Mac Tips

How to merge PDF files on Mac OS X

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

From Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) onwards, the Mac OS actually includes the functionality to merge PDF files together.  There are plenty of software packages available to do this at a price, but if you know this trick, then you don't need to buy them!  The Mac has that built right in.

So, for example, if you have two PDFs that you really want to combine together and send as one document, or you even just need to move a page from one PDF file to another, it's actually very simple.  You need to use the Preview App.  You'll find the Preview app located in your Applications folder and it is generally the default app used by the Mac for viewing images and - guess what else - PDF files!

previewThe thing is, it's not just for viewing them.  You can also use it to manipulate them.  In fact, the process varies slightly on the different versions of Mac OS X but for the sake of this post we'll assume that you are using 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

So, let's assume that you have two PDF files, PDF1 and PDF2.  Start by opening PDF1 in Preview.  You should see something like this:

preview_with_thumbsIf for some reason you don't see the thumbnails on the left or right side, you need to go to the View menu and choose Thumbnails.  This is important, since you need to be able to see these in order to merge the documents.  If you want to Merge another PDF into this one in its entirety (all the pages), then you simply drag PDF2 from the Finder and drop it on top of the thumbnail icon for the page that you want the merged PDF to be inserted before.  So, if PDF2 contains 5 pages and you want this entire document to be inserted before page 3 of PDF1, you simply drag and drop PDF2 onto the thumbnail icon for page 3 in PDF1.

Having done that, the entire contents of PDF2 will now be in PDF1.  All you have to do is Save PDF1 and you're done.  If for some reason PDF1 is a locked file and can't be modified, you will be prompted to save a new copy with your modifications.  This is fairly rare though.

So what if you want to just move a few pages from one PDF document to another?  I've had to do this many times.  You will need to open both of the PDF files side by side in Preview.  This will look something like the following:


As you can see, you now have two PDF files open side-by-side and each one has its own thumbnail sidebar.  You can probably guess the next bit.  Just drag the pages you want from one PDF and drop them into the other.  Again, make sure to drop the pages on top of one of the page thumbnails in the other document.  If you do not drop the pages on top of one of the thumbnail icons, Preview will consider it to be two separate documents and will not merge them.  This is the key to merging the documents.

Once again, when you are finished moving the pages, simply save the PDF file that you have modified and you're ready to go!

As I mentioned above, the process can vary slightly on different versions of Mac OS X, so if you are having problems be sure to remember that you can always contact us using our Live Chat Support system. Live, instant, online support.  It doesn't get much better than that!

How To Access The Recovery Utility in Mac OS X

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

Since the release of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), there is now a recovery partition built into your Mac, so you no longer need to boot from a DVD to carry out system repairs.

option_keyTo access the Recovery Utility in Mac OS X, you simply need to reboot your Mac and after you hear the chime, hold down the Option Key.

You will be presented with a list of the volumes that are available to start up from.  One of these will be called Recovery.  Click it and press the arrow button to startup from that volume.

Your Mac will now start up in Recovery Mode where you can carry out various tasks, including a complete re-installation of your Operating System if you wish.

Other options available from the Recovery utility include access to Disk Utility to run checks on your hard disk and also to repair disk permissions.  You also have access to Terminal if you wish to execute commands on the command line.

You will mainly want to enter Recovery mode if something has gone wrong with your Mac, like for example if it won't start up, or if you are experiencing strange behaviour while using the Mac (slow, spinning beach ball, missing file or folder icons etc.) which can be an indication of a hard disk problem.  You can also use the recovery utility to reset your user account or administrator password on your Mac.

Update your iOS and Mac Apps!

Posted by on in iPad Tips, iPhone Tips, iPod Tips, Mac Tips.

Something I see all the time is people having problems with their Facebook app, Skype app or many others.  This happens both on iPhones and iPads as well as Macs.  Many people update their OS software through the Apple Software Updates but they often don't update the apps themselves.

This can lead to all sorts of problems, because the newer versions of the apps generally add more functionality and fix bugs that have cropped up in previous versions.  The older versions of the app may not be compatible with the version of the OS that you're using.

app-store-badgeSo, the best strategy is generally to keep all your apps up to date, unless you know of a good reason not to.  Look for the little badge beside the App Store icon that shows how many updates are waiting to be installed.


