Some hidden Apple keyboard shortcuts

December 13, 2010

When I switched from a Windows 7 desktop PC over to an Apple iMac, I missed certain keyboard features from my old system. For example, my new bluetooth Apple keyboard has no DEL, HOME, END, PAGE DOWN/UP keys. It’s the HOME, END, and DEL keys that I really miss the most! Here’s a few keyboard combinations that can make up for those missing dedicated keys:

Command + delete is equal to the Windows DEL key

Command + (left arrow key) is equal to the Windows HOME key

Command + (right arrow key) is equal to the Windows END key

Command + delete is equal to the Windows DEL key

Here are also a few more keys that are useful:

Command + I (gives file info when a file is selected in Finder or on the Desktop)

Control + Command + D (shows a popup dictionary definition when a work is hightlighted)

Command + Q (Completely quits the currently active program)

Now armed with these cool keyboard shortcuts I can continue using my iMac without skipping a beat.


My Dead Quiet Office

November 14, 2010

I normally work from home in a small but well appointed home office. As a computer professional (and geek) I’ve got numerous computer systems activated at any given moment. I have my big 27″ iMac which handles my personal business, my Dell 17″ laptop for use with my primary job (checking emails, running simulations, etc.), a Dell Netbook for occasionally running PC-based applications (e.g., Microsoft Visual Studio 2005), and my old Quad-Core Desktop PC which I fire up sometimes to do some heavy video processing in batch mode.

Before I purchased my iMac, I used my Quad-Core Desktop PC as my main workhorse computer system. Being a desktop it can become quite loud in my office, but I tried to minimize that by installing a power supply with an oversized fan (quieter) and a variable CPU fan which I can turn down to also minimize the noise. Nevertheless, there was a constant humming in my office that just became the normal background noise as I worked throughout the day.

Since switching from my Quad-Core machine to my iMac desktop, my office has been dead quiet. I’m not sure how Apple did it, but the Quad-Core CPU in my iMac Desktop doesn’t seem to need the same airflow as my PC desktop machine. I don’t hear a thing while I’m working with my iMac. Only on some rare occasion I’ll hear my iMac hum as the internal fans are cooling the CPU during some intensive video processing action, but this happens rarely. The only sound I hear is the hard drive whirling every so briefly when I’m saving a file to the drive.

This is so unlike my Windows PC where the hard drive will thrash away constantly and for no apparent reason. I could never figure out why was my system’s disk drive thrashing away so much. What was it doing that required so much disk reading and/or writing? It just didn’t make any sense to me. On my iMac, I don’t have any of that crazy nonsenseical disk thrashing. None.

My Dell work laptop, however, is the biggest noise maker in my home office. I can hear the internal fan spinning constantly with Microsoft Outlook being the only application open and the disk drive thrashing fiercly whenever I do any activity. So whenever possible (like on the weekends) I’ll turn off my laptop and just have my wonderful iMac Desktop running silently in my office, allowing me to work in peace and quiet…

 


Command + Delete is my friend

November 14, 2010

When I switched from a Microsoft PC over to an Apple iMac, it took a bit of “relearning” to become totally productive with the new environment. Here are a few glaring differences I found:

With an Apple keyboard you don’t have a HOME, DEL, or END key. It is amazing how much I relied on those keys without knowing it. So if I’m coding and I want to move to the beginning or end of a line, I don’t have a HOME or END key to help me out. The Mac has a DELETE key (which is equivalent to the BACKSPACE key on a PC keyboard), but it doesn’t have an equivalent DEL key (which removes characters behind the cursor). That’s another thing I sorely miss.

On my PC I was able to delete a selected file or folder by just pressing the BACKSPACE key. If you try to do the same thing on a Mac, nothing happens. What I discovered is that you need to press the Command key + Delete key to delete a selected folder or file. At first I thought this was a pain, but in hindsight it seems to be a good thing as it minimizing unintentional deletions by just pressing the Delete key alone.

Also, pressing the RETURN key after highlighting a file will not open that file in the Mac OS (nothing happens).

And finally one big one: When you click the small red “X” ball in the upper left corner of a Mac application window the program appears to exit but it is actually still running in the background. The only way to fully exit the application is to do a “Force Quit” which can be done a few ways:

  1. Select “Quit” or “Force Quit” from the application’s menu bar.
  2. Press COMMAND + Q keys to quit the application (when the app’s title bar is active at the top of the screen)
  3. Right-click on the app in the Dock (at the bottom of the screen) and select “Quit” from the popup context menu.

I usually do option (2) as it seems the fastest for me. So there are a few differences between Microsoft Windows and the iMac OS, but I’ve adapted very quickly and am actually more productive with the addition of Applescript for the Mac!


