Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Buying an iMac? Wait a week

All signs point to a revised/renewed/refreshed iMac coming very very soon. If you can wait, wait.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

MMS iPhone Update

MMS: noun. Abbreviation for Multimedia Messaging Service, an enhancement to the SMS (Short Messaging Service). In English: with MMS, you can still "text" someone, but now you can send a picture, or a video, or a sound.

This feature was part of Apple's 3.0 upgrade a few months ago, and lots of people have been using it ever since-- except not in the United States, where AT&T couldn't get its network ready in time. AT&T is ready now, and you can start using MMS today. Unless you're using an original iPhone, in which case you can't. Sorry about that. Those are AT&T's rules.

Here's what you need to do.
  1. Connect your iPhone to your Mac with a cable. iTunes should start automatically. (If it doesn't, launch iTunes yourself)
  2. Click on your iPhone in the left-hand pane of iTunes.
  3. Look for an "Update" button. Click it.
  4. You will probably see a window like this one:
update to the carrier settings dialog box
Click Update Settings, turn off your iPhone, turn it back on, and you're ready to go. (The turning off and turning on is very important.)

After the restart, start the Messaging app, as if you were going to text someone. You'll see a camera icon next to where you type-- that's new. If you touch it you'll get a chance to use the camera to take a photo or video, or to choose an existing photo (or video). You get to write a note to go with it, and then you can send it. Yay.

Too bad that it doesn't always work the way you want it to. What you're expecting, I imagine, is that the person on the other end gets your message, complete with photo or video. A lot of the time that's exactly how it will work. Sometimes, though, it won't. The reason: the person on the other end doesn't have a new enough phone. How are you supposed to know what kind of phone the other person has? Beats me. Luckily it doesn't really matter because you can always use your iPhone to send pictures via email, just as you've been doing all along. But, if you know the other person has a modern phone, MMS can be sort of handy. And fun.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Your Appointments, Sir

No matter how careful you are about putting stuff into your calendar you still have to look at it to see where you're supposed to be. I had the same problem, but not anymore, because I figured out how to have my Mac read my appointments to me out loud, every day, on a timer. It's very cool, and since it's scheduled to run every morning at 7:30 AM, I think it's going to help me out quite a bit. Especially on weekends, when I tend to forget to check the calendar.

I was hoping to do this with an Automator Workflow, and if not for an iCal bug Automator would have been the way to go. I worked pretty hard at making it work with Automator but eventually realized that the reason it didn't work was something I couldn't work around. So I turned to AppleScript.

Here's the script. The gray parts are comments, put there to help you understand what's going on. Note: the script gets you part of the way there. You still need something to trigger the script at the appropriate time. Lots of programs can do that for you. I chose Script Timer, a nice little $12 program that I just found out about. Here's the link. You can get a free 30-day trial.

