Entries from March 2010 ↓

OS X and Reading Text

Apple’s OS X allows you to zoom in on your screen in a number of different ways.  It also can read text to you, if you are so inclined.  There are many ways to do this, depending on which hardware choice you made.

If you have a track pad on your Mac, and it supports gestures (all Intel versions do, and some late G4 PowerBooks) you can simply spread two fingers apart on the track pad to have it zoom text.  To accomplish this with a mouse, If you’d like to zoom in on the entire screen rather than just make text bigger, hold down the control key (two keys left of the spacebar) and slide two fingers from the track pad’s button toward the screen.  A third option is to hold down command (⌘) and hit + to make text bigger.  Alternatively, command (⌘) – makes it smaller.

Even better, you can easily set up OS X to read selected text for you, using a keystroke combination that you define.  It comes in handy to select some text, and then let the computer read the selected text to you as you continue to browse around a site.  Naturally, if you cannot see the text to begin with, or have trouble reading from a screen for any number of reasons, this built in feature is priceless.

First, open System Preferences by clicking this icon in the Dock:  Screen shot 2010-03-14 at 12.18.27 PMIf it’s not in the Dock, open Finder, and find your Applications folder.  Navigate to System Preferences and double-click to open.  Once open, click the Speech icon, as shown below on Snow Leopard, it looks like a microphone:

Screen shot 2010-03-14 at 12.20.46 PMOnce there, check the box to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”, then click on the Set Key button to create a keyboard shortcut to have the computer read text you have selected.  This allows you to also deselect the text, while the computer keeps reading it, which is a pretty nice feature.  You can then even navigate way from the page or text, and look at something else while you are listening to the text being read.

Screen shot 2010-03-14 at 12.26.21 PM

Virtual Box on Mac OS X

Oracle’s (formerly Sun’s) VirtualBox software is a virtualization software that allows you to run many operating systems on top of your OS X installation in real time.  I’ve been running Apple’s Boot Camp with Windows 7 Ultimate, and decided it would still be beneficial to have an install of XP service pack 3 hanging around. I really didn’t feel like hacking Boot Camp was the best solution for having another  OS on my system, so I started looking into alternatives.  Surprisingly more than a few exist, although I decided on VirtualBox because, well, it’s free!

To start your installation, first download the software from the above link.  Installation is as easy as a double-click, and a few prompt screens.  Once complete, double-click the handy shortcut to your Applications folder, find the newly installed VirtualBox, and double-click that to start it running.

Help screens are well thought out, and tell you exactly where everything is to get started.  They’ve also thrown in some nice pop-ups once you are up and running, to explain some shortcuts.  More on that below.  The first screen you see is the Details window, which is where you will find your various operating systems after you’ve installed them.  It looks like this:


Next comes installation of your OS of choice, in this case I installed Windows XP SP2 (which I then updated to SP3 to be sure everything works properly.)  There are some settings that need to be adjusted when you install, such as RAM and Hard Disk size. Simply click the “New” button in the upper left-hand corner to get started.  VirtualBox walks you through the creation of the virtual machine and gives you allocation suggestions, which I modified to my liking.  See screen shots below:


VBSS4One thing I had to change were the video settings.  XP would blue screen at the text phase of the installation on my MacBook Pro (mid-2008).  I had the 2D Video Acceleration checked, and when I unchecked it, the installation proceeded without issues. You can see that the window warns you at the bottom to change a setting (Non-optimal Settings detected.)


VBSS9I also changed the Video Memory to 64MB instead of the allocated 16MB.  The installation went perfectly well after these minor changes, and the machine starts and shuts down promptly.  Faster than a typical boot or shut down on a stand alone machine, for sure.  It is also much quicker than having to log out of OS X and use Boot Camp.  The price is right at $0.00, and if you find the need for Windows this might be the best solution out there on a budget.