Alex Kaloostian

Apple Certified Master Trainer | Systems Integrator | Video Editor | Motion Graphics Artist


Command Line Basics 5 – paths

Where are you? In your cubicle, in an office, in your living room, a public library, on a blimp? Okay, probably not on a  blimp. But you are somewhere right now, as you read this. You can look around and figure it out. And if you opened a window on your Mac, you would know where you were as well, because it would say so at the top of the window, like this:

But where are you when you open the Terminal? Turns out, it’s right there in front of you as well, you just may not have noticed, or known how to read it. Open a new Terminal window and don’t type anything, just look at the text to the left of your cursor. This is called the prompt:

And this is actually a lot of useful information in a little place. The lion-Apps: is the computer you’re on. That might be obvious, I mean, its sitting right there on your desk in front of you, right? But when you start logging into machines remotely, that can be a very helpful reminder. That little squiggle, ~, is called a tilde, and it tells you what folder you’re in. More on that in a second. fmcadmin is the user you’re logged in as. And finally, the $ tells us we are using the bash shell. There are different shells out there, but you really don’t need to worry about that at this point. All Macs use the bash shell by default.

Okay, wait, tilde? Whats that? Well, in order to explain that, we need to take a step back and talk about paths. A path is like a set of directions to get somewhere.

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Command Line Basics 4 – targets

Lesson 1 – The Terminal
Lesson 2 – Command options
Lesson 3 – Man pages

Last time, I showed you how to read a man page for a command by typing man followed by the command. In lesson 2, I showed you how to list files in long format by typing ls followed by a hyphen and an option, like ls -l. Why does one command use a hyphen, and the other not?

It’s all in the difference between options and targets.  Here’s how most commands are entered:

command -options target

The command is the thing you want to do, the option is how you want to do it, and the target is where you want to do it. Some commands need an option, some don’t. Some commands need a target, some don’t. But if you use them, the computer can only tell the difference between an option and a target based on that little hyphen. Imagine it wasn’t there, and you tried typing

ls a

Are you telling the computer to list all items, or list the folder named “a”? The hyphen is how the computer knows you are typing an option or a target. Options have a hyphen before them, targets don’t.

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Command Line Basics – lesson 3 – man pages

Okay, in earlier lessons, I showed you how to use the uptime command, and the ls command, with and without options. But how did I know what those options were? -l, -a, -G, what the what? The answer, my friend is, RTFM!

Every command line command has an instruction manual included FREE, at NO EXTRA CHARGE! its easy, just type man, a space, and the command you want to know about. Like this:

man uptime

And press return. You will see something like this:

UPTIME(1) BSD General Commands Manual UPTIME(1)
 uptime -- show how long system has been running
 The uptime utility displays the current time, the length of time the system has been up, the number of users, and the load average of the system over the last 1, 5,
 and 15 minutes.

And a bit more, but I’ve cut it for space. You get the idea. Exciting, right? That right there is the hottest writing since Twilight. Ahem. This is a basic one- some man pages are hundreds and hundreds of lines long.

Now, you probably have noticed something new. You don’t see the usual prompt, waiting for you to type a new command. And if you DO try a new command, things are going to get wonky. The commands we tried earlier were one-time commands: you run them, they run, and they’re done, nice and easy. A one-night stand, so to speak. But the man command sticks around. It stays open until you’re don’t with it.

How can you quit the man command and get back to the normal prompt? press q. (no period, just the letter q). If you’re ever stuck in some command, the q key will usually get you out. If not the q key, than control-c will do it. Thats a break command. q quits gracefully, control-c is more of a panic switch. And if you ever get REALLY stuck, just close the Terminal window and open a new one.

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Command Line Basics – Lesson 2 – Command Options

Okay, last time we didn’t cover a lot, true. In fact, we didn’t cover much more than launching the Terminal. But the journey of 1,000 lines of code begins with a single prompt, or something like that.

