Mac Basics

steampunk laptop from steampunkworkshop.comWhat is MTAG? MTAG is the Macaulay Technology Advisory Group–a group of students interested in helping chart the paths Macaulay will take in using technology, for current students and future students.  We had our first meeting this past Sunday, and we’re already looking at some great new ideas (see below!).  But we need more members.  Are you interested?  The time commitment is small–just one in-person meeting each semester, with all the rest of our discussion taking place online.  And the rewards are great.  You get the chance to make your voice heard.  You get the great feeling of knowing that you’re making things better for all Macaulay students.  You get a great credential to put on your resumé.  And you get to be the first in the Macaulay community to test new software and hardware as we start to think about making improvements. You can truly be on the cutting edge.  So if you’re at all interested in joining MTAG, drop me an email! (Or just leave a comment on this post).  Or jump right in and join our group on the Macaulay Social Network.

Now what happened at our first MTAG meeting? Well, here are some highlights of the Group’s first set of ideas/recommendations:

  • FlipCams–maybe try for the Mino next year instead of the Ultra.  It’s smaller and lighter.  Or maybe a different model–students prefer to have something that will shoot still images in addition to video.  Budget allowing, we will look into this. (Of course, everyone would love to have iPod Nanos instead.  But I don’t think we can sell that one to the Comptroller’s Office!)
  • Some people are noticing odd problems with the palm rests on the MacBooks–it seems that if you press down too hard with your palm or wrist, the MacBook interprets that as a mouse click.  This seems to happen mainly with the new (freshman) MacBooks.
  • About the Tech Fair–students feel that some sessions were too advanced for some students, and some were too simple (especially for our highly-advanced MTAG folks).  We will try to “track” the future Tech Fairs and put students into groups that more accurately match their skill levels.
  • How about those laptop sleeves? The MTAG folks like them, but would love to recommend better, more protective ones, more padding and a zipper, for the future–and in black, if possible, but with the Macaulay logo.  Again, we’ll see what we can do with the budget.
  • We need a tips and tricks page–especially keyboard shortcuts!  For example, the MTAG folks were happy to know that you can cycle from one application to another (in exposé), using the keyboard shortcut command+tilde (⌘ + ~).  Are there more tips? We can post them!  We can (and will) do this as a nice laminated handout, to go with the computers.
  • The highly-advanced MTAG folks, especially the engineering students, would like to have a highly-advanced workshop on installing Windows in Boot Camp.  This is not something everyone wants to do or should do, but we should offer more advanced skills workshops for more technically advanced students.

That’s a good selection of ideas, right? But I’m sure you have more of your own.  Or maybe you want to expand on these, or modify them?  If so, go right ahead and leave a comment here–or better yet, join MTAG!

apple_mighty_mouseDo you use a Mac “mighty mouse”? Maybe you plug one in to your MacBook, or you have a Mac desktop in addition to the MacBook? Almost everyone who has used one of these stylish white mice has encountered, after a while, the problem of the little scroll ball refusing to do its job. You roll and roll the little ball, and no scrolling happens. Just today I was told “I need a new mouse!” because of this problem. But it doesn’t take a new mouse to fix this–the remedy is quick and easy (and inexpensive). Just take an alcohol pad (available at any drugstore, or if you’re here in the Macaulay building, just ask me!) and rub it on the scroll ball. Up and down, back and forth, all around–and turn the mouse upside down and tap it on the desk a few times, too. Then some more rolling with the pad. You will be scrolling freely again before you know it.

FAM_ALCOHOL_PREP_PADS_LARGE_-1305What happens is that over time, there’s a buildup between the ball and the rollers (inside the mouse) of a substance technically known as “gunk.” Dirt, dust, dead skin cells, skin oils, lint…gunk. The alcohol gently dissolves and loosens that stuff, and your mouse is back to normal.

Do you have any other Mac tips? For the mouse or any other part of your machine? Leave a comment and let us know!


We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the new Apple operating system, Snow Leopard. Especially from our new freshmen (welcome, class of 2013!), who got their new laptops just days before Snow Leopard arrived. Want the straight word on this new OS and how it applies to Macaulay laptops? You’ve come to the right place.

