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The Smart Mac: iTunes, iPhoto & Aperture

iTunes PlaylistsThe last stop in our series of better file management through ideas based on smart folders brings us to iTunes, iPhoto and Aperture. All of these apps provide support for organizing your files similar to Address Book and Mail. The beauty of “smart” file management, of course, is once you have defined the frameworks for the album, folder or playlist, new content will automatically fall in place if it meets your rules.

iTunes

The first time you noticed a smart “anything with a purple icon” was probably in iTunes. Besides OS X, iTunes is the only piece of software to ship with several built-in smart items. You’ve seen them before, specifically the 90’s Music, Classical Music and Recently Played playlists, to name a few. If you’ve read our previous articles, you know how those work now (and can just right click them to edit their criteria).

But when it comes to iTunes, one thing that invariably also comes to mind is an iPod. If you have at least one iPod, chances are you probably have several iPods. As such, you can set each iPod to sync specific music, playlists or even smart playlists. But since oftentimes our music libraries are larger than the capacity of our iPods, Apple has built in a few unique twists in smart playlist support for iTunes to “shuffle things up.” Here’s a few ideas to get some unique use out of them. (Keep in mind, you can sync multiple playlists, allowing you to mix and match some of these unique smart playlists with your own favorite content.)

Random Tunes

If you have a small iPod, such as an iPod shuffle, you might try a smart playlist that just pulls a random sampling of your music.

Random iTunes

Music I Never Listen To

As Apple (perhaps secretly?) wants iTunes to become the Google of your media collection, it has built in tracking of how often you listen to your content. You could create a playlist that showed you all items with a play count of less than 1 for a jam list of music you’ve never heard.

Music I Never Listen To

My Top 10

If you are one to tag your songs with star ratings, you could create a playlist of your all time 10 best tunes, based on rating and frequency of play.

My Top 10

iPhoto

The iPhoto equivalent is, as you might have guessed, called Smart Albums. Similar to iTunes, iPhoto provides support for specialized criteria for searching, including criteria based on camera settings and support for Faces and Places. Here’s some ideas for unique iPhoto smart albums.

Group Shot

Keeping track of family photos is easy with faces. If you want to easily see all the photos from your own family, create a smart album that shows pictures based on the faces of any of your family members. (Make sure to set this one to “match any” instead of “match all.”)

The Appleseeds

European Vacation

In addition to tagging your photos by location (or GPS, if your camera is equipped), you could create a smart album that automatically grouped any photos taken in the countries you visited.

Europe

Those Pesky Movies

Newer cameras support the ability to record film, and for lack of a better place to store them, iPhoto imports them right along with your photos. But they’re all mixed up in albums and there’s no simple way to pick them apart. Just create a smart album that looks for the usual video extensions in any text. This should find them by their filename and let you view them all in one place.

Pesky Movies

Holiday Photos

If you have lots of family and friends who all love to take and share photos, you could create a smart album based on the date photos were taken. For instance, all photos that are in the range of December 20 through December 28 are likely my holiday photos. As more people send you their photos from the event, provided their camera tagged them with the correct date, they will automatically populate the album.

Aperture

Apple’s high-end photo management application also takes advantage of smart file management. Similar to iPhoto, you can use criteria based on EXIF metadata (aperture, ISO, shutter speed, etc.). Despite the fact that Aperture doesn’t support Faces and Places like iPhoto, there are a number of additional options that can make photo management even easier.

A word of caution with Aperture, however. When creating a smart album, Aperture will only search the root level of the location where you store the album. For instance, if I’m viewing my entire library and create one there, it’ll search all photos. If I am in a particular project, however, the smart album will only search photos within that project. As usual, remember that deleting a photo in your library will also delete it from the smart album. You’re just “reorganizing” the same content with smart albums and not actually making a duplicate. (This applies to all smart items: folders, albums, playlists, etc.)

Missing Captions & Credit

Aperture provides extensive support for IPTC data (the metadata you add to your photos after the camera is done with them). You can use this to create albums that show which of your photos are missing captions or copyright information, should you wish to make sure all of your photos are properly tagged.

Needs Credit

Need the Ratings

If you’re a photographer who loves to use Apple’s star system to rate your photos, consider a smart album that is based on showing you photos without a rating. It’s a quick and easy way to find any of those photos that slip through the cracks.