By the way, side note… check out In The Beginning was the Command Line, a fascinating article written by Neil Stephenson in 1999, about the inevitable death of paid operating systems in the face of the rising free software movement. You probably are thinking to yourself, you paid for the operating system you’re using right now. Well, so did I, and so did Neil. He admits he got a lot wrong. But the article is just as interesting for what it got wrong as what it got right. And it’s been posted online for free. We now return you to your lesson.

Okay, let’s try some more commands. Launch the Terminal, and type the following:


And press return. Assuming you haven’t done anything else, and just launched the Terminal, you will be in your home folder, and when you type ls, you should see something similar to this:

Desktop     Downloads   Library    Music   Public
Documents   Movies      Pictures   Sites

Figure out what ls does? That’s the list command. It will list the items in your home folder. Yours might differ slightly; You may have a Dropbox folder, or some other custom folders, but basically, you will see a list of the folders and files in your home folder.

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Terminal basics – lesson one

The command line is scary! It’s all, like, black and white, and you can’t use the mouse, and, and, why would anyone want to subject themselves to such madness? Here are 5 good reasons:

  1. Its faster. There’s no graphical interface to get in the way, and no annoying warnings and safeguards. You type a command, hit enter, and your command is simply, instantly performed.
  2. It’s more powerful. You can bypass precautions in the Finder, see invisible files, and delve into deep corners and recesses of the System that are usually off-limits. You can even customize settings that the Mac usually doesn’t allow.
  3. Remote access. Every Mac supports screen sharing, but screen sharing can be slow, especially over a dial-up connection. And it can be hard to see a large screen scaled down to fit your laptop (or phone). The command line is crisp, clear text, very low bandwidth and easily pushed over even the slowest connection.
  4. It’s scriptable. Anything you can do in the command line, you can script to do automatically. You’ll be amazed to see just how easy it is to get into scripting.
  5. Its cool. Lets face it, when you’re in the command line, you get to pretend you’re Matthew Broderick in War Games, and who doesn’t like that?

So how do you access the command line? There are a bunch of ways, but until we get into the really advanced stuff, we’re going to stick with the easiest and most popular method: The Terminal.

A lot of people use the word “terminal” to refer to the command line, but the Terminal is a utility. A Utility you use to access the command line. Think about, um, okay, think about baseball. Usually you’d play baseball on a baseball diamond in the park, but you wouldn’t say the diamond is baseball. The diamond is just the most popular place to do it. You could play baseball in a parking lot, or the middle of the street, or the beach, or even on a video game. The command line is the same way. You could access the command line from the login screen, or from a remote SSH session, or from single-user mode, but the most popular method by far is the Terminal app.

So open your Utilities folder, and launch the Terminal app. Now you’ll probably see something like this:

That’s your command line. We will talk all about the ins and outs and details in a later post, but this is getting long, so let me finish by having you type your very first command! Don’t be nervous, now, just put your hands on the keys and type:


Press return, and see what it does. Figure it out? It’s just a simple command to show you how long your Mac has been up and running without a restart. Easy! next time we will explore some more complex commands, promise. TTFN!

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Tricking myself into being awesome

I’ve been trying to keep a low profile on this blog, and only post articles of relevancy, of substance. I don’t want to flood people with meaningless stuff- that’s what the rest of the web is for. But I’ve also been at a loss for good content, and perhaps neglecting you more than I should.

I’ve been inspired by Chris Strom’s blog post on Lifehacker, 366 Days, or How I Tricked Myself Into Being Awesome. In one year, Chris wrote three books on topics he had not even been an expert in. If he can do that, I should be able to write TWO books on things I DO know, right?

So over the next few weeks I’m going to do my best to post more here. Not every day, but I am making a commitment of at least 3 posts a week, on 2 topics, and hopefully at the end of the year I’ll be able to collect all that stuff together into some sort of e-book.