Comskip fine tuning

November 7, 2010

As mentioned in my previous posting, I’m using several freeware utilities on my Mac to identify and remove commercial segments from recorded TV shows. Comskip is the tool I use to identify the commercials, and it has numerous setting configurations that you can change to help fine tune the commercial identification process.

Now, these settings can vary based on where you made the recording. For example, settings for USA broadcasts may not be optimal for European broadcasts. As such, fine tuning is required if you want Comskip to catch all (or most) of the commercials without cutting out good TV show content.

There several postings regarding tuning on the Comskip forums which I’ve read over. The basic process is trial-and-error, making logical changes to the Comskip settings file and examining the results. It is a lengthy process, but well worth it if you want to get Comskip working at peak performance.

In my case, I spent a few hours getting Comskip tuned for two typical programs that I record. One is Fringe, and the other is Design to Sell. Fringe is a good example of a typical mainstream network TV show that I like to watch, and Design to Sell is a typical HGTV home improvement show.

For fine tuning, you need to change some set values in a file called comskip.ini (located in the same folder as the comskip.exe program). I changed the following three lines:

detection_method = 255

Adjusting the detection method to 255 has Comskip use all of the various commercial detection methods.

verbose = 1

Changing the verbose setting from the default 10 to 1 reduces the amount of analysis information written to the Comskip log file for the analyzed video. I could have changed this value to zero (to not write any data), but I left it at 1 so I can try to figure out why Comskip identifies certain block segments as a commercial vrs show content.

max_volume=50

The max volume setting defines whether Comskip marks a segment block as commercial or show content by the volume level. If the suspected commercial segment has a volume level higher than the max_volume setting, then Comskip marks it as show content. The idea is, when a show transitions to or from a commercial you may have a brief black-screen with very little volume being played (this will mark a commercial segment). The default value of 500 works ok for my system, but it didn’t catch the commercial segments quite right. Since I’m recording a digital signal, the creator of Comskip recommended using a value of 50 since the audio signal is clearer.

So with these settings the commercial detection for the Fringe show is very, very good. There’s only one spot in the show where the Comskip misses a commercial and that’s because the TV Network changed the location and style of the broadcast “logo” on the screen (why, I don’t know). These same settings did a very good job with the Design to Sell program also (but not perfect).

So for now I’m going to stick with these settings and see how well they work out. If they miss a few seconds of show content I’m ok with that, however, if Comskip misses several minutes of good show content I’ll have to do some more fine tuning.

Other settings that you can change are:

max_brightness
test_brightness
max_avg_brightness

If Comskip is not identifying commercials in your show, you can increase the value of these variables (by increments of 1) and see how much improvement you can get.

Another cool feature that Comskip has is the ability to look for defined words in the Closed Caption (CC) text for a TV show. You can define individual words in a file called comskip.dictionary (found in the Comskip install folder) . The words above the “——-” line identify good TV content while words below that line identify a commercial segment. I think this is a brilliant method for helping Comskip identify commercials, however, I unfortunately can’t make use of it. The reason being, I can’t seem to get EyeTV3 to store the CC text in the MPEG file. It’s either an issue with the EyeTV3 software or with my Comcast digital set top box.

Update: So far, Comskip has been able to identify the correct commercial segments using theses settings for the following TV Shows:

Fringe, Design to Sell, The Walking Dead (AMC), Stargate SG-1

What nice, is that all of these shows have a slightly different broadcast and format, yet Comskip is able to catch the commercials quite effectively. I’m actually very pleased, as I was expecting to have fiddle with the settings a bit more to accomplish this accuracy. Thanks to the author of Comskip!


TV show commercial cutting – Part 2

November 7, 2010

I’ve had a few people ask about my Applescript which I use to post-process TV show recordings created by my Elgato EyeTV HD encoder, so here’s some more details.

First, I have this basic configuration:

  1. Comcast digital signal fed into a Comcast RG110 digital set top box
  2. Video/Audio component output from the Comcast set top box are fed into an Elgato EyeTV HD encoder
  3. EyeTV HD encoder is connected to my Apple iMac desktop computer via a USB 2.0 cable
  4. The EyeTV3 software on the iMac controlling the recording of scheduled TV shows
  5. IR Changer (Blaster) connected to the Comcast set top box allowing the EyeTV HD encoder to change the TV stations appropriately

I also have installed the freeware tool called ETVComskip which is used to identify commercial segments in a recorded MPEG file and saves them to a text file (with an .edl extension). This is the primary tool that I use for commercial detection, so I’ve spent a lot of time tuning the settings for this application to get good commercial detection (which I’ll describe in a future posting).

Luckily, the EyeTV3 software is able to run two specific Applescripts when a recording has just started (RecordingStarted.scpt) and when it has finished (RecordingDone.scpt). When you install the ETVComskip application it will automatically modify both of these scripts to support the commercial detection process.

