Use Spotlight to Convert Units, Track Flights, Find Movies, and More!

Spotlight

Most Mac users probably think of searching on the Mac in relation to finding files on their drives. That may be the most common use of Apple’s Spotlight search technology, but over the years, Apple has continually enhanced Spotlight’s capabilities, turning it into a veritable Swiss Army Knife that you can invoke with a quick press of Command-Space bar or a click on the magnifying glass at the right side of the menu bar.

Here are a few of our favorite uses for Spotlight that you may not have been aware of.

Launch Apps and Open System Preference Panes

We recommend putting apps you use all the time in the Dock for quick access, but what about apps you need only occasionally? You can always root around in the Applications folder for them, but for quicker access, invoke Spotlight and type the first few characters of the app’s name (Spotlight will guess at what you want; if it’s wrong, keep typing). Then double-click the app in the results list or if it’s already selected, press Return. It’s a great way to bring up Activity Monitor to see what’s happening when your Mac feels slow. This trick also works wonders for opening panes in System Preferences.

For apps and preference panes whose names have multiple words, you can also try typing the first letter of each word, like ug to find and open the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences.

Convert Units and Currency

Need to figure out what 72º F is in Celsius? Or precisely how many quarts are in a 2-liter bottle? Spotlight can do all sorts of conversions for you. Just start typing your starting number, like 72, and then follow it with something that indicates your starting unit, such as “F” or “degrees.” Spotlight displays the conversion instantly, so you can tell if you’ve guessed wrong about the unit (K is degrees Kelvin, so you’d use km to figure out how many miles in a 24-kilometer race).

Particularly useful is Spotlight’s capability to do real-time currency conversions, since exchange rates fluctuate. It can’t do every currency on the planet, so you’re on your own if you need to check on Burundi francs, but you’ll find all the major currencies. The trick is knowing their abbreviations: the British pound is abbreviated GBP, the Canadian dollar is CAD, the Japanese yen is JPY, and so on. To convert from US dollars into another currency add the phrase “in GBP” or the like after the dollar amount.

Perform Calculations

We’ve come a long way from thinking that calculator watches are the height of geek chic, but a calculator is still handy now and then. When you want to perform a simple calculation for which a spreadsheet would be overkill, you could use Spotlight to launch the Calculator app, but it’s faster to type your calculation into Spotlight itself. It even supports parentheses for specifying an order of operations. The screenshot is just for illustration; we mostly use this feature to add up a series of numbers.

Look Up Words

Can’t remember the difference between “affect” and “effect”? macOS’s Dictionary app has all the help you need, but as with Calculator, Spotlight is a fast substitute. Type the word and click the entry under Definition to see the dictionary entry over on the side. If you want to look for synonyms in the thesaurus or explore other aspects of the word, press Return to open the word in the Dictionary app.

Track Airline Flights

Need to pick your relatives up at the airport? Rather than hoping that their flight will be on time, check to see if it is, with Spotlight. You can usually type the airline name and flight number, but it’s safest if you know the airline’s two-letter code, like DL for Delta, UA for United Airlines, and so on.

Find Movie Info and Show Times

Spotlight can even prove useful at the end of the day when you’re trying to figure out if a particular movie is playing at the local cineplex. Enter the title of a current movie and click its entry in the results under Movies to see all sorts of details, including its Rotten Tomatoes rating, when and where it’s playing, and if you can instead get it on iTunes.

Stocks, Sports Scores, and Weather

Wait, there’s more! Type a ticker symbol, like AAPL, into Spotlight to see the stock’s current price and activity for the day. Enter the name of a professional sports team to see the score of the team’s latest game (assuming they’re in season) and upcoming schedule. And type “weather” and a city name to check the climate conditions for that location and get an extended forecast.

Customize Spotlight

You’ve probably noticed all sorts of other odd items in the results list. That’s because there’s no telling what old email messages or documents might also contain your search term. But you can trim the results somewhat by turning certain items off. To do this, open System Preferences > Spotlight and deselect any categories that aren’t helpful.

If you never knew or have forgotten how useful Spotlight can be, give it a try!

(Featured image by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash)

Try an iCloud Link for Faster, Easier Photo Sharing

It’s easy to share a single photo from your iPhone or iPad with a friend, but if you want to share a bunch of photos or lengthy videos, sending them in Messages or Mail might not work or could impact your (and your recipients’) data caps. In iOS 12, Apple added a clever feature that instead uploads the files to iCloud and lets you share a simple link that your recipients can use to view and download. Use this approach and your messages will send and be received faster and more reliably.

