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Ask TUAW: Video encoding, remapping keyboard keys, redirecting Mail, and more

This week's Ask TUAW is wide-ranging. We have a couple of questions about video encoding, remapping keyboard keys, redirecting email, Finder window positions and more. Remember new Mac users and Switchers who are enjoying our Mac 101 series should feel very welcome to post questions for Ask TUAW. We're happy to take questions from all levels. As always, please submit your questions by commenting to this post or using our tip form.

Brennan asks

I'm a graphic/web designer planning a move from a city in Michigan to a small village in Montana, while continuing to work for the same small design shop in Michigan. Any reccomendations on particular tools to make file transfer/interoffice communication, etc. work as smoothly as possible?

Well, frankly, I'm not entirely sure what you're asking. Presumably, most of the tools (FTP client, text editor, etc.) would be the same ones you use now. However, one thing you may presumably want to do is have remote access such as VNC (remote desktop) to computers back in Michigan, in which case you'll probably want to make sure that you have secure access over SSH. Fortunately, we just recently had a post about JellyFiSSH, which makes it very easy to set up SSH tunnels. And, of course, to maintain contact with the folks back in Michigan you'll presumably want to use a chat client like iChat or Adium. If you want to keep things completely private on that end you may want to set up your own Jabber server. One final suggestion is a WebDAV server, which you can mount in the Finder and which makes file transfers particularly easy.


Ben asks

I don't know if it's just the way me and my brother type but we both have powe...macbooks and find often that when typing and going for return we nudge the up arrow key which then highlights the last line and it deletes when we push return. obviously if quick enough you can undo it but is there anyway to disable the up arrow besides pouring water into it?

Jeff asks

I'm a recent PC switcher and love my iMAC, especially with Parallels coherence. One thing that drives me crazy is the habit of hitting escape to close a window. Is there a way to configure the escape key to behave like an option-W?

These two questions are similar enough that I thought I'd try answering them together. They both basically involve remapping keyboard keys. I haven't actually done this on my own machine, but I think I have potential solutions. For Ben, I would suggest trying Ukelele (free), which is a visual keyboard layout editor. With Ukelele you could map the up arrow key to something else (or nothing). The interface, as you see above is dead simple, just double click on the key to change the binding.

For Jeff, the problem is a little different, because it probably can't be solved with keymapping, since he want to execute a keyboard shortcut. For Jeff, I would suggest trying a keyboard shortcut program like Keyboard Maestro ($20), and defining ESC to trigger a Macro that types: ⌘W.


SMAC asks

Speaking of slide show does anyone else have the problem where it crashes the Finder. It seems that if I select a bundle of pics, control-click (I just can't bring my self to call it right-click it is from windoze and it isn't right) select slide show, watch it, select another bundle, control-click, select slide show and Finder restarts... I find that selecting them all, then double clicking to get them into Preview, streaching the window to fill the screen, and clicking zoom to fit, works ok, I just keep pressing down arrow to scroll through.... But I like to show off the slideshow, is there another way to start one besides control-clicking?

Strangely, there doesn't seem to be a Finder command for invoking the Slideshow function; you have to use a right-click (if it makes you more comfortable, consider that X11 in UNIX has been right-clicking since before Windows). The solution to your problem, however, is simple. There's a slideshow function in Preview. Open the photos as you already do in Preview and go to View Slideshow (or just hit shift ⌘F).


David asks

...Since most of these releases are in a Matroska-container (.mkv) the only option I have for playback is VLC. But, as you probably found out yourselfs, this little program is quite buggy, especially while playing back h.264-material in the afore mentioned container....Extracting the seperate video- and audiostream from the Matroska-container is no problem, but putting them back a different, Quicktime-compatible container (like .mov), is. I've tried FFMpegX to create an .avi file but this always fails without any transparent reason.

Actually, I'm rather surprised to hear you say that VLC is "quite buggy" as that has not been my experience. Anyway, the latest version (1.2.3) of VisualHub supposedly "raised Matroska compatibility quite a bit". It seems to be one way, but as it happens it's the direction you want (mkv to mov), I would say give VisualHub ($23.32) a shot and see if it works (there is a demo available).


Gabo asks

Hi, I'm wondering the best way to forward mail from different accounts to one account, specifically to gmail. I have looked at Mail Forward but it doesn't look too promising. I tried a search for some web alternatives but they seemed a bit complex. I was wondering if there was a simple application/command line/web application to do this.

The best way by far to do this is server-side. I do this exact same thing, but I have my email servers do it for me. I do this on both the email server I have direct access to on my personal domain, but also on my University's mail server. In each case, there is an option to forward all my incoming email to another address, so I just put my Gmail address in there.

If for some reason you simply cannot do this (I suggest you look for the option; contact your ISP/email provider's IT for support if you don't see it), then maybe the best way to do it is with Mail.app's very convenient "Redirect" command. If you use Mail.app you can easily set up a Mail Rule to do this. Just go Mail.app's Preferences, and create a new Rule as follows:

The really cool thing about "Redirect" instead of "Forward" is that it will preserve all the headers, including sender, date, etc. Even if you don't use Mail.app to read your mail, you could still use it to do the redirection.


XiozTzu asks

If I were to recommend a video file format for a windows user to encode in, that would be the most easy to transfer between all OS platforms (windows, Linux, OS X, etc) what would it be? Something that out of the box each OS could play i.e. don't have to install flip4mac or quicktime.

Flash video (FLV) is probably your best bet right now for true cross-platform playing. On the Mac you can use the above mentioned VisualHub, on Windows (and I can't believe I'm answering this question) you'll probably want to check out RivaVX FLC Encoder (though the page is in German). Here's a nice overview of FLV options. It's true that your users will need to have Flash installed, but since its penetration is close to 90% I think that's good enough.

All of that said, the majority of PCs these days do have QuickTime (thanks to iTunes), so it could serve just as well, and it would make Mac users much happier.


Chris asks

I am totally OCD about the size and position of Finder windows. I like them to open up at certain places on the screen, at a certain size. However, the size and onscreen position change now and then, but never how I want it to. I just can't seem to get it to behave. Is there a way to save the current size and position of the Finder window?

Well it used to work that way back in Classic, pre-OS X days, but no more. Fortunately, I think I've found a solution for you. I've never used it, but Finder Window Manager ($15) looks to be exactly what you want. It has a "Precisely Position Utility" that looks to satisfy your OCD tendencies, well, precisely.


Okay that'll do it for this week. Keep those questions and comments coming!


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