Thursday, April 10, 2008

Special Characters

Hand-Made Mac Tip No. 2
How to Use the Special Character Palette
(and a little bit of a Jing review)

Have you ever wondered how to get special characters to show up in a text box like musical ♫♪♬♩♫ notes or a smiley☺face? How about a check ✓ mark or a ☐ box?
Or even a ✌☮
Clicking on this image will take you to the Screencast.com website where my video is hosted so you can play it and watch the demonstration in action.

I made a quick little screencast on how to use the Special Character Palette to insert these characters into your text. In this example, I was using the popular independent Twitter client called Twirl, but you can use this method with any area of text. You'll also notice that I was dragging and dropping as opposed to clicking on the insert button. Go ahead and try clicking on that insert button depending on which application you're using, it may or may not work. It did not work using Twirl, but drag and drop did.

I used Jing to create this little video, but as you may know, I've been frustrated using Jing in the past. I still think Jing is a great project though. The video quality is awesome, it's fast and easy to use. It's definitely got that instant gratification thing going for it. Me likely some instant gratification as much as I like instant cocoa with marshmallows. Jing is good for exactly what it claims: quick little instructional videos. It's good for when you need a little bit more than what screenshots would give you. It's almost faster to create a short video clip than to Skitch up screenshots with arrows and text notes depending on the situation. (I love Skitch for all screenshot tutorials!)

What I don't like about Jing is that you can not change the size of the video that you want to embed. Whenever I try to put it onto my blog, it takes up the whole width of the screen and looks awful. So, I cheated this time. I took a screenshot of the video while it played and then posted an image with a link so you would have a visual reference of the screencast I made. Pretty sneaky, huh?

The other annoying thing about Jing is that in order for the video to fit inside the browser window without having to scroll, you need to keep your live area rather small. This is troublesome because then you can not see all of the menu bar items in the OS X interface. So, you just have to carefully plan your placement before you begin recording. It's ok if you're just showing one small area on the Mac screen, but not helpful when you really need to see a much wider area to get what's going on. Jing has it's place but it's limited.

Just so you know, certain browsers may not display these special characters correctly. For example, I discovered that right now, Firefox does not display the open heart symbol. I'll insert it here: . If you see a black rectangle with an X inside of it, you'll know what I mean. When I view this page in Safari, no problemo. I'm sure it won't always be this way, but I just wanted to mention it.

If you find this tip helpful, great, but please promise me that you won't go all crazy and use these symbols and special characters in places where it's not appropriate. One major place that comes to mind is file and folder names. You should NEVER use special characters in file names or folder names. Always use alphanumeric characters. Spaces and underscores are safe but most everything else beyond that, well, YMMV. I just wouldn't do it. I've seen file names with ampersands and dashes work without any noticeable troubles, but I still feel it's bad juju. You especially want to avoid ever ever ever using any slashes of any kind. Just trust me, ok? You would listen to your Mother, right?

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