West Hill House B&B

Category Archives: Mac Computer Blog

Email desiderata

September 15, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

DesiderataThere are few things more important these days to your interaction with the rest of the world than your email address. This blog offers some advice on your CHOICE of address.

Interestingly this topic spans the divide between our interest as innkeepers and Peter’s interest as a Mac computer consultant. As innkeepers we interact with over 99% of our guests by email at some point in our relationship with them, which gives us some perspective on how email is used. So on to the advice…

You use email on your personal computer (hopefully a Mac but we know there are still some PC users out there!) where you are in control. So why let someone else choose and control your email address? Strangely many people do. The fact is that you have no control of the permanence of your address if it is provided by your ISP (Internet Service Provider), or if you use an address from your current employer for personal email.

What happens when another ISP offers you a better deal and you switch, or you move home and have to change ISPs? Or, as often happens, your ISP or company changes name as a result of an acquisition? Or you change employers? Your email address changes and you are one of the Internet’s “lost”. You then have to scramble to tell all your friends and associates your new email address, and just hope they update their address books. By a rough estimate about half of our guests face this risk judging by the email address they have on file with us.

There IS a better way. Choose an email address that is independent of your ISP and employer. This address can stay with you for life and it has no relationship to where you live or work.

There are numerous choices and most are free. The best known are @hotmail from Microsoft and @gmail from Google. Also many groups offer permanent addresses – for example Peter has had an @ieee address since he started using email and Susan has always used an @mac address. Both of us have used email while living in several different countries and using services provided by numerous ISPs, and never have had to change the address our friends and family use to reach us.

When you change ISPs you can simply forward YOUR permanent email address to the address your current ISP has provided – use them as a delivery mechanism, NOT an address. (Make sure your email client is set to use your permanent address as the “reply to” address.) While you can access your email from any browser when you are traveling, you are not constrained to the limitations of browser based access when you are at your own computer; you can usually directly access your email provided by e.g. hotmail and gmail using your favorite email client.

One other piece of related advice: using your company email address for personal matters – like reservations at West Hill House – can be a problem in addition to lack of permanency. Your employer is unlikely to sanction this use of their resource, they almost certainly are monitoring and logging your email, and some do block email that is electronically determined to be personal. If you need to access personal email from your office, using hotmail, gmail or most other similar addresses will give you full access from your browser, keep you in control, protect your privacy – and maybe your job!

And if you do change email addresses, please let us know!

Mac Application & File Launcher plus “Snippets”

June 28, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

Xmenu application and file launcher

Xmenu application and file launcher

You still miss the old Apple Menu from the pre OS X days? Me too! Well there’s good news – there is something even better now available…

For a number of years I used Fruit Menu which worked well, but it initially had problems with OS X 10.6 so I went looking for something else. And discovered XMenu.

This program brings back the old-style Apple Menu to Mac OS X. It is separate from the OS X Apple Menu. It also sits in the menu bar and it is a complete hierarchal application launcher and direct file launcher: you customize it exactly as you want it to work, and it is REALLY easy to set up and use.

In addition “Snippets”, its companion menu, allows you to save text clippings, Internet locations etc. that can be easily accessed and inserted into the current application. Great for “boiler plate” text, and for userIDs for those awkward websites that don’t follow standards so you can’t use the default ID “memory” built into Safari and Firefox.

And more.

The price? FREE. Download XMenu from this page and enjoy.

Harmony TV Remote

April 10, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

Harmony Remote 659

Harmony Remote

Have you had the experience of checking into a B&B equipped with a TV, cable or satellite box, perhaps a DVD  player and Videotape player, and then be confronted with a table top full of remotes and a page of instructions?  Just what you need after several hours of driving, dreaming of a few days of hassle free relaxation away from the stresses of every day life? Not!

At West Hill House we remove the frustration.  All our guest rooms do come with all the above equipment, but with only ONE remote to control them all. (Apologies to JRR Tolkien!)

The Harmony Remote is something special. It is an “activity” based remote. What this means is that when you want to watch TV you press the button labelled “Watch TV” and everything is set up for your viewing pleasure.  And “Watch a Movie ” to watch a movie – you get the idea.  And one “Off” button.

Originally developed by a Canadian company located near Toronto, the product is now part of the Logitech family.  There are a wide variety of models – we use the 659 in the guest rooms, and the 720 in the Sun Room to control the wide range of entertainment options available there for our guests.

Just one more way that at West Hill House we combine rest and relaxation with a bit of sophistication to provide a consistently excellent experience for our guests.

Reducing file size of PDFs

April 5, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

One challenge with PDFs created by some apps,  by scans, or by saving a document as a PDF using the universal “Print/Save as PDF” command, is that sometimes the resulting files can be VERY big. Really large file sizes are not usually a result with text documents, but files containing images can sometimes be surprisingly large, and thus not ideal for sending by email.

Fortunately there are three techniques for reducing PDF files size.

  • Use Preview’s “Save As” command then in the bottom center you will see a box called “Quartz Filter”. Select “Reduce File Size”, a NEW file name, then “Save”. Don’t overwrite your original file as you may not want to use the new version.  Works fine with some docs, but some docs end up fuzzy.
  • ShrinkIt


    Use Preview’s “Save As” command then in the bottom center you will see a box called “Format”.  Select “JPEG”, a NEW file name, then “Save”. Don’t overwrite your original file as you may not want to use the new version. Works well for most docs with a sometimes dramatic reduction in file size, although the final resolution is not quite as high. Great for email, but don’t use this if your final objective is a hard copy quality color print. The downside is that a JPEG document is not quite as universal as a PDF when sending by email.

  • Last and simplest, is to use the neat app called “ShrinkIt“. ShrinkIt is a simple, small  tool for Mac OS X Snow Leopard that will automate the process of stripping needless metadata (for example added by Adobe Illustrator) from PDFs by re-saving them using Apple’s PDF processor. For many files it will not create a dramatic file-size reduction, but in general there is no loss of quality.  Put it in your dock and just drag a PDF to it to reduce its size – very easy.

Questions? Leave a comment or email Mr Mac!


Using Mac OSX Preview to manipulate PDFs

March 28, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

The Mac OSX Snow Leopard Preview application does more than just open image files. It is also a much more flexible way to look at PDFs than using Adobe Reader.

This short video shows a couple of tricks that are easy to do to manipulate a PDF, or create a new PDF document from 2 or more existing ones. You may want to view it at 720p by clicking the up arrow beside the default 360 (that will appear when you play), and in full screen by clicking on the four arrows at the bottom right of the video window.

Preview can also be used to adjust images to a precise size, overlay text on an image, rotate it and so on. Experiment! And the best thing is that Preview is already installed in your Applications folder!

By the way you will note my desktop photos changing in the background. The photos are West Hill House (of course!) and places we have visited during our stay in France.

LogMeIn – Remote Access to your Mac

March 24, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

LogMeInSo you have a desktop Mac and a MacBook for when you are traveling. You suddenly realize the file you need is on your desktop Mac at home. You are a MobileMe subscriber so you try “Back-to-my-Mac” – and as usual it does NOT work. Why? Because “Back-to-my-Mac” is VERY dependent on the router settings both at your home and where you are trying to access from. Largely out-with your control.

Don’t give up. LogMeIn is the answer. You set it up on your home computer and you can then access your home files – and run apps on your home computer remotely if you wish – in a secure, password protected session from any browser on any computer anywhere. Just like that! And it’s free to try! The earlier versions had a few issues, but I have been using the current version for a few weeks and it works beautifully. Your troubles are over! Enjoy…

OSX Leopard’s “Secret” scanning app!

March 16, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

Image Capture OSX App Screen Shot

Image Capture

Tip of the day. If you are running OSX Snow Leopard and have an all-in-one print/scan/fax/copy machine, like for example the excellent Canon MX850, you have a very flexible document scanner at your disposal.  A tiny little app is in your Application Folder called “Image Capture”. Open it and all compatible devices connected by USB, Bluetooth or your wired/wireless network will show up.

The real power of this app is that if your all-in-one supports it you can remotely capture as a PDF a bunch of sheet fed pages, INCLUDING auto duplex.

The app is not that fancy, but it is a real powerhouse, simple to use, and best of all it’s already installed and ready to go!  Much simpler than trying to install 3rd party apps to do the same thing. Give it a try!

Peter a.k.a. Mr Mac

Follow us on twitter

March 15, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

You can now find us on Twitter! We’ll be posting both info about West Hill House and nearby activities, and occasional Mac Computer Tips & Insights.

Follow us on Twitter

Mac Computer Tips & Insights

March 12, 2010 by Peter MacLaren

As many of you know Peter, in his spare time, is a Certified Mac Consultant. As we have noticed that a large percentage of our guests are also Mac users, we thought you might be interested in some non-techie useful tips and insights from time to time.



As this part of our blog will be written exclusively by Peter, it will be written in the first person ongoing…

A little history: I have been using Macs since they were launched in 1984. Then in 2005, after “retiring” from a full time career in the Telecoms business, I took a trip to the “mother ship” in Cupertino for training and subsequent certification as a member of the Apple Consultants Network.

So to tips and insights. Starting from the top, if you are not yet using Snow Leopard, it’s time! With the OSX 10.6.2 release and some updates of major apps like Microsoft Office and Quickbooks, virtually all the initial teething issues with Snow Leopard have been resolved.



Of course Snow Leopard requires an Intel based Mac. If you still have one of those old steam powered PowerPC based machines it REALLY is time to make the shift. You are just wasting your precious time with the slower processors, reduced functionality and – for laptops – shorter battery life. Remember that time is the fundamental non-renewable resource! And increasingly new apps and app updates will be for Intel Macs only.

And my top picks for hardware? For desktops the MacMini is an amazing machine for 90% of Mac users. Match it up with your existing LCD monitor – or buy a new one, as there are lots of bargains these days. (Make sure the LCD has a DVI input.) For laptops go for a non-glare MacBookPro – the $50 premium for non-glare is well worth it (available on the 15 and 17 inch models).

So that’s it for starters. If you do have questions post a comment. I’ll try to reply to all of them, and deal with questions that likely have general interest in a future blog.

Peter a.k.a. Mr Mac