First, the official policy. We did not load Snow Leopard on any of the new laptops (and of course not on the older ones!). We can not support you if you decide to install Snow Leopard on your own. That means that if you purchase Snow Leopard and install it, and something goes wrong (it has happened to a few students already), we will only be able to restore the laptop to the state it was in when we gave it to you–when it was fresh out of the box. We won’t reinstall Snow Leopard for you, and we won’t fix whatever went wrong with the Snow Leopard install. Even beyond that, if you install Snow Leopard on your own, and then you have problems with using it or making software work with it, we can’t help you with those problems. The most we can do is wipe your computer clean and restore it back to the original Leopard operating system.

So those are the rules, that’s the official policy. But Snow Leopard is getting a lot of attention recently, and it’s not expensive at all (no, we are not eligible for the $10 price for computers purchased this summer, we won’t buy it for you, and no, you can’t use your Opportunities Fund to pay for it). At a price of $29 for the upgrade, or $49 for a family pack for five upgrades, it’s a hard deal to resist. I know that, and I know some of you are going to go ahead and try this out. I have now installed Snow Leopard myself on all my own Macs, and all my family’s Macs, and you should know what I’ve found–in case you’re thinking of giving this a try.

The basic advice–if you don’t care about details–is that this is not a required upgrade, and probably will not make a very noticeable difference in how you use or experience your Mac.  At this point, unless you’re a curious, bleeding edge, ahead of the curve, innovation-hungry, power user (like your Director of Technology and Learning 🙂 ), you should skip this and stick with Leopard.  You’ll be fine.

But if you’re planning to go for it, here’s what you should know.

  1. Snow Leopard will save you some hard drive space.  Not a huge amount, but a noticeable amount.
  2. Snow Leopard will let you have the date, not just the day of the week, in the menu bar at the top of your screen.
  3. Stacks (the way that folders full of files or apps on the dock appear) work better in Snow Leopard.
  4. Exposé works better in Snow Leopard.
  5. You can set the clock to automatically update (like a cellphone does) when you travel to a new time zone (how often do you do that?).
  6. If you need to sync calendars (iCal), contacts (Address Book), and email (Mail) to an Exchange server, Snow Leopard does that better. (At this point, this doesn’t apply to any Macaulay students–you’re not syncing to any Exchange servers, unless–maybe–you have a job outside of school where they use Exchange)
  7. Some programs are a little quicker and zippier to open and run. A little.  Probably not even noticeable.
  8. When you want to eject a removable disk in Leopard, you may have noticed that annoying message telling you that you can’t do that because the disk is in use.  In Snow Leopard, that message actually tells you which program is using the disk, so you can quit that and then carry out the eject.
  9. The wifi indicator now tells you the strength of the various available networks, and has a nifty animation while a connection is being established.
  10. You can tell other people that you are a curious, bleeding edge, ahead of the curve, innovation-hungry, power user like your Director of Technology and Learning 🙂

That’s about it.  That might look like a lot of new and exciting features (a list of 10!!), but if you really look at them, none of them are big or important.

There is also one fairly large negative.  I have seen reported, and experienced myself, serious crashes of Microsoft Word under Snow Leopard, when the program was working perfectly on the same machine under Leopard.  These are real hard crashes, with lost data (completely unrecoverable).  That will probably be fixed with a Microsoft patch or upgrade soon, but at this point I would say that if you do upgrade to Snow Leopard, do not use Word. Stick to Pages or Google Docs.  I have seen reports of other apps crashing or just not working well under Snow Leopard, but have not experienced that myself.  And Symantec antivirus (which is really only necessary if you’re excessively cautious) is not yet compatible with Snow Leopard.

So those are the differences.  All together, are they worth $29? And worth taking a risk that something may go wrong that we will not support?  That’s an individual decision.  Honestly I should say that the risk is pretty small–this is not a difficult upgrade and Apple handles these things very well.  But as I said, some students have had issues.  So choose wisely!

And of course if you have questions or comments, email me! (or comment on this post).

(And feel free to read some of the many other reviews out there on the web–I particularly liked MacWorld’s, Ars Technica’s (23 pages!), and David Pogue’s.)