set the_text to ""
set today to current date
set time of today to 0
set tomorrow to (today) + 86400 -- seconds
-- Here are the calendars I want to check. Yours will be different. Change the following line to match the names of your calendars.
-- If you are going to check ALL of your calendars this script could be simplified. Send me an email and I'll help you.
-- Christian Boyce, macman@christianboyce.com
set the_calendar_list to {"CB & A", "usc football 2009", "Cal Football 2009", "Texas Football 2009", "UCLA Football 2009", "Birthdays"}
tell application "iCal"
-- First we need to tell iCal which calendars are going to be checked. We match the names in "the_calendar_list" to the names of the actual calendars in iCal. The ones that match are added to our "the_calendars" list.
set the_calendars to {}
set every_calendar to every calendar
-- Now we have a list of calendars to check.
repeat with an_item in the_calendar_list
set end of the_calendars to (first calendar whose name is an_item)
end repeat
-- Now we check, on a calendar by calendar basis, for appointments on the current day.
repeat with a_calendar in the_calendars
tell a_calendar
set the_events to (every event whose start date > today and start date < tomorrow)
-- Here we sort the list of events for the day. If we don't do this they won't be chronological. iCal sorts them in creation order unless we run this little "sortEvents" routine.
set the_events to my sortEvents(the_events)
-- Now we have a sorted list. Let's create a string for the Mac to speak. Loop through the events and make that string.
set i to 1
repeat with an_event in the_events
set x to properties of an_event
set the_summary to summary of an_event
set the_start_date to start date of an_event
set the_end_date to end date of an_event
set the_start_time to time string of the_start_date
set the_end_time to time string of the_end_date
set the_text to the_text & return & "Appointment number" & i & "." & return & the_start_time & " to " & the_end_time & "." & return & summary of an_event & return & return
set i to i + 1
end repeat
end tell
end repeat
-- If there aren't any events the string "the_text" will be empty. In that case we want to say something different.
if the_text is "" then
set the_text to "Good morning." & return & "Today is " & date string of (current date) & return & return & "Unfortunately, you have no appointments today."
set the_text to "Good morning." & return & "Today is " & date string of (current date) & return & return & "Here are today's appointments." & return & return & the_text & return & "That was the last appointment for today."
end if
end tell
-- This is neat: I want to set the volume loud enough for me to hear it, and then set the volume back to where it was before I adjusted it.
set old_volume to output volume of (get volume settings)
set volume output volume 60
say the_text using "Alex"
set volume output volume (old_volume)
-- This is the sorting subroutine. I found it on MacScripter.net.
on findLeastItem(lst)
tell application "iCal"
set theLeast to start date of item 1 of lst
set theIndex to 1
set iterater to 1
repeat with i in lst
if start date of i theLeast then
set theLeast to start date of i
set theIndex to iterater
end if
set iterater to iterater + 1
end repeat

return theIndex
end tell
end findLeastItem

on removeItemAtIndex(lst, theIndex)
set newList to {}
set theLength to length of lst
if theLength = 1 then
set newList to {}
else if theLength = theIndex then
set newList to items 1 thru (theLength - 1) of lst
else if theIndex = 1 then
set newList to items 2 thru theLength of lst
set newList to items 1 thru (theIndex - 1) of lst & items (theIndex + 1) thru (theLength) of lst
end if
return newList
end removeItemAtIndex

on sortEvents(myList)
set myNewList to {}
repeat until length of myList = 0
set leastIndex to findLeastItem(myList)
set end of myNewList to item leastIndex of myList
set myList to removeItemAtIndex(myList, leastIndex)
end repeat
return myNewList
end sortEvents

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Great Deal on Microsoft Office 2008

Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Home & Student Edition

If you need it, you need it. Buy it from Amazon and you'll pay $119.99. That's thirty bucks off the price you pay at the Apple Store, and since you don't pay tax with Amazon you save even more: $44.580125, to be exact. Yes, you'll have to wait to get it delivered, but there's no shipping charge, and who has an extra $44.580125 these days? Another ten bucks and you'll have enough to get a copy of iWork '09 too.

Use the link above to go straight to it.

Note: using the Amazon links on this page, including the search box at the left, results in Amazon crediting a referral fee to the Boyce Blog, at no cost to you. As long as you're going to buy from Amazon anyway you may as well enjoy knowing that you're helping out your local Mac man.

Your local Mac man appreciates your support.

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Genius Mix: cool new iTunes feature

Apple iTunes 9 logo and icon
Apple's new iTunes 9 has a couple of nice new features. One of the nicest is called "Genius Mixes." Previous versions of iTunes has Genius Playlists, which I knew about but never used because it didn't seem all that groovy, but Genius Mixes are exclusive to iTunes 9-- and they are very groovy.

Before we learn about Genius Mixes, let's review Genius Playlists so we have something to compare to.

