Tip for Writers on Mac OS: A Stickies Style Guide

Maintain consistency in your writing with an easy-access style guide.

As I continue work on my 81st book (!), I thought I’d share a tip with other writers working on Macs. This one has to do with creating and maintaining a style guide for your work in progress.

Stickies IconToday, on my blog, An Eclectic Mind, I wrote quite a bit about what a style guide is and why it’s important. I also revealed my personal technique for maintaining a style guide for work in progress — I use Stickies — and explain why it’s a good solution for me.

In this piece I want to briefly discuss how to set up and use Stickies as a style guide. Keep in mind throughout this piece, however, that you can use Stickies to give you easy access to just about any information you might need to be reminded about as you work.

  1. In the Applications folder in in Launchpad (Mac OS X Lion and later only), open the Stickies icon.
  2. StickiesIf you’ve never opened stickies before, you’ll see some default notes with information on using Stickies. You can read these for more information. Then close them and do not save changes. You want to minimize the number of open windows on your Desktop, don’t you?
  3. Choose File > New Note to create a new sticky note window.
  4. My Style GuideResize it so it’s long and narrow, just wide enough to fit the words you’ll add to it.
  5. Reposition it so it’s on the far right (or left, if you prefer) side of your screen.
  6. As you work on your project, add difficult-to-remember words and phrases to it. Be sure to spell/capitalize the words/phrases exactly as you should be writing them. It’s also a good idea to list them in alphabetical order.
  7. If there’s a word or phrase you should never use, add it to the list but use the Fonts panel to format it with strikethrough formatting.
  8. When you are done writing for the day, quit Stickies. Do not close the note before quitting.
  9. When you start work the next day, open Stickies again. The note should reappear just as you left it, all ready to be consulted and updated as needed.

If you’re using Mac OS X Lion and you don’t quit Stickies, it’ll automatically reopen when you restart your computer. If you’re using an earlier version of Mac OS, you can set up Stickies as a Login item so it automatically opens when you start or log into your computer.

Again, you can use this tip for any kind of information you need to consult as you work at your computer. The one thing I wouldn’t put in Stickies is any kind of information that needs to be kept private. I recommend an application such as 1Password for that kind of data so it can be secured.

How do you use Stickies? Share your tips in the comments for this post.

Learn More!

Lion Book CoverWant to know more about Mac OS X Lion and Stickies? Check out my Mac OS X Lion: Visual QuickStart Guide. This 648-page, fully illustrated guide to Lion is available for a great price in print and Kindle versions from Amazon.com.

Mac OS: Ejecting a Disc So You Can Start from Another

Eject a disc so you can insert the disc you want to start from.

Here’s the scenario:

You want to install Snow Leopard on your Mac but, for whatever reason, there’s a bootable CD or DVD in your computer’s optical drive. If you hold down C while starting up, it’ll boot from that disc. If you don’t hold down anything while starting up, it’ll boot from whatever disk it last started from or the disk set in the Startup Disk preferences pane. If you repeatedly press the Eject Media key while starting up, it may or may not eject the disc you don’t want to start from — in any case, it’ll likely start before you can insert the correct disc.

Sound far-fetched? It isn’t. It happened to me the other day.

My iMac’s hard disk was feeling ill and simply wouldn’t boot. I’d last started it with my old Leopard install disc inserted. When I got my Snow Leopard Install disc, I decided to run its Disk Utility First Aid routine on the sickly hard disk. Trouble was, I’d shut down the computer with the Leopard disc inserted.

Here’s how to eject a disc so you can insert another disc for startup. (The “screenshots” here were created with my digital camera, since it’s impossible to create a screenshot from within Mac OS X before the computer has completed its startup process.)

  1. Hold down the Option key while starting your Mac. Keep the key held down until a screen with startup disk icons appears.
    Fig1
  2. Click the icon for the disc you want to eject to select it.
  3. Press the Eject Media button on the keyboard. The disk comes out and its icon disappears from the screen.
    Fig2
  4. Insert the disc you want to start from. Its icon appears onscreen.
    Fig3
  5. Click the disc icon to select it.
  6. Press Return. The computer completes the startup process, using the disc you selected.

As you may already know (or should have realized after reading this), if you hold down the Option key at startup, you can choose your startup disk on the fly. You might find this useful if, for some reason, you have multiple bootable disks on your computer.