Needs Rating

Apple’s own apps are certainly not the only to take advantage of “smart” organization. 1Password and NewsFire are just two examples of a growing breed of third-party applications that really harness the power of OS X’s database infrastructure to deliver content organized on the fly by your rules. If you’ve found interesting uses of smart playlists in iTunes or Smart Albums in Aperture or iPhoto, share them with us below.

How-To: Create a Chiptune in GarageBand

Chiptunes are everywhere, and if you’ve been intrigued by them, this article will help you create your very own out of just about any song.

Chiptunes are traditionally created using sound chips from old computer systems and game consoles. Some of the best examples of chip music can be made using Commodore 64s, GameBoys and the original NES. Since these pieces of hardware could only generate sounds and tones over a few channels, there is difficulty in creating complex songs. Along with the fact that this kind of circuit bending is not for a novice like myself and the learning curve tends to be very high. I wanted to find a way to accomplish this without spending days learning and researching software or hardware.

I am not trying to devalue chiptunes in any way, it definitely is an art form. I just want to present an alternative for those that are curious in creating their own masterpiece. So if we’re not going to need hardware and complicated software, what are we going to use? Using GarageBand ‘09, a plugin and a MIDI file, you can convert a song you already know and love into a chiptune.

First thing is to find a MIDI version of a song you want to create. I just went to Google and searched for “Muse midi” and quickly found a Muse song that would work. Save the MIDI file on your computer for later. Now we need to download the Magical 8-bit Plugin from the YMCK website and put the magical8bitPlug.component file in the /Libraries/Audio/Plug-ins/Component folder.

  1. Startup GarageBand and start new project by selecting the Piano. This will create a single track project that we can import our MIDI file into.
  2. Now drag your MIDI file into GarageBand and you will see it create new tracks for each voice in the MIDI file.
  3. Double-click a track to change the instrument from the Piano to our chiptune instrument.
  4. Click the Edit tab and then click the drop-down where it says “Piano” and select “Magical8bitPlug”
  5. Now if you want to tweak that tracks sound, click the Plugin logo and play around with the settings.

  6. This needs to be setup for every track except the drums. Use your creativity and change the track sounds to match the instrument they’re representing. The drum track needs some special attention and since the plugin won’t work for this, I did the following.
  7. Change the drum track sound to the Hip Hop drum Kit.
  8. Add a new effect to this track. Use the Bitcrusher effect and select whatever settings sound good to you. I used Wave Deconstruction.

Now you may have to tweak the volume levels on each track to your liking but for the most part, you are done. Export an MP3 and amaze your friends! Well maybe not if they read this article too, but with this knowledge you could create your own music and use the chiptune sounds as your instruments. I know this is not as hardcore as true circuit bending, so don’t send me angry emails. It’s more of a fun little project to please your creative side. Share your own creations with us through the comments and check out my final results in the audio clip below.

OS X Hidden Gems

Have you ever noticed that little dark circle that appears within the close button of a document window in OS X when you have unsaved changes? Yeah, me neither. After years of diligent Mac use, this subtle little element somehow escaped me until now. I guess I remember noticing it at times but never realized it was telling me to save my work. It’s a nice touch and got me wondering about what other subtle elements I might have missed over the years.

I spent some time gathering up a number of these hidden gems and figured I’d list them here in the hopes that our readers could add to the list in the comments.

Save Dialog

When saving a file you can press / at the save dialog box to choose from any point in the file system via a file path.

Displays

You can press Shift + Ctrl + Eject to put external displays to sleep. On a MacBook this will force the system to sleep without having to close the lid.

Airport

Pressing the Option key when clicking on the AirPort icon in the menubar will display some detailed information about your wireless connection, including the transmit rate.

Finder

Pressing Control while clicking on the current location icon at the top of the Finder window opens a menu to let you select any parent location along that particular file path.

Screen

Pressing Ctrl + Option + Command + 8 will invert the color of your screen.

Dictionary

Pressing Ctrl + Command + D while hovering over a word in any Cocoa application (Safari, Mail, etc.) will automatically look up that word in the OS X dictionary app.

This list just scratches the surface of what I know are a huge number of hidden gems buried inside OS X. If you have any others you want to add to the list, please share it with us in the comments.

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