Genius Playlists
Millions of people use iTunes. Apple figures that, on average, people know how to group songs into collections (playlists) that sound good together. Apple lets iTunes users send information about the songs and playlists on their machines to Apple's servers, and by now, a lot of people have done it. Thus, Apple has a pretty robust set of data from which to draw conclusions about which songs go together and which songs don't. Apple will generate a list of songs that go together for you, based on any single song you choose, and that's a Genius Playlist. The default is a 25-song list (pulling from songs you already own) but Genius Playlists can be up to 100 songs long.

Obviously, you're going to get different Genius Playlists when you choose different songs as starting points. Choosing the "proper" song to use as a starting point becomes a Very Important Thing.

Genius Mixes
Conceptually, a Genius Mix is a lot like a Genius Playlist, except there's no 100-song limit (in fact, there's no limit at all), and there's no need to choose a song to base the playlist on, because Apple analyzes ALL of your songs, then groups them into "mixes" that somehow work together. Play a Genius Mix and the music plays forever, something like your own custom radio station. It's a neat way to rediscover your music, and since it's free, you may as well try.

There is no telling how your music will be "mixed" but Apple made four Genius Mixes out of mine: two Country-Western, one Classical, and one R&B. The more music you have the more mixes they'll make, so don't be surprised if you end up with more than four.

Enough talk. Let's make it happen. Remember that Genius Mixes are an iTunes 9 feature: if you need iTunes 9, here's a link to where you can get it.

Start up iTunes and choose "Turn on Genius" from the Store menu. (If "Turn on Genius" isn't there, it's already turned on. Skip down to Step Two.) You'll get a window asking you (again) to turn on Genius, which you do by clicking a button, signing in to your iTunes Store account, agreeing to Apple's terms, and finally clicking "Continue."

Step Two: wait just a few moments as Apple analyzes your music, then click on one of the mixes. Here's an example (one of mine).
Country Mix Genius Playlist
The Mix will begin to play as soon as you click it. You won't see a list of the songs in the Mix so don't bother looking. Just sit back, relax, and listen.

I didn't think the Genius Mix would be all that interesting but I have changed my mind. Now I find myself turning to the Genius Mix rather than any of the playlists that I created by hand. It might turn out the same way for you. Give it a whirl and see.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your Photo on NationalGeographic.com

Hey, photographers: National Geographic wants YOU. Rather, they want your pictures. Only if they're good though. Every day they publish "The Daily Dozen" online, twelve photos submitted by regular people. Maybe even you. Some of the photos selected for the Daily Dozen will also be published in National Geographic's print edition. Here's the link to get started. Read the fine print, especially if you're interested in getting paid, because they'll not be paying at all, not ever.

You really should check it out. Here's the Daily Dozen from September 16th, 2009.

National Geographic Daily Dozen

You can do it. Let me know if you do.

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Sports Calendars for iCal and iPhone

It’s really handy to have the schedules of your favorite teams on your Mac and iPhone. But, it’s no fun at all to have to type it all in. Luckily for us, someone else has already done it, and all you have to do is know where to click.

Let’s say you want the UCLA Bruin football schedule on your Mac and iPhone. Click this link (using your Mac-- we’ll take care of your iPhone soon enough), and you get a dialog box that looks like this:

iCal subscribed calendar settings 1

Click "Subscribe" and you're halfway there. You'll see another box:

iCal subscribed calendar settings 2
Change the name if you'd like (usually you'll want to shorten it), change the color if you'd like (I like to match the team color, so purple is wrong in this case), and finally change that "Auto-refresh" to "Every Day." If you do that, you'll be up to date if the game time is changed, and you'll be able to click on past games in your calendar to see the scores. Fun.

If you want to get calendars for other football teams, the URL is here:


Go to that page, choose your team, then look for the "Scores & Schedules" link. Click that, and (finally) look for the "iCal" link in the "Add Schedule" section near the top.

