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Five Favorite Annoyances

by John Rizzo, author of Mac Annoyances

Computers have been annoying us for decades. Remember how ticked off Dave was when HAL began returning the error message "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that" in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

As much as we hate to admit it, Macs and Mac software can be annoying. I'm not bashing Apple or Microsoft (well, maybe Microsoft just a little). I think Macs are less annoying than Windows machines, but we Mac users expect more: We expect perfection. Fortunately, it doesn't take a "Genius" in an Apple Store to fix a problem. Here are five of my favorite Mac annoyances and their solutions.

Stay Connected with DSL

The Annoyance: I ordered a DSL line so my Mac would always be online. I love the high-speed web surfing, but my iBook keeps asking me if I want to stay connected. If I don't respond, it disconnects me. This made sense when I was connected with a dialup modem, but now it's just plain annoying.

The Fix: Although it isn't obvious, there is an option you can choose to tell Mac OS X to quit bugging you. Most people would look in the Internet Connect utility, but you won't find it there. Instead, open System Preferences and follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Network preference panel.
  2. Choose the Ethernet configuration used for your DSL connection. (This can be "Built-in Ethernet" or another configuration, depending on how you have it set up.)
  3. Click on the PPPoE tab.
  4. Now click the PPPoE Options button near the bottom.
  5. In the sheet, uncheck the boxes next to "Prompt every 15 minutes to maintain connection" and "Disconnect if idle for 10 minutes."

While you're at it, check "Connect automatically when needed" and "Disconnect when user logs out." Now, you'll never need to use the Connect command. Just fire up your web browser and surf away.

Remove Items from Word's Work Menu

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The Annoyance: Word's Work menu is great; I can add any open Word document to the menu simply by choosing Add to Work Menu. Choosing one of the files in the list opens the document. But after a few years, the Work menu is as long as my arm, and as far as I can tell, there isn't a "Remove from Work Menu" command or option in any of the menus.

The Fix: You're right, but there is a key command. Press Option-Command-hyphen, and the cursor turns into a big minus sign. Now go to the Work menu and select a file you want to remove. If you want to remove another document from the Work menu, use the key command again to bring up the big minus sign.

Fix iPhoto's "Y2K" Picture Date Problem

The Annoyance: I have some old family photographs that I've scanned and imported into iPhoto 4. Whenever I try to set the date of a single photo to the early 20th century, such as 1926, iPhoto adds a hundred years (as in 2026). I thought all this Y2K stuff had been solved long ago.

The Fix: While not really a Y2K bug, it is a bit of annoying stupidity on iPhoto's part—you would think that iPhoto should know that no one would want to give a photo a date that is more than 20 years ahead of the date shown in System Preferences. Fortunately, this one is easy to fix. Just tell Mac OS X to use four-digit years instead of two-digit years:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Go to the International pane.
  3. Click the Formats tab.
  4. In the Dates section, click the Customize button.
  5. Click the checkbox labeled Show Century.

iPhoto now accepts any date you throw at it. There is one side effect to this fix: Mac OS X now displays four-digit years (as in 7/4/2004) in other applications as well, such as Excel spreadsheets.

Create Symbolic Links Instead of Aliases

The Annoyance: I like to create aliases of folders and place them on the desktop and other locations. This lets me easily get to folders when I need them. But whenever I try to refer to one of these aliases using any command in Terminal, Unix never recognizes the aliases. In the Finder, these aliases have generic icons instead of the fancy icons of the Application and Home folders, which is just plain annoying.

The Fix: The way to fix both of these issues simultaneously is to create symbolic links instead of aliases. Symbolic links are the Unix version of aliases. Like aliases, symbolic links point to another folder or file. Unlike aliases, the symbolic link has the same icon as the original and works in the Unix shell of Terminal (/Applications/ Utilities). Here's the drawback: if you move the original folder, the symbolic link breaks.

To create a symbolic link, type the following command in Terminal:

$ ln -s [original folder] [location and name of symbolic link]

For instance, if you want to create a symbolic link to the Applications folder and place it on the desktop, type the following command in Terminal:

$ ln -s /Applications ~/Desktop/Applications

Remember that a tilde followed by a forward slash (~/) stands for your Home folder. Also, I called this symbolic link "Applications," but I could have called it "George" — it would still appear on the desktop with the Applications icon.

Double-Sided Printing

The Annoyance: I need to print double-sided documents (known as duplex printing), but my printer can print single-sided sheets only. This means that the Two Sided Printing feature in Panther's Print dialog is grayed out. I have no choice but to take my printout to a copy shop to get it recopied as double-sided, and they don't even validate parking. Is there some kind of attachment I can get to enable double-sided printing, or do I need a new printer?

The Fix: If you have Mac OS X 10.3 or later, which offers another way to do double-sided printing in the Print dialog, you don't have to buy a new attachment nor a new printer. First, print the even-numbered pages, flip the printouts around, and then print the odd-numbered pages. Here how:

  1. In the Print dialog, go to the Copies & Pages pop-up menu and select Paper Handling.
  2. Check the box next to Reverse Page Order.
  3. Choose Even Numbered Pages as the Print setting.
  4. Hit the Print button to print your pages.
  5. Take the printout and place it into your printer where the paper supply usually is. Make sure you arrange it so that you print on the blank side.
  6. Bring up the Print dialog again, and select Odd Numbered Pages.

Whether or not you use Reverse Page Order in Step 6 depends on how your printer feeds in paper. Try it out with a test run of six pages (three sheets) before you print large documents.

John Rizzo bought his first Mac in 1984, which he still has in his garage somewhere, and been writing about Macs since 1987.

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