Category Archives: How I Do It

Simple instructions about how I use my Macs that can help you get the most out of yours.

How I Do It #3: iTunes Media Streaming

I just finished watching an episode of my favorite television show, Top Gear, but I did it in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago.

The show itself is a 700mb Quicktime mp4 file that lives on a 1-terabyte Western Digital external hard drive. That drive is connected via firewire to the iMac that sits on the desk in our office at home.

I created a reference to that Quicktime file in iTunes on the iMac by turning off the “Copy files to iTunes’ music folder” option in iTunes’ advanced preferences. That way, movie files are not added to the internal hard drive, saving space, but iTunes knows where they are and can play them when the external drive is connected. Normally, this “copy files” option is always on so that when I add music, iTunes organizes it nicely into the ~/iTunes/iTunes music folder.

But I don’t want to watch movies on my iMac at my desk, so out in the living room I’ve told my AppleTV to stream media from my iMac without syncing it to the AppleTV’s internal drive. So the episode of Top Gear that I watched took this path to get to my television:

Firewire hard drive > iTunes on the iMac > wifi network > AppleTV > TV via HDMI

Streaming playback over wifi from a hard drive daisy-chained to a computer in another room was painless, too. No skipping or stuttering, no dropped frames. The file might as well have been on the AppleTV’s internal 40gb hard drive.

But this isn’t necessarily anything new. People have been using computers and game consoles to stream media to their televisions for a couple years now. The part that wasn’t possible until just this year was that instead of using the little white Apple Remote that comes with the AppleTV, I used the Remote app on my iPhone, as seen here in a screenshot from the phone:

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The black space in the middle normally shows the poster frame or album artwork, but since I didn’t create a poster frame for this Quicktime file, it shows a single frame from near the beginning of the file.

I love it when I’m able to use technology to do stuff like this easily without hours of frustration. There’s something to be said for a company that knows how to get all its products to work together so well, and it’s why I speak so highly of Apple’s products. When someone asks me why I prefer Apple to any other hardware maker, I use examples like this. By being in complete control of the hardware and the software that runs on it, Apple can guarantee that its products will work in harmony. I know it’s corny, but “it just works” is more than a commercial slogan.

Previous “How I Do It” entries:
#1: Auto-click in Safari
#2: Mouse button mapping using USB Overdrive

How I Do It #2: Mouse Button Mapping

Last time, I left off with a promise that I would explain how my mouse settings make browsing faster. So, here’s How I Do It.

Apparently, it’s still a common misconception that Macs can only use a one-button mouse, thanks in no small part to the hockey puck, the “Pro,” and the “looks-can-be-deceiving-but-I-swear-it-has-two-buttons” Mighty Mouse.

It’s something that I run into quite often at my second job. Some people are quite surprised to learn that yes, Macs can use the same mice that PCs use, and no, you don’t have to use the Mighty Mouse that comes with your shiny new iMac. In fact, I would highly suggest that anyone using a Mighty Mouse throw it out right now and replace it with a proper mouse as soon as possible.

I use two: At home, I have a Logitech LX7 at my iMac. With my PowerBook, I use a Logitech VX Nano. Both mice have multiple buttons, which can be mapped to do just about anything you want. Since I switch back and forth from one computer to the other, I set buttons on each mouse to the same commands:

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The OS X drivers that Logitech makes are pretty much useless, but there are excellent alternatives. I used USB Overdrive to map these buttons. There is a similar app called Steermouse that does the same thing, but I had better luck with USB Overdrive.

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So how does this make browsing faster? By mapping my most-used Safari commands to mouse buttons, I rarely have to take my hand off the mouse while browsing.

On both mice, the scroll wheel also tilts to the left and right, which I set as standard forward and back commands. I also have a second “back” command mapped to a specific button, but instead of the “back” command in the USB Overdrive menu, I mapped it as a “delete” keystroke. By doing this, it acts as a “back” when browsing, but I can also use it to quickly delete characters or clear text fields. This may not seem like a big deal, but when Safari’s auto-fill enters information that I don’t want to send in a form field (like my work phone number, for example), I don’t have to move my hand from mouse to keyboard to clear it.

Another mapped keystroke is “close window,” or command + W. The nice thing about this is that, since it’s a global command, it works in Finder, Photoshop, and all other applications I use regularly.

Finally, a simple command + click function. In Safari or Firefox, command-clicking a link opens it in a new tab in your browser window. When I’m doing some serious Internet business, I usually command-click links so that I’m not actually leaving the original page, I’m just opening a new tab. Then, when I’m done, my command-close button brings me back to where I left off.

So that’s how I do it, how do you?

How I Do It #1: Safari Auto-click

One of my favorite features of Safari is “Auto-click,” which can be found in Safari’s bookmark settings and used to be named “open in tabs.”

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I use auto-click for my dailys, a folder that I keep in my Safari bookmarks bar full of websites I visit on a daily basis. One click on “daily” in the bar, and Safari loads all the bookmarks in that folder in one Safari window. In case you want to view just one of the sites in an auto-click folder instead of opening all of them, a simple command + click opens the folder as a list, as shown here:

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As you can see, most of my dailys are webcomics, which are perfect for browsing with auto-click. Next time, I’ll show you how my custom mouse button mapping makes browsing even faster.