How-to remove a PDF password

Posted on Jul 28, 2010 in Hints, Mac

Have you ever been given a PDF document, only to find you can’t read it on your device of choice because it’s password-protected? Most universities nowadays make course material available in PDF format. However, some insist on making their material password-protected, in order to prevent unauthorized users from reading it.

Unfortunately, the password protection can cause other issues:

  • Preview’s full-screen “Slideshow” view will display a blank screen (rdar: 7757682)
  • Not all iOS apps can open encrypted PDFs (although iBooks and GoodReader have both recently been updated to support this feature)
  • PDF Passwords aren’t saved – so you’ll need to look it up and enter it each time

But if you have the correct password and can open the PDF file, there’s a (slightly tricky) way to store a non-password protected copy for personal use. There are a few different ways you can do this, but after trying out several methods, I believe this is the easiest.

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Free OS X World Cup Vuvuzela Filter

Posted on Jun 14, 2010 in Hints, Mac

If you watch TV on your Mac and been annoyed by the constant buzzing of the Vuvuzela’s during the World Cup games, you might want to try this tip.

I use the equinux TubeStick to watch TV (full disclosure: I work for equinux) so this tutorial was written for The Tube, but it’ll work with other software or online streaming sites as well.


My colleague has put together a small application that eliminates the need to use Garageband. Check it out for even easier Vuvuzela filtering.

Step 1: Install & Configure Soundflower

Download the free Soundflower utility from Google Code. This utility allows you to pass audio from all applications back into your system, allowing us to filter it using Garageband.

Once installed:

  • Open System Preferences > Sound
  • Select Output: Soundflower (2ch)
  • Select Input: Soundflower (2ch)

Your audio will now be muted – don’t worry, this is normal.

Step 2: Install VuvuX

There are other ways to filter out the buzz of the Vuvuzela’s manually, but Prosoniq offer a free AU plugin that takes care of it for you. Download it, then drag it onto the ‘Components’ alias:

Step 3: Start filter with Garageband

Prosoniq suggest using their filter with Audio Hijack Pro, but if you’d like to save yourself $32, you can use Garageband which probably came free with your Mac.

Simply launch Garageband, create a new real instrument project and adjust these settings:

  • Go to Garageband > Preferences > Audio/Midi and select Audio Input: Soundflower (2ch)
  • Go to your real instrument track, select the Edit tab and click a blank slot to add a new effect
  • Choose VuvuX from the drop down list and make sure it is turned on
  • Switch back to the Browse tab, select Input Source: Soundflower (2ch) and turn on the Monitor

You should now hear audio again. Now fire up The Tube and you will notice that Vuvuzela’s are a fair bit quieter. Turn the filter on or off to really hear the difference. You can also click the filter in Garageband to manually adjust the level of noise reduction – be careful though, too much reduction will cause the commentary and other game sounds to sound distorted.

Any there you have it! Enjoy a vuvuzela-free World Cup!

Follow me on Twitter for further updates and tips!

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Ripping Audiobook CDs with iTunes

Posted on Jan 17, 2010 in Hints, Opinions, UI Design

iTunes made it easy for everyone and their mother to finally join the digital music revolution. Ripping music CDs is straightforward and fairly easy to do, as is buying music via the iTunes Store.

But I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve showed friends and relatives how to import their audiobook / spoken word CDs properly. It was also one of the questions I was most often asked whilst working at an Apple retailer. There are a ton of tools and tutorials on the net that also address this issue, which seems to suggest people continue to struggle with this problem.

By default, iTunes imports CDs as individual tracks and adds them to your “Music” library. To rip something as an audiobook in iTunes 9:

  • Select all tracks
  • Choose Advanced > Join CD tracks
  • Select Import Settings and choose “Spoken Podcast”
  • Import CD
  • Select imported tracks, File > Get Info
  • Under options, select “Media Kind: Audiobook”

To make things easier, I would suggest Apple add a simple option screen, similar to the one they currently show if you select an empty media category.

This is a mockup of what it could look like:

With millions of iTunes users out there, I’m sure this would help a fair number of people, without being troublesome for other users.Comedy CDs and childrens stories continue to be popular on CDs so it’s not just audiobooks that could be ripped with this option. One could even envision some of the other import options being exposed this way, e.g. a “Import losslessly” option.

Anyway, food for thought.