The topics are something I hope many of you will find useful, and I’ll tag them so you can follow or ignore them at your choice. The topics will be Learning The Mac Command Line and iPads For Kids.

Even more than usual, I will be hoping all of you will comment, feedback and ask questions so that this can be a living, evolving project. Wish me luck!

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Replace all your songs with higher-quality tracks with ITunes Match

By now you have probably heard a lot about iTunes Match, but you may still not be clear on exactly what it is or if it’s worth $25 a year. I was skeptical myself. So heres as simple a guide as I can devise.

What is it?
iTunes Match is a subscription service that stores your music “in the cloud”. Translation: on Apple’s servers. So no matter where you are, you can log in and download your music on any device– Apple, PC, iPad, iPod, iPhone.

When you sign in and set up, itunes will automatically scan your music library. Any songs that are already on the store, so probably most of them, will be marked as owned by you, and the rest will be uploaded.

Cool reason to use iTunes Match #1:
Did you notice the part where I said ALL your music is stored in the cloud? Ever been in a bar or at a party with people and a funny story came up, or someone reminded you of a song they just HAVE to hear? But you don’t have it because your iPhone is only 16GB? Now you can hear any of your songs, any time, anywhere, and you don’t always have to carry them around with you. That’s pretty cool.

Cool reason to use iTunes Match #2:
The music Apple already has online is DRM-free and high quality. So if, like me, you ripped a lot of your music years ago at a low bitrate because your hard drive was small, or bought a lot through iTunes when they DRMed their music, you can replace all this stuff with new, high-quality tracks! It takes a little trick, but its easy to do, here’s how:

  1. Sign up for iTunes Match, natch.
  2. Set up and wait for iTunes to upload all your music. This could take awhile. I had 10,000 tracks, with about the same ratio of on-the-store/not-on-the-store that most people would have, and it took about 4 hours.
  3. Now, find all the tracks that are protected, or less than 256kbps. You can make a smart playlist to do the work for you. Just search for music with a bitrate lower than 256, AND kind is music. You dont want to be deleting any videos or podcasts.
  4. You also want to find any of that music that is in iTunes match- you dont want to delete anything you cant get back. But the tricky part is, you need to find music which is lower than 256 AND music… and Purchased OR matched. To add the conditional, option-click (hey, there’s the option key again) the little plus sign in the smart playlist window. When its done, it will look like this:
  5. Okay, now you will have a smart playlist with low-quality music that can be re-downloaded from iTunes Match. Time to… um… do that.
  6. Select all the music in the new smart playlist and delete it. Choose to put the files in the trash.
  7. Now that you’re signed into iTunes match, your songs wont actually disappear from your Library! There will now be an iCloud icon next to them. Click the icon, and you will be able to re-download.
  8. Now, it’s going to suck clicking that icon again and again if you are replacing a lot of tracks. So heed my warning: When you select all the songs in the smart playlist and delete them, there will be a short pause of a couple seconds when they are deleted but they haven’t disappeared from the playlist yet. And they are still highlighted. Quickly click the re-download button right away and ALL of them will start to re-download. (in a really random order, if mine is any example).

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Turn on iMessage in iOS5

One of the coolest new features of iOS 5 is iMessage, solely because it can save you money 🙂 But even if you upgrade, its not activated by default. Here’s how to do it.

iMessage is Apple’s answer to Blackberry Messenger. It lets anyone with an iPad, iPhone or iPad Touch running iOS5 send messages to each other without paying carrier fees. Since the few people I text to most all have iPhones, I plan on canceling my text message bundle and saving $10 a month. (but don’t tell AT&T!)

First of all, you have to upgrade to iOS5. Its free, so if you have an iPad, iPhone 3gs, iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s, (hereafter referred to as ‘iDevices”), its a no brainer. I’d be a little worried about putting it on an iPhone 3g, read some reviews online and see if people are running it okay.