It’s in the Book!

Snow Leopard Book CoverYou can find more information about hard disks and using Disk Utility with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Visual QuickStart Guide.:

  • Storage Media is covered in Chapter 6, pages 97-126.
  • Mac OS Utilities is covered in Chapter 24, pages 569-594.

Word 2004 Does Not Like Mac OS X 10.5.8

It may be time to update Office.

I just started work on a new book revision. The project requires me to take relatively lengthy, style-laden Word documents, turn on the Track Changes feature, and edit like crazy. It wasn’t long before I was pulling my hair out.

You see, the other day, I updated my iMac from 10.5.7 to 10.5.8. I suspect that something in that update just didn’t sit well with Word 2004, which I was still running on that computer. After all, the iMac has an Intel dual core processor. Office 2004 was written for the old PowerPC processor that came in older Macs. Whether the problem was Mac OS X’s inability to run the old PowerPC application or Word’s inability to run on the 10.5.8 update is a mystery to me. All I know is what I experienced: text editing so slow that I could type faster than Word could display the characters.

Revisions, RevisionsAt first I thought it might be the document itself. It’s 40 pages of text that utilizes about 20 styles and fields for automatically numbering figures and illustrations. The document was originally created about 10 years ago and has been revised and saved periodically for every edition of this book. It pops from my Mac to an editor’s PC and back at least five times during each revision process. I thought it might have some internal problems. So I used the Save As command to create a new version of the document. The new file was about 5% smaller in size, but had the same symptoms as the original.

Next I sent it over my network to my new 13-inch MacBook Pro. That computer’s processor isn’t as quick as my iMac’s and it has the same amount of RAM. The software on that computer was different, though. I had a developer preview version of Snow Leopard installed and, in preparation for a Microsoft Office 2008 project I’ll be starting in the fall, I’d installed Office 2008 with both major updates. I opened the file on that machine and it worked just fine. Great editing and scrolling speed. Exactly what I needed.

So I bit the bullet and installed Office 2008 on my iMac. And the two major updates. And two smaller updates that became available on August 5. It took hours — the updates totaled over 400 MB of downloads and I’m connected to the internet on a horrible 600-800 Kbps connection that likes to drop. (I’m living in a motel right now, traveling for my helicopter business.)

The result: All the performance issues are gone. Word is snappy yet again on my iMac.

You might ask why a person who writes about Microsoft Office applications had not yet upgraded to Office 2008. This all goes back to last year’s revision on this project. I actually did upgrade but then I downgraded. It was mostly because I needed the macro feature of Word, which wasn’t available on Word 2008. I’d upgraded my iMac last year, but when I decided to reformat my hard disk to ward off computer issues I was having (which were apparently caused by a bad logic board), I reinstalled Office 2004 instead of 2008. You see, I liked the old version better.

But it’s obvious to me now that I need to keep moving forward with the rest of my technology if I want it to perform as designed. Everything must be in sync. If I want to keep using Word 2004, I should use it on a computer that has the system software available during Word 2004′s lifespan. My old 12-inch PowerBook would be a good example. It has a G4 processor and runs Tiger. That’s as advanced as it will ever get. Office 2004 is a perfect match for it.

If there’s a moral to be taken away from this story, it’s simply that if you want your hardware and system software to be new or up-to-date, there will come a time when you’ll have to update the applications that run on it. Bite the bullet and do what you have to. It’ll be worth it.

Why I Can’t Just Enjoy My New 13-inch MacBook Pro

It really is a business expense.

13" MacBook ProLast week, I finally broke down and ordered a new MacBook Pro. I’d been wanting a computer like the 13″ MacBook for a while, but what I really wanted was a Mac netbook. When Apple unveiled the 13″ MacBook Pro at the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference earlier this month, I finally stopped denying the truth: that there would be no Mac netbook in my immediate future. Instead, I saw the new 13″ MacBook Pro as a reward for my patience. Not only did it have more features than the MacBook I’d been looking at, but it would cost less money.

Apple also announced some new features in Snow Leopard. While I’m not prepared (because of NDA stuff) to write publicly about Snow Leopard, I am in the middle of a revision to my Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. One of the hurdles I was facing was not being able to show and discuss features of Mac OS X that work on the new MacBooks. About two years ago, I bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro to use as my “test mule” for writing about Leopard. That computer simply doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the newer models I need to write about.

It looked as if I’d have to buy a new MacBook Pro so I could write about it for my book.

This is both good and bad:

  • Good because having to buy a new computer for work means I can deduct the cost of it from my taxes. (I use my computers for all of my various business endeavors — I don’t play games on my computers. If I’m not working, I’m out having fun somewhere or sleeping.) And let’s face it: it’s always nice to have a computer with the latest technology.
  • Bad because having to buy a new computer means having to come up with the money to pay for it. Just because I can deduct it as a business expense doesn’t mean it’s free. (So many people don’t understand this simple fact: you still have to pay for business expenses; it’s just like being able to buy them at a discount equal to your tax bracket percentage.) In this case, the final price tag came to just under $2K. Ouch.

It’s also bad because I never seem able to buy a new computer and just enjoy it like a normal person.

Believe it or not, this is my first “unboxing” video. Let’s just say it doesn’t completely suck. The weird noises you hear in the background are coming from Alex the Bird.

Most folks buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, and start exploring. I, on the other hand, buy a computer, open the box, fire it up, erase the hard disk, and install beta operating system software on it. I then get to spend several weeks exploring the minutiae of the operating system’s elements, including every single window and dialog that might appear to the average user. I take screen shots of everything I see and write about it in an unbelievable level of detail.

So right now, as I type this, I’m waiting for the Developer Preview of Snow Leopard to install on my brand new, just-out-of-the-box 13″ MacBook Pro’s freshly erased hard disk. I’ll put some sample files on it, set it down on my workspace table beside my 24-inch iMac, get them talking to each other via AirPort network, and start exploring the current topic I’m writing about, which is the Dashboard and Widgets. I’ll put my old 15-inch MacBook Pro away in its case and set it atop the Dell laptop I’ve also brought along with me this summer to revise another book for another publisher.

When I get back to Arizona, if I’m not too busy doing other things, I’ll use the discs that came with the 13″ MacBook Pro to restore it to its factory hard drive configuration. Then maybe — just maybe — I’ll put it back in the box and have a reopening, trying my best to pretend it’s brand new again.

Back to Basics with my 12-inch PowerBook

Who needs a netbook? I got this old clunker.

PowerBookYears ago, I bought a 12″ PowerBook. I was attracted to its small size and great power. Back when it was first released, you may remember, it was considered a tiny marvel. While other people flocked to the 17″ PowerBook, I wanted sheer portability and the 12″ was my dream laptop.

Time marches on. A G4 processor operating with 640 MB of RAM isn’t anyone’s dream machine anymore. Hell, when I tried to install Leopard on it last year, it was so slow I had to rebuild the hard disk with Tiger on it.

And I think that’s when I fell out of love with it.

You see, in the meantime, I’d bought a 15″ MacBook Pro. Not one of the new ones — this one is about two years old now. I’d bought it as a test mule — a computer to run software on while I write about the software. But when I finished my Leopard book in September 2007, I began using the MacBook Pro more and more. And when I couldn’t get Leopard to run on the 12″, I realized that it was silly to use an old laptop when I had a newer one. The 12″ wound up on the shelf.

But this morning I pulled it out and dusted it off and fired it up. I let it update Microsoft Office 2004 and various Apple software. I updated my ecto database to pull in all the blog entries I’d written over the past year. And I started writing this.

The sad part about this PowerBook is that the battery is so toasted that it won’t hold a charge for more than 20 minutes of operations. So as a portable computer for use in coffee shops, etc., it fails miserably. But plug it in and sit at the kitchen table and it does everything it’s supposed to.

I want a netbook. I’m sorely tempted by the Dell Mini 9. A buddy of mine says he can transform it into a Hackintosh for me. But I’m also hoping that Apple comes out with their own netbook. If they price it reasonably — and I’m talking about well under $1,000 — I’ll be the first on line to buy one.

And frankly, I don’t give a damn about the so-called “Apple Tax.” Dan Miller of Macworld.com was right in his article, “The Microsoft Discount.” He could be speaking for me when he says:

But for the benefit of my Windows-using friends, I will say for the record: I don’t use a Mac because it’s cool. I use it because it works better for me. I use it because it doesn’t stink.

I’ve got a hopped-up Windows laptop that’s way faster than this little old PowerBook. But when it came time to do a little blogging this morning, I left it gathering dust on the shelf.