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#836: Terminal, Hidden Desktop Photos, Video Card Replacements, Closeout Price Drops


Hello all,

It definitely feels like fall. Mid-40s in the morning and somewhere in the high 60s for today according to It’s one of the things I like about going away for this particular weekend — when I leave, it is summer, and when I come back, it is fall.

Sifting through my loaded inbox last night I saw that I got a lot of responses to the article I wrote about grep last week. In addition to a few specific questions about grep (which I will try to answer individually) there was a common theme involving trepidation with command line usage in Terminal.

Although it’s good to be weary of the power of Terminal, it’s helpful to be familiar with Terminal commands. Based on this feedback, over the next few months, we will try to include a Terminal-oriented article in each issue. From easy, practical stuff, to serious power usage, to just fun things to do. If you follow along, we’ll get you to the point where you don’t groan when you see a tip or trick that starts “OK, now open a Terminal window!”

Please feel free to send questions or feedback.

Thanks for reading!


  Terminal Basics  

So this is the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles involving the utility called Terminal. Terminal, also known as the command line, offers you direct access to the Unix bedrock of Mac OS X. To some, it is very familiar territory. There are network admins and power users who use terminal a lot all the time.

At the other end of the spectrum are most of the rest of us. Terminal is something we’ve heard about, or maybe even used once or twice, usually with some trepidation due to the dire caveats of doom that people who write articles about terminal make very prominent. With good reason — you can certainly get into lots of trouble. (Like erasing your whole drive instead of emptying your trash or overwriting your iPhoto library with that hilarious picture from that you downloaded for reasons even you don’t fully understand.)

With these and many other scenarios there is no undo or undelete, and I can’t count the number of support calls I have taken that start “OK, so I was messing around in Terminal…” That being said, many really destructive actions require a special command and an admin password, which should at least make you stop and think about what you are doing. We see this in the regular OS environment all the time, but it goes a step further in Terminal. In the normal Aqua environment, you are still protected somewhat — there are things you simply are not allowed to do, even as an admin user.

However, there are tons of things you can do to get comfortable with Terminal that are pretty safe. The basic format of Terminal commands is a command followed by modifiers and variables such as the commands which will show all the invisible files on your machines. Let’s give it a try.

Open a Terminal window. Copy and paste the following into the window:

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE

To be able to see this, you will need to relaunch Finder, like so:

killall Finder

Now if you look in the Finder you will see all the normally hidden folders visible and accessible but grayed out.

Reversing this command is as simple as entering the first command again, changing TRUE to FALSE.

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE

Relaunch Finder again, and the files will be hidden once again.

killall Finder

Hopefully you were able to follow along and see this happen. The point I wanted to make is that you see how easy it is to reverse this change by changing the variable. Remember NOT ALL CHANGES ARE REVERSIBLE — especially removing and deleting — and a good backup is critical for mucking around with a powerful tool like terminal.

If you think about it, what we did above is basically change a Finder preference — the difference is that you are doing it in Terminal since this option is not listed in the Finder preferences in the GUI. This is actually one of the most common uses of Terminal by non-professionals. There is a world of hidden system preferences that you can access from the Terminal which will let you customize your machine in a myriad of ways.

Here is a link to a Macworld article that has 25 easy Terminal tips.

We’ll be back next week with more!

  Hidden Mountain Lion Desktops  

I recently discovered that Mountain Lion has a few folders of high resolution pictures that are normally unavailable to users. From what I hear, these are screen saver images for the Apple TV. (I haven’t verified that yet though.)

To find the images click on the Go menu and choose Go to folder, or press Command-Shift-G, and enter the following path:

/System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.Framework/Versions/A/Resources/Default Collections/

You’ll then have a folder with four subfolders in there: National Geographic, Aerial, Cosmos and Nature Patterns. You can now either copy those folders to your desktop, or drag them directly to the Desktops & Screen Saver preference pane to add them to your desktop possibilities.

  Mac Pro Video Card Replacement  

If you have ever tried to find a third party video card for a Mac Pro, you know that options are few and far between. NVIDIA and Radeon have limited the selection of video cards marketed to the Apple community for quite some time; there are few users in the Mac community interested in upgrading the GPU in their Mac Pros because, well, there are just so few people who purchase and use Mac Pros.

This has led to a market place that is minimal at best. If you want to replace the video card in your out-of-warranty Mac Pro, often the only solution is to purchase an OEM replacement from a service provider (like Small Dog), or purchase used OEM cards online.

NVIDIA offers drivers on their website for many of the aftermarket graphics cards for Mac clientele. With a little quick digging, you can find new driver releases for Quadro and GeForce cards that will work with their aftermarket cards. For example, NVIDIA drive 270.00.00 supports, in Lion 10.7.3, a few cards that are not Mac specific (February 2012 release).

The driver set is an update that works on Mac Pro 2008, 2009 and 2010. The cards supported by this driver release include the off-the-shelf GeForce 8800 series.

The only problem with this process is that you need to be able to see the information on screen to install the driver. In cases of a failed video card, you’ll need to access the machine remotely or install a known-good OEM card to complete the process.

  Library Folder Shortcut  

Thanks to reader Anthony R., we were enlightened as to yet another way to access the hidden user Library folder in 10.7 and beyond.

If you hold down Option when clicking on the Go menu item, you’ll get an option for Library. Thanks, Anthony!

  Lower Prices on EOL MacBooks!  

Save up to an extra $75 off the following closeout models — we just dropped prices even further 10 minutes ago, so Tech Tails readers are the first to know!

MacBook Pro 15in 2.2GHz i7 4GB/500GB – $1549.99

MacBook Pro 15in 2.4GHz i7 4GB/750GB – $1829.99

MacBook Pro 15in 2.4GHz i7 4GB/750GB@5400/Antiglare – $1,899.99

MacBook Air 13in 1.8GHz i7 4GB/256GB – $1,399.99

MacBook Pro 15in 2.5GHz i7 4GB/750GB@7200/Antiglare – $2,099.99

MacBook Air 11in 1.6GHz i5 4GB/64GB – $849.99

MacBook Air 11in 1.8GHz i7 4GB/128GB – $999.99

  Save $10 on Magic Mouse with The Magic Charger  

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