast’. Often times the coloring on the screen is too flat for those who are visually impaired. Increasing the contrast will make the blacks blacker and wash out lighter colors. So, instead of having dark grey text on a light grey background, one can achieve closer to black text on a white background which is much easier to read.

There are also options to use grayscale, which can be helpful for some clients. I also like to show the difference between the ‘Black on white’ option and the ‘White on black’ as some clients, especially those with more acute vision issues, can read the white text on a black background easier than black text on white. Generally, those who go for that adjustment also prefer the screen to be in grayscale as ‘White on black’ inverts all colors on screen which can be confusing to some.

Zoom will be your visually impaired client’s best friend as long as they have a mouse or trackpad that supports scrolling. With zoom turned on, all you need to do to scroll is to press control while scrolling. Scrolling in zooms into the screen and scrolling out zooms out. This is a very easy way to zoom-on-the-fly. Some of my clients like to leave the screen zoomed in and they can navigate around the screen with their mouse. The only thing to consider if you do leave the screen zoomed in all the time is that there could be things open on your screen that you’re not able to see so it can create more of a hassle to scroll the mouse around the screen looking for hidden windows.

The last feature I always like to visit is VoiceOver. Now, for those with less severe visual impairments, VoiceOver can end up adding more confusion than is necessary. However, for those who need VoiceOver it can be a major blessing. Apple has a great guide to VoiceOver which I highly recommend to anyone getting started with it.

The basic idea is that it is a fully customizable utility that will read text on the screen as well as offer navigation options. For those working with blind clients this is also where you can go to set up the Mac for use with Braille as well as other commanders and external peripherals. To play with the features of VoiceOver, simply click on ‘Open VoiceOver Utility’ located in the Universal Access pane.

I hope you enjoy exploring all the ways your Mac can be catered to work for you!

  Tip of the Week: QuickLook Inside Folders  

QuickLook was added to Mac OS X in Leopard, and it carried over to Snow Leopard mostly unchanged. I don’t use it much, but when I read about this tip, I knew those who do use it would appreciate it.

When you click on a folder and go into QuickLook by pressing the space bar, you’ll see a nice high-resolution image of the folder’s icon. There’s not indication of what’s actually inside though. This tip enables “X-Ray Mode” that shows a preview of a folder’s content in QuickLook.

As always, be sure you have a full backup before proceeding.

Open up Terminal from Macintosh HD/Applications/Utilities and paste in the following:

defaults write QLEnableXRayFolders 1

And press return. Once this is done, you’ll need to relaunch the Finder for changes to take effect. This is most easily done by selecting Force Quit from the Apple menu, clicking on Finder, and then clicking on the Relaunch button. Once the Finder is relaunched, you can test out this new functionality by clicking on any folder and pressing the space bar.

  Maximize Your Battery's Performance  

Apple’s battery website is an excellent resource to help understand how batteries work, the best way to charge batteries, optimal storage conditions, and much more.

A few years ago, in a blackout, I wrote an article about maximizing battery runtime and while those tips hold true, the article as a whole is a bit dated. After all, it was written before the iPhone existed!

Among the best nuggets of knowledge from Apple:

Use your battery-powered device regularly. If you infrequently use your iPod or laptop, or have backup devices, remember to charge and discharge the battery every month or so. Here’s an iCal reminder (link will open iCal).

Assess just how you use your iPod. Do you really need Wi-Fi on all the time? If not, disabling it will help battery life. If your iPod or iPhone has 6 pages of rarely used apps, get rid of the ones you don’t use. Most of us don’t really need the push mail functionality—if you fall into that category, go to Settings/Fetch New Data and turn it off.

When you get your laptop, plug it in, charge it fully, and run software update. There are energy saving updates now and again that you should take advantage of.

If you’re not going to use your device for a long time, storage is best at 70 degrees (F) or so and with a 50% charge.

Apple’s battery website makes for good reading for anyone who’s had premature battery consumption or failure, and I encourage everyone to read it thoroughly.

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