So, upgrade your Mac to the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.8) or Lion (10.7.2), then download the latest version if iTunes (10.5). Now you can plug in your iphone, and it will tell you there’s an upgrade available. Download and install it. Enjoy your new features, too many to list here, but Google it. Theres lots worth upgrading for. I love it.

Next: You need an iCloud account. It is also free, so even if you dont use any other of the other features (like Find My iPhone, Photo synching, and backup) its worth it just for iMessage. Go to to set up your account form a Mac running 10.7 or an iDevice.

Okay, finally! here’s how you activate iMessage: Click the Settings button in your iDevice. Click on Messages. Next to iMessage, click ON. Enter your account and password, and youre good to go. Now open your Messages app. Click the New Message button and search for someone’s name. if they are on iMessage, they will have a little blue speech bubble next to their name. And the text box where you enter your message will say “iMessage”, and your speech bubbles will be blue. If they’re NOT on iMessage, the input box will say “Text Message” and the speech bubbles will be green. Send them a text and tell them to get with the program!



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Is it still shameless plugging if I’m not paid?

Since I work with computers for a living, people always think I have the inside scoop on tools and tricks and software. Sometimes i do, but for the most part, I’m surprisingly zen about it all- since I move from office to office and computer to computer, I don’t customize my Mac nearly as much as some people, because then I’ll be thrown off on someone else’s system. Also, I have invested too much time and effort over the years learning plugins and apps, adjusting MY work habits to accomodate them, only to have them pulled off the market, discontinued, or just start to generally suck.

I guess what I’m saying is, after all I’ve seen and done, I’d much rather work with the built-in tools than learn something new just for the sake of it being new. I really started to ruminate over this yesterday, when i read a review of a new app for creating customer invoices, called… well, I don’t even remember what its called right now, and I can’t search for it because the Mac I’m sitting at only has 10.6.5, and no App Store (see what I mean?). It got a good review, and i was all set to click the button and pay $20 to try it out, but then I thought about it… do i really need a specialized app for creating invoices? Yes, I travel, and yes, I do freelance work, but I only have to make 3-4 invoices a month, and my system works fine: All my invoices are iWork documents. I make a copy of an old one, fill in the new data, save a PDF in a folder, and print a copy. Done. They’re not saved in a fancy searchable atabas,e but they’re in folders by client name, and they’re dated, and thats enough for me. iWork doesn’t look like its going anywhere, and even if it does, it wouldn’t be much trouble at all to start doing the same thing in Excel instead, plus they’re all saved as PDFs so I’ll always be able to go back and look through them later.

I started thinking that maybe I should share how *I* do certain things, with or without special apps, and maybe you’ll find a new trick or workflow of your own in here somewhere. So here we go.


I tried, but I didn’t like always having to log into a web page or use a plugin, they almost went out of business this year and could again, and to be honest, I hate their friggin name, I can never remember how to type it. But i really want to sync my bookmarks to multiple Macs and always have them. Google Chrome to the rescue! In addition to being a great, fast browser (that only occasionally sucks up all my RAM and needs to be force-quit), Google Chrome can sync bookmarks, passwords and autofill data in a flash, just with your Gmail account. Install Chrome, click Preferences> Personal Stuff, and all your sync settings are right there. As long as I’m on the web, I can pull down my info in seconds.

Email & Contacts

This section became so long, I turned it into its own post. It will be up there, just above this one. If not now, then soon.

Short answer: Gmail does everything I want, its free, its (usually) stable, it works well on my macs and my iPhone, it syncs my contacts, the filters are flexible, and once in awhile I can launch my Mail app on my home Mac to download a copy of everything, juuuust in case.


Man, this has been a pain. I’m a very calendar-oriented person, I constantly have to glance at my schedule to remember what I have to do. A calendar that is always available and editable to me is essential. I had a lot of trouble finding a working system, and I will admit that there may be a better solution out there now, Google calendars may have improved since I settled on this system, but what works for me is a combination of Google Calendar and MobileMe.