Note: if you do the work on your Mac you'll actually take care of your iPhone too (that is, the calendars will just show up), assuming you sync your iPhone with your Mac. You probably do. If it's not automatic, you need to get the 3.1 iPhone update. Send me a note if you don't know how to do that.

If you ignore my advice to "do it on the Mac" and instead you start with the iPhone, you'll get the calendars on the iPhone... but they will not automatically show up on the Mac. Start with the Mac. I wouldn't tell you if it wasn't for your own good.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

iPhone 3.1 Update

Last Wednesday’s iPod/iTunes lovefest marked the introduction of the iPhone 3.1 update. I installed it on my iPhone 3GS without a problem though the process was very time-consuming. Figure on at least an hour to get this done. Of course it’s completely automatic: connect your iPhone to your Mac, and when iTunes launches click on the iPhone icon at the left, then Check for Updates. Then go do something else, because you don’t want to mess with the computer while the update is being done.

Keeping in mind that this is a free update*, you get a lot for your money. Apple has a list of the improvements but here’s the Executive Summary:
  • Genius recommendations for Apps
  • Genius Mixes
  • Download ringtones
  • Organize Apps via iTunes
  • More flexible synching of music etc.
  • Remotely lock the iPhone in case you lose it
  • Voice Control now works with Bluetooth headsets
I’d get a copy of iTunes 9 before you do this (in fact, I think you have to). That’s free too. Here’s the link.

* “Free” means “free if you have an iPhone, $4.95 if you have an iPod Touch.”

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Great deal on iWork '09

You already know that Apple’s iWork ’09 is a lot more fun than Microsoft Office. Right? (If not, click this link and watch videos until you’re convinced.) I recently gave a demonstration of iWork ’09 at the Cap Mac user group in Austin, Texas and after the show everyone wanted to know how to get it for less than the $79 list price.

Well, here’s how. Click this link and you’ll go to Amazon, where you can buy it for $59.99 with free shipping.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Apple Special Event Recap

Apple’s special event came and went yesterday-- pretty interesting stuff, especially if you spend your time rearranging your music. The highlights: a new version of iTunes, and iPod nanos with video cameras. Details follow.

The new iTunes (version 9) is easy to navigate if you’ve used any previous version. New features include the ability to actually move music from machine to machine, through the network, and something that lets you organize your iPhone apps just so, on the computer, before synching to your iPhone. Both features are things a lot of us wanted a long time ago. That doesn’t make them any less useful.

The new iPod nano somehow contains a video camera. I predict a giant increase in YouTube posts. The new nano also has an FM receiver in it-- and you can pause the music even though it’s coming through the air. Pretty neat.

Steve Jobs MC’d the event. There was a very long and sincere round of appreciative applause from the crowd when Mr. Jobs came out. You can watch it all by clicking here.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Apple Event September 9th

Apple will hold a special event, centered on iPods and iTunes, Wednesday September 9th in San Francisco. The event is called “It’s only rock and roll, but we like it.” As usual, there are plenty of people guessing at what Apple has up its sleeve. I can guess too, but why bother? We’ll all know in a couple of days. In the meantime, here’s my advice: don’t buy an iPod before Wednesday.

Here’s the front of the invitation that Apple sent out.
it's only rock and roll

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Scroll through Mail messages the easy way

You learned way back in July of 2008 that pressing the spacebar in Safari will scroll the window down. You also learned that holding the shift key and pressing the spacebar in Safari will scroll the window up. I just figured out that the same moves work in Apple’s Mail program. Press the spacebar to scroll down, hold the shift key and press the spacebar to scroll up. Incredible. What a time-saver.

Bonus: if you’re reading an email and you’re scrolling along with the space bar, and then you come to the end of the message so there’s nothing left to scroll, and then you press the spacebar again, the Mail program will jump to the next message. This works perfectly when your mail is sorted with the new stuff at the BOTTOM. It works in reverse if the new stuff is at the top. Try it and see.

Thanks to Dave for the bonus hint.

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