Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to create an HTML signature for Mac Mail

I recently updated my green signature and have had some questions about how I coaxed Mac Mail to do what I want.  My old green signature looked something like below.

This signature gets the job done but is a little wordy and too tall for my liking.  So I went into Mac Mail's signature editor and was horrified to find just how bad it is for editing anything other than simple text.  Undaunted, I did a little research and found that the signature in a Mac Mail message is nothing more than a snippet of HTML.  Without too many Unnatural Acts it is possible to use any HTML snippet for your signature.  My current signature looks like this.

I like the clean look and the familiar icons link you to exactly where you think they should.  As an added bit of bling the green message changes colour and size when moused over. 

When the user clicks on the link they are connected to my original "Keep it green" blog entry.  So how did I coax Mac Mail to use this signature?  Follow the steps below which I've cobbled together from multiple sources but most heavily from Wess Daniel's blog.
  1. Create your sexy signature using the HTML editor of your choice (I use VI.  You, quite likely, do not).  Feel free to use CSS and scripts since most email readers include full HTML browser capabilities.  Here is a sample HTML file based on my signature above.  Any images or linked content must reside on a publicly accessible location since only the URLs (and not the images themselves) are transmitted in your email message.  You'll notice from my sample that I use a Dropbox Public folder to store the images for my signature (all icons courtesy of IconDock.com).

  2. Once your signature looks the way you want load its HTML file in Safari.  Safari has the capability to store your signature as a webarchive.  Most other browsers and operating systems use MHTML to accomplish the same thing but Apple is Apple.  So pull down the File menu in Safari and Save As a webarchive.  Let's call it Sexy.webarchive for now. 

  3. In Mac Mail, open Preferences (Cmd-, or Preferences in the Mail menu) and select the Signatures icon.  Create a new signature and give it a name.  This will create a temporary webarchive to hold your signature.  You will replace this file shortly.  [NOTE: Technically you don't have to create a new signature but this is the easiest way to identify the new signature for the next steps.  You can reuse an existing signature and look in the plist file to figure out which one it is.]

  4. Drag the new signature to the mail accounts for which you'd like to use it and then quit Mac Mail.

  5. In Finder, go to ~/Library/Mail/Signatures.  You will see one or more files with names that look something like FA158A16-3D64-4B25-8C2C-5CCF1D7B85CD.webarchive.  The webarchive with the most recent date and time is the temporary signature you just created. 

  6. In Finder, locate Sexy.webarchive and rename it to match the long filename of your temporary signature.  Then copy or move your renamed signature file on top of the temporary signature.

  7. Restart Mail.  Now you should see your new sexy signature when you compose new messages.  If you're not seeing your new signature it could be that the signature is not associated with the mail account you are using (see step 4).  It could be that you have more than one signature associated with your mail account and you need to select your new signature (use the Signature pull down menu on the right side of the composition window).  
I hope that helps and keep spreading the green!

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    What's on your Mac?

    Within the span of a week, two good friends of mine decided that it was time to switch from PC to Mac.  I promised both of them a list of the Mac utilities and applications that I have found useful or interesting or fun on my Macs over the years.  Before I start I need to give props to my buddy Scott Corscadden who took the time to school me in the Way of Mac when I made my switch some years ago.

    1Password ($39.95) - This great utility keeps track of your passwords, log in ids, and form settings.  It can also generate strong passwords which you access with your 1Password password.  Integrates with all browsers.  You can even store your encrypted 1Password file on a file sharing service like Dropbox so that all your Macs, iPhones, iPads can access the same passwords.

    Adium (Free) - Are you an iChat or an MSN?  An AOL or a GTalk?  What about all your contacts?  Do they all use the same instant message service that you do?  With a product like Adium, it doesn't matter.  Use Adium to log into multiple IM services at the same time in the same interface.

    AppTrap (Free) - Uninstalling an application on a Mac is as simple as dragging it from Finder to your Trash bin.  While this does uninstall the application it has a side-effect of leaving behind application support files such as configuration files, caches, databases.  AppTrap will automatically detect an uninstall and, after prompting you for permission, delete all the support files for a clean uninstall.  CAUTION: Some application upgrade processes consist of uninstalling the old version and reinstalling the new version.  When doing an upgrade, select "Leave files" rather than "Move files".

    Dropbox (Free) - There are a few cloud storage services out there (including iDisk from Apple).  None are as seamless as Dropbox.  Configure a directory to be your Dropbox and any file you put in there will automatically be synchronized on the server and with any other client you have pointing to your account.  Share files seamlessly between your Macs, PCs, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, etc.  The first 2 gig is free.  50 gig costs $9.99/month. 

    Evernote (Free) - One of my all time favorites.  At first glance, Evernote seems like a regular text note taking tool.  But you can also take photo notes (with OCR) and audio notes.  Oh, and they're all seamlessly synchronized to the cloud.  And searchable.  Oh, and you can get clients for Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre, and Windows Mobile.  Awesome.