Now, the ETVComskip tool is basically a Python script that uses a program called Comskip to detect the commercials in an MPEG video file. The Comskip app is actually a Microsoft Windows application, so the Python script is setup to use Wine (WIN32 emulator) to run the Comskip windows executable on your Mac. You don’t need to worry about all of this, as the makers of ETVComskip have taken care of everything. The only thing to note, is that you will see the X-Windows App icon appear in your Dock so don’t try to kill it or remove it while Comskip is identifying commercials in a MPEG file. Read the rest of this entry »


I Love my Mac!

November 2, 2010

I’ve had my 27″ iMac desktop for a few months now, and I really love the fact that the Mac OS X is Unix under the hood. I’m an old Unix user from the 1990’s and it’s great that I can pop open a terminal shell window on my Mac and type in standard Unix/Linux commands to do my dirty work. For example, I had some video files in AVI format that I wanted converted to MP4 format for my iPod Touch, so I downloaded and compiled GPL source code for Mencoder and AtomicParsley on my Mac. I then typed in this command line line entry in a terminal shell window to do the conversion process:

mencoder stargate.avi -ovc copy -oac copy stargate.mp4

And off went the conversion process. I then used AtomicParsley to add in metadata information so that it would appear in iTunes properly:

atomicparsley stargate.mp4 –stik “Movie” –title “Stargate” –artwork sg.jpg –overWrite

I then copied the stargate.mp4 file over to the “Add to Itunes Automatically” folder to have the movie file placed in the proper directory for iTunes syncing with my iPod Touch. Sweet!

In this case, an alternative to using mencoder in a terminal shell window is to use the freeware product called Handbrake which has a GUI and works really well for converting videos. I tested it with a few AVI files and they converted over flawlessly to MP4 format for my iPod Touch.


Dealing with two different calendars in life

October 28, 2010

For my day job I use Microsoft Outlook running on my Windows XP laptop for all my work-related appointments. Since my calendar is “shared” among my colleagues, I don’t put any personal appointments in it. Sure, I could always mark my personal appointments as “private” so only I can see the title and details, but I’m so paranoid that I would forget and thus have my private life displayed for all my co-workers to see.

Thus, I keep my personal calendar on my home machine (Apple iMac) using the provided iCal calendar application. The big challenge for me, is to be able to see both calendars on my home iMac, my work laptop, and on my Palm Pixi smartphone. So here’s what I did to make that happen:

First, my Palm Pixi can display multiple calendars provided by a single handful of sources. One is Microsoft Exchange and the other is Google Calendar. Since my work email through Outlook uses MS Exchange, that was a no brainer. So I have my work calendar on my Palm Pixi already figured out. Since my Palm Pixi can handle the Google Calendar, I needed to get my personal appointments synced or entered into Google Calendar in the cloud. I discovered the best way to do this is to subscribe to Google Calendar in Apple iCal and use it as my main personal calendar. I can make entries to Google Calendar in iCal and they will automatically be pushed up to Google Calendar in the Cloud. This way, my Palm Pixi can display both my personal (Google) calendar and work (Exchange) calendar.

With my personal calendar already in the cloud in Google Calendar, All I needed to do was subscribe to it in MS Outlook on my work laptop. Now I can view my personal appointments and work appointments on my work laptop using Outlook (albeit, I can only view my personal appointments, which is ok with me).

Finally, I needed to somehow get my work appointments from Outlook to be visible in Apple iCal on my Mac. I accomplished this, by publishing my Outlook appointments to a WebDav server in the cloud, specifically to a free file storage service called http://www.box.net. Basically, Outlook will periodically upload a single file (.ics) to the http://www.box.net file server and thus store my work appointments in the cloud in a simple text file. Next, I have Apple iCal subscribe to this WebDav server to download the calendar information in the .ics file every 15 minutes or so.

Now, I have a system that will allow me to view both my work and personal appointments on my home iMac, work laptop, and Palm Pixi smartphone without me having to copy and paste appointments between two separate calendars. Here’s what I can do for making changes:

1) My Palm Pixi can make updates to both my Personal and work calendars

2) Personal appointment changes are made on my home iMac.

3) Work appointment changes are made on my work laptop in Outlook.

I know that this all sounds like a pain, but I really needed to keep my personal and work appointments separate and have both viewable on different computers and devices.

Now, some might ask, “Why don’t you just have two separate calendars in Google Calendar and keep everything in one place, in the cloud?” That’s a good question. The biggest reason I’ve found, is that when I get a meeting invite in an email message, if I double-click on the attached .ics file my computer will try to open the .ics file using a stand-alone application on my system. So it will either try to use Apple iCal or Outlook or some other specified application. I don’t have the ability to have my web browser open and process the .ics file for entering it into Google Calendar. That just won’t work. Thus, I’m stuck with using an actual computer calendar application to easily process meeting invitations.

What I really would need, is a small application that can open the .ics file and place it in Google Calendar in the cloud. That, would be a really handy app!