This feature requires that you use iCloud Photos (previously called iCloud Photo Library). If you’re not already set up with iCloud Photos, you can turn it on in Settings > Photos, but be aware that you will likely need to pay for more iCloud storage ($0.99 per month for 50 GB, $2.99 for 200 GB, and $9.99 for 2 TB). Your recipients don’t need to use iCloud Photos, though, and in fact, they can use any device or operating system.

Send iCloud Links

It’s easy to send an iCloud Link. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the Photos app on an iPhone or iPad running iOS 12.
  2. In any view with multiple thumbnails showing, tap Select.
  3. Tap one or more photos or videos to select them.
  4. Tap the Share button.
  5. In the bottom row of icons in the Share sheet, tap Copy iCloud Link. You may have to scroll to the right to see it.
  6. After iOS prepares the items for sharing, it puts the iCloud link on the clipboard.
  7. Switch to whatever app you’re using to communicate and paste the link by pressing in a text area and tapping Paste in the control that appears. Messages will generate a preview thumbnail for you; other apps will display a Web URL to icloud.com.

Manage iCloud Links

By default, items you share via an iCloud link are stored for only 30 days. That’s a good thing—you don’t have to worry about things hanging around forever. However, it does mean that your recipients need to get around to viewing or downloading within that time. And what if you want to remove access before the 30 days are up? Plus, what if you want to send the iCloud link to another person—how do you get it again?

Here’s the trick. In Photos, tap For You, then tap your collection under Recently Shared to open it. Then tap the blue more button in the upper-right corner to display a menu with two options:

  • To get the link again to send to another person, tap Copy iCloud Link.
  • To remove the files from iCloud, tap Stop Sharing.

Receive iCloud Links

When someone sends you an iCloud link, opening it is as simple as tapping or clicking the link, just like any other Web URL. (As with other Web links, if you’re receiving an iCloud link in Messages, you’ll see a thumbnail preview instead of the URL.)

If you’re receiving the iCloud link on an iOS device, tapping it opens the collection in the For You tab of Photos with a convenient Add All button for bringing the photos into your own library. If you don’t want all of them, you can instead tap Select to pick a few.

However, opening the iCloud link on a Mac or any other device opens it in a Web browser, with a Photos-like display. By default, all the photos are selected, although you can click the blue checkmark for any one to deselect it or click Deselect All. Clicking the round spot where the checkmark was selects an image again. Once the photos you want are selected, click Download.

Alternatively, if you just want to look at the photos online, click any photo to expand it. All the other photos appear in a scrolling bar below, and you can click them or use the arrow keys to navigate through them.

So next time you have some photos to share and don’t want to waste bandwidth or mess around with shared albums, try sending an iCloud link instead!

(Featured image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

How to Clear Unnecessary Data and Free Up Hard Drive Space On Your Mac

SSDs are great—they’re fast, durable, and reliable—but they’re also expensive, which results in many of us not having as much storage built into our Macs as we’d like. Particularly for those who watch videos in iTunes or take a lot of photos, it’s all too easy to run out of space on your Mac’s internal drive.

MacPaw’s CleanMyMac X is a great solution for those who don’t mind its $89.95 price tag. This utility can help you identify and remove unnecessary data to free up space. It can ferret out forgotten downloads, old videos, mammoth folders, bloated caches, outdated iOS updates and backups, copies of iOS apps, and more. It also boasts other features that can improve performance, protect your Mac from malware, and keep your apps up to date.

But if you want to go the belt-and-suspenders route, you can use Apple’s built-in tool for cleaning house: Storage Management.

Apple hid Storage Management inside the System Information app, but there’s a shortcut for accessing it. Choose  Apple > About This Mac, click the Storage button, and then click Manage… but wait! Before you click Manage, look at the About This Mac window’s Storage view.

Hover over each colored bar to see how much space is taken up by a particular type of data. The white space at the end of the bar shows space that’s still available. You can’t do much here, but the view gives you a quick overview of your usage.

When you click Manage, System Information launches, and the Storage Management window appears. (You can also open System Information manually and choose Window > Storage Management.) In the sidebar at the left, ignore Recommendations and look at the rest of the categories, particularly Applications, Documents, and iOS Files. The specific categories will vary a bit between Macs, depending on what apps you use, but they correspond to the colored bars you saw in the About This Mac window’s Storage view.