    Firefox (Free) - Safari is a damn fine browser.  In many respects it is superior to Firefox.  The killer Firefox feature for me is its plugins which I make heavy use of (perhaps a topic for another post).  True, Safari and Chrome both now support plugins but so far neither of them have as rich a set as Firefox.  The moment I can get all or even most of my plugins for Safari I will likely drop Firefox from my list.

    gfxCardStatus (Free) - Macbook Pros enjoy not one but two graphics processors.  An integrated processor which is light on features and easy on the battery and a discreet graphics processor stacked with features but can run your tank to empty in no time.  Apple's method of switching graphics processors is to change the setting in System Preferences and then reboot (Holy Microsoft Usability Batman!).  This utility will install a menu icon that not only tells you which card you're currently using but lets you switch back and forth between the two without rebooting.  Sweet.

    Growl (Free) - Growl is a simple notification platform.  Many other applications integrate with growl to inform you of updates, alerts and other information.  One interface for notifications.

    HandBrake (Free) - HandBrake converts to and from a multitude of audio and video formats.  Perfect for converting the format of the video your brother-in-law sent you to a format your television actually recognizes.

    Hula Girl (Free) - I don't know why I like this dashboard widget but I do.

    iStat Nano (Free) - This Dashboard widget gives you at-a-glance status information about various hardware and software components running on your Mac.

    iWork ($79.00) -This is Apple's office productivity suite consisting of Numbers spreadsheet, Pages word processor, and Keynote presentation software.  If you must work in a Microsoft Office environment then go get Office for Mac 2008 (2011 coming soon!).  If you don't, then get iWork.  It's much cheaper, has all the features that you're likely to need and Keynote kicks Powerpoint's ass simply by lifting its right eyebrow only.

    jitouch ($6.99) - Once you use the multitouch features of the Mac trackpad you will very rapidly learn to depend on it.  Using non-Mac trackpads becomes very frustrating when you find that all it does is move the mouse pointer and nothing else.  jitouch extends the multitouch capabilities with literally dozens of other gestures.  Easily worth the $6.99 price tag.

    MacVim (Free) - At the risk of starting a text editor flame war I'll go on record stating that I'm a VI fan and always have been.  MacVim is a terrific port of VIM (VI Improved).

    MenuMeters (Free) - MenuMeters puts a couple of handy indicators in your menu bar (at the top of the screen) for monitoring things like CPU, network, disk, etc.

    NTFS-3G (Free) - Mac OS/X does not natively recognize NTFS partitions.  If you have carved out some of your diskspace to run Windows (via Bootcamp, VirtualBox, or some other mechanism) you might want to install this NTFS read/write driver so that you can read the Windows file system from the Mac side.  There is also a commercial version of NTFS-3G called Tuxera if you prefer to spend money.

    OmniDiskSweeper (Free) - The Omni Group makes some really great products for Macs.  DiskSweeper is a free utility for managing your drive space.  With it you can find what's eating all the space.

    OmniFocus ($79.95) - The price is a little steep but without OmniFocus I would be a completely disorganized mess at work.  If you have read David Allen's Getting Things Done you will love the care that the Omni Group has taken in developing a product that so closely embodies the GTD principles.  Purchase the iPhone version as well and access your

    OmniGraffle ($99.95) -Another pricey-but-worth-it package, OmniGraffle is a sophisticated diagramming tool.  Similar to Microsoft Visio but with a more intuitive interface and richer presentation features, OmniGraffle makes the process of creating complex diagrams easy.  It even will output in Visio format for compatibility.

    Quicksilver (Free) - "Act without doing" is the tagline from Blacktree.  Their product, Quicksilver, is difficult to classify.  It leverages Spotlight, Apple's advanced search engine built into Mac OS/X, to easily find and access applications, contacts, music, files, and other data.  Without moving your fingers from the keyboard you can access just about anything on your Mac.  Quicksilver is indispensable. 

    Perian (Free) - "The swiss-army knife for QuickTime".  QuickTime is Apple's video viewer.  It's a great app with a simple, clean interface.  Just what you need if you have QuickTime video files to play.  For the other 99% of videos it is useless.  Enter Perian.  Perian adds QuickTime plugins to QuickTime to handle a multitude of other video formats.

    The Weather Network (Free) - This Dashboard widget from The Weather Network (Canadian) does a great job forecasting weather.  Get the iPhone version as well.

    TweetDeck (Free) - There are a handful of Twitter clients on the market but I prefer TweekDeck over them all.  In one interface you can not only get your Twitter stream, mentions, and directs but also add in Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Buzz feeds.  Tweet and/or update your stats in any of these social media tools all from the TweetDeck interface.  Be sure to download the iPhone and iPad versions as well.

    VirtualBox (Free) - VirtualBox is yet another great free product from the once might Sun Microsystems (I'm really going to miss them).  Hopefully Oracle will continue to develop VirtualBox and keep it free.  VirtualBox is a Virtual Machine that allows you to run Windows, Linux, or other operating systems while running Mac OS/X at the same time.  For those of you that must cling to your favorite Windows programs, use VirtualBox until you kick the habit.  If you want a VM but would rather pay for it then try Parallels ($79.99) or VMWare Fusion ($79.99). 