Image credit: Audiobook icon by Splasm Software, Inc.

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Quick tip: Hide shopping results on Google

Posted on Oct 11, 2009 in Hints, The web

Have you ever been annoyed by the shopping sites that come up on Google while looking for product reviews? Well, it looks like Google has a new feature that should help:

  • Select “More Options” on the results page
  • From the sidebar, select “Fewer shopping results”

And you’re done! Google will hide most of the shopping results, making it easier to find reviews, tips and other product information.

Show fewer Shopping results

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Walkthrough: Installing Windows 7 RC under Parallels4

Posted on May 13, 2009 in Featured, Hints, Mac

Today I’m taking a look across the fence and am going to walk you through the installation of Windows 7 Release Candidate under Parallels 4.

The installation is pretty self-explanatory, however it did take me a few attempts to get the correct setup, as 7 isn’t officially supported by Parallels yet. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be up and ready in no time:

Download Windows 7

Head on over to the official Microsoft download page. You’ll need to sign in with a Windows Live ID, but you’ll get an activation key that’s valid for one year for your trouble.

Setting up your VM

Create a new virtual machine, select the .iso image and choose ‘Windows > Other Windows’ as the OS you’re going to install. Be sure to select a custom setup and assign your VM at least 512MB of RAM. Set the other options according to your preferences.

Update: If you download the latest version of Parallels 4, you now can also access an experimental Windows 7 option here instead. (Thanks Alex!)

Other windows

The installation

After you’ve configured your VM, Parallels will reboot using the Windows 7 .iso image. Follow the steps on screen and enter your Activation key when asked. This part is mostly smooth sailing, provided you’ve setup your VM correctly. If you selected other options (e.g. if you selected ‘Vista’ as your OS version), your installation may stall or throw other errors. In that case, double-check your VM settings, or start over with a new VM.


windows 7 installation progress

Installing Parallels Tools

Once your installation has completed, you’ll want to install Parallels Tools for Windows, in order to enable seamless mouse, clipboard and app switching between OS X and Windows 7. Select ‘Virtual Machine > Install Parallels Tools’ from the menu bar and wait for the installer to complete. Reboot when prompted and you should be all set! Now you can get to the real business of exploring the exciting new innovations that “7” offers:

windows 7 paint


Some of the more interesting new Windows features such as Aero Peek and other UI changes won’t yet work, due to the limited graphics card drivers Parallels currently uses. But 7 still seems to run faster than Vista, given similar resources, and works well enough for everyday use.

Support the site: Buy Parallels 4 at Amazon.com

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Dropbox tip: Store documents there!

Posted on Apr 12, 2009 in Featured, Hints, Mac

dropboxdocssyncWe’ve talked about Dropbox here before on the site, but did you know that you can use Dropbox for more than just storing files? If you use multiple Macs, you may also want to store some of your application data on Dropbox, allowing you to keep your todo lists, passwords, clippings and other data in sync across all your machines. Of course you could also do the same with a USB drive or MobileMe iDisk, but the instantaneous syncing Dropbox does makes this very practical for users who use multiple Macs a lot.

So far I’ve tested Dropbox syncing with the following apps:

  • 1Password: Involves a few steps, but Agile has also written a great setup guide.
  • VoodooPad: Just drag your .vpdoc files to your Dropbox and you’re all set.
  • The Hit List: Just move the library file from “~/Library/Application Support/The Hit List/The Hit List Library.thllibrary” to your Dropbox, hold down the Option key while launching The Hit List and select the file on your Dropbox.
  • Things: Setup is similar to The Hit List, a user-contributed how-to is also available.

Most other applications can probably also be synced using one of the methods above, provided they support a custom library location or use documents to store your data. I have yet to run into any issues, however there are a few things you’ll want to look out for, to preserve your data integrity:

  • Try to avoid running your synced applications on both Macs at the same time – otherwise you might run into “lost updates” and other syncing conflicts
  • Occasionally check your Dropbox folder for aforementioned conflicts: Dropbox doesn’t give you a lot of warning if there are conflicts, so take a look every now and then to see if there is a “sync conflict” folder in your Dropbox.
  • Make sure you have the same version of the application on both Macs.
  • Your preferences are usually stored in a different location than your data, so don’t be surprised if those aren’t synced

Tip: if you sign up for free using this referral link, you’ll get an extra 250MB storage.

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