Drift Off to Music or Lectures

iBooks in iOS has a built-in sleep timer that can automatically pause playback after a specified amount of time, which is great for listening to an audiobook as you go to sleep (tap the Moon button below the volume slider). What if you prefer listening to content that’s not in iBooks, like music or a college lecture? To set a sleep timer that works for Music, iTunes U, or any other app that plays audio, open the Clock app and tap the Timer button. Next, tap When Timer Ends (iPhone) or the selected sound (iPad), scroll to the end of the list of sounds, and select Stop Playing. When you’re ready to listen as you drift off to sleep, start the timer just before or right after you press Play in your audio app.

sleep-timer-stop-playing

Teleport Around Your Mac with the Sidebar

If your Mac resembles an absent-minded professor’s office with files and folders strewn hither and thither, getting to the right spot to open or save a file may have become slow and clumsy. Sure, in an ideal world, you’d organize everything perfectly, but you’d also be flossing twice a day, calling your mother every Sunday, and eating more leafy greens. So let’s talk about a shortcut that lets you put off that big reorg for another day: the sidebar that graces every Finder window and Open/Save dialog.

Sidebar-Finder-window

First, make sure it’s showing. In the Finder, with a Finder window active, if the View menu has a Show Sidebar command, choose it. (If it says Hide Sidebar, the sidebar is already showing.) Or, when you’re in an Open or Save dialog, click the sidebar sidebar-button  button (it’s in the dialog’s toolbar) to show and hide the sidebar.

Sidebar-Open-dialog

Now, to make the best use of the sidebar, try these tips:

  • Sidebar-Finder-prefsBy default, the sidebar shows a lot of items you likely don’t use. Turn off anything that’s unnecessary to make the sidebar shorter and more useful. Choose Finder > Preferences > Sidebar to see four categories of sidebar items. Favorites are mostly folders, Shared items are networked computers and servers, Devices are hard drives and other storage devices, and Tags display recently used Finder tags. Be ruthless here and uncheck anything that you seldom use or don’t understand.
  • To make the sidebar even more manageable temporarily, hover the pointer over a category label in the sidebar and click Hide when it appears. That category’s contents disappear, making what’s still in the sidebar easier to focus on; to get them back, hover over it again and click Show.Sidebar-hide-category
  • Add your own frequently used folders to the Favorites category so you have one-click access to them in the Finder and when opening or saving files. Drag a folder from the Finder to the Favorites list to add it. The folder is still on your disk in the original location, but if you click it in the sidebar, its contents appear instantly in the Finder window. If you’re tempted to add a slew of folders to the sidebar, resist the urge. Instead, add a new folder that contains aliases to your desired folders; it’s only one more click in the Finder window’s Column view to see their contents. (To make an alias, select the folder and choose File > Make Alias; you can then move the alias to the desired location and rename it however you want.)
  • Don’t be shy about adding and removing folders; there’s no harm in adding a folder for a few days while you’re working on a project, and then removing it when you’re done. To remove a folder, Control-click it and choose Remove from Sidebar. The folder disappears from the sidebar, but stays on your disk.Sidebar-removing-folder
  • Organize your favorites so they’re in an order that makes sense to you, whether that’s alphabetical or the most important at the top. To do this, simply drag them to rearrange.
  • Once you have your sidebar set up as you want, make sure you use it! In the Finder, to open files, click a folder in the sidebar to display its contents. You can even drag files from one folder into another folder in the sidebar to move them—or Option-drag to copy them.
  • When you want to open a file in an app, choose File > Open, and in the Open dialog, click sidebar items to jump directly to those folders. The same goes when saving a new file; choose File > Save and use your sidebar to navigate to the desired location.

Put these tips into play on your Mac, and you’ll be teleporting between far-flung folders in no time!

What Different Graphics Formats Are Good For

When it comes to graphics on the Internet, it’s easy to feel as though you’re swimming for your life in a giant bowl of alphabet soup, surrounded by shouting acronyms: GIF! JPEG! PNG! TIFF! What do those names mean? Why does your camera spit out JPEGs? What’s the best format for a Web graphic? Grab onto a capital O and let’s get some answers.

First off, don’t worry about the acronyms, because expanding them doesn’t explain much. For example, JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which is the standards body that invented the JPEG format. Helpful? Not really. So think of them just as names, like Sally or Fred. That said, it can be helpful to know how they’re pronounced:

  • GIF: Either “jif,” as in jiffy, or “gif” as in “gift” — it’s an interesting story.
  • JPEG: “jay-peg”
  • PNG: “ping”
  • TIFF: “tiff”

Here’s the lowdown on each:

GIF: The oldest of these formats, GIF was long the standard for computer-generated images. It worked well for graphics and logos with large areas of solid color, but less so for photos. Due in part to a patent licensing kerfuffle, GIF has been superseded by PNG in all ways but one.

GIF’s remaining use lies in flipbook-style animations, where each frame is a separate GIF image. Animated GIFs that run in short loops have become wildly popular on the Internet because they’re small and easy to embed in a Facebook or Twitter post, email message, or Web page. Numerous utilities exist for turning a short movie clip into an animated GIF; check out GIF Brewery on the Mac or Giphy Cam for an iPad or iPhone.

graphics-running-penguin

JPEG: The most common graphics format on the Internet, JPEG owes its popularity to being the default format for photos created by all digital cameras, including those in iPhones and iPads. JPEG works well for photos because it can compress file sizes significantly while barely affecting the image quality.

For instance, a 20 MB photo saved in JPEG format might end up as only 4 MB, with reductions in image quality that most people would never even notice. Most graphics software lets you adjust a slider to specify different quality levels, and while the results vary by the photo, saving at a 75% quality level is usually a good compromise between quality and file size.

The downside of JPEG is that it achieves these minuscule file sizes by throwing away data in the file, which limits how they can be edited in the future. That’s why professional photographers generally shoot in what are called “raw” formats (which contain all the image data the camera sensor recorded when the shutter was opened). Raw files are huge but can be edited in ways that aren’t possible with a JPEG file. Once edits have been made, photographers save a copy as a JPEG for sharing or posting online.

graphics-red-flower-jpeg

PNG: Conceived as an improved, patent-free alternative to GIF, PNG is now the go-to format for online graphics such as buttons, logos, and screenshots that have large areas of solid color. That’s because PNG can compress such images well without introducing any fuzziness, as can happen with JPEG. Similarly, you can edit PNG images repeatedly without hurting image quality.

In another contrast with JPEG, PNG supports transparency, which means you can define one color in an image as “transparent” rather than an actual color. When the image is displayed on a Web page, the transparent pixels are rendered in whatever the background color is. That’s tremendously handy for creating images that appear to float over the background.

graphics-TC-logo transparent

Don’t use PNG for photos, since a photographic image saved in PNG format will be much larger than the corresponding JPEG.

TIFF: Like PNG, TIFF files can be compressed without losing any data. Because of this, TIFF is used extensively for archiving original photos instead of JPEG; TIFF files may be much larger, but that’s acceptable when it comes to preserving originals from which you could later make edited copies.

TIFF also boasts some additional color-related features that PNG lacks, making TIFF useful in the print world—if you were to write a book that was going to be printed professionally, the publisher might ask for any photos or other illustrations in TIFF format. Useful as TIFF can be, for most people, most of the time, JPEG and PNG are all you need.

Nearly any graphics program can open images in these formats and convert to the other formats, but look no further than the bundled Preview app from Apple on your Mac for basic image conversion features (for more info about using Preview, check out Take Control of Preview, by Adam Engst and Josh Centers).

In closing, now that you know the basics of the Mac’s most important graphics formats, you are ready to put your best foot forward whenever you need to pick a file format for your images.

Share Photos via iCloud Photo Sharing

Thanks to the iPhone, everyone takes photos on vacation these days, and while you probably don’t want to share all of them, friends and relatives might like to see a Best Of collection. Or you might wish to share baby photos with your family or pictures of your new city with friends back home.

With iCloud, it’s easy to create a shared album, invite other iCloud users to subscribe to it (handy for viewing on an iOS device or Apple TV, in particular), and to create a public Web page of the photos that anyone can see, even if they don’t use any Apple devices.

First, some setup:

  • On an iOS device, go to Settings > iCloud > Photos and turn on the iCloud Photo Sharing switch.
  • On a Mac, open System Preferences > iCloud, click the Options button next to Photos, select iCloud Photo Sharing, and click the Done button.iCloud-Photo-Sharing-switch

Next, follow these steps, which are similar regardless of the device you’re using:

  1. In the Photos app, select some photos or videos. In iOS, that involves tapping Select before tapping the items to select; on the Mac, just Command-click the items you want, or drag a selection rectangle around them.
  2. Hit the Share iCloud-Photo-Sharing-Share-button-144 button, and then pick iCloud Photo Sharing.
  3. Select an existing album or create a new shared album.
  4. For a new album, provide a name, enter the names or email addresses of any iCloud users with whom you want to share the album, and add an optional comment.
  5. When you’re done, tap Post in iOS or click Create on the Mac.iCloud-Photo-Sharing-new-album

To add more photos, repeat those steps to select photos and then add them to a shared album. Alternatively, start with the shared album, though the steps vary slightly between iOS and the Mac:

  • In Photos for iOS, if necessary, back out of the view until you see the Shared button in the toolbar. Tap Shared and select the shared album. Then tap the + button, select the items to add, tap Done, enter an optional comment, and tap Post.
  • In Photos for the Mac, in the sidebar, select the shared album in the Shared category. Then click “Add photos and videos,” select the items to add, and click the Add button.

It’s easy to tweak the options for your shared album or to create a public Web page for it. The process is again similar in both operating systems:

  • In Photos for iOS, tap Shared in the toolbar and select the shared album. Tap People to bring up a screen where you can share the album with more people, control whether subscribers can post their own photos, create a public Web page, enable notifications, and delete the album entirely. To share the URL to the public Web page, tap Share Link and select a sharing method.iCloud-Photo-Sharing-details
  • In Photos for the Mac, select the shared album in the sidebar, and then click the People iCloud-Photo-Sharing-People-button  button in the toolbar. From the popover that appears, you can do the same things as in iOS, although sharing the link is best done by either clicking it to visit it in a Web browser and then copying from there or Control-clicking it and choosing Copy Link from the contextual menu.

After practicing these steps a few times, you’ll be able to create shared albums in a flash, and share them easily.

Cycle through a Mac App’s Windows via the Keyboard

It’s easy, in some apps, to end up with oodles of open windows. You can usually switch between them by clicking those you can see or by choosing one from the Window menu, but wouldn’t it be nice to cycle through them from the keyboard, much as you can cycle through active apps with Command-Tab? You can! By default, the shortcut is Command-Backtick (the key above Tab), but if you want to change it to something else, open System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Keyboard and look for “Move focus to next window” in the list. To change the shortcut, double-click right on it in the list and type your preferred alternative.

keyboard-cycle-windows-shortcut

Simplify Naming Files in the Mac’s Save Dialog

If you frequently create files whose names vary from those of other files in the same folder by only a date, sequence number, or the like, you can ensure regularized file naming and save yourself some effort with this trick. When you’re saving your file, click a grayed-out file in the Save dialog’s listing to make OS X auto-fill that file’s name in the Save As field, where you can tweak it rather than typing a new name from scratch.

Name-in-Save-dialog

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