I have two calendar accounts on my MobileMe account, one for me and one for my wife. MobileMe is nice because it syncs almost instantly between our computers, iPhones, and iPad, and in a pinch I can log into and see and edit them there. And don’t worry, you don’t have to pay $100 for MobileMe, next week they are rebranding it as iCloud, and it will be free, so sign up if you haven’t already.

I also subscribe to a a couple calendars, a google calendar my boss maintains, my travel calendar through, and my Facebook events through facebook. The only downside is that these are read-only, but Theres nothing there I’d have to edit anyway, that’s what my personal calendar is for. Here’s how I subscribed to my Facebook events feed so that it shows up in iCal and on my phone:

  1. Log into Facebook and click Events
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Export
  3. It will give you a link to all your events. Copy this link and subscribe to it in iCal


I used to use MobileMe’s iDisk, and I tried to tell everyone how great it was, but man, DropBox blows it away, I wish I had known before. For $100 a year you get 50GB of space that will automatically sync between multiple Macs and PCs, plus you get online access to your files too. It will even display your Photos folder as a gallery when you log in online. You can set up multiple shared folders for different clients, and give them open access or password access. And here’s a neat feature: If you are on a local network with another of your computers, it will automatically sync over the local network instead of sending the files up to and back down.

On the LAN or on the web, its sooo much faster than iDisk. And 50GB is more than 20GB last time I checked.

The only thing I liked more about iDisk was, if you didn’t want your files to sync to your local hard drive and fill it up, you could still access your files online through the iDisk icon on the desktop. With DropBox, if you dont want the files to sync, you have to access them via the web page. As far as I know. If I’m wrong, please enlighten me!

oh, and if you feel like signing up for DropBox, I wouldn’t mind at all if you used my referral link!  –>

Note taking

One thing I do want to do it quickly jot down a note and have it on my computer or phone later. I am excited to try out Tasks in iOS 5, but for now I do use a third party app for this, called EverNote. It’s a free service that lets you take notes on their web site, or with the EverNote app for iPhone and Mac, and notes will automatically sync to all your devices. It will also store images, web clippings (There are browser plugins to make this even easier) and voice memos, but I hate the sound of my own voice. I stick to text.

The one complaint I had was that the iPhone app didn’t support rich text, but that was added in the latest update. Yay!


Heres another service I can’t live without: I take about 20 trips a year, and Tripit is amazing for keeping track of my hotel reservations, plans and flights. All I have to do is forward my confirmation emails to and it knows how to parse the info into an itinerary. It can even monitor my mail account 24/7 and automatically add plans, but that creeps me out a little.

Any time I need to check my flight status, my hotel address, check in, etc, I can log in on my mac or the Tripit app on my iPhone (which caches the data locally in case I’m in a dead zone, a subway or on the plane with no wifi). I can also remember past trips, share with friends & family an see how my miles stack up with my coworkers.

There’s a paid pro membership that will track your frequent flyer points for you and notify you of flight changes, but I havent needed that.


Google Reader, hands down. Love it. I can subscribe to news sites, professional blogs, friends’ personal blogs (including WordPress, Blogger and Livejournal all in one place), any RSS feed, and I can group them in folders. Since its part of my Google account, I can access them from anywhere and it keeps track of what Ive read and what I havent. i can view headlines, snippets or full stories, ascending or descending in order. Clean, fast, simple, just what I need.

For reading on my iPhone, I like the GoodReader app much more than Google’s own interface. I think it was only $2 or $3.

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InDesign trick: creating highlighted text

Here’s how to create a highlighter style in InDesign.

Start with some text, of course. Using the Type tool, select the text you want to highlight.

Option-click the underline button in the control panel to bring up the underline options window.

Turn on underline, increase the weight to the same point size as your text, adjust the offset until it is level with your text, and set the color to yellow, or whatever you prefer.

Save as a Character Style, and this can be easily re-used as often as you like. You will need to adjust the weight and offset for different sizes of text.