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Ask TUAW: More migration, expanding Apple's Dictionary, syncing iPhone notes, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly Mac troubleshooting Q&A column! This time we've got more questions on migrating user data when upgrading to Snow Leopard, expanding Apple's built-in Dictionary application, accessing iPhone notes without Mail.app, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Questions for next week should be left in the comments. When asking a question please include which machine you're running and which version of Mac OS X (we'll assume you're running Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify). And now, on to the questions.

sn0man1 asks

I am starting law school and I was curious if there was a way to extend Apple's dictionary application to add a legal dictionary? I've been told by the professors that I need a paperback Black's Law Dictionary, but I'd also like something on my machine since I brief everything on my Unibody MacBook (a collector's item I promise).

You can, in fact, expand Apple's built-in Dictionary app as explained in this handy tutorial (Update: for some reason the original URL doesn't work properly so I've replaced it with a TinyURL link. All you really have to do is download a dictionary in StarDict format from the site below and then run it through DictUnifer.) Unfortunately, you must have the dictionary content and the Black's Law Dictionary is a commercial product and unavailable in this format (though there is a nifty iPhone version (iTunes Link) if you're so equipped).

Nonetheless, I have discovered that you can get the free (old and out of copyright) Bouvier Law Dictionary in StarDict format. Just be sure that when you use DictUnifer as explained in the tutorial that you choose the original tarball as the source file (and not one of the files it contains).

After the conversion you'll see $DICT_NAME in the dictionary bar. You can change this by going to ~/Library/Dictionaries/dictd_www.dict.org_bouvier.dictionary/Contents/ and opening the info.plist file in a text editor. Then just replace $DICT_NAME with whatever you want, such as "Bouvier Law Dictionary" and when you re-open Dictionary.app it should appear as below:


Of course, this procedure can in principle be duplicated with any of the other available StarDict files, though in my limited testing I noticed that some of the other dictionaries didn't seem to work.


St3phen asks

Now that iPhone 3.x software finally synchronizes with the Notes store in Leopard (to the delight of many), I'm reminded that the only way I know of to access those notes is via Mail.app. For those Mac users who don't use Mail, is there some other application or method that exists to interact with the Notes store? If not, it sure seems like that'd be a great opportunity for some Mac developer.

Check out PhoneView ($19.95) from Ecamm. Among its many features is the ability to create, edit, and save notes. It has its own built-in editor that should allow you to avoid Mail.app.


Heimbachae asks

I have a mid 08 macbook (white). When I bought it I wasn't thinking I would need a DVD drive so I opted out of it. Now that Snow Leopard is coming out I'm like OH SNAP!? So here's the question, is there a dvd player attachment I can plug in USB that'll work as a normal player or is it simpler to find an internal drive and gut it myself in the hopes that it'll work?

Perhaps I'm not understanding your question, but any white MacBook sold in 2008 would have had a drive capable of reading / playing DVDs. All of that said, any standard USB DVD drive should work. In fact, I've even successfully used an old Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive with a Mac as a DVD drive. Somewhat ironically just about the only USB DVD drive that won't work is the one Apple sells for the MacBook Air. OWC has quite a few external drives available if you want some place specific to start.


Duncan asks

What is the best / most effective way to extend a Time Machine/AirPort Extreme network?

The easiest and most effective way is to use an AirPort Express or Expreme in a wireless distribution system (WDS) setup. Apple has a handy Support Document that lays out what you need to know. Basically, you'll add the new AirPort station to your existing setup and use the software AirPort Utility (in /Applications/Utilities) to configure it as a relay station.


William asks

I'm hoping to install Snow Leopard on the day it's out, however I want to do a clean install instead of an upgrade of the OS. But I want to keep all my current data, music, programs, settings, and so on. Am I right in thinking that if I use Apple's Migration Assistant on Snow Leopard that it'll transfer all my old user account data (without losing anything) from a Time Machine backup? I can cope if an application here or there breaks, as I can reinstall them, but I'm just wondering if doing that will allow me to keep all my existing data, while still having a clean install of the OS?

Yes, Migration Assistant can use a Time Machine backup as a source. It will appear as one of the choices when you start the Migration Assistant. However, I don't really think that you need to do a pure clean install. Instead (provided you have the disk space), try the Archive and Install option. This will give you most of the advantages of the Erase and Install without having to subsequently use the Migration Assistant. It will create an entirely fresh system but as long as you have the "Preserve Users and Network Settings" checkbox selected all of your user data will still be there. After the new system up and running for a while and you make sure you don't need anything from your Previous System folder, you can safely delete it.


autoy asks

I want to do a clean install when Snow Leopard is out to trash things I don't use out but the only thing bothering me is Keychain, as I rely heavily on it. How do I backup and restore my keychain?

The Keychain files (located at ~/Library/Keychains/) can be backed up and moved like any other files. So if all you really want to do is move your Keychains you can simply copy them over to the same location on the new Mac. If you're moving more than just the login keychain you may need to use the Keychain Access utility to restore them by choosing Edit Keychain List and then selecting them. As I noted in the last question, if you use the Archive and Install option when upgrading to Snow Leopard all of your user data (including Keychains) will be preserved.



Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly Mac troubleshooting Q&A column! This time we've got more questions on migrating user data when...