    VLC (Free) - "It plays everything!"  If you need to play the few video formats that Perian doesn't handle then get VLC.  This little video player does indeed play just about any format.

    Adobe Reader (Free) - YAGNI (You Ain't Gonna Need It).  Mac OS/X handles PDF files natively.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    The moment it becomes an IT project...

    ...you're dead in the water.  Steve Laster, Harvard Business School's CIO, put forward this aphorism at Campus Technology 2010 while describing a major project to investigate, design and implement an online collaboration environment at the Harvard Business School.  The statement resonated with me and speaks to the maturity of the IT culture at HBS. 

    Many IT organizations (and I'm not limiting myself to the education sector) would have eagerly jumped into the project.  A short time later, the latest and coolest Web 2.0, social media integrated toolset would have been installed.  And henceforth ignored.  I attended another session at CT 2010 where the IT director described the new ePortfolio system they (i.e. IT) had researched and implemented.  It had all kinds of great features that students and faculty could use.  After the first semester exactly 0 (zero) students and faculty had signed up.  The IT director chalked it up to a lesson learned regarding communication.  Certainly communication and change management would have helped but I'd bet their results would not have been significantly better if all they changed was communication.

    HBS approached the challenge of online collaboration quite differently.  Right from inception, they treated the notion as a business question rather than an IT problem.  Instead of jumping right in to a juicy "IT project" or allowing the school to "just let IT solve this problem" Laster pulled together a small group of key stakeholders from different departments of the business (yes, I say "business" rather than "school" although it grates on some faculty).  While the HBS Collaboration group included an IT representative it was comprised of and even lead by representatives of other business units.  It was that team's conclusion that an online collaboration tool was indeed needed.  Furthermore, they worked together to develop requirements and explore options. 

    This approach had a number of immediate benefits.  The technology choice had immediate buy-in due to the inclusive method of its selection.  The business units had at least one, and often more than one, knowledgeable member on their team which helped in communication, change management, and rapid adoption.  These knowledgeable members were trained as expert trainers which distributed education and support responsibilities.  The team of experts continued to meet during and after implementation.

    Would it surprise anyone that HBS is a Scrum shop?  Those with a background in agile software development methodologies no doubt see the HBS arrangement as perfectly normal.  The cross-functional working group was, in essence, a product owner / customer proxy.  Wouldn't it be great of more IT organizations thought of their projects and potential projects as being owned by the business rather than by IT? 

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    How Many Years Is An Internet Year?

    After 9 years and 11 months of neglect I found myself today pulling up the main page of my old Infocom website to make a few edits.  It's hard to believe that 15 years have gone by.  When the site was first developed it was the Wild West of the Web times.  HTML 2.0 pages were edited in text editors (I'm a vi).  This was an age when the word "hyperlink" sounded space-age rather than retro.  I got to thinking about all the events and advancements that occurred between the time the site was first created and now.  I know I'm missing more than I'm including but here's what came to my mind.

    In random order:
    • the birth of Nathan and Avery (Gabrielle was already 3 months old when the Infocom site first came up)
    • the dot-com boom and eventual bust
    • ftp and especially gopher fade into the shadow left by http
    • Netscape (pronounced "Mozilla") supersedes Mosaic
    • Netscape wins the browser war
    • AOL buys Netscape and the latter becomes irrelevant
    • IE wins the browser war
    • Firefox wins the browser war
    • WebKit wins the browser war
    • Opera... is glad to be a part of it
    • Napster came and went and was reborn (sort of)
    • Apple is reborn
    • Java is invented!
    • Web 2.0 is invented along with its hefty toolbag: XHTML, CSS, Javascript, AJAX, XML, DOM, Rails, etc.
    • Computer gaming industry realizes that millions of people are willing to pay a monthly subscription to play a game 
    • More than a decade of "this is the year of Interactive Television"
    • GPS devices and location services allow us to locate ourselves and others anywhere in the world
    • Bandwidth availability increases and storage price decreases allow for previously unthinkable services like YouTube, Hulu, Internet Radio, Flickr, SkyDrive, Google Docs, and other cloud services
    • Google becomes a 900 lb gorilla
    • Windows 98, ME, CE, 2000, Mobile, XP, Vista and 7
    • Be kind rewind?
    • Macintosh changes CPU architectures... twice!
    • Wikipedia begins cataloging the world's knowledge
    • Social media sites as us to like, follow, connect, stalk, check-in, tweet
    • Cyber-bully and cyber-stalker become words
    • Apple invents and/or dominates new markets: all-in-one computers (ok, it did that way before 1995), MP3 players, touchscreen smartphones, trackpads, tablet computers
    • Old-school IRC iconography like :-) and abbreviations like l8r get co-opted as cool text-speak
    • We can all have a Second Life 
    • In addition to earth's natural spheres we also have the blogosphere and twittersphere.
    • Texting becomes more popular than talking
    • We can have more computing power in our pockets (you know what I mean) than we used to have on our desks or in our server rooms
    • 2" is considered a thick depth for a TV
    And the height of cool goes from to