Category Archives: Usability

3 ways to use Google as a dictionary

Use these quick hacks to use Google as a dictionary.

1. If you only want a quick word definition, prepend your Google search with define:

For instance, will give you a quick dictionary definition, followed by normal search results.

Use define:search-term to get a quick dictionary definitionDefine animal  Google Search

2. If you want a more complete definition (encyclopedic, almost), you need to enable Google’s dictionary mode using one of these methods:

a. Use the following URL to access Google:

and enter the word you’re looking for into the search box.

You can also add your search term directly to the URL, thus:

adding &q=search-term to your URL.

b. Add the following search engine to Google Chrome (there are similar ways to add it to Firefox):

Open the Chrome Preferences | Manage Search Engines page at: chrome://settings/searchEngines

(or right click inside the Google search box and select Add as Search Engine…)

and use the following values:

Name: Google Dictionary

Keyword: d


Add a custom search engine to your browser to quickly get dictionary definitionsAdd Dictionary Search Engine

Now, whenever you want to search for a word, simply type d in your address bar, press tab and enter the word you’re looking for.

Google is chuck full of information, if you know how to ask.Animal  Google Search

3. If you’re using Chrome, you may also install the Google Dictionary extension, available from the Chrome Web Store. Once installed, you can simply double-click any word on a web page and you’ll get a pop-up with the definition.

Double-click any word to get its definition.NewImage
Or click the toolbar for any other word.NewImage

So there you go, three cool ways to expand your vocabulary. What about you? Do you have any tips on using Google? Leave your comment below and share this article with your friends.


How to send group emails from your iPhone

UPDATED: Now works with most email services and eliminates the Invalid Address dialog box. Thanks to commenter YF, Luke for the fix.

Ever wanted to send an email or photo to a pre-defined group of contacts on your iPhone? This trick will let you create unlimited email groups (or distribution lists).

It’s a good thing the iPhone now has cut-and-paste, as it makes this trick a lot easier to implement. Here’s hoping the iPhone engineers don’t take three more revisions to add group emailing.

This trick was inspired by a workaround I found for Gmail back when it didn’t allow us to create groups or distribution lists (See: Creating distribution lists in GMail).

To begin, go into the Notes app in your iPhone and type all the email addresses you wish to include in the group, separating each with a comma.

UPDATE: Use the following format when typing your e-mail addresses to avoid the Invalid Addresses dialog or AOL/Comcast mail server errors.


Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

Alternatively, you can type this list in your computer, copy it into the body of an email and retrieve it in your iPhone. The reason we need to type the addresses and copy them is because you can’t type commas in the email field of the Contacts app.

Select all the addresses and copy them to the iPhone‘s clipboard:

Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

Go into the Contacts application and create a new contact for your distribution list. Type the group’s name into the contact’s Company field. Use something simple to type later on, such as GF for your family group or GW for your work group.

Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

Paste the addresses you copied before into the contact’s email field and, if you like, change the field’s label to a custom value like “group mail.”

Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

Go into your Mail app and create a new message. Type the group name in the To: field until it shows up in the list below, then select it:

Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

The group’s name will now show up in the To: field.

Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

Type your message and send it. The following dialog will pop up. Ignore it and hit Send once more:

UPDATE: With the updated instructions this dialog will not pop-up! Nor will you receive an error message from your ISP’s mail server.

Screenshots for article on using email groups in iPhone Mail

Presto! Instant distribution lists on your iPhone. The beauty of this trick is that it works anywhere you use the Mail app… so you can now send multiple photos to multiple contacts at once.

Seriously, who runs Microsoft’s Usability Lab?

Check out the Preferences Pane for the four Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Entourage). They all look different and behave differently.

Shouldn’t programs in the same office suite at least look alike?

While setting up the latest Microsoft Office suite on a friend’s Mac, I needed to set all applications to save to Office’s previous file format by default – for better compatibility with clients who might not have upgraded to Redmond’s latest.

Check out these images of the Preferences pane for each Office app and where the file format compatibility settings are stored:

Microsoft Word:

In Microsoft Word, the Preferences Pane looks a lot like Apple’s System Preferences Pane and you select the default format you want to save files to on the “Save” tab under the “Output and Sharing” section. Looking good so far.

The Microsoft Word Preferences Pane

Microsoft Word Preferences : Output and Sharing : Save Pane

Microsoft Excel:

Excel’s Preferences Pane also look a lot like Apple’s System Preferences, but now the “Save” tab rests within the “Sharing and Privacy” section. Worst of all, you select the default format you want to save files to on the “Compatibility” tab. Word also has a “Compatibility” tab, but it does different stuff.

The Microsoft Excel Preferences Pane

Microsoft Excel Preferences : Sharing and Privacy : Compatibility Pane

Microsoft PowerPoint:

Powerpoint has a completely different Preferences Pane, with all tabs displayed at the top like a toolbar. It also has a “Compatibility” tab, but you select the default file save format on the “Save” tab.

Microsoft PowerPoint Preferences : Save Pane

Microsoft Entourage:

Entourage is so different from the rest of the Office suite that it doesn’t surprise me to see a totally different Preferences Pane. There’s no need to set compatibility options here, but take a look at it anyway.

The Microsoft Entourage Preferences Pane

For comparison, here’s Apple’s iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote):

The Apple Pages Preferences Pane

The Apple Numbers Preferences Pane:

The Apple Keynote Preferences Pane

They could still look better, and more like Apple’s OSX System Preferences Pane, but at least they all look alike.

7 Missing Features from the iPhone 3G

Apple’s announcement of the new iPhone 3G puts to rest all the crazy rumors about new features it may include. Here are seven features I was waiting for but never materialized.


1. Flash Support

The iPhone’s Safari browser still lacks support for Adobe Flash, so it seems connection speed wasn’t really the issue.

2. Cut-and-Paste

Nope. You still can’t copy-and-paste text in the iPhone. I’m guessing Apple has some security concerns about allowing cutting and pasting of data (and Flash applications. See #1 above).

3. Network Independent

There was no mention of offering the iPhone unlocked so that you can use it with your favorite GSM provider. Apparently it’s still AT&T only in the US.

4. Video or a Better Camera

The iPhone 3G still sports a 2-megapixel camera with no video support. Nokia offers a 5-MP camera with very good video support, so why can’t Apple?

5. Landscape Email

Why can’t I turn my iPhone sideways to read emails?

6. Wi-Fi syncing

Although Mobile Me will go a long way towards syncing the information on my iPhone with my desktop, I still don’t understand why the iPhone can’t automatically sync itself when it connects to my home wifi network. Why the need for a USB cable?

7. iPhone Modem

Why can’t I use my iPhone as a modem? It connects to the internet via cellular and it connects to my Mac via USB or Bluetooth… Then, why can’t it patch me through to the Internet?

In conclusion… other than 3G speed and true GPS, it doesn’t seem like the new iPhone does much more than the old one (which doesn’t make it a bad phone, specially at the new price; it just doesn’t make a must upgrade, since most of the cool stuff comes with the 2.0 software upgrade, available free for all iPhones).

Léelo en español en: 7 Funciones que le Faltan al iPhone 3G

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How to Send Keynote Presentations

Ever tried emailing a Keynote presentation? Uploading it? FTP? The progress counter just stays there, counting, but nothing ever gets uploaded.

The problem lies within Apple‘s .key file format. Keynote files are actually folders (or Packages, as Apple likes to call them) containing all the different files used in the presentation.

Right-click on any Keynote file and you’ll see “Show Package Contents” as a menu option:


Selecting “Show Package Contents” will open a new Finder window with all the files used in your presentation:


Keynote (.key) files behave the same way Application (.app) files do. Go to your Applications folder and try right-clicking on one of your apps: you’ll see the “Show Package Contents” option.

In order to be able to send someone a Keynote file, you first need to compress the file into a .zip archive and then send this compressed file. The recipient simply needs to uncompress the file to retrieve the original Keynote file and all its contents.

To compress a file simply right-click on the file and select the “Compress filename” option:


That’s it.

Remember, to send (e-mail, upload, ftp, etc) a Keynote presentation, simply compress it to a .zip file and send the compressed version. If the recipient does not need to edit the presentation, you can always export to PDF (or any of the other export options).

Got any productivity tips? Drop us a note using the comments form.

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Recreating the Places folder in Firefox 3 Beta 2

I recently upgraded my browser to Firefox 3.0B2 and, while importing my previous bookmarks, inadvertently deleted the Places folder.

Firefox 3 offers new Smart Folders that automatically track stuff like your Most Visited Pages, Recently Starred Pages, Recently Used Tags, etc. These folders require a special syntax to create them, but I was unable to find any information about the original settings online.

So I used the handy Restore Bookmarks function and then copied the Smart Folder settings, re-imported my bookmarks and added the Smart Folders by hand.

Here’s what you need to do if you deleted your Places folder:

  1. From the Bookmarks menu, select Show All Bookmarks to open the Places Organizer.
  2. Create a folder named Places in your Bookmarks Toolbar folder and drag it to the top of the list so it shows up as the first item from the left in your toolbar.
  3. Inside the Places folder create new Bookmarks (right-click, New Bookmark…) and use the following settings for Name and Location:
    • Name: Recently Starred Pages
      Location: place:folder=2&folder=2&sort=12&excludeQueries=1&excludeItemIfParentHasAnnotation=livemark%2FfeedURI&maxResults=10&queryType=1
    • Name: Recently Visited Starred Pages
      Location: place:minVisits=1&folder=2&folder=2&sort=4&excludeItemIfParentHasAnnotation=livemark%2FfeedURI&maxResults=10&queryType=1
    • Name: Most Visited Starred Pages
      Location: place:minVisits=1&folder=2&folder=2&sort=8&excludeItemIfParentHasAnnotation=livemark%2FfeedURI&maxResults=10&queryType=1
    • Name: Recently Used Tags
      Location: place:folder=3&group=3&sort=12&resolveNullBookmarkTitles=1&applyOptionsToContainers=1&maxResults=10&queryType=1
    • Name: Most Used Tags
      Location: place:folder=3&group=3&sort=16&resolveNullBookmarkTitles=1&applyOptionsToContainers=1&maxResults=10&queryType=1
    • Name: Most Visited Pages
      Location: place:sort=8&maxResults=10

Have you found any cool Smart Folders? Share the code/links in the comments below.

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Gmail quietly increases storage space

Gmail‘s free storage has just gone up to around 4GB. I’m not quite sure when this occurred, but this morning my storage gauge indicated 70% full, which was considerably less than normal. I double checked, and it turns out Google added about 1GB of additional space to my Gmail account.


What about your Gmail account? Did you storage go up?

NOTE: According to a recent post in Google Operating System, Gmail storage should increase to 4321MB on October 23rd, reach 6283MB by January 4, 2008 and then increase at a rate of 3.3MB per day thereafter.

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Flock 1.0 looks very promising

If you’re a social network junkie, following twitter, facebook, flickr, youtube

If you’re constantly sending urls, photos and videos to your online friends…

If you like having multiple tabs open at the same time with your favorite websites…

If you blog

If you use or ma.gnolia to save your favorite urls…

Basically, if you like to browse-and-socialize, then Flock is for you. And Flock 1.0 will blow you away.

Flock is a web browser, based on the Mozilla Open Source code. In their own words:

“Flock is The Social Web Browser. It’s the browser, evolved for people.”

Check out what Flock is about on their website. Download the latest version ( at the time of writing this post) here. And learn more about Flock 1.0 (coming soon) here or watch a demo video here.

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OS X Tools: All you really need to know about GREP

Ever need to look through an endless file list to determine if a certain file is there? Cross-eyed from looking at a ps listing to find the one program you want to kill? You need grep.

And if you’re on a Mac (or a Unix/Linux machine) you’re in luck.

There’s a million ways to use grep, but this one will quickly show you how powerful it is (and it’s probably all you need to know).

Suppose you need to shutdown a particular program… one that doesn’t show up on the Activity Monitor. You open the Terminal application, type “ps -A” and watch in awe as a million lines shoot by your screen, trying to figure out which one corresponds to the program you wish to kill.

Instead, try this the next time:

Let’s pretend you need to shutdown a particular application that’s not responding (or doesn’t have a Quit option). I’ll use mozy as an example. Instead of going line-by-line looking for the one that includes mozy, you simply type this command:

ps -A | grep -i mozy

and you’ll get the following back:

24293 ?? Ss 0:03.52 /usr/sbin/MozyBackup

24449 p2 R+ 0:00.00 grep -i mozy

Now all you need to do is issue the following command:

sudo kill 24293

to shutdown the application.

What you’re doing is simply taking the result of the “ps -A” command and sending it, using the “|” operator, to the grep utility, which will search for any occurrences of the phrase “mozy” (the -i option makes the search case insensitive).

Do you have any other uses for grep? Any other useful utilities? Leave your comment below.

Adobe Lightroom Inconsistencies

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom to manage my huge library of digital photos… but lately it’s been acting up. Lightroom is a really nice application if you take lots of digital images (otherwise, I suggest you stick with Apple’s iPhoto) and it manages the complete workflow from importing the images out of your camera, organizing, editing, printing and sharing them online.

This week, Lightroom began behaving erratically. My thumbnail images were gone from the Library view, even though the image files are still there, and clicking on them still opens the image in the Develop module. The problem has been reported on Adobe’s forums (here and here), but at the time this post was written there was still no solution (or acknowledgment) from Adobe. Also missing sometimes, but not always, are the module labels (Library | Develop | Slideshow | Print | Web) that you click on to navigate around the program.


Following the advice left on the Adobe forum (from other Lightroom users) I found a partial solution. Unchecking the “Show Header with Labels” option under the “View | Options” dialog makes the thumbnails reappear (though you lose all the additional information about each image). Pressing “J” while in library view will cycle the different display modes and also temporarily solve the issue.

This image shows the empty gray thumbnails you’ll see when “Show Header with Labels” is active:


With “Show Header with Labels” inactive, the thumbnails appear again, but we lose the extra information:


The problem with the module navigation labels is partially solved by going into the “Lightroom | Identity Plate Setup…” dialog and checking “Enable Identity Plate.” You can then disable the Identity Plate and the module labels will remain on screen. However, on several subsequent activations of the program I’ve seen the module names disappear again.

Check the

I also tried deleting the program preferences, as well as the Catalog Previews file to no avail. Deleting the program preferences file (com.adobe.Lightroom.plist – found in ~/Library/Preferences) merely activated an annoying set-up dialog at start-up that would never go away by pressing Finish or Cancel. Luckily, I’d saved a backup copy of the original preferences file.

What about you guys? Any troubles using Lightroom? Any solutions to these or other issues?