Applications

The Applications category lists your apps and is sorted by size by default. But try clicking the column header for Kind and scrolling down. You can probably trash most apps tagged as Duplicates or Older Versions. Similarly, click the Last Accessed column header to see which apps you haven’t launched in years. Many of them can probably go. Plus, you can redownload anything tagged as coming from the App Store, so you can toss those apps to save space.

Documents

In Documents, you’ll see three buttons: Large Files, Downloads, and File Browser. Large Files focuses on files over 50 MB in size, Downloads displays the contents of your Downloads folder (much of which you likely don’t need), and File Browser gives you a column view that’s sorted by file size and shows sizes next to each item. It’s great for trawling through your drive to see what’s consuming all that space.

In any of these views other than File Browser, hover over any item to see an X button for deleting the file and a magnifying glass button that reveals the file in the Finder. To delete multiple files at once, Command-click or Shift-click to select them and then press the Delete key to remove them all at once. Storage Management gives you the combined size of all the selected files and warns you before deleting the files, so you can use this technique to preview how much space a multi-file deletion will save.

In File Browser, select one or more files and either drag them to the Trash icon in the Dock, or press Command-Delete.

iOS Files

If you’ve used iTunes to manage iOS devices in the past, pay special attention to the iOS Files category. It shows any device backups and software updates that are stored on your Mac’s drive. If you still use iTunes to back up your device, it’s worth keeping the latest backup of devices you still use, but many people have obsolete backups and unnecessary updates kicking around.

Other

As noted before, the rest of the categories here may vary depending on what apps you use. With Books and iTunes, you can remove content that you’ve purchased since you can download it again. With Mail and Photos, Storage Management merely tells you how much space the app’s data occupies and lets you enable space optimization (downloading only recent attachments for Mail, and keeping only optimized photos on the Mac). To save more space, you must delete unnecessary data from within the app itself.

If your Mac’s drive is filling up—if it has less than 10 percent free space—consider using the Storage Management tools to search out and delete files that are wasting space. To be safe, make a backup first!

Photos Library Too Big? – How to Move It to an External Hard Drive

SSDs are essential for ensuring optimal performance on a Mac, but because they’re expensive, many people don’t have as much built-in storage space as they would like. If your Photos library has grown to the point where your SSD is nearly full, it might be time to think about offloading it to an external hard drive. (Don’t put it on a drive that you’re using as a Time Machine destination because there could be permissions conflicts, and note that Apple doesn’t recommend storing a Photos library on a drive shared over a network.)

Before we explain how to offload your photos, we want to mention another way of reducing the Photos footprint on your drive. If you’re using iCloud Photos (previously called iCloud Photo Library) to sync photos and videos between your devices, the originals are all stored in iCloud. In Photos > Preferences > iCloud, you can enable Optimize Mac Storage, which swaps the full-resolution images for smaller versions, saving a boatload of space. However, you may find Photos somewhat slower to use, as it has to download full-resolution versions of images you work with, and you won’t have a local backup of the original images. So it’s an option, but it has tradeoffs.

For most people with burgeoning Photos libraries, a better approach is to offload the entire library to an external hard drive. This approach comes with tradeoffs too; accessing images from a hard drive is slower than getting them from an internal SSD, and you have to figure out how you’re going to back up that drive as well. Plus, the drive has to be available, connected, and turned on (so you have to listen to it) for you to use Photos at all, which might be especially annoying if you regularly work remotely on a notebook Mac.

To move your Photos library to an external drive, follow these steps:

  1. If it’s running, quit Photos.
  2. In the Finder, drag Photos Library, which is stored in your Pictures folder by default, to the external drive. A few answers to common questions:
    • Where on the external drive should I put it? It doesn’t matter, but we recommend putting it at the top level so you are less likely to lose track of it in the future.
    • I got an error—what should I do? If you see an error telling you that you don’t have permission to copy to that drive, select the drive’s icon in the Finder and choose File > Get Info to open the Info window. If necessary click the triangle next to Sharing & Permissions, and make sure “Ignore ownership on this volume” is selected. If it’s not, click the lock icon, enter an administrator name and password, and select the checkbox.
    • How long will it take to copy? Quite some time, depending on how many photos you have. It’s best to do overnight or when you don’t need to use Photos.
  3. When it’s done copying, double-click the new Photos Library icon on the external hard drive to launch Photos and set it to open that new copy on future launches.
  4. If you use iCloud Photos, designate this new library as the System Photo Library by choosing Photos > Preferences > General and clicking the “Use as System Photo Library” button.
  5. Scroll through your photo collection and make sure all your photos are present—double-click a few of them to spot check that the actual images open properly.

Obviously, your original Photos library is still taking up space on your SSD, but it’s best to use the new version for a little while before deleting the old one, just in case. When you’re ready to do that, drag it from the Pictures folder to the trash and choose Finder > Empty Trash to reclaim the space.

Collaborate with Colleagues in Google Docs

Collaboration is what all the cool kids—well, all the competitive businesses—are doing these days because it’s efficient and effective. See “Stop Mailing Files Around and Use Collaborative Apps” and for users of Apple’s iWork, “Collaborate with Colleagues in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.” Today we’re going to look at collaborating using Google’s Web-based productivity suite, Google Docs, which businesses can use for free or as part of a G Suite subscription.

The Google Docs suite competes with Apple’s iWork and Microsoft’s Office 365, providing Google Docs for word processing, Google Sheets for spreadsheet work, and Google Slides for presentations. You can manage all your files in Google Drive. Although all are Web-based and work best on a Mac or other desktop computer, Google also makes iOS apps that let you work—a bit less flexibly—on an iPad or iPhone.

You’ll need a free Google account to create new documents, and for full-fledged collaboration, your colleagues will need Google accounts too. You can share documents with people who lack Google accounts or don’t want to sign in, but their comments and changes will be anonymous.

Invite Collaborators

Once your document is ready to share, you can invite collaborators by clicking the large Share button in the upper-right corner of the window.

Flexible permissions let you share with specific people, and for each person, set whether they can edit, comment on, or just view the document (below left). You can also add a note that will be sent with the invitation.

If that’s too specific—you’re sharing with a large group, for instance—click Get Shareable Link to turn on link sharing (above right). Then you can set the permissions for the link by clicking the down-pointing arrow next to “Anyone with the link can…” This works well for things like self-service signup spreadsheets. Copy the link and send it however you like, such as via Messages or to a mailing list.

If you add people over time, you can see who has access by clicking Advanced. That view also provides more owner controls, including the option to prevent commenters and viewers from downloading, printing, or copying.

When you’re done, click Send or Done.

Accept an Invitation

People you invite receive an email invitation and click the Open In button to start working on the document. With link sharing, all the recipient has to do is click the link.

The main gotcha is that recipients must sign in to their Google accounts if sharing has been restricted to specific people. A less common problem can occur when you send an invitation to someone at an email address that doesn’t match their Google account, which prevents them from collaborating. They can then request that you share the document with their Google account; click the Open Sharing Settings button in the request email to grant access.

Add and Change Data

Apart from the permissions that restrict collaborators to commenting or viewing, there are no limitations on what people can do in a shared document—all editors are equal, and Google Docs works the same whether a document has one person using it or ten.

You can see who is in the document by the little avatar icons in the menu bar. It also tells you when the last edit was, and Google Docs always shows where other users are working with a color-coded cursor and marks when other users have selected content in the document with a colored highlight box.

Add Comments

The beauty of comments in a collaborative scenario is that discussions can occur in context. To add a comment, select some text and choose Insert > Comment. Comments show up in the right-hand sidebar in Google Docs and Google Slides; in Google Sheets, the cell containing a comment gets a little yellow triangle in the corner, and the comment appears when you click the cell.

Google pioneered comment conversations, which allow collaborators to reply to each others’ comments and keep the discussion connected to the initial comment. You can edit or delete your own comments by clicking the stacked three-dot More menu. Do that for someone else’s comment and you can get a link to the comment—it’s useful if you need to point someone to the discussion.

To see all the comments in a stream, click the Comment History button in the menu bar, which looks like a speech balloon. It’s especially useful when reviewing comments in Sheets, where you would otherwise have to click all the little yellow triangles in cells.

View Versions and Suggested Changes

The main way to see who has done what in a document is by choosing File > Version History > See Version History. That displays a right-hand sidebar showing dates when the file was changed; click an entry to see the changes in the main pane. Arrows above the main pane let you highlight each change in turn. If you want to revert to the selected version (which will delete all subsequent changes!), click Restore This Version.

For Google Sheets and Google Slides, version history is all that’s available, which can be frustrating because when you’re reviewing edits in version history, you can’t make changes. As a workaround, open a second browser window so you can review changes in one window and make edits in another.

Google Docs (the word processor, in this case) offers another choice: Suggesting mode, which works more like Track Changes in Page or Word. Switch into it by clicking the pencil icon in the upper-right corner and choosing Suggesting. From then on, all edits are non-destructive and are color-coded by the person who makes them. They’re coupled with boxes in the right-hand sidebar that detail the change, provide ✔ and X icons for accepting or rejecting the change, and offer a Reply field that enables discussions of each change—a brilliant feature.

If you want to be guided through all the suggested edits, or accept or reject changes all at once, rather than handling them one at a time in the right-hand sidebar, choose Tools > Review Suggested Changes.

When you’re done collaborating on a document, you can click the Share button and remove people or turn off link sharing. That immediately prevents others from making more changes.

When choosing a collaboration platform, you’ll generally pick what your colleagues use, whether that’s Google Docs, iWork, or Office 365. However, if you’re sharing with people whose platform and app details you don’t know, Google Docs is the best choice—Google accounts are common and the Google Docs apps work equally well on all computers. Plus, since Google Docs was built from the ground up for collaboration, it’s a mature solution that’s quick, easy, and effective.

Here’s How (and Why) to Get a Custom Email Address

Some facts about ourselves are difficult or impossible to change, but your email address doesn’t have to be one of them. Switching to a custom email address might seem overwhelming, and it will take some time, but it’s not that hard or expensive (and we’re always happy to help if you get stuck).

Why Consider Switching to a Custom Address?

Why would you want to take on such a task? Independence. If you’re using the email address that came from your Internet service provider, you could end up in an awkward situation if you have to move and switch ISPs. Any address that ends in @comcast.net, @anything.rr.com, @verizon.net, @earthlink.net, or the like could be problematic. You also don’t want to rely entirely on a work email address—there’s no guarantee that your employer will forward email for you indefinitely if you take a different job.

Also, an email address says something about you, much as a postal address does—there’s a difference between an address on Central Park versus one in the Bronx. If you’re not happy with what your email address implies, you might want to switch.

What can an email address reveal? Those with a free Juno, Hotmail, or Yahoo account likely signed up years ago and don’t take email very seriously. People who use an @icloud.com, @me.com, or @mac.com address are clearly Apple users, and those with an address ending in @live.com, @msn.com, or @outlook.com are probably Windows users. .edu addresses identify students, teachers, and school employees—but if you’re not one anymore, your email looks like you’re wearing a varsity jacket in your 40s. The big kahuna of email is Gmail, which boasts about 1.5 billion users worldwide now—as a result, using a Gmail address is fairly generic.

The ultimate in independence comes when you register your own domain name, which usually costs less than $20 per year at sites like 1&1 Ionos, Domain.com, easyDNS, Directnic, and Register.com. Then your address can be anything you want at your new custom domain, and you never again have to worry about being tied to your ISP or associated with a free email host.

How to Change to a Custom Address

Step 1: Register a new domain name. The hard part here is thinking of a name that hasn’t already been taken. It’s best to stick with the traditional top-level domains like .com, .net, and .org—if you get into the new ones like .beer (yes, that’s available), your email is a bit more likely to be marked as spam. Most domain registrars will also host your email for you, and if you go this route, you can skip Step 2.

Step 2: If you’re already using Gmail or another independent email provider that isn’t tied to your ISP, log in to your account at your domain registrar and configure it to forward all email to your existing email address. In this case, you can skip Steps 3 and 4.

However, if you aren’t happy with your current email provider, you’ll need to set up an account with a new one. There are lots, but many people use a paid email provider like FastMail or easyMail that usually charges less than $50 per year and supports multiple mailboxes. When you set up the account, you’ll need to create one or more new email addresses at the provider and configure MX (mail exchange) records with your domain registrar—the service will provide instructions for this.

Step 3: If you’re changing email providers as part of this process, you’ll need to configure Mail—or whatever email client you’re using—to connect to your new email account with the login credentials you set up. That’s not hard, but being able to send email that comes from your custom address can require some effort with the free email providers. Gmail provides instructions, and others that support this feature will as well. Unfortunately, iCloud won’t let you send email using a custom address.

Step 4: If you’re moving to a new email provider, you’ll need to forward your mail from your old provider to your new custom address. Most email providers and ISPs have a screen somewhere in the account settings of their Web sites that lets you enter a forwarding address.

Step 5: Tell your family, friends, and colleagues about your new email address, and update mailing lists and accounts at sites like Amazon that send you email. The forwarding you set up in the previous step will ensure you don’t miss anything during the transition, but remember that if you cancel your old ISP account, that forwarding may end immediately, so it’s important to start the process well in advance.

The details will vary depending on your choice of domain registrar and email provider, so again, if you would like additional recommendations or assistance in setting all this up, just let us know.