Maintaining Your Mac

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

Lots of people wonder about maintaining their Mac and especially if they have made the move from Windows to Mac.  On Windows, there are many things that you need to do in order to keep your machine running fairly smoothly.  These include such things are running virus scans, malware scans, cleanup tools, defragmentation tools, registry cleaners etc.

So let's see.  Do you really need to worry about any of these things on your Mac?

Virus Scans - these involve both software running actively in the background all the time as well as scans that you have to run manually which can significantly slow down your computer.  Do you need them?  Should you have anti-virus installed?  I'll leave the decision up to you, all I can say is that I've been using Macs since 1984 and I have never had an anti-virus package installed, nor have I ever had a virus.  I installed an anti-virus once, but it got so annoying with it telling me about all the windows viruses coming in via email that I had to switch it off.  Those viruses cannot do any harm to my Mac anyway, so stop telling me about them already!

Malware scans - basically, the same thing applies as for viruses.  Except that there have been a few malware sightings on the Mac, so it might be prudent to run scans now and then.  Personally, I don't.

Cleanup Tools - there is some merit in using these tools, although they are certainly not necessary.  They tend to clean up temporary files and the like, things that you don't need but that are not really doing any harm anyway.  They can be useful for reclaiming space if you hard disk is getting full.

Defragmentation Tools - these, in my opinion, are generally over-rated anyway.  They can take a long time, they can be a little risky and the amount of speed you regain is usually minimal.  Except in the case where the disk is very badly fragmented, which would usually take a long, long time to happen.  So on Windows, yes you might want to run this occasionally but certainly not every week.  However, on the Mac, this is really not necessary.  The Mac does a good job of managing disk space and it actually optimises (or defrags) as it goes.  It's an ongoing process, so there's no need to do it yourself.  Macs rule.  🙂

Registry Cleaners - registry? what registry? You don't need to worry about this, if there's cleaning up to do the Mac usually does it by itself.  There is no real "registry" and therefore nothing really to get corrupted or dirty.

When it comes to maintenance, or even making sure your Mac runs as fast as it can, these are the things you need to consider:

1. RAM - this is a special kind of "short term" memory that your computer has.  It loads up the stuff it wants to use and puts it in RAM.  If it runs out of RAM, like if you have every program on your computer open and it's just too much for it, everything starts to slow down.  Very often you can upgrade the RAM and if you were running out, you'll notice a difference when you have more than enough.

2. Hard Disk - if your hard disk gets too full, it can also lead to the computer slowing down significantly.  You should always leave at least 20% of the total space on the disk free.  This will mean that there will always be enough for the computer to do what it needs, without slowing down. The speed of the disk itself will always be a factor.  A 7200rpm drive will run faster than a 5400rpm drive.  One of the new Flash memory SSD hard drives runs very significantly faster than these.  This has a noticeable impact on the speed of the computer overall.

3. External Disks & Devices - if you notice that you often get the spinning beach ball appearing, it can be because the Mac is trying to access one of your external USB drives and it's waiting for it to spin up.  There are settings you can change or you can leave the disk off until you need it if you are experiencing this.  Some other devices can also occasionally conflict with each other and cause a similar issue.  If you have this type of problem, it's always good to start with no peripheral devices connected and see if the problem persists.  If not, you've at least narrowed it down.

4. Outdated Software - a major cause of crashes or the spinning beach ball is using an outdated version of some software that runs in the background.  It may not be compatible with the version of Mac OS X that you are using and it can cause a variety of problems.  Always check your software to make sure it's up to date, especially after a major OS upgrade.

5. Reboot Occasionally - personally I find that I don't have a need to reboot my Mac very often.  It's always on.  It always works.  It's a pleasure to use.  The thing is, after a while things can slow down a little bit if there have been memory leaks etc. and over time this will build up.  The best thing to do is, every now and again, whenever it's convenient, just restart your Mac.  It will clear out a lot of stuff that's built up in RAM, reset all the relevant settings and give you a nice fresh Mac ready to go again... for a few more weeks... or months...

So I hope this helps in some way to explain what's needed and what's not.  Has anyone else any tips on Mac maintenance that they find particularly effective?

Keyboard & Character Viewers

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

In Mac OS X, it's easy to find those symbols that you want but just don't know how to get!  You need to use either the Character Viewer or the Keyboard Viewer.  To do this, you need to display them in the menu bar.  This may be disabled by default, in which case you should go to the Apple Menu and choose System Preferences.  Then look for Language & Text and when that pane appears, look for the tabs along the top.  Click the Input Sources tab and you will see the following:


Make sure to switch on Keyboard & Character Viewer.  This will display a little icon in the menu bar which you can click to access the Keyboard & Character Viewer.  It looks like this:


Now, you can select Character Viewer from the menu and the following window will appear:


Here, you can find all sorts of symbols just by looking through them and when you find the one you want, you can drag and drop it straight into the document where you need it.  This is easier than having to know key combinations, but takes longer.  You can also use the Keyboard Viewer, which is a very handy tool and looks like this:


Basically, this is a representation of your physical keyboard and as you press modifier keys on your keyboard, the symbols on the keys change accordingly.  If you hold down the Shift key for example, all the letters will turn to uppercase.  This allows you to see exactly which symbols will be produced with what combination of keys.  If you tend to write in foreign languages, this feature can be particularly useful.

Finding your USB Pendrive on the Desktop

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

Apple have introduced some nice new features in Lion and Mountain Lion and they seem intent on making us take notice of them.  There are a few examples of new features that Apple have now decided to set as the defaults for any new user.  Such as, for example, changing the scroll direction that people have been using for years upon years and then having the audacity to call it "natural"!  Now that really blew me away.

Anyway, one of the other things that they've introduced is the ability to change a setting to determine if you want to see things such as hard disks, DVDs, pendrives and the like, as icons on the desktop.  This is great!  If you love a tidy, uncluttered desktop you can now hide more things than ever before!  Except, the default is set to not display these items.  Which is a pain for everyone who's used to seeing them.  Who, in fact, have come to love the fact that they are there, ready, and that you don't have to click anywhere else to find them.  Now, they're all gone!

finder_prefsThat's really the whole point of this post.  They're not gone.  They're hidden.  So, if you can't find some of your disks, particularly DVDs or pendrives on your desktop then you should check the following:

From the Finder, look in the menu bar and click the Finder menu.  Then choose Finder Preferences.  You will see this window.  Make sure that under "Show these items on the desktop", all items are ticked.  Then close the window and see if you can now see your disks appearing on the desktop.

VLC Player from VideoLAN

Posted by on in Coolest Apps, Mac Tips.

Quicktime Player is great, but it still seems to struggle with certain formats without installing extra codecs etc.  The best Mac App that I've come across for video playback has to be VLC Player from VideoLAN. This App is completely free and performs amazingly well.  It's a little gem.  In my opinion, if VLC Player doesn't play it, well then it probably can't be played on your Mac.


vlcThe interface is clean and tidy, uses drag and drop and provides all the controls you need.  Personally, I keep the VLC Player icon in my dock and any movie file I want to play, I just drop it on VLC.  Just look for the Traffic Cone!



Another Example of Wifi Internet Sharing

Posted by on in iPad Tips, iPhone Tips, Mac Tips.

Wow. What a weekend!   Just got back from an amazing Stag party in Ireland.  Interestingly, I had occasion to use the information that I posted about Sharing Your Internet Wirelessly To Other Devices but in a slightly different way.  Let me explain:

This amazing party was held in a location that was very rural and in a house that had no internet connection.  In truth, even the mobile phone signal was pretty poor.  In spots though, it was possible to get a good 3G connection on my iPhone.

One of our best mates, whose relatives own the house and kindly let us use it, was not able to make it as he is based in the US and had too many other commitments.  Of course, we'd all dearly have loved him to be there, so myself and another friend of mine decided that the only option would be to bring him in via Skype at the height of the party, so we could at least interact and show him how things were going!

The problem arose when we tried to get an internet signal in the bar, which was very low down in the house.  There just wasn't enough signal to get a connection to the internet, let alone a connection of sufficient quality to support a Skype call.  Enter the power of the Personal Hotspot!  This is a wonderful feature provided by the iPhone which allows you to create a wireless network directly from your iPhone (Settings -> General -> Network -> Personal Hotspot) and your iPhone's internet connection is shared with any device that connects to that network.

So I quickly ran upstairs, trying to get my bearings and figure out where was the closest point to the bar that I could get a really good 3G connection.  In one of the bedrooms, I found it.  Perfect signal (amazing!) and an internet connection giving me a minimum of 4Mbit download.  Perfect!!  I switched on the Personal Hotspot (with a password so none of the other guests could swipe all the bandwidth) and ran back down to the bar.  We opened up the MacBook Pro and immediately connected to my new network.  Bam!  Internet on, Skype connected and we had a pipeline to the world once again.

At 3am, we opened Skype at the height of the party, called up our mate in California and had an hour long Skype video call where he got to speak to every guest, enjoy some of the live music and generally be on the buzz!  Now that's what I call using technology 🙂

Forcing the Finder to Empty The Trash

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

Sometimes when you try to empty the trash in Mac OS X, you will receive a message saying that one or more items that are in the trash are locked or in use and cannot be removed.  You can choose to continue anyway, but those items will remain in the trash, as they could not be deleted.

The first thing you should do, of course, is to check that actually those items are not in use.  Sometimes you may have a document open in Word or some other program and later on you decide to trash the document using the Finder.  Of course, the document is still open in Word so the Finder won't allow you to delete it.  Close the document and empty the trash again and everything should be fine.

However, sometimes there are files in the trash that are simply locked or the Finder thinks they are in use, when in fact they are not.  You don't really care, you want them GONE.  In this case, you can use a neat little trick to force the Finder to empty the trash and delete those items, even if they are locked or in use.  You simply hold down the Option Key on your keyboard while you choose the Empty Trash command from the Finder menu.  If you look closely, when you are holding the Option key and you click the Finder menu, the Empty Trash command no longer has the three dots '...' after it.  This indicates that you will not be prompted during this action.  The trash will be emptied and you will not receive any warnings.  Locked files or those that are in use will be removed.

In case you don't know which key is the Option Key (sometimes also labelled ALT), the following image will show you where to find it on your keyboard:


How to use your Mac as a personal hotspot

Posted by on in Mac Tips.

Sometimes it can be very handy to create your own wireless network right from your Mac.  Why would you want to do that you ask?  To really understand why, you need to know how to use your Mac as a personal hotspot.

On holiday in a foreign country, I had my iPhone with me and my laptop.  Some of my family members also had iPhones and iPads with them.  We were staying in a hotel which did have Wifi access to the internet but it was pretty expensive on a daily basis and was limited to one device at a time.  So I got to thinking.......

I ran down to the nearest mobile phone store and bought myself a local SIM with data for internet access.  That was pretty cheap and gave me 30 days practically unlimited data.  I activated the SIM and stuck it in my iPhone.  Within a few minutes I had internet on my iPhone (I don't use data-roaming for internet, ever).  That was step 1.

I then connected my iPhone to my laptop via the USB cable and within about 30 seconds I now had internet on my Mac.  Great!  Making progress.  Now the final step.  I have a load of wifi devices all queueing up begging for internet.  Family members drooling with jealousy over my internet connection.  So I just created a Wifi network and let them connect via my Mac.  How?  Let me show you.....

First, I went to the airport menu on my Mac and I chose the Create Network... option.  I was then presented with the following window:


I did, in fact, use security on my connection, but for the sake of simplicity I will leave the security setting on None.  This means that you will not be asked for a password to connect to this network, but in a public place it would be better to enable one.

What this does is actually create a new wireless network that any wireless device can connect to.  But for now, it only gives access to my computer.  What I want is for those devices to be able to connect to the internet through my computer.  Bring on Step 2!

Next, I hit the Apple Menu in the top left corner of your screen and chose System Preferences followed by the Sharing panel.  The I selected Internet Sharing in the list on the left hand side.  At this stage, you will see a popup list on the right which says "Share your connection from:".  In this list, you need to select iPhone USB which is where you are getting your internet connection from right now.

Below this popup list, you will see another list which says "To computers using:" - in this list you need to choose Wifi.  Finally, click the little checkbox to the left of Internet Sharing in the left hand list to activate Internet Sharing.

What you have now done is you have created a wireless network which any wireless device can connect to and you have bridged that with your iPhone's internet connection through the USB port.  Now all you have to do is go to any of your wireless devices such as iPhones, iPads and laptops and choose the wireless network that you selected above.  The next thing you know............. you're on the internet!

I successfully used this method to simultaneously connect 5 wireless devices to the internet via my iPhone's 3G connection provided by the SIM I bought locally and it worked beautifully for the 5 days that we spent there.  So there you have it.  Now you know how to use your Mac as a personal hotspot.  I love my Mac 🙂 